Thursday, October 13, 2011

Really Not Interested

I was just away for five days. Five days away from home, right now, is still a lot. It still takes careful planning and adjustment and preparation, because five days away means dealing with changing the ostomy bag at least once. I thought I had everything accounted for, but in my travel pack of supplies I somehow overlooked a critically essential ostomy supply, and had to run out to the truck where I had my back supplies; or I would have been in serious trouble. It all worked out okay, but it was a bad start to the day. That supply-chain oversight will be corrected in future equipment and travel plans, making this into a shakedown cruise for how the system will work for future roadtrips.

But that's only a symptom. The disease is overwhelm: Too many things to remember, to do, to have to deal with, to make the right preparations for.

My personal dietary needs during the process of post-surgery recovery have changed yet again. I was getting frustrated for awhile because it felt like every time I got a system organized and ready to roll, some new wrinkle would make me have to start all over again.

While I was on the road, I thought about sitting down to write my thoughts out, to work through some feelings that had come up, some conversations during the trip that were beneficial and helpful to me. But I absolutely was not interested.

I'm still not interested. I'm only writing this down now as a way of observing my own creative process, and it's the middle of the night near a full moon and I'm having insomnia, and know from experience that it's better for me, when I'm having insomnia, to get up and do something, rather than lie in bed and let my thoughts churn. That only makes the insomnia worse. I haven't had much insomnia in the past few months. Yet during this full moon, this is the second event of restless sleeplessness.

So: I was on the road, lots was happening, there as a great deal wot think about and do, and I was absolutely not interested in writing about it.

First, there were a lot of new changes to write down, a bit of fresh healing brought to me, some of which I haven't integrated yet. I could write about that, but such writing would be flailing at the still-unknown, incoherent and tentative, and I don't want to commit anything to words. That's the sort of writing you do as venting into a private journal that no-one is ever going to see: just to get it out of your system. I've done enough of that lately to choke a vampiric equine. I'm sick of it. I've been dealing with PTSD, yes, and I've needed to vent a great deal, but at the moment that is not a productive means of venting. Might as well just break all your pencils into little pieces: it would feel about the same.

Second, I am not now and never have been keeping a daily diary or logbook. I don't do a daily diary. I never have. Not even when I began journaling. I've never kept any kind of daily diary and never want to. (The appeal of posting one's continuous activities several times a day on some social networking website strikes me as a cross between abject narcissism and a reflection of the empty hollowness of most peoples' lives: that they would need to go out of their way to make their lives appear to be interesting is a sad commentary on how dull they really are. Facebook is the dreariest imaginable form of autobiography.)

Correction: I am keeping a daily logbook of things I need to write down in order to track my medical and weight-loss progress; but that's incredibly dull stuff no one ever needs to see, not even the doctors who require me to do it. The entire purpose of tracking such details as what I eat and what exercise I do is purely to deepen my own conscious awareness to the purpose of managing my life with more awareness and purposeful choice. It's a good thing for me to do, in the sense that one is making conscious life-style changes for one's future benefit, but literally nobody ever wants to read it.

Third, and most importantly, I found myself absolutely not interested in writing anything down. Anything. I always have my written journal along with me on roadtrips. Lately I've been using large-size artist's sketchbooks with unlined pages. I write freehand on the blank page, and there's room on there for drawings or poems as sidebars should I wish to do so. Lots of poems have begun in the handwritten journal, and will continue to begin there. The past few poems I have completed have been written in this journal, rather than at the keyboard, breaking a pattern that had begun to ossify and instilling new life and new interest in the process of writing itself.

But I'm barely writing poems these days. All my energies are going into completing the new music commission, which I am at the moment days or weeks away from concluding. Even though I was busy with concerts, meetings, dinners with friends, hanging out, and having good talks with fellow artists and musicians about our lives and work, I managed to write two new pages of final score one morning while on the road. I also spent an extra day or two on the return trip to travel into the woods and make photographs and video. And I made a few other kinds of artistic stops as well. But that's all event-based material I could log and chose not to.

Fourth and finally, I realized I was resistant to writing things down because I was beginning to feel obliged to. What am I writing a journal for? Is it to record my own thoughts on the creative process, to watch my own mind (yes, for me a kind of Zen self-awareness practice not unlike watching one's thoughts during meditation, not to cling to or catalog them, but to let them rise and fall away without clinging to them, to regard them as substanceless as cloud-shadows moving across the ground on a blustery day), to keep a record for my own benefit of what I am thinking and doing? Mostly, that's what my journal is. It's not required that I write it. I write it for my own needs, not for an audience. If I don't feel like writing in it just now, what penalty is there? Where does this sense of obligation arise?

