Monday I posted on poet Dana Gioia's recent First Things piece on the failure of the Catholic writer. That morning, a reader sent a a piece by British classical pianist/Guardian columnist James Rhodes that was spot on!
The title--"Find What You Love and Let It Kill You"--is from Charles Bukowski.
If I ever get around to leading a writer's retreat, that is hands down what I'm going to call it.
Here's an excerpt from Rhodes' piece:
"I didn't play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist.
Admittedly I went a little extreme – no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35 lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I'd envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.
My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure...
And yet. The indescribable reward...
The government is cutting music programmes in schools and slashing Arts grants as gleefully as a morbidly American kid in Baskin Robbins. So if only to stick it to the man, isn't it worth fighting back in some small way?"
In short, a love letter straight from Christ...I cried as I listened to Rhodes play...I, too, lost my marriage, in part because of my writing; I, too, spent years in total obscurity and poverty; and the sanity, of course, is an ongoing struggle. As is the loneliness, the lack of validation, the weeks of isolation "punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure" (speaking, reading, or giving interviews for me is not nearly as extreme as playing must be for Rhodes, but it's still pressure). How beautiful to find a kindred spirit in, and the music of, James Rhodes.
Rhodes gets at something deep that Gioia's piece didn't, which is that if you want to be an artist, you have to be willing to be totally ripped apart. Maybe that's why we don't have more Catholic writers (and painters, and poets, and composers, and musicians). Maybe we lack the willingness to be ripped apart...to let grace work its violence on us. To wait for a wedding that may or may not ever come, practicing, practicing, practicing. Preparing, hoping, praying, waiting.
In a culture of speed, control, choice, and instant gratification, to consent to the kind of waiting required of great art is a radical act of resistance. Instead, out of frustration, we perpetrate violence on each other. Instead of creating, we destroy. Instead of letting ourselves be killed, we kill others.
There is nothing more Catholic than letting ourselves be killed by love.
That is what Christ did in the Crucifixion.
|FROM MY ABSTRACT IMPRESSIONIST CHRISTMAS LIGHTS SERIES|
"Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability--and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually--let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don't try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust the slow work of God."
--Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin