Raising Artists & Creatives: The Myth of Mnemosyne

The Myth of Mnemosyne

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Last year I took our foster lab to the vet to get neutered.

It was dark and early in the morning, well before I am usually coherent, and the waiting room had a couple other dogs anxiously pacing and barking on leashes.  There was one tiny dog, some chihuahua breed, that just had it in for my lab.  He was barking up a storm and trying to escape his handlers, and probably making them pretty happy that his procedure was finally happening.  My dog, who was about 70 pounds by then, was terrified of this chihuahua and was trying to crawl underneath my legs for protection.  Little did he know what he was actually there for…I don’t think he would have been as trusting.

The funny thing is, there were a number of ladies there with cages that had large towels and blankets draped over them.  I didn’t know if they were catching raccoons or beavers or what at that hour, but it looked like they all had been tromping around in the dirt before they got here.  One lady had wild blond hair, rolled up faded, turquoise sweatpants, old running shoes and an open flannel button down shirt over a dingy white tshirt.  She had 3 traps with feral cats she had caught that morning down by the old sugar plant.  From what she told some other woman in the waiting room, she had been doing this for over 20 years now; catching cats in fields and bringing them in to the vet.

Another woman in the room had one cat in her carrier, and it looked more like she was there to have her pet neutered as well.  I struck up a conversation with her…and it was interesting.  She was concerned with saving these feral cats,  and had a bunch of plans on how to make this her mission in life.  It was interesting because we were in a vets office in the middle of the San Joaquin valley of California, surrounded by farm fields, dairies and orchards.  She was commuting out here for her mission from her townhouse in Berkeley.  I didn’t really understand why exactly she was driving over an hour to come out to farmlands to catch cats, but I figured the exotic is more fun than the familiar.  Catching cats in an abandoned sugar plant is certainly more exciting than finding cats in your garbage can next to your townhouse.

Anyway, she named the feral cat, which I think kind of goes against the nature of feral cats.  But it was her new mission, and she was excited, so she named the cat “Camus.”

I have no idea who Camus is, but she certainly did.  She said, “Camus wrote ’The Stranger,’ obviously, so I named him ‘Camus,’ since he was a stranger to me.”

So, off I went to Wikipedia to figure out who Camus was.

Turns out he, “was a French Nobel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He wrote in his essay “The Rebel” that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom . (Wikipedia)“  “The Stranger” was a book he wrote in 1946. (link)

Camus said, “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.

This is what interests me: the person who does not play the game.  The game of life that fits the square pegs into square holes.  The game of idealized expectations from society: The behaviors and goals that are normally expected from people in a culture, and the expected judgement onto them when they fail to meet the expectations.  The person who does not have a 9-5 job with benefits.  The person who chooses something different.  The person who chooses a life of “else.”  Not a retail job, what else?  Not a career in a factory, what else?  Not a person who eats at chain restaurants…what else?

When I was in college I worked at an art gallery for a few years.  I was the assistant curator, and I loved that job.  I loved seeing the artwork coming in, I loved meeting the artists, I loved seeing the good work and the bad work…and then finding out the meaning behind the bad work, and having my mind blown.  Art is a mysterious field with mysterious people.  The artists I worked with ranged from women dressed in silk scarves with impeccable hair and expensive perfume, to very angry bald potters wearing flannel and jeans.  You really can’t tell artists out of the crowd, because there are so many artists out there.  Not just the crazy performance artists who plague Berkeley or Greenwich Village, but deep-rooted artists who see the world as an Artist.

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