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An Ephemeral Feast



“One hundred percent of my work is to enhance my receptivity.”

- Jennifer Rife


I recently listened to a Wyoming Humanities Council podcast, What’s Your Why? in which artist Jennifer Rife of Cheyenne, Wyoming, was interviewed by Emy DiGrappa. Jennifer had recently landed among five finalists who are vying to represent Wyoming in the Women to Watch, New Worlds exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.


The 2024 exhibit is part of a biennial exhibition series that features underrepresented and emerging women artists who create in any medium including, but not limited to, painting, sculpture, print, drawing, photography, film, digital, installation, and sound.


If you’re imagining Jennifer’s art as paint on a canvas, or a granite sculpture, or some kind of performance art, then you’re wrong.


I was wrong. I learned that her art form is something entirely different.


At her website, Art in the Middle of Nowhere, Jennifer shows us what she creates and it’s a good thing, because otherwise we’d never see it. Hers is a leaves-no-trace kind of art.


Tough to describe so I invite you to go to her website to see for yourself.


Jennifer creates these “installations” by placing objects in a location, taking photos, and then noting the latitude and longitude of the spot. Before heading out, she erases all signs that she’s been there.


Hers is an ephemeral art.

“Ephemeral” is a term that usually describes “a work of art that only occurs once, like a happening, and cannot be embodied in any lasting object to be shown in a museum or gallery.”

According to Jennifer, the photos aren’t even the point. Describing herself as a “flow junky,” she says, “One hundred percent of my work is to enhance my receptivity.”


I’m paraphrasing now, but Jennifer said that while the art is ephemeral, she is changed by the creation of it.


Wow. Yeah.

As a lifelong student of creativity, I’m familiar with the term “flow.” I read and re-read a book about it: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. So, I grasp what she’s talking about.


“Flow: the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I’m fascinated by Jennifer’s approach and admire her unique take on the creative process. I could hang out at her website for hours.


But inevitably my thoughts turn to my own brand of creativity—writing—and I wonder, can writing be ephemeral?


My thesaurus spits out lots of words that cozy up to ephemeral: impermanent, transitory, delicate, short-lived, intangible.


But don’t we write for posterity, for our words to be published and read, making them permanent, in a way?


A recent experience makes me question that assumption.


Some background:

In 2017 I wrote a creative nonfiction piece titled, “The Pushing Fork.” It was an exploration of a recent phenomenon I’d experienced as I found myself being irritable with my then 87-year-old mother about her eating habits.


Excerpt:

“Ummm… this is a good dinner,” my mother says for the fifth time in three minutes. Scratch, scratch… Mom’s fork pushes chunks of chicken into a mound with her mashed potatoes and green beans. Push, push… she slides her fork toward the mound and lifts. She can feel right away by the weight of her fork that she hasn’t got any food on it, that she missed again. “This is very good,” she says. Then she goes back to her mound.


Just eat the friggin’ food! I want to say.


I love my mother. It’s just that she’s making me crazy at the moment. My irritation blooms at every scratch and then guilt slams into the irritation like a snowstorm into a fog bank. See the deal is, my mom is losing her eyesight, slowly and incrementally, due to macular degeneration.


In the writing of this essay, in the flow of thinking about my emotions and trying to put them into words, I discovered that irritation was only the surface emotion. There was more underneath. A lot more...


Scratch at the irritation, and you uncover fear. Push aside the fear and you unearth love. I decide to let myself off the hook when the irritation intrudes. You’re afraid, Lynn. It’s understandable. It’s okay.


I followed the emotions, down to where I really didn’t want to go. The writing demanded it of me. And I discovered that there was a tough question down there.


What will I do? Can I wait with her while she suffers? Maybe that’s the awful, barely bearable challenge ahead—to watch her suffer and be diminished, by loss of sight and movement, or by increasing pain, knowing there’s little I can do, except be with her and manage the doctor visits and get the pills from the pharmacy.


I don’t know if I can do it.


In the process of writing The Pushing Fork, I found out I was afraid of being with my mother in her inevitable decline. I was terrified, to be honest. In that realization, I was changed.


Like Jennifer is changed with her art? Maybe.

I shared the essay with my writing group and submitted it to a couple of literary magazines, but they didn’t pick it up. It sat on my computer.


Fast forward to November of 2022.


Mom was at Davis Hospice Center here in Cheyenne, dying of congestive heart failure. All my senses were trained on her as one by one her systems shut down. A nurse, Sally, was masterful—not only in helping Mom, but in working with the family during this beyond-stressful time. She knew what was going on with Mom’s dying process, did all she could to make her patient comfortable, and explained to us what was happening and what to expect next.

At a crucial moment, she told me that she could relieve Mom’s agitation and pain with medication. “But she might not regain consciousness,” she warned.


“I just don’t want her to suffer,” I said.


Soon after the medication was administered, Mom slipped into unconsciousness. Her face lost its grimace. Her body relaxed.


It was then I remembered “The Pushing Fork” and that statement:


I don’t know if I can do it.


I was overwhelmed with the realization that in the end, I hadn’t had to do it alone. There were special people, in a special place, who could relieve suffering.


I went home and printed off “The Pushing Fork” and jotted a note at the bottom of the last page.


Sally,

When I wrote this story I didn’t know—couldn’t have known—that Mom’s suffering would be relieved by a nurse named Sally in a place called Davis Hospice Center.

I am beyond grateful.

Lynn


The next morning, I gave it to Sally the nurse. I felt sort of silly doing it, foisting my story on a relative stranger, but something in me insisted.


She took it to the breakout room to read later.


Her comment after reading?


“It made me cry.”


Now I think I know what “The Pushing Fork” was meant for. I think I wrote that essay as an ephemeral piece of writing that led me to discover what was going on with me internally, and then served as a thank you letter of sorts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to publish my writing—to share my words with many people.

But for now, I am grateful that “The Pushing Fork” changed me and then found its audience, even if it was an audience of one.


And while I’m feeling grateful, I want to thank Jennifer Rife and all the other ephemeral artists, for showing me that art is as much about process as it is about product.


2 Comments


Guest
Feb 24, 2023

Oh, how I loved that essay when you first shared it with us, Lynn. We talk about finding a "home" for our writing in terms of getting it published. In this case, it might not have gotten published, but it found exactly the right home. <3

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Guest
Feb 20, 2023

Ephemeral is the experience of working through a painting from beginning to the end, the ups and downs, being drawn in, being pushed away, and then in the finality of the work, there is the chimera - a handshake, sometimes a hug, an erasure, a letting go. The whole process is forever embedded, alive within me, while the echoes, the husk, of all that glorious engagement hangs on display somewhere, hoping to find a response to the call, a completion of the circle, out in the big big world. Thank you.

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