This is an old oil painting. It’s not good, even by my low standards, and I can’t deny it might even be kitschy. It was just an experiment, and an experiment is what one does when one doesn’t know what one is doing. I wouldn’t have posted this painting if I had chanced upon a more successful piece on the same theme. The reason I’m posting it now is because I’m reading a biography on Henry James and I’m at a part where many of his family and friends are dying. That brought to the fore remembrances of people I knew who have passed away. They weren’t expatriate literati or cosmopolitan aristocrats, but they certainly deserve some sort of memorial. This piece is not ideal, but it’s all I had on hand to pay a silent tribute and pensive farewell to all those who have stepped over the threshold. “And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
I came across this while dusting and straightening some mummified corpses in the attic. It’s a very, very old piece, done when I apparently had a lot more nervous energy than I do now. I think it was my first serious attempt at a pen and ink work and was done, as I recall, with technical pens. It’s not good but I was outrageously proud of it way back when and, truth be told, I like it even now, if only for sentimental reasons. Besides bringing back memories of a misspent youth, there’s just something about it, I’m not sure what, that I find charming.
This was done eight years ago. I assume I made most of the colors drab and sunken hoping that the contrast would make the white feather and yellow flower stand out. There’s precious little, hardly a single brushstroke, that I wouldn’t radically change if I were to paint this image now. Still, despite the somberness of the colors and the figure’s expression, it was obviously done just for the fun of it. Since I hadn’t looked or even thought about this piece in almost a decade, I can look at it now without any prejudice or vanity. Thus, I can, with cool disinterest, state that the piece is certainly no masterpiece, but it does succeed, in some measure, in being a “just fun to look at” exercise, which is what it was obviously supposed to be. Despite its flaws, I like it.
They walked together silently in the apple orchard that cool June night. It was a good season for the fireflies and the two wanderers were delighted at the wild profusion of scintillating, hovering living lights. As always, the beetles slowly converged in a space between the wanderers and the tops of the trees, aligning themselves and synchronizing their signals. In a few minutes their bioluminescent glow formed into a lambent quote, different from the ones on previous nights. Their lights spelled out “Thou shalt say a thousand things, and saying them a thousand times over, thou shalt still have said nothing.”
“Hawthorne?” asked the boy.
“Who else?” smiled the father. “That’s a pretty fine quote, don’t you think?”
“Well, for fireflies,” the boy grudgingly conceded. “They flash their lights to find a mate, don’t they?”
“So I’ve heard. I’ve also heard tell that they use their lights to attract prey.”
“Mates and prey: aren’t they one and the same? And the poor beetles go through all this trouble merely to die shortly afterward.”
“It’s their nature; but how beautiful they are while they’re here, despite the reason. To them it is a grim struggle for temporary survival or procreation, but to us their lights are things of intangible beauty. Things are always beautiful when you look at them from the outside, when you’re not the one involved.” The father smiled and studied his son from the corner of his eye. “And surely even you must agree that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.”
“So you say,” the boy muttered. “Yet so many others, they tell me love is like death and that death is nothing… but I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s all right,” the father said, putting his arm over his son’s shoulder and watching the fireflies leisurely disperse, “they don’t know what it means either.”
And father and son walked away into the darkening night.
One inspiration for this piece was my thinking about Botticelli and a
couple of other Renaissance artists whose styles were strongly
hard-edged and linear. No matter the subject, their style suffuses every
work with a certain pale and quiet sadness that is easily felt but
difficult to describe, like that universal yet unsharable sadness which
is part and parcel of every life. There is no sfumato in the artists’
works to mellow or hide that sensation, nothing to compromise or lessen
its harsh representations. This sketch is merely my response to that
certain melancholy inherent in every linear work. The creature inhabits
a harsh, brittle realm of unyielding and emphatic demarcations that
allow no thing to really touch another, a world of sharp outlines, sharp
and stinging like nettles and barbs, a world of boundaries that cannot
be crossed. Yet the creature itself is also harsh, untouchable and
armored in its own severe outline. It belongs in its world. It’s a
little bowed and battered by its environs, but it is not broken. It
perseveres and is not overwhelmed. To me, that is part of Botticelli’s
genius. There is an ambient sadness in his work reflected even in his
smiling or dancing figures. Yet they survive in the sadness and somehow,
magically, impart a graceful undefinable happiness, even joy, to the
entire piece. And that is part of what makes Botticelli’s works beautiful.
