Unless I had made the commitment myself, I don’t think I would have ever understood even a semblance of what it means to be a working artist until reading your memoir Just Kids. The commitment and application of a life of art is daunting, sacrificing, but rewarding, carefully elucidated throughout your memoir.
It overwhelms me to think about all of your influences as you grew up, as you formulated opinions. From the Irish mythology told in your family’s home, to the avid reading you did on your own, it is clear you felt more connected to your art and more empowered as an artist by conceptualizing the context and portrayals of your artistic influences. Thus, I loved how your memoir is a tribute to your relationship with Robert and to your evolution as an artist. Your sense of your artistic influences is like an incredibly large and contextual archive that sits in your mind, able to reference any poet, philosopher, or writer who spoke to your soul. Pick up the book and turn to any page, and nine times out of ten, Patti is referencing one of her many influences: “I picked up the Beat anthology and found, ‘The Beckoning Sea’ by George Mandel… I read him softly, and then at the top of my voice… spitting out Corso and Mayakovsky and back to the sea, to be pushed off the edge by George” (Smith 177).
You were wary you wouldn’t be adequate enough to join their conversation, but over time, you gained the confidence of an artist. You understood how your work is informed by your influences but your work is transformed by your unique touch, mind, and voice. The memoir writes like the process of your creation: practice, devotion, passion, and production, all intermixed with feelings of fragility, vulnerability, and instability.
It is truly a humbling experience reading your memoir. Even though you and Robert were in a state of persistent poverty trying to survive, your meta-awareness of the purpose of your art was a reminder to me to not put so much credence in my feelings of doubt or worthlessness as a writer. Patti, you have enabled me to see the larger picture and hold that vision close to heart: a vision of trials and triumphs, of being as high as I am down, but a vision involving the drive and desire to create, and continue creating.
Patti, your memoir was not only a reminder to envision the meaning and significance of the creative process, but to remind me to be busy creating all of the time. Creative thinking in our society is not perceived as valuable like scientific thinking, and a creator can feel bogged down by the pressures to darken the creative lens. Society wants us to live linear and predictable patterns of existence, but it is truly the artist, the creator, that shakes shit up. Finds faults. Discovers fallacy. Points out hypocrisy. Without artists, the very nature of what it means to be human would begin to die and distort into some mechanistic homo sapien form. The artist’s life is that of spontaneity and adaptability. It is an abstract existence that is viewed as wrong, even dangerous. But, Patti, you remind us all with your voice that it is necessary to our being to express through creation regardless of any pressures or negativity.
One of my favorite lines is a lesson you learned from Robert: “I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth” (Smith 200). This idea resonates with me in how I go about daily life, finding synchronicities amongst the contradictions, but finding more clarity and honesty in the ugly – in the hidden. Your acceptance of sickness, poverty, hunger, and despair all manifesting at the Chelsea Hotel contrasted by your determination and ambition to create, illuminated for me how capable humans are of finding that pearl within the unbearable chaos of life. Patti, you helped me to realize I must practice awareness and practice the genuine struggle to conceptualize these observations with creative writing, poetry, and art. I consider you to be one of my most recent but greatest literary voices, among the voices of Christina Rosetti, Virginia Woolf, and Sandra Cisneros.
Thank you, Patti Smith, for sharing with the world your truth in this art piece I will cherish from this day forth.