Gradients of Grace: The Groundhog’s Gospel…

Groundhog Day

I’m not necessarily what you would call a religious person, at least not in the usual sense.  I have no creeds or dogmas. I neither attend, nor am I affiliated with, any religious institutions. Yet, I am “religious” in the way that I organize my work and my days. I thrive best amidst the ritualized observances of my daily practices of reading, writing, making art, and meditating, and because these are things I am committed to doing daily, at the same time, and often in the same manner, they take on a spiritual quality.

With that being said there are still certain days within my calendar year that are holy days, perhaps even high-holy days. For example last week contained one such sacred of days. Last Tuesday was Groundhog Day, and for those of us who have been deeply touched by the blessed benevolence of St. William of Murray, this truly is a day of great rejoicing.

That night, after work, as a  dutiful disciple in the sacred order of Bill, I faithfully watched Groundhog Day with reverence and joy. Groundhog Day, like all sacred documents, reveals something fresh to us each time we revisit it.

In the rabbinical tradition of the the Jewish faith, the Torah is often referred to as a jewel with seventy faces, because like a jewel, each and every time that it’s turned whole new refractions of light reveal something never seen before. I think movies like Groundhog Day work the same way.

Some might say it’s nostalgia, but I think maybe it’s something more. Maybe in revisiting these moments in our cinematic viewing history we gain insight into the mindset of where we once were and where we are now. Maybe in recollecting these sacred remnants of our pop culture past we too are allowed to witness strange tricks of the light that permit us to not only see things we’ve missed, but to see differently; perhaps, in a whole new way.

In the gospel story that is Groundhog day, we are introduced to asshole weatherman Phil Connors, played by none other than his Holiness Bill Murray.  Connors travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on assignment to cover the Groundhog festival.  Phil hates the town, hates the festival, and loathes the entire experience. He can’t wait to be done and he can’t wait to get out. Yet, Connors becomes inexplicably trapped in some kind of time loop, forced to relive the same day, February 2nd, Groundhog day, over and over again.

Phil Connors is rude and abrasive, narcissistic and jaded. He is conceited, condescending and tactless. He is…me….

Phil Connors is a caricature of all my worst qualities; cold, uncaring, self-absorbed, incredibly negative, and utterly ungrateful.

I’m Phil Connors.

This disheartening realization made an otherwise lighthearted movie into something heavy and poignant.

Yet, it is heartening to know that Connors got it right…eventually. 

We’re so used to stories of “second” chances, stories where a character has one big fuck up, falls from grace, loses it all, but then makes an unparalleled come back in one final moment of glory. But, they never even make it to strike two. They swing. They miss. Strike one. But then, they regain their composure, step up to bat again, and knock it out of the park. Feels a little like bullshit to me.

Phil’s story is more realistic because he goes far beyond strike three.

Phil changed, but only after an innumerable amount of failed attempts.

He became something better, but only after the bleakest of trials and errors.

He broke the cycle, but only after a barrage of depression, despondency, and self-destruction.

His transformative metamorphosis came about not in a climactic moment of instantaneous realization, but instead, it arrived amidst an almost infinite expanse of minute and incremental adaptations.
That’s how Evolution happens, in stages and steps, moving slowly and perhaps, even agonizingly.

I’m Phil Connors, yes, but not the seemingly irredeemable Phil Connors of the beginning. Nor am I the fully redeemed Phil Connors of the end. I’m Phil Connors mid-shift; Phil Connors somewhere in the precarious in-between, wrestling with what it means to reach redemption…. 

For extended durations we are seemingly producing nothing, and it feels like we’re getting nowhere. But, then, somewhere in the terror and bewilderment, something changes, something arrives, something comes into being and comes to life, and that’s the stuff that really matters.

The lessons learned through tedium and trouble are the ones that we are truly transformed by.

As E.M. Cioran says “There is never too great a distinction made between those who have paid for the tiniest step toward knowledge and those, incomparably more numerous, who have received a convenient, indifferent knowledge, a knowledge without ordeals.”

May you find redemption in the ritual repetitions of you days.

May your failures be the fruition of finding your way.

May the gradual gradients of grace always guide you home.

