The whole world sank…

the whole world sank

I feel like I’m a bit of a mess, and I think this work, and perhaps, especially this poem, reflects that. 

I suppose my work is always kind of messy, but it seems like its becoming increasingly so. Perhaps, it is what Ellen Ullman describes as “the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought”.

Even in the best of times my mind is a mishmash of cluttered quandaries, but these days…its a joyless tangle of disorder and chaos, and it’s not pretty.

Maybe that’s ok. 

Austin Kleon writes that “Art is not only made from things that ‘spark joy’. Art is also made of what is ugly and repulsive to us.” He says that “Part of the artist’s job is to help tidy up the place, to make order out of the chaos, to turn trash into treasure, to show us beauty where we can’t see it”.

I think what I struggle to see most are the “Gifts and possibilities” that John O’Donohue says “unexpectedly arrive on the tables of those in despair and torment.” Maybe we all do, and maybe that’s why we need art.

In his book, Blessed are the Weird, Jacob Nordby writes that “the highest-value currency is not money or faster machines; it is the ability to see and see and keep seeing the world through different eyes—and then do something with the unique way you see it.”

In a similar way, Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas says that artists “create nothing…We just rearrange things in different ways, in different manners”. We simply “make different organizations of matter and energy”.

There’s something so pragmatically poetic about that recognition. It’s a hopeful realization of the hopelessness of some kind of ultimate “transformation”.

Most things that are broken will continue to be broken. We can’t always sweep away the contents of the mess. Sometimes we can’t squelch the chaos but, we can rearrange it until we can begin to see it differently.

And in that way, maybe seeing is believing…

John O’Donohue writes that “There is no one—regardless of how beautiful, sure, competent, or powerful—who is not damaged internally in some way.” He says that “We are particularly adept at covering our inner wounds, but no wound is ever silent” and “Every inner wound has its own particular voice.” 


Perhaps art is the unique ways in which we begin to rearrange the organizations of our damaged disarray and the structures of our internal suffering, giving voice to the particular wounds that refuse to be silent in the hopes that we will begin to see the sound of our sufferings as a song.

Austin Kleon explains that “Creativity is about connections, and connections are not made by siloing everything off into its own space. New ideas are formed by interesting juxtapositions, and interesting juxtapositions happen when things are out of place.”

Perhaps that’s why collage is such an apt medium of expression for me. Collage is all about things out of place, rearranged, and juxtaposed.


Perhaps, I, myself, am a collage. Maybe we all are.
I feel so out of sorts, so out of whack, so out of order, so out of place, and I make art as a means of making the mess of myself meaningful. It’s a mess that I can move around until it resembles something beautiful. I rearrange and reorder the shattered fragments and jagged pieces of myself into different organizations, with the expectant aspiration of what a new arrangement might reveal. 

And so I scream, often without hope, in the hopes that as my world seems to sink I may be able to see, find, and maybe even make some beauty in it…

Devoted to Something Difficult..

Earlier last week I started rereading Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going. I first read it towards the end of last year when I was in a deep creative slump. Creatively speaking, I was really struggling to find and maintain the energy and motivation to “keep going” and the book was helpful. This year, I feel like I’ve gained some ground artistically. I still wrestle amidst the endeavor to make art and to keep my creative practice alive, but that fight never really ends. 


In fact, Kleon is sure to point out that “No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really ‘arrive'”.


I’m still trying to find my way but, even more so, now I find myself struggling to simply “keep going”. I am emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. It seemed as good a time as any to revisit Kleon’s book.

In the opening pages of the book he writes that after “writing and making art” for years “it didn’t seem to be getting any easier” and he asks himself “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?” I’ve been asking myself that same question, not only in terms of art but, also in terms of coping with the dramatic changes my life has undergone this year.

Everyday I find myself wondering when the words will simply flow, when the art will become second nature, and when I’ll start to feel…better.

I’ve been working on one creative endeavor or another for almost as long as I can remember and it’s never gotten easier. It’s almost been six months now since my ex-wife and I separated and started working towards divorce, and that too, has certainly not gotten any easier. In fact, it feels like its gotten and continues to get, harder. I am suffuse with questions, and more and more I am asking “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?”


John O’Donohue says that “Suffering always brings a myriad of questions we cannot answer: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Why was what was so precious in my life so abruptly taken from me? Will I be able to survive this at all? How will I live from now on? When you are standing in the place of pain, none of these questions can be answered.”  I am searching for the comfort of coherence and understanding, the consolation of an explanation, but, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, it is a “grasping for the wind”.

Buddhist thought suggests that part of the reason for why we suffer is because of three defilements: greed, hatred, and delusion. We desperately clutch at what we crave, we kick against what we desire to avoid, and we delude ourselves into thinking both are possible. Maybe the Buddhists are right, I want to make art without obstruction or constraint. I want to be mended without difficulty or pain. And, the fact that I am “suffering” seems to be proof that I am too delusional to accept that it just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps, the struggle lies not in the making of art, nor in the pursuit of healing, but in the struggle to accept that both are hard.

