Patti Smith is my hero :: Here’s why

Patti Smith + Robert Mapplethorpe 4ever

I just finished reading Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, about her ever-changing, ever-present friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and about supporting each other as they became artists. I’ve been pretty much obsessed with it and I cried through the entire last chapter, describing the end of Robert’s life. My thoughts about it are still tumbling over one another, but I thought I would share some of what made me love it so much. These are quotes from pages I turned the corner down on, almost always because they struck some chord, or simply overcame me with their beauty and insight.

“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed.
It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”

“You could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.”

“Remember, we are mortal, but poetry is not.”

“I was in a Beat humor. The Bibles were piled in small stacks. The Holy Barbarians. The Angry Young Men. Rummaging around I found some poems by Ray Bremser. He really got me going. Ray had that human saxophone thing. You could feel his improvisational ease the way language spilled out like linear notes. Inspired, I put on some Coltrane but nothing good happened. I was just jacking off. Truman Capote once accused Kerouac of typing, not writing. But Kerouac infused his being onto rolls of Teletype paper, banging on his machine. Me, I was typing. I leapt up frustrated.”

“We needed time to figure out what all of this meant, how we were going to come to terms and redefine what our love was called. I learned from him that often contradiction is the clearest way to truth.”

“We imagined ourselves as the Sons of Liberty with a mission to preserve, protect and project the revolutionary spirit of rock and roll. We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance, and vapid technical complexity. We would call forth in our minds the image of Paul Revere, riding through the American night, petitioning the people to wake up, to take up arms. We would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone.”

“The night, as the saying goes, was a jewel in our crown. We played as one, and the pulse and pitch of the band spiraled around me, I could feel another presence as surely as the rabbit senses the hound. He was there. I suddenly understood the nature of the electric air. Bob Dylan had entered the club. This knowledge had a strange effect on me. Instead of humbled, I felt a power, perhaps his; but I also felt my own worth and the worth of my band. It seemed for me a night of initiation, where I had to become fully myself in the presence of the one I had modeled myself after.”

“The artist seeks contact with his intuitive sense of the gods, but in order to create his work, he cannot stay in his seductive and incorporeal realm. He must return to the material world in order to do his work. It’s the artist’s responsibility to balance mystical communication and the labor of creation.”

Back home in Ohio for a week, I decide to take a walk in the woods

On the way down the hill through the dewy grass and brand-new violets I suddenly start crying. By the time I round the stand of evergreens that used to be Christmas trees, the tears are streaming down my face. Dusk is all around me, mingling with the clouds of my breath in the quickly chilling air. My parents’ love is there too, although they have stayed up in the house. I’m unemployed, suffocated by huge ambitions, terrified, and crying in the woods. I’m also overwhelmed by the beauty around me and the fact that I know deep down that this exactly what I’m supposed to be doing right now.

Photo by Miki Johnson

I listen to the fear inside but hold the line where it threatens to overtake me. I keep repeating, “There is the most fear around the things that are true,” and I try to keep breathing. When my sobs quiet, I can hear the creek below me gurgling. It is very soft but there is almost no competition of noise here. The dog is lying quietly at my feet now, and her panting and the wind shushing the branches and the leaves settling in a pile are the only other things I hear. I’m convinced this is one of the last places in the country where you literally cannot hear anything manmade, and that knowledge and the closeness of the silence slows my heart.

When I come back to myself, the ideas are rushing too fast for me to follow them. I write a few lines of a poem, make some photos with my iPhone, Tumbl a photo of the dog, when suddenly I see a bigger picture. It is precisely the ease of these creative tools at our fingertips that allows us all to think of ourselves as creatives. Yes, it does make “everyone a photographer,” but it also makes every photographer a videographer, multimedia producer, bookmaker, retoucher, and whatever else they want to try their hand at. Here is what I jot down in a note to myself on my phone:

The ability to utilize such a wide range of storytelling tools allows us to be more creative more consistently because creativity is always there, it just expresses itself in hundreds of undefined, usually unnamed forms. When you are able to let your creativity flow through the least resistant path, instead of simply the most practiced one, it quickly becomes a steady stream.