Dante and Dostoevsky, Milton and Melville, Edgar A. Poe and Sarah E.
Potter… the world is filled with magnificent literature that ennobles and inspires. Doesn’t that get on your nerves? Don’t you wish there was a book which would allow you to finally, happily exclaim, “My pet gerbil can write better than this, and it’s dead!”? Well, your dreams have come true! If you like wasting your money on gibberish, then I penned a book just for you. It comes in both paperback and electronic formats, but don’t worry about which version is better since both formats are equally bad. For more information, please click on the link below. You’ll be sorry you did. Be sure to purchase multiple copies to give as gifts to your enemies. Seriously, the book in question was my attempt to write some scary stories…at least I hope they’re scary. If you do purchase a copy, please tell me what you think.
First, a little tribute to Gene Lehman, without whom Mystic Dreaming could never have been what it now is:
A great friend,
A great, great lifesaver,
A great, great, great artist,
And a great many more things.
The wondrous event poetry lovers the world over have been eagerly awaiting has finally arrived. Sarah Potter’s second collection of original poetry is now available! It’s titled Mystic Dreaming and you can find more information about on it at the following link:
Sarah recently told me about a fun website called “I Write Like” (https://iwl.me/). You type in some original text and it tells you what famous author’s style it thinks your text resembles. No matter what I typed in, the site invariably told me my sentences were reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley or Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have nothing but respect for those three and even I’m aware my choice of words can occasionally be a trifle archaically arcane, but since Edgar A. Poe has always held a special place in my heart I was always disappointed my style never matched his. Thus, as a test, I typed in a stanza and a half of “The Raven.” The site said the writing style was akin to James Joyce. “Ah!” I mumbled, “Poe must not be one of the available choices! NOW it makes sense!” Later I typed in the following and, lo and behold, it was analyzed as being in the style of Poe! Since apparently Poe himself wrote in a Joycean style, I consider my accomplishment to be a great and singular triumph of human will over computer stubbornness. Personally, I don’t see any similarity of the below to the poet’s work, but, given the circumstances, I’ll clutch at any straw. And now, the hard fought for pseudo-Poe text:
You hover silently in the shadowed edges, watching generation pass, each, before dissolving back into the darkness, momentarily illumined in its own ghostly light. Your fellow watcher, although close at hand, is a vague form in the void, being sometimes apart from and sometimes a part of the immuring gloom, like some dim star visible only from the corner of your eye. You sense his presence better than you can see him and you suspect it is better that way.
“The heart,” he suddenly whispers in your ear, “the heart alone knows its own misery, an inexpressible reality of iron sorrow. The injured body shrieks in pain: the injured soul stands mute. Do you ever wonder if all these generations are a species of idiot? Surely they cannot be unaware that every seed of hello flowers inexorably into goodbye. Yet they still spend their few allotted days chasing after chimerical happiness. And then, believing they have finally caught the great and wonderful thing and will forever hold it to their breast, their minds are opened to reality and they reel, silent, numb and shattered, at last comprehending they hold nothing but a handful of dust.”
“Lucky for the dust,” you answer peevishly. “Earthly dreams, by both their own and the dreamer’s very nature, can only be partly cherished yet always fully lost. But,” you shrug, half-smiling in spite of yourself, “perhaps that’s not the fate of their memories, of their echoes.” You pause for a moment, watching another generation’s light sputter and fade in the darkness. “Or their beloved ghosts.”
“Are you talking about the dreams or the dreamers?”
Bowing your head respectfully before turning away you mutter, more to yourself than to your nebulous companion, “Whatever offers the most comfort. Yet to them all in passing and to all their evanescent dreams, rest in peace.”