by Barb on yet another lovely New England fall day
I just bought this collage created by my fellow Level Best co-editor, Kat Fast.
I blogged about Kat (or Kathy as I call her, or Katherine as she appears on the covers of the Level Best anthologies) just the other day, when we wrote about the people in our lifeboats.
I first saw the collage at a one woman show Kat had at the Weston Council on Aging, a group she’s been very involved with as a teacher and a volunteer. I was immediately taken with the picture aesthetically and emotionally. I loved its density, composition and vibrant colors. I loved how it contained the promise of spring and summer. And, it doesn’t hurt that I also believe in my core that anything with hydrangeas in it can’t be all bad.
But when Kat explained how the piece was made, I resonated with it intellectually as well. It came out of a class with one of her teacher/mentors who believed, “Everything has something good in it.” A painting that is a failure will always contain at least one successful element. One flower, or one tiny corner, or even just a streak of the perfect color green.
So she had them cut up some of those failed pieces and arrange the successful elements in a new composition.
The result, I think, is spectacular.
What an important lesson that is for all of us who create.
Just two days ago on the blog, Kathy Lynn Emerson explained how surrendered after 100 pages of a failed Elizabethan thriller, but then was able to carve two short stories out of it.
The ideas and images that speak to us are the ideas and images that speak to us, and sooner or later, if we keep at it, we will find a way to express them.
The reason I call Kat “Kathy” is because we actually met, I hate to even think, it must be close to thirty years ago when we both worked at a company called Information Mapping. I left in the mid-90s and we lost touch, as people did in those pre-Facebook days. Then, one day, I was walking down the street in Harvard Square and there she was. “What are you up to these days?” she asked. “Oh,” I said, “I’m in this writers group. I’m writing a mystery.” “Really?” Kathy said. Because it turned out she was, too. She joined our group, and the rest is history. One of those serendipitous moments that changes several people’s lives.
At the opening of her show, Kathy spoke wonderfully, tying up into a tidy package a life she’s quick to agree has many disparate elements. She recognized each of her art teachers and told the central truth she had learned from each one, which I found very moving.
She also managed to tie in her editorship at Level Best via her story, “The Black Dog,” in Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, about an amateur artist, “not paying full fare at the movies” herself, who is initially rejected, then embraced by three elderly professionals in an advanced watercolor class. “The Old Cats” as they dub themselves, worry about housing and healthcare and the hundreds of paintings their children will eventually need to dispose of–until they come up with a plan that solves all those problems in one go and only depends on a little bit of fraud.
So here’s to the crafty old cats, and the mentors, and the little bit of good in all of our failures.