Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mornings Are For Writing

As usual, on this roadtrip that I am on this winter—traveling to the Southwest, then California, then back through the northern Rocky Mountains—when I feel like writing, I do so in my handwritten journal. It's more portable than any technological aid, in that I can just open it up and write. I do now have iPad and iPhone, but these do not have keyboards that allow me to type as fast as the words come; one must be more deliberate, more thoughtful, less spontaneous. So as usual I am writing in my journal, when I feel like writing. Usually a journal entry or poem—or, these days, a song lyric—every few days. I have never been a daily diarist; I usually only write when I have something I want to say, or transcribe, or just get down in words.

One of the facets of my creative process that has become clear to me on this roadtrip is less a revelation than a crystallization of tendencies already known, just not codified or stated clearly, before.

Mornings are for writing. The rest of the day is for more non-verbal art-making.

On a roadtrip, that usually means photography, video, maybe a little music-making. But mornings are for writing.

I have now been on the road a full month, with another week to go. I've had extended visits with friends, long stays where I could relax and just be on vacation. This is the first major roadtrip since my surgery last summer. It was a bit of a risk, as I didn't really know if I was up to the challenge. Dealing with the ostomy bag while traveling has often been easy and unproblematic; a few times it's been irritating, once or twice it's been downright annoying. I change the appliance every three or four days, as usual, no matter where I am; staying for a week with a friend means changing it twice. When I am irritated with the bag, it's usually because I'm out trying to hike or work on my photography, and it gets in the way.

There have been a few days of complete meltdown, emotionally. One important goal of this trip has been to have a real vacation—to return refreshed, relaxed, and recharged—and that has sometimes been a challenge. Some days I have questioned why I ever left home. But mostly I am indeed getting refreshed, mentally and spiritually, after the long painful time preceding, when I was sick unto death, had a few near-death moments, the first surgery, and recovery. What I've come to realize is that the emotional meltdowns are mostly, not entirely but mostly, the resurgence of emotions I didn't have time for, earlier, when mere survival was more urgent.

It's a sign that in fact I am relaxing, that these feelings should be safe to re-emerge. No few of them have been of the category of Oh my god they cut me open and took out my colon! That sort of thing. There is grief tangled up in there, and lots of upset coming from the basic-self level: the youngest inner self who has been unable to understand such violation. So I have spent a lot of time with basic self, reassuring, doing Reiki, etc. So far, so good.

I am getting a lot more physical exercise than I have in years—and I'm able to do so, which please me enormously. I can hike with cameras all day long, and just be "normal tired" at the end of the day, not "illness tired," which often left me so exhausted it took four days to recover. On this roadtrip I have done a lot of hiking, with no ill effect. One day I spent wandering all over San Francisco, carrying a backpack full of camera gear, and was tired, but not desperately so; and I was fine the following morning. So physical changes are continuing, and many of these are good changes.

Throughout this roadtrip, I have often felt on the edge of a creative surge: something lingering just around the corner, just out of sight, wanting to emerge. In fact, it hasn't emerged, and has probably been wiped out a few times by social occasions and by general travel tiredness. Or in fact it has already emerged, but not in an anticipated form, but some other form. I have written a couple of poems, a couple of song lyrics, a fragment or two of music. I have practiced my own songs, written prior to the roadtrip, which I need to perform when I get back home. I have struggled a great deal on this trip with impatience and expectations. I genuinely don't have the same kind of toxic expectations I used to have; nonetheless, I have been short-tempered with delays, or when presented with abject stupidity from those around me. A little short-tempered about thoughtless or inattentive behavior from other drivers, other people. That was really starting to build up towards the end of my California stay. Now that I've been back in the empty desert for a couple of days, much of it has again fallen away.

Yet I realize now that what I am really impatient with is complacency, with inattention, with those who choose to march along with the status quo, rather than work to make the world a finer place. Starting with themselves, by enacting right action, by embodying right livelihood. I have found myself being very much more judgmental than I usually am, than I like to be. It's rooted in my knowledge of my own mortality: We're only here for a short while, folks, so quit wasting time and get busy. If I have become a kind of activist again, it's because I've been reminded, through my own brushes with death, just how urgent and necessary taking action is. It always has been. Most people have the luxury of being able to ignore their own mortality, to be complacent with their status quo lives—till confronted with change, death, and necessary wisdom. How often I have become impatient simply with willful ignorance, with the desire to deny what's right in front of us! I admit it. I own it. It doesn't have to be a problem. It just is. I feel sad at how many people choose never to awaken. I suppose this is one of the emotions I have been releasing, on those darker days emotionally that I've been experiencing: this nearly-judgmental desire to get people to just Wake Up. It causes me more suffering than I'd like. I'm working on it.

