Get Me Some Book-Larnin’

Drawing: Samuel ClemensJust because I have had the benefit of a decent education doesn’t mean I am smart. We all know that it’s entirely possible to have any number of degrees and diplomas, plaques and endorsements, letters and titles decorating your name and still be a complete fool. Idiocy is a far less rare condition than the number of high school and university graduates would have us believe.

Indeed, I have read a great quantity of writings during the course of my life, but I would never go so far as to say that I am well read. Among other contradictions to that claim would be my incredible slowness as a reader, both in speed and in comprehension: as a multifaceted dyslexic, able to turn words, letters, numbers, directions and relative spatial placements all inside out and upside down without even trying, I can easily spend four times the amount of energy and hours reading that any decent reader would need to get through the same amount of text. And of course that doesn’t guarantee that I will actually understand what I read in precisely the way the authors intended.

A more important reason that I don’t consider myself well read is that I have managed to conquer only a relatively small segment of the library most scholarly and literate persons would consider to be well written, informative, accurately researched and defended, or just plain must-read, important stuff among books. Long before I knew why it took me so long and so many tries to read a mere paragraph, let alone a book, I was required to tackle a handful of the so-called Classics of literature, and a bit of contemporary contenders for the title as well. It’s just as well I didn’t imagine I had such an anomalous reading style or that it was considered a disability by others, because I might have had yet more frustrations and difficulties in trying to fit the mold of how one was expected to overcome such things, instead of finding that by plodding through in my own backward way, I became attached to some of the books and stories to an equally unexpected depth. Whom should I, as a struggling reader, admire most among authors but those champions of the dense and complicated, say, Charles Dickens and Robertson Davies.

On the other hand, it’s probably less surprising that I also favor the purveyors of the most outlandish and appalling and ridiculous, from Ogden Nash, Evelyn Waugh, and Edgar Allan Poe to Mark Twain, S.J. Perelman and Franz Kafka. This part at least makes some sense, if you tend to believe I’d read writers who reflect something of my own mind’s workings or the weird ways in which I see the world. In any event, this latter crew might explain a little more about my tending to choose the least arduous paths in life, since I find a certain sort of familiarity in the strangest of their inventions and so can perhaps navigate their writings with a surer strength than otherwise.

So while I may not be the sharpest pencil in the drawer or the most edified of readers, I have at least a few pieces of proclamatory paper in my coffers to prove that I did my homework somewhat dutifully if not doggedly. My degrees don’t confer any special wisdom upon me, but they at least excuse my curmudgeonly attitude about how long it takes me to read my own posts, let alone anyone else’s books and articles and poems and proposals, no matter how brilliant and scintillating and clever and beautiful they are. I’m still trying, but give me plenty of time!

Parked Her Carcase

Digital illustration: Belinda Babbitt

Speaking as a person whose sense of direction can barely get me from my own front door to the kitchen and back without assistance, I have a certain empathy for even the fictional characters who lose their ways in the world. Not so much so that I don’t laugh up my sleeves just a little at their plight all the same, since they are, after all, make-believe…
Digital illustration + text: Parked

Leave the Lights On!

digital illustrationWhile I’m closing out an old notebook that I kept in blog form a number of years ago, I found yesterday’s post and this companion one. So what the hey, I’ll share this one with you, too.
It’s Thanksgiving Day [2005!] and I am particularly thankful this year for having celebrated a whole year of emergence from clinical depression. For anyone out there who has been mired in it, or still is, I send out a fiercely made wish for your recovery and new joy in life, along with this meditation I wrote after realizing not only how far and how long I had been away from my true self, but the cultural setting in which it is possible to get there without realizing it or even having others see it clearly.And with deep thankfulness that it is possible, with help, to be revived.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let’s stop all this rubbish about Depression as a romantic notion.

The myth of suffering being necessary to ennoble the spirit or, more commonly, to shape creativity and artistry and the personalities that foster them, is an inaccurate and unhealthy construct that belies the potential power of sanity and contentment. The idea that much of the great art that has sprung from the work of troubled or diseased artists throughout history would have been impossible, or the artists Not Themselves, if they’d been well or happy is simply a gross assumption of the inflexibility of the human spirit at best, and an insult to mortal intelligence, invention, and character at worst.

