I always loved mazes and puzzles when I was a kid. I’d do them in pencil, do them in pen, be the first to mark up the cereal box or the puzzle page in my Humpty Dumpty magazine. Then at age eight I entered my first true labyrinth.
It was a shrubbery, in fact. The family was doing a Washington DC trip, and Colonial Williamsburg was part of the package. Behind the Governor’s Palace there was a true labyrinth; life-size, the kind you walk into and navigate on your own, with no benefit of the bird’s eye view.
This one was made of holly, not stone, but the walls were way taller than I was, which was the point. Do you remember the snowy maze at the end of Kubrick’s The Shining? It was just like that, but there was no snow, or axes or blood.
I was stoked, and I was on my own. Mom and Dad gave me leave to explore for a full half hour, so I ran as deep into it as I could from the very start. I had a general sense of where the center was. Most of the turns were at right angles, so I could keep a semblance of orientation. There were other people in there, of course, mostly unaccompanied adults, some more disoriented than others.
It’s an entirely different experience to be on the inside of a work of art, whether it’s a novel, a painting, a dance, or a labyrinth. Perspective is lost. Direction is lost. If you’re not careful, hope is lost. You discover that there are different levels of lost you never knew existed.
Even if you’re collaborating, there’s no guarantee that your partners are any better oriented than you are. Society in general seems to be more helpful in getting you out than getting you to the center, to the beast you must slay. The skein of thread that Ariadne gives you (a clew, I hear it’s called) might lead you back out again, but it can’t help you find the Minotaur. Some days it takes perseverance more than anything.
The labyrinth of Williamsburg, being made of holly and not stone, had walls thin enough in some places to see through. Sometimes you only saw your fellow lost souls breezing past in a parallel corridor, but most of the time you saw nothing but another path like the one you were on. Then along one wall I saw a stone bench and a tiny courtyard. It might have been a way station, or it may have been the center – it didn’t matter because I wasn’t there yet. But it did spur me on, and although my time in the maze was nearly gone, I kept on until I made it to the center and sat upon the bench of glory. I mean, I slew the mighty Minotaur.
Or I didn’t. I’m not sure anymore whether I made it to the center. It’s entirely possible that my time run out, and the park was closing and Dad called me to come on out already. What I remember is the labyrinth and how it felt to know I was at the whim of the walls of holly. I liked it. I wanted more of it. That’s how it feels a lot of the time to be an artist. I’m lost. I’ve lost all perspective. There are no clues. Time is running out. But in the creative world there is a unique option: life in the labyrinth. Let go of the need to escape and you’ve won.
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