I believe that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we find paralyzing because we no longer hear our surprised feelings living. Because we are alone with the alien thing that has entered into our self; because everything intimate and accustomed is for an instant taken away; because we stand in the middle of a transition where we cannot remain standing. For this reason the sadness too passes: the new thing in us, the added thing, has entered into our heart, has gone into its inmost chamber and is not even there any more – is already in our blood. And we do not learn what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing has happened, and yet we have changed, as a house changes into which a guest has entered. We cannot say who has come, perhaps we shall never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters into us in this way in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.
And that is why it is so important to be lonely and attentive when one is sad: because the apparently uneventful and stark moment at which our future sets foot in us is so much closer to life than that other noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside. The more still, more patient and more open we are when we are sad, so much deeper and so much the more unswervingly does the new go into us, so much the better do we make it ours, so much the more with it be our destiny, and when on some later day it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to others), we shall feel in our inmost selves akin and near to it. And that is necessary. It is necessary-and toward this our development will move gradually – that nothing strange should befall us, but only that which has long belonged to us.
We have already had to rethink so many of our concepts of motion, we will also gradually learn to realize that that which we call destiny goes forth from within people, not from without them. Only because so many have not absorbed their destinies and transmuted them within themselves while they were living in them, have they not recognized what has gone forth out of them; it was so strange to them that, in their bewildered fright, they thought it must only just then have entered into them, for they swear never before to have found anything like it in themselves. As people were long mistaken about the notion of the sun, so they are even yet mistaken about the motion of that which is to come. The future stands firm, dear Mr. Kappus, be we move in infinite space.
This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must”, then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, like some first human being, to say what your see and experience and love and lose.
I don’t believe any of my paintings to be truly original. I am not saying this in an attempt to be humble or seek reassurance, but as a simple observation. Many artists before me have used a similar color palate and painted life-size nudes on a whole array of surfaces. Some, like me, have gone through periods where they overwork their pieces to death and long for a painting equivalent of “control + Z” to undo that last brushstroke. I can only hope I’m not alone in having an incredibly awkward period of painting hands that more closely resembled eagle talons (preceded by my awkward ear period). So why continue to paint amidst all the frustrations and that old adage “it’s all been done before”?
This very question came up last weekend in my painting studio when my friend Matt stopped by to offer his astute observations about my most recent work and art in general. The painting that sparked this conversation was not mine, but one entitled The Libyan Sybil by a lesser-known artist by the name of Michelangelo (who never had an awkward hand or ear period as far as I can tell). Boy, could that man paint! (And sculpt, and write poetry, and design buildings, etc). We both agreed that his artistic expertise is unsurpassed. Then Matt posed the casual question: what inspires us to keep painting even though we may never reach that level of individual or collective mastery again? I know this question was intended as a philosophical discussion point, but for a good while I couldn’t wrap my brain around any semblance of an answer.
Uhhhhh…….uhhhhhhh……uhhhhh. Then my answer came to me - I told Matt that I can't think too much about that question. (And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a perfect example of why I would have made a horrible philosophy student). If I spend too much time wondering whether my paintings are good enough, or original enough, or anything enough, I lose the joy of the process. And in the words of my professor Patrice - the process is everything in painting. She implored us to learn to love the adventure of creating because the end result will rarely be what we’d intended but the journey will always be worthwhile. Furthermore, when I ask myself in the stillest hour of my night, must I create?, the answer is a resounding yes and I hope to ‘build my life according to this necessity’. Despite the frustrations that come with being an artist, it is a beautiful thing to communicate in your own language of words, song, or color on canvas, what you see and experience and love and lose; to navigate through the rocky, but spectacular, terrain of this life like some first human being.
Say what you lose…
I have had a couple encounters with the ghost of loss this spring. I watched as a beloved dog/soul friend, transitioned from this life. Bodhisattva was truly a kindred spirit. His owner Cota, among others, joked that I was his girlfriend - he always seemed threatened by any other man in my life. I smile remembering my favorite moments with him: the time he jumped onto the couch and nudged himself in between Colin and me as if to assert his position in my life; our long runs in the desert, Bodhi chasing after rabbits, happy and free like the true wolf he was. It was as profoundly sad as it was beautiful to watch as he passed on.
Then came the news that my first love had married, following my recent transition back to singlehood. (Cue roundhouse kick to the stomach!). It was one of those unexpected moments where, as Mark Knophler puts so well in his aptly named song What It Is, “something from the past just comes and stares into your soul”. Yep, definitely a soul-staring moment. A moment when you allow yourself enough stillness to look back on the various experiences and people and places that have led you to the present; reflecting on arriving at the proverbial fork in the road, choosing your path, and being thrust forward on the trajectory of your life. (When people ask me how I ended up in Central Oregon, I am often tempted to answer, “Your guess is as good as mine”). However, the one thing I do know is that the major decisions of my life h! ave been made by listening to the voice of my heart - even when what it had to say was inconvenient or flat out terrifying. So I choose to trust that the I’m on the right path. Unfortunately, trusting doesn’t always relinquish you from the painful process of truly letting go of a time, person or place that has shaped your life. My friend Tina refers to such losses and transitions as “soul badges”. At least we’ve got that going for us…
...There is nothing that does not seem to have been understood, grasped, experienced and recognized in the tremulous after-ring of memory; no experience has been too slight, and the least incident unfolds like a destiny, and fate itself is like a wonderful, wide web in which each thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand and laid alongside another and held and borne up by a hundred others.
Say what you love…
You’ve probably already picked up on this, but I love Rainer Maria Rilke. The book, Letters to a Young Poet (whose alternative title could well be How to Survive Your Mid-Twenties, Particularly if You Were An Art Major with a Sensitive Heart) is full of profound wisdom and beauty. I won’t go too far into the question of fate vs. free will - talk about the ultimate philosophical mind bomb! However, I will say that I love Rilke’s idea that ‘the future enters us in our stillest moments, making its way from our hearts to our veins, long before the noisy and fortuitous point of time at which it happens to us as if from outside’. Even more, I love the idea that every path we have chosen in our lives, every experience - our first love, the death of a beloved friend, the frustration and joy of creating - are threads in a wonderful, wide web that hold us right where we’re intended to be. That each experience gives birth to the next, our lives guided by an infinitely tender hand.