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Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

“This is Nothing” – Free Downloadable Zine

A few weeks back, in a rare moment of boredom, I was doing a deep dive on Austin Kleon’s website. Somehow or another I came across a blog post about free, printable zines from The Wander Society.I downloaded and printed a couple of them. I was completely captivated by these little zines and enamored with the idea behind them.

I had been toying with the idea of trying to make zine for about a year or so, but just couldn’t really come up with a concept or a format. These Wander Society zines were exactly what I needed. It was the final catalyst, the moment of clarity, the last big push of inspiration to get me to do it.

What you see above is the end result. It was so much harder than I anticipated. I got so much wrong throughout the process of making this zine. Even the final product is really rough and more than a little “off”. It didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped it would, and I went back and forth for a while deciding whether or not I would post it. Finally, I said, “fuck it, why not”.

Here you have it, my first free, downloadable, printable zine! By the way, just to forewarn you, you may have to play with the scale settings when you print the zine. “Fit to paper” seems to do the trick.

I really hope you enjoy it. I hope that maybe it’ll inspire you to do something you’ve been wanting to try.

As a bonus – I’m doing an art give away in conjunction with this zine!

Here’s the rules:

  1. Follow me on Instagram
  2. Post a picture of your printed copy of this zine and tag me in it.
  3. Comment on my Instagram post of this zine that you’ve done it.

I’ll announce the winner this Friday, February 5th.I’ll direct message the winner for their mailing address, and then ship out some of my original art. Unfortunately, at this time the giveaway is open to US participants only.

If you get any value out of what I do, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee.

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful.

Can a Heart be Reborn Like a Star?

Original Art by Duane Toops

Carl Sagan said that “we are made of star stuff”. It’s an uplifting sentiment, and I suppose it’s scientifically true, but most days I’m more convinced that I’m comprised of space debris rather star dust. And yet, every time I take a look at my kids, I become more and more convinced of Sagan’s words.

I am more cosmic chaos than celestial brilliance but, in one of my favorite Nietszche quotes, he says that “one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star”. Inside me, there is a swirling torrent of anarchy and my kids, they are my dancing stars.

They are constellations twirling across the night sky, the light from a distant star that died long ago, the luminous remnants of the fading supernova that once was me. Burning their way through the past tense of my space and time, and flickering into the present, they are unencumbered by the fact that the source from which they emerged is no longer itself a source of light.

If we are made of star stuff,  I think a heart can die out like a star. There are times when Our hearts exhaust the fuel at our core, they collapse, they explode, they grow colder, and if it’s massive enough they become black holes. I feel like a cold, dead star, lost in the deep blackness of the universe.
But, like stars, I take comfort in the fact that the light that once radiated from who we are keeps traveling light years after our hearts burn out, if we’re lucky we get to see it and recognize it.

That gives me hope. I know that there is some light left in this world because my kids are in it. I know that there was once some light in me because I still see it in them. That light lives on even though I have collapsed into something contracted. It makes me think that if a heart can die out like a star, then maybe our hearts can be reborn like one as well. 

A few years ago astronomers witnessed something rare and exciting while observing a star 2700 light years away named SAO 244567. Not a particularly sexy name, but I suppose mine isn’t either. SAO 244567 experienced a helium-flash event. The remaining helium outside the core of the star reignited, causing what astronomers have called a “stellar rebirth”. The sheer release of energy caused by the flash forced the contracted star into a giant expansion. SAO 244567 came back to life. And according to astronomers, over the course of the next several hundred years SAO 244567 will reclaim all of the magnificence of it’s younger self, returning to the size and scope of what it once had been in 10,300 BCE.

Maybe we’re not dead yet. Maybe we’re just dormant. Maybe there is still some light left in us. Maybe we’re just one flash event away from returning to the magnitude and vitality of who and what we once we’re. Maybe what they say is true. Maybe it’s never too late to start over. Maybe we’re all just stars waiting to be reborn.

May your heart be reignited and reborn with a flash of energy at your core.

May you ever expand from the contraction of your collapse, and reclaim your original radiance.

May you come back to life, like the star stuff that you are.

If you found something meaningful in this essay, consider supporting my work by Buying Me a Coffee.

Thanks so much!

Keep showing up, Keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and Let’s make something Meaningful!

