Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Letters From Dad, 1975

My father died in 1986 of a massive heart attack. He was 74 years old. I included a few of his letters in my recently published memoir, Fragments: Growing up Bohemian Poor In Dementia’s House © 2010. The images in the paperback are black and white. Here the images are in chronological order, showing the progression of his style and colors as he got older, and nearer to the time of his heart attack.

 1975, 11 March

Dear Suzi,

            Your letter, as usual, has made my day, especially coming on the morning after my writing class. Right away you launch into some reassuring things about creative writing classes in general, and it makes me feel good to have my own judgments so reinforced. I can’t really put the experience down, though. I’m going to continue with it. I’ve written far, far more than I ever would have otherwise, and just having done it makes me feel that some part of me really needed to do this writing, and it matters not what happens to it, in class or out. Just putting it all on paper, period seems to have been a kind of flowering.

            Actually, a few things I’ve done have produced a fulfilling reaction – one short story and some haiku-type poetry. Not all that bad an average, really. Like with painting, one in twelve will set me up, and the others are just there, for the judgment and/or the pleasure of others, if I’m lucky.

           What you say about creative writing groups, though, is as though you had been attending my class. Such consistency in school classes is almost a challenge; there must be a significant reason why, but I won’t get into that.

            I like what you say about lyricism in poetry, and about Robert Frost’s convictions. Life itself should be lyrical, too. I am going to memorize some of the things you’ve said so at the proper occasion, if any, I will have an intriguing rebuttal to some of the off-the-cuff critiques that happen in class. It happens that what I know about the writing of poetry is very minimal, with one exception perhaps: ask me something that has to do with something as minimal as seventeen syllables and I might have some reliable information to pass on. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed doing it so far, and it was by my own choice. And through it I have experienced periods of the kind of lyrical consciousness that I like to live with, and that I think is essential to live with, if, individually, we are to take an actual part in creation itself.

…I see I have written a lead in for developing some more of my convictions and beliefs. Shall I take advantage of it? If I do it will be because my own theories are a challenge to myself, and not because I wish to proselytize. This may not be strictly true, since the act of creation is in itself a proselytizing activity. Proselytizing what? The nature of reality itself. The blossom really does have something to say, in the truly lyrical sense, about the energies which bring it into being in the first place.

The crux of it is whether or not creative energies, whatever they may be, can create anything without having the thing partake of the nature of the energies themselves. Presumably, such creative energies are prime movers, right? I mean they exist prior to everything else, since every thing else has to be created from whatever is prior to it. It is important to think of creation in this sense, not as bringing things into being out of nothing, there is no nothing, but as building things out of something, in the same sense as concrete blocks are made out of cement, sand, and gravel, which in turn are made out of the natural elements of the earth, which in turn are, etc., etc And why is there no nothing? 


(con’t) – Because of the all-inclusive, all-pervading nature of what ever is most prior. Literally because of the ever-present, everywhere nature of whatever is most prior. For whatever is most prior, period, to be present anywhere (at all) would be a contradiction in terms: it is either MOST PRIOR or it is not. If it is, truly most prior, what kind of wall or barrier could exclude it from any area, or any aspect, of the universe? The existence of such a barrier anywhere on any plane would automatically pre-empt the mostness of its priorness. You see? It is prior, or it is not.

Okay, so the prior reality is there, everywhere, every time, any time: there is literally no place, no plane, no aspect, no how, no where, where there is no thing. So whatever is brought into being has to be made out of whatever already exists–the prior reality. The prior is the only base material available from which to make things, whoever or whatever does the making. This is a stickler for humanity to grasp because the nature of our traditional religious beliefs has conditioned us to the implication that God is a something which creates the universe out of nothing. Bullshit, baby. One of the first prerequisites of enlightenment is to get out of that bag, if the physical universe is saying anything that can be called obvious, it is that every thing is made out of some thing else, as in the case of the concrete blocks.

From his soft color series

(con’t) …what I’m getting around to is giving you an answer as to how I feel about the sea in relation to my painting, and my cosmology.

Generally, I was writing about what the physical universe is trying to tell us, including, of course, what the sea may be saying, about the prior.

First, getting back to the blossom, two of the most obvious things the blossom is saying (or singing) is that the prior (out of which the blossom flowers) is PERFECT and LYRICAL (thank you for the word, Suzi!). Could anything be more perfectly lyrical than the form-color relationships in a blossom?

Later I will get back to the appropriateness of the word lyrical in reference to the nature of the PRIOR, but at this point substitute the sea for the word blossom, and we are at last into our subject, for no one thing can specify everything that the PRIOR is. The blossom cannot by its separate self say anything about the vast limitless quality of the PRIOR, but of course, the sea, as it appears to us, does. The moods of the sea say a lot about the lyricism of the prior, in a different way from the kind of lyricism communicated by the blossom.

And the moods of the sea depend on the atmosphere, conditions of weather, air, light, etc. Particularly, mist of fog, in conjunction with the ocean, say a lot of deeply archetypal things that resonate with our own deep psyches, which develop up out of the same misty void–the PRIOR–as the sea, the blossom, and all the other voices of the universe which in the end make up that haunting “music of the spheres.”

Now, I didn’t have all this in my head when I first started painting the sea. All I had were the nebulous archetypal feelings, the vague convictions of empathy with a misty ocean, a sensitivity to things which, at that time, I probably called mystery, the wonderful feeling of power and significance about a huge white wave looming up out of the mist, and the drama of all that white water shattering against the rocks. The surf says a lot about the drama that is intrinsic to the nature of the PRIOR.

But all these things which I know now, after all these years of painting, merely seem to verify and vindicate the unenlightened feelings that I started with. The thoughts I have now about Reality embrace a much wider field than painting, but painting as I see it, and the way I paint, is consistent and parallel with my cosmology.

 Consider the way I build up a sea painting. An important part of the process consists of actually painting the void first, the sea of mist, according to the color tone I have in mind. Then, up out of the mist, by delicately manipulating values, I develop the subject–waves, surf, rocks, source of light, etc. All aspects of the subject gradually appear and–this is important–they appear in the tones from which the mist was first painted. The rest is placing highlights and accents, accentuating the drama in a center of interest. Such an approach produces a painting with a definite color tone, one color suffusing everything in the painting. And I guess I find this satisfying because symbolically it says that the PRIOR is included in all things and all things speak, sing, of the PRIOR. Without saying a word, the painting proselytizes what I believe, and what, I believe, I was meant to proselytize, even as the blossom, if I may say so.

I have some more material on the drama that happens where sea meets the land, but it hinges on something that DH Lawrence once wrote, and that I’ll have to try and find. The sea is saying one thing, you see, and the land, the rocks in seascapes, say something else. It’s all as beautiful and apt as the above, but I’ll save it for another time.

For now, I’m going to quit and put a little time into revising some of my class material so that I can send it along to you to read. Meanwhile, I don’t know whether any of this can or will give you a start on your own writing about me, but whatever, we’ll throw it all in the common pool and pull it into shape later.

            I’m scheduled to have a one-man show at Bill Zacha’s Bay Window, opening July 3. Hopefully out of that will come some more color shots which may be useful to us.

            Bye. Thanks for your letter. Love to you and Tony, et all,                      Al

 © 2014 All Rights Reserved. Letter written by Al Need. Posted by Susan Canavarro, Daughter.

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