Blood Lotus #22

Page 61

Diane Thomas DRAWING THE LINE—IN ART AND LIFE A review of Drawing the Line, a memoir by Susan Gardner, Red Mountain Press, 2011) Drawing the Line is a book for that easy-to-reach shelf where it can be pulled down and visited time and again through the years. Each reading yields something new. It is, quite simply, the best self-examination of a life that I have read in a long time. The book‘s title is well chosen. In it, Gardner, a poet, photographer and internationally recognized artist living in Santa Fe, draws many lines. Primary, of course, is the line of her life, which she lays out, in this age of dishy celebrity spews, with quiet dignity. Of equal importance are the lines that figure prominently in her art, which is deeply influenced by calligraphy and Japanese sumi-e painting. Also to consider are the lines of her poetry. Gardner embeds a scattering of her poems throughout her memoir and echoes their spare, highly visual style in her prose. In this manner she creates yet more lines, both on the page and the implied lines she lays down for us to read between. A product of her time, and of a philandering father and a volatile mother who hated children, she finds herself in the mid-1960s trapped in an abusive marriage in a foreign country, with two small children, the painful memory of a third child dead of leukemia, and no means of supporting herself on her own. She does not, however, dwell on her misfortunes. The domestic abuse, for example, comes through mostly in occasional references to bruises, in such phrases as ―…our sexual tastes were not alike…,‖ and in the cold fact that she gave birth to a child with syphilis that she herself unknowingly had contracted from her husband. Instead, Gardner turns her attention to the world around her. And a rich world it is. Her husband, whom she calls Edwin (names have been changed— Gardner has a great respect for privacy), was in the Foreign Service, which meant postings in Korea, Japan and Mexico City, plus other travels. Always, wherever they were, she was drawn to art and the artists who created it. In Asia she not only learned Korean papermaking, calligraphy and sumie, but also tenets of Buddhism, including the concept of ―pointing,‖ directing your focused attention to what is directly in front of you. This practice is evident in Drawing the Line, and among other things makes Gardner an astute travel guide, with a knack for the telling detail that reveals much more than might at first appear. Her description of the ritual at the Korean temple of Haein-sa, in which a Buddhist monk strikes the largest of the temple gongs at midnight, is but one of countless such examples: At midnight, the largest gong, twenty feet tall and eight feet in diameter, is struck with a long, heavy log suspended with chains from a beam. The deep basso bell sends its