The Waiting Hours Always Speak…

Art by Duane Toops
The Waiting Hours – Digital Collage by Duane Toops

My general state of being feels like it’s become the existential equivalent of a waiting room lull. Where I am in the lineup of this waiting is unknown to me. What I’m waiting for, exactly, is also something still to be determined. Perhaps, I’m waiting to be healed, waiting to be, or at least feel, “normal” , waiting to feel better, waiting for things to get better. Maybe I’m waiting to realize or accept the fact that “life”, as I now know it, is the new face of normal. I don’t know… For now, it seems I am simply waiting…

Perhaps, this near paralyzing pause is the feeling that accompanies all instances of life-altering loss. Perhaps, this discordant and disconcerting delay is simply what it means to grieve.

Grief is a kind of breach within time. Loss is a metered distance in the measures of our days, marking the ending of one passage or phrase, and holding the tension in the expectant tempo of the next. Grief enforces a standstill. Loss enlists a lingering. And so, we wait…

Some of us wait with an almost stoic serenity, and others of us writhe in anticipatory uncertainty and tension, perched upon the edge of a seat, helpless and angst-ridden, knuckles white, jaws sore from unconscious clenching, nails chewed to the quick, as we search for something solid to bite down on. On a good day I find myself somewhere between the two. Like a Buddha of existential dread, sitting on the edge of my seat, holding a half-lotus posture, writhing in my attempt to accept the uncertain helplessness, conscious of the clenching, meditating with and on the dark anxiety of the Koan called depression; a Zen monk of pessimism in training, studying the middle-way of melancholia.

There is almost an inherent musicality to the movement of the absence brought about by this experience of grief and loss, a rhythmic structuring in the rupturous arrival and the absent-presence of loss. 

John O’ Donohue assures us that “Grief…has a sure structure”, and it is “Only by listening to the burden that has come” to us that we will “be able to discover its secret structure.”

To be clear, I am not writing as one who has arrived at grief’s grand finale, but rather as one only a few bars into the morose melodies of a suffering serenade, and still firmly clutched by the fermata of loss. But, already I’ve noticed the seemingly patterned fluctuations within this grieving orchestration; the rising anguish of the allegro and the falling forfeiture of the Adagio.

Though we long for the dissonance to resolve back into a more accordant harmony, there is an art here amidst the pausing tension of grief, absence, and loss; a carefully-crafted composition, a delicate design. The artist in me appreciates that. Perhaps, all artists do.

John Dewey writes that “Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension.” Instead, the artist “cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total.” 

Instinctively we may push back against such sentiments. We feel so discordant, so inharmonious, so ill-composed, perhaps even so de-composed, that we question how there could be any beauty, any art, to be found here. Indeed, as Dewey explains “There is no art without the composure that corresponds to design and composition…But”, as Dewey goes on to say there is also no art “without resistance, tension, and excitement; otherwise the calm induced is not one of fulfillment.”

Perhaps, for there to be any kind of fulfilling resolve there must first be a resistant tension.

Perhaps, the tension is the trickster that moves the story along, and creates an opening where a way had become blocked.

In fact, O’ Donohue highlights that “In the rhythm of grieving, you learn to gather your given heart back to yourself again.” But, O’ Donohue importantly points out that “This sore gathering takes time.” We are often so eager to return to normalcy, so anxious to move past this place that confronts us with the unavoidable presence of absence that, in the hurry, we further scatter the pieces. O’ Donohue advises us that we “need great patience with [our] slow heart[s].” He says that “It takes the heart a long time to unlearn and transfer its old affections” and that “This is a time when you have to swim against the tide of your life.” It seems for a while that you are advancing, then the desolation and confusion pull you down, and when you surface again, you seem to be even further from the shore.”

I can personally attest to this almost nonsensical cyclicality, this ebb and flow, the waxing and waning of stability and despair, contentment and anguish. Some days start with a sense of self-assured sturdiness. Others begin with a bluster of confusion and sadness. And some days, like a pendulum swinging wide, I move along the spectrum of the two.

This is simply the rhythm of the tide, the pulse of the metronome; back and forth, the tick, then the tock, low then high and back again; the push and the pull. The shore line expands and contracts. Like music rises, falls, and resolves; this is simply the structure of the song. 

