Saturday, May 30, 2015

Set it on Fire

Something has been bugging me for a couple of weeks. Usually two weeks is my limit before I know I have to write it out or implode.

I was watching the American Pickers TV show. I like it because there's a profound lack of wankiness found on so many other "reality" TV shows, plus, I like the cool stuff that they find. Anyway, Mike and Frank were picking some guy's place when Mike asked the guy, "So, what do you do?" The guy shrugged and replied, "Well. I don't really do anything, so I guess I'm just an artist."

That's when I started swearing at my TV screen. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it included "...shittastic attitude and profound lack of fucking passion... artist my ass!"

I took huge exception to his statement. According to Mister Junk-Hoarding Turd, my father housed, clothed and fed a family of seven by not "really doing anything". Mister J-H Turd couldn't be more wrong. My father may have had his issues, but he also worked his ass off. Work ethic was something I learned from both of my parents - from my "not really doing anything" father and from my "just a housewife" mother.

Yeah. Because saying an artist isn't really doing anything is right up there with calling a 24/7 hard-working woman "just a housewife". (Oh, step off. I'm well aware that the job a wife and mother does is far more essential than art work. That's not the point.) When I was a nanny, I was often given the raised eyebrow and the, "Oh, you're just a nanny... do you ever think about getting a real job?" treatment. Had there not been children present, I might've become a bit stabby.

And now, here I am, an artist. A paid artist even. I typically work seven days a week. It's rare that an entire day goes by without me doing something in my studio. When I'm really into a project it takes over the day and then some. I'm still thinking about it when I fall asleep. I dream about it. I jump out of bed in the morning, look at what I've done, and think about it some more as I scrub the sleep out of my eyes. When I'm out in public, I look at everything around me for clues into some new project, for inspiration and color and, oh, how can I capture that tiny moment of wonder. When I watch movies I ignore the characters and look at stuff in the background - what's hanging on their walls, catching the light on their dresser, and look how the sun dapples the leaves in that scene.

I'm an artist and I'm never not working. And I love it. I'm passionate about it even when you see me sitting quietly and reading a book. When someone asks me what I do, I proudly state, "I am an artist." Because people seem to find artists fascinating (even those of us who are slightly less than eccentric), they always ask, "Oh, what kind of art do you do?" That's when they get the full force of my passion. I'm passionate about what I do because I love to do it - every day of the week, of the month, of the year of the decade, world without end, Amen.

The thing is, Mister Junk-Hoarding Turd wasn't without talent. He had some cool stuff sitting around that he'd done. But he sure was without the necessary passion to carry it.

Right around the same time, I had posted a quote by Pablo Picasso. A friend made a self-deprecating comment that basically said she wasn't intelligent enough to appreciate Picasso's work. I got riled.

I don't appreciate Picasso's work either, but it's not because I lack the intelligence to appreciate it. I get what he was shooting for. I just... don't like it. The same way that I'm sure that while liver and onions are delicious to the right person, they just aren't for me. There are lots of artists whose work I love, but I couldn't really tell you why. There are works by certain artists that I love and yet other works of theirs leave me wanting.

None of it is about intelligence. None of it is about an artist's abundance or lack of talent. It's preference. Some folks like wine, some like beer. Some won't drink anything but white wine; others give you the evil eye for even suggesting anything but red. It's personal. So is art. Art is about making people feel something, so even if you feel revulsion, the artist has, on some level at least, succeeded.

But. Passion. It has to be there. Without passion it's just talent. Talent is nice and it helps pass the time (as, no doubt, Mister Junk-Hoarding Turd will attest), but it won't set your mind on fire. Me, I prefer a nice warm blaze.

Monday, May 4, 2015

To Be Alive

Eight years ago this week my life was very different from what it is now. I was sad, so very sad - a sorrow so impossible, so inconceivable, so bottomless that there is no word for it. I was saying a long, slow good bye to the love of my life as he lay, surrounded by family and his best friend, decimated on the battlefield of cancer.

In the aftermath I felt broken. No, not broken. Shattered. Shards everywhere. Little pieces of me scattered about, glinting like tears. Daylight was too bright, nighttime too dark. Everything felt out of step. An eighth of a measure behind.

Then the moment came. I remember sitting up and saying aloud to an empty room, "I did not die with him. I'm still alive, damn it!" Those words changed something. They became a paradigm.

It wasn't so much that I woke up. I was lucid enough before that. I became aware. I paid attention to what alive felt like. I noted the moments that made me feel most alive. I don't know how else to say this but that I began to be alive in my life.

I took measures to change the way I lived my life, which had always been answering to everyone but myself. I stopped worrying that the world would end if I didn't live up to some other person's expectations. I only worried that I wouldn't live up to my own. Because alive felt fantastic, and I wanted to live alive.

That makes it sound easy. It wasn't. It isn't. But it's as vital as drinking water and breathing air.

There are other people (I recognize kindred spirits) who've come to this place without losing the love of their life. Maybe they lost some other loved one, maybe divorced, maybe had a scare, maybe hit rock-bottom on a boozy trail, maybe just woke up from an epiphany of a dream and thought, "Enough of this shit. I want alive." It doesn't always take something completely catastrophic.

What it does take is willingness. Willingness to feel everything. Because to be alive is to feel, to have awareness of each moment. It takes allowing the bad moments, even when there's nothing more to learn than, "Ouch. That hurt."

I'm not one of those that believe that there is a lesson in everything, or a reason for everything. It's just what is. It's the reality of the moment, good or bad. My days of ecclesiastical excuses for what happens in life are long gone. If I thought that way, then I'd be obliged to think that John had to die so I could meet Steve - that's not reason, that's insanity and stupid and cruel and entirely unfair to all three of us.

I digress.

Alive. To live alive. To be aware and love every moment of that awareness. It is what this life is for. Some might argue that it's selfish, but it isn't at all. If we are truly alive and aware, we are exactly who we need to be and where we need to be and what we need to be.

I wouldn't change a moment. I wouldn't smother that shattered feeling any more than I would smother the moment of pure joy I felt the first time I realized that I'd finally unleashed my artistic side. It's not the sum of the parts, baby... it's being whole. Alive is absolutely whole.