Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Yesteryear's Scars

"Get that taken care of! Cedar splinters reappear, even after decades," I was warned by Glen Snook, a self-sufficient man. In his 80's, a good friend, he was a giant of a fellow at about 6 foot 4, and he lived in a shoe-box house he'd built himself on Denman Island, soon after the last Great War. "Great? Ha! Nothing great about wars, or about scars for that matter, cedar or otherwise."

"Just keep going and never look back," Glen observed at the eventuality of my having to leave Denman Island. He was affirming; "A reason, a season, a lifetime." Time on Denman had come to an end. There were other things to do, oceans to sail, lands to visit. While there, my property, for all its beauty, had both injured and marooned me. 1996 was the year of constructing my own house, with a handsaw, right next to the sea, but it also was a year of my building a fulcrum between a past and present. (Come to think of it, does not each moment provide that fulcrum too?) So much loss attended the years concerning Denman, and the scars run deep. We all have them, scars that once felt a wound, and given the right moment, we pluck up their stories again, or we bury them yet deeper beneath the skin, cover them up, that others might not see.

When I carried the squared cedar tie-beam for the foundation I was creating I was nearly 18 years younger, bare-chested, and strong. I was not then in a wheel-chair, and though I had had my spine welded together with chips from my hips, some 20 years previous to that, I still was pushing the limits of endurance and tolerance. But later, in 2004, when titanium rods and screws replaced my bones, the old fusion showed it'd been cracked all along, so hair-lined that no x-ray had picked it up. Ha! At the very least the chronic pain I've continually experienced was given validity! Then again, within a year or so of getting the spinal hardware, I became power-chair dependent, now nearly eight years ago. And the condition grows worse. They said I'd not work again, but six more years of teaching proved my point; there are ongoing wounds and pains that need not hold one down, ha! At least, not until...

Too much personal info! Of what benefit to others that I reveal? I remember at twelve years old reading of a forlorn Romeo saying to Benvolio, "You jest at scars that did not feel the wound." Ha! Shakespeare was for me! After all, we do "take on so." To quote Socrates, "Of what use, the unexamined life?" (or someone like him.) Still, it feels solipsistic, an exposition of my own scars.

Yet scars happen. Physical or psycho-ma-logical, scars carry their own story. And mine, in the deep scratches of cedar on the right side of my chest, arise and provoke at me, repeatedly, over nearly eighteen years now. Each time the bits of splinters get scoured sufficiently away the skin grows over them and they disappear for sometimes a year or two, but then the tiny bits of wood remake their way to the surface, and irritate the heck out of me. So too for memories? So too for happenstances? So too for the choices we made? So too for the slip-ups and falls and the cuts and bruises of a lifetime. They resurface. The ones I'm surprised to see, among my many scars, are the ones whose origins I have forgot. Not because I am no longer bothered by them, but because they no longer bother me; the distinction, though subtle, is significant, yes? No pains?

We each have a past. We each have wounded and been wounded. And for some the scars run deep and cannot be ignored. Anyone public sees the unnatural cicatrix across a face, or on the skin where one 'ought not' to be. It is the deeper scars, those in the psyche that are not so readily seen. And even those can surface too. But when we overcome the past (possibly by realizing that all that was, and all that could be, was all that we could be, or we would have done other) then we can forgive ourselves, and so too the perpetrators of our scars. Sure, the irritant remains. There are some things that do not go away. Product presents itself in many forms, but attitude therein and thereafter remains our choice. Ha! My scars remind me to take care. Yours?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Point No Point?

Even in heaven death reaches for us, but we continue to want identity. At which point are we prepared to go entirely without meaning? The cellular activity of our physical being resonates, is fragmented, is atomized, and energy does not die; it transforms, scientists say. They inform that water is a finite amount, forever shifting and transmuting, but quantifiable. So too for energy; it cannot be destroyed, only transmuted; a form evidently made changeable. So too then of the energy of a dead bird seen betwixt me and paradise? Will its 'being' now be given more lasting significance thanks to the possibility that these words may resurrect its having once existed?