The waiting hours speak. They always speak, but they speak slowly and harder than any other because they have something to say, something to teach, something to impart. It just takes a long time to say it. And so we wait…

May you gather your heart

May you confront the absent-presence

May you swim against the tide.

If you found some value in this essay, consider supporting my work and buy me a coffee.

Keep showing up, keep doing the work, FAIL BOLDLY, and let’s make something meaningful!

An Ecology of Awareness…

The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’…to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.  – Viktor Shklovsky

Art is where I’m allowed to exercise a kind of analytical awareness. In the euphoric turmoil and hopeful tension of any artistic endeavor, I am keenly aware. My consciousness becomes concentrated. My perception is compounded. I revel in the relationship between texture, color, and position. I witness the interplay of image and text; attentively attuned to the tempo of words in rhythmic succession, wandering in the audible shape of sentences molded into unknown forms, saturated in visceral hues.

The composition of materials cohabitating in shared space becomes an expression of my own subjective sense of place. It provides me with an understanding of my own complicated comprisal. It gives me a glimpse into how all the pieces of myself fit together and how I fit into a larger contextual whole.

There’s an interesting contradiction  here however, in that, creativity clarifies the relationship between people, places, and things, but it does so by taking them out of place and out of context.  In collage, for example, bits of verbiage and imagery are torn from their printed place and pieced together into whole new arrangements as a summons to see the world in ways we’ve never seen it before. By holding things in a kind of paradoxical parallel it can function as a means of drawing our attention to all the complex connections of our inter-relationality. Similarly, when we are engrossed within the fictive unfolding of a story or novel, we are pulled out of the normative patterns of daily living and drawn into what seems to be a suspension of “reality”.  And yet, somehow, on the other side of our literary meandering we emerge to find the radicality of our realness more fully real-ized.

Art interrupts the familiar flow of relationships and interactions in such a way that it makes the concrete-ness of our associations more perceptually pronounced, more easily recognized, and more deeply felt . The fractures and fissures of disjointed and dislocated  juxtapositions awaken us to a more profound sense of being grounded.

When the process of creation becomes a practice of contemplation, art becomes an ecology of awareness. We begin “To think ecologically”, in that, as Levi Bryant explains our thinking is turned towards  “beings in relation,” where “there is always a materiality of interaction”. And, in the unabashed recognition of the ways in which we relate, we are invited to relate differently.

We are each a conglomerate of commingling materials interacting in an environment made up of other amalgamations. Here, it becomes an unavoidable fact that so much of our world and so much of ourselves is made up of hazardous waste. We are relegated to live amongst the rubble, rubbish, and refuse. We are decadent with detritus and debris. In short, we’re all full of shit and everybody poops, so we’d better find a way to see some beauty and truth in it all, or we’ll forever be shit out of luck.

In this regard, the awareness elicited from the creative act can be one of the most profoundly tangible forms of compassion and hope.

I regularly mine the “trash” for materials most others would readily, and perhaps reasonably, abandon. I take cardboard over canvas, newspaper over notebooks. I look for the unsightly instances of worn distress, seeking the symmetry of misshapen tears, because if these discarded scraps can become vibrant and alive, then maybe so can I. And, If we can find hope left in the crinkled jumble of what was thrown away, then perhaps there’s still hope left for us all.

If we can’t find beauty and redemption in things that are broken then salvation is a lie.

Chasing the Dragon…

“Your job in life is to overcome yourself every day.” – James Victore

Disenchanted and disillusioned I daily fight the spider’s web of my own weary patterns of thought and thinking. My monsters have grown far too bold to be found hiding in the back of the closet or beneath the bed.  The winged beasts have grown in their greed. Where once they slithered with serpentine subtly, they now invade in broad daylight. I often wake to find the weight of their dizzy claws gripping ever deeper into my chest as if my crippled heart were gold hoarded in the crepuscular deep of some desolate and forgotten mountain.

James Victore writes that “Dragons are real”. They are ever-present and always at the ready. “[E]very morning” we will find them curled “around [our] shoulders…quietly” snarling “into [our] ears”. They can never be permanently slain, never completely defeated, never banished once and for all, but they can be faced, confronted, and overcome through the ritual of daily work and practice. 

