Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Macklemore and beyond

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.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Great post. I am really enjoying your blog, love the art you are creating and the themes on life you share. I look forward to reading them each day. This was particularly moving.
Thank you.