By RANDALL BABTKIS, poet, writer, and MFA faculty member
As part of our search for “the running line between inquiry and creativity,” our class this semester in Creative Inquiry Through Interdisciplinary Arts has been reading Eudora Welty's classic, "One Writer's Beginnings."
If her autobiography, "One Writer's Beginnings," will prove anything--to the dancer, the painter, the singer, the map-maker, the dramatist, the poet--it is that memory alone informs all living work and keeps it real. Which may, for people with a past, be almost a preconscious relief. Reading Eudora Welty's autobiography is a way of reminding us to remember the golden light that settles on us, a visually distinct mark.
“All experience is an enrichment, rather than an impoverishment,” Welty writes. Do you agree?
We might come to this selfsameness in art.
I used to think of art as living in a hip underground. In my story, a toddler with faulty sleeping habits and a pigeon-toed gait, faces correction by the use of a night splint to hold his feet in an over-corrected position. A boy who sticks his neck through bars surrounding an open crater of almost solid pitch at the local tar pit must corkscrew his own head back out. According to a manual of its time, consulted by my mother, resolution does not occur spontaneously in these children.
Where should I file him? In my story, he is the hero.
My mother did what doctors she consulted told her to do, she painted my thumb with the taste of winter poison to stop me from sucking it and enrolled me in summer school for kids who were bored at school. It was all of one piece: the season of childhood.
In my youth, children were more like personal property: Has that changed? My mother worked her magic and helped put food on our table and developed her way of seeing the world. She was loving, which was lucky because she never stopped pushing. An impoverished Merry Widow with tight blonde curls. Now I see that deeply, from my father's coign of vantage. The attraction to her high soprano.
As he once appeared, I am a grown man with a past of my own, which spirals out around me.
He might say that we remain situated at our present and narcissistic enough to revisit our past. Filled with a sense of wonder and truth, we place ourselves impulsively in the story of where we have been--our works of art become artifact.
Really! it is always the present moment in this world!
Yet Welty writes: "It is our inward journey that leads us through time--forward or back, seldom in a straight line, most often spiraling. Each of us is moving, changing, with respect to others. As we discover, we remember; remembering, we discover; and most intensely do we experience this when our separate journeys converge. Our living experience at those meeting points is one of the charged dramatic fields of fiction."
My father is in there making the sound of a shuffling deck of cards. His imagination ran in nearly impossible directions, like the way cards flew out from between his fingers in mid-air. I think of it as another type of “spiralage,” a word Kris Brandenburger and Anne Bluethenthal sometimes use to clarify our sense of what “lineage” must look like. Even now, dead, my father's hands appear to me synaptic. And they have gone looking for other skin, other essence, other structure, other economy.
"Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them," Welty observes.
Is it only a re-examination of "our own poor scratched-over pages?" No, each moment has a tactile perception that is familiar, but also delicious and new. The way I walk out of here will still be me, tentative and duck-toed. But it will require ingenuity. With just a few coins I carry in my back pocket, the daily re-encounter with my mother and father is a kind of safeguard and showcase, a beautiful coin box. Quotable, memorable, experience is in it. But it is also something I shake and listen to again and again. It is somewhere in there--the inflection with which I draw another breath--it meanders until it distills and is nearly understood.