Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Sunday, January 08, 2006


It's January 8th, and Isabel Allende is at her keypad. The author of The House of Spirits has written sixteen novels, and begun each one on this date. She will spend today ensconced in a locked room, pulling together the ideas for number seventeen that have tumbled around for God knows how long, in anticipation of this event.

Establishing such rituals comes naturally to most of us. Allende dismisses her January 8th tradition as superstition, but it's a clever device to enforce discipline upon her craft. Whatever their field, it's discipline rather than talent that distinguishes the really accomplished people in this world. If I had a dime for every gifted person I know who waits, fruitlessly, for a Muse to come a-knocking, I'd have, well...a lot of dimes. I never cared for the concept of the Greek Muses, anyway. I picture nine bespectacled bureaucrats, their hair pulled into severe buns. It's easier to relate to the Spanish persona of the Duende, that Lorca made famous: the rotten little gremlin, who, if not actually malevolent, is definitely a troublemaker.

Whatever specters visit the studio, they won't find a welcome home there without the presence of a work ethic. I only work at my best level while in a certain meditative state. Though I've never been physically south of Paraguay, while I painted Andean Condors & Patagonian Conures (above), my spirit swept across the mountains of Allende's Chilean homeland, feeling the cool alpine breeze, and hearing the sound of the condor preening his big, stiff feathers. Once I'm in this state, working hard is easy, but finding my way to that plane can be a chore. When things aren't going well in the studio, the smallest distraction serves to pull me from my work. “I wonder what I'd look like with my mustache waxed?”

This is when self-discipline is crucial, and “superstitions” like Allende's January 8th ritual are good things to have in the toolbox. The nature of inspiration is a mysterious thing, hence the many supernatural metaphors. Whatever's going on in Isabel Allende's office right now, though, it's safe to assume the Poltergeists are in there with her.
illustration: ANDEAN CONDOR & PATAGONIAN CONURES (1997) Acrylic 20" x 30"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the Duende concept.

I've always described the artists I most respect as those "with the demon [or monkey] riding them," and the Duende is a much more colorful version of the same. I consider those artists who conceptualize, but rarely produce, to be unhaunted, unridden...and, perhaps unfairly, I respect them less for it.

12:32 PM  

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