My demons and I are on a first name basis, and in the space of writing and making art, we regularly meet for coffee. Together we sip the percolated brew with cream and consternation, tasting faintly of pralines and broken dreams. In my persistent consistency, I lower their defenses and gain their trust. I mine their dark speech for hidden truths. They are cold, secretive, and reptilian, but they cannot help but reveal the buried gems that they would hope to keep from me.

In this ritualized observance, I am attempting to take back a part of the dragons’ fire. Some days they willingly yield it, giving it over freely with an open hand. Other days it must be wrestled and ripped from the clasp of their clutches. Some days I limp away to lick my wounds, empty handed. I limp because I have striven with dragons, gods, angels, devils, and men, and I have overcome. I have overcome because the demons and I both know that, regardless of the gains or losses of today, I’ll be back again tomorrow, ready to face them yet again, and that scares the shit out of them. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t scare me a little too…

Yet, something joyously paradoxical transpires when we do this. We discover that, as Victore explains, “The uncomfortable spot is where [our] true voice is”. It is where we are “shamelessly and outrageously” summoned to shift into our truest of forms. In the face of the dragon is where we begin to find ourselves.

It’s here that we also come to realize that our demons may be our dearest friends and our greatest allies, because perhaps they are not demons at all but, daemons, that is, they are an inspiring force, attendant and guiding spirits ushering us into our own. If that’s true, then we are burned by flames not born of Hell but, by  the fires of refinement belonging to the forge.

In darkened interstices, there is trust…

“In art, the seeing or hearing that is dispersed and mixed in ordinary perceptions is concentrated until the peculiar office of the special medium operates with full energy, free from distraction.” – John Dewey

One of the things that we discussed in my recent interview on the Unusual Buddha podcast was that I rarely know what a piece means or what it is about when I’m in the process of making it. For me, the process of writing and making art is just that, a process; a process of observant listening. And even then there is mystery and ambiguity about precisely who or what I am listening to. 

Perhaps, I’m listening for something within myself, hoping to tap into some cavernous reservoir of language and meaning that I have yet to discover otherwise. Perhaps, I’m trying to give voice to the collection of unconscious thoughts and feelings that have never quite seen the dawn of my waking mind. Perhaps, I’m listening to the piece, itself. 

Perhaps, in the moments of making I am mothering a child struggling to convey what it wants to be. I must listen with patience and tender compassion, knowing that it is in my care, but it is not mine to keep. It is it’s destiny to leave, and it is my task to prepare it for the world.

Or, perhaps,  I’m the child and I am being parented by the piece. Perhaps, it is fostering the darkened interstices of my desirous fulfilment, and I must listen attentively to it’s instruction and guidance. This scenario feels right to me. So often my words have been aching to exit and yet, time and again, they have allusively evaded my grasp. It has been the work that has continued to guide me to my words. I have been in search of myself, in search of who I am, and who I still would like to be. Each work has taught me to see myself more clearly and has moved me incrementally closer to the me it believes I can become. I am in it’s care only for a time, before we must depart, and it is it’s mission to make me ready.

Whatever the case may be, the mystery always remains unresolved, and so there must always be trust.

I only use creamer on my day off…

I only put creamer in my coffee on my days off. It is always a sweet and flavored creamer, usually French Vanilla because that’s what my son likes best. Today, however, it’s hazelnut because that’s what he picked out on our last visit to the grocery store. Though he rarely drinks coffee, I buy it anyway. I want it to be there when and if he needs it.

Maybe that’s what it means to be a parent because maybe its a small preparation for things to come. At the time of this writing my son is fourteen and my daughter is twelve. He’s already a high school freshman, and I know that the day is rapidly approaching when he will no longer need me. Even now his paternal and parental necessitation is diminishing and I take what ever infinitesimal opportunity I am afforded to revel in whatever need of me he might have.

