Recently I had a brief child free moment to listen to the radio and take a hot bath to soothe my neglected and aching feet. As much as the hot water relaxed my muscles, this programme (on the wonderful On Being) woke-up my brain. It was an interview of Mary Catherine Bateson who wrote a book about the improvisational art of life which is now winding its way to me by DHL via Amazon. It’s called Composing a Life.
I’m sitting now in Starbucks and I’m going to pick up my daughter from kindergarten when I’m done. Then I’m going to insist we go straight home because I need to check the mail box to see if it’s arrived. Maybe you’re now wondering what was so revelatory about this wonderful conversation?
OK. I’m going to have a go at putting down on paper - or virtual paper anyway - what has been swirling in my head since I stepped out of that bath.
My entire adult life - and perhaps before that - I have been searching for “my subject”. I have been a classical violinist, a contemporary art curator, a literary academic, even a yoga student. But none of these cultures has felt like home. I just couldn’t get excited about theoretical research or Haydn or boundary-breaking gallery shows. Or I couldn’t get excited enough. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn these “languages” - literature, music, art.
But in my experience one needs 110% commitment to these pursuits. It’s like marriage. It doesn’t have to take all your time but in your deepest heart of hearts the love simply has to be there. Not affection. Not interest. Love.
I’ve gotten a bit off track now. But now I’m going to come to the central bit. What Mary Catherine Bateson said was this: Life itself is the ultimate art. Mothers have looked at their lives and called it a failure because life seemed elsewhere. But we must stand-up for life and see that the improvisational art of life-making is beautiful, engaging and requires grit.
And I thought. This is it. This is “the subject”. Reflecting on life itself: its nuances, its spirit, its psychology, its human dimension, its animal dimension, its aesthetics, its struggles. The list could go on forever. I have no idea where my bath time revelation leads. But I know I’m happy to share it with you here.
In the meantime, I’d love to know: What is your “subject”? And how did you discover it?