Self-Portrait, Pt. I



The path is worn down by now—evidence of her obsession. But what else can be done when the artist finds the well of inspiration? She must return again and again to the same place as long as the magic remains, and thus she hurries alongside the river to arrive before the last light of day.


She comes to the cliff and looks down to the river below.


And there she is. Every evening at this time, there she is.


Below the old woman removes her shoes and walks into the middle of the river, then slowly turns to face the current with arms spread wide. Her body stands firm against the forces of earth that wish to move her. These ancient waters carry the power to carve canyons out of stone, but the old woman cannot be moved. Instead, she moves forward.


Step by step, against the wishes of the river, to prove that though all things do indeed move forward they do not move in the same direction.


The artist waits until all the light of day is gone before she walks the path back home.


She hurries now. She cannot let the image escape. A crow swoops overhead. It, too, is moving forward. Above, the stars are not in the same place as they were the night before. The earth, too, is moving, just as all things are moving forward all the time. And this is it, isn’t it? This is the truth that must be brought forth from the forge of her soul.


This is what the stones wish to declare.


She enters her home and drops kindling onto the still-glowing coals in the fireplace, and the flush of light reveals the half-finished sculpture of the old woman. The artist sits at the table to translate what she has seen to the canvas, and the canvas will be translated to the stone, and the stone will one day be translated into the eyes and souls of all who behold it. All things, moving forward all the time.


She presses the chisel against the stone and raises the hammer. Only with intentional, brutal force can the image be revealed. The journal on the nearby table is open to the page where she has written, “You cannot move backwards. You can only move in the direction you are pointed.”


The hammer moves forward and the stone breaks.


Night by night she continues the ritual. The flush of firelight upon the sculpture, the new charcoal drawing of the old woman in the river, her hand reaching for the hammer and chisel until one morning the artist awakes and sits in the reflection of what she has made.

Now is the time to be quiet and listen to the stone, to hear what else it wishes to say. And so she waits.


For days she waits, and in the forge of her soul a fire rises to declare that the difference in stone and statue is ten thousand strikes, endurance, obedience to the calling she has received and accepted. Ten thousand strikes, with singular vision. And what lives in the stones cannot be revealed until the chisel comes forward with force and intention, the vision manifested into reality. This will not happen once. It has happened before and it will happen again and again for a lifetime. Long ago she abandoned the idea of creating a masterpiece, for there is no such thing, there is only the totality of work, the communion of our hands and what our hands make. Endurance, obedience.


She wished for the stones to prove that all things are moving forward all the time, that even now she is a child, even now, she is standing on the cliff. She wished for the stones to cry out that you can be in more than one place at once. Even now, the crow is flying overhead. Even now, the stars are circling and the river is flowing.


And as the sun begins to set on the third day the true image is finally revealed. She sees now that the old woman’s face has changed, that the stones have transformed into something else entirely. The face is no longer old. The wrinkles have been smoothed.


The beauty of youth has been restored to her.


The face is her own.


She runs down the well-worn path alongside the river to catch the last light of day. The crow flies east overhead and the north wind moves through the trees. She comes to the cliff, breathless, and looks down to see the old woman is no longer there. The image has left her, the memory vacant. She can no longer imagine her face. She can no longer see the fabric of the old woman’s dress or the way she spread her arms wide.


Only then does she feel the water at her own feet, rising to her waist. It is her. It has always been her. The river moves ever-forward, the same ancient force that carved canyons out of stone. But she knows—she remembers—that she cannot be moved. All things are moving forward all the time, but all things are not moving in the same direction.


In her soul she hears the voice saying, go forward, step by step, go forward.