Kleon explains that, for him, “Everything got better…when [he] made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier”. Even as I type out his words I can feel myself struggling to accept their veracity. I am so not as peace with the thought of perpetual difficulty, and maybe that’s the problem.

O’Donohue writes that “When lonely suffering is courageously embraced and integrated, it brings new light and shelter to our world and to the human family.” But,”embracing and integrating” that lonely suffering is a real motherfucker. I’m not sure I know how to do it yet.

I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t yet have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I don’t know if I have the courage to change the things I can, and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps, for now at least, the best I can do is to be a conversation devoted to something difficult….

Houses of discovery…

houses of discovery

From the start of this piece it didn’t feel very “inspired”, and I’m not sure I really found the “spark” at any point in the process of making it. But, I finished it, and I’d like to think that counts for something.

I believe in showing up and doing the work regardless of how I feel, irregardless of “it” feels, regardless of whether or not inspiration ever shows up, and irregardless of whether or not anything “inspired” comes out of it.  For me, its about being more “religious” than “spiritual”. It’s about placing one’s dependence upon the discipline, the routine, the practice, the ritual, welcoming the magical moments of spiritual transcendence and inspiration when they serendipitiously arrive, but faithfully working with observant persistence in the gap of inspiration’s inevitable absence. The Psalmist says to “be of good courage, take heart and wait…” I think we take heart in the courage of continuing to work in the waiting.

Christopher Niemann says that “Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane”. 

I sit down at this desk everyday, partly because I want to be productive and make good work, but mostly to avoid going insane, or to at least slow the progression of the ever-encroaching madness. The routinized ritual of creating near daily helps me deal with life and helps me make it through the day. It provides me with at least a semblance of saneness and stability. For a few moments I can find my way to some normalcy. I can temporarily fain the feeling of being “ok”, and feeling “ok”, even for a short time, when your whole life has become a deep fried cluster fuck tossed in a shit storm glaze is a damn near supernatural event.

Art and life run parallel together on the same continuum. In many ways, they are one and the same. What is true for one, is then, more often than not, true for the other. As Austin Kleon reminds me, “There will be good days and bad days. Days when you feel inspired and days when you want to walk off a bridge. (And some days when you can’t tell the difference.)” He points out that “Not everyday is going to turn out the way we want it to” but, “The important thing is to make it to the end of the day, no matter what”. He says that “No matter how bad it gets, see it through to the end so you can get to tomorrow”.

Often there is no rhyme or reason to the volatility that separates the good days from the bad, the inspired from the uninspired, the marvelous from the mediocre. Charles Bukowski said that the greatest literary teaching he was ever taught was “the meaning of pain. Pain without reason.”

Some times the absurdity of it all is a profound discovery. Sometimes the meaninglessness of it all is deeply meaningful. 

And so I keep showing up. I try my best to see it through, even, and especially, when it sucks, and I share it, because no matter how closed off I keep myself, no matter how lonely and isolated I seem to be, in some tucked away corner of my mind I know this is a shared journey.

A Search to “See” the Words…

Liu Wei says that “a piece of art is never an answer to something”. The purpose of a piece of art is, rather “to pose a question” but, “the question is only the beginning”. To me, that says that art is the iterative attempt to ask better questions. It’s continuously attuning the questions expressed through the work directed at the audience, but it’s also the constant refinement of the way in which the artist poses questions to themselves.

I think that means asking ourselves questions not only about “what we have to say” or “what we want to say” in the work, but also asking ourselves questions about “how we say it”. In other words, I think it means examining and analyzing the creative processes we use that enable us to express our questions; questioning our methods of artistically asking the questions.


This kind of critical and creative soul-searching has been teaching me about myself and my own creative process. It’s becoming more and more obvious that, artistically speaking, I’m a writer before anything else. Such a realization is more an act of acknowledgement and acceptance than it is a statement of shock or surprise. The fact that I have a long held love of language is not a revelation. What is slightly more revelatory is how I’ve often neglected or ignored my predilection for literary expression purely out of vanity. In a culture that preferences the consumption of audio/visual arts, it simply isn’t as sexy to be a writer, a blogger, a poet, etc. And, rather than allow my writing to take the wheel, I have relegated it to the backseat. Sometimes even barbarously stuffing it in the trunk, bound and gagged.


But, no matter how much I try to place video, or design, or drawing, at the forefront of what I do, writing has been the tell-tale heart pounding beneath the floor boards, refusing to relent or subside.


Truth be told, when I’m being creative my thoughts turn to the language of the written word before anything else. That’s where everything begins for me.


Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws”. Something about that feels right even for me. Maybe you could say I’m a writer attempting to make art, or maybe, a writer who makes podcasts, videos, and art. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue though, does it? I’ll have to work on it.


