Keep Flying

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My new painting, “Keep flying/ Don’t pull back/ stay in motion”

I’m nostalgic for drinking bourbon out of coffee mugs with Ben Clark in my room at the Art Farm. I miss a lot of things, deeply and sincerely, about that little patch of trees stuck between the cornfields in Nebraska. Perhaps it’s peace, perhaps it’s friendship, maybe it’s community or space or time that I miss most of all.

My friend Mac Scott sent me a poem he wrote recently: “It’s best to be patient and respect the uncertainty of life. Because uncertainties hold the mystery. Mystery is where the best part of life lays.”

Easier said than done, sometimes. This whole blog has been about my attempts to be strong and to eliminate fear. To be a real artist means to live authentically, to drink life down to the dregs. But it’s exhausting. It’s hard. It’s difficult to acknowledge something is scary and dive in anyway.

In his poem, “Reluctance,” Robert Frost wrote, “Ah, when to the heart of man/ Was it ever less than a treason/ To go with the drift of things,/ To yield with grace to reason,/ And bow and accept the end/ Of a love or a season?”

Seasons always end — and come again. So this makes for an interesting analogy to love in the poem. Just because we know something will end doesn’t mean you don’t put up a fight for it, does it?

I’m a big believer in pursuing passion — and trying, at least. I feel like there’s enough apathy in the world. I want to be surrounded with people putting up the good fight, even when we feel it to be futile.

Mark Twain wrote “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

I hope to retain the wild-ness I was able to capture in my brief but excessively beautiful Art Farm life — even though it’s a struggle. To keep moving forward and to fly.

Ben Clark sent me his collection of poems “If you turn around, I will turn around.” I sat and read it, quite a haunting and heavy exchange about love, longing, change, aging.

One of the lines is sticking with me lately:

“But why allow life to become a frail bone you settle on until it snaps. Why not eat what you can and carry the rest in salt, paper and twine. Why not walk with purpose through the undergrowth, toward the moon of the forest clearing you remember and trust to still exist.”

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Photobooth pics from Ben’s visit 

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Beauty and Communion

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A work in progress inspired by Aimee Herman

I have been hard at work building an homage to memory and a physical space to examine emotion. It’s been perhaps more challenging and more of a heavy experience than I expected. Although, of course, I should have expected exactly that.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about life,” I tell my mom with a sigh. She says, “Of course you have. Your exhibit is called, ‘Life, Examined.’ What else would you be doing?”

I find a note from an ex-boyfriend. He wrote to me, “I wish I felt the same kind of attractions you feel. They seem overwhelming, like you have no control. I don’t think as strong as you feel things. You are a pretty powerful being. So be careful.”

It’s a delicate balance — being careful, but not living in fear, wanting to have passion, but not to be out of control with emotions. Not having a choice about being emotional, I at least want to be around people who can be open and loving and go on a courageous journey with me.

My friend Stan came to town to see the show and as usual we talked about the world’s problems and our proposed solutions. We spoke about art mostly.

One reason that I stepped back from the art scene was because of all the huge egos I kept encountering along the way. (And still encounter often). I don’t think that art should be about your ego, the self, your identity.Who you are, of course, gives you a unique perspective of the world — and if you live authentically, and openly, that will allow you to produce real and effective art. But I believe that art should be bigger than just an exploration of the self.

There was a great article about Chuck Close in the Sunday New York Times by Wil S. Hylton. The painter has also become a bit of a recluse lately.

Hylton has spent a lot of time trying to understand Close. In the article, he describes the art:

What you are seeing isn’t really there. You are no longer looking at the actual surface of the painting, but some apparition hovering above it, a numinous specter that arises in part from the engagement of your own imagination. Through the painting, Close has accessed the perceptual center of your mind, exploiting the way we process human identity: the gaps of knowledge and the unknown spaces we fill with our own presumptions, the expectations and delusions we layer upon everyone we meet.

By painting these portraits, Close is tapping into something bigger. He’s not just showing us who he is — he’s helping us understand who we are and why how we perceive and presume matters.

Hilton writes:

It seems to me now, with greater reflection, that the value of experiencing another person’s art is not merely the work itself, but the opportunity it presents to connect with the interior impulse of another. The arts occupy a vanishing space in modern life: They offer one of the last lingering places to seek out empathy for its own sake, and to the extent that an artist’s work is frustrating or difficult or awful, you could say this allows greater opportunity to try to meet it. I am not saying there is no room for discriminating taste and judgment, just that there is also, I think, this other portal through which to experience creative work and to access a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion.

