I’m dedicating this story to my friend Gayle, who often asks me, “Can’t you write something that’s not scary?” Yes, dear, I can. Regardez:
Genius Has Its Own Time
The studio is dark and quiet. The occasional fretful moonbeam shows through the many-paned window, lighting up shrouded artwork. Easels and pedestals, tables and chairs, wait in a breathless hush for the return of the basis of their lives—the students and masters who call this place “home”.
The moonlight, which fades and brightens according to the whims of the clouds racing across the sky, catches the metal of the brushes and planes, the chisels and the drills–the instruments by which these works of art become works of life. At those times, the tools seem to take on a life of their own, as if they could almost jump off the tables and workbenches, to dance a merry waltz with the artwork they help to create during the day.
The dust of creativity settles over everything. In the blue-white light coming through the windows, all is still. Everything waits, although the urge is there to wait no longer.
Into this hush comes a stirring, a scratching at the door. The knob turns, the door parts company with the lintel.
A face appears within the room. The head, shoulders, and body, bathed in the dark shadows that live in that corner of the studio, move forward slowly until they emerge into the silver light.
A young man, eyes bright and intent, walks slowly toward the largest sculpture in the room. He whisks away the covering, lets it dance to the floor. As he walks around the granite, he squints at the angles, the crannies, the random points and planes. Around and around, he stops at times to wait, breathless as the room he stands in, for the moonlight to catch the rock just right. Then, disappointed by what he sees, he starts around again.
Then, suddenly, he stops with a cry. Hurrying to his tools on the nearby bench, not taking his eyes off his artwork for fear of losing the spark he’s seen, he picks up a chisel and hammer. Back he goes to that very spot, that perfect place—but no, the chisel is not the right size. He returns to the bench, frustrated—the light could leave at any minute, and take with it his midnight inspiration.
There! That one! Perfect!
He returns to the stone, touches the chisel to the spot he has been eyeing, and, chink!, he chips a tiny sliver of stone from the granite.
Back to the walk around the behemoth, but the eagerness that was there a few minutes before is gone. The artist yawns, picks up the cloth, and drapes the granite in its shroud. Scratching his nose and mumbling to himself, he walks out the door, pulling it closed behind him.
The shroud sighs as it settles on the artwork, and the tools settle in for the night, disappointed that they did not get to dance this time. But the granite is patient. It has been in existence for thousands of years, and it has no place to go. It can wait.
The next morning, sunshine spills through the windows of the studio, shining and bouncing from one student to another as they laugh and chatter, work and study. Their tools play happily in their hands. Brushes paint enormous swaths of color or narrow, heartbreakingly beautiful details. Clay is formed by eager hands with various degrees of success, potters’ wheels hum vigorously.
A new student ventures into the realm of the midnight sculptor, and admires the tools laid so lovingly out on the bench. As he passes his hands over them, he is warned by the others.
“Those belong to the Master.”
“We cannot use them. Only he can create with those.”
“We do not even go to that corner.”
The student pulls his hand back with a soft gasp, and walks back to his own work.
The Master’s tools sigh. The granite waits.
Another night, this one filled with clear, soft moonlight. No Master tonight. There is not enough contrast in the light to bother trying to find what he is looking for. Tools and shroud, dust-covered from the eager workings of the students during the day, settle in to wait for another night.
Four years pass. The daytime students change, grow older, grow from inexperienced apprentices to knowledgeable graduates who can hold their own in the world. Still the granite waits.
In four years, it has changed, but subtly. More lines and mounds, more planes and fissures, as the midnight maestro plays his song one note at a time on its stone surface. It is no longer the behemoth it once was; it has seen itself shaved and chipped, hammered and shaped, until it finally has some idea as to what it is becoming.
One night, as lightning streaks the sky and thunder rolls its rumbling way through the atmosphere, the artist visits once again. The air is full of electricity, but also filled with a tense excitement. The sculptor, now older, with lines around his eyes due to lack of sleep, approaches the shrouded artwork and pulls off the cover.
As he peers at his work in the usual round-and-round way, the room is suddenly lit up with such stark light that there is nothing else. No walls, no windows, no student work—only the black-and-white reality of the here and now. And in that charge, he sees what has eluded him all these years. That same charge, that spark, finds a home in his own eyes.
A cry of delight, a hurrying to his bench, and the tools dance happily with the master as he flits from one side of his masterpiece to the other, rounding and shaping with such a flurrying of hands that they are almost too fast to follow. Around and around, stopping for nothing, barely breathing, alive for only one reason—to bring to life what he has just seen in the flash of the lightning. The tools sing and laugh. They are finally doing what they were meant to do, and they are filled with a joy unknown before.
Sweating and gasping, the sculptor finally slows, stops. In a few minutes, he paces around the sculpture once again, peering, poking, prodding. He shakes his head, questioning what he has just done and a little afraid that he has ruined years of work.
The storm outside is waning, but has enough strength to give off one more bolt of lightning. Its power, plus the ear-shattering thunder immediately after, causes the man to fall to the floor. But it’s no matter to him; he has seen it. Seen the life. The energy. The mission and the message that this sculpture contained from the beginning.
This night he leaves off the shroud. Whistling, he folds it and puts it on a stool. Then he gathers his tools, scattered everywhere during the dance, and places them carefully together in their usual place.
He takes one last look at his creation, sighs, and smiles. Then he leaves the studio, knowing that he will finally have a good night’s sleep.
In his wake, the tools smile as well, tired from the waltz with the stone. They dream of another creation, another masterpiece, some time in the future.
And the granite sits serenely. It knows the wait was worth it. It knew all along.