Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves. -Nagajuna, second century Buddhist philosopher
An elementary particle is not an independently existing, unanalyzable entitiy. It is, in essence, a set of relationships that reach outward to other things. -H.P. Stapp, twentieth-century physicist
I love finding threads of wisdom that are seemingly not dependent on time or place. A contemporary physicist comes to the same conclusions as a 2nd century buddhist, both through a practice and a life experience that to all appearances would be unrelated. I became obsessed with Joseph Campbell many years ago for this exact reason. He began to notice similarities in theme to various myths from different cultures. A story told in a small village in Africa, was virtually identical to a russian folktale passed down orally for centuries. It is all connected, this human experience. The hero myth continues to be repeated in every country, in every culture all over the world. If you are unfamiliar with the hero myth, think Star Wars, (you may be surprised to hear that Joseph Campbell actually helped George Lucas write the book. Lucas had been a big fan of Campbell’s for many years and studied the hero myth intensely. This is why it holds up as one of the great stories in our culture.)
After watching a very bad movie last night, I concluded that one of the problems with our current media is that the hero myth is being watered down, all of the guts and extremities removed. In many cases we are spared from a character experiencing any long term, life changing pain. Instead the character is presented with a problem, finds a solution, and bang, goes onto the next thing which is usually love and happiness. But in the true hero myth, the point of the story is that the hero emerges (through the experiences of pain and adversity), completely changed, never to return to the person he/she once was. Part of the rituals of life (surrounding death, marriage, motherhood, etc.) existing to aid the hero through the change and help them to grieve and let go of the person they once were, (not a voluntary process by the way, the hero is always THROWN into an adventure by circumstances beyond their control). Easier said than done, in many cases. But these stories have existed for thousands of years, and they are to help us through our own lives by serving as a metaphor for the inward journey that we are all on.
Once you become tuned into the hero myth, you see it everywhere, in every book, movie, poem, painting.
(I really could go on about the pitfalls of our modern culture but will refrain right now. I have some packing to do. I’m off on an adventure of my own for a couple of weeks.) more soon.
for further reading on the subject I recommend the book Hero with a Thousand Faces.
(p.s. I had to close the comments to some recent posts so the comment spammers don’t wreak havoc.)
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life…I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality, so that we can actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
Lately I have been perusing the interesting and informative Grist magazine. In it there is a great interview with John Francis, an enviromental activist who stopped riding in motorized vehicles for 20 years, and then stopped talking for 17. This article really got me thinking. What I find most beautiful about it is his realization after he stopped speaking that he hadn’t been listening well to others. I think this is something that we all suffer from, most often in conversation we are thinking about what we want to say, or comparing everything to our own experiences, and often just waiting to talk.
But is it possible to sit and truly hear what the other is saying? Are we just addicted to the sound of our own voice? Is it possible to be fully present with another human being, and just witness their words and thoughts? How often do I leave a visit with a friend and wish that I could have talked less, and listened more? I think if we can create a ‘practice’ of listening we might be more able to hear what is in people’s hearts, what they are really about, instead of just gleaning over the surface of their words. (Many times all we hear is words floating about in the air, not the actual meaning.) And it is a practice, something we must remind ourselves to do. I have a little voice in my head that says, “now is time to be quiet, just listen to what they are saying. hear them.”
I am always a little intrigued when I meet someone who speaks purposefully and thoughtfully, without excess, (as one who tends to want to fill in all of the blank spaces). I admit to sometimes being envious envious of their ability to take things in and respond with words that are meaningful and direct, not just shot out of the mouth like a firecracker, (as many of us seem to do).
I think that is why I like writing, it gives my brain time to formulate a thought and put words together slowly, but with energy. I am reminded of two things, that Lynda Barry writes her books longhand with a brush and ink to give her brain time to slow down and get all the words out, (otherwise the ideas rush past her and are gone.) And the second the “Book Rules” from my beloved Emily Carr…
“I did not know book rules. I made two for myself. There were about the same principles I used in painting–get to the point as directly as you can; never use a big word when a little one will do.”
You wake to an empty house. The Quiet is broken by the sound of a cat tipping his water dish over. Klump, gush. A brief flood of sadness, husband is on a plane somewhere headed in the opposite direction to here. Thoughts drift to the last time you were apart, a few tears burn your eyes. You will join him in a few short days. But today must be started so you rise, and shuffle sleepily down the creaky stairs with your fuzzy overweight feline brushing your legs.
