handiwork by Sara Baume
Sara Baume’s first non-fiction book is a slim little volume about the making of art. It’s also about grief and about the daily minutiae of living and creating, about writing and crafting, about work and responsibility. And it’s about holding ourselves accountable for the time we have been gifted. It’s small and sometimes stark and unfalteringly beautiful.
“I have always felt caught between two languages, though I can only speak in one” she writes. “The one I can speak goes down on paper and into my laptop, in the hours before noon. The one I cannot speak does down in small painted objects, in the hours after.
“The more I need to explain, the longer the documents become, the larger the assemblages.”
She writes exquisitely about the everyday routine, from the morning’s unrolling of socks to the nights’s rolling them up again, and of the work which fills the hours in between. “Every day, I complete a single carved plaster object, and every day each completed object comes to precisely the breadth and limits of my patience.” On the following page she writes: “I have felt a terrible responsibility for time.” And there she expresses, in a single line, what so many artists feel about time spent making and remaking in a constant striving for better. Work which fails in some way is ‘contaminated’.
Her father, who died a year or so before she commenced this memoir, is a significant presence and returns throughout like a welcome leitmotif. Her grief is evident but it’s delicately treated, like something fragile, to be handled with care. Her many passages on birds, those she crafts and paints herself and those airborne outside her window, bring to mind Jonathan Franzen’s essays on similar themes, one from which she quotes directly.
This remarkable little book will prompt you to return to it in quiet moments and to reflect with the author on what it means to be alive, to love and lose and to simply go on, “doggedly, diligently, interminably…”