In my last post, I wrote about my coming writing retreat to Florence.
That city is a spiritual/creative touchstone for me, and I know it is just the place where I can find anwers about my future direction, where I can be stimulated to achieve things that I haven’t thought of before, and where I can find the truth about MacKenzie, my alter-ego character, who is struggling to get past the trauma that has taken over her conscious life.
I have no current trauma, but I have recently discovered that in some respects (read last weeks blog) I have never gotten rid of the old ones. Even after years of cognitive therapy, my brain still runs in its old ruts. I still, even after winning a major award, have deep misgivings about my ability as a writer. I can’t really define my audience, because they are all like me, and who in the world is like me?
Being in Florence, I assume a new identity. Being in Florence, I believe that I am a writer. Being in Florence erases my cognititve ruts! There is a magical property about that city along the Arno. There, out of nothing but the manure of the “Dark Ages,” the Renaissance bloomed. Donatello,Michelangelo, Rafael, Bottichelli . . . and on and on. Their only model was antiquity—the art of the Greeks and Romans. In my mind, they surpassed it. Michelangelo’s statue of David is one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and he had no training as a sculptor! Was he the least bit afraid when he looked at that piece of marble? I know that his talented hands were guided by God. There was no other teacher available.
This will be my third trip to Florence in 18 months. This time, I go alone, and I will pray that God will tell me where to go, in the same way that Moses had to get his feet wet before the Lord parted the Red Sea. As the poet, Theodore Roethke phrased it, “We learn by going where we have to go.”
Nowhere is this more illustrative than in the construction of Florence’s signature sight—the red brick dome of the Cathedral that towers over the city. I think we can draw lessons on hope from it that we can change old patterns and find new ones, if we are willing to forsake cognitive ruts. No one knew how to build such a huge dome when construction was begun. After one hundred years of work, most of the structure of the cathedral was finished, with the builders confidently leaving an enormous hole in the ceiling for a future dome.
The generation that began the dome, spearheaded by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, had no idea how it was to be done, but they started it, using the locally manufactured terra cotta brick. By the standards of that time, a dome of such great size would collapse under its own weight and some large medieval cathedrals had collapsed during construction. The builders went as far as they could using conventional techniques, then contemplated alternatives. Brunelleschi finally conceived of building a smaller dome first to support the structure of the larger dome. This and many other unknown and unorthodox methods were developed and the great dome was completed in 1436. The Duomo has become the most prominent symbol of the beginning of the great Renaissance, which began in Florence, then spread through Italy and the rest of Europe.
So, I am hoping that I will discover some new cognitive paths in my brain in this city, the whole of which is a testament to the blossoming of art. I hope that I will be able to advance, a toe at a time, if necessary, by writing MacKenzie’s story as she learns by going where she has to go. Wouldn’t it be nice to come home with some new, positive and constructive ruts where the destructive ones used to be?