The I Of The Storm

“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

I.

“Everything distracted me, but most of all myself.”
Patti Smith

I spent the last few years rambling from one end of the country to the other. One trip I spent six weeks on the train and logged 16,000 miles crisscrossing the country.

I wrote a great deal about that trip, about the places I visited and the people that I met. I gave a great many opinions and observations. I had the time of my life.

I have not been able to spend a lot of time going back and reading those posts from the frontier. It’s not that I’m not proud of what I wrote- I am; nor that I’ve become disinterested in writing or photography- I haven’t.

The truth is that I haven’t had a lot of time to reconsider, nor to add, to this work. Quite simply, the world has not allowed me that luxury.

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Artwork from Visionary and Voices, Cincinnati, Ohio.

The truth being that my family’s world imploded shortly after my return. For instance, in the year and a half since I took that trip, our identical twins- who are 22- were diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I won’t go into details here. I’ll write about their illness when I have a little more distance, perspective. Suffice it to say that this fact changes life for everyone involved. In fact, there’s not a lot that doesn’t change in some meaningful way when two of your family members are diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It’s a huge deal and it’s life as life is.

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Olympic Nat’l Park, Wa.

You make plans and life intercedes and decides otherwise-it’s not a unique tale- for myself-or for the entire human race. The last several years have, however, gone as life usually goes: it could have been better, much better, but it could have been worse.

The truth is that life is a fickle slut and it’s amazing that anyone ever gets anything worthwhile accomplished in this life.

I have a very good friend, a mentor who has been about the world and witnessed its fluctuations and madness. He once told me that, “Everybody has a story.” And it’s true. Sooner or later everyone gets their time in the barrell, sooner or later everyone gets fucked hard.

And when it’s your turn, crying makes sense and is understandable; whining, however, changes nothing.  The wise men and women, the tough ones, pick up the pieces and move on. They make the best of the situation.

Thus, this is part of my story. I’ve been at home, not traveling, and my kids are ill. Some days are really difficult and these things happen. Somedays I cope, some days I want to punch walls.

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Matt and Jake, the early years.

My mentor’s words about everyone having a story were not news to me, though they did serve as a timely reminder.  My past life had taught me, over a period of twenty years or so,  that we can never know what’s coming; and, that as much as we like to think differently, we don’t have much control over the events of our life.

For a very long time I worked with people who suffered cruel fates out of the blue. Serious illness and injury, death. The Gods, I learned early on, are a capricious lot of motherfuckers and are, as a very general rule, neither selective nor sympathetic. Everyone, myself included, is fair game for anything at at any time. It’s a truth we do our best to forget, but a truth none the less. You buy your ticket and you take your chances.

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Which brings us back to doing our best.

I think if I have learned anything in the last ten years, it’s that. Things happen and you do your best. If I were to pass down my own personal book of wisdom to my three sons, that would probably be about half of it.

You can’t negate your truth, though of course you can try, at best you can, to anesthetize the pain and fear generated by the painful truths of your life.

Of course, in the morning you still have the pain and fear and a hangover to boot.

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Petroglyph, Canyon De chelly

I am pretty much of an expert on that subject-escape and anesthetization- or was.  At some point you have to grow  up, say enough is enough, or die.

Most people figure this out pretty quickly, though all of us still do our best to try and dodge life to some degree. We scheme; or turn into control freaks; planning every minute of our life, deluding ourselves in the belief that our detailed plans and stratagems will keep us safe and/or sane. We’re delusional, we engage in moral cowardice, we think about voting for Donald Trump, we hate Muslims. But there is no safety, no control….

It’s true that there is nothing more difficult, or even terrifying than accepting life on it’s own terms with open eyes and a open mind. Honestly accepting that on any given day we could be just a day, a month or a year away from trauma, terror or death.

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Pike St Market, Seattle.

Accepting such a truth appears, on it’s face, a sadistic act of self abuse. And yet that’s life.  Hey kids, guess what day it is! It’s anything can happen day, just like yesterday and every fucking day before!

