Yesterday I was watching (with Winnie, the cat) a flock of the first waxwings to come back - they were in the apple tree outside my window - and all of a sudden a merlin flew in and snatched a waxwing, and the rest scattered in panic, one hitting the window with a thump and lots of blood and feathers. I ran outside, but it was quite dead, and only the merlin left, flapping through the hedge with its booty. I left the waxwing on the snow, a little jewel on this grey day, and later a magpie scooped it up and plucked and ate it, heart first, on top of the fence.
Went last Friday to an opening at the Kamloops Art Gallery last Friday – really great. There were lots of people there over 300, I think - students, and all the faculty from visual arts, whom I know, of course, and other people from TRU that I like. My friend Annette was there, playing in a little trio (violin, flute, clarinet), and Joanne, the director for Aboriginal student services, and Joe who lives down the lane from me and teaches Japanese - and both my BFFs called Susan, TRU president Alan Shaver, Jann Bailey , of course, and other social and political luminaries, and a contingent of my new friends from biology, as there was a mini-show on art of microorganisms. The catering was fun - (novo Italian, seasonable, sustainable, organic local catering outfit called "Amore") - there was a thing that was a bit of puff pastry with apple and pear compote, stuck with a piece of bacon and a crispy sage leaf - not bad, but the pastry was not flakey anymore, and the compote too sweet; the best thing was a salty, creamy little circle of fish on a crisped artichoke leaf; they looked like mussels in the shell, and were just right. There wasn't nearly enough food: people started leaping on the trays as they were carried in from the catering truck.
But the art! The show is called "Beautiful Monsters" and there was a room full of aboriginal prints that I hadn't seen before, a nice treat. A couple of big Daphne Odjigs that scared me - she's good at that. (They scare me because I feel she can see inside of me, is painting what's inside me, that I hide). Then a big room of Dürers and various Italian engravings from the same century or a little after - mostly of religious subjects, of course, as you get in the 15th C. but focusing on the lovely demons and other symbolic creatures. Man, those people (we) were tormented by thoughts of sin and death. Literally tormented.
Dürers astounding. The fineness of the etchings - I had to stand close, with my reading glasses on, and thought about making those thousands of fine, controlled marks without lenses or electric light. Something I saw in Dürer that I'd never before - the demon-beasts so lovingly wrought, such wry humour. I'd always thought his work condemned the sinner, but now I see the humour and love. My favourites were one with the Whore of Babylon on a seven-headed beast, being lusted over by a pack of nicely-dressed, respectable middle aged men and an ecstatic monk: the woman is so, so beautiful. She's dressed as a Venetian courtesan, and it's like a publicity shot for a movie star - she's radiant. Worship is there. (Allegory for the good German Lutherans being tempted by the Catholic church, but I thought of academics and grant money).
And another of the seven-headed beast: in this one it represents the seven deadly sins, and each head a different sin, represented as cleverly and humorously as a good cartoon, both animal and human at once. Accidie, sloth, was a slack-faced creature of some sort; clearly a beast's head, but absolutely the same expression as the boys who doze, stoned, at the back of classrooms. Envy had a sharp beak but a human expression, again - eyes too close together, too sharply focused. Pride was, of course, a lion, but so very benevolent and so very pleased with himself.
And then there was a group of Picassos! They were monster works, part of the work leading up to Guernica, studies mostly of bulls bending over women, from different angles. A reminder of course that Picasso really, really could draw. And they were totally erotic.
So I was very happy, browsing the pictures and chatting with people I like and admire, and after being invited to go to the Plaza after with the artists and art faculty for snacks and drinks.
What Julia Cameron would call an Artist Date.
I will go back and see the pictures again when it's quieter.ere to edit.
Today, January 6th, is traditionally the Feast of the Epiphany. It’s the day my novel, After Alice, begins.
Sidonie is getting ready to go to a party at the home of her nephew Stephen, whom she hasn’t seen in over 20 years, and she’s not thrilled about it. She doesn’t like parties, she wasn’t all that impressed with Stephen the last time she saw him, and she doesn’t like thoughts about the past, which family gatherings tend to prompt. But a sense of obligation – and lack of a good excuse – induce her to go.
Sidonie won’t have an epiphany at the party – or, as is traditional, until late in the novel (if she has one at all). But she’ll make some discoveries, and have a reversal of fortune that will change the way she thinks about and approaches her life.
I’m thinking about epiphanies, and first-year English literature classes at UVic, years ago, and reading James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence stories for the first time, and teaching fiction writing classes now. Epiphanies are about manifestation. From the Greek theophaneia, or vision of God, we arrive, through the Wise Men, at the “sudden and startling revelation” that is the end of a long thought process, or, in the case of fiction, the sudden release of narrative tension through a resonant, concrete act or image.
The abstract manifest in the concrete: that’s the basis of fiction writing.