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.

I’ve lived it…

Stylistically, this is super experimental, and, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. As experiments go, I don’t think this one was necessarily a success. I like the composition. I like the overall layout and design but, it’s definitely…different.

It’s got a strong graphic novel kind of vibe, which I dig but, with that being said, that’s not a style that’s really appeared in my work before…or maybe it has and in this piece it’s just much more pronounced and noticeable.

I suppose in a way that “style” has always been in the background of my “artistic” development. 

Although I don’t really draw anymore, I spent an inordinate amount of my time drawing as a kid and on into my early teens. More often than not, what I was drawing were comic book characters. I never cared much for trying to achieve photo-realism. That’s probably due in part to a lack of talent and ability (that’s probably why I don’t continue to draw much) but, also the photo-realism approach to art has never quite interested me. The “style” of drawing I saw in my favorite comic books was just so much more intriguing and fascinating to me.

Even now, I follow a few graphic novel/comic book illustrators on Instagram. In fact, one of my favorites is artist named Stefano Cardoselli. I highly recommend you check out his work. Take one look and I’m sure you’ll be able to tell why I like it and why I’m so “drawn” to it (pun most definitely intended).

Also, I will openly admit that when I’m a bit stuck, when I feel like I’m in a creative rut, when I feel like my work is getting a little too predictable, or when I’m just getting a little bored with what I’m making, I’ll unashamedly scroll through Pinterest looking for something new that I can try to incorporate into my own work. 

One of the artists I stumbled across in my Pinterest spelunking is an illustrator named  Adams Carvalho. His work has become something of a glorious rabbit hole for me recently. I’ve been pinning it like crazy, and, needless to say I now also for his instagram account.

Incidentally, a few weeks ago I took my kids to Barnes & Noble, and while I was there I snapped some photos of a few book covers that I really liked the design of and that kind of inspired me. As it turns out one of the book covers was illustrated by none other than Adams Carvalho. Is it still considered stalking if its done subconsciously? Asking for a friend…

Maybe since I’ve been digesting so much of his work recently I’m finally beginning to regurgitate it.

After all, Picasso has been widely credited with saying “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Who the fuck am I to argue with Picasso?

I wouldn’t dare say I’m a “great” artist. I’m hesitant to say I’m a “good” artist. Hell, I’m not even entirely sure I’m comfortable calling myself an “artist”. But, I’m pretty good at riding that trepidatious line between copying and theft. And if there’s a name for that…I’d still probably feel I wasn’t up to brandishing it as moniker in reference to myself and my work.

The tension began to leave…

When I started working on this, it came from a place of sheer creative desperation to find something, to make something. I’ve said more than once that the muses are capricious. The night I was making this, they were exponentially so.

I had first attempted to record a podcast, a process that is, under normal conditions, relatively easy. I usually record in one sitting, and in one take with minimal, if any, edits. But, I also live next door to a house that functions as an Air B &B. From time to time there are guests that are rowdy and boisterous. On this particular night, the Air B & B guests were also exponentially so.

I’m not sure if the noise actually came through in the recording or not but, it was certainly distracting. And, truth be told, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to record anyway.

Needless to say the recording process didn’t go well, and it became abundantly clear that it just wasn’t going to happen.  I set that project to one side (a seemingly healthy response) but, the frustration remained and lingered. I NEEDED to make something (perhaps, a not so healthy response).

I began experimenting with this piece after coming across a video on the Adobe blog. I decided to try my hand at do something similar. It didn’t go so well…

I suppose my drive to make something overtook my aspirations to throw my phone across the room, punch a hole in the computer screen, and give up making art forever. However, I should say that so far this year, I’ve only quit art forever a couple times a month. My therapist, if I was still seeing her, would surely this is as progress…I should probably give her a call.

After several hours, this piece made it to a place that I was happy with. 

To a greater or lesser extent, the tension began to leave. For now…

The perfume of the ghost…

I spent a day or two slowly tinkering with this one. I probably could have finished it a little sooner but, I think working on it was kind of a way to procrastinate my decision of whether or not to record a new podcast episode.

I know that I should, I’ll have my kids next week, and I probably won’t get the opportunity to then. But…I just finished writing the episode, and I’m not entirely sure it’s ready, or maybe I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready…or maybe both.

I guess we’ll see…

What did any of that have to do with this piece you may be asking?…Probably nothing, maybe something…Fuck if I know.

Maybe it’s all an interconnected and intertwined part of my unceasing cycle to renew myself…

New Podcast Episode – “Glimmers of Hope in the Kitchen…”

the possibility claimed meaning

Madeleine L’ Engle says that “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith”  – a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest albeit in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen, the evidence of the possible, and that the possibility will claim meaning.

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.

We stand poised upon the precipice of a sacred unknowing. We don’t know what comes next for us as a culture, as a society, we don’t know what our civilization will become, but we know that there are glimmers of hope in the kitchen, and maybe that’s the secret sauce.

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Shout out to my patrons:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty – https://www.instagram.com/wellinformedish/

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the podcast and all my other creative work, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

New Podcast – “Poetic Pyromania & Artistic Archaeology”

This episode is kind of a hodge podge of ideas and reflections. I talk about some recent art work I’ve done and some feedback I’ve got from that’s given me some food for thought. And so I thought I’d offer you some of these random thoughts on art, poetry, and everything in between. I hope you like it.

I reference a lot of books in this episode and quite a few artists. Here’s some relevant links if you want to delve deeper:

Art as Experience by John Dewey

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark

Artist Liu Wei

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’ Engle

The Lotus and the Rose by Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo

Artist John T. Unger

The Roman Empire and the New Testament by Warren Carter

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Thanks to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the work I’m doing, becoming a Patron is a great way to do that: https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

And thanks to the incredible people who have recently purchased prints of my Art Work – Molly Graham, and Bill and Sallee Bonham.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

New Published Pieces!

Today the good folks over at the Medusa’s Kitchen blog were kind enough to publish two of my new cut out poem collages.

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of appearing on their blog along side some really inspiring pieces of poetry. You can find my first appearance here.

Hope you like them!

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…