But it’s the only game in town, as the saying goes. So we can pretty much cowboy up and play, be miserable or die: your choice.

II.

“I had no proof that I had the stuff to be an artist, though I hungered to be one.”
Patti Smith

And what about art?

All that I’ve said applies, I think,  even more so, and  is especially true for artists.  Art seems to become, in many ways, more and more impossible with each day.

Particularly in this day when art is so little valued;  when making a living-either from one’s passion, or from any day job taken to pay the bills, is a constant act of frustration.

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I know many many artists and none of them are independently wealthy, none have made fuck you money from the arts, none are trustafarians. In fact, most struggle, every single day- even those who have met with critical acclaim, even those who are heard regularly on the radio and appear in the local, regional and national press.

They all struggle to pay the bills, and they struggle to find time to engage in their arts because it takes so much time  and energy to pay for their intentionally minimal lifestyles.

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La Dona Luz Inn, Taos NM.  Art by Nina Meyers.

 

Of course, they choose to live this way. Most of the artists I know are pretty intelligent, capable people. If they really wanted to, they could put on long sleeve shirts, cover their tats, cut their hair and go to work somewhere that pays something resembling a living wage.

And some have. Some work so called respectable jobs and earn a good salary and practice their crafts-when they can. Some even have real jobs, careers they love and in which they do well in, careers which matter not only to them, but to other people who count on them.

And yet what all these people have in common is they find it’s difficult to find the time and space and clarity to make the art which matters.

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Real art means something which resonates in one’s heart or soul.

Of course, as with the rest of life, whining does no good.  If you’re compelled to create- and all true artists are compelled to create (said compulsion living in the belly like a rabid weasel which will not be ignored or denied).

In the artist’s life the choices are pretty much the same as in everyone else’s life: suck it up, whine or die. And no one loves a fucking whiner- in any life.

As for dying- I don’t mean die in a physical sense, but die and become someone you’re not; someone you’ll hate for the rest of your life. Which at the end of the day is worse than dying.

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Shrine detail, Chimayo NM.

So that leaves sucking it up- and how does one do that-how does one live with the vicissitudes and vagaries of life and still find time to create?

It doesn’t really matter what path you take, you can choose legit day job or starving for your art-they’re both hard.

The regular job, regular paycheck route isn’t necessarily any more, or less, noble or rewarding.  I’ve gone both the regular paycheck and starve for your art routes over the years. I’ve made six figures during the day and tried to write, to photograph, to throw pots at night and on the weekends, I took art based vacations when I could.

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I’ve also endured poverty for art’s sake.

Neither choice is right or wrong, they are simply different choices with respective pitfalls and pluses.

If you take the real job you can have an easier time paying the bills, eat well and you have the ability to buy some things you don’t need- which is entirely beside the point, because damn few of the artists I know are motivated by any collection of material goods.

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Bunbury Music Festival

With a regular gig, you can also travel in your limited free time, but the reality is that you rarely ever meet anyone worth knowing when you stay in the Marriott.

When you’re poor and suffering for your art, there’s lots of time to travel, but traveling cheap can be, however, it’s own weird hell.

On the train, for example,  if you can’t afford a sleeper car, you may end up sleeping in your seat- skin to skin- next to some strange stranger or; if things get loud, or way too crowded, you may be forced to sleep on the floor of the lounge car.

You will meet some really interesting people and write about them or photograph them.  Though the odds of anyone buying these shots are fairly astronomically infinitesimal. So you learn to like lentils and rice. Calling it Dal helps.

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New Orleans

And if you take a real job, you all but guarantee yourself of being subjected to 40 hours a week of inanity and that, at days end, you’ll come home beat.  After a while you’ll want to kill any number of people or yourself. It’s a big world and a significant percentage of those people are strange in a really annoying sort of way- or even worse-hopelessly dull.

