Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Gratitudes 2007

The last several months have contained a real struggle to find anything for which to be grateful. There have been many times when I couldn't find anything to be grateful for, not even one small thing. There have been many times when I have felt picked upon by all the gods, targeted for unrelenting, merciless cruelty; victimized, mired in the muck of life, wounded and unable to heal; even prevented or obstructed from healing, at times, by dramatic outside events, dragged back down into the bucket by the other crabs every time I approached the bucket's lip. There have been many times when I felt as if I was going to break under the weight of events and emotions; and times I felt like I did in fact break, at least for awhile.

It's easy to be grateful at a feast, with tables full of food and conviviality; it can be much harder to find your gratitudes when the table is cold and empty in an empty, dark room. But that's when gratitude really counts. That's when a genuine gratitude, even over something very small, makes all the difference in the world. (If you start small, even if it's very small, maybe you can eventually emerge from the narrow side-canyons into the open air. Maybe if you start small, you can expand.)

With that in mind, here's the mere pittance I can find in my pockets, today.

Thank you for the Undo function in text-editing software, which can salvage many of the operator's more stupid moments. Thank you also for the auto-save function, which has salvaged more than one unexpected crash from oblivion.

Thank you for the Better Button, the Delete key, which when used judiciously and properly, always makes things better. Less is indeed more. Throwing paint at the wall, then scraping off the unnecessary bits, to reveal the finished, Better artwork.

Thank you for the silence I can find in solitude, even when it's lonely rather than contemplative. Thank you for taking away the worst of the inane chatter of the everyday news, before it can get its hooks in and churn you over again, and replacing all that with silence.

Thank you for the generosity of people I know, and those I don't, to each other, to myself, to total strangers. A lot of people have stepped up to the comfort plate on the darkest days of the past year. I haven't always let them in (self-pity can be habit-forming), yet they've kept knocking. There is unspeakable grace in the refusal to turn away from suffering.

There have been times I've been able to be genuinely grateful for the lessons learned from hardship and adversity. There have been times when I could say Thank You for the obstacles, or Thank You for the challenges and hardships and problems, because of the lessons learned from overcoming them, or simply enduring through them. I can't find any of that today, yet I remain grateful for the small bronze statue of Ganesha I found in the cupboard this year while cleaning out my parents' house. Ganesha, god of the crossroads and of travelers, the Remover of Obstacles. Thank you for the obstacles that have been removed, even the ones I didn't know about, because there could have been so many more than there actually were.

Thank you for those mornings, after the worst days under the celestial bludgeon, when after a day when I felt targeted and attacked and almost destroyed, the next morning I awoke into ecstasy. When the world hummed with energy, and everything was right and true.

Thank you for my deepening inability to put any of this into words. (And thank you for the snickering paradox of verbosity in the wake of this inability.)

Thank you for the tears that arise from being filled to overflowing with unnameable joys. Thank you for the weeping from relief and release, this morning, after weeping from sorrow and frustration and fear. Two days in a row of weeping, yet rising up from very different wells.

Even when I am at my darkest, I cannot but look out at the world and see how much beauty it manifests, and that too sometimes breaks me down, brings me to my knees, breaks me open. Breaks me open, as though I had been locked up inside a steel cabinet of my own making. Thank you for the breakings open. Even when I can't take it any more, I can still take it. ("I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on.")

Thank you for this compulsive unending need you've given me to see that manifest beauty and attempt to capture the moment into a photograph, into music, into words—so that I can share it with others, that they can also get joy from those moments. I suppose it's hubris to want everyone to be able to see what I have seen; but paradoxically it's an irresistable desire to share those moments of beauty that seems to arise from transcendence rather than pride. Thank you for the knowledge that I can never actually succeed at trying to convey this to others, and that in the end it will kill me in the attempt, and that it's worth it regardless. Thank you for teaching me that art-making is about giving it all away again. Thank you for teaching me that art-making is last and least about "self-expression." It's Make Art Or Die. It's as necessary as breathing.

Thank you also for those times I've left the camera in the car, and just let the world fill me up, without needing to do anything about it. Like those times along the Oregon coastline, near sunset, in that stand of wind-mangled trees overlooking the pure white strand below. Or those times hiking the bluffs above Devil's Lake in Wisconsin, when I stopped to stand arms outstretched on the highest rocks in the burning light, and let the wind fill me, airing out the entire house of myself, blowing out the dust and dirt in even the tiniest corners.

Thank you for bringing me to my knees to teach me that joy is a substratum that underlies everything else, and never goes away, even if I can't find it today. Even if it is completely shadowed, in the moment, by the darkest times in life. And thank you for the reminder that dark shadows can only exist because there is a bright light source shining nearby. Somewhere.

Thank you for those times of relentless and terrible beauty, in the midst of everything miserable and piteous. Like this morning, with its light snowfall freshening the surface of the heavy snowfall from earlier this week; for the fourth morning in a row, the world is completely black-and-white, except for the cardinals dashing between trees; the sky is luminously overcast, a solid sheet of featureless white; for the fourth morning in a row, the snow on the ground and the cloudy sky are exactly the same shade of white, making everything in between stand out like an etching on an opaque sheet of paper. Thank you for the photos I have been able to take during the height of this series of snowstorms, which are among the best winter photographs I have ever taken; so many of them look like drawings, the world itself teaching me more about graphic design and composition.

Thank you for these reminders of why I do this, what purpose it all has, and that it's okay to strip away the chaff from my life, even if it hurts in the midst of the process of stripping-away. The healing knife of the surgeon, that cuts you open to heal.

Thank you for breaking me, all those times, so that next time I meet someone also broken, I can better identify with their suffering, and just sit and listen to them, rather than do what we all usually do, which is to try to "fix" things that cannot be fixed, and often don't need to be. It has been an education in empathy.

Thank you for getting me from there to here, even when here seems smaller and more constricted than there.

Thank you for the chant that came to me, driving on, after the trailer went over the cliff in New Mexico: I forgive and bless every inch of this road. I forgive and bless every inch of this road. I forgive and bless every inch of this road. . . .

Thank you for the road itself, and I guess thank you after all for the bumps in the road, and the washouts, and the potholes, but most especially thank you for the horizon beyond the road, the open sky ahead, those hills just coming into view: something to keep my eyes on, something to anitcipate, something to look forward to seeing, that I have never seen before, instead of looking at these potholes in the here and now. ("The road goes ever on and on. . . .")

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Blogger Shameless said...

This is a wonderful post, Art, and I admire your ability to clearly put down in words what many of us face and can't explain. I'm glad you have found all of these things to be thankful for ... what else is there afterall? :-) I look forward to reading more of your blog this year. Your writing and analysis is truly inspirational.
:-) Happy 2008! :-)

10:00 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...


Many thanks in return! The struggle continues, but so do the gratitudes, as best we're able.

1:04 PM  

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