Warning: This is a VERY LONG blog post; an attempt to wrestle with all sorts of things that are arising. But it starts with the questions raised in Sunday's post -- the one about change, and how we tend to respond.
The problem with Sunday's post is that we are all too quick to rush to paper over things with pat phrases like "All shall be well." I actually believe it's true -- all SHALL be well. But we don't get to avoid the hard stuff: it's the making of us, if we will only take the time to stay with it, walk through it, feel it.
I am particularly struck by this this morning, and I think it's a combination of factors, all small indicators of something big that's flying pretty low. First, oddly enough, is the Grammy Awards (yes, I watched them instead of Downton Abbey; no excuses). I did it because I wanted to, and I've been trying to listen to my wants lately.
I know. I get that Macklemore's a Seattle phenomenon, but I was proud of him, and what he had to say through his song, Same Love. But you know, however willing we are to listen to that, whatever lip service we pay to those high ideals, what we vote for, what wins in the end, is "Get Lucky," a repetitive, catchy mantra that can distract us from the hard stuff and just let us boogie. Yup. That's what we want. Me, too -- although neither of those songs is on my ipod. And what does that say?
Second, I painted two paintings this week. And you might as well name them after those two songs, though I didn't.
Here's the Get Lucky painting: can you see it? It's kind of the painted equivalent of that old Ren and Stimpy song, "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy." I'm not saying it wasn't work, or hard to paint, or that it didn't take a long time, or that it doesn't have meaning -- in fact, I wrote another really bad sonnet yesterday about all the ways you could interpret this painting -- and it didn't even begin to tap the surface.
The problem is, I don't think it's me. It's a style I've been very happy with -- check out the dragon on the right hand side of this page -- but this sort of big-calligraphic-stroke thing doesn't necessarily come naturally to me; I just like the results I get with it. They're fun, they're appealing, they're lively. But I learned to do these by watching someone else; there's not necessarily a lot of me-depth to this stuff.
And now for something completely different (thank you, Monty Python): Here's the Macklemore painting.
It's a do-over of the first painting I managed to do after the Christmas break, which had a little merit but not enough to ever post here. And when I started that do-over two days ago, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, used colors that didn't work together, used MORE of the colors I liked least, and slathered them on with a palette knife, so they sort of crumbled over the texture of the earlier painting.
The end result was pretty ugly, but I didn't care. I needed to let it out, to stop caring about how it looked, or what worked and just slap the paint on there. I could do that because I'm coming to understand that in painting with acrylics you can always get do-overs. And eventually, after enough of them, you'll get something you like.
This is an important lesson for me, because there is in me a soul so desperate for acceptance and so driven by immediacy that I don't tend to take risks. I do what's safe, acceptable, as perfectly as possible, and don't tend to push into that dark underworld of failure -- which means, of course -- since failure is inevitable -- that I'm more likely to get surprised by it. The fact is, the more control we exert trying to avoid failure, the more likely it is to catch us unawares. So painting -- if I take the time to really do it -- can be incredibly therapeutic; can force us to go into the dark places and learn we can survive -- which is why courses like the ones my friend Angela Rockett offers are so important.
Anyway, as you can see, I came back to it, and slapped some more paint on it: quiet colors, me colors, the ones I surround myself with at home. And the end result, I think, has SO much more depth and value than the Get Lucky painting. Which, by the way, is titled "Method Acting." So appropriate, now that I think about it... I looked at this painting, the Macklemore one, which is somewhat innocuously entitled "Campfire Tales," and thought -- kind of like the bunny planet -- "There's the day that SHOULD have been."
Here's the third thing: I made this commitment, to write 100 sonnets. And I've been writing them, 17 so far (18 if you count the truly crappy one I drafted waiting for the ferry yesterday). And they're bad, really, all of them. Some part of me thinks the discipline of it is really good for me, but in some ways the having-to-rhyme thing and the structure are what's driving the crappiness.
On the other hand, I'm thinking if I keep struggling with the cage, eventually I'll break out of it and carry the remnants with me into some other form that builds on that base -- which leads me to what drove the crappy ferry sonnet yesterday. My friend Robin turned me onto the mysteries of Deborah Crombie, and the one I was reading as I waited for the ferry, Dreaming of the Bones, begins each chapter with a poem excerpt from Rupert Brooke -- who did just that: took some of the discipline of the sonnet with him into some other place to build truly beautiful works of art -- like this one:
Is it the hour? We leave this resting-place
Made fair by one another for a while.