It’s also my experience that the 9-5 lifestyle translates to less art. Not because those who choose to create and work in mainstream America are any less talented or dedicated, but because there are only so many hours in the day and one only has so much energy.

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15th century Tibetan sculpture.

After the commute to and fro, and the 8 or ten hours in the cubicle and the need to do all those errands at the same time as all the other lemmings, one has precious little time or energy or inclination to write a song, dance or plug in a guitar.

All of these considerations, furthermore, are independent of the fact that artists are- given their precarious socioeconomic positions and penchant for living outside the mainstream, more prone to suffer the arrows of outrageous fortune.

And yet, there are so many who, in the face of financial distress- if not outright ruin; who in the face of common sense; and personal hardship; deliberately choose to plow ahead: to create, to live their vocation, in spite of ever growing obstacles and ever dwindling chances of seeing any form of real remuneration or success.

And lately I wonder:  Why?

III.

“In my low periods, I wondered what was the point of creating art. For whom? Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos – the Modern, the Met, the Louvre?”
Patti Smith

This question of Why Art? comes to me, these days, especially when I watch an older artists perform.  Aging as an artist is not an easy thing. For many, for instance, there’s the road- which is both a great place, a source of inspiration and adventure, and a motherfucker.

The road can give you stories, or take your life.  The more time on the road, the shorter your odds grow….

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Pike 27

I saw John Dee Graham last year. JDG is a great singer songwriter out of Austin- one of those musician’s musicians. He’s played over the last four decades with many greats, with many great bands. He’s a man who has spent years on the road. Those years whoever, have never translated into a pile of cash.

He’s probably best known for having worked with Alejandro Escovedo- another legendary road warrior and great singer songwriter- who has enjoyed a fair amount of success (though only after almost killing himself in the process-Escovedo’s hep C caused his collapse onstage in Arizona in 2003).

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Anyway, the last time I saw Graham, and despite his pedigree, he was playing for free. They weren’t even charging the five dollars normally charged, at the door, for a half ass local band of high school kids. Which meant that JDG wasn’t been paid much of anything.  He was also playing in the lounge, the smallest of three rooms in the venue.

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Alejandro Escovedo.

I shot the show that night and before the show looked for Graham to take his portrait. I could not find him, through there were every few places he could have been given that there were only six of us in the room and it was almost showtime.

Someone finally  pointed him out to me. I had in fact saw him, but discounted the person I saw as I judged that guy to look ten to twelve years past Graham’s actual age.

 

It turned out that JDG had been involved in a serious auto accident in August 2008 for which he underwent emergency surgery. That accident had evidently aged him quite a bit. His stuttering gait also suggested that he’d been hurt pretty badly and that the remnants of the accident were still very much with him.

In any event- he walked outside with me and posed for a portrait, was friendly and graciously answered questions.

That evening he told the audience that he and his partner on the tour, Mike June, were on the road because they wanted to meet the people; and that, despite the fact that America is often an ugly place, that they still had faith in this country and it’s people. They were basically they said, on a kind of personal crusade, a keep the faith tour.

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John Dee Graham

Graham seemed intent on preaching this populist gospel and appeared truly happy to be there, despite the fact that he was 1,127 miles away from his son, his wife and his home; and despite the fact that he was playing for and preaching to a half dozen people.

What Graham did seem to mind was that the heavy metal band in the large room next door decided to start their sound check early, drowning out any hope of the rest of his set being heard.

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Mike June

Graham looked nonplussed for a moment and said, “Well we can either be pissed about this and wrap it up early, or we can find a way to work around it.”

Which is when Graham and June took their guitars and fans out into the parking lot where they serenaded their fans in a light rain. It was an inspired and inspiring move. Graham and June sang loud and hard, their voices rose on the night air, melded came apart and soared.  I don’t believe, could or would have played any better or louder or enthusiastically before a crowd of ten thousand.

It was a beautiful moment.

I think about those moments about once a month. Was that a foolish, vain, or heroic act? Why go to the trouble and heartache for so little reward- at least reward as it is defined in conventional terms in 2014 America; meaning, pretty much, cash.

