Rat Gnaw and Titian’s Gizzard
While I try to make this space a contemplative and uplifting one, I also believe that talking about the way things really are can be refreshing and, if less lovely, at least true. Which is why the title for the post is a bit, well, gizzard-y.
For some reason, and I rarely do this, I took an old book I wrote out of my closet. (I used to have a row on my bookshelf of my own books, but I find I’m happier when they’re on the shelf in the closet. Weird writer quirks, what can I say). The book is Asking. The last section of it is a series of ekphrastic enactments, or, poems that detail the different kinds of ways one can write about art. As you know, I live with an artist (whose website I recently re-vamped). And so obviously, as you can see in the photo, we live beautifully. We have art on the walls, and flowers in our garden. What more does one need?
Well, you all know the answer to that.
In the last section of my book, Asking, there is a poem-essay titled “Rat Gnaw” which is about how poets often write about the lives of the artists. We are drawn to them, because they are like us, and yet not.
In my essay, I refer to this Woolf quotation from The Waves:
“We sit in the Italian room at the National Gallery picking up fragments. I doubt that Titian ever felt this rat gnaw. Painters live lives of methodical absorption, adding stroke to stroke. They are not like poets – scapegoats; they are not chained to the rock. Hence the silence, the sublimity. Yet that crimson must have burnt in Titian’s gizzard.
As beautiful as our life is, there is always the rat gnaw. The aching gut, the perpetual anxiousness, the crimson burning in our gizzards.
If you’re an artist or writer, are you finding the rat gnaw to be more persistent than usual?
Here is what I’m noticing in some of my writer/artist friends, in myself. (Which could be happening to anyone right now, I know this isn't unique). Sleeplessness, insomnia, exhaustion, worry, rat gnaw. We talk about our side-hustles a lot, or about how to get one, if this or that would work. A lot of anger. Feeling: Feeling like throwing in the towel. Feeling as though the rug is being pulled out from under us. Feeling frantic. Feeling frantic at how much time we’re spending scrolling obsessively on social media and reading about politics, atrocities, unbelievable horrible monstrosities and various travesties. Compassion fatigue. Fatigue. Dizzy. Frazzled. Frayed. Spread thin. Bit desperate. And maybe worst of all, feeling uncreative.
And some days you will feel none of these things, and sometimes all of them. And as someone who has been doing the artist/writer couple thing for 30 years, I know that these things come and go, but it feels with the political climate being what it is, and the economy, well, there’s been an escalation. And all I want to say today is that if you’re feeling all this, you’re not alone. Which I hope is of some small comfort.
There’s the famous Oscar Wilde quotation:
This seems pertinent, still.
I want to offer up a list of things we can do to help each other out, lift each other up. I want to talk about how important it is to keep making our art, to keep talking, and to keep creating. I want to tell you to keep the faith in what you’re doing. And I’ll get to that, I will. I will. I’m just waiting for the right day.