Stories and Sustenance

I’ve been wanting to tell you about some of my creative cohorts at Playa, but first I think I need to speak about ART.

A chair made of pebbles, created by a prior resident on the dry lakebed.

A chair made of pebbles, created by an earlier Playa resident on the dry lakebed.

Art plays a critical role in the world’s remaking. I don’t mean just literary nonfiction depicting stories of people pulling together to build resilience (though that happens to be my particular project).

I mean novels that show us how to be authentic people, teach us to feel deeper into ourselves, open a side of humanity we don’t normally see, or introduce a culture we’ve never encountered.

I mean visual art that cracks the heart wide open for its beauty. I mean performance art that rearranges something inside us. I mean music that connects with something buried deep within.

Art moves us, and movement is much needed—now more than ever.

I once read a book about the state of the world that laid out the problems in great detail, and then listed the titanic changes needed. The author recommended eschewing novels and other “distractions” in favor of educational books addressing the many issues we face.

But I return again and again to the Barbara Kingsolver character who asked, “What is the use of saving a world that has no soul left in it?”

Clothesline poetry in the high desert.

Clothesline poetry in the high desert.

Art is the soul, and artists its keepers. Without this vital work, we are diminished.

As author Barry Lopez has written, “Sometimes we need a story more than food to stay alive.”

During my two weeks at Playa, visual artists, performance artists, poets, and writers of fiction and nonfiction all fed each other stories and sustenance. We gathered around the table to talk about topics great and small. We took in each others’ work, and drew inspiration from it. Just a few who inspired me:

Belle’s poetry brought the world into sharp focus—like her poem “Sacred Cows,” exploring questions of ethics and culture around beef consumption. Hailing from Hong Kong, Belle taught a few of us chi gong one night in the Commons.

Belle after leading us in chi gong.

Belle after leading us in chi gong.

Portland-based poet Jen created innovative sound recordings and poetry whose shape mirrored landscape. She works for an environmental nonprofit, and her writing possesses a keen eye and ear for the natural world.

That same reverence for life is captured in the visual artists’ work. Susan’s small drawings depict The Ten Thousand Things. In the Tao te Ching, The Ten Thousand Things refers to all of creation. She remembered me snapping a photo of this bird drawing, and kindly gave it to me before we parted. I treasure it.

Susan's exquisite drawing on rice paper. She makes one a day after walking and observing.

Susan’s exquisite drawing on rice paper. She makes one a day after walking and observing.

Emily’s watercolors evoke wild desert beauty in both postcard-sized landscapes and largescale topographical representations. She gave me one of her postcard pieces, the view of Playa from her balcony. I can look up from my desk and see that blue sky anytime I want.

Emily and a few of her gorgeous topographical representations, based on Oregon's Summer Lake and environs.

Emily and a few of her gorgeous topographical representations, based on Oregon’s Summer Lake and environs.

All of these and more blessed my stay and affirmed for me yet again that art is not a luxury.

3 thoughts on “Stories and Sustenance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s