Friday, October 28, 2011


Decorating the house and front garden for Halloween, planning on having the spookiest house in the neighborhood if at all possible, again, I found myself the other day out looking for decorations to use, and my heart wasn't in it. I wasn't seeing what I wanted to see. Granted, this year things seem smaller in terms of what's being offered for sale, few new designs, little new marketing in the usual stores, that sort of thing; perhaps a reflection of the overall economic gloom and political fearmongering that has dominated public discourse all this year. When I was out driving, and engaged in shopping, it seemed to me people are ruder than usual right now, too; perhaps because they're distracted by their own worries into being less observant, less courteous. On the flip side, the wingnuts certainly seem to feel more empowered to express their sociopathic tendencies by the current political climate, empowered by heartless example, out of the mouths of wingnut politicos.

So it's strange times. As we approach the Day of the Dead, and the walls between the worlds get thinner, my dreams become more vivid, as usual, and my own restless spirit feels the need to wander. The political is also the personal.

This past year, having almost died, having come close to seeing my own guts spill out, held in only by staples over a suture after my surgery to have my ailing colon removed, i've been more close than ever to a sense of my own mortality. This Day of the Dead I can't help but think about myself as one of them, almost. I still feel very close to death—not to dying, as I am recovering on schedule, and coping with life as best as one can—to death itself as an experience and an abstract concept. I am more aware than ever of my own mortality, the limited span of life I have left, barring accidents or illness, and more aware than ever of how much i want to get done.

The experience of illness and surgery has made me impatient with people who would thoughtlessly waste my time; I was never a very patient person to begin with, but if anything has changed it's that I don't censor my mouth the way I might have before, and if someone is wasting my time I don't suffer their presence as well as I used to. Conversely, and hopefully to my credit, the long, mutually-supportive talks I have had with my best friends who are fellow artists have deepened and become more profound, more durable, and more inspirational. Now I have no reason anymore to put off making art, and I make art every day, one way or another. I hope I have enough time left to make the art that I'm supposed to make, before I'm done.

I am looking at the autumn cold nights, the chill in the air, the fallen leaves, the crisp fall air, and can't help feel annoyed that once again I completely missed the summer. Last year I missed summer because I was too ill to do anything, and this year because of the curative surgery. Not in two years have I been able to bask in the July heat, as I was too frail each time to survive it unaided. Now it's getting cold, and I feel, for the second time in a row, that I never got to experience feeling warm enough to satisfy my needs. I am having flashbacks to the time when my family returned to the US from India, when I was almost seven: it was in fall, and I spent that first year shivering. After an early life spent in tropical heat, the thin sunlight and cold winters of North America were a profound shock to my young self. I still love to linger in tropical heat, whenever I can get it.

So, in wandering around thinking about the Halloween decorations I want to put up, perhaps it's my brush with near-death this past year, perhaps it's my increased sense of mortality, perhaps it's the feeling of having died and been brought back to life—and all I want to decorate with this year is bones, bones, bones.

Bones, bones, bones. Skeletons, skulls, bones hanging from the tree. The revealed flesh of mortality that melts away. The skull as a symbol of what remains behind after we're gone. A symbol of the dead, but also of immortality. The skull and bones that endure after the soul has moved on, making symbols of what remains as a sign of what doesn't die. Do we all die, or do we all live forever? Which is it? What is there, after the body dies? No one really knows. We all have beliefs, and some of us who have almost-died bring back images and narratives of afterlife and near-death experiences—which are remarkably the same, no matter where or when they come from. So maybe there is something to it. Whatever you believe is not my concern. I know what I know. I don't care if anyone believes what I know. It doesn't concern me.

The shaman's path can be a lonely one, but then again, you're never alone, because you're always surrounded by the spirits, those hollow voices in the wind, the song of the skull, and the jaguar that drops from the tree to rip out your diseased guts in the Otherworld, and the bears who fill you with healing bread that nourishes your spirit-body and heals your scars. You die and are reborn a thousand times in this life. Some deaths are more enduring, but you always come back to life. You go on, having died. The spirits kill you many times, in the Otherworld, and you bring back something of being healed when you return, to be used to heal others, and yourself. And there is a platter of wisdom that comes with each disembowelment, a bit of self-knowledge gained, as well as the knowledge given you to be passed on to others. Death and rebirth, an endless wheel of schooling.

This Halloween, this Day of the Dead, I feel very close to the Otherworld, the thinning of the Veil between worlds is very personal for me this year, not abstract, not theoretical, but gut-real. So in decorating the tree and garden and front door with skeletons, bones, tombstones, skulls, and more bones, I feel a very personal reflection. I am mirroring my experience of recent death and rebirth. I am seeing my own "skull beneath the skin," and I am mirroring artistically and creatively what I feel in my bones was a near-miss, a near-death, and I am commemorating that near brush. It's not a superstitious keep-away kind of anti-magic, the way many Day of the Dead celebrations are. It's an acknowledgment of the truth of my own mortality.

Bones, bones, bones. I make poems, a jumble of words, a jumble of bones. I make food for the living and the dead. The dead eat the essence of the food brought to the gravestones by the living, the night of the Day of the Dead. While they wander, we feast, too. Everybody says hello, one last time. It's a chance to finish unfinished business, neglected and unfinished conversations. It's a chance to connect to eternity, and to heal the world's wounds. Not just yours, not just your family's wounds, but the hurt that chasms the dead from the living. Even this mortality was a rare chance for growing up. Bones are growth, have growth rings like trees, bones are how tall you are, look how much you've grown, your height in life, seeing around the open grasslands to the horizon, bones take you taller from the ground till you fall down again. You stand to die. You contemplate your own mortality in the images of the wedding of the dead. The dead marry the dead, and the living. But they're not separate anymore, not on these cold nights when the Veil is thin. Let the dead bury their dead. But they don't stay dead, they come to visit. Bones, bones, bones. Rattle and play. Them bones gonna rise again. Rattle, rattle, bones, bones. Music of humming bones.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found a great essay today linked by Frank Wilson:

Memoirists unite!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, thanks for the link. That's quite an interesting article. I enjoyed reading it.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Swanee said...

So are you feeling like a bone vivant?

(And I assume you know the GD's video for "Touch of Gray"...seems rather apt.)

6:54 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Bone appetit!

(I know the video, yeah. I've never been a GD fan, although I love everything Mickey Hart's done on his own, as writer and producer of percussion CDs and world music stuff.)

9:20 AM  

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