Creative legacy is therefore at least partially made up of impact, and to have an impact isn’t solely the domain of Virginia Woolf or da Vinci.
Listen to me read the below here:
Last year I noticed — and I’m not sure how long it had been there — what seemed to be a bird’s nest a bit above my eye level, caught in a V of tree branches on my block. Being a city girl, I was at first enamored, then confused. The nest was incongruous with its surroundings; why would there be a low-hanging bird’s nest in a lone tree on a heavily trafficked sidewalk, where it would surely be bothered? And I’d never seen any birds near that sidewalk before, unless you count the pigeons Daphne so loves to chase. I stood and stared, momentarily delayed on my high-speed errands, and looked inside.
Bring up the word “legacy” amid a group of artistic types, and unless you’ve got a batch of particularly bold ones on hand, I’ve found that not many will claim to have such notions. We may privately dream of the Met holding our work in their permanent collections, or UT Austin collecting our every notebook and half-baked manuscript, but to say so is something else. Or it may be that we don’t even consider it a goal to be remembered that way; I certainly don’t dream of people poring over my journals, or my every overemotional email, when I’m dead; and though I have ambitions of making work that lasts, I recognize that it’s more important to focus on creating the best stuff I can, rather than daydreaming about the future.
But I do bet that they (by which I mean you, dear Reader) do care about impact. If you’re not making art* for yourself, to only ever be seen by yourself — if you hold any hope at all that your creations, whether they’re dances or paintings or short stories, will one day be experienced by another human being — if you’re making art as a kind of communication, by definition your art is going to have an effect on people. They may not be affected in the way that you want them to be; they may not interpret your stuff in the way that you hope they will. They’ll be affected nonetheless, and whether that effect is big or small or somewhere in between is the result of an intangible magic that occurs: impact.
Creative legacy is therefore at least partially made up of impact, and to have an impact isn’t solely the domain of Virginia Woolf or da Vinci. To take the word literally: let’s imagine a “bumping up” of someone against your work. The happy bruise it leaves behind might last for weeks; it might only create a red mark that fades in seconds. But to have any sort of impact is the domain of everyday legacy — your everyday legacy as a working artist and as a human being. You choose to say hello to the barista by name and ask her, looking her right in the eye, how she’s doing. You write a brief, but thoughtful Instagram update to accompany a moody photo. At the same time, you might be spending hours on a poem that you’ve been working on for five months; perhaps no one will see the poem for another three. All of these are ways in which you leave a mark.
The nest, as it turns out, had a plastic Easter egg inside. No bird had, or would, live inside of it. For a time I stopped to look at the nest every day, and eventually it disappeared, but reappeared again this year — same nest, different plastic egg. I don’t know who puts the nest there, or why. I know that it causes me to stop when I might otherwise rush along, fast and ignorant. I know that it reminds me to be present, and to keep looking.
P.S. In the comments, Laura Simms, who primarily serves as a career coach for purpose-driven people, mentioned this link, which I adored. It’s about Peter Brook and the acid test: “When a performance is over, what remains? Fun can be forgotten, but powerful emotion also disappears and good arguments lose their thread. When emotion and argument are harnessed to a wish from the audience to see more clearly into itself – then something in the mind burns.” [More here.]
*In the Journal I refer to “art” as the product of intensive creativity, regardless of medium.