It arises I think in part from attachment. Attachment to writing essays here, even, that generate comments. Attachments to being a public intellectual, a poet who shares his poems on this and other venues rather than hoarding them all for some illusion of official print publication no-one cares about and no-one will ever read. Writing poems and essays is something I do, but it's not even my most important form of art. Writing this new music commission these past several months has underlined the truth that music is the central form of art in my life, and that when I am musically satisfied I don't feel any desire to write anything else anyway. Much less a poem. Not to say that poems don't happen; and there are always haiku falling off the back of the wagon as we ride forward down the rutted highway. But these are almost like accidents, little sports of nature, discovered like one suddenly sees a rare color of flower when passing by an overgrown hedge. They just sort of happen, without even thinking about it.

Bollocks to the idea that "art is self-expression." There are many occasions on which I don't feel like expressing any aspect of my self, and still make art. If anything, making art for me is overtly anti-self-expressive. It's often enough about anything but "expressing my self." It's often about transcendence, or overcoming the little self, that personality-ego self that likes to imagine it's in charge and much bigger than it really is, but is actually rather clueless, and often the last to learn anything really important. Letting go of the self is one of the projects of (my) art.

So here I am, writing about not wanting to write anything down. Note that I still haven't generated any interest in writing about the five-day roadtrip. Maybe later on some aspect of the trip will be worth mentioning. I did make some new experiments in infrared photography that were fun and interesting.

Truthfully, I wish I was still out on the road. Some of this insomnia is typical of first nights home after a roadtrip, when I want to still be traveling, not having yet arrived. Some of the discontent I felt during the middle of this short trip was about feeling stuck, mentally, rather than feeling the freedom of the open road. I guess I'm still a nomad at heart.

I stayed in a budget hotel in Wausau last night that was surprisingly sedate and comfortable, with a bed that was surprisingly easy to rest peacefully on. The first two nights of the trip, staying with friends in Minneapolis, when the weather was hot and pleasant, especially for October, I slept on the futon on their front porch, and slept deeply and peacefully. Indeed, it was like camping in a tent: just enough breeze and fresh air and sounds coming into the porch to be like tent-camping at a national park somewhere. I slept the best I had since the surgery, on some level. Freedom of open air spaces. Also freedom of not being stuck at home. Cabin fevre has been a major issue since the surgery. Feeling trapped and confined to home-based routines necessary but unloved. Having to take some of those routines along with me, on the road, is no doubt part of the discontent I felt at times. Love me, love my ostomy. Bollocks.

Tomorrow, I'll get back to intensive writing of words and music for the commission. This short roadtrip has not really been a departure, even though it was a mini-vacation. The roadtrip was all about creativity, and music, and art, and talking with artists, and making photographs and music. My musician friend and I jammed and recorded what we played for a few hours one afternoon. We then went to a terrific concert together. On the trip overall I did some music and art myself, I made some new images, I wrote some music, and I didn't write about "my feelings," not even once. Still not interested in doing that. Or in "self expression." Nothing's more boring right now than the self that no longer is, and will not be again. The self that is gone, and won't come back. The new self is as yet uncertain and unknown, but I'm tired of having to create it, to think about it all the time. People who think that making art is all about "self-expression" really know nothing about making art. That myth about art-making is one of the most toxic, pernicious, and flat out wrong ideas about making art ever perpetrated by any critic.

In just this moment I realize that one important reason I don't want to catalog the changing self right now, why I have no interest in journaling my thoughts and feelings, is that I've been doing too much of that since the surgery. I'm tired of it. The real vacation aspect of this short roadtrip has been a vacation from that relentless self-regard and self-cataloging that I've been forced to do in recent weeks, trying to get the all the systems in line for the next phase of recovery and preparation for the next surgery. I'm tired of thinking about all that all the time. I'm tired of being told what I must do. I'm tired of watching what I eat. I need a break from the endless self-examination and self-regard.

I took the opportunity of this short trip to take a break from myself.

Any moments of discontent while on the road were very much about those times when I was unable to get outside myself and those necessities I must undertake but am not in love with. Love me, love my ostomy. Its endless relentless demands on my attention. Its joyless repetitious needs. Medical necessity be damned, dealing with the ostomy bag is no fun, it's not creative, it's cheerless. There's a quality-of-life issue in operation here. I don't ever get bored with making art, but I'm really bored with the medical self-care tracking and necessities right now. If I need a continued vacation from anything, it's from that. Even the PTSD had become a chore and a bore. The happiest parts of this small road-trip were when I was out there making art, or talking to fellow artists, or engaged with music. When every other concern fell away into silence. When I was not thinking about what I was supposed to be doing, or otherwise scrutinizing my self so thoroughly.

