Jana Malamud Smith’s new book, An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery, was published by Counterpoint Press in September. Her title is born from a sentence in the novel, Roderick Hudson, by Henry James:
“True happiness, we are told, consists in getting out of oneself; but the point is not only to get out – you must stay out; and to stay out you must have some absorbing errand.”
We learned about Jana in the September issue of “The Sun” in an article she wrote as a variation to the introduction to her book. Jana’s absorbing errand is to write about why life is better for her (and, she believes, for all of us) when we “have a sustaining practice that holds our desire, demands our attention, and requires effort.”
For her mother-in-law that practice is gardening. For her it is writing. Her mother-in-law gardens with palpable certainty . . . this seed will germinate and that bulb will blossom. Jana writes with insightful eloquence about the mirage of “having arrived”:
“And while you may complete many projects, the labor itself is never finished, the mastery never final. This incompleteness, by turns fetching and vexing, is part of its essence. Each moment of mastery is merely a breather snatched at an overlook during a long hike – a snap shot, a sip of water, or a tightening of one’s boot laces. But it is not an arrival. The point of arrival wavers like a heat mirage upon the road, always in front of us. There is always the expanse yet to come – more to traverse, to learn, to do. It can be frustrating, yet it also offers the comfort we sometimes feel while in transit. Because you are neither here nor there, you share in a traveler’s sense of liberation.”
Patricia and Phil certainly felt that liberation on our journey and have not yet arrived fully to its wisdom.
It would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if we (you) could distill wisdom into sweet purity as simply as we (you) can transform bottled balsamic vinegar into balsamic reduction.
In writing this post, we found a great picture of a luscious cherry tomato on a magnificently green and broad basil leaf drizzled with a succulent balsamic reduction. The picture had these three posed, like magi, in a lovely, small, white, porcelain, square-sided bowl. You can find the picture on Renee Chodkowski’s Greatfoodini webpage. It is her October 12, 2012 post. You’ll also find a very fine, easy recipe for making balsamic reduction:
One time, a couple of friends and Patricia and Phil enjoyed the beautiful complexity of balsamic reduction on bruschetta at a local Sarasota restaurant. That dining experience was three or four years ago. We can still see the bruschetta and taste it in our memory. It was so good. (Ummmm, before this year is out, we hope to make a reduction in our kitchen as good as the one we remember.)
Our read of Renee Chodkowski about making a balsamic reduction is that all you need is the ingredient, patience, willingness to stir, and some vigorous heat.
Jana seems to believe mastery (we say ‘wisdom’ – James Hillman says ‘character’ – faith says, ‘soul’) is not that simple.
We’re thinking of our recent experiences as a kind of sweet and pure reduction of our life, concentrated into a few weeks.
Now . . . before us:
may we discern enough to gently and lightly pour this “reduction”
(mastery – wisdom – character – soul)
on our hope
vibrancy, beauty, tears, and grace
as you age . . .
as we age.
May you be captured by an absorbing errand.
May imagination live within even though you have not yet arrived.
May creativity bring joy.
May passion embolden.
May love ennoble those your life touches.
And . . . may their love ennoble you.
May you be vibrant.
May you see beauty.
May tears be healing.
May grace unburden.