My paradise was immediate. 'Point No Point' is an actual place on the West Coast of
Vancouver Island. The restaurant there with its clusters of cabins alongside the tree laden cliffs overlooks the grandeur of the pounding Pacific Ocean. And on the mist laden afternoon of December 21st, 2013, at the prime location of the corner table with nothing but glass window panes between me and the almost audible sea, way down below, there is a feeling of being on cloud nine. Until I looked through the glass, just below my window, at the floor-level ledge, and there was this dead bird. Blackened already, and rotting, it entirely suffused me with a sense of 'ugh!' But I said nothing. I did not draw my wife's attention to it. I tried not to let it distract. Why spoil my wife's birthday celebration? Why bring such an ugly image into such a pleasant day? But it has haunted me, that image. Death and rot and pain and disease attend our pleasantries. We are best to integrate them. Heaven, to be almost sure, will not be all it is cut out to be.

Overexcite-ability is a Dabrowskian term for the hyper-sensitive, especially when still a child, and not yet sophisticated enough to process, integrate, or respond with both intellect and emotion to the vagaries of life. A child may be highly superstitious, see omens and portents in the slightest of events, and refuse to get aboard the plane when the sighting of a dead bird en-route has provoked a deep and atavistic reaction of other-wiseness. So too for many an adult. The significance of events is almost directly related to the self; endemic symbolism is placed specifically 'there', by a universal power, in a solipsistic intuition of immediacy and accountability to the self; or larger, the self in the group. Life is all about me! And that dead bird had bashed up against the window at some point in time precisely to be seen by me in order to be immortalized on this page. Or not? At any point, there at Point No Point, I was distressed in that moment, and found myself processing the overcoming of the advent of death so near to my other sense of being in paradise. It easily could've spoilt my day. Certainly, I struggled to dismiss it from lunch.

Reflecting (ha!), I saw the bird as having nothing to do with me, specifically. It was as natural a process as dead butterflies found in the car's grill after a journey. At what point do we not assume responsibility? Birds all over the world bash up against window panes. Perhaps we should hang ribbons from every ease-trough? Creatively thinking (ha!), I could imagine the bird's partner or offspring pining for the non-returned. Many a bee brings home a story to tell about reeking from falls into summer afternoon beer. Many an ant has relayed being blown away by a giant's breath. And what of the mice I used to catch in the live trap? What a story told of transport in a cramped steel space-ship doing a great jiggle-distance on some giant pedalling contraption just to be joggled free into some far off field. Ha! As adults we teach children to be kind to snails, slugs, spiders, and creepy crawlies everywhere. Our Paradises are full of them.

Point No Point is an earthly paradise. Its restaurant, food, cabins, and setting is sublime. But it too, as of 1952, intrudes on nature. Our cities, our subways, our towns and our very beings are all part of that same energy, nature, transformed, transmuted, and given reference, point by point. But at the bashing up against the glass, for that bird, by these words, perhaps there is now no longer a natural 'nevermore'. Point made? Or is there really no point? Death takes all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Xmas Xpurgations

"Horrors," one might exclaim melodramatically, "I forgot Penelope!" Such is the anguish of the times, these Holy-Day, holiday, Christmas, seasonal times. I re-conjure the rosters of people I've known and love(d) over the past 60 plus years, and I wonder how their Xmas is going, or should that be 'Christmas,' or perhaps you'd prefer 'Holiday Season'? Point is that a Time-Period is reached and one gets well-wished, palpably, or not. The card, the present, the phone call, the email, the generic and the specific and the particular, anything; just don't be the one to overlook, or worse, be the one who is overlooked? The awful 'horror' of it may be that guilt and concern and worry and money and effort and time and even fear attends so very much of The Big Significant Day of Celebration. Not just Christmas, but a Birthday can be missed too!

In another cartoon a cynical husband tells a wife, "Sure I can tell you what Christmas is all about; learned it as a kid: It's about a decorated tree and Santa leaving presents under it, for me!" Ha! It takes a moment to realize he speaks not of gifts from him to others; and when he does, he says, "And it's about all the bills at the end of this December! Happy New Year!" Ha!

Counting one's cards can hardly be deemed proof of having been thought about too. Very many of my friends no longer send cards. One of my dearest friends, M'Lady Nancy, at 91, starts hand-writing cards almost two if not three months in advance, and posts over 130 in time for Christmas! I doubt that she receives as many. But she's been doing this for years. Yet in the long list of people to whom she does send cards there are so many others in her ken that do not get such tokens of her remembrance, not for her lack of care or interest, but simply because in one's lifetime there grows hundreds upon hundreds of persons one has met and liked and shared time with and known, and some contact-loss just has to be expected. They too, each of them, might well spare a thought of well-wishes and fondness and kindness toward her. Yes?