This past morning, drenched in fog and mist in northern Wisconsin, I was at a beautiful country park, the Dells of the Eau Claire river, a rough exposure of blocky bedrock over which a fast stream pours, across rapids, and into narrow channels defined by tall standing stones. I was making video and stills, and just listening to the silence filled by the sound of the water, a bluejay nearby calling out periodically, crows in the distance, and a small blue-fletched bird skipping from pine branch to lichen-covered rock. The clouds parted to the north, showing some feathered blue sky. The pine tree smell was thick. Underneath was a thick orange carpet of fallen oak leaves wet with dew and rain. I was in heaven.

Most of the morning I had this natural wilderness park to myself. At one point, a man walked by, smiling, and we agreed that it was a glorious day, a beautiful day, and a spectacular place to be. He was an intimidating man to look at walking briskly towards you on the trial, looking like a rough biker or a tough dockworker, but he was lit up from within, soaked up in all the natural beauty around him, and I felt an instant connection with him during our very brief encounter. Certainly he could see what I was doing, draped with cameras and hauling a tripod and shoulder bag, but we just exchanged our appreciation for the day and parted ways, glowing a bit more in unspoken companionship.

An hour later, I was just finishing filming, was tired, was ready to finish up for now, hike back to the vehicle and drive on. An older man and woman were prowling the rocks now. The man had already, a little while ago, walked into one of my shots, completely oblivious, as he restlessly prowled over the rocks, not really stopping to look at anything, just skimming the view. The woman now came up to me on the trail and asked me what there was to see around here. Isn't there anything to see around here? Isn't there supposed to be a high bridge in this area? Completely flabbergasted, I nonetheless calmly replied that we're standing in one of the most beautiful places in this region, and there's plenty to look at right here. I waved my free hand at the lichen-covered boulders, the piles of green moss at the bases of the pines, the rushing river. But my reply went right past her and left no mark. She was fixated on man-made tourist attractions, apparently, wanting to make another notch in belt of collecting the sites and sounds of tourist attractions, and seemed unable to appreciate the beauty that she was standing in the midst of. Or so it seemed. She wanted to see something more, I don't know, dramatic. I told her I didn't think there was anything like that around here, but directed her towards the nearest large town, a good two hours drive away, feeling no guilt whatsoever about this blatant misdirection. If that's really what you're looking for, so be it. Rarely have I been so astounded by the human presumption that every human is as self-absorbed in the works and ways of man, as though nothing else was even worth looking at. People with blinkered attitudes like that about natural beauty could stand at a banquet and still starve. It makes me think, in this late night writing, that there is a strong parallel between the human need for self-congratulation regarding our material achievements as species, and this tracking of self-aware logbook diet and exercise details that I have been told I need to do to advance my personal health and recovery. Both seem to demand an equivalent self-regard, and not in a good way.

Self-regard of the constructions of civilization versus appreciation of the world's glorious depth and possibility, each moment the start of a new day full of ripe vision. I know which I'd prefer, given any choice on any given day. As for the other, I'm really not interested.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Two words in this essay jumped out at me: ‘obliged’ and ‘attachment’. Neither of us is obliged to write even though it sometimes feels as if we are. I suspect I feel it more than you because, because of my nature, I have a regular blogging schedule and I imagine that the faithful few at least will be saying, “Oh, it’s been five days since Jim last blogged. Better check in to see what he’s got for us today.” Yeah, right. I have, however, become attached to my writing schedule. I don’t get up in the morning and wonder what I’m going to do today and that is both boring and reassuring at the same time but that’s the case with all routines.

I know where you’re coming from, not being interested in writing and yet finding yourself writing. About twenty years ago I felt exactly the same. Not sure why I thought the date was important enough to include in the title.

        UNTITLED DOODLE (4.3.85)

        Unable to find words angry enough
        yet still needing to write,
        he resorted to scribbling wildly,
        and ended doodling:
        boxes within boxes.

You at least have other forms of expression that … what would you call us? mono-artists sounds good … artists who are limited to one skill set don’t have available and so we keep returning to the blank sheet of paper and staring at it. When people talk about looking into the abyss I imagine they all think it’s black; for a writer it is most definitely white.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think you're absolutely right that the abyss for writers is white, that white sheet of paper, not black. I remember reading a quote from a writer, I can't remember his name, sorry, who said: "Writing is easy. You just stare at the blank page in the typewriter till the drops of blood bead on your forehead." LOL Graphic but perhaps true.

"Mono-artist" is good. I've been looking for a word for that for awhile now, and that will serve.

You're right about obligation and attachment. I do agree that you're probably more locked in than I am. I do feel that pressure to produce, but I do realize that in my case it's internally-generated, as I don't have a set creative schedule. Well, I DO make art every day, but as you well know, don't write every day. On the short roadtrip it was nice to be able to let the verbal part of my mind take a break, and do mostly photography, etc.

Thanks for the poem, too. That's really cool.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

According to at least one online source that was a quote from Gene Fowler. Glad you liked the poem. It's always pleased me.

10:42 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home