I have, over the years, born witness to many such other acts of artistic heroism and/or foolishness. I once spent five or six hours driving 200 miles to Louisville, with a friend, so he could make $40.00 playing to a dozen people in a pizza parlour.

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Taos NM

On another night I drove with another friend who played, for only slightly better money, in Wapakoneta Ohio.  The crowd was larger  than the pizza joint gig and I want to recall that the bar fed us both a pretty good dinner. The blizzard we drove home through, however, could have easily led to emergency surgery for both of us.

And yet, turning David’s old large, beat to shit, red Ford pick up truck into the world’s largest sled was, in and of itself, a memorable adventure.

Which is, of course part of the answer. A life worth living involves adventure.

Adventure is one reason that I myself am hardly immune to such folly. There is no responsibility I will not ignore to photograph the mountains outside of Taos New Mexico in late October- not that I’ve ever made a dime from those photos, nor that I care that it’s a 3600 mile round trip drive.

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Poet and musician, Nick Barrows.

So why do artists- especially those of us who are rushing headlong into the autumns of our lives- those of us who are way beyond the industry standards of youth and precociousness; continue to work  at their projects, their art,  which will- in all likelihood- never serve us in any real or pragmatic manner?

Does this make sense on any level?

Shouldn’t I, they, grow up and try to get a real job while the getting isn’t non-existent?

A friend,  a hugely talented singer songwriter once acknowledged, “It’s not a lot of fun to be fifty and broke, it’s scary.”

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Choir, St Xavier Church, Cincinnati.

So what’s the payoff, is there a payoff or do we just hope like hell that someday the ends will justify the sacrifice?

Do we simply hope, foolishly, romantically, that one day- as the mystic merges with his God, with Nirvana- that we will create something so sublime that despite the hardships we have endured that the scales will balance, that we will know some peace, that we will be overcome with some kind of glory, some sort of holiness which will justify the sacrifices we have made?

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Does there come a point in the life of every artist where to continue to answer the muse’s call demands- as with the the mystic-complete trust, complete blind faith in one’s God, one’s path?

Pretty much, yes.

Keats called such an ability to live in the face of any certainty, the ability to stand in the eye of the hurricane, negative capability. Of this requisite blind faith, of this artistic courage, he wrote exactly one paragraph:

I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously: I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

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In considering this thought, the writer Jim Harrison once said:

                HARRISON: I think Keats is still right in that the most valuable thing for a writer to have is a negative capability.

                INTERVIEWER: In what sense?

HARRISON: Just to be able to hold at bay hundreds of conflicting emotions and ideas. That’s what makes good literature, whereas opinions don’t, and the urge to be right is hopeless. Think of the kind of material Rilke dealt with all his life. It’s stupefying. Did you read Stephen Mitchell’s new translation of The Sonnets to Orpheus? You see that the depth of his art is so dissociated from what we think of as literary existence. Your best weapon is your vertigo.

Perhaps no better definition of the artist can be had: He or she who creates while standing in the void while holding at bay hundreds of conflicting emotions and ideas…

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James McMurtry- Southgate House, Newport Ky.

It’s not an easy trick, we all want, to varying degrees, certainty, answers, pat endings to our Hollywood movies. To live in the void is to live with doubt and fear, to sometimes live with intense pain and longing.

And yet with the years, if we pay attention-if we have the courage to hold our ground- comes wisdom.  Though wisdom is, all too often, just another word for pain; just another name for learning a lesson the hard way.

Wisdom can also be tremendously humbling.  Humbling because all too often the passing of the years seem to serve only  as conclusive proof that our unshakable and certain convictions of the past are- in the mirror of twenty or thirty years hindsight- if not altogether wrong, then of dubious value.

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Mt Wheeler, N.M.

