Last night I saw something from a documentary about her; whereas, when that first program was broadcast, little was known about her, by now so many facts have been accumulated, though mysteries remain. Politicians throw around the word audacity now and again, but her vigor is something else. The stamina to maintain oneself as an artist in the world is never little. In her case, the problem, as a woman, was how to keep a roof over her head (without resorting to marriage) yet be able to do her work. Nannying provided a solution; though her end, relatively recent, was not by any means a good one. Yet she managed, in the course of a life, to accomplish something in the pursuit of an artistic vision that will outlast her.
In America, as a poet, you realize that, if nobody is for you, you can consider it lucky that at least probably there is no one actively working against you. In all the arts, the struggle to persist and persevere is a constant; yet in the end (however the effort may prove itself untrue, or irrespective success and failure), it seems to be one of the best measures of a human life.
Years ago, in an effort to put bread on the table, I worked briefly at a company called Shure Brothers, in some clerical capacity. I remember conversing with one old man, a machinist, about what it takes to make it in this world. He had a skill set which had served him well; though, as with many other companies at which I worked, his job and lots of others undoubtedly disappeared as technologies changed. Shure Brothers reinvented itself as Shure Electronics; another well-known manufacturer at which I worked failed to do so, and a vast shopping mall stands where it stood.
A news story which has haunted me concerns the deaths of three young men that worked there - well after my brief sojourn so I would never have met them. On lunch break their car was rammed by that of a girl who was trying to kill herself. She broke her ankle; the three men died.
The newspaper stories dwelt on the fact that the men had been musicians; that their day jobs were something that must be done so as to enable them to indulge their real passion: playing. Although it was because of Shure that I first noticed the story, felt sympathy, and followed it - not intentionally but obliquely - the emphasis seems correct. I felt that it was for their connection with music that they would rather be remembered than for the employment situation which brought each to Shure. Work often comes to us accidentally; but our passions spring from within. (I'm sure the process is more nuanced than I suggest.) In a sense, also, I felt that it was more the individuality of a musician that would be missed - in a sense less replaceable - than that of an employee, to say nothing of the unique nexus we call a person.
Nothing about this tragic story will cease to disturb me; but I am confirmed in this: Do what you love. Whether by accident or intentional as with the case of the cartoonists slaughtered yesterday in Paris at Charlie Hebdo, each one of us lives under a sword of Damocles which may drop at any moment. Earning a living is hard; and doing so while cleaving to the way of an artist (or worse, poetry), can at times appear miserably daunting. But what else does common humanity demand, but acting for reasons beyond profit?
Pity those that work only for money. V.S. Naipaul has a good book about the lengths to which men allow themselves to be driven in the race to get ahead. Yet other aims remain superior. (In the grand scheme of things I suspect even those of the artist or poetry remain paltry, whereas practicing kindness and compassion toward all creatures may be utmost in significance.)