In 1978 in London, I had a tan mid-length suede coat, chocolate brown Frye boots, a large leather handbag and daily practice of poetry. I lived in Highbury in North Islington in a basement flat with a small twin bed, a weak shower, and darkness all times of day. I often walked from Euston station to the Reading Room of the British Library on Great Russell Street, rather than take the Tube to Tottenham Court Road, so I could stroll Bloomsbury. Walking Virginia Woolf’s neighborhood was an experience of art for me.
I carried my notebook everywhere and wormed my way into a mentorship with Elliott Coleman, who’d founded and then directed the Writing Seminars at John Hopkins. Retired, a bit lost, afraid of death after a recent stroke, Elliott shared stories of writers and writing and lessons about visual art, Proust, opera, BBC radio, and the newly installed Pope—John Paul II. Elliott showed me art practice meant paying attention to every detail in the physical landscape and mind’s eye—and absorbing oneself in art.
In London, art was everywhere I was—at the market stalls in Covent Garden or Notting Hill Gate, in Foyles, the ICA, RADA (so many museums, bookstores, galleries!), the West End and Fringe theaters, the rock and classical musicians in the Tube stations, the jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, and part of the pub lunches and take-out dinners I had with artists in my creative writing program.
I immersed myself in art, absorbing it through my skin into my bloodstream—so it could travel through my heart.
Art was in what I read, saw, experienced, touched, related to—every art and all arts were a teacher to me. I didn’t focus on a skill or develop a technique. I took in everything. I learned specifically and generally, within a genre and discipline, and beyond discipline, across discipline and in relationship to everything.
London was London but it was also mine to create—I walked and visited and took notes and tasted, touched, smelled, wandered, observed, and revised pages. I visited art and allowed art to speak back to me. Did London make me an artist? No. London affirmed the artist inside me.
I’ve carried that affirmation with me all these years. It remains with and within me. I rely on it and it sustains me. Pursuing it was the reason for my arts education, and it can also be yours.
a version of this post was previously published on the CIIS blog