Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Work Spaces of Artists

Recently, I've been posting the working art spaces of artists and writers on my Facebook page. I've been finding old photos either of the art studios of painters, or writers' office or desk spaces, and then writing anecdotal stories of how that particular writer or painter affected my life and thought.  The response has been interesting and stimulating, not just from other people commenting, but the response I find I'm having most poignantly is within myself. Revisiting the work and motivation of other artists is always good idea, but like all of us, I forget to activate this very important part of being an artist, the inspiration provided to us by others who are also taking that journey. 

Over the years, and over the loss and gains, I've come to several conclusions about working spaces. Life, loss, and my own personal journey, has taken me to a black table in the kitchen at my brother's house where I'm writing now, but looking back, examining the different places I've worked is a therapeutic process. Recently, for me, it has been both painful and revelatory, as many of the most important work-spaces for me are long gone.

My most poignant work-space, a trailer on a horse ranch in Southern Utah, burned up just over a year ago, with all the most important items of ritual I've gathered over the years with it. It was a small kitchen table that perfectly fit my hands to the keyboard. Above my head to the right, seven cowboy hats lined the top of the window hung on nails, a cowboy hat for any occasion, including two that were my father's. Always on the stove in front of me, beyond the table, the aluminum coffee percolator, the one that had been passed down to me from him, blackened on the bottom from a hundred campfires and travel. As some of you know and understand, there are certain items that bear the history of your personal journey, and this coffee pot was one of those irreplaceable items that stood for time and place.  It could also stand for the present moment, the first part of the ritual, the hopeful motivation of drinking from that first cup of coffee, and drawing the inspiration for writing work days of four to sometimes twelve hours in a day. Clipped to the curtain on the window, there was an old photo of my aunt, my uncle, and several other musicians playing in the town orchestra from the late fifties. The photo was torn at the corner, but I looked up to it often, as if there were many answers to be given from the photo of ancestors. To my right of the table, the window that looked over the orchard and fields full of horses, and beyond the fence within my eyesight the beginning of fifty straight miles of wilderness, the Circle Cliffs, Burr Trail,  always there, reminding me that just over the ridge were places that had never felt the foot steps of human beings.  The majority of my work, was written elsewhere, but this is where I was able to rewrite the most effectively, and was also where I wrote the never ending drafts of Bohemian Cowboy, one of the most important plays of my canon. It was also the place where writing songs was often so effortless that they would often come in twenty minutes or less. It was there I learned that many songs have already been written elsewhere, and with patience the songwriter becomes a conduit, marked by preparation and belief. In the early spring, which for several years was where I made my way home, always coming from the different places I had landed during the winter, it was often cold, especially in the mornings. The thoughts were always warmth, coffee, and writing. A haunted but magical place to practice the craft. 

I believe in the energy of space. Perhaps I came to this belief from the many years of doing theatre. Every space has a history, an ambience, a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you sit in a space, or examine a space long enough, the history of that space will begin to emerge,  not only in images of the past, but the energy of the possibility of the future, and the gentle awareness of the present.

Growing up, and constantly moving, the first thing I always tried to do in a new setting was create a space that was my own, somewhere that adhered to some kind of identity, a place for my stuff. I knew early on that what would constitute my stuff would always be sparse, so I also learned the ritual of writing early. My notebooks, my first typewriter, and the boxes of books that for many years traveled with me. The books, held the contents of  the different parts of the world that transcended my own smallish world. I could go on vacations with books, could travel the world, and get a different kind of education. When I got my first typewriter, (a hand me down from my mother) without even realizing I wanted to be a writer, I quickly realized that its importance was immeasurable. I also didn't realize that I was thrust into the world as an observer, and very early started noticing things about people that were in such detail that I was often startled by the things that came out of my mouth. In my early twenties, there were three things that I collected, old typewriters, dictionaries, and books. The computer age was a tough transition, for I lost the ritualistic process of old drafts and notebooks. Some of the notebooks I still have, the typewriters have long since been given away as were the books, and the dictionaries. And so I start over again, which is also the process of the painter or the writer, to begin again, and again. There are times I feel now that are directionless, except for the impulse and the habit to write. All of my plays seems to be in a strange limbo, caught up with files on my computer, and many of them long lost. I look forward to a new day when I can find a work space again, and begin to collect the things that are important, a photo, a rare book, or a saint on a chain…

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