Don’t Make Me *Think*—Make Me *Happy*

Shallow as a one-sided gnat’s freckle, that’s me.

If asked what movie I’d prefer to watch, book to read, music to hear, I’m almost never the person in the crowd who says “challenge me!” I’m the one who wants to be effortlessly  and palatably entertained, and that rarely includes any sort of idea or activity that involves my working, learning, evolving, or—banish the thought! (literally)—thinking.

I have always known that I’m not fond of experiencing anything that makes me feel the slightest bit out of my comfort zone, and while I don’t think it admirable or something I find brag-worthy, I don’t think it’s shameful, either. Even the people that I know who crave the New and different and are energized by being amid the exotic, the confrontational, or the controversial mostly seem to find that very pleasurable rather than frightening, and so, choose it because being uneasy or even frightened is in its way pleasant to them. True adrenaline junkies are not alone in this: the great explorers among us, whether those of intellectual or physical, artistic or scientific realms, thrive on the jagged edge of the known and the safe.

So, as I was wandering around the interwebs this morning and looking through a certain high-end vintage auction house’s catalogue of art, I was struck by how many works I could admire for their originality, their technical facility, their wit, and/or their power, but how many I could also truthfully say I was attracted to, myself? Not so many. Some there were that I thought incredibly impressive and deeply respect-worthy for numerous reasons, but few among them would I ever consider hanging in my own house or office or want to look at long term.  I do like mysteries and scary stories, and there are plenty of artworks and concepts and images that amuse and delight me for the very reason that I find them ugly or appalling, even to the point of painful laughter, but unless these things meet my own criteria for what I’d like to enjoy at length, it’s all for naught.

And of course, as a visual artist myself, and one who’s never made any particular headway with building a paying audience for anything I do, I am always intrigued to snoop around at such sites’ pricing of artworks. I marvel at what is listed as unsold, seeing artworks of phenomenal skill and complexity offered for what I think pretty reasonable prices (though I certainly couldn’t afford them, not least because of my aforementioned lack of success as an art entrepreneur); at what has sold that I couldn’t imagine living happily with; at what astronomical prices are being asked for things that in my opinion don’t even come close in material costs, labor time, or skill level to what I’ve sold of my own work in the past for comparative pennies. This kind of perusal is highly educational, occasionally frustrating, sometimes encouraging, and most often, just a great source of inspiring ideas and images that make me want to head back to my own drawing board again. Worth all of it, if only for that last.

On reflection, I do remember that I have made many images and told many stories myself that I didn’t want to hang on my own walls, and even a few times have destroyed ones that I knew someone else liked because I didn’t think it represented my ideals anyhow. That’s the strangeness and the delight of the arts, isn’t it. One person’s trash is another’s pleasure. Crazy. Wonderful.Digital illo from a painting: O Happy Day

All Kinds of Music

Drawing/painting illo: Three ComposersIn my head, there is music. Mostly, it’s a rambling, meandering thing without much form or direction, just a little ditty that my subconscious seems to hum to itself along the journey of the day. Once in a while, it’s an earworm, some tune or phrase caught in the soundtrack of my brain and put on long-term Repeat because I heard it or remembered it recently and didn’t have another thing to replace it with soon enough. Often, when I’m drifting off to sleep or marking time while I wait for something to happen, there’s a sort of internal theme song of mine, a mere snippet of a melody that might be a simple part of a Bach invention or might just as well be something of my own invention inspired by Bach or some similar composer, a line that becomes more or less complicated, turns from something slightly Baroque to a more Classical seeming style for a bit and then becomes a very plain little row-your-boat kind of canon before returning to its silent corner to wait for my next moment of internal quiet. On rare occasions, there might be words attached or an obvious external source of whatever song seems to have sneaked and snaked its way into my frontal lobe for a lope or two around my one-track mind.

