Simply make it—stand witness, record your feelings—the act of art is profound enough.
Artizenship: Art in Crisis
Artists: don’t tell yourself your art has to serve a greater purpose this week. It doesn’t have to raise money, it doesn’t have to relieve the grief of loved ones, it doesn’t have to rebuild a community. Simply make it—stand witness, record your feelings—the act of art is profound enough.
1. I said, “Babe, take a look at this.” We could see the orange glow in the hills North and East. Early the next morning, walking the dog, the West was on fire, too. The dog sneezed in the smoke.
2. In the adrenaline-addled, mis- and under-informed rush to do something in the face of the unknown, we gathered a few items Monday and left for Davis, hoping for a good night sleep and fresh air, and hoping to return Tuesday night. I grabbed my underwear, my computer, my external hard-drive. I grabbed my poems.
What should I have taken? What would you? For seven minutes I was reaching for everything, stuffing fear into a laundry bag, not caring if it wrinkled. Outside snowed ash.
3. I told myself I wanted to write. And I wanted to: I opened Word. But instead I ate. I drank coffee. I fell asleep with my laptop on my chest, 6 different maps open on my browser. As if I could stop the red circles from rolling down the hill by refreshing each map again, again.
4. Wednesday we returned for a second rescue op—necessary and unnecessary. I grabbed another pair of pants. I filled my truck with tools and my dad’s Canon A-1 camera. I thought, if my drill is consumed in flame, if my chisels become puddles of blue plastic, how will I rebuild Napa?
5. We are ghosts in their lives. They turn and see the cupboard open; they’re missing another roll of toilet paper; the spatula is in a different drawer. We begin to accept our new reality, that we will be haunting at least through the weekend. If we are going to belong, we might as well cook dinner. We might as well vacuum. Might as well learn where the spatula belongs.
NAPA CO SHERIFF: No news is terrible news. We think the Veeder ranch is torched, how could it not? K’s house is gone, and left its chimney behind. Your neighborhood should be ready. Click the link for more.
6. We fight again. I take the dog for a walk. It’s hard to be bored when you know your boredom is the best thing to happen all week: that you are lucky to be so bored. Is there anything to eat? You could click the link for more info, but really, come on, that’s pretty much it.
7. Here the guilt wafts in. Guilt that I left Napa when I didn’t need to; guilt that I wasn’t here to help. Guilt that our house still stands. Guilt that I wasn’t writing—guilt that my writing wasn’t raising money, my poems weren’t chiseling new houses. Guilt that I was falling asleep on the couch for the second time in an afternoon while you watched black smoke rise from where your house should be. Your spatulas belonging to no drawer. We caravan home, thankful and guilty that we can.
8. The drive to work is dark, and I cannot see the charred landscape, but the hills above the farm are orange still, and my throat is coarse with smoke. Later: I learn that watching a helicopter fill its bucket in a vineyard reservoir can make a grown man cry. I might have guessed. What can’t these days, what won’t?
Jeremy Benson is a farmer and writer and is Napa County’s Poet Laureate. Join him on November 4 at the American Canyon Branch of the Napa Library for Office Hours with the Poet Laureate; also find him teaching a 6-week novel-writing guided workshop at Napa Bookmine, starting October 30.