Now, for a god-speed, one last mad embrace;
The long road then, unlit by your faint smile.
Ah! the long road! and you so far away!
Oh, I'll remember! but...each crawling day
Will pale a little your scarlet lips, each mile
Dull the dear pain of your remembered face.
... and just a note: in that same book, I found this quote, which I'll probably post on facebook at some point:
"In my experience, artists are more likely to be driven like furies, and are a hell of a lot more disciplined than your average accountant."
Because that's true. At least for me. You might assume, because I'm an artist, that I sit around all day being flaky. But the fact is, to make this work I HAVE to be driven -- and in fact, that's my nature: I'm ridiculously driven. I can't get away from it. And I need to. Which may be some of what that second painting is about...
And the last thing? Even smaller: I got my husband to clear his piles of paper off the dining room table so I could put the mountings on the back of all the new paintings -- I have a one-woman show opening next week. And before he went back to his office he very thoughtfully turned off the radio in the kitchen, which is pretty much always going when he's around, set to NPR. And I thought, why not? And set my ipod to a playlist filled with favorite motown songs from my teen years.
It was so wonderful, I left it on. I almost never play my music when he's around -- not that he's ever asked for that; it's just I know he doesn't enjoy it, and it's part of a lifelong habit of accommodating others. And I thought -- why don't I DO THIS? What else am I ignoring/not doing/putting up with that I could change? It felt like these two paintings coming to life: how much of how I live is "method acting;" choosing a pleasing character and living into it?
I'm almost 65 -- a fact that's been brought home to me this week in several innocuous ways -- and when (if not now) will I stop the frantic attempts to be something other? Perhaps it's time to listen to my own music, to stir the flames of my own soul, to brave the mud and the fire and find some of the tension and balance that comes with that...
And here -- because you may not have heard it -- is the Macklemore verse, which makes me tear up every time I hear it:
"When I was at church they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service those words aren't anointed
That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned
When everyone else is more comfortable remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same, but that's not important
No freedom till we're equal, damn right I support it"
Damn right, I support it.
Damn right I support it.
I've always loved shooting in fog, and used to rush out the door on those rare foggy mornings, knowing I might not get another chance to get that particular blend of light. But in this peculiar winter almost every morning has been foggy, and every evening we see stars, and instead of rushing out to shoot, I worry: what happened to the rain?
As humans we grow to understand that change is inevitable. And with luck, as the years go by, we get a little better at dancing through the inevitable shifts of circumstance. But along with that increasing flexibility comes a paired awareness, that less and less of life is under our control; that all we cling to now may eventually be taken away; that though each change brings a gift, the necessary adjustments may well prove very difficult.
And as that wariness sets in, I find myself longing for the innocent faith of my childhood; for simpler times and calmer scenes and and the patient reassurance of Dame Julian of Norwich -- that "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
True Confessions: I am ALWAYS intrigued by coincidences. And last night I was hit with a bunch of them, so I just had to write about it.
My husband and I went to see the movie, Nebraska. And not only was it about an irascible old man with troll hair named Woody (a good description of my father-in-law, who passed away this past April), but the main town, Hawthorne Nebraska, looked a lot like Sac City, Iowa (where we spent time this past fall selling off the family farm). Plus the movie depiction of the farm where "Woody" grew up bore an uncanny resemblance to the farm where our Woody was raised.
And then we learned the screenwriter, Bob Nelson, is a Seattleite we used to watch on TV every week when we first moved here -- and that he grew up in a town not far from Woody's farm.
Add to all that the fact that the movie is shot in black and white -- and filled with scenes like this one, which I shot in Iowa last fall -- and you have... well... a humdinger of a coincidence. So you have to know -- since this movie is up for six academy awards (including not just acting, writing and directing but also cinematography) -- that I'll be watching the Oscars, and rooting for them to win. Because, beyond all those coincidences, the movie was really kind of amazing. Marvelously spacious, great acting, sweet plot, beautiful to watch, and a deliciously spare depiction of a part of the country not many of us have a chance to see or understand. If you enjoy indie pix, this one is definitely worth a visit.
