Colorful Language

Photo: A Constellation of Mysteries

Color is just one of the infinite constellation of mysteries that make up my world, my life. What looks like nothing but the fabric of my black corduroy pants has a surprising amount of what looks like non-black color in it when I look very closely. A bit of digital exaggeration and enhancement to bring out the colors I see either heightens the illusion or tells me, once again, that color is far more than meets the eye!

I’ve been taught that color, or at least our perceptions of it, might be manageable. As an artist, I try my best to take advantage of that possibility. But I know my limitations. Even rather experienced and advanced color theorists in this day and age come up against problems with explaining and understanding precisely what color is and how it acts, despite knowing the differences between additive and subtractive mixing, knowing how the retina and brain perceive and communicate color ideas to us, or knowing how the environment and context of what we see affects our perceptions of color.

What does it really mean if I say that Black is a construct that represents the absence of color and White, one representing all colors combined? Or if I tell you that an orange is, well, orange, but in deep shadow it might appear brown or black, or light yellow? Or that humans have white or black or red skin! What gives a single one of these concepts any credence at all? Color, it seems to me, is a matter of faith as much as of science—like so many things we think of as immutable Fact in our little universe. What both science and faith seek to explain, it seems to me, is beyond the scope of human understanding no matter how brilliantly we study and how majestic and divine our inspiration would appear. What is all around us is supremely complex and beautiful and, to my mind, needs no understandable explanation to be so glorious.

No matter what color it is.

The Hours of the Day

Some pieces of music have an especially profound affinity with particular times of day. Those composed deliberately for such hours are of course likelier to fit so well, but even among them there are certain works that are so miraculously fitting they almost seem impossible to separate from their appointed times. Much music composed for the divine offices and devotions of the Roman Catholic church recognizes such affinities because, like many prayers and devotions in other faiths, these practices are meant to be performed at specific times of the day and evening. Like the muezzin‘s call to the mosque, a moving chant or song suited to the hour sets the heart and mind in just the right place for the meditations and oblations of the time.

I wrote this poem long ago and came across it again, remembering that it was written while listening to a specific Angelus played on the organ—Marcel Dupré’s, if I’m not mistaken—and being struck by that wonderful meeting of sound and spirit in it.Painting + text: The Angelus

Fixity

“Why?” is a beautiful question, even though it terrifies most of us. A wise soul once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude. When we grow too attached to a belief and its perfect correctness, we disallow not only our own reexamination of that belief, which if it’s so perfectly correct should pose no threat to us and if it’s not, should allow us to become wiser and more faithful to our convictions; we also fail to show respect for the belief itself, if we are so fearful of its being exposed as wrong.

Standing fixed in a position of faith is only impressive if that belief can be defended in a calm, intelligent, reasonable conversation with someone who doesn’t yet share the same convictions. A shouting match or the refusal to discuss respectfully is as likely to convince and convert an unbeliever as punching someone in the nose is to prove that you’re smarter than she is if anyone’s questioned it. It’s more useful to ask, whenever any disagreement arises, whether one is genuinely defending one’s belief or just feels personally threatened. Egos so often get in the way of rational, logical conversation when we reflexively mistake the call for proof or persuasion of our beliefs for personal insults. It might be useful to remember that when someone asks for evidence of something we cherish as fact, we could give them the benefit of believing that they really want to know why we accept it as truth. A genuine discussion might actually lead to common ground.

It might also, if we let it, lead to greater insight on our own part. The dispassionate process of a logician is aimed not at debunking everything in sight but stripping away falsehoods and irrelevancies and fallacies to expose the facts in the matter. Truth can withstand all questioning. It trumps politics, rants, bullying, diversionary tactics, disinformation and pure human foolishness, if we dare to examine all of the input carefully and patiently and with respect for those who may have so far missed the mark. A reasoned and quietly stated truth will finally have more power than all of the smoke and mirrors that deniers propagate and cling to, or we will have to admit we’ve lost more than our own convictions.Digital illustration from photos + text: Zoanthrope

Meditation Medication

digital illustrationHealth is a wildly, weirdly, wonderfully complicated state. Both physical and mental health are astoundingly omnidirectional networks of intersecting matrices and random points; genetics, environmental influences, accidents, allergies and so much more come together and continue to change over the life of any one person. Furthermore, these meet in an intersection of the two networks (mental and physical) in every single person, that it’s nothing short of miraculous that any of us human conglomerations actually survive and have relatively good health.

