Last night I was reminded of a galvanizing moment in my life. I was talking with Ryan about it when he remembered this Annie Dillard quote. A quote that rang true. Pun intended.
In 1999, while my parents were living in London during a three year stint, we visited them in September. We had reveled in London’s pleasures for several days but took to the road on a Friday to drive south to Lewes, near the famous cliffs of Dover, to visit the home of Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It was balmy in England and the deep blacky purple elderberries lined the roads. The fields were the color of caramel.
Charleston, the house Vanessa and Duncan began to occupy in the early part of the 20th century, is now a restored historic site, open to visitors. They lived there for some 60 years, adorning its walls and furnishings with spontaneous acts of art. They lived through wars, untimely deaths (Vanessa’s son in war and her sister, Virginia Woolf, to suicide), love and hurt (though Duncan was gay, he was the father of Vanessa’s daughter), and many changes of seasons. The Bloomsbury group of artists and writers were itinerant visitors and occupants of the house through the 20s, 30s and 40s. I knew a tiny bit of this history before that Friday, but nothing prepared me for how I’d feel upon entering the grounds of Charleston.
Annie Dillard’s words describe more of how I felt than I could ever say. Until then my creative life continued to be put off with many an excuse. The visit to Charleston fired me with a sense of urgency that now was the time to start, not the time to wait until it was convenient. That urgency hasn’t left me, though it’s been expressed in a variety of ways—both physical and spiritual. For me the act of creative expression is a very spiritual thing, and when making or imagining something I feel the most alive, bell ringing and ringing and ringing and ringing.