What I’m doing right now is I’m writing a thing, a beautiful thing, a bookstory thing. It’s hard going — oh god, it is — and for all the wild-ride moments of outpour, there are many many — many!
— ice ages of brainfreeze. When you write a thing as a pen-for-hire, you push through the brainfreeze, because money and somebody else’s deadline are great motivators. But when you make something with joy in your heart and when it’s a collaborative effort to boot — I’m making this thing with James Cook
, whose delicious photographs will join up with the words I write — you let the going be slow because you’re waiting for a strange kind of knowledge — epiphany, I guess you’d call it — waiting to see in a way you’ve never seen before, waiting to understand, waiting to make connections.
When you make a thing out of joy, you have to open yourself up to the impossible and implausible, to all the odd warp and weft of this world and the other world that’s in this world. You can plot and plan all you want but finally the truest, most visceral iteration of the thing you’re making comes only when you let yourself stray from the course, only when you follow all the strange overgrown paths — to all the little secret wheres — you’d never known existed, let alone mapped.
How much do you believe a person can be led to a place — a geographical place, yes, but also an emotional or psychological place, or a place of the spirit (I have to say it that way because the word “spiritual” is a terrible word), or a place of knowing or making — by what seems like accident or coincidence, by what seems like no-design but is maybe by some big weird design or maybe what I mean is some small sweet design that we don’t understand?
I’ve had Margaret Kilgallen
on my mind so much lately — I’ve been nighttime dreaming her and daytime thinking her. She has something to give me, to give James, to give the story, I know she does, and I am very much for trusting what I feel, even if — or maybe especially if
— it isn’t rational or explainable.
She was an artist, Margaret Kilgallen, and a woman who made marks on trains. I love her art, very much, but I am more moved by the train-drawing and train-writing than anything else. The train work makes me weak at the knees, because of how much it meant to her to do it, and because of how much she knew about fleetingness, and the delicious painful beauty of the ephemeral, of mutability, impermanance, erosion, change. I am remembering being a little kid going to Winnipeg with my family on the train one winter and the train stopping for what seemed like a very long time outside what used to be Capreol. I remember looking out the window that dark night, at the snow and the trees, and being so excited to be on a train going to a place, a place that was the farthest north I’d ever been at that stage in my life; it was all very thrilling, especially since we lived near railroad tracks in Montreal and I used to hear that lonesome whistle blow every night while lying in my bed and then the magic of being on
a train and moving a long way through the world myself was very … magical. It made me feel and know things that I hadn’t felt or known before. And here in retrospectville it feels like the only thing that could have made that a more eye-widening experience was if I’d known that Margaret Kilgallen was two then, when I was eight and on a train outside Capreol, and that she would grow up one day and write on trains, and then one other day die very young, and then one other day still make herself known to me so I could think about freight trains, all lettered and drawn, out at the edge of the world where the sky is so dark, so I could think about the truth of how soon we move on and everything changes.
How it is when you fall in love with Margaret Kilgallen is like how it is when you walk in a dark night world and the fireflies glow.
Barry McGee & Margaret Kilgallen ||| Art:21
from Port Shy