It’s completely unsurprising, then, when something or other does break down or fail to be really perfect when it comes to health matters. Thank goodness there are more and more answers and helps for us when it comes to such moments of concern. But for every solution, there are shortcomings and side effects, and we still have to make choices and experiment, test and try and hope.

I’m one of those relatively rare creatures blessed with generally outstanding and reliable good health. I’ve never had a broken bone; I’ve had all of three stitches in my whole life, and I’ve never worn a cast or a brace unless you count the kinds I could buy in a neighborhood pharmacy for an achy hyper-extended knee or a fiddly fingertip whose little cut made a mockery of my hale-and-heartiness when I was whimpering over the pain every time I’d bump it. My various moles, cysts, and bumps have all thus far been benign and manageable. Even those more significant elements that might affect my function and longevity are so far pretty reasonable to deal with and don’t require enormous amounts of care just yet.

The essential tremor, noticeable since I was about ten or twelve, has never gotten so obtrusive that I have had to do anything for or about it. The mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) is so mild that it went unnoticed until I had a regular physical exam from a person who, as pure chance had it, was conducting a study of that specific condition and so was attuned to its unlikely presence. Very minor hypothyroidism like mine is easily kept at bay with very little medicine (mostly pretty common ones at that) or monitoring. I am especially grateful that thus far there is no indication that the Parkinson’s Disease that poses as the only true black sheep of my family has not to date taken up residence in my body.

This is not to say that I have no inkling of any of the irksome and unpleasant effects of imperfect health. I’ve come to recognize the recurrent, and in some cases, chronic, annoyances and inconveniences that come with allergies. While mine have remained moderate and turn out to be treatable if not controllable, I figured out after getting some help that they had had a far greater control over my daily life and well-being before that time than I had realized. And as I’ve said here before, I have had my adventures with Spasmodic Dysphonia, clinical depression, and anxiety; these had larger influences on me and, therefore, those around me, by a magnitude of difference.

What arises every time I contemplate these things, all of which are in my own life more survivable and treatable than I know that they can be for others, is the notion that as a typically complicated human health exemplar, I still have to work continuously to discern what combination of the tangible and medical kinds of interventions and treatments with those more intangible approaches of meditation, activity, and trust—call it faith, hope, prayer, optimism, or attitude adjustment, it’s all fodder for feeling, and possibly, getting, better—will suffice to keep any of my anomalous conditions in check.

Thus far, the answer for me has been a shifting combination of the tangible and the intangible; I think that’s how it works for most people. My personal recipe for success is neither absolute nor permanent, any more than my personal state of being is fixed or unchangeable. Health, both physical and mental, changes rather constantly over a life span, and the longer one lives the more cycles and spikes of change are likely to occur during the stretch. What, then, can I do?

Keep trying. What combination of body-chemistry-altering substances serves my needs at the moment? They might well be outright commercially made and sold and officially, doctor- or nurse-administered drugs, but they can also easily be homeopathic or folk cures, foods or herbs or numerous other things that I’ve discovered through trial and error suit my physical and mental well-being. The same can be true of physical therapy: it might be specific exercises recommended to me by my doctor or other trusted medical and health experts, or as is often the case, it can be a set, series or group of activities that simply make me feel closer to my optimal conditioning. Nowadays, as always, I find myself using quite the mixture of these helpers to suit my specific needs and wishes for better health and happiness. For me, that means a full combination of what could be loosely classified as medication and meditation.

I can’t begin to tell you how that works or is explained scientifically. Some of it I’d bet good money can’t be clarified in scientific terms. But experientially, that I can tell you: I feel pretty good. I get the occasional sneezes or headaches, and there are times when it irritates me, yes, that my vocal cords are recalcitrant and unreliable. I’d definitely prefer if the shadow of Parkinson’s hied itself off my family’s shoulders, most especially Mom’s, and would never try to sneak up on me later despite any efforts on my part to ward it off if possible. But let’s be honest. Right now I feel pretty good, and that makes me happy. Whatever I’m doing or not doing, taking or not taking, it seems to be working.digital illustration

Like a Spiritual Rinse Cycle, If You Will

photoWash Over Me

What this wild elixir, flown, delivers

By plunging from the heights to break below,

What icy, fearsome, awe-inspiring rivers

Will do to quench my spirit, I don’t know–

Except I look from indigo abysses

And faintly, I discern in blinding mist

What splendid existential bathing this is

That leaves me breathless, battered, cleansed and kissed–

What sense is left when all the course has thundered

And crashed over my head and hands and heart

Keeps in its wake the beauty left unsundered,

A seed to germinate and grant a start–

For nothing’s as renewing as a shower:

What pours out will remake me, hour by hour.photo

A Musical Tradition

The office where my esteemed spouse performs many of the studies and administrative duties comprising his workload outside of the conducting element at the church where he’s now interim chancel choir director hasn’t got a lot of stuff in it other than a big desk, a small piano and a couple of bookshelves. Most of the books that had filled the shelves went away with their owner, the previous director; a few that go with the office itself remain on the shelves, and all by themselves they tell quite a story. That’s the way of books in general, isn’t it.