So if you’re keeping score, my summation is that life is hard, art is harder and your odds of being rich or even comfortable, as a proximate result of your artistic efforts, are de minimis.  Moreover, you’re likely to find yourself a long way down a distant dirt road road with no clear idea of why you’re there or what you’ve gained in the process.

But don’t reach for that rope, don’t turn on the gas oven just yet….

 

Because, maybe the only thing in the world worth striving for, worth chasing- without first conducting a cost benefit analysis- is taking the chance of creating something worthy of the years of pain.

Because while the life of the artist is hard,  there are worse lives, there is worse pain.

I’m pretty damn certain, given my fifty-three years of experience and observation, for instance, that the pain of getting to the end of the safe life, the certain life,  the cubicle life, only to find that one has squandered amazing opportunities over the decades,  and gained in the process little more than a matching living room suite  in a suburban house, is a far worse pain than the pain of those who create in relative anonymity and poverty.

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How many happy interesting people with houses full of nice things do you know? Have you ever been to a yearly insurance convention because I have. I’d rather be dead than go back.

Why are all those aging Fox viewers so angry ?  Could it be that they consciously or subconsciously feel as if they’ve wasted their life?

IV

“Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed. It leads to each other. We become ourselves.”
Patti Smith

So if we’re not living for a house full of crap we never really needed in the first place, what are we living for, what is the point?

For myself, it’s the pain and joy of living on my own terms.  On good days, the joy of being me.  I understand that this sounds like a hopelessly romantic, naive and arrogant notion and that no one speaks of these things anymore, but what if we all actually took ten minutes, hell, a week, and thought about why we’re here?

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Taos N.M.

What if we all serious meditated upon the following issue: In a nutshell, what’s the fucking point?

At some point don’t we owe ourselves that courtesy? Isn’t to live otherwise the existential equivalent of driving aimlessly around in circles for seven decades in a dirty battered 74 AMC Pacer with only AM radio?

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Every journey need not have a clear destination at the outset, but it should have, at least a direction.

Maybe the ultimate victory of life is to have the courage to make a meaningful choice and to stick with it. To willingly suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune while maintaining the capacity of smiling despite it all.

Maybe that is the only truth, the only worthwhile purpose of art, of any worthwhile vocation, to teach us, everyone, that it is possible to chose, to live a life worth living, on our own terms; and to smile, in spite of the frequent bouts of pain.

About five years ago, I arose one morning, just outside of Dine Arizona,  far from anywhere- hundreds of miles into the desert. I arose before dawn and, in the pre-morning dark,  and drove to an empty parking lot where I found a faint trail. I crept cautiously across the top of a mesa to the edge of the red rock cliffs which lined Canyon De chelly. Hundreds of feet below me, invisible in the dark, was a small river valley.

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Anaya Belly Dance

I set up my tripod. It was painfully cold and nothing moved.  There was no one around.  It was late in the year and the sparse crowds that normally came to this place had departed.

I sat freezing in the cold as the sun slowly lit the distant horizon above the opposite canyon wall. The sky lightened, and slowly metamorphosed into a palette of warm pastel colors. A single crow took flight above the canyon,  wheeled in the cold morning air, a beam of sunlight broke above the distant wall.

I shot the sunrise for a holy hour.  I did not see nor hear another human the entire time.  On that day, I alone had the pleasure of that sunrise in that unspeakably beautiful place.

After shooting the sunrise I walked back to my car to find the driver’s door open and the engine running. Apparently in my glee and haste to shoot I had not even noticed that I left the door open, the lights on, and the car running.

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Canyon De chelly

I spent the rest of the morning, in the warming sun, riding through the canyon in a jeep with the requisite Dine (Navajo) guide. An older and very kind man, with a deep lined face that spoke of a lifetime outdoors in the sun and wind. His name was Ben Teller.

Canyon De chelly is on Dine land and one may not enter without a Dine guide. Ben, an older man, maybe seventy, was born inside the Canyon De chelly, and grew up inside at Tsegi overlook area. He took me to his small cabin at the base of a deep cul de sac. He introduced me to his daughter.