I have been full of doubts. The illness and surgery gave big hits to my certainties, to my sense of self, to my self-confidence, even to my self-esteem. I still feel like I am having to rediscover everything I once thought I knew, to examine it all over again, and see if any of it still works for me. Much of it doesn't.

I wrote the following some weeks ago, when I was still in New Mexico, revisiting places that had once meant a lot to me, when I lived near Taos, when I spent time around the region:

I don't know how I feel about my photo/video work this trip. I feel detached and disconnected sometimes. I feel more connected when I'm by myself, in the middle of nowhere, working alone, in the silence. That's how I'm going to try to spend the day today. I will wanter the land a couple of times today, revisiting and making images. It's necessary for me to be alone in the desert silence, to make good images—maybe that's not strictly true, but it's what I feel today.

I am uncertain if any of my art is any good. That's been a growing feeling lately. Life is very uncertain lately, and so is art.

Nonetheless it seems that other people like my art, sometimes a lot. So for now I can't be objective and assess my art for myself. Which I guess is some kind of normal. The problem is, what to trust.

The only thing I can think of to do is: just keep doing it. Keep making images. Keep making video, keep making art. Just keep producing art, keep going. Figure the rest of it out later.

Keep going on this roadtrip, keep scattering images as I go. Keep stopping for beauty, keep capturing beauty. I think of Ansel Adams on his various roadtrips, and I feel a kinship there. We continue to have a lot in common: music, photography, prolific art-making, forward momentum.

I never want to stop. Retirement is a stupid idea. I might slow down at times, but never stop. I want to be making art the day I die.

A few days later, when I was doing photography in Zion National Park in UT, after having spent the night in Page, AZ, then driving across the desert, I wrote:

Today a creative gear-shift day. Started out with poems, then when I began taking photos, the words slowed and dried up. Spent most of the day driving and making images.

And I got out and listened to the desert silence a few times, which was very fulfilling.

Then it all crystallized, a day or two later, when I was camping for two nights at Joshua Tree National park in California. I wrote in the morning, after camping the first night:

I'm a poet getting old:
I only just now figured out
that mornings are for writing,
the rest of the day for
more non-verbal arts.

An ars poetica of sorts.

And that's the way it's been going, on the rest of this roadtrip. If a poem comes to me, it comes first thing in the morning. (Usually. The creative imp is perverse enough that on the very day that I wrote in my journal that I didn't feel like writing poems any more, I got two poems and a song lyric, an hour later. Go figure.)

So, mornings are for writing. The rest of the day is for other arts.

And so we go on, and keep going, keep making. And see where the road will lead us next.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Is our art any good? I wonder how many before us have asked that question, Art? Maybe we should rephrase the question: Does our art do any good? I can’t say that my art embodies goodness or is a distillation of goodness because then I have to start looking at whether I consider myself to be a ‘good’ person and that just opens up a whole can of worms. A tool is not good or bad in itself. It depends on what use it is put to. Even something as innocuous as a lamp can be turned into a deadly weapon if the base is heavy enough and it’s thrown with enough force.

I have seen the effect my writing has had on people enough times to realise that the potential is there for it to do good, to make people feel better, to make people see sense or at least to help them make sense out of what they see. I believe very strongly in the dualistic nature of art. No work of art is ever complete in itself. Everything we do is unfinished. It’s frustrating I grant you but that’s the thing about limitations, you can resent them or learn to accommodate them. You understand that more than most.

8:10 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I have mixed feelings about all that. I honestly don't think of any kind of audience when I'm making art; it never enters my mind. When it comes to afterwards, though, the people whose opinions matter to me, as an artist, are those of fellow artists. Of course every artist doubts themselves and their work. That's just human.

What my own art is measured against is not whether or not the audience likes it: that's great, when it happens, but it's not essential. It's not WHY I make art. I make art because I need to make art. (It also happens that a lot of the time the audience doesn't like my art, so one learns to live without that.) What I measure my art against is my other art, my influences and sources. Is it the best I can do? Does it measure up to the quality of my own best art? In martial arts we learn that we are not competing against each other, but against ourselves: the quality of our art is measured by our improvement, not by whether or not we're better than others. That's an attitude I like, that studying martial arts reaffirmed in me, and which I still find congenial. I measure my art by its progress as part of my own progress, my path, my means.

Lots of people have told me my art is more than good, that it actually has healed them. I get asked a lot if my art is intentionally shamanic—I eventually had to own that, on some level, it was, even though I hadn't consciously realized it before then. Nowadays I'm more conscious.

But this past year of illness, surgery, recovery, and preparation for the next surgery—that narrative is nowhere near finished—I have lost a lot of my inner compass. It's still there, but sometimes I don't feel like I know how to read it anymore.

9:20 PM  

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