Yet I have not the gift of composition. When I think about it in a more determined and purposeful way, I have all sorts of ideas about how I would probably set a particular poem or story text of mine if I did have compositional skills, how I might voice the piece or what instrumentation I think would be just right for the words and ideas therein. But it would be helpful, if I really intended to do any such a thing, if I had the slightest notion whatsoever of music theory or how to read a score (let alone write one), of what certain instruments can and cannot do, and whether the human voice is actually capable of making the sounds that might be required of such a project.

I am ever so glad that there are composers in the world capable of carrying a musical idea to magnificent, magical fruition. I sincerely doubt that any of them would set any text, mine or another’s, in just the way that my moseying mind seems to believe it would—for good or ill—and that is the way the universe operates. Each of us has skill sets and desires and training and passions that make us better, or worse, fitted for the tasks and arts that we imagine to be useful or pleasurable, and each has limitations even on our own abilities to recognize where we will excel and when we might fall short. What a wonderful thing it is that, though I’m not a composer myself, there are excellent composers who can and will set my words to their own music, because after all, choral music is one of the most clearly collaborative of activities anyway.

What a wonderful thing it is that, though I will most likely never master bringing what rings inside my skull out of it in an intelligible way, let alone anything like the one I imagine in its internal incubator, somebody out there is busy penning loveliness and longing, drama and dreams, that will carry their music forth into the hearts, minds, and ears of a waiting world’s humming silence.

10 Terrible Words that Shouldn’t Exist in Any Language

Digital text-illustration: 10 Terrible WordsOne person who hates is a Weapon of Mass Destruction. One who cares and shares? Perhaps the only antidote.

As I recently said to my friend Maryam: poverty—both of concrete, material resources like food and shelter, and of intellectual and ephemeral resources (education, spiritual enrichment, the arts, community engagement, etc)—seems to me to be perpetrated and perpetuated more by selfishness than by an actual shortage of any of those resources. The rich and powerful always want more riches and power, and what they do have makes them able to afford and acquire more and to keep their feet firmly on the backs of the have-nots. Plenty is never enough. The resulting imbalance is as old as history, and rotten as ever. Only those who will speak up and resist entrenched inequities and injustices will have any hope of making change.Photo montage: Wolverine & Badger

The badger and the wolverine have a reputation for being among the most tenaciously savage brutes of all the mammals. Yeah, Honey Badger even has his own meme to show for it. But let’s be honest: no beast of earth, air, or sea has a capacity for vile, rapacious cruelty rivaling that of the human animal. Even creatures of the natural enmity of predator and prey compete, fight, kill, and are sated. They have little apparent ideation of hatred and war to match people’s. A wolverine or badger will fight to defend, or to kill for food, but unlike the human, doesn’t seem inclined to attack indiscriminately outside of its primal needs for safety, shelter, and food; when the skirmish is done as efficiently as possible and the need assuaged, the sharpest of tooth and reddest of claw among them doesn’t do an end-zone dance to celebrate its pleasure in winning but will usually depart the scene or go to rest for the next time of need. The remaining food and shelter and other resources stay in place for whatever creature comes next, hunter or hunted, cousin or not.

Can we humans not learn from such a thing? I’m pretty sure that if we destroy each other and ourselves in our constant self-righteous, self-congratulatory belief that we deserve everything we can get our hands on, Honey Badger won’t be the only creature that doesn’t care.

Alienation

The aliens are very disappointed in us. If we wreck all the prettiness of the planet and use up all its treasures, what’ll be left for them to conquer and acquire?

Of course, this might seem like motivation for us pusillanimous pigs to keep trashing the earth–eliminate everything desirable and we’ll never be attacked by aliens who want it.

Except that even in our dullest-witted science fiction, we tend to acknowledge that alien races not only might be light years smarter and more advanced than we are, they probably also have different needs and desires than ours.

So they might just be sad because we haven’t managed to wipe ourselves out quite yet, meaning that they’ll still have cleanup to do when they arrive.

Marauding and usurpation are just as much hassle as ever. Unless we perfect self-annihilation as quickly as our present rate would seem to presage.

