The Power of Memory

nostalgiaIn the past 3 or so years, I have returned to making art with a growing passion that has come to overwhelm all my other interests. I’m grateful for this gift, which is turning my winter years into a time of renewal. But something that keeps coming up is how powerful the past is, in particular, memory.

Today I felt that again when I lit a stick of this incense. Years ago (decades ago), when I was a teen, I often burned incense, and back then, pretty much all incense that I came across was from India and stuffed with synthetics. I remember how much I liked Nag Champa (“buy from reputed dealers only”). My clothing actually smelled like it, which I considered positive. But when I started art school in Chicago, I discovered Japanese incense at a little Japanese gift shop nearby, where I also bought a tiny book of Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. This particular scent, Morning Star sandalwood incense, became my favorite (and I still love Japanese woodblock prints, witness my Hiroshige¬†address book).

The other day I was tooling around online and happened to see it for sale. Even the color of the box brought me back to other times. I hesitated to buy it, because it’s not an expensive incense at all, and here I am with so much incense I make. I felt almost embarassed to buy it, as if I was craving some cheap candy from childhood. But I had a feeling that its scent would unlock a lot of doors of memory. So I bought it.

I got it today and right away fired up a stick. And the scent, yes, is a key. But I realized it’s not just simple nostalgia, a looking longingly towards the past, because the past was mostly not a very happy time in my life. My present is far better. It’s a nostalgia not for a time but for a feeling–the hope and energy I had as a young artist. That comes back to me more and more now, as I take each step forward in my art and as I remind myself of the passion I had then, when I wanted nothing more than to be an artist. I had forgotten that passion for so many years, buried it, because I thought it just could never come to fruition.

Until a few years ago, when I realized, hey, I’m getting old–if I’m ever going to be an artist, I better start trying. And I have.

The power of memory has influenced where I’ve chosen to live. One of the reasons why I wanted to rent a loft when I moved here to Rhode Island was because as a young artist, I very much coveted a garret that was visible from a side street near my first apartment. It was a bit ratty but had a large bank of slanted north windows and a tiny balcony aside that. How I wanted to live in that place and to have the life I imagined would go with it!

The loft I have rented has ten very large windows, although none on the north side, but my godz, the light in here is incredible. It inspires me every single day to do more artwork, to live up to my own idea of what I would have done had I lived in that garret–paint, paint, paint, and interact with other artists. I’ve become friends with other artists living in my complex, and it’s wonderful for me. Not since art school back in 1972 have I had the opportunity to just chat with other artists about making art. I am very grateful I have come to this point in my life.

I know I’ll be burning some of this incense every day, reveling in its pleasant scent and enjoying the further unlocking of the power of memory.

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