Dry lightning has sparked many wildfires in southern Oregon, and thick white smoke lies heavy and stagnant in the valleys, making even close mountains disappear from sight. My throat feels like coarse sandpaper, my lungs like dry paper bags. It was the pursuit of fresh pacific air that caused me to flee to the coast this weekend, and while initially it felt like an inconvenience, it proved itself a blessing.
The Redwood coast is my church. A place where worship flows out, yet I am filled. A place where time and eternity meet, and offer a new perspective. A place crudely depicted on my very own website banner, yet rarely visited in person. Thankfully I was smoked out of my comfort zone and reminded of this unique pagan temple, so close to home.
Rumi has been my morning companion for some time now, and he joyfully followed me into the forest, laughing in his mischievous way; he thanking I, and I thanking him. Rumi is a treasure trove of wisdom and arcane knowledge, and by spending time with him, I feel like my understanding is deepening. If the Bible is the Way of the Servant, the Bhagavad Gita is the way of the Warrior, the Tao Te Ching is the way of the Monk, then Rumi is the way of the Storyteller. It is also the Way of Devotion and Adoration. Rumi, steeped the Sufi tradition, speaks to me more than any other spiritual text I’ve encountered, and goes to show that spirituality need not be so damned heavy and serious. Like a whirling dervish, Rumi’s words fly off the page, playful, humorous, racy enough to make a prostitute blush. Not all translations are created equal, however. I highly recommend “The Essential Rumi” by Coleman Barks.
Ever since leaving my Corporate Life and pursuing the Artist’s Path, I’ve felt a tremendous amount of pressure to perform: to create something big, worthwhile, world-changing. And while that desire is indeed a God-given vehicle by which to move forward, too much of it causes paralyzing anxiety. Visiting the coast helped me gain perspective on Art in relation to Life.
Fact is, I’m not just an artist. I’m a son, a brother, a lover, a friend. I’m a community member, a volunteer, a worker, and an activist. There are many roles I play in life, and while “Artist” is important to me, it does not adequately define who I am. The clean pacific breeze whispered in my ear: being an artist is not a destination but a way of living, a lifetime journey. I could live to be five-hundred and still not “arrive” as an artist. Likewise, I can die without having created something world-changing and still have lived a great life.
“do you really think you’re a prince? like wtf, omg.”
The other day I got together with a kind old lady in my community to discuss our common heritage: descendants of the Gregor Clan of the Scottish highlands. The “Mc” or Mac” prefix to the Gregor name, simply means “sons of Gregor”. Our clan was once rich with land, cattle, and castles, but though various conflicts with rival clans and the British monarchy, the MacGregor name was banished and the Clan members became outlaws. Having lost their land and possessions, the MacGregor’s became known as “The Children of the Mist”. From Wikipedia: “Reduced to the status of outlaws, they rustled cattle and poached deer to survive. They became so proficient at these endeavours that other clans would pay them not to steal their cattle as they exhausted other means of stopping them.” The slogan on the Gregor crest reads “S Rioghal Mo Dreahm!” which reads “Royal Is My Race!” in Gaelic.
I love this shit. I love stories of royalty and romance. Princesses and Princes. Bows and arrows. I want to learn about the Druids and Avalon. I want to feel the green hills of Scotland beneath my feet.
Been thinking about other things too. Watched perhaps the most intense movie I’ve ever seen, Enter the Void, which left me profoundly affected for days afterward. It convincingly felt like living someone else’s life… or more accurate, after-life. The movie is influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I started becoming more interested in after the film.
According to the Book of the Dead, when you die, you go through various stages, from hovering above your own body, to wandering the universe alone, driven by desire and discontent until you find a suitable life to be reborn into. The prevalent theme is attachment. Anything you were attached to when you die becomes pain which haunts you in the afterlife. Each of us, being gods, gets exactly what we want. If you were attached to a lover in life, you will be reborn with the longing to find them. If your hook was power, sex, fame, food, or even the thrill of life itself, you will not find “release”, only more of the same.