When the calamity of separation and divorce comes to a couple there is a tragic division that occurs, and it effects so much more than the vowed bonds of husband and wife. Whether we like it or not the kids are not secluded from the maelstrom of a marital end. I have written at great lengths regarding my own struggle to adapt to this traumatic nuptial rupture. I have not, however, said much, if anything at all, regarding the effects it has had and continues to have on my kids. That’s partly because of a kind of narrative reverence; their story is not mine to tell. I would never dare attempt to transcribe their inner monologues of subjective thoughts, feelings, and emotions. John Green writes that “Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really—just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.” I have no access to the uniqueness of how they may have been hurt or how they may still be hurting. I cannot have any real knowledge of their pain, and thus, any and all attempts to comment upon it would only be a projection of my own suffering upon theirs. And that is a burden that they should never have to bear. I will not appropriate their pain. It is theirs to share or hide as they see fit. What I can say is that they have each displayed a standard of bravery and kindness within the tumult of their mother and I’s dissolution that I myself I have, time and again, failed to achieve or live up to.

When I am with them I am content, feeling something close to normal, and I try my best to provide them with a semblance of stability in which they can feel the same way. I’m eager to come home from work when I know that they’re there. I usually get home from work by one-thirty in the afternoon. I greet them excitedly. Sometimes, during this past summer break my daughter was just waking up. She took full advantage of not having a bedtime, and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning.  On the days they’re with me, we talk, laugh, listen to records, and discuss the dinner menu. On Mondays we listen to the weekly playlist compiled by Spotify’s algorithmic recommendations based on the absurdities of our three differing musical tastes. Between about four and four-thirty p.m I start cooking whatever we’ve decided to have for dinner. At about five p.m. we sit and eat together. Topics of conversation wind and unfold in an unwieldy fashion. We discuss everything from punk rock, to the proficiencies of mythical creatures. In one particular evening we analyzed why the pizza crust from our favorite local pizza place is so good. We unanimously concluded that the excellence of the crust is due to unicorns flatulating into the dough; three unicorns to be more specific – Frank, the jaded and disgruntled pizza dough farting veteran who is “getting too old for this shit”, Sparkles, the bright and bubbly, hyper-organized unicorn still wildly in love with flatulating into pizza dough, and finally Timmy, the overly enthusiastic, young rookie eager to rise in the ranks. I promise you I’m not making any of this up.

We clean up after dinner. I take a shower, and by about six p.m. we return to the table to match wits in a session of Dungeons & Dragons, my son’s current recreational obsession. At eight p.m. I prepare to go to bed because I have to be at work at four a.m. I hug them, kiss them, tell them how much I love them, and go over any chores they need to complete before I return home from work the next day.

At two o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off.  I get up. I let the dog out. I get dressed, make coffee, and sit at my desk to try to write before I have to leave for work. It is morning but still pitch-black outside. I am tired and already weary from the dread of a work day that hasn’t even begun yet. I feel the full weight of this new life that I desperately want to be done with. The coffee I drink on these mornings is black and strong because I will need this dark  boldness to find the will to step into another day. I add two packets of stevia to the shadowed brew because the blackened bravery that is required of me is bitter to the taste and I try to cut it just enough to help the medicine go down. I make more coffee than I will drink so that there’s enough for the kids if they happen to want some, and I make sure that there’s still some of that sweetly flavored creamer there if and when they need it.

I sit at my desk and I write because I’m scared, scarred, and lonely, and it’s the only way I know in which to let that trembling exhaustion and frightened loneliness have a voice, and on so many bleak days I need to find a reason to go on. I persist more out of a sense of obligation than genuine desire. Sometimes that makes me angry and resentful, yet the fact that there are people who need me around is something to hold on to, and I’m afraid of what will happen when they no longer do.

Before I leave for work I crack open the door to my kids’ room, hoping to catch a glimpse of light before I leave. Some mornings they are still awake; my daughter still protesting slumber in the service of weekend freedom, my son, buried and bogged-down with the scholastic demands of his academic advancement. I give them a kiss. I tell them good-bye, and I step out into the world. I am still unstable, but as ready as I’ll ever be.

When my day off finally roles around, I generously pour that sugary creamer, tasting of vanilla or hazelnut, into the nebulous contents of my mug. I watch as the  off-white clouds struggle to overtake the darkness. I give it a stir to help the process along. When the sweetness finally touches my tongue I know all too well that one day my kids will, indeed, no longer require my assistance or aid. It scares the hell out of me, but I find a still, small, part of myself that wants to be there if and when they need me.

