Alebrijes or Inspiration
Are they half-grasped dreams
that wake, wide eyed, to a new day’s sun?
Or are they alive and thriving
when they fall from the tree?
Does the carver fish their color and shape
from his own interior sea?
Or does he watch and wait for the spirit
to emerge from its wooden cocoon
to be reborn in a fiery block of color?
in a secluded corner of my waking mind,
my neighbor’s dog greets the dawn:
sparks of bright color born from his barks.
My waking dream:
dark angels with butterfly bodies,
their inverted wings spread over my head
keeping me comforted.
In the town square, the artist
plucks dreams from my head
and paints them on carved wood.
Comment: Alebrijes step out from dried wood and stand in the shower of paint that falls from the brush’s tip. Yellow flash of lightning, pointillistic rain, garish colors that mirror those of the códices. The carvings take the form of fantasy figures, anthropomorphic animals, and mythological creatures.
Sometimes one individual selects the wood, carves it, then covers it in paint. Occasionally an entire family takes part in the work of making the alebrije. One person collects the wood and prepares it for carving. Another carves and sands it. A third works on the undercoat, and a fourth applies the final patterns of paint.
The great debate: does the form in the wood reveal itself to the carver or do the carvers impose their own visions on the wood? In the case of the team, do the family members debate and come to a joint conclusion?
These thoughts, exchanged with wood-carvers in Oaxaca, have led to a series of interesting conversations. What exactly is creativity? Where does it come from? Do we, as artists, impose it upon our creations? Or do we merely observe and watch as new ideas float to the surface of our minds? How does the creative mind function? And, by extension, how much of the sub-conscious creative sequence can be placed into words?
These questions lead us into our own minds. How do we, as writers, frame our inspiration? Do we wait for the muse to descend? And what if she or he (for there are masculine muses, too) doesn’t? Does this waiting for the muse lead us into the dreaded realm of Writer’s Block where we sit and twiddle our thumbs and wait and hope? Or does it lead us into the land of positive expectations where we use basic writing exercises and look for inspiration among our thoughts and words?
A practical solution for inspiration is regular writing in the journal … regular writing. From this practice, we soon learn to recognize beauty for we often generate small gems that can be dug out and polished. Sure, there is a great deal of dross, but a good wood carving leaves lots of shavings, and a few cut thumbs. That’s the nature of artistic discovery … and remember, it is the beauty in ourselves and the world around us that we are seeing and describing. Reading the words of others also generates small sparks to which we respond and the corresponding interplay of ‘their words with ours’ is not to be under-estimated.
By extension, the Bakhtinian Chronotopos is also important: man’s dialog with his time and place. Bahktin uses the masculine ‘man’; a woman’s dialog may well differ, but her dialog with her time and her place is equally as important as a man’s. Sometimes more so, and we do not pay sufficient attention to this fact. That said, we must always remember St. Teresa of Avila’s delightful line: “También anda Dios en la cocina entre las pucheras” / God also walks in the kitchen among the pots and pans.
One of our tasks, as writers, is to find the beauty of our time and place. It may seem insignificant at first for we are such tiny beings in an enormous and often anonymous universe, but when we sit in the sunshine and see the dust motes rise and count the angels dancing in the sunbeams before our eyes, we are indeed witnessing the daily beauty that surrounds us. It is our task to name that beauty and to describe it. And remember, too, that it is there in the flying snowflakes, in the pale disc of the sun peering through clouds, in the slide of the raindrop down the window pane.
My job as a writer, as I see and feel it, is to sense and see the beauty that surrounds me. Then my task is to describe it and bear witness to it. To bear witness … sometimes, that beauty is brutal and the bearing witness is painful in itself. The knife or chisel slips, the blood flows, and the musty cobwebs applied to the open wound seem to do no staunching. But there is beauty in injury too and we must also bear witness to the brutal beauty of blood.
Such brutal beauty can be found in Tanya Cliff’s latest book, A Haiku for Ricky Baker. In this volume of poetry, Tanya exposes some of the problems inherent in child abuse. Her inspiration is taken from real events and her poems describe the lives of real people. This poetry reveals the color of blood and hurts with the deep slice of the knife into the carver’s thumb. Tanya has two main tasks: the first is to bear witness and the second is to gather funds by offering the proceeds from this collection to the very children who need help. I wish her all the best in her endeavor and I encourage all my readers to explore this project of Tanya’s for themselves.