Everything Has Something Good in It

by Barb on yet another lovely New England fall day

I just bought this collage created by my fellow Level Best co-editor, Kat Fast.

Artist: Kat fast Watercolor with glaze
Artist: Kat Fast
Watercolor with glaze

I blogged about Kat (or Kathy as I call her, or Katherine as she appears on the covers of the Level Best anthologies) just the other day, when we wrote about the people in our lifeboats.

I first saw the collage at a one woman show Kat had at the Weston Council on Aging, a group she’s been very involved with as a teacher and a volunteer. I was immediately taken with the picture aesthetically and emotionally. I loved its density, composition and vibrant colors. I loved how it contained the promise of spring and summer. And, it doesn’t hurt that I also believe in my core that anything with hydrangeas in it can’t be all bad.

But when Kat explained how the piece was made, I resonated with it intellectually as well. It came out of a class with one of her teacher/mentors who believed, “Everything has something good in it.” A painting that is a failure will always contain at least one successful element. One flower, or one tiny corner, or even just a streak of the perfect color green.

So she had them cut up some of those failed pieces and arrange the successful elements in a new composition.

The result, I think, is spectacular.

What an important lesson that is for all of us who create.

Just two days ago on the blog, Kathy Lynn Emerson explained how surrendered after 100 pages of a failed Elizabethan thriller, but then was able to carve two short stories out of it.

The ideas and images that speak to us are the ideas and images that speak to us, and sooner or later, if we keep at it, we will find a way to express them.

dead calm coverThe reason I call Kat “Kathy” is because we actually met, I hate to even think, it must be close to thirty years ago when we both worked at a company called Information Mapping. I left in the mid-90s and we lost touch, as people did in those pre-Facebook days. Then, one day, I was walking down the street in Harvard Square and there she was. “What are you up to these days?” she asked. “Oh,” I said, “I’m in this writers group. I’m writing a mystery.” “Really?” Kathy said. Because it turned out she was, too. She joined our group, and the rest is history. One of those serendipitous moments that changes several people’s lives.

At the opening of her show, Kathy spoke wonderfully, tying up into a tidy package a life she’s quick to agree has many disparate elements. She recognized each of her art teachers and told the central truth she had learned from each one, which I found very moving.

She also managed to tie in her editorship at Level Best via her story, “The Black Dog,” in Best New England Crime Stories 2012: Dead Calm, about an amateur artist, “not paying full fare at the movies” herself, who is initially rejected, then embraced by three elderly professionals in an advanced watercolor class. “The Old Cats” as they dub themselves, worry about housing and healthcare and the hundreds of paintings their children will eventually need to dispose of–until they come up with a plan that solves all those problems in one go and only depends on a little bit of fraud.

So here’s to the crafty old cats, and the mentors, and the little bit of good in all of our failures.

15 Thoughts

  1. I love that collage too. 🙂 I also try to put the best parts of me together to make the best me I can be…doesn’t always work, but I keep trying.

  2. What a lovely post, Barb. And I had no idea Kat was also an artist. Maybe what I’m doing with my own writing is the same: putting together all the best parts of me: love of words; imagination;experiences in farming and linguistics and travel; and more. Now I’m going to go back and reread that story!

  3. Beautiful collage, thanks for sharing! I love hydrangeas. It is sometimes hard to see the best when you are in the middle of something. I am inspired by this idea of taking the good from several “bad” things and creating something wonderful. It is always such a pleasure to read your postings Barb.

  4. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it on here or not, but I recently found a full time, permanent job. After 2.5 years, I’m very happy.

    However, I’ve found in the short two months I’ve been there that the various temp jobs I had during the time I was between “real” jobs all helped me land this job. Oh, maybe not officially, but definitely increased my skill set so much that I was able to slide into this job very easily. Yes, even the “temp” job that lasted 18 months without ever hiring me.

    It’s amazing when you look back and see how God has been directing your life, even during the times you thought you were spinning your wheels, which is the idea behind that piece of art.

    And I agree with the others – it’s stunning.

    1. Thanks, Mark. My father used to say, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get paid.” But I’ve never found that to be true. It all adds up, the unpublished manuscripts, the millions of words you throw away. “Do by doing,” is what we tell our kids. “Keep moving forward.”

      Of course, they ignore us, as adult children rightly should.

  5. Good words to live by. Once something has happened, even if it’s bad, it’s happened. So you just need to see what you can take away from it and use for the good going forward.

  6. Thank you, Barb. Your thoughtful comments really touched me, and I’m delighted that the picture sent a message. You are a valued member of my lifeboat and have been for many years!

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