In a telling moment of literal as well as figurative turning-on of the lights, participants in a 2004 Canadian study on Deep Brain Stimulation as a possible treatment for otherwise-untreatable depression noted that the world became a visibly, physically brighter place when “area 25”, or the central zone of depression response in their brains, was stimulated to relieve depression. Many of the patients described a distinctive, even poignant, instant of pleasurable shock when the electrode stimulation, suitably placed, flooded them not only with unaccustomed sensations of contentment and ‘rightness’ in their world but also a clearly discernible brightening of their visual perception. It was as though, one commented, he had suddenly remembered a whole range of colors and values and sensory impulses and emotions that had been locked away for decades.

Nowhere in this was there any indication that the participants in the study experienced a negative change in their self-concept when their depression was eased. No mention is made of the patients losing their creative impulses or intellectual depth. Not a note of regret or sense of personal diminution.

The breezy optimist, on the other hand, is not by definition dimwitted or shallow or uninspired. While cultures that have embraced a darkly Romantic mythos of the suffering genius tend to dismiss brilliance that emerges from happier sources as a fluke or as slick, glib cheapness that won’t withstand the value-test of time, many stars and their accomplishments defy those definitions.

Yes, depressed, manic, even twisted and tortured souls with the deepest of psychological, physiological, or chemical-addled warps and wounds have been the vessels and sources of high art and equally high drama, but they are far from alone in that. To say that they only achieved their greatness because of their damaged state is a cruelty, an insult, and a cop-out that says we all could not be greater than we are, if not equally “gifted” with darkness. If being let off the hook ourselves is what we seek, then let’s just be honest and say we don’t relish the burdens of effort and experimentation and get on with other things. I have a suspicion, as it is, that if there’s a notably higher percentage of mental illness among persons who could be classified as particularly ‘creative’, then the cause/effect relationship is one of persons being used to having to problem-solve their way out of unusually difficult circumstances on a regular basis, and so developing stronger problem-solving (read: creative) skills.

Meanwhile, cheer up! Look at the dazzle that being joyful brings. See the energy and wit that, when not wasted on grief and moroseness and morbidity, can be devoted to pursuing greatness instead, and run after it with childlike delight.

Sometimes No News is Just…No News

I’m not here a second time today to announce I’ve discovered the cure for halitosis, let alone cancer. But I’m back simply to share a link with you because another blogger’s words for today had such a thought-provoking effect on me and I figured you might find them equally intriguing. Jen, the smart and compassionate translator/interpreter for her charming and handsome malamute Rumpy over at Rumpydog, is a committed animal activist. My friends, you know that it’s more likely I should be committed [IYKWIM] than true that I am disciplined, self-confident or wise enough to be an active advocate for much of anything. But today Jen addressed a topic that’s long been nagging at me, to the extent that I know I’ve actually mentioned it to you: it’s not that we as humans are incapable of caring about things enough, too stupid to figure out some solutions, or unwilling to do the hard work to enact them–it’s that we are too self-centered to do so together with anyone who fails to think and care about, and approach, those problems in precisely the way we personally approve.

I’m absolutely certain that no matter how much I liked or admired Jen it would be impossible for me to agree 100% with her on everything, or her with me. But I’m also sure that I do deeply respect her commitment and willingness to act on it and speak her mind. So I encourage you to go and visit her to read her most sensible, cogent piece I’ve seen in ages about what does and doesn’t work in discussing, promoting, advocating for or acting in *any* good cause. I don’t know a solution, because I suspect it’s such a universal ill among humans that it would require Nobel Peace Prize brilliance *plus*. But if we gather around the conference table determined to listen, learn and share the best of ourselves, there just might be some hope for us. The very thought cheers me.Happy days to all of you, and many thanks to Jen for sharing. (Click on the word ‘sharing’ to go to her blog.)digital artwork from a photo

Mother & Child

graphite drawing + digital colorLullaby for Spring

Sleep, my sweet, my lovely one,

From dusk until the rising sun

Paints morning roses blushed with dew;

Let comfort bless the night, and you,

Awaking, bless with joy the ray

That, opalescent, breaks this day.digital image

It’s Not Enough to be Beautiful

digital painting from a photoReally, the stuff that lies inside is what matters, what always mattered. Wit, integrity, talent. Compassion, charm. Power and intelligence and courage and humor. The things that last go far beyond the mere physical and visible attractions that we, individually and collectively, consider beautiful. It’s more difficult to find and gauge inner beauty, and far more so to develop it, so no wonder we hunt for it and we treasure it so highly. Still, it’s funny that we do. We love, after all, what looks beautiful to us very, very deeply as well. And beauty for its own sake is not a bad thing, either.