Do aliens smile?digital illustration

A Couple of Rustics

photo montageI’ll readily accede to being flighty in my affections. My short attention span and my determination to avoid playing favorites in dangerous or dullard ways may contribute to this seeming fickleness of mine, but I think life short enough and the list of possible pleasures long enough that it’s probably the extensive gap between that most often keeps me from landing in any one spot for great lengths of time.

My husband, too, is fairly catholic in his tastes, so though we are both creatures of habit and preference in many ways, we’re often pleased to discover any new delight to add to our own inventories of happiness. As a pair of artists, we’re often included in or happy to observe all sorts of cultural events and elements, and a rather common denominator of those is urban life. Cities do tend to have concentrations of resources. We both love the inspiring energy and wonders of The City, whatever the city of the moment happens to be.

But exposure does not guarantee infusion, immersion or exclusion. We can love and revel in our big-city adventures and lashings of high art and culture, but we’re not particularly notable for our own impressiveness in those realms. Simplicity, ease, companionability and comfort trump all of the glossy and glamorous stuff of life, in the end.

And the thrills of the city are always best savored in the context of time well spent in the contrasting marvels of the countryside. Salt to enhance the sweet. Earthiness and roughness to offset the shiny and sleek. And I guess I feel these latter things enough inside, thinking honesty and humility preferable and more natural to my way of being, that I’m more often a country mouse in the city than a city mouse when in the country. Neither my spouse nor I is probably all that complicated, despite the sophisticated milieu in which we may find ourselves at times. We are ordinary, visitors in the land of specialness, rather than the reverse.

A little time spent in the countryside tugs us away from all flash and clamor. Couple of bumpkins, maybe not entirely. But a little rusty and dusty around the edges, yes. A couple of rustics, really.

Crawling & Leaping

photoDo or Die

I am not brave, not big and strong, and change gives me the creeps,

But when the moment comes along, my crawling turns to leaps,

Because my innate sense of time and self and hope, my drive,

My dreams and aspirations, climb and make me feel alive–photoSo much so that I can’t keep still, must jump right up, arise,

And spring to action, and I will push onward to the skies,

For all that lies ahead is unknown, hid, but what may be

Is great and magical and fun, is grand and wild and free–photoIf I don’t take that daring chance and forge ahead at speed,

How will I, short of happenstance, find anything I need,

Or grow, improve, achieve, emerge? How can my sorrows sleep?

I know I’d best just fight the urge to crawl, and rather, leap!digital illustration from a photo

Reading the Classics or Writing Them…

There’s this little spot inside my skull that gets kind of itchy. Pretty sure it’s not dandruff, seeing as how that’s usually external, from what I’ve heard. Can’t be an excess of brains, something no one’s accused me of having in that nice cobwebby attic of mine.

I think it’s a bit of me that wants to Make Stuff. Specifically, to write things. I can’t say there’s any legitimate or meaningful purpose to this writing, or even the slightest logic to the motivational itch. But I write.photo montageWhether any of the scribblings comes to fruition beyond becoming letter-shaped specks on the ethereal pages of my blog or typed or scrawled word-like objects spilled all over my notebooks, concert programs, receipts, paper towels and shoebox lids–further polish or publication remains to be seen. Memorable, respected or classic status is improbable to within the neighborhood of outrageous fantasy.

But I’m a first-class fantasist at heart, after all. By my own admission. photo montageMeanwhile, several friends whose work I respect have put their longtime writing itches to good purpose and published, recently. I’ve been writing to scratch my inner itch for a number of years now. If I’m going to make anything out of it other than random scratching I suppose I had better take heart from my predecessors’ bravery and get serious about putting my writing into something a little more challenging and concrete than my lifelong style of clinging to the safety of the familiar land of personal sharing and blogging.

Uh-oh.

Time to suck it up and nerve myself. I suppose I should warn all of you to shore up your own nerve as well. It seems that this particular kind of itch might well be both dangerous and contagious.photo montage