I have been reading about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe living in the Chelsea Hotel in NYC at the end of the ’60s and beginning of the ’70s and how they are friends and collaborators with playwrights (she dated Sam Sheppard and helped write Cowboy Mouth did you know that?!?!), rock legends (she alludes to giving Janis the nickname “Pearl”), visual artists, poets, actors…everyone. For that reason, she and Robert develop in several mediums simultaneously; he making drawings, collages, clothing, photos and she, paintings, jewelry, poetry, songs.

Aside from getting me thinking about the quality of work coming out of NYC at that time and the role the tight-knit community undoubtedly played in fostering it, Just Kids has made me think about what it means to be an artist, something I’ve struggled with recently.

I used to love art but never felt I was good enough to do it professionally, and the lifestyle didn’t seem to suit me so I rejected being an “artist” as an option and focused on journalism, which still felt creative to me. At college the people around me seemed too brilliant to think about competing with, and I have natural aptitude for shaping and polishing, so I focused on editing and quickly became confident with the skill as well as respected for it by my peers.

I don’t know if it’s the years of therapy and “self-affirmations” or moving to San Francisco or being close friends with artists or simply growing into myself — but this year I’m determined to make friends with my lurking creative powers. I think the incredible array of media available to me will help, and I hope to explore it with other artists as I travel in the U.S. and Europe. But I also think it’s just about paying attention and being brave. This was the second note I made in the woods.

When you give yourself permission to do things that don’t seem to require creativity, but in the purest sense of the word are CREATIVE, you start to truly see that every human being is inherently creative — the thing that sets artists apart is simply that have nurtured that creativity and learned to listen to it with the ear of an attentive parent.

Nice to meet you, let’s do this again soon

I'd probably save crepes and French onion soup until at least the fourth date, fyi.

I’ve been thinking about writing my first post for this blog, an infamously difficult and ultimately overly-obsessed-about project for any blogger. This is supposed to be where I lay out who I am and what I’m planning to do here and why you should be listening to me instead of avoiding work at a more exciting and familiar site.

What I was thinking about this post is that there’s no way I’m going to convince you of any of those things in a couple paragraphs. It’s like dating. You don’t go on a first date and go, great, let’s get married. You get to know a person slowly and in many different situations: how they are at a movie, in the morning, with their friends, at work, with their family.

So let’s just call this a first date post. If you want to internet-stalk me to see if I’m worth calling again, you can check out the RESOLVE Photo Blog, which I started and ran for liveBooks until recently. Or some of the writing I did while I was a senior editor at American Photo magazine. You can see my professional side on LinkedIn, my more laid-back side on Facebook, or my stream-of-consciousness side on Tumblr.

Some of you probably know me already, or at least my name. Some of you are wondering who the hell this girl thinks she is. All I’m proposing is that we get to know each other. To help a little bit, I’ve filled out the Proust Questionnaire for you. Add your own answers in the comments, and maybe I’ll call you 😉

What is your current state of mind?
Eager

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My three best friends and I in the woods on a mountain a little high listening to a solar-powered Juke box

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Learning things

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Openness

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Confidence

Which living person do you most admire?
I was going to say Katharine Graham until I realized she died in 2001. I think I have to go with Patti Smith in that case.

What is your greatest extravagance?
Food

When and where were you happiest?
Bonnaroo, 2005

On what occasion do you lie?
When telling the truth will ONLY make things worse

What is your greatest fear?
Being invisible

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Insecurity

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of self-awareness

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d like to be able to sleep less and concentrate more.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Sylvia Plath (except for the suicide thing)

What is your greatest regret?
Not taking more risks

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Helping other people