The point is that writing is the catalyst for all of my creative endeavors. Almost every podcast or video I’ve made has begun with a piece of writing. Even many of my art projects arise from something I’ve written. It’s like I can’t envision “imagery” or the “images” until I see the words. But, somewhere in the process of searching for the words, in sculpting the language, and guiding them from my head to the page, the pictures arrive.


For example, the picture at the top of this post came to me after I had written an essay called “Gratitude is Mutinous“. Interestingly enough, even the image I created for “Gratitude is Mutinous” came from another piece of writing as well.
That’s how it happens for me. Sometimes the simple turn of a phrase is the key that turns the lock to the door of a secret I’ve never seen.


In a way that’s gratifying. When it comes to writing I’ve always wanted my words to paint a picture, and it seems like it does, if for no one else than for me.


Suffice to say, whenever pen gets put to paper, I’m home…

The Weight of Secrets, Fighting to Succeed…

I think the job of the artist is to make the experience of mystery palpably vivid in a way that does not resolve the mystery but, instead reveals the mystery as more profoundly mysterious than we realized.


I think of the way that James Victore alters and modifies his brushes and paint pens to make them less predictable, less precise, less controllable.


Or, the way that George Condo draws; seemingly random, almost erratic, and often more concerned “with the diagonal motion of the drawing, caring more about “where it goes on the paper, without much concern about “what it is”. 


Or maybe even the way that Aaron Draplin‘s favorite pass time is “junking”, scouring thrift stores and estate sales looking for bits of old design, logos, and type, searching within them for the forgotten stories and hidden tales that will spark his imagination and catalyze his creative process.


The purposeful imprecision, the uncontrollable brush strokes, the unpredictable discoveries, in each case, the artists delve deeply into a “mysterious” pursuit, searching for secrets.


Maybe I’m grasping at straws but, there seems to be parallel between the pursuit of mystery and what Austin Kleon calls “dumpster diving”.


Kleon writes that 


Dumpster Diving is one of the jobs of the artist – finding treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reason.


These are the things that draw me into all of my creative endeavors, whether in writing, collage, digital art, or even in my recent forays into more analog mediums and projects. In “sifting through the debris” of old magazines and newspapers, finding inspiration in “tossed aside” books, moving paint and pen with a seemingly unsteady hand, I am searching to revel in something unknown. I am forced to give up control, to exercise awareness, welcoming the imperfect and the imprecise. Searching for treasure without a name, guided by a map that can’t be written, I can’t foresee what I’ll find, what images will spark something, what words or phrases will whisper secrets, and what mysteries will come to light as the pieces are put together, shifted, and rearranged. I am simply doing the work of finding “the work”.


We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.


Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.


The stray hairs of lacerated bristles, the hidden treasures of another person’s trash, the gems found amidst the junk, the stories pieced together with paper and glue, all bear the weight of our secrets, fighting to succeed to the surface of awareness…

…As a $2 Bill…

This morning was a momentous occasion, well that’s probably an exaggeration.

I’ve been trying to get into the habit of writing every morning after I meditate and before I bring my daughter to school. Yesterday, I filled the last remaining pages of a notebook, which means that today was time to open a new notebook.


I took out a fresh journal. I always keep a few around, who doesn’t? Right? I pulled the cover back, cracked the spine, eager to enter the freshness of the notebook’s beckoning blank pages, I noticed two crisply folded $2 bills. What else could I think but “that’s weird”? I don’t remember when or why I put them there but, I’m glad I did.


I’ve often quipped that I’m religious but not spiritual. I don’t have an affinity for the “other-worldly”, the supernatural, or what some might call the transcendent. I think “this-world” has more than enough amazement and wonder to offer. I think the “natural” is plenty “super” on its own, and often my most profound experiences of “transcendence” comes from deep experiences of the immanent.


And yet, I have a relishing fondness for ritual. I think most creatives do. We are often meticulous and almost superstitious in the observance of our creative routines. We take great care to create at the same time and place everyday. We drink out of the same mug. Some of us are compulsively particular about the notebooks and pens we use, as well as the ceremonial ways in which we use and prepare them. It’s interesting that the near monastic ordering of our creative ritualizations becomes the opportunity for the expression of our weirdness.


In a lot ways I think that’s exactly what creative practices are, the routinized rites we methodically perform in honored observance of our weirdness; the ceremonious celebration of our peculiar strangeness.


In fact, James Victore goes so far as to say that “the things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow”.


On a daily basis we are bombarded by a legion of outside influences and forces all vying for a chance to smooth out the unevenness of our peculiarities, so that we can better fit into the current cookie cutter shape of normalcy.


We need to find, formulate, and routinely carry out rituals that remind us of our strangeness. 


Today one found me…


I think from now on, whenever I open a new notebook, before I ever dot an “i”  or cross a “t”, these $2 bills will be ritualistically paper clipped onto the pages of the journal to instruct me that no matter what happens here, no matter what you do…Keep it weird…