Maybe that’s not a happy ending, but maybe its something…

The oblique noise…

Knowing that I’ll get to make a piece of art after I get home work is one of only a very small number of things that helps me get through the day. When a piece comes together it brings a bit of redemption to an otherwise irredeemably shitty day. When it clicks, when it flows, you feel as if anything were possible. Sometimes the hope of that experience is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. But, then there are pieces like this…pieces that seemed like they had potential but,for one reason or another that potential was never realized, never came to fruition, or emerged stillborn. 

Days like this, when the art sucks, are really fucking hard. It makes a bad day seem even worse. After patiently grinding through the day, with clenched jaws, and gritted teeth, in hopeful anticipation of a possibly climactic moment, the moment arrives and falls flat, ushered in by disappointment. The entire impetus of the day has hinged upon this period of time, and when it fails to live up to the hype, when it fumbles before ever arriving, the whole day feels wasted. You begin to wonder why you even bothered, why you bothered trying, why you bothered tearing yourself from the warmth and safety of the blankets and sheets, and you begin to wonder how you’ll manage to find the strength or will do it again tomorrow?

I don’t have an answer to any of those questions, maybe I’ll figure it out tomorrow…I hope so… For now, all I know is that I’m tired, I feel like shit, and today sucked…

We fight the isolation…

we fight the isolation

I have long been an isolated and secluded person. I seem to constantly maintain a posture of distance, even with those I care about. At the risk of falling into the well-worn and, perhaps, over-played trope of referring to one’s childhood past as an explanation of today’s injuries, perhaps this poise of disconnected isolation is, in part, due to the fact that I was an only child. Most of my time was spent sequestered in solitary endeavors. To be sure, this was a blessing, as I can see the various ways in which it gave my creativity of imagination space to roam and breathe. I developed an incisive analytical vision and a keenness of expression that may have not been granted to me any other way. And yet, that alone-ness became normal and familiar, while the belonging company of others became and, in some ways has continued to be, foreign. I still struggle with what it means to truly let go, to let people in, and to let people close. I find it difficult to release myself from the reserved constriction brought about by continuously holding the pose of seclusion. This seems to be the place where the blessing becomes the curse.

My time spent in solitary reflection and in the isolated pursuits of imaginative creation is energizing and revitalizing but, it has come at a cost. One can, indeed, have too much of a good thing.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger reminds us that “Being-in-the-world” is always “Being-in-the-world-with-others”. Thus, when we severe or restrict contact with others, we simultaneously cut and constrain our Being. When we keep ourselves closed off from the connective closeness of others, even the beatific musings of the imaginative can turn to bile. When the habituated denial of belonging creeps into the creative process, the internal whirl of wonder becomes a tightening gyre. John O’ Donhue explains that when this happens “it makes us insecure”. He says that “Our confidence is shaken, and we turn in on ourselves and against ourselves.” In a word, it becomes a kind of self-sabotage. Here, speculative thought becomes cancerously critical. Our expectations wax and wane vehemently between the extremes of being unrealistically ideal and unfathomably low, and we negate opportunities for our own growth and expansion in both cases.

These are all things that I all too often fall prey to. Over the years, I have become an anchorite of penitent contrition, carefully constructing the stone walls of the cloistered cell that keeps me closed off from all others.  My self-doubt runs rampant. My confidence is always in short supply and is easily corroded. I set incredibly high expectations for the future and simultaneously believe that nothing will get better. In that regard, as John O’Donohue writes “Expectation is resentment waiting to happen”. 

It is the friendship and belonging brought to us by those who reciprocally care for us that creates a breach of liberation. These people recognize the forgotten places within ourselves that we have banished to bearing the iron masks of injurious seclusion. O’Donohue makes clear that they do not come to us “with a battering ram to demolish the prison” in which they find us living within. Instead, with gentle mercies and tender grace they “attempt something very modest, namely, to remove one pebble from the wall.” In doing so, a pin prick of light pierces the cold grey veil our confinement just enough to illuminate the claustrophobic dark we have become far too accustomed to. This gleaming razor of luminescence cuts deeply and exacting. The sting of unexpectedness brings with it the awareness that we have mistaken the isolating restraint of the cage for “comfort”. We have named our pain as normal. We have accepted the confinement as something we cannot change. And now we are faced with two uncomfortable choices; remain constrained with the realized awareness of our shackles, or begin to chip away at the rock and rubble of separation in the hopes of discovering a sculpture of unknown possibility…