“You are other than I thought,” he said.

“Then the fault is with your thinking, or with the person who has changed your thinking, not with me,” I said.

“How can we be friends now?” he said.

“How can we ever not be friends?” I said.”

(HOW TO BE BOTH – Ali Smith)


We become ourselves.

In a profile on Peter Sacks (first comment), he described thought as sedimentary. I love his choice of word. I love the image it invokes. We are the result of layers of thoughts, experiences, and influences that accumulate and settle. We are a landscape.

Some influences may have been deconstructed and broken down to the size of grains of sand. Others remain untouched boulders. Ideas merge and blend into each other creating a new thought. Sometimes they clash and make their peace with co-existing, side by side, in one brain. Slivers of past poke through layers of time. Much is buried. Even buried experiences define us; they shape the terrain of our lives with inclines and pitfalls.

In Sacks’s visual art (he was a poet before he became a painter, and an academic before he became a poet), celebrates the process. It is in the tireless attention to layers – added, burned, peeled back, scraped, painted, scratched, and consolidated – that the work appears.

The idea that visual art is a creation of layers, while writing is one of removing traces isn’t novel.

Annie Dillard (in THE WRITING LIFE) says that, “a painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left.”

“Is it pertinent,” Dillard asks, “is it courteous, for us to learn what it cost the writer personally?” And she goes on to exhort writers on the importance of editing, “process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work.”

I remember, as a child, my father telling me that Michelangelo would see things in the marble and was rumored to have said he didn’t really sculpt anything, he just removed from the stone that which was not the sculpture. It was an act of unveiling.

Writing, in Dillard’s estimation, is best when it covers its tracks. Sculpting, to Michelangelo, was removing what didn’t belong. But whether or not the layers are retained in the final work, they are still part of the artist’s filter, just as our past stories are part of our own. “Everything that happened is still a part of you. The facts of the memories don’t matter, except what comes from the living of them.” (THE REAL BOY – Anne Ursu)

With art – and with life – there’s much that is under the surface or between the lines. A dear friend once told me that, “the trash of our texts has history”. She’s right. Sometimes the history is in the process and gets deleted. It’s still there. It still shapes the narrative. Even when it’s invisible to the average reader, even when it’s covered to the naked eye.

As my penpal said, we are “an amalgam of a world of human hearts”. We are for better or worse, shaped by our stories. While we have some control of the narrative, we cannot extricate sections. They may lay dormant, unread or reinterpreted. But they remain there. Sedimentary. Pushing up. Landscaping what is on the surface.

“But the first thing we see, her mother said, and most times the only thing we see, is the one on the surface. So does that mean it comes first after all? And does that mean the other picture, if we don’t know about it, may as well not exist?” (HOW TO BE BOTH – Ali Smith)

Our stories matter. Even the untold ones. Perhaps especially the untold ones.




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