As part of a new content partnership with Nola Studiola, a collaborative online platform where various artists — visual and literary — curate the site with their own content for month-long “residencies,” we will feature monthly “dispatches” from Nola Studiola’s artists. The focus of this feature series will be the artists’ reflections on their curatorial work at Nola Studiola.
This month’s featured curator is essayist Marin Sardy, whose essays have appeared in the “Missouri Review,” “Post Road,” “Bayou,” “Lumina,” “Phoebe,” “Luna Luna” and other journals and magazines, as well as two books published by the University of New Mexico Press: “Landscape Dreams” (2012) and “Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby” (2009). Sardy has an M.F.A. in Nonfiction from Columbia University and is the nonfiction editor of “Cactus Heart” literary magazine. She is currently writing a memoir. In the past few years, her writing has mostly involved topics relating to mental illness.
As the September curator of the Nola Studiola REDUX blog, I chose to begin every post with the prompt “The Process Involves…” I did this in the hope that these three words would lead me on unexpected tangents. I also hoped that the repetition would begin to generate a feeling of accrual, and that the final product — a total of 15 posts — would amount to something greater than the sum of its parts. As I come to the end of the project, I find it surprisingly difficult to say what I got out of it. But perhaps that’s the thing about art. It creeps up on you, alters you inexorably while you’re sleeping.
I came into the Studiola at a time when I’ve been deep in the writing of a long book that already has a clearly defined shape. I started wondering how it would feel to come up with brand-new ideas again, to form something from nothing as I did so often when I was writing essays rather than a book. At first it felt awkward. I was a bit unsure how to make use of the blog form. But after about the third or fourth post, something clicked and ideas started coming. In this way my time as curator became an act of remembering—recalling how to begin, how to trust the process, how to let things take shape both by the force of my intellect and simply on their own.
Beyond that, I admit I know nothing except the impulse to write. My husband asked me today if what I’ve learned about the writing process has parallels to the process of living. I couldn’t see how. Maybe others can find the connections, but for me, the level on which I live is so basic: I count a day as successful if I brush my teeth and feed my dog. I think that maybe, for me, writing is easier than living. Writing is where my mind desires to be, where it flexes and grows. Everything else that a person has to weather, the actual living—that’s the part that’s hard.
Below is one of Sardy’s “The Process Involves…” entries from Nola Studiola. You may find more of Sardy’s curatorial entries for Nola Studiola here.
“Undoubtedly you will try to make art out of this beautiful ephemera, the merging of the past with the present, because you’re artists, chroniclers of who you are, and who you might be, and who we all are, together.”—Hilton Als
My brain is a scattered landscape that my mind inhabits freely, without many constraints. This of course makes modern life challenging but it is at least conducive to creative writing. It enables me to follow the branches on my web of associations to wherever they may lead. Memory, we all know, typically ignores chronology, and even when it seems to be arranging itself thematically, its themes and the ones I’m trying to pursue are rarely the same. Moreover it changes course often, winding here to an amethyst necklace on one day and to a shallow, muddy pond on another. So it leads me astray as often as not, opening up wormholes that I slide in, so that I then find myself going on about something far removed from what I meant to say—something perhaps irrelevant but compelling to me in this moment—often for reasons I can’t explain. Wormholes are shape-shifters and that’s part of what makes them beautiful. And they’re muscular too, strong enough to keep me wrestling until the words are out, released, finally taking on their own existence, separate from me.
Part of being a memoirist is knowing when to let yourself slide into one of these wormholes and when not to. As if we have that much control. More often, I just let myself go there and then remove the text if it doesn’t work within my larger vision for the piece. My computer is loaded with Word files containing these scraps, one or two or eight page spewings about some incident that may or may not make its way into my book. Sometimes I write down a description of an event and then set it aside for years, waiting to catch up with it by way of other words. Waiting to suddenly have a place to insert it, a place where it’s perfect, a place that needs it and is made better by it. And then I’m grateful that I wrote it down that first time, when it drew itself up organically from the morass of my recollections and so was pulsing and writhing in my mind at the time I threw it down and made it exist.