Less inspires more
Published: July 29, 2005
|My writer's bookshelf is choked with stodgy tomes about the conquest of Mexico, grammar guides from the Associated Press, travel memoirs and musings from several centuries of classic and closet philosophers. I haven't read half of them; it's just their presence near my desk that I love. On the bottom shelf, however, a red square book juts out like a chunk of watermelon, always ready for my grasp. Minimalismo/Minimalism by Sofia Cheviakoff, a guide to modern architecture, somehow has become my most inspirational-and exigent-writing instructor. |
The text is an industry-oriented, trilingual headache; I ignore it. But the photographs, those glorious, glossy sheets of color and shape! Each time I gaze at them, the pictures teach me in thousands of wordless words what it means to write well. And why I write at all.
At 851 pages, Minimalismo/Minimalism features at least as many buildings and projects. It is my habit to pick just one of those works to contemplate before I begin to write. Today's muse is "Apartment in Monte Carlo," photographs of a room designed by architects Claudio Lazzarini and Carl Pickering.
Clean stretches of white are all I see at first-a plank of gleaming floor that rushes toward the wall and slab of ceiling on the other side of the room. A long windowpane punches a rectangle of light into the wall. There is no furniture, no color in the space.
My British heritage recoils; I like a cottage feel to my apartments-rambling country roses and cheerful china teacups ... not this dreary tomb! But this is minimalism, and as I stare at the cold expanse of apartment, I am struck by its simplicity. Concepts like white, cool, pure, ice and clean are actually embodied here, and I understand them as never before. Rambling roses and provincial knickknacks would only clutter; instead, the room has been stripped of every superfluous detail, shaved to the barest outline of form.
My writer's conscience is instantly chastised. Are my words, I wonder, this simple? Are my sentences tight constructs of perfection? Guiltily, I turn to the second picture, photographed at midday.
Precision and restraint, I quickly realize, do not exist in vacuo; their true purpose is to make something else more lucid. Here the edges of the long window are so sharp the sunlight seems to explode against them, pouring into the room in a golden, sensual wash.
Light, fluid as honey, splashes onto the cold marble floors, turned to mirrors. It dances on the ceiling. Without the cleanness of form in window and wall, that light would only dissipate in a muddy shine.
Yes, my words must be trimmed, I see, but only to convey more meaning. That slice of cool window against the azure cut of sky-can my reader grasp its perfection? Do my sentences leap off the page like the sparks of sunlight off the glass? Or do they draw attention to themselves instead of their meaning, distracting and distorting the way a gaudy teacup would disrupt the room?
I turn once more to the window, and my meditation stretches broadly like the white sands of Monte Carlo on the beach below. This window, I know, is no mere piece of furniture-it is a frame for the rest of the world. Through its glass, cut long and wide, I glimpse the pounding surf, the honeycomb of houses jumbled along the shore. I can gaze so far to where the sea kisses the sky in a misty mirage that I seem to see the world entire.
My writing, I know, can never capture that world, nor reduce it to the view from my interior window. I must take one experience at a time, like this beach of Monte Carlo, and construct the perfect window overlooking it. My stories will carve out a single aperture through which to see a slice of light and life. If I build my frame well, it will itself show all that I merely wanted to tell.
I close my squat watermelon chunk of book. A thousand more meditations lie within, and tomorrow, perhaps, I will encounter George Hargreaves' sparse sculpture garden, or the cavernous hallways of Romero and Schaefle Architects. Each artist will teach me different lessons of execution and purpose in my craft. Their daring vision in the face of mockery or indifference will spur me to a renewed zeal.
My bookshelf abounds with writers, guides and ideas-great, gifted creators all. Yet only this text of minimalism has helped me discover my own voice, for it contains no words I might confuse with my own, no lofty ideals I would adopt in admiration. The artists within have only built new frames, and perhaps one day, my work will stand with theirs, a fresh window on a shared and intricate world.
Marion Maendel was born in Pennsylvania and raised in an Anabaptist community called the Bruderhof. At 18, she moved to Houston, where she worked for more than three years at Casa Juan Diego, a shelter for battered women and the homeless. Afterward, she spent a year and a half studying classical philosophy and theology at the monastery of the Brothers of St. John in Laredo, Texas.
Maendel is majoring in communication and philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. She has worked as a freelance writer for eight years. Maendel is the former editor in chief of the University of St. Thomas newspaper, The Cauldron, and plans a
career in print journalism. She lives in Houston with her husband, Andrés.
Editor's note: The Sylvia K. Burack scholarship is named in honor of the former editor in chief of The Writer. She was with the magazine for 60 years and was renowned for helping and encouraging writers at all stages of their careers. In that spirit, after her death in 2003, we established the scholarship in her name. We received more than 500 entries for the 2005 award. It's wonderful to know that so many students are interested in writing.