Chapter 1: Blank Pages, Cheese Graters, and Roads Not Traveled

“A year seems like a lot of time
now at this end—it isn’t.”

Audre Lorde “Letter to Pat Parker, December 6, 1985” (1)

November 6, 2019:

Faced with one year,
26 essays, and 26 paintings,
I am 19 and I am daunted.

Sitting in a warm room lined with books, I stare through the window and into the yellow forest, into a year that is just as murky as my tangled up thoughts. I don’t know how to begin and I don’t know if I can begin. Right now, it would be nice to give up. Everything inside of me is saying, “quit, goddamn it.”

But feeling caught is nothing new, I’ve been here before and I know what to do: I turn to my bookshelves. Bookshelves filled with authors and poets and academics, waiting to whisper bits of wisdom into my seeking ears, wisdom that could change my trajectory, if I’m open.

I choose randomly from the “Library Book/Poetry/New Acquisitions” shelves central in my house, right by the bathroom and near the bedrooms, encouraging a passerby —or daunted teenager needing guidance— to pick up a book and open it.

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition (2). I thumb the thin pages, flipping until, with a bit of serendipity, the book opens to page 913 and my eyes fall onto the final stanza of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (3),

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost’s words flood my brain and I’m transported: I was nine, in a moment of sheer confidence, though I had just lost a tooth before taking the stage, I recited, from memory, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” (4) to a full auditorium. Then I was 14 and in a moment devoid of confidence, I considered giving up on my first commission, an interpretation of Klimt’s The Beethoven Frieze (5), in that moment of sheer desperation, I thought to wonder what my 19-year-old self might feel about me giving up this opportunity. And I realized that my future self wanted me, needed me, to continue.

I would not be sitting here, writing this essay, if I had not put brush to that canvas five years ago. But now, I feel just as my 14-year-old self did: overwhelmed and longing to trust that here is a future in which I’ve conquered my daunted, tangled thoughts.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:”

As my memories and thoughts crash into the poem, into the words on the page, I can hear my 25 or 50-year-old self repeating these words to me. Repeating words, that are giving me the courage to sit with my thoughts, to put brush to canvas, to put finger to key, to type, to write.

“I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Now, I gaze through the window and snow begins to fall, covering the yellow leaves, transforming my world into a blank canvas, I am reminded of Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum’s (6) sculptures.

Grater Divide (2002) © Mona Hatoum
Dormiente (2008) © Mona Hatoum

Massive cheese graters perfectly challenge perception, looking at Grater Divide thoughts of scraped knuckles are cast aside as my hand itches to fit itself inside one of the holes, itches to turn itself into cheese and grate against the sharp edges. Then all thoughts of cheese are cast aside as my back prickles in response to the floor-bound Dormiente—Italian for “dormant” or “sleeping” (7). Hatoum’s work challenges our everyday experiences and, as Sarah Urist Green says,

“has the uncanny ability to impart the precariousness of each of our situations”(8).

As my fingers graze my computer’s keyboard, I realize that art has the ability to hold —terrifying, overwhelming, precarious— life still for a moment. Just long enough for perceptions to accumulate and translate and change. Just long enough to stop time to stare at a blank page.

And now, as this essay finishes, as snow hushes the world outside, I feel as if I have stepped into a blank page. Inside this page, I don’t find a void, instead, I discover paths never traveled before.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—”

And I stand in this space, listening to the quiet and I choose a path and I begin walking.

And I’ve begun.


Endnotes and Resources*:
  1. I Call Your Name Whenever I Can: The Letters of Pat Parker and Audre Lorde.” Literary Hub.
  2. Allison, Alexander W. et al. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition. W.W. Norton & Company, 1983.
  3. Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” Poetry Foundation.
  4. Frost, Robert. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Poetry Foundation.
  5. Daniels-Moehle, Nadia.“CognEYEzant Day 294.” NadiaCDM + the CognEYEzant Project. April 10, 2019.
  6. Who is Mona Hatoum?Tate.
  7. 56. Chave, Anna C. “The Devises of Mona Hatoum.”
  8. The Art Assignment. “Fierce Women of Art 2.”
People, Works, Terms Mentioned:

Robert frost//Mona Hatoum/Sarah Urist Green/Audre Lorde/Pat Parker/“The Road Not Taken”/”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”/Grater Divide/Dormiente/perception/ The Beethoven Frieze

*All references and resources have been thoroughly researched prior to use.