Meditations on Dilettantism
A SPARROW carries a pigeon feather in its mouth. A feather as wide as a wing, as big as a house. Sacrificing food for texture, the sparrow walks home with its treasure.
I turn away from the window, back to my magazine, an indulgence, around five o’clock in the afternoon. Sometimes, I read a book, a biography of a bullfighter, but today is travel and leisure, food and wine, chiffon and lipstick, oatmeal coats and espresso tights. More tips about what to do, what can be done.
“In her spectacular farmhouse kitchen in the Hamptons, a gilder shows how easy it is to add a luxurious touch—whether to a plate or a pendant”: that’s what the article promises. It goes on to claim that applying gold leaf is easy and fun and something you can do in your own home. No elaborate education needed.
And there is the thrill, all of a sudden, of adventure. The allure of another hobby. If I can set aside a bit of my scant counter space in the kitchen, I can have my own gilded spoons and dessert platters. A bit of beauty before dinner.
I buy an imitation-gold-leafing kit online. It will be here soon enough. And if this works out, I can move on to genuine gold, or so I imagine. But then I discover how expensive that is. And palladium leaf, which resists corrosion and is suitable for exterior projects, costs even more. Have I ever seen palladium before? Does it look like steel? I decide to stick with the imitation gold, which, really, seems fine. Who can tell the difference?
But think about a bamboo bowl with the subtle goldenness of real gilding around the edges. How the aura of a glass pendant streaked with fine silver would inspire. The allure of authenticity.
Maybe later. After I get better. (But I haven’t even started yet.)
And how many objects will I have to make?
How long can I keep making things?
Because I’m running out of storage space. And I can’t keep giving them away. I think of my grandmother, who was desperate for solace and distraction after her husband died and how she therefore took up ceramics at the local center for such things. She churned out figurines of maidens and cowboys and sparrows and squirrels that were cookie jars. All of which we were obligated to cart home and display. She once made us a large ceramic scene of a matador with cape, engaged in a dramatic pass (maybe a media verónica) with his bull. How embarrassing.
I carefully pick up a sheet of gold leaf before it flies around the room.
It folds around my body like the teal and gold batik worn by a Balinese woman who weaves tiny palm baskets and fills them with rice balls and orchids every morning, before walking through whatever weather to the stone altar and depositing an offering.
The trip of a lifetime.
I pick up another sheet and continue.
But it blows out of my hands, out of the window, gilding a passing pigeon feather.
Tara Deal is a writer in New York City and the author of two books from small presses: Wander Luster is a poetry chapbook from Finishing Line Press, and Palms Are Not Trees After All is the winner of the 2007 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize from Texas Review Press. Her writings have been published by Alimentum, Blip, failbetter, Fogged Clarity, Sugar House Review, and West Branch, among others. And her shortest story can be found in Hint Fiction (Norton).