An eighth layer


Eighth layer main graphic blog
Shortly after I left one of my few “real” jobs, I was invited to be a kind of case study. Yikes! I thought. How do I prepare for that?

It was 2009. Renny Pritikin, museum curator and poet, had asked me to speak to a class in curatorial practice that he teaches at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco…no preparation necessary. He would just ask me questions – poking and prodding. He wanted to get students thinking about the real-life ramifications of their job choice. He wanted them to see another way to live a life in the arts. I would be an example, he wrote, of “someone with the courage to reinvent yourself, to make jobs for yourself rather than passively wait for someone else to hire you for their job.”

It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d reflected on the life I’ve made up for myself, but doing so in the context of a class more clearly raised questions I continue to ask, in evolving variations. What do I have to share and how can I share it? What does it mean to have gotten a living without having a job, and how do I live with some of the consequences? How are lives sustained when devoted to work that is not supported by market or government? Does my arts life affect my work, even when it doesn’t look like art? What are the practical implications of a life in the commons? What does it mean to be 70 and still kicking? How’s the best way to spend these “extra” years, years most people didn’t have 100 years ago and many don’t have now?

In a speech at a dinner celebrating his 70th birthday, Mark Twain spoke of standing unafraid and unabashed on his “seven-terraced summit.” I see it a little differently. It’s not just that I hope not to have reached the summit quite yet. I see my past as a seven-layered substructure that gives me something a little more solid to stand on than I had when I was twenty, a platform for building connections, having conversations, provoking questions, thinking deeply – a foundation for writing, learning, living, loving, and figuring out what to do with all my questions.

While I like thinking of myself as an aging commoner… deep down I aspire to cause a bit of a ruckus, to be une ancienne terrible. I take to heart my own words excerpted from a piece done for the Frye Art Museum in 2013:

Let’s raise up a music of sighs, the pale dew, the veils,
the things that are hard to see, invisible and elusive.
We’ll move in between, connecting as switches acting on genes.
We’ll make shared spaces, soup pots and cauldrons, chambers and rooms.

Get up, get up!
Let’s get going.

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  1. Thanks for your thoughts, Anne. Reminds me: “The time and opportunity, so hard to obtain, have been achieved, and they allow me to benefit the world. If I fail to take advantage of this opportunity, when will it rise again?”

  2. Thanks for all the good insights here, Anne. I must say I don’t see it as Mark Twain did. Roughly a year away from 70 myself, I don’t particularly feel the notion of “seven-terraced summit.” Multiple layers, surely. But seven seems arbitrary — too convenient within seven decades. Some of those layers erode, or dissolve, or disappear! Others solidify, or expand, or explode! As for the summit, well I suppose, by definition, we only get one. So perhaps we don’t know where it was until it’s all over. I’ll hope it’s yet to come.

    1. You and I seem to agree, Ed, on not responding well to Mark Twain’s notion of having reached a “summit” at 70. I’m liking that I have all that to stand on, but I also love your notion that layers disappear and expand as well. Something in one of those layers under us might just explode and send us out in new and unknown directions. It’s great to follow your explorations of one of the new places you’ve landed!

      Carry on!

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