Go Inward

a new painting perfect for winter and inward looking. it’s part of a set in my sacred series.

“The doctor may explain why the patient is dead, but never why the patient is alive.” ~Declan Donnellan

Once, tromping through a biodynamic vineyard, Barney explained to me that winter is the time for the energy of the vine to go to the root. The vine that appears dormant above ground is, in fact, actively recharging below the surface. The energy goes inward. The root rejuvenates, drinking in the minerals necessary for the new growth of the coming spring. The fruit of the summer is impossible without the rejuvenation of winter.

We are not so different from the vines though language can trick us into compartmentalizing, perceiving winter as distinct and separate from summer, the inhale as a separate action from the exhale, tides that ebb and then flow. Cycles of life have compartments in study but never in real life. The compartments are made up for the convenience of categorization and conversation.

These past few weeks we’ve been cleaning out our house, going through old boxes and files, shredding old bills, carrying furniture and computer carcasses to the curb. Old clothes are going away. Closets and bins are emptied. The house is beginning to breathe. There is space. Spaciousness. We are laughing at old pictures, sometimes cringing. This day’s new-found spaciousness inspires the next day’s cleaning rampage. It is invigorating. Rejuvenating.

and this is the other half of the set. winter has me looking inward and exploring simplicity in line and space.

Our cleaning tsunami wasn’t planned. Our computer crashed. Our work was interrupted. Our expression was limited. We complained and resisted and then turned our energies elsewhere. Inward. Going through and releasing old stuff, past lives, creating space, is rejuvenating. We are taking our time. We are going slowly. It is oddly restful.

Driving home from our walk in the woods, we laughed at ourselves. Mock-praising our virtuous cleaning, exaggerating and inflating our new found spaciousness to full spiritual illumination, we pretended we’d achieved life beyond wanting, living without yearning. Consciousness beyond compartments. Wiping laughter-tears from her eyes, Kerri said, “Wait! This could be boring! What is life without desiring some red wine while cooking dinner? What about the pleasure of yearning for morning coffee? With all this new found space….”

 

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Have A Chat With Erling

Kerri with her dad.

Kerri with her dad.

It seems as if the theme for the week is lost conversations. It occurred to me that, after writing yesterday’s post, there is, in my life, another conversation that I wish I could have but never will. And, because I never will have the actual conversation, I am reaching into the void and having another form of dialogue.

I wear on my right wrist, wrapped three times to form a bracelet, a pull chain for a light fixture that I found on a workbench. Kerri wears on her left wrist, wrapped three times, the rest of the chain. I found the chain during our first trip to Florida. We were visiting Kerri’s mom in an assisted living facility and, in the evenings, cleaning out her parent’s home. Kerri’s dad, Erling Arnson, died a year before we met, and she’s often said to me, “I wish you could have known my dad.”

I found the chain on Erling’s workbench. He was a watchmaker and a jeweler. He worked with his hands, rebuilt cars, machined new parts for things, and was the master of a quick fix. He liked to build things. He liked to tinker. You can tell much about a person by the way they keep their space and I spent a long time standing at Erling’s workbench. It had been mostly picked apart, scavenged, but the organizing principle was still in tact. He liked to re-purpose things. He liked to make things out of things; every bolt and scrap was filled with potential. I could feel (and understand) the simple joy of creation apparent at his bench.

When I saw the chain (discarded by the scavengers) I knew it would be a way for Kerri and I to bring her dad forward with us. We secured the chains on our wrists and because it is there, I think about Erling everyday. I wonder what I might have learned from him. I like to tinker, too. I like to make things.

Me at Erling's resting place.

Me at Erling’s resting place.

On the second anniversary of his death, Kerri said, “Daddy will show up, today. I don’t know how, but he will.” A few minutes later the faucet in the kitchen broke. Evidently Erling had a wicked sense of humor. As I replaced the faucet (the first faucet replacement of my life), a lengthy affair requiring a call to the neighbor for tools, I felt a deep sense of patience. I remember my grandfather telling me that a person can figure anything out if they just take the time to do it. “You don’t need to know how, you just need to give yourself the time to figure it out.”

Kerri was on the phone with her mom when I finished the job. I was feigning machismo, peacocking my plumbing prowess. Kerri’s mom said, “I think he passed Erling’s test.” She smiled and I thought, “Thanks for the help, Erling. Now, how do I fix the plaster on the ceiling?” His response: I don’t know. But, let’s figure it out.

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