Place & Shape

“Words will follow your path through the garden, on the walkways, benches, and walls. Yet unlike a book, the way in which you read the poem is multidirectional.” ~Maya Lin

I made a small intention that I would blog twice a month this year, and welp, I need to publish something today and tomorrow as to not fail myself so soon in the year. And really, is this a new year? I found myself saying last year when I meant 2019, five years ago when I meant ten, and I still can’t believe that it is February next week. Today the day got away from me without getting to typing on the magic machine, but I really needed a break from words, and the blinking cursor. I have been writing a lot–and thinking a lot–at the jobby job, so it’s hard to get in front of the screen when I have a completely open day. Who cares? Get on it. Okay, here we go.

Earlier this month as I watched the shitbaggery at the capital of my country, I thought about a class that I took on The Word & The Image from a Blake scholar. We spent some of the class studying Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Memorial in DC.

I finally got to visit the Vietnam Memorial in 2013, and it is one of the most deeply moving public sculptures I’ve ever seen. I was on a bike share bicycle, so I didn’t get close to the wall, but I did take a selfie near the year 1974. I saw people crying and doing the ritual of etching names. A very old man in a wheelchair. A woman touching a name with flowers in her hand. People from all over the world speaking different languages. I walked my bike feeling thankful I was able to spend so much time in DC. Grateful I got to see a work of art I admired in person. I love that city. 

This memory led me to a few cairns–a trail of thought.

Thinking about DC led me to see if there were any eBooks available about Maya Lin’s work. On my library app, I found her book, Boundaries, published in 2006. In The Before Times, I would have gone to a library or a bookstore. Thankfully this eBook was available, so I downloaded it while I watched the news feeling horrified by my country.

From the very first pages of Lin’s book:

Somewhere between science and art    art and architecture  public and private  east and west

I am always trying to find balance between these opposing forces,    finding the place where opposites meet

Water out of stone    glass that flows like water    the fluidity of a rock     stopping time

Existing not on either side   but on the line that divides and that line takes on a dimensionality      it takes on a sense of place and shape.

There are spaces in her lines that may be a reformatting of a coffee table book into an eBook. They may be purposeful, like poetry. These lines also appear on several pages with images.

Just gorgeous. I’m not doing it justice here. Check it out for yourself.

I’ve been reading about each sculpture a day so I can think more about her art than the horror of the current moment. She’s introduced me to the work that it takes to create an artist’s statement. How she spends time articulating her art work into words before she creates The Thing. How you have to be able to combine poetry, description, pathos, and logos all in one while still leaving space for a viewer to think her own thoughts. Back when we could go to gallery openings and museums, I loved reading artist statements. She describes the function of the artistic statement same way we might think of Shitty First Draft as writers.

In a book about writing and art in my living room, I found a circle and a star on this quote:

All agree that it is an admirable invention: To paint speech, and speak to the eyes, and by tracing out characters in different forms to give colour and body to our thoughts.

Here’s The Thing. 

I am increasingly interested in creativity, craft, handiwork, trauma, joy, and the creation of Things. Where time goes when you are in a state of awe creating something. It starts to sound sloppy and overwrought when I describe it, and most disappointingly like “Flow” but it’s more than that. I just haven’t figured out how to express it yet.

So let me quote William Blake instead:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

Thinking about my recent dedication to painting over finishing my book (books if I’m honest), I’ve needed an explanation to help me sort why I am not working on them. You know, beyond living a global pandemic, an economic meltdown, losing my best friend, and the nonstop fuckery from my fellow citizens, that is.

This sentence from Maya Lin made me weep thinking about this past year:

“I think with my hands.”

Yes. And. Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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