This is the summer of my life, the time when life’s early rains and startling frosts turn to warm winds and growing fruit. Yet a blight crept across my summer’s first revolution, a niggling vermin. It sucked at the unripe fruit and left it shriveled, and it called me friend.
Doubt does that.
It was a slow and subtle chewing at the leaves in the place where I inscribe my days, with vague promises of excellence in exchange for my personhood, couched in a gentle gnawing that slowly stripped the growth away.
Metamorphosis is not just about the transformation but the waking up aware of it. Awareness is everything in such instances. Is there something non-verminous in our blood? The taint itself is not in question. When a verminous epiphany occurs, the question is whether we recognize it.
So I saw this thing that had become me, and I found I couldn’t live in its shell.
The representation of a thing and the thing in itself are not the same. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. And so it is with more than Magritte’s pipe; so it is with the creative act. We can represent ideations about creativity, live out a metafiction; or we can do it. Even smoke has a scent, and mirrors have a surface that displays our fingerprints.
What, then, is the pursuit of excellence? Nothing painful. A tree does not become an excellent tree by striving with itself. It grows into its natural form, even when wind and pestilence deform it; still it grows, still it reaches, and every buffeting merely gives it a new form. But always it stretches fingers upwards at the sky. It flexes and it turns itself and seeks.
A tree becomes an excellent tree by being itself, not by trying to be a fish propped on a painted bicycle for show. If it’s truly a tree, and not just an inane sketch on someone’s napkin (made of dead tree), then it doesn’t even know how to try being a fish.
So, too, the artisan; the tools are a source of fascination to a young apprentice. The methods are a source of stability, clearing away confusion. Knowledge is built in the exchange of knowledge, perhaps the only thing on the planet that can counteract entropy and become a perpetual motion machine; for it is spiritual, not mere molecules. The mind and heart live in a higher realm with different laws than here.
The honed work of the mature hand is a joy, a delight, a diversion. It obeys different laws than the standard fare of suffering and a meaningless end. To sweat at the labour is part of the discipline, part of the act. Proof of more than mere ideation.
We learn early how to be what we are; or we learn how to be what we are not. The thing is, masks and art are mostly incompatible, unless one makes an art of masks. But only mask-makers are called to that, and I am something else.
The thing about pests is their ability to mask; they so often look like something beneficial, a garden denizen that’s meant to be there for the health of the overall ecosystem. Very few insects are actually vermin; the problem is that the few who are, do disproportionate damage.
That’s what doubt does.
So, with my leaves full of holes, and the damage done, I proceed to turn over the soil of imagination. There is no other way to ensure that growth will come again.
I am a worker with words and earth and life. This is my art. The tools are still a source of fascination, and the methods soothe. And I have long known that I don’t grow trees; not apple branches, not branches of thought. They grow themselves. I merely provide the conditions.
And then, a new metamorphosis happens.