Tea and toast with Getrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. A quick jaunt into Shakespeare and Co. to speak to Sylvia Beach for a moment, she tells you that James Joyce should be in later that day as is his custom. Dishes. Bathroom.
You don your favourite black boots (with the laces) and mud on the sole, wearing your red shirt with snap buttons, your brown cordoroy pants, green sweater and a rust colored hat. No journal today, you want to sit and absorb it all, be present with the sun and the smells and the activity. Sometimes writing pulls you out of the world and into your head, sometimes it does the opposite but you know that today is for being outside and feeling your body move about the world.
You step outside and you can’t believe how perfect the day is, how good the sun feels as you tie the sweater around your waist. The woods feel happy and awake, everything is blooming. White trilliums everywhere, pink apple blossoms, yellow wildflowers. The breeze brings the smell of cedar and blue dragon flies float on the current. You find the perfect hole in the bottom of a tree. a door. And you make a note to yourself to bring a pen when you come back tomorrow so you can write a sign that reads “knock first before entering”.
You pick some apple blossoms to put in the old green enamel coffee pot. In this moment you think they are the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.
some simple words from E.H.
“It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waither brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write.”
I sit here typing this looking at the last remnants of all of my stuff laid out on tables in the front yard. My fingers are cold, but alas I sold my fingerless gloves yesterday for 50 cents. It is a long weekend in Canada for those of you who are wondering why I am still here on a monday morning. To catch the last of the hoards of bargain hunters. They come by the dozens to pick over the strange assortment of wares, things I would not expect anyone to buy, yet buy they do. The cassette tape of Barry Manilow, the christmas mug, the book on cultural theory. There is a buyer for every item it seems. I have had one of the most interesting and unique weekends in recent memory. Anyone who is an aspiring writer need only have a yard sale to bring out a wide assortment of the most amazing characters you will ever meet. I ran for the sketchbook in hopes of capturing some of them. There were so many that I barely had time to write about them before they slipped from memory.
There was the seventy year old man with the suspenders who enjoyed collecting antique dolls, (of which I had none), and spoke of playing his old gibson guitar with great affection. The elderly couple who gave me detailed information on their blood sugar levels of the last week, including various bits of dietary information related to those blood sugar levels (what they ate), I listened enraptured for half an hour. There was Dan, an antique dealer from the city who quickly grabbed the red 50′s metal chair knowing a deal when he saw one, and later brought me a coffee to warm my freezing fingers. He wore an old men’s pin stripe suit jacket, and a wool hat from afganistan and spoke happily about life, various political conspiracies and the futility of North American consumption. (The irony of his chosen profession was a tad glaring.) And there was the man in the motorized scooter who came back no less than 10 times, (he looked remarkably like the character Tony Clifton). It broke my heart because I think he was just lonely and wanted someone to talk to.
It is a strange thing to watch people walk away with all of your stuff, things you’ve been looking at and carrying for years. I will admit that a couple of times a part of me wanted to run after people and take it back. I didn’t realize how attached I was to my things. Such a valuable exercise in letting go and realizing that I am not those things, and those things are not me. I had no idea how much stuff I had been hoarding until I saw it all laid out on the lawn. Rows and rows of things that I do not need. I was shocked. Makes one want to live a monastic existence.
The dark corners are cleared and the basement sparse. The house is much emptier, and I am a LOT lighter.
I turn the worn pages of Hemingway’s a Moveable Feast immersed in the chilly but deeply satisfying Parisian winter. Warm cafe’s, notebooks being scribbled in, wine being drunk. Narrow cobblestone streets,
I am interrupted by a grey haired man with a charming british accent asking, “How much for this?” as he holds up a worn picture frame. “Fifty cents” I respond looking up from my book. “And I’ll throw in the ceramic jewelery box for free.” His eyes light up a bit, turning around he goes back to look for more. I should be paying them for carting away these things and helping me shed the unnecessary weight.
It is elusive.
elusive, def. hard to catch or grasp, as in: The solution to the problem proved more elusive than they first thought.
Flitting in and out in waves like the breath of an asthmatic person.
When it leaves your body you think it is gone for good. When it comes back, you can’t imagine yourself without it ever again.