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Canyon De chelly Az.

We shared the joy that day of only speaking when necessary. We rode through pre-columbian and geological history and ageless beauty, we saw the empty cliff dwellings where others had lived for thousands of years before.

We followed in the footsteps of history, the footsteps of countless native Americans, the footsteps of Kit Carson.

Green gardens grew along the river, contrasting with the bright red rocks. Very old cottonwoods reached toward the cobalt sky.

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Yosemite N.P.

I photographed all day trying to do justice to the place, trying to understand the importance of the place to those who have lived there for thousands of years. It was like visiting another planet.

As I shot some of the ancient ruins. Ben told me that the Dine believe that gods now live in those ruins and that the Dine will not enter them.

Imagine living with your Gods.

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Dave Alvin

In the years which have followed that day in Canyon De chelly, on the few occasions in which I have made an effort to try and conduct a personal cost benefit analysis, on those days when I have tried to tally whether I am living a worthwhile and productive life, I am always confused by that day.

How do I quantify such a day- how does one factor such a day into a cost benefit analysis? What would I pay this minute to repeat that day?

V.

“Why can’t I write something that would awake the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply.”
Patti Smith

On the bright side, at least my confusions stands me in good company as it appears that there is little in this life of which we can be completely certain. Keats again:  “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination.”

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Late night jam session, 2015 Whispering Beard Festival, Friendship In.

Or perhaps it is just a matter of personal perspective. “There are always flowers for those who want to see them,” said Henri Matisse.

When I was younger, if not young, I recall being astounded by Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I was then a cynical young writer- among other things-who believed in the duty of any and all writers, of any artist, to portray the world in all its darkness so as to alert the world as to the imminent danger that every human on this planet faces with each passing moment.

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Emmy Lou Harris, Bunbury Music Festival

I read at the novel’s close, Proulx’s words:

For if Jack Buggit could escape from the pickle jar, if a bird with a broken neck could fly away, what else might be possible?  Water may be older than light, diamonds crack in hot goat’s blood, mountaintops give off cold fire, forests appear in mid-ocean, it may happen that a crab is caught with the shadow of a hand on its back, that the wind be imprisoned in a bit of knotted string. And it may be that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.

I was angry when I first read those words.  She had written a damn fine novel and then, as a capstone, crowned it with the worst Hollywood happy ending imaginable.

And yet, slowly, over minutes, I realized the closing of the novel was nothing less than an outstanding act of courage.  What could take more courage, I realized, in this unctuous, sleazy world than to dare to proffer happiness and hope? I was moved, though only briefly.

Proulx’s ending did not cure me of my cynicism; decades of turmoil followed.  I suffered the roils and rapids of life.

Yet I never did forget her novel’s ending, it stayed with me all these years, a rare bright gleaming stone in a life which, all too often, offers only tons of gray gravel.

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Canyon De chelly, Az.

Along the way I found other stones and have picked them up and carried them with me. They are arrayed in my mind.

The writing of Wendell Berry, the Coen Brother’s Miller’s Crossing,  Thelonious Monk’s Ruby My Dear, John Coltrane’s After The Rain, the photography of Henri Cartier Bresson and Gordon Parks, Rilke’s Duino Elegies:  “For beauty is nothing but/ the beginning of terror, /that we are still able to bear,/ and we revere it so,/ because it calmly disdains to destroy us./Every Angel is terror.”

And maybe art is both a terror and salvation. The artists who have flitted back and forth between both poles are, of course, legion.

Maybe that shuttle between pain and insight is simply the cost of admission.  Perhaps there is, between these mountain ranges of hope and misery, a broad green valley bisected by a slow broad river and perhaps this seldom traveled valley is called wisdom or peace or contentment.

I don’t know, I haven’t found it, but I have come to suspect that one can only reach this place by fully committing to its belief. I have come to believe that those who hedge are lost.

