And now . . . Small Works takes a more serious turn.

Just for a moment, so I hope you won't mind.  I've been working on a few little personal essays that need a place to speak -- and since I'm in charge, when they begged to be heard I agreed to let them.

We'll call this series

Small Works Secrets . . .

I'll spread them out a little over the next few weeks,
and I sincerely hope you'll feel inclined to share some of your thoughts as well.

Secrets.  We all have them.  They cause some of us to overeat, or to medicate ourselves in one way or another, or to sleep with a light on, or to read or watch things we shouldn't, or to not do things we should.

And I'm convinced we ought to be glad we don't know all of them.

But sometimes sharing them can be good, because we get glimpses into new places in others that help us to understand some of our own secrets, and it eases the burden of keeping them just a little.  So I'm going to take a leap and share a few of mine with you.

Small Works Secret Number 1:  The Happiness Factor

Robert Frost wrote:  "I have been one acquainted with the night."  What good are the words of a great poet if we cannot borrow them to express something better than we can express it ourselves?

If you asked the people who know me well for ten words that describe me, I don't think happy would be on the list.  You might get nice or smart, and probably cynical, but I'm simply not a bubbling font of happiness.  And that's not likely to change.

But by far the word I hear most often to describe my work is "happy." 

Perhaps the happiness in my work shines brighter because sometimes it's dark where I am -- not a situational darkness, but the inside kind where you would turn on the lights if you could just find the switch, but instead you grope around in the dark until the lights somehow come on by themselves.  Who knows how?

My daughter was helping at a show for a bit while I went to have lunch and she told me about a group of women who just kept raving that my work was so HAPPY.  After about the tenth time she'd heard that word, she wanted to shout, "If you could just HEAR the commentary that goes on while these things are being made . . . !"  But she didn't.  She kept my secret, as I keep hers.  We understand each other, because we are two links in a long chain of relatives who have struggled to find inner happiness.

We were born that way, a defect in our wiring that makes our happiness mostly unrelated to what's going on around us, and instead a function of what's going on within us.

There are ups and downs, of course, some good years and some inexplicably bad ones.  It's a ride we'd all like to get off, but we know we've been buckled in for life so we do what we can to make the most of the highs and minimize the lows -- things like creating art, for example.  And for some reason, my art remains optimistic, no matter where I sit on the hill.

There are cracks in my work sometimes, of course . . . a wry glance or a character's comment that if studied might provide the hint of something slightly menacing under the bright surface.  But that is what, for me, makes it true.

I suppose making happy art must be my attempt to commoditize happiness -- to wrap it in neat packages that I can present to others, even though I can't quite figure out how to open them myself.

And if that elusive happiness 

-- the shining thread that slips through my fingers 
but into my stitches --

feels real for other people . . . 

then I suppose that's the most 
reliable kind of happiness 
I will ever imagine.


Karen S said...

Speaking as a parent, I must say that you've done your job well if your children know that they can trust you to keep their secrets. Even better if they will keep yours.

That said, I like to look at "happy" artwork (like yours), but I can't imagine making it myself -- unless I did it unintentionally (and with much cursing...).

Mandi said...

Susan - First your work, now your blog brings tears. It is you that makes the world a better place. Thanks for continuing to grope. Much love - Mandi

susan m hinckley said...

Karen -- there's plenty of cursing from time to time, rest assured! And I guess I also make mine unintentionally happy. I think it may have been Robert Browning who said, "When I wrote this only two people knew what it meant -- God and Robert Browning. Now God only knows." I just make it and if people see "happy!", it's not necessarily because I put it there. But it is a happy accident.

Mandi -- thank you, thank you. For all your encouragement.

Allie said...

What an interesting post, Susan. Having struggled with depression most of my life, I can understand this well. And yet, the art I'm drawn to and the art I try to make is happy. I've come to realize that even if the process doesn't make me happy, and in the end result I see flaws [which doesn't make me happy], still when I look at the finished piece, I feel joy. I'm very visual - surrounding myself with happy colors and art goes a long way to combating that depression that I live with!

susan m hinckley said...

Couldn't have said it better myself, Allie.

Pam said...

Thanks for stopping by Susan. I'm glad the art show went well and you received such well-deserved feedback for your wonderful pieces.I found what you've written here so refreshing in its perceptive honesty.Like you,I feel my daughter knows me well. We have always been able to share what troubles our hearts. Looking at your creative output, I am amazed at how much you've done! So much work! Fantastsic!

Lisa Cannon said...

I wish I had said that. I should take the time to write such essays but since I could never do it as well as you do, I will just enjoy yours. You are the master.

susan m hinckley said...

Actually, Lis, some people like reading essays that AREN'T written by me. Like me, for instance. So get thee to a keyboard, GO!

april said...

first of all, you can totally tell that you and lisa are sisters!!!

thanks for being willing to share with us. i've always been humbled by your candor and constant efforts to fight your personal demons. as one who usually chooses the hide behind a rock tactic, you've always seemed so courageous to me. i truly believe you are.

susan m hinckley said...

Wow, April, thank you. But then you and I have a few difficulties in common, I think. And then you have a few others to top it off. And you are one of the most supportive and understanding people on this planet. YOU are an inspiration to me every day.

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