It is the fuel that makes you walk down the street marvelling at your powerful existence. You can see people responding to that thing that has lit up your eyes from inside.
It’s absence is the thing that leaves you balled up in the fetal position sobbing and hoping your neighbors don’t decide to drop in just now.
You can fabricate it using external sources, but confidence that comes in this way is fleeting and riddled with holes like an afgahn quilt. Because once the external source is removed you are left with yourself once again. Many years ago I believed that a book deal would fix it all and I would never be lacking in confidence again. Not so my dears.
I have never met another adult human who didn’t struggle with feeling good about themselves in some way. I have never met another artist who does not at some point feel like what they are doing is futile, like their work sucks.
I have never met a child who was not proud of a drawing they did, eyes beaming with excitement, they care not for unimportant details, they will do another masterpiece tomorrow, and another the day after that. I have never met a child who was hesitant to tell you of their accomplishments. (Eight year old Samantha just rode up on her bike to tell me she was performing in a talent show tonight and we were invited to watch.)
Where does that self consciousness come from?
When did I begin making sideways glances at other women public restrooms? The roots of it all lie here somewhere. At some point we all start to notice that Julie Barnes has nicer shoes than me. At some point we start to feel that we will be better if we get shoes like Julie Barnes. And what we don’t see is that Julie Barnes goes home at night and cries herself to sleep because Mark Ryder called her ‘flatty patty’, a label that would stick with her the rest of her life as a small breasted woman, (her image of her sexuality forever tainted by an eleven year old boy who liked her but didn’t know how to say so.)
Life is funny that way. Some of our insecurities came about because someone was intimidated by our talents or abilities and didn’t know how to tell us the truth.
I will tell you now that I am unsure of how to lure confidence back when it wanes, as it is apt to do. I used to think that I knew the answers to these things, (it’s amazing how many people write me saying they are going through a crisis of confidence). It is a difficult thing to learn to love yourself. The person you are when all of the outside stuff is stripped away. I can think of a hundred quotes that offer cliches to this effect. None of them really work when you are on your knees for whatever reason.
The thing that is helping me more than anything else is talking to friends about what I am going through, sharing my humaness no matter how ugly it can be at times. I have not been able to do this well in the past. Lately I have been showing people sides of myself that were hidden for years. The insecure places, angry places, fearful places, sad places. Instead of forcing myself to project that confident front all of the time (I always want to show people how strong I am, often displaying my career accomplishments out in front of me as a distraction). Lately I have been saying to friends (I am smirking as I write this), “Guess what? I’m fucked up too.” I feel strangely freed by it, my relationships stronger. And it is a challenge of confidence that has pushed me to this place.
Oh the irony of it all.
I spent Sunday purging my studio. It was long overdue. Possibly years overdue. I went through all of the hidden things that you don’t see anymore, those things you have been carrying around for years and suddenly look at them and say, “why have I been keeping this?” (some examples, lego, crackle varnish, six different rulers, eight copies of tearsheets from a job done eight years ago (one that you can’t stand to look at), a sewing kit full of art supplies that has sentimental value but never gets opened.) One thing I have learned for myself is that if i don’t see it, I don’t use it. And I don’t believe in having anything in my life that I don’t use. At one point I found myself overwhelmed, surrounded by piles and piles of ‘stuff’, with that feeling of “what do I do next?”
I pulled out an old oil paint box from when I was in art school. One of those plywood cases that still had that wonderful slightly acidic smell of turpentine. I opened it up and proceeded to throw out six tubes of paint that had become mummified. I looked at the box and put it in the “garage sale” pile. I started thinking about my daily walk through Chinatown to art school, arms weighed down with my tool box of art supplies, drawing board, and paper in a large black leather portfolio. Portable. I could create anywhere. I loved opening my box and looking at all of my supplies, my favourite pencil with the soft lead, kneadable eraser that I shaped into animals, new brushes, scissors, the tools of creation. How did this simple box morph into an entire room filled with containers of things that I don’t even use? I suppose I know the answer to that, the irony here is that when you are in art school you long for a studio that is all your own, one that you can fill with blank paper, canvas, and endless tubes of paint. You long for a space that will be covered in colourful splotches, never having to clean up fully because you are an artist! Which is great, but I felt it was missing something. Simplicity maybe. Part of me wonders if the studio thing has been more about me wanting to feel like an artist. I love my space and need to be alone to create, but lately feel weighed down by the hoarding. (Not surprising as I’m thinking about travelling soon.)
