At the seashore you often see a shell, or fragment of a shell, that sharp sands and surf have thinned to a wisp. There is no way you can tell what kind of shell it had been, what creature it had housed; it could have been a whelk or a scallop, a cowrie, limpet, or conch. The animal is long since dissolved, and its blood spread and thinned in the general sea. All you hold in your hand is a cool shred of shell, an inch long, pared so thin it passes a faint pink light, and almost as flexible as a straight razor. It is an essence, a smooth condensation of the air, a curve . . .
Dillard is talking about something hard and rough turned into something beautiful and translucent over time. A seashell turned into pink light, and essence of air and curve. That's really what art is all about, taking ugliness and transforming it into poetry or dance. It takes hard work. Talent. A gift. Sometimes, genius.
The recipients of the MacArthur Foundation's genius grants were announced today. There were scientists and teachers and activists. Playwrights and poets. One of the winners was one of my favorite writers, Maggie Nelson. She writes nonfiction, sort of. A crazy blend of poetry and prose that defies classification. One of my favorite books of hers is Bluets, which is her examination of the color blue, in all its permutations and meanings. It's weird and frustrating and gorgeous. Genius? Probably.
Every year around this time, I wait to read about two things--the announcement of the MacArthur awards and, right around my birthday, the announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like the selection of the MacArthur genius grant recipients, the Nobel is shrouded in secrecy. Nobody knows, until the doors open in the Swedish Academy and the Permanent Secretary comes out, who will receive the Nobel diploma.
For some reason, I've always had this dream that, one day, I will receive a phone call in late September, telling me that I'm a genius, and then, on my birthday a few weeks later, my name will be spoken by the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy. I know, I know. It's unrealistic. Hell, it's more than unrealistic. It's a friggin' hallucination, an acid trip, a psychotic break. But it makes me happy when I think about it.
Now, I am not a MacArthur genius. Yet. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami is currently on the top of everybody's list for the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. Oh, well. When I go to sleep tonight, I will still be dreaming of the double knockout. Maggie Nelson. Maybe Murakami.
And maybe, one year, Saint Marty--the first blogger to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.