“Empathy for its own sake” and “a different kind of beauty, which might be called communion” are what I’m after too — exactly what I want to create.

Birthday Blues

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I have to admit that I have a bad case of the birthday blues. It all started with my computer crashing on my birthday eve — right around noon for no apparent reason.

I spent the day on the phone with Apple Support, then at the Mac store. I felt like Harold in that ending sequence of my favorite movie — where he begs and pleads with the hospital staff to save Maude’s life, but alas . . . Similarly, I moved between anger to tears at the Mac shop as they informed me that I would lose all the writing I had done, photos I had taken and music I had stored over the past year.

And I cycled again through the same emotions as they explained to me their prices for not helping me save my suddenly suicidal machine — but simply to restore my one-year old computer to being functional.

My actual birthday was basically spent in an anxiety attack trying to figure out how to met all my mounting work deadlines with no tool for typing. After attempting to purchase a tablet and keyboard as a back-up plan from Best Buy, I went home to find the products that the salesman had promised would work for me, in fact, would not.

Disheartened from a failed day, I concluded my birthday by crying by myself in a bar until my dear cousin rescued me and saved the day. It was just the loss of all my writing — creative and otherwise, and all my photos, including from the Art Farm, photos of my friends over the years and photos of my paintings, now all gone.

But also, as we grow older, birthdays are so tied into what we hope to accomplish and what goals we have not met yet, the passage of time, loneliness and changing friendships. My friend Justin reminded me that friends are busier now — with children, houses, routines. And that can make for lonelier, solitary birthdays.

And then, I got notice of a speeding ticket and I’m practically the slowest driver in the neighborhood. I checked the stars and sure enough Mercury is in retrograde and I should have spent the past two weeks safely in bed.

Two days later and here we are. I still haven’t heard back from the Mac shop. I’m typing away on my cousin’s old, bulky — but yay still functional — borrowed laptop. I’m late on all my deadlines, behind on all my calls and exhausted. I haven’t painted since Tuesday. I’m feeling like a failure and yet . . .

I still am going through the motions and pushing myself. Today I went to my second ballet-for-adults lesson. Our instructor guided us through the French words for lifting your pointed toes to the left, the front, the back. We moved from first to second to fifth position and stretched on the bar and laughed while we sloppily learned basic waltz steps.

The teacher Christine told us that she is stricter with her younger students. She likes to push them, because she explained they seem so timid these days, so much more afraid of getting hurt than we were in our rambunctious childhoods.

She talks about how she and her brothers used to climb trees and get scraped up on the bark and how they would play Red Rover and push so hard against the inter-locked limbs of the children on the opposing team, to break their chains by running hard and fast enough.

“The point is to get hurt and see that you heal,” she said. “You learn that you’ll live.”

Will You Dance?

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Painting in Progress — “So Many Dreams We’re Not Prepared to Know”

Yesterday I was lamenting to my roommate about the start of another year. I said, I can’t believe that this one went by so quickly. And I was even more distressed that in less than a month, I will be another year older.

Last birthday, I promised myself that I would get my shit together this year, I told Rob.

“What’s the point of that?” he asked. “All you’re left with then is a pile of shit. And no one wants that.”

I laughed at the absurdity of the phrase. But he’s right. It’s no way to think — the constant pressure of finally figuring everything out. And I am certainly on a quest to make a change, to do better — and I have to remind myself constantly that it is just a journey. One that will most likely last a lifetime.

My friend Chance spent some time talking later in the day about how easy it is to focus on what’s wrong in your life instead of all the good that surround you. It’s something that I am working on improving. Instead of running over and over the things that hurt me, the people who wronged me and the several bad memories, why not think about the love, the support, the sympathy and camaraderie that I have most days?

“The world isn’t tidy,” the fantastic street photographer Garry Winogrand said. “It’s a mess. I don’t try to make it neat.”

It’s not our job to fix anything or to make the chaos of life fit into some neat tidy box. Instead, look, learn, watch, accept, create — repeat.

“Life is an ecstasy,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said.

Peter London said, “Sleep surrounds us. Keep awake.”

He said some people see the world as a supermarket, a place to acquire things. Others see life as a dance — a world of partners, experience, music, whirling – and we can opt to go twirling out among the action.

He asks:

“Will you? Won’t you? Will you join the dance?”