Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Today I begin posting excerpts from my unpublished novel, A Discerning Eye.

The story follows painter Anna Staski, daughter of famed painter Josef Staski. Josef, a Holocaust survivor, committed suicide, leaving a suite of paintings unfinished. Anna decides to complete them. The book documents her experience.

This manuscript passed through any number of large New York publishing houses. They all praised the novel to the skies, save one editor, who thought the protagonist "Needed Vitamins". None felt they could publish it. Make of this what you will.
Without further excuses or whining, A Discerning Eye.



A Discerning Eye

Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail--
Assent--and you are sane--
Demur--you're straightaway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--
Emily Dickinson



There is no real way to deal with anything we lose.
Joan Didion


The Pacific Ocean dominates the view from my window, a long, flat blue plane. Sitting on my stool I can just discern seabirds, tiny moving slashes dipping down to help themselves to fish, which I must take, from this distance, as a given. At the horizon line the sky is a thousand variations of gray: pewter, pearl, steely blue, to name only a few. A painter could stand before this window for a lifetime, never wanting for a subject.

I myself only paint the view after completing the work at hand. The view is a reward, like chocolate after broccoli. Since leaving San Francisco I have had three shows; in each I included at least one painting of the view. All have sold. Oceans are popular. They are everything people secretly want art to be: attractive, educational, simple.

Before beginning the work at hand I primarily painted still lifes. These paintings were a collection of disparate objects deliberately lacking thematic relationships. This did not prevent people from theorizing, but then people are forever seeking verbal explanations. They demand words in careful sequence, replete with drama and clarification. They gorge themselves on words until they are brimful with meaning, yet remain unsatisfied. That's where the painters of the world come in, jostling for attention.

I selected objects for the way they worked with light, shadow, and one another. Wooden spools, some still wrapped with a few tenacious strands of thread I lacked the heart to remove, beeswax tapers set in discolored brass candleholders, old satin doll clothing-- better made than much of today's human garb--arranged on napkins of sky blue silk. They were very Vermeer, shiny, satiny drapery. Earlier this year I made a painting of a lute, copied from a magazine. The instrument rests on a cream damask tablecloth. In the upper right I painted five Roma tomatoes with green, green stems. Sometimes, as in the case of the Romas, I'll take a black and white photograph, preserving the fruit's finest moment. I do not use color film; it would interfere with the colors in my head.


I moved here from San Francisco eight years ago. I was twenty-four, fresh from art school, and knew I needed to escape the city if I were to make any decent work. There was a past to escape--even someone so young can have a life worthy of escape--and the understanding that I needed something expansive outside my window, a counterbalance to the view inside my head. It turned out I was absolutely right about this, and in the ensuing years have worked steadily, with increasing dexterity and understanding of what it is I hope to do.

A line of cadmium orange, a shading of red deep. These colors rarely appear in my palette, adding to the essentially wrong feeling of this work. The brushstrokes are broader than my own, the work of a larger hand on a scale that tires me quickly. I am forced to take numerous breaks, shaking out my trembling arm. Today I do this and reality rushes in, reminding me it's Wednesday, that Richard will be holding court tonight at Sushi Blue, that I need to work just a little longer before showering and putting on paint-free clothing. Usually I do not think about time when I am working; instead I notice the failing light of late afternoon and thus know to quit. The invasion of clock-time, the schedule of the world, disturbs me.

I shower and drive to the restaurant. The daylight thins, giving way to damp fog. San Francisco fog has nothing on Bluestem fog. A summer day here is sixty-five degrees, a completely sunny day reason for celebration. Nonetheless the light here is lovely, sea-thickened, a hazy light blue that has entered my field of vision and thus my work.

I attend Richard's Wednesday nights to remain nominally in the world, to recall how to behave in human company. Richard and his acolytes are all from the University on the hill. Most are sullen teenagers going through an artistic phase courtesy of parental funding. Any day now they'll toss their black wardrobes in favor of business casual, stow their angrily slashed canvases in a back closet. They regard me with awe; a real artist. Some know my father and stare at me, searching. I must be a disappointment, certainly my life is not glamorous, my company rather dull.

Richard himself is a better teacher than painter, a fact he'll readily admit to. I like him for that painful honesty, for his unsullied love of art, his enthusiasm and endless well of goodwill for others. I've seen young artists bloom under his tutelage, learned what a gifted teacher is capable of.
Inside he's already at the table with a group of six or seven. "Anna!" he booms. "Come on over here!"

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