I pulled the box out of the “garage sale” pile. And then I did something crazy. I filled it with all of the tools that I use mindfully when working. I filled it and glued little quotes to the sides, I put in pictures of things that inspire me, I wrote my name on the front of the box. After an hour I was completely obsessed with this paring down, what do I really need?
As an artist I find I do much better when I only have a few things to choose from as opposed to hundreds. This goes against what we are told in our culture, that more is better. Many times when I have limitations there is less of a tendency to get overwhelmed and take on the “whole” of the project.
“Limitation is what differentiates a flood from a lake. In the making of things, limitations allow you to choose from something rather than everything.” ~Corita Kent
The box gives me a simplified structure, a framework. There are five pencils, not twenty five.
And then I got rid of almost everything else, all of the tubs of paint that I don’t use, all of the old brushes, all of the mediums and irridescent paints. And it felt amazing. I love everything in the box. And I know there may be a time when I want to paint large again, and then I will get a new set of paints for the job.
But right now I feel so much lighter.
This morning I had planned to wax poetically here about so many things, wandering around a sun drenched city yesterday holding hands, buying bread, cheese and wine in quaint little shops, talking to the tea lady about traveling the world and studying the Japanese tea ceremony, eating the best veggie dogs (with sauerkraut) in a flower filled park and watching so many adorable dogs run around in circles. I had planned to write more about the idea of making big changes in my life, how I am shifting between doubt and excitement almost constantly. I had planned to attack my day and get to all of the things I have been putting off, writing dozens of people back, organzing my time, clean the studio. I had.
And then I got completely sucked into the fantastically frank blog of Ayelet Waldman, (after first reading the new blog by my favorite folk singer Summer Pierre, please go read it and you will know why I love her so).
A successful author in her own regard Ayelet is also the wife of author of Michael Chabon, and though the blog is discontinued I found myself obsessively reading her rants on motherhood, misscarriage, bi-polar disorder, the writing life, procrastination, blog addiction and being obsessed with her husband (stalking him). I was sucked into the writing initially because of this last one, something I can relate to finding myself in a similar position with the man I married. She asks at one point, “can you stalk the man you live with?” I now know the answer is yes, strange though it may seem to some. How does one explain an obsession with a person, especially one you are married to? Healthy? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. I find myself constantly staring at him at times when he doesn’t know I’m doing it, looking at his fingers and hands, marvelling at them, melting when I hear his laugh, missing him even when he is in another room. He is one that attracts this behaviour in many, not just myself (a fact that is challenging at times).
My favorite post of Ayelet’s is this one on fears and phobias. Just a week ago I found myself writing a similar list in my journal. It is interesting to look at the things on it and be confronted rather blatantly by one’s neuroses. Halfway through the list I wanted to stop thinking that this might only serve to make the fears bigger, instead of dealing with them. “o.k. so I know I have a fear of cancer, am I just accepting this fact by writing it down, making it more concrete, or does the act of writing help me to confront it in some way?” I think what I responded to so readily in Ayelet’s writing was her blatant acceptance of her imperfections. In fact they are what makes her unique and interesting as a human being. I have for a long time known that the same things in my personality that make me rather obsessive, also in turn fuel my creativity. (tile counting, finding faces in man made items, ie. washroom stalls, etc. more on this at another time.) Ayelet confesses that her books get written during periods when she is ‘manic’ (she used a different word for it but i can’t remember it offhand), able to pound out a first draft in a month. I can relate to this kind of obsessive behaviour, most of my own projects are done in this fashion. A flurry of page turning, frantic “get the ideas out NOW”, sore finger making, studio trashing writing/sketching. Yes, that’s me.
I haven’t really told very many people this before. What tips the thin thread of obsessive scales into maddness? Am I anywhere close? I think all creative people (sorry to bring up this sterotype), have diversions into madness. I haven’t actually met one who was worth their creative salt who didn’t express at least a small, slightly insidious fear of insanity at some point in their life.
“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”
I’ve often wondered about this quote. Is he saying it is a good thing, that we should pay attention to the source of one’s brilliance and channel that for use in our own creative endeavours? Or is he saying, “Watch out for that one, he’s dangerously close to the edge, about fall off at any moment. What a nutbar!”
I kind of like the old addage, “if you can’t fix it, feature it.”