It’s all the more so in this instance, by virtue of the books’ being vintage hymnals. The history of the United Methodist Church at large is in their pages. The history of this specific congregation within the UMC is there, too. And there’s a great deal of Protestant church history, Wesleyan history, English and American folk music and even larger and older parts of the musical tradition. All right there in the pages of some rather small, rather worn books that just happen to be full of hymns.

There are libraries; there are Protestant theological resources; there are music collections; there are history books. All of them are in this one room, in a handful of little old books. And that, in itself, is the nature and long-lived tradition of printed music in general. So much has been passed down in the oral traditions of so many cultures and religions and peoples, but there’s an enormous amount that lives on and grows and inspires because of those amazing repositories that exist in the written music that survives everyday use, one generation after another. I only hope that all such traditions can be preserved and enjoyed far beyond our lifetimes, whether in temples or towns, religions or regions, families or foundations, schools or individual choirs. Beyond inspiration or even enjoyment, these are great containers of food for thought.digital collage

From Here to There and Never Back Again

So far there is no generally accepted evidence that life can be lived anything but forward, or that we get more than one shot at it. That hardly slows down anyone choosing to believe in prescience, reincarnation or an afterlife, of course, let alone explains how anyone could sometimes have a pronounced sense of déjà vu, experience the inexplicable, quite ephemeral notion of Faith as a concrete thing, or believe he has interacted with angels or ghosts. We each start out as something barely beyond an inkling, swimming blissfully in the finite universe of a womb until birth, from whence we are expected to follow the norm of progression from infancy to whatever age we get to achieve, then die. Only in fiction does anyone regularly foretell the future, begin life as an elderly person and work backward to ending as a baby, or consort with beings from past, future or other worlds. photoMany people seem to find that a sad state of affairs. The desire to know more, to be more, is apparently a strong one, and perhaps one that (unlike us) does transcend time. What we do know of our species’ history shows that the idea of things beyond and outside of our lifespans and the confines of our temporal and terrestrial location has been around and popular probably for as long as there have been people to have the ideas. Some of these notions are strangely similar to each other despite impenetrable separations between the peoples and cultures where they sprang up–despite the evident impossibility of their having been communicated by any currently known means.

Though the concept of such miraculous forms of Otherness intrigues me, too, it is in no way necessary to my sense of adventure and peculiarity and glamor. Isn’t life itself quite bizarre and magnificent and convoluted and intriguing enough just as we live it? The very improbability of our existing as a collection of beings, able to live such distinctive, densely woven, unpredictable lives–and to be in community and communication with countless fellow beings doing so as well–seems quite remarkable enough to me.photoI suspect that if I’m lucky enough to grow very old and remain at least somewhat sentient, I will look back with some surprise at the way my life casts its shadows: where I have been and what I have done will amaze me just as much in retrospect as it did in the happening; the people I’ve known or met and the way our stories intersected will still astound me with its depth and variety. I will peer into the equally misty future with the same degree of hunger and uncertainty and curiosity that I always had, but perhaps with the sharp edge of its immensity somewhat worn soft by the knowledge that there can be fewer truly new things ahead of me except for death itself. I hope that, whenever that comes, I will gaze on it with a bit of equanimity not only because it is the one inevitable passage–whether out of all existence or into some new realm with a whole new set of adventures–that I will travel like every single one before me, every one yet to come, and the one doorway whose threshold I will not cross twice. And I think that’s not a bad thing at all.

Back from the Brink

photoBurnout. Tension. Stress. Exhaustion. Doesn’t matter what I call it, the unfriendly truth of that state of being is the same. Distraction. Aching and malaise. Irritability, withdrawal, collapse. The dramatic drops in life participation and wholeness all come together in equally unpleasant responses.

What are the causes, catalysts and triggers? As many and varied as the moments of any lifetime, of a million lifetimes, can allow. How is it that I–or anyone else on this madly spinning globe–can survive such stuff assailing us, let alone prevail against it and win?