Also been reading A Severe Mercy, a memoir so loving crafted it effortlessly lays bare the love by which it speaks. The author tells of meeting his future wife and the idyllic romance which ensues. The lovers love being in love so much (and are so dismayed by the prospect of love ever diminishing) they elegantly craft a life by which nearly everything they do is to support and grow their love for each other. “For love must grow or die…” Well, I haven’t got to this part yet, but one day it does die. Specifically, She dies. It will be interesting to see the author cope with the loss of the very thing he built his entire life around. It will be interesting to see how he dissolves attachment.
I went to screen a documentary called “Who Bombed Judi Bari?”. During the so-called “Redwood Summer” of 1990, environmental activists flocked to the forests of northern California to try and stop outrageously destructive logging of old-growth. A woman named Judi Bari took the primary leadership role, promoting non-violent civil disobedience and organizing the loggers against their corporate owners. Her and the movement were so terrifically successful, a bomb was planted in her car which nearly killed her. Of course the police and FBI tried to pin the explosives on her, saying it was an accidental explosion of a bomb the activists had manufactured. Long story short, Judi and the passenger she was with won a lawsuit against law enforcement for $4.4 million for trying to frame them. The actual bomber still has not been caught, though the FBI held “Bomb School” on clearcut land owned by timber companies weeks before the bombing, and video surfaced of them blowing up cars.
I left the film inspired. Here’s a woman whose bravery and conviction brought the national spotlight to the forests of Northern California and revealed the outrageous logging practices happening there. Through the fearless efforts of her and others, millions of acres of Forests were saved, and their spirit influences what Americans consider “acceptable logging” to this day. How’s that for a life well lived?
It makes me question if my work is helpful to anyone. It makes me wonder if publicly pining over lost love has any purpose besides satisfying some kind of twisted masochistic desire. Why is it that THIS is the subject of my art? After thinking much about it, I think I have an answer.
IT’S EASY. Writing sweeping epics that explore the endless variety of human experience is hard. Revealing and questioning the destructive nature of humanity, and doing it in an entertaining way so that people don’t feel like they’re being preached at… that’s HARD. Writing about your own emotional shit? Easy!!
It’s also easy to get down on yourself for taking the easy way out… but you know what? Drawing is fucking hard. So choosing a subject matter that comes easily in order to learn how to effectively use this medium… that’s okay. I’m okay with that. I look forward to exploring broader (and deeper) subjects, but you can’t be everything at once. Things come in increments. That said, I’m also realizing that having TWO projects about my experience with lost love is not healthy for me. As much as I love Winston and the Prince, I need to scale back.
I only recently discovered The Postal Service album, Give Up. I know, I’m like 10 years behind the curve on this one… but really, the album couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only is it an incredible album that makes me want to dance around in my underwear, but it’s also largely a breakup album. Personally, the record has elevated my mood and brought me solace… and I bet it has for a lot of others as well. So although it was borne from a selfish place, its net effect is to have brought comfort and joy into the world. It gives me hope that the book I’m working on could serve a purpose larger than myself.
Been thinking these things and a thousand others. I seriously can’t wait until Spring.
I remember criss-crossing the country in my green Toyota pickup, affectionately named “The Albatross” by my girlfriend. During endless days driving long highways, we’d listen to CD’s of new age speculations about the end of the Mayan calendar. With my love seated by my side, my hand resting on her thigh, 2012 felt so far away. Back then, maybe I thought the world would actually end, but I was comforted by the idea of having my companion with me to watch it all go down.
Now it’s December 20, 2012, and things have changed. Today don’t feel like the world will end, though optimistic anticipation simmers inside of me, hoping that something will miraculously and instantaneously change. The woman I loved, who comforted me and filled me with a sense of security, is now who-knows-where doing who-knows-what. Meanwhile I sit alone, watching the rain drop on a dormant forest.
Being alone on Solstice and even Christmas fills me with a strange sort of pride. It makes me feel stoic and self-sufficient; tough and purpose driven. “Who needs the commercialism of the holidays and the distraction of family! I’m doing soul refining work here!” It’s probably just a ploy to keep from looking at the sadness of the situation.
But I’ve come to look at my situation like so: This is a period of tremendous learning. Learning about myself, and learning about my art. In only one year I have grown so much. I’m a fuller person now, and a much better artist. What you pay for in loneliness, you are repaid for in skill. And the skills you gain now, that power, will be with you for the rest of your life… while loneliness likely will not.
Another ploy? Maybe. But it’s working.
Happy Solstice. I hope you are well.