Creativity — or in essence, artsy-thing-making — has served as my escape, mon évasion, during this pandemic, if not my lifetime. It is what I am compelled to do when I want to bend the rules, feel more alive, venture beyond the gray world of homo economicus. I am fortunate at this point in my unknowable lifespan to be able to seek escape in my artwork, to explore, to slightly remold the clay of what it is to be at this nearly-cured stage of me.
• • •
Samian (Samuel Tremblay) is a 37-year-old Algonquin-Quebecois rapper, whose songs mostly deal with the apartheid-like treatment of Canadian indigenous peoples. He told the Guardian, “For a few years I flitted from town to town in Quebec province, working in restaurants on minimum wage because I had no education. I mined the pain from that hard part of my life for my songs.” One of those that he wrote in 2oo8 was “Mon Évasion“:
mon évasion !!
ma façon de prendre l’air
ma façon de m’en sortir en essayant de l’écrire
yo je veux partir….
faire sortir le méchant
je tourne pas ma langue sept fois
mais je reste méfiant!
c’est juste de la poésie!
c’est plus qu’une rime, c’est une émotion
un mode d’expression, c’est une passion!
j’ai pas choisi de faire du rap, c’est le rap qui m’a choisi
la vie c’est une chanson, pis c’est elle qui m’a écrit!
In English, with license:
my escape !!
my way of getting some air
my way of trying to get it all down
yo, I want to go….
let that bad guy out
I don’t turn my tongue seven times
but I’m still suspicious!
it’s just poetry!
it’s more than a rhyme, it’s emotion,
a mode of expression, it’s a passion!
I didn’t choose to do rap, it was rap that chose me
life is a song, and she’s the one who wrote me!
My life has hardly been hard, and I haven’t had much to mine except everyday white angst. Nonetheless, with respect to the urgency and rewards of art, j’identifie.
• • •
I had never heard what it means to “turn one’s tongue seven times” and so I looked it up. This aphorism, the origin of which may either be French, Chinese, or Yoruba, advises that attempting this near-impossible act gives one’s brain sufficient time to control the tongue and avoid making some inopportune utterance. But I say, go ahead — turn it six times and take a chance that you may speak art.
• • •
We just watched Camille Claudel, a 1988 film about the French sculptor and lover-muse of Auguste Rodin. The film portrays Claudel (1864-1943) as a passionate and talented artist, fortunate to study under Rodin but ultimately falling victim to his artistic jealousies and sexual dominance. The film’s most powerful scene shows Claudel closely embracing, while desperately clawing, one of her works-in-progress then finally toppling the mound of clay to the floor. While this scene was undoubtedly meant to presage her descent into madness (Claudel spent her final decades, questionably, in a sanitarium), it also served to convey her deep and intimate struggle with her art. Which begs: must all worthy artistic pursuits be so fraught? Must real artists be so volatile?
Claudel’s art was her évasion but also the entrance to her own labyrinthe, her escape without escape.
“Ce cordon de phrases est un fil d’Ariane parce que je suis dans un labyrinthe, parce que j’écris pour m’y retrouver.”
“This string of words is Ariadne’s thread, because I am in a labyrinth and I write to find my way around.” — Michel Butor, French poet
There is a Camille Claudel museum an hour-or-so drive east of Paris. We hope to go there once we are confident enough to travel again, and when the people who live in the places we would like to visit are equally as confident. This trip may be a long way down the road.
• • •
It has almost been a year to the day since we last dined in a restaurant or went to a movie. Our life since then has been a labyrinthic string of trips to the grocery store, the ABC store, the gas station (albeit far less often than before), the library (after a long shutdown) and my retina doctor — all overlaid with countless Netflix-soaked hours and interspersed with weekly family video chats. We have had exactly three in-person visits with our children and grandchildren in the past year.
(My children cannot possibly appreciate the wonders and capabilities of 21st-century tech as I do. The internet, speedy chips and high-speed broadband have created so many more possibilities — for better and, vis-à-vis The Proud Boys, worse — than existed in my youth. Video calls were just a space-age dream in the 1960s. Reddit was what your mom told you to do when your room was a mess.)
I have tried to turn this past year-of-seclusion into an opportunity of sorts, my chance to do artistic spring-cleaning, where I free myself to spend whatever time is needed to make something out of nothing — which is how I define art.
As a result, I spent many months last year writing, orchestrating, polishing and mixing my song “Company Man” for purposes that defy 21st-century logic. It didn’t get me a million followers (the currency of the internet) let alone a hundred, let alone one. Expanding my circle wasn’t the point. (In that, I seem to have succeeded.)
And now I’m putting in nearly the same kind of time orchestrating one of my decades-old piano compositions. The process has been equal-parts fun, intellectual and compulsive; and sometimes it brings tears to my eyes, hearing virtual cellos and violins playing parts that I only imagined in my head sitting at the piano bench years ago. 21st-century tech is pretty amazing when put to benign purposes.
Composing and recording music has been mon évasion for most of the past year. It gives me the impression that I’m accomplishing something, even though most of humanity will never hear it or even know of it. My escape from the wave of sickness and stasis that has swept over us all. Mon évasion… before la vaccination.
My second vaccination is, at last, today. An end to escaping, an embrace of embracing.