And what of YOU, specifically? If you're reading this you may well know me, personally, and by a long-shot recall having had a much more personal communication between us than is this generalized missive. (Just this last week I received a Facebook note from Brent, a person I could no longer place, until he reminded me that we'd performed together in South Pacific, over ten years ago!) Among the thousands of students and actors and colleagues with whom I've shared time over three-plus decades (as well as the non-job related friends and acquaintances along my 60+ years of life) it makes for an over-long list of people to whom I'd like to send well wishes, specifically, particularly, precisely, and pointedly: You. But....

Time arrives at points. And then they too pass us by. We turn up in the moment and much is made of it, or not. We give our love and care and well-wishes, and are heard, read, received, or not. And in the great glue that is this world of connections amongst us all there continues the memory and the imperfection and the hopes and dreams and even the disillusionments of time and pace and intention and action, always. Point is that to take much of it personally is perhaps to be left rather sad indeed; someone somewhere is bound to feel overlooked, neglected, forgotten.  We carry people with us, always. We think of them, sometimes. We think of others, often. We think yet again of another, once in a while. And yet another, continually. Almost always we wish them well, Godspeed, health, and care. Let there never be 'horror', but frankly, myrrhth, and merry moments too! And so, Penelope, and you and you and you too, Merry Christmas! And love, always.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meant To Be?

"It must've been meant to be," the phrase came, trippingly. And I halted. Semantics and colloquialisms and idioms abound in every culture; hoist us on their petards. Within, we may become ineluctable victims. Without, we may easily perpetuate phraseology. And overall the shaping of our minds may be such that we react, respond, think and feel along with our sayings, or perhaps even worse, are not aware of what we're saying at all. Like do-do in the wind.

Predestination is a fascinating concept. We more easily ascribe it to an individual than to a group. Those souls in the towers of 9/11 could hardly have been predestined to be there; yet we believe he or she who was meant to be there, but missed the bus, was meant not to be there? Not quite like our concept of karma, with its overall sense of retribution or just rewards, or like Newton's laws of action producing equal and opposite reaction, we take predestination to mean some magical, mystical, religious or spiritual event that was, well, "meant to be." So we open our sails and set loose upon the seas of fortune, favour, and storms. We fall on our knees and break a knee cap (at 90 plus years old). We have a stroke. We have an accident. We miss that bus. We receive an award. Our book is published. We manage to finish the painting, or not.  We win the lottery. "If you're to have it, it will be meant to be, or not." Ha! One may as well not stir.

Hubris, ego, narcissism, and selfishness invest themselves in our language, our culture, our outlook. We almost cannot imagine ourselves not being conscious. Heaven and many mansions hereafter buoy our hopes. Ambition and perseverance and belief invigorates us. We are naturally given to crossing our fingers, to lopping off rabbits' feet, to throwing the bones. And despite all the chance and circumstance and ceremony, we instinctually adhere to phrases such as, "it's meant to be." After all, somewhere outside of ourselves is a coincidence of points that opens luck's door at the precise right time; that turns the traffic light green; that allows for our precision of presence when John Cleese sits down right in front of us at the London theatre; that brings about the dropping of the crystal salad-bowl. It was "meant to be." That parking spot made available just as we arrived, or not; that money found on the pavement; the glove lost; the letter not delivered; the recalled hug given that may well have been the very last, "meant to be"?

Malcolm Gladwell has it that there are three coordinates that usually occur for more than kismet to be made: thousands of hours to be poured into the work; a support network of backup people; and chance. The painting may well have taken 15 years to produce; there may well have been some 8,000 people who saw it at the art show; but without that one special person who has the right connections, the influence, the insight, the clout, the interest, and the wherewithal the painting in question goes back to the artist's studio, to be stacked up with other projects that might never see ‘the light of day’. So it goes. Imagine if the latest art treasure haul had not been hidden from the nazis by one man? Ah well, hiding it was "meant to be."