Is one morally or inherently better than another? Certainly not. Are they mutually exclusive? Hardly. But it’s true all the same that visible beauty has its perks. We often don’t have to know anything about each other for us to want to be associated Beautiful people, to be around them and admire them, if only for how much we like the way they look. And they in turn, both those with the inner resources that we admire and those who might be closer to pretty, empty packages with nothing fabulous inside, get attention and get things done, their way sometimes greased by the access and support that their prettiness gets them. If it’s possible to have both the outer and the inner, that could hardly be objectionable, but if I had to choose, some days I suspect I would be quite content to be the beautiful one in the room; it’d be fun just to see what it’s like, I imagine. Might not be a Greta Garbo, with both the looks and the evidently impressive inner life, but even being a cheap imitation of the exquisite woman for sheer looks wouldn’t be too awful, I’d think. All I can say is that it really isn’t enough to be beautiful–but it’s not exactly such a bad thing either, is it, now?

All right, I’m only enjoying my little fantasy. My partner, husband, best friend and spouse tells me I’m pretty, I’m beautiful, and I’m full of all those dandy aforementioned inner resources too. And whether it’s flattery or his perception of the truth, I don’t much care. It’s more than enough to feel beautiful. Glamorous I may not be, and in fact I might not even be any of those other lovely things my guy tells me I am, but he’s pretty convincing, that fella of mine, and his word–with his impressive daily love backing it all up–is plenty for me. Any day of the year.

Teaching the Digits to be Digital

One of the great challenges of leaving behind my personal Stone Age is finding a useful balance between who I am by nature and what I am trying to achieve by effort. Given my formidable inner desire for inertia (a.k.a. Laziness), the main trick is to find entertaining enough ways to achieve any wanted result that I’m willing to actually get up off my leaden posterior and Do Stuff.

One of the greatly intimidating challenges, for me, is learning anything that smacks of the technological. Whatever my reasons and/or excuses, I’m timid about those things that require elemental knowledge let alone mastery of anything with Parts, anything requiring Processes. Machines. Electronics. A bicycle, for heaven’s sake. So it’s hardly surprising that I should be nervous about figuring out how to use techno-tools for art, along with any other Luddite fears I may harbor in my dimly-lit soul.

Having three sisters who are all skilled at using numerous sorts of computer equipages and their various companion software programs, I should feel, at least, the camaraderie of the struggle, if not the surrounding angels of educators. But of course, besides the little problem of living thousands of miles from each other there is the larger problem that even on those rare occasions when I know how to describe what I’m trying to do, posing the question to the Three Graces of computer wizardry is still impracticable, because they–unlike me–are using their computers to do useful, practical and normal things like handling spreadsheets and communications. Me, I am trying to make the computer my pencil, pen, paintbrush, eraser, scissors, glue, welding torch, carving chisel, and serendipitous doer-of-things-unexpectedly-artistic. Not their sort of problem, you see.

My solution: mess around and see what happens. I do realize that there are classes, really fine and useful classes and innumerable tutorials, available both in person and online for this sort of thing any time I should step up and behave like an intelligent adult. But, while I am in the interminable queue that wends its way toward maturity, I remain stubbornly ill motivated to learn things via proper channels and techniques, and instead spend my time poking at the keyboard and zigging and zagging my fingers around on my trackpad at irregular speeds and intervals and just seeing what happens as I go. What does happen is just often enough entertaining enough that I continue my willfully aimless art-making in this mode and sometimes hit upon something that seems recognizable as a picture.

Who knows, this might be my own version of the correct method after all.

digital drawing from a photograph

Louise Brooks tags along with me into the 21st century . . .