The world does not need more successful people

July 20, 2013

The world desperately needs more peacemakers and healers, restorers and storytellers and lovers of all kinds. –Dalai Lama

fuschia

I was feeling particularly blessed to be at my friend Christophe’s humble art exhibition—organized in his garden to celebrate his birthday and show two years’ worth of artwork he’d produced since moving to this quiet village in the eastern French Pyrenees—when I suddenly felt the need to leave. Some strange bewilderment overtook me and I needed to get out of there. I walked home alone in the warm evening air, the heavy scent of summer invading my psyche. I took in the scene around me, the verdant fields draped at the base of Mount Canigou, the cherry trees full with fruit and the roman-tiled roofs dotting this ancient French landscape. Then I called Dad.

It can be either catastrophic or enlightening when I turn to Dad at such hours. The conversation began shakily and I felt myself spiraling deeper into confusion. Dad went down his list of useless problem-solving tools until finally he pulled out this one, “You know the reason you feel so bad is because you’re not writing.” Silence.

When I first came to this village, desperately in need of a safe harbor, Christophe called from the path above my stone courtyard. Mademoiselle, he called down. I hadn’t realized you could see into my space from the road just above, so it startled me, like the voice of God calling down. Christophe smiled brightly and said it pleased him to see someone enjoying the beautiful grounds of this old stone mill house—often empty except for the summer months. And then he continued on his way to his garden, an abandoned village briar patch that he’d hand cleared with little to no tools over the last year.

I’ve been cautious about the people I socialize with since moving here. It hasn’t been a conscious thing, but looking back now I see it clearly. I’ve very much needed to protect myself, feel the influence of others wholly, not haphazardly. Christophe has been one of the privileged few, I think, because he emits a certain naivety that feels safe. His story is rich, and probably not something he’d want me publishing to the world, but I think it’s okay to say he came to this village in the wake of love and loss and a search for divinity—on his own terms. I sense that he’s suffered, and that like most of us, he still does. But when you see the flowers he’s painted onto silk cloth canvasses, when you see his now-blooming no longer abandoned garden, when you see his clay pottery unintentionally fallen into two pieces titled “they meet,” you see, quite visibly, his effort to transform mishap into beauty.

Christophe tells me he goes for a walk each morning. Ever since spring hit the Pyrenees he’s been in a mode of creativity. He says a flower will call to him while on his walk, tell him something important, and once back home he’ll spend hours working his dye into silk fabric. Christophe’s hands are permanently stained these days; he opens his door with a paintbrush between his lips and he comes running down to dinner invitations, late, with his mistress in hand—a still-damp silk tapestry of spring flowers.

Christophe lives in a tiny loft apartment that once was a stable for animals in winter. He cooks on a camp stove and takes the 1-euro bus into town on market days. He makes delicious vegetarian soups and gives gifts of fresh picked mint from his garden or he lends music CD’s the library has lent him. He tells me he’s grateful for the help he receives from his family—what I can only guess is similar to the way Van Gogh’s brother meagerly financed Van Gogh’s creativity.

Christophe has given himself to the artist’s life. I don’t truly know if he is better for it, but I can’t help but to think the world is. Christophe’s flowers, real and painted, reflect the light of observance that seems to have escaped so many of us. Standing in Christophe’s garden, smelling the humid heat and feeling the raw air on my skin—I felt intensely this absence of observance in my own life.

And then I thought, how strange that people buy art, that paying attention can even be a profession. That it’s come down to this. We cut ourselves off from the mystery of life and then we crave it so intensely that we’re willing to buy it back in the form of art. And still more strange, even more sad—that the observer must sell his or her art for the freedom to keep paying attention, that simply paying attention, staying connected, necessitates such a sordid exchange.

Dad is right, I haven’t been writing. And though that reality is destabilizing in and of itself, what’s most bewildering is that I’m not sure I have the heart to be the observer that writing requires. I’m too busy selling myself, doing whatever it takes to survive, to write. And yet, my futile attempt to live is the very thing keeping me from the source of life. This insoluble dilemma makes me feel absurd, in a panic. I feel in my gut that things like art and food should not be bought and sold.The only thing I can compare this feeling to is an ordered and chaotic painting in hues of yellow and green that hangs in the room I rent. I don’t like the order or the chaos, and it feels like there’s no way out.

For his birthday party/art exhibition, Christophe moved his rudimentary belongings into the street and into his garden, turning his room into a gallery. He hung his silk tapestries and displayed his pottery and silk and clay lamps all right next to his personal life—his dishes, his books and poetic notes to himself that, in English, read something like “To feel and know how to love, by he or she, who leads us to be born unto ourselves, each day”. Christophe’s invitees perused the exhibit and then ate soup in the garden and drank supermarket wine chilled in the flowing river just below.

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3 Responses to “The world does not need more successful people”

  1. marianinfrance said

    Truly inspirational to me. Both the glimpse into Christophe’s life and art and your portrayal of real value. I thought a lot about Christophe on my walk this morning.

  2. Ailyn said

    Thank you, Avery! This and your last entry were particularly moving – hit on what I have been thinking about and struggling with recently. ox

  3. Kelli said

    Avery, your way of thinking is so beautiful. I’m not sure what is more spectacular, your writing or your photographs. AMAZING!! ~Kelli

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