I have come to believe that if there are Gods, this is my God, our God; and that the cover charge to Heaven is blind faith in our vocations, our callings, our gifts. Go large or go home.

In our religion, our curse is our salvation.

The great, and recently departed writer Charles Bowden once wrote:

I don’t trust the answers or the people who give me the answers. I believe in dirt and bone and flowers and fresh pasta and salsa cruda and red wine. I do not believe in white wine; I insist on color. I think death is a word and life is a fact, just as food is a fact and cactus is a fact.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things,”  said Henry Miller.

So perhaps what’s needed is simply more, not less, of the ineffable. Perhaps it is necessary to build the foundation of our lives on that which is unseen and incapable of certification- an unshakable belief in ourselves. The road to heaven is paved with faith in ourselves. Belief in our calling will serve- in the face of all contrary reality-to pull us through to the other side.

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Confetti shower, Bunbury 2014

How do we achieve this feat? How do we conjure up the faith to stick; to stand in the eye of the hurricane when the entire world is literally, these days, spinning about us?

Damned if I know. The only truth we’ll ever have is that we’ll never have certainty.

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Perhaps we will get to our end days to find that we have both joyous memories and regrets. And perhaps, if we are lucky,perhaps there will be a little more; perhaps if we have lived properly, we’ll enjoy gratitude for having lived a properly chaotic life.  Maybe, if we’re truly fortunate, we’ll be grateful for it all.  Perhaps we will even be grateful for the opportunity to have had regrets.

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Photographer Jacob Drabik

Writer, poet and neurologist, Oliver Sacks:

“At nearly 80, with a scattering of medical and surgical problems, none disabling, I feel glad to be alive — “I’m glad I’m not dead!” sometimes bursts out of me when the weather is perfect… I am grateful that I have experienced many things — some wonderful, some horrible — and that I have been able to write a dozen books, to receive innumerable letters from friends, colleagues and readers, and to enjoy what Nathaniel Hawthorne called “an intercourse with the world.”

So then, the question arises, how does one live a meaningful and a successful life in these times of hate and trivia?

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New Orleans

Maybe it’s only a matter of  being courageous enough to keep an open mind and open heart while the rest of the world goes insane.

In Bird by Bird, Ann Lamott writes, “There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness. . .”

Is holiness too much to ask for? Is the answer to simply be here and to believe while we are here?  Thich Nhat Hahn:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are.

Maybe in the end, nothing is required but for us to inter-be with all our heart and soul

Close your mouth,                                                                                                               block off your senses,                                                                                                       blunt your sharpness,                                                                                                       untie your knots                                                                                                                 soften your glare                                                                                                                 settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.”                                                                                                    ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Anaïs Nin, echoing Keats, memorably wrote,  “Great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities and it always balances them.”  

In all likelihood we will won’t know anything for certain, until it is too late. Perhaps all we can do is to live by the words of those few wise men and women who came before us.

I guess.

I am pretty damn certain, however, that whatever path we take, that whatever cards we are dealt, that we are meant to play our hand with passion and gratitude- no matter what our story.

And that to create is all that is, if not real, then at least worthwhile.

The great writer, James Salter: “There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.”

2015 CFWC-9-16 C Nova (150 of 434)

 

Or maybe we have a simpler less grand, less eternal reason for creating. “We have art so that we don’t die of the truth,” wrote Ray Bradbury.

Or perhaps we create to transcend our humanity- to cavort with the Gods. Perhaps creating makes us feel godlike, or at least allows us to see through the eyes of a God.

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Cumberland Island Ga.

I don’t know, I can’t know. You’ll have to discover your own reasons for living this life. I just want you to think about it and let me know what you come up with.

The last words go to John Steinbeck:

Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then — the glory — so that a cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of the earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.  John Steinbeck-East Of Eden

One thought on “The I Of The Storm

  1. Lovely. It’s taken me some time to get through this gift as I wanted to be present with it as I experienced it. Trust me, I’ll turn back to it some more. Thank you.

    Like

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