Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Public Work



This is the Loyd Tower (actually a lighthouse) in Kells, Ireland. I saw it only fleetingly during my stay there a few years back, but from the moment I did I was taken with it in some way I couldn't understand. The futility of building a lighthouse in a landlocked town deep inland fascinated me as much as what it stood for: futility and desperation. The government put many people to work during the Great Famine by building 'public works' all across Ireland, many of which like the tower served no real purpose beyond giving starving people work and pay.

I tried furiously - in fits and starts - to work the tower and what it represented into the novel I had begun working on before I went to Ireland. After 9/11, the tower became more to me, and I tried even harder to make it work, but it never did. I tend to do this a lot in life. I force things to fit an idea I have of them, because of an initial impression or feeling I get. I've learned to leave well enough alone. Art is an act of generoisty. You don't force generoisty on people, on art, or its grace.

The tower finally fits in the novel - in a fleeting moment - less than I intended, but more than I could say. Novels are not meant to be built so to give the idle mind something to do. Their is no greater fear for an artist in his or her time of greatest worry, than the fear that the work they have shed blood and sweat and tears for will serve only as a lonely monument to futility, isolated in a landscape it does not and cannot belong to.

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