During a past art school critique, a professor declared in a sermon-like rant that the whole world works to shut a person down, close one off. He said that the artist’s job is to remain open, resisting that closing down with all of our being.

It’s a more difficult task than it sounds, as cynicism is a close neighbor to analytical thinking. And any time I think I know something, or expect something logically, as is irrevocably my human nature to do, I am not truly open to something being otherwise. And god knows, it is often otherwise.

Today is winter solstice, and a creative person can get pretty giddy with all the metaphors spawned by the idea of the darkest day of the year. It makes me recall an essay in a book titled, Findings, by the Scottish poet Kathleen Jamies. In it she takes us on an inclement dead-of-winter trek to a 5,000 year-old tomb, named Maes Howe, built under a grassy berm in the middle of a remote Scotland field. With Neolithic technology, Stone Age people of the area fashioned a soundless, light-less, insulated stone cavern to inter the remains of their dead. But during the few days around winter solstice, this dark place of the dead was designed with such engineering (and a sense of poetry) that “a beam of the setting sun shines along the passage and onto the tomb’s back wall.”

Just when I think I can relish all the freely flowing metaphors of her descent into this place, Kathleen Jamies stops me. Because just as it might be improbable to find a ray of sunlight in a place of utter darkness, a place of death, during the darkest days of the year, the poet discovers yet again, otherwise.

Upon arrival at Maes Howe, she finds the would-be dark, ancient tomb fiercely lit up like a glaring fluorescent laboratory, by surveyors and restorers working with science-fiction’ish technologies, inch by inch, to restore the cracking stone cavern from the deteriorating effects of modern tourists.

After this turn of modern events, a post-modern metaphor arises. She explains, “We have not banished death, but we have banished the dark…. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks….We look about the world by the light we have made, and realize it’s all vulnerable.”

And still, it remains our task to be open, cracks and all — and I pray, perchance, to find beauty.

Today’s Advice: “If people become cut off from the love of beauty, that sabotages their love of the world and increases their willingness to compromise it.” Elaine Scarry

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