So many thoughts swirling around my brain this morning. How do I calm it enough to let them out?
A weekend of heavy talks, warm sunny days, running, long walks (to a place where a friend still lives, though not in his body form anymore), and a sharing of secrets with women.
Women bond by bearing their souls to each other, showing their wounds.
Mother’s day is always a bit heavy for me, though I have not liked to admit this before. “no I’m fine, really. It’s just another hallmark holiday.” But there are flowers that go unbought, and sad feels. And my girlfriends feel bad about talking about their day with me. But it is good to talk about it.
And it feels good to be asked, “how are you doing?”
I was honest this time.
A sentence by the powerful Jen Gray has been sitting with me this morning. She wrote:
“I’m afraid of not living this life the way my soul desires to.”
So many years of talking about being daring and courageous, wanting to jump into my dreams with both feet. But talking and doing are different things. When it comes to really going to a new place, I start feeling terrified by the reality of it all. Can I really do it?
Sometimes my perception of myself and the reality of myself are two different things. I so badly want to be this worldly, adventurous traveller, pursuing foreign lands, taking in the world with all of my senses like an Enid Blyton character. But the real me feels safer looking at it from the comfort of my house, afraid to venture out for fear of change.
For a long time I have said that I would like to experience living in a foreign culture, at least once in my life. Something that would shift my perception of things forever, as these things are apt to do. It is so easy to view the world from one standpoint, we become rather one sided over time. How often I have spoken about wanting to push myself out of this. And then you reach an age where you question, will I ever do it? If not now when? Life is so very comfortable with what I know. Who would I be in a different place? Would I be able to create in the same way? What if I don’t like the person I become?
I will never know unless I try.
I am thinking about moving to Spain for a year. More than thinking really, planning.
I have nothing to lose, but I am scared. The thing is, I will jump off the cliff fear in hand. I have done it before in different ways and survived.
A powerful woman said to me yesterday, “You will emerge finding that well of strength that comes from inside. That is with you always, and sometimes it is hard to find at first but it IS there.”
I believe her. Now I must prove it to myself.
I have written many times in my journal, “Trust yourself, you are much stronger than you think.”
“When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”
“What is that?” asked Alice.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.
“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.
from Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, 1982
Finished Faulkner, and onto Fitzhugh. Harriet the Spy (as per several recommendations). The contrast is not as great as one would expect, I still find myself reading passages aloud. Quotes from Dostoevsky, Aesop.
“Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go round with blinders but should see every way I can. Then I’ll know what way I want to live and not just live like my family.”
(This is actually the perfect follow up to “As I lay dying”, for one would do just about anything to not end up with such a pathetic existence as the Bundren’s. I don’t think I am giving away too much here for those who haven’t read it.)
I have fallen into that wonderful obsessive place of being consumed by an idea. A character has taken a hold of me, not the other way around. That is how it should be, these things grow and shape themselves. I am a visitor inside my imagination. I will admit to having always been intimdated by the writing, lacking confidence in my abilities. In the past I have always tried to write the story first and let the characters evolve out of that. I would get so overwhelmed by it all, not having any foundation, not knowing how to express what I wanted to. I would often give up soon after I began.
So I decided to take another tact with it, using my strengths. I have long been excited about creating small worlds. I think that I why I like to create three dimensional characters out of paper, they become almost like live entities. I can spend days building little houses, with characters in them, giving them personalities, props and clothes. And to me they exist. I can enter into this other world for a time. So with this new character (not the illustration above), I began by creating an entire world first, not really worrying about the story too much, but letting the character live, work, interact. I’ve been excitedly taking notes, making drawings, shaping her daily existence in great detail. Pulling from my own life and way of seeing the world, but also from my favorite literary characters. And through this a story is revealing itself. If you know everything about the character, you can start to understand how she would react to situations, what would motivate her, what would scare her.
Though I have not experienced it myself, it is difficult to not make allusions to giving birth with this process. That is what it feels like sometimes. I have begun to bond with the character to such an extent, I find myself walking down the street thinking, “oh, _______ would like that.”
And as the whole thing progresses I am starting to see that while the writing is on one level important, what what is most important is that I respond to the characters myself. With whatever feelings I might have for them, love, disgust, compassion, shame, curiousity, fear. What is most important is that I feel it all, because that is in turn what I will pull out of the reader.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Not really.