Friday, February 11, 2011

Picking up the Pieces

I was listening to an interview earlier this week with Terry Tempest Williams, the author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Pantheon, 2008). A portion of the book was read during the interview in which Ms. Williams recounts some of her experiences learning how to make mosaics:

Luciana stands next to me and cuts several gold tesserae and shows me the line to follow to make the stems of lilies. She encourages me to break up the gold with tesserae made of yellow sandstone.

'It makes it more interesting to vary the textures,' she says. 'Never use too much of any one color, not even gold. In mosaic, it is the tension that ties one tesserae to another.'

I cut and set the lines of gold.

She asks me to move and sits down in my seat and instantly begins cutting more tesserae and placing them where they should be.

'See here,' she says, running her finger across the arching line just above the first lily on the left. 'You must pay attention to what the ancient mosaicists did with color. It may not make sense to you, but stand back and squint.'

I follow her instructions. It's true; what appears illogical or abrupt close up blends from afar. A chartreuse tessera that jars my eye when it's close becomes a glint of light on the dark green stem. It's as though sunlight has entered the room.

I began to muse on how often I neglect to "vary the textures" in my reading, viewing, and thinking. Many years ago I used to always read at least two books at the same time -- on different subjects. I was often amazed at the way that a book on religious history (for example) was illuminated by a fantasy novel, or a treatise on critical theory made sense because of a mystery. Political and media pundits are pointing out how much of our television and on-line viewing is simply finding the commentators with whom we already agree, so that our currently-held positions receive some "professional" validation. Very little variation of the texture there!

I haven't seen the "live version" of the mosaic above, but I would imagine that if I were to stand quite a ways back from it, I wouldn't notice the chartreuse piece in the middle of the flower. If, however, it weren't there, the magenta flower most likely wouldn't appear as interesting. It may appear as a nice mosaic, but one crafted by a novice.

I would hope that I could be more than a novice when it comes to appreciating the textures of the world around me. Certainly the pieces I choose to pick up . . . . well, I need to choose carefully. Or I need to work on my skills of discernment. Communities of faith help with this process; that's one of their great values-especially those communities that haven't bound together simply to avoid the textures. They help us stand back and see the bigger picture -- if not simply the current view, then one informed by history

So now I have to decide which second book will find a place on my nightstand. Maybe Finding Beauty in a Broken World.



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