"The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning." ---Ivy Baker
“Isn’t it nice to know that tomorrow is a brand-new day without any mistakes in it?”
All the way through college and through the three years post-college work, I was an active personal blogger. I dare you to check the archives of my emotional, spiritual and grammatical growth here. It’s the last two years which have fallen off. I wrote about this disconnect at Silhouette last season.
In any case, I’ve been wanting to start up a blog again--but a different kind of blog. I have a new plan, a new page, a new leaf. I’ll share more about the plan and the page later this week. For now, let me share with you about the new leaf.
The name I chose for this blog is taken from a short story by J.R.R. Tolkien. Some say it is a sort of parable about his own creative life. The little fairytale contains quite a bit of commentary and satire about the life and impact of an artist, but it ends humbly enough. Here’s an excerpt from near the end of the story, a conversation between Tompkins, Perkins, and Atkins in conversation about the main character, name of Niggle, after his death.
"I think he was a silly little man," said Councillor Tompkins. "Worthless, in fact; no use to Society at all."
"Oh, I don't know," said Atkins, who was nobody of importance, just a schoolmaster. "I am not so sure: it depends on what you mean by use."
"No practical or economic use," said Tompkins. "I dare say he could have been made into a serviceable cog of some sort, if you schoolmasters knew your business. But you don't, and so we get useless people of his sort. If I ran this country I should put him and his like to some job that they're fit for, washing dishes in a communal kitchen or something, and I should see that they did it properly. Or I would put them away. I should have put him away long ago."
"Put him away? You mean you'd have made him start on the Journey before his time?"
"Yes, if you must use that meaningless old expression. Push him through the tunnel into the great Rubbish Heap: that's what I mean."
"Then you don't think painting is worth anything, not worth preserving, or improving, or even making use of?"
"Of course, painting has uses," said Tompkins. "But you couldn't make use of his painting. There is plenty of scope for bold young men not afraid of new ideas and new methods. None for this old-fashioned stuff. Private day-dreaming. He could not have designed a telling poster to save his life. Always fiddling with leaves and flowers. I asked him why, once. He said he thought they were pretty! Can you believe it? He said pretty! 'What, digestive and genital organs of plants?' I said to him; and he had nothing to answer. Silly footler."
"Footler," sighed Atkins. "Yes, poor little man, he never finished anything. Ah well, his canvases have been put to 'better uses,' since he went. But I am not sure, Tompkins. You remember that large one, the one they used to patch the damaged house next door to his, after the gales and floods? I found a corner of it torn off, lying in a field. It was damaged, but legible: a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves. I can't get it out of my mind."
"Out of your what?" said Tompkins.
"Who are you two talking about?" said Perkins, intervening in the cause of peace: Atkins had flushed rather red.
"The name's not worth repeating," said Tompkins. "I don't know why we are talking about him at all. He did not live in town."
"No," said Atkins; "but you had your eye on his house, all the same. That is why you used to go and call, and sneer at him while drinking his tea. Well, you've got his house now, as well as the one in town, so you need not grudge him his name. We were talking about Niggle, if you want to know, Perkins."
"Oh, poor little Niggle!" said Perkins. "Never knew he painted."
That was probably the last time Niggle's name ever came up in conversation. However, Atkins preserved the odd corner. Most of it crumbled; but one beautiful leaf remained intact. Atkins had it framed. Later he left it to the Town Museum, and for a long while "Leaf: by Niggle" hung there in a recess, and was noticed by a few eyes. But eventually the Museum was burnt down, and the leaf, and Niggle, were entirely forgotten in his old country.
---J.R.R. Tolkien, “Leaf: By Niggle”**
In case you haven’t read this lesser-known story, you should latch on to the last four words of this excerpt, and have hope for “poor little Niggle,” whose life seemed to go as unappreciated by most as his art. “In his old country”…The rest of the story shows how Niggle found that being appreciated in the “old” country wasn’t everything he thought it was, and that creativity and art itself must be connected with life, compassion, and community in order to have its eternal, true, and real impact.
I find the story is a great cure for writers’ (or painters’) block. Art and life must go together, so therefore, I need not worry so much, as Niggle did, about the perfection of actual work of art in this old country. There are many arguments for Excellence, and Skill, and Technique; I don’t deny them. But if those were the standard, I would never begin. And I want to begin.
So, with the start of my 29th year, I begin again. A new leaf. Someone once told me that the wisdom part of the brain only begins developing at about age 30. Perhaps this blog will help to chronicle the journey to Wisdom. And I plan to have fun along the way! But more on that tomorrow.
**If you haven’t read it, you should! There are a couple of free online copies available, or better yet, pick up one of the books of short stories, such as Tree and Leaf, where the story “’Leaf: by Niggle” is often published with “Smith of Wootton Major,” “Farmer Giles of Ham,” “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” and/or the famously influential essay “On Faery-Stories”.