Photo by John Norvell

Photo by John Norvell

What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
— T.S. Eliot

Angela, my dear friend and chosen sister, gave me a book as an early Christmas present. I was swamped with grading and preparations for hosting a large family gathering, and I couldn’t get to it that day.

So I stayed up all night reading it.

In Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng creates a safe, contained, predictable community, and shows what happens when art slips in and lights it on fire.

This is what art does.

It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning, the soil is richer and new things can grow. People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.

I saw my parents yesterday. They were polite, but verbally reminded me of all the ways I failed to live up to their standards, how I failed to flourish in the world they constructed for us.

This used to cause me a great deal of pain. I’ve never known how to compensate them for what they think they lost.

Over the years, over the course of her life, she would try repeatedly to untangle these threads, and find each time that they were hopelessly intertwined.

More importantly, I didn’t know how to compensate myself for what I lost.

Now I see that my world is larger for having left everything behind at 17, for having to burrow my way out of the ashes to find mentors and role models in the soot.

But they were always there, in the language and legacy of art.

In Mia’s accepting presence, she’d become curious and kind and open, as if under a magic spell. She had felt, finally, as if she could speak without immediately bumping into the hard shell of her sheltered life, as if she suddenly saw that the solid walls penning her in were actually bars, with spaces between them wide enough to slip through.

I have slipped through bars I thought would strangle me.

2018 was a painful, but transformative year, and I credit art as the vehicle of transcendence. As my old friend Dave said, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”

Visual art, performance art, literary art, and the spiritual art of rupture and rebirth were my saviors this year.

I started 2018 by sharing a list of books I loved in 2017. I wish I had jotted down every book I read in 2018, but I didn’t. And I wouldn’t even begin to know how to reconstruct such a list.

But that doesn’t mean reading all those books didn’t provide light in the darkness. Reading is one of the ways I hear voices. Reading is one of the ways I am certain I am never alone.

I am deeply grateful for every artist who showed me how to use these threads to create a new tapestry.

In 2019, I will share the title of every book I finish.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

Michelle Dowd