Fatalism has its flaws. Prayer and hope and luck and instinct have theirs too. And whether we win or lose, shall we in the end say, "It was meant to be"? Meant by whom? And if meant, then why should one struggle so to do, to overcome, to fix, to right, to address, to achieve, if it all was meant to be, or not? Why do both sides in sports teams bend alike to pray before competition?

Whenever I succeed, or not, it has or shall not have been entirely due to my own artifice; there be hundreds of persons involved in the steps along my personal way, and each have impacted my getting to this very 'point in time'. But not one of them is in the least bit as responsible for me as I myself am. Like your reading this, or not. Indeed, just as it was all meant to be? Pet phrases can be cute, indeed, but then again, they can be cumbersome. Or do I blather against the wind? Hm? Should one just leave things as they're meant to be? 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creativity Crisis

Genius can appear as instant. The 90 percent perspiration formula, as we understand it, in such instance, disappears. Looks easy, as the little girl climbs through the looking glass; the corner of the canvas lifts; and the derivations from centuries of impressions upon the Akashic records of time are streamed in a recognizable flow of consciousness. Otherwise, Fosbury might have flopped; Seurat may have pixilated beyond recognition. And a Sunday in the Park might lead into a succession of ordinary days of unproductive restfulness. We are humans, doing, as well as humans, being, and genius, that brilliant capture of the ephemeral made concrete in the mind, or made inordinately productive, is almost invariably particularized by others' recognition of usefulness, impact, effect. Lightbulb moments are too easily turned off by trip-switches. What profit it mankind if a manuscript of brilliant insight be tossed to sea in a bottle that is swallowed by a whale, never to be seen again? What profit the intentions of the writer of such a work other than that she or he has done something with the minute particle of Everything that is his or her own uniqueness? Do the canvases in the mind do any good until they find their way through the hand? Is an audience necessary? And even then, there be but few moreover moved indelibly.

Already, like notes tossed to sea, I mayve lost you. Fosbury and Seurat are esoteric references, admittedly. The simplicity of the anonymous cartoon depicted above becomes for the viewer yet more of genius dependent on one's knowledge of art, the reason why that particular painting was chosen, the consciousness of the derivations of plucking up sufficient courage to peek past the obvious, and to render insight into other dimensions. Plato's cave, Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, and M'Lord William Turner all have something in common. But shall we give to Plato the pre-eminence of looking over his shoulder for truth?  Even Aristotle found fault. Genius is not dependent on accuracy. It is in essence about insight. And then we may give the idea to the engineers and mechanics and glass blowers to create the mass-production to enlighten us all. Or perhaps the publisher and the journalist and the television will bruit our product's efficacy, even if not attached to our name. Not all genius is publicized, seen, appreciated, or understood.

Theatre Shows I have directed, performed in, designed, have had thanks to others momentary qualities of ephemeral beauty that needed being there fully to appreciate. No video has given the product credit. No photo. Yet even among all those present, we each see, feel, apprehend, comprehend, and process differently. Very seldom, by the light of the fire, do we conspire. We sing carols; we hear the same words; we listen simultaneously. Yet I know some who actually do not like Bob Dylan. For me, as singer and guitar player, I take great pride in never delivering the product the same way as before. Firstly, because I'm incapable of it (my musicianship is insufficiently developed), and secondly, because each time I sing a song it is "the first time", and emotion evolves as I find the words give meanings to my rendition; or is it the other way round?

I am stalling. My newest painting has/is undergoing several metamorphoses. But I am not finding flow. That which is in my brain is instant, like seeing a heron poised to strike from its solitary perch on a rock in an indistinct seascape that is as fragmented as a multifold of molecules intersecting in time and space so as to be barely recognizable in the singular focus that one maintains on the stilled shape of that mesmerizing bird. Not quite like in a fog. So too for anything else we give focus. This next word, 'now', is all your eyes see/saw in the blur of everything surrounding it. How to paint that, and yet to give everything else sufficient content that the viewer may appreciate its significance to the whole? And therein resides my meaning: the significance of everything to the entirety of the whole. Genius lies in those who do make it all look effortless, complete, and worthwhile. Yet perhaps the atavistic genius in each of us lies instinctual in every molecule, as but part of the grand complexity? Integrated. After all, which part of All and Everything is not also a part? Come, by my fire, lets conspire; breath for breath.