As a teaching artist, as a human being, I would be lying if I did not say I would love to travel the world, to depart to unknown places to infuse my work and to share my art. There are a host of warm hearts in Sweden and France I would treasure meeting.
But I am an artist confined physically by concrete, steel and electric wires for 35 years. Sometimes teaching artists must stay put by choice or circumstance, yet their hearts, minds and spirits must still travel. Somewhere I read you don’t have to travel the world to know the hearts of man. These days I am not even able to travel past the bars of my own cell.
An officer told me today that a pair of geese came up to the art room fence, honking for me this morning, as loud as fog horns – their voices echoing throughout the corridor. But I will not be there today, at least not physically, because we are on lock-down for I do not know how long. There was a riot yesterday, on the big yard, between some black and brown prisoners.
I will not be allowed out of the cage to run my classes, commune with the birds, or breathe in Mother Earth. So, I focus on the teaching artist fellowships I have through the mail. I have only a few correspondence fellowships with students now, because snail mail has become almost obsolete.
Thus, on this lock-down, I’ll mainly read and ponder books. I’ll cultivate new ideas through my studies, writing and meditation. I’ll give my spirit, heart, mind, and soul fodder to create lessons in the moment, like jazz. The lessons will come out when needed in the future. Tomorrow will bring what it brings.
I’ll paraphrase something Rilke wrote in Letter to a Young Poet: There are endless paths and things inside us – place, stories, poems and songs. There are memories in our hearts, bodies and souls that we can naturally draw upon to teach art and transcend structures.
Art, I think, must be personal, and at times very personal. I believe my art must show personal for others to both see inside themselves and feel their own flow, and travel internally to unknown depths. Everyone has their own way of seeing things, and the arts, by being personal, allow or inspire others to be aware of that fact.
When I ponder Rilke or Langston Hughes they inspire me not to imitate them, but to be more of myself through my own inner travels.