"When the sense of beauty has risen from a pleasant feeling to a passion... the world seems charged with a new vitality; with a splendour which does not belong to it but is poured through it, as light through a coloured window, grace through a sacrament... In such moods of heightened consciousness each blade of grass seems fierce with meaning, and becomes a well of wondrous light: a "little emerald set in the City of God."
It's a dream, I think, for many of us -- to be floating freely, in calm, protected waters; to have the capacity to drift and explore paired with the option of remaining firmly tethered to solid ground. Clarity, simplicity, security -- it's all good.
But what's the point of having a boat if we don't take it out once in a while; if we're not willing to step out of our comfort zones and into new adventures? It's a new year now, and you have everything you need. What will you do, as Mary Oliver asks, with your one wild and precious life?
Things aren't always what they seem. Take this photo, for example: your first thought, on seeing it, was probably "bananas," right? But actually it's a stack of yellow kayaks behind a plant; I just flipped it over.
These days, of course, thanks to Photoshop, we can create all kinds of illusions. Between that and all the faked-up emails that find themselves into our spam folders, it's getting harder and harder to know what's real and what's not.
So what IS real, and what IS true? Undeniably, irrefutably true? I know I am human. I know I'm married, and I know I've given birth to two children. But I also know that something in me believes there's something more out there, more than I can see, hear, touch, or taste; something far wiser, far more loving, and far more inclusive than I've ever even been able to imagine.
Does that mean it exists? Not necessarily -- but does that really matter? What matters is what happens when we act on what we believe to be true. And if I act as if we are all part of something larger than any of us can see; as if we are all part of the same family of creation; as if each of us, despite our faults, is loved beyond our wildest imaginings... well... does that make me bananas?
I've never quite understood why I've always found old tractors so appealing. Is it the simplicity? The practicality? The rust and moss?
I have a sense that many, if not most, of our likes and dislikes date back farther than any of us would like to admit, to some pre-cognitive experience we've yet to understand, but which wields its influence well into our futures.
... and here's the proof: here I am at the ripe young age of three, seated on my first tractor:
We took advantage of the blustery weather and the Seahawks game this past weekend (both expected to severely reduce traffic volume) to visit the San Juan Islands. The trip went well, and I was able to place at least one copy of my book on each island, but the wind and rain were fierce, and the waves were high (as you can see here, in a picture of the lighthouse outside Port Townsend).
Yes, the traffic was light and the ferry lines were short, but traveling in the rain and wind wasn't always fun -- a gentle reminder that each pro has its con; or, as I said to my daughter just the other day: each gift has its dark side.
But you could also say each drawback contains a gift: it's all in how you look at it...
Those of us who found solace and safety, encouragement, and even identity in the church of our youth must acknowledge our own bravery in continuing a life of faith when we find ourselves -- for whatever reason, for however long -- standing outside its doors.
Something seems so reassuring in the simple dailiness of rural life -- the keeping up of the barn, letting the sheep out in the morning and in again at night, ensuring there is water in the trough and hay in the stalls...
Perhaps there's not the constant rush, but time instead to marvel at the blue haze on the hill, to stroke the wooly backs of the sheep, to return to the kitchen, nurse a second cup of coffee and plan the day ahead while staring out the window at the fog...
Because I strongly suspect that not everyone appreciates sonnets, I'm moving the remainder of my sonnets into my poetry blog; you can access them there via the poetry link above if you want to watch my progress in that arena.
I love writing them, but while it's true that the arbitrary nature of the structure can force new revelations, it's also true that in attempting to fit a concept into the structure I can lose sight of what it is I'm trying to say or the photo is trying to teach me. Plus I'm already realizing it's VERY easy to get, well... a little hokey.
I think this is probably one of those cases where structure inhibits rather than encourages freedom, although that may only be because I'm not the most gifted poet, or because my work is limited by the time I've allotted to it. At any rate, there is a new sonnet posted there, and presumably there are more to come, but I'm returning this space to its allotted function, which is more about observation than creation. I feel certain the process of creating sonnets will hold some gift for me, but I'll let you choose whether you want to watch or not: labor and birth are not always pleasant sights!
So what am I seeing here, now, in this image, on this page? Only a glorious golden dawn, and the promise of a new year to come. But then, every moment contains that implicit promise, the opportunity for a new beginning: there is really only ever now. So if you had an intention or resolution you were considering adopting for the year to come -- why not start doing that now. Or now. Or maybe... now?