Why, in a number of ways, we all do it pretty much all of the time. That’s how our species can even continue to exist; if we didn’t have a whole arsenal of defenses and strategies for the cosmic battle, it would’ve taken little more than a moment’s stray breeze to blow us all to oblivion. But vulnerable and weak as we are, we do have our ways, and we survive.

Faith. Whether it’s the belief in something as grand and benevolent as a Supreme Being that will rescue me or in something as small and ephemeral as the offer of a stranger’s hand to grasp mine and pull me up, faith can overcome many an obstacle.

Hope, too. If not utterly confident of it, as long as I can summon a sense that there’s some probability or even possibility of better things ahead, I have a chance of mustering just enough strength, patience and will to wait for the good to come to me. I may not be able to reach for it myself any longer, but I can hang on, however thinly, to a promise of change and renewal. For the return of the light.

And love. When all other resources are at their lowest ebb, even faith and hope having withdrawn in the impenetrable distance, love can carry me through. I have a greater store than most, being surrounded as I am by not only the encouraging affection and support of spouse, family and friends but also the remarkably kind uplift I’ve received at the hands and words of a wide array of acquaintances and strangers buoying me in my life over every would-be catastrophic wave. Beyond even this, there is another love that serves me well, when I can remember it: the love inside me that, however pale and faint it’s grown in my weakened state, recognizes a need to care for and comfort others in their time of need. The moment I can step outside of my own need, my hunger, despair, anger, longing or sorrow, just enough to recollect the existence of anyone else, I tend to draw back, however slowly, from the brink myself.

I can look around again with eyes less inward-focused and with a heart more willing to keep living, hard as it may seem at the time, and crawl back toward more gracious and sanguine days. My fellow survivors show me how to do it all the time. In this, I am once again truly at peace.digitally enhanced photo

The Waiting Game

Life as we know it in the present day is characterized as a hurry-up-and-wait proposition. We tend to bemoan the pressures at both ends of the spectrum with something like a sense of martyrdom, thinking this push-pull unique to our era. But it’s always been so. One only has to study a smidgen of history to recognize the same complexities of speed and sluggishness, and note the same anxiety regarding both, in our predecessors.

Now, I’ve never been pregnant or had a child of my own, but I have it on reliable authority that that process is rife with opportunity to experience the perfect distillation of both forms of anxiety. I can say, from my years of babysitting and cousin-watching and then a couple of decades of teaching, that regardless of the legal or moral or biological relationship, the ties we have with those younger than ourselves bring out such parental fears, anticipation, dread and excitement with greater intensity than pretty much any other kind of connection can do. Terror and hope will always intermingle in the heart if we have any concern for the young, filling the stasis of Waiting from the moment of their first cellular appearance and well beyond into full adulthood.graphite drawingLife and safety and comfort are all such tenuous things, it’s a wonder we don’t all burst into spontaneous flame from the sheer tension of our worries and our desires. The only assurance we have is the history demonstrating that our forebears somehow survived their concerns over us, and theirs in turn for them, back into the far reaches of historic memory. The tipping away from apprehension and toward faith in what lies ahead is the gift that enables us to wait, no matter how illogical and impossible it may seem.

Please Vote Responsibly

You know how much I hate politics. I almost titled this post ‘Friends don’t Let Friends Drink & Vote’, since it seems like a whole lot of people prefer to find a specific agenda that appeals to them on a visceral level and shape all of their votes around it willy-nilly, without either differentiating between candidates that do or don’t have any power to guide said agenda wisely or, worse, without first thoroughly checking their own facts regarding that particular point item of passion. Mostly, I hate that what I see and hear of politics is the brainless ranting of people who hang out at the various extremes, and very little of civil discourse and logical, reasoned thinking. Nothing would please me more than to believe that every person with the privilege of voting would not only do so, but do so after serious thought and careful consideration and with a certain amount of faith that the other voters and their points of view matter, too. But to be quite honest, I think we (at least in America where I’ve observed it in person, but I gather this is so in many other places as well) are mighty far from this my ideal.

So I tend to shy away from all things political as much, as long and as often as I can.

Yet I can’t help but wish, and sometimes a little peep of this pained wishful thinking leaks out visibly or audibly. Especially around election times. At least, given my particular bent, I’ll keep trying to publicly disguise my whines and rants in slightly more lighthearted forms when I get my own political itch.

poem [typeset text]

graphite drawing