Racing the Sun: How Limitations Free My Art

by Day Schildkret

Maybe you think that after I create a morningaltar, it’s all rainbows and cocktails as i skip back home feeling a pleasant sense of accomplishment having just delicately placed a leaf next to a berry ~ but I can assure you, that isn't the case. Today, for instance, the feeling is more like having just ran to the airport where you are completely and totally unsure if you’re going to make the flight, up until the moment where you jet through the closing gate and sit down in your aisle seat, heart pounding, adrenaline pulsing with diametrically opposing sighs of relief and anxiety pulsating through your lungs. Yee gods. Apparently morningaltars is not the Bob Ross painting you thought it was.

The truth is: This artwork takes time. From forage to photograph, a ‘morningaltar' can sometimes take 6-8 hours to complete. And in the wintertime, when light is an ever transient visitor, the day is short and the process has a very real deadline. This is what I’ve come to call: Racing the sun. 

Basically, everyday now for 2 years, I have been building ‘morningaltars' in the heat, in the cold, in windstorms, in the drought, in the rain which all inform where, when and how I build my art. Yet, it is the coming and going of light, especially in wintertime, that I am completely obsessed with. When I wake up in the morning preparing to build an altar, one eye is always on the light. And as the sun begins its ascent, the race is on. The longer I shower and prepare, the length of my forage, the time I spend considering what to build or how it looks all cost me in light. Light is the most precious currency of my art and it only depreciates as the day precedes. 

So, if you haven’t figured it out by now when looking at my art, you can probably tell that I’m a perfectionist. I like beauty to be a certain way and will risk frostbite to ensure that the pinecone is properly aligned with the pink berry, even though the damn wind keeps blowing it all over the place! Yet, I can tell you this! If I had endless sun and the light never changed, I would NEVER finish anything. I would work and work and futz and work and I would never choose completion. It is the day’s completion that forces my hand, for I know that as soon as the darkness comes, the altar I just built down by the creek will NOT survive the night. The deer, the rains, the wind will all rightfully consume my art leaving only leftovers in the morning. So, sunset is my deadline, like it or not, and most of the time, I don’t.

When I worked on and off Broadway as a director, we had a similar necessary and heart pounding deadline called opening night. Without it, rehearsals would never end and we’d get lost in the trying-things-on and figuring-things-out and would forget the whole reason we were doing it, which was to share what we created, as imperfect as it was. Deadlines, sunsets and opening nights all ask for you to give what you got, to put down the manipulation of your creation and to let it stand - to let have a life of its own, whether or not you think its ready. For perhaps, there’s more to it than you can imagine. 

Today's 'morningaltar' felt utterly incomplete when the light was leaving. Choices had to be made pronto so I could photograph it while there was still enough light and yet I still wanted more time. More time! This is my ongoing plea with the sun. "More time, it’s not done, there’s more to do, one more thing, not yet, more time, please, pleaaaaase.” And thankfully, the sun did not obey my childlike petition. It continued on and allowed me the space to encounter my own dysfunctional relationship with imperfection,  untangle the subjugated beauty and once again, practice admitting, “good enough.” 

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but one of my secret single behaviors is to sit down with a bag of kettle chips and watch Project Runway (did I just admit this in a blog?) Honestly, I watch it for the art and not the drama but what I really love about it is that I get to witness artists create art under the gun (!!) - the gun being a super tight, near impossible deadline. Deadline’s are THE healthiest thing for an artist just as anything limiting creation also brings it to life and elevates its value. Even and especially death, the ultimate deadline, gives life its worth because, as we often forget, it’s not going to last forever. 

The limitations of creation, of relationships, of time, of capacity is what allows us to really know the love we have for something. Take some time or space from a partner, and feel the love rekindle. Sit at the deathbed of someone departing and be a faithful witness to their love of life. When I have to let an altar go because the sun is down and the time is up, I am ambivalent in my stance having both the feeling of: “I want share this" and "I don't want to share this" or "yes, it's perfect" and "oy, its so not perfect" -  a kind of ebb and flow of grief and praise, both evidence of my love for it. My teacher, Stephen Jenkinson of the Orphan Wisdom School says it like this: “What is the relationship between love and grief? Love is a way of grieving that which is still so but not destined to be. Grief is a way of loving that which has already slipped from view."

When I race the sun, I practice knowing the edge of the limitation of my control. I practice pushing it until I have to let go. I practice enough isn't enough until it is. And when the dark comes, and I must step away from my art, I also step within - into the invaluable heartbreaking privilege of loving something imperfect and impermanent, and perhaps because of that, loving it even more so.