Audience of One

Photo: Plenty of Room for More

Those of us who are artists of any sort are mostly destined for one extreme or another: fame or invisibility. There are a fair number who manage to become something in between, of course, making enough money or garnering enough notoriety with their work to evade complete obscurity, but by virtue of that very existence in between, they too remain generally unknown by the broader world.

I have neither the skills nor the ambition to make myself successful in the business aspects of being an artist, so it’s a virtual lock that I’ll never be rich or famous, let alone both. That means, for me, that to be a success I must focus on working to please an audience of one. Even those who love and support and care about me have no obligation to admire and delight in my artistic output, and they can’t, without a large number of less-connected persons, make me a resounding financial success. My loved ones do seem to like my work, often enough, a fact that defies logic in its own special way, but that still doesn’t make those who adore me, singly or en masse, rich enough to make me rich, even if they sincerely wanted to own passels of my creative output, another reality which would not necessarily represent great intelligence or aesthetic taste on their part, even by my loose standards.

I can and do self-publish, and though that’s clearly an unnecessary and unbusinesslike indulgence, it makes the process of writing and drawing, painting and composing more entertaining for me and less of an invisible feeling enterprise. It doesn’t change the business end of the equation other than endorsing the probability that nobody in his right mind will pay me for things I’m giving away for free anyhow, but it motivates me to do something, anything, more than I might otherwise.

So where does that leave me? Knowing that I am working on my art, first and foremost, to please myself. I am and always will be heartily glad if and when others genuinely share my enjoyment and appreciation of what I consider my share-worthy artistic output. It’s a huge thrill when anyone deigns to spend actual, legitimate, government-recognized currency of virtually any national origin on the purchase of any of that work. But since the latter sort of happenings are rare as hens’ teeth, I will do best to enjoy my sporadic glimpses of small-scale fame when anyone expresses pleasure in my art, and the rest of the time, relish the process of production and any end products of it that I like, all as president, primary cheerleader, and sole permanent member of my own fan club, the way most of us artists are nature-made to be. Is that the sound of one hand clapping I hear, or did somebody just smack me to try to knock some sense into me?

PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

Lounging Around

There’s nothing like a long stretch with a too-busy schedule to remind me how important it is to slow down and do some meaningful Nothing once in a while, even if it makes me miss one or two seemingly crucial other things. Every time I remember to take that kind of break, I notice that no matter how much I think I was letting go of, leaving undone, and missing out on doing, the world has not once ceased to turn. Civilization has not only not ended while I was ‘off duty’ in a moment of relaxation, but has very likely been somewhat improved by having a little break from my ignorant interference in its progress.
Photo: Laid Back Loveliness

Sometimes it’s really useful to deliberately put my head in the clouds. Or to stare at the floor, for that matter. When I stop gazing exclusively at the stack of paperwork in front of me, thinking only of the next three items on my to-do list, or listening merely to the rattling of the voices on TV, telephone and in email correspondence that are all demanding my attention, I can notice that I’m walking across incredibly worn but still vibrant Majorcan tile in a room full of paneled walls and acres of ancestral portrait paintings, and that’s just en route to some other thing entirely. I might get to that Other Thing and find that it’s only a small courtyard, but one full of sunlight split into dazzling rays by a fretwork of wrought iron artistry that may very well have been behind deadline in its production because the artisan thought it was more important the work be done well and beautifully than that it arrive on time.
Photo: A Gathering Place

Why do we persist in making little things mean so little when they can make a great change in our perspective? Don’t we fuss enough when we think the universe is treating us so neglectfully and with such unwarranted disdain? I think it’s only fair that if I want to be treated with any sort of respect by the universe, perhaps I ought to give it some of the same attention and admiration as well. Far better than wasting my precious life resources on endless effortful chores that will only wait for my return anyway, is to spend a bit of that time instead on admiring the goodness of a threadbare Turkish rug and relishing the thrum of steady conversation about unimportant yet interesting details of the day’s quiet events, talk between real people who stand on that very same carpet at the very same moment and, amazingly enough, listen when I reply.

Saving My Reverence

photoI sat by the river. We were visiting town for a conference, and my spouse was going to some sessions I didn’t choose to attend. The weather was very warm, an overcast early spring day with a mild-mannered breeze, and being indoors in even a perfectly nice hotel room is a waste on such a day, so I walked down to a spot nearby and sat by the river.

As daily life passes in its ordinary ways, I so rarely pause and think deeply about what’s happening in my orbit. It’s so very easy to forget to look around to stop and let go of all forms of busyness and buzz, and simply Be. To sit by a river for an hour doing nothing can become everything.

In that hour I was silenced, stilled. I felt a deep repose settle in me, a sense of quiet peace that I hadn’t realized had been absent, banished to memory by the constant chasing and chatter of ordinary things for so long. Even the soft conversation of passersby and the rush of traffic on the road so few paces away were hushed to a sussurant tide washing the shores of my peripheral perception. Closed in an invisible veil of calm, I felt my reverence for simply being alive well up, awaken in me, renew.

The light scent of cut grass overlaid the ambient dust of a dry week; the crunch of passing footsteps was so soft that even the river’s low whisper beyond could be heard, punctuated by the distant fluting of some bird tucked under the trusses of a bridge. The hazy overcast hid the face of the sun, but its warmth suffused my skin until I thought I, too, might radiate light and heat. My usual inner litany of things demanding my efforts and attentions slowed, and slowed again, until my state of rest was such that I let go of nearly everything, even that sense so common in those rare moments of pause, that I should sleep. This was the rare kind of rest in which I would far rather be awake.

Action and angst and haste and harriedness always return soon enough. But in a moment of genuine and grateful repose, I found refreshment that can underlay it all and remind me to embrace all that is peaceful and contented within. If I am wise, it’s to this power I will assent to bend.digitally painted photo

Richly Deserved. Or Not

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A Glimmering of Sweetness Exceeding All that has Gone Before

This is my wish for all of you as the new calendar year begins. May you find goodness and contentment all around you, and may you in turn share and propagate it everywhere you go in 2014. Peace and abundant happiness, my friends.photoI rarely have an actual Plan for the upcoming year, but this time around I do want to move toward a few specific things. First and foremost, I want to be more deliberate about finding ways and excuses to be an even happier person, and to leverage that happiness to spread it as far and wide as I can to other people. Call it intentional optimism, call it doing random acts of kindness, call it whatever you want, but I think it’s more likely to be good for the overall tone of the year than not, and that alone is worthwhile.photoIn addition, I intend to start making money this year again, however little it may be. I have no delusions of getting rich, but would love to put my own tiny dent in our family expenses, savings, and/or retirement. It’s been a long time since I got any actual dollars for anything other than a present, and I know that, however unlikely a choice I may be on paper for anyone who’s hiring, I will find a way. Or two. It may not be a regular job, or it might be a conglomeration of tasks and sources. I’ll keep you posted, friends, but if anyone happens to have any brilliant insights before I do, chime in; I’m listening! Meanwhile, I’m happy to keep working on increasing the happiness quotient however I’m able. That’s Job #1.