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.

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

Owl be Seeing You

I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.

Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.

It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.mixed media mask

Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.mixed media mask

For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.mixed media mask

 

The One Person Who Asks

It’s easy to love the grand gesture. I’ll never say No to heartfelt generosity–at least as long as I don’t think the giver will be harmed by my acceptance–knowing how much it pleases me to know that others enjoy my gifts. But more than anything, it’s the smaller, maybe more intimate, maybe just more spontaneous, things that truly move me.

Sometimes amid the siege of an endless conference or workshop, a silently knowing meeting of eyes across the room is all it takes to get me through the whole rest of the event. Or it might be that one light pat on the shoulder as two of us pass each other hurriedly in the hall. The warm smile from the lady I met only last week that says she already names me Friend.

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A letter from a grateful stranger. Who could know that just sitting and holding his hand for a moment could mean so much to both of us?

It’s certainly the one person who gently asks after the status of my current concern, whether it’s an upcoming test or finishing an important project or, especially, the health and happiness of my loved ones. That moment of being willing to ask, and of quietly listening to my reply, speaks volumes of kindness that wrap my heart and spirits in petitions and repetitions of comfort. And when words fail or have no place, there is the silent embrace of a gracious and caring friend.

To all of you who practice these beautiful arts, I say, Thank You. It means the world that you do, even–maybe, particularly–when we who are on the receiving end of the exchange have no words or gestures of our own with which to respond and express our gratitude properly. The best that we can hope is that, borne up and our way made brighter by their light, we’ll be made strong and peaceful enough ourselves to pass along the gift to someone else who may not even know he was in need. Someday we, too, will be the one who asks.

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The smallest kindness can bestow a deeply needed ray of light.

I Close My Eyes

photoI close my eyes.

Breathe. Breathe, and think nothing–deliberately think nothing: not thoughts about nothingness, but no thinking. Just feel. Feel my breathing. Let it slow and deepen. Sense how my lungs are filling and how cool and soothing the air can be. Feel the inside of my eyelids becoming less dry and harsh, softening with the renewing almost-tears that mark the relief of closing my eyes after too little sleep and too long a day to follow it. Breathe.

I can smell the familiar scent of my freshly washed shirt collar that’s pulled up close to my chin, not because I’m cold but because it’s a favorite and a comfortable, so-soft shirt. All I hear is the gentle whirring of the air through the house, the light flickering of leaves outside the window in the slightest breeze, and a bird not far away, practicing its sweet and simple arias without tiring. The sun’s warmth, coming in the window, is blushing its way through my eyelids but still I keep my eyes lightly closed. I am content to maintain my steady breaths, my slowness, my calm, my emptiness, and simply to feel. My pulse ticks softly, steadily, unhurried.

There is no need to think of anything just now. Nothing I could think would change what is real in my world or better my place in it, at the moment, so it is good to turn off the thinking and just let go of my usual tense grip on it all for a little while. The world will wait for me.

I can visit other worlds if I like. Sometimes, with my eyes closed, I will. I can make such wonderful worlds inside, when I wish.

But for now, what I want most is this silence that I have sorted out from what’s outside of me; these slow and steady and uncomplicated open spaces I am cultivating and embracing on the inside. The warmth of the sun, through glass, caressing my face. The depth of soothing air moving through my lungs in a grateful, peaceful sigh.

Everything that must Happen and Change and Do will have to wait for me while I am so very un-busy just being. That is enough for now; sitting, eyes closed, breathing, silent, open. For now, that is everything.photo

Sunflowers

It’s too soon to find them in bloom. They’re mostly two feet tall at best, thus far, and not nearly ready to flower. And the sky is overcast today. Quite grey and a little bit dark. Any sunflowers would be hard pressed to find the sun and smile at it.

The thing about sunflowers is, they believe in the sun even when it’s not visible. I do, too.pen & ink

Who are We, Really?

digital image + text

Earthen Vessel

Who am I?

Breath captured

in an earthen vessel

Spirit wedded

to primeval soil

Imperfect Mirror of

essential Being

Wrapped in the terrestrial

winding-sheet

of Human clay

Simple creatures, perhaps, we humans–but is there not a mote, a speck, a spark in us of something grander than what we usually appear? Some bit of wonder that belies the humble forms of mortality and speaks of the transcendent? The perpetual questions that pull at us when we regard an existential view must at least spring from something larger than the plain facts of our selves . . . what can it all mean?

I certainly have no expectation of answering any such things, or even approaching their periphery, in my life, but like generations before me, still feel compelled to ask. That in itself is an intrigue, an oddity of being what we so proudly name Homo sapiens. Does this merely prove that we are so self-centered and hubristic that we assume importance in our existence that no other species dares–or bothers–to impute? It may. The idea of a dog, a pig, a horse or elephant, no matter how intelligent it is, bothering to sit around and study itself and its centrality in the universe so intently is amusing but ultimately quite ridiculous; it wouldn’t in fact be an utter shock to discover that they think the same of us, if they could be troubled to notice it at all.

Most particularly I hope that there is much that is far greater than we are, knowing how puny and foolish and improbable and fallible we tend to be even at our finest times. It’s highly reassuring to me that, when I’ve done my puzzling and my contemplation of my place in space, my purpose in appearing here on earth, it’s still quite insignificant; that a real and precious Otherness is more than all of us, more than enough to fill the emptiness of space whether we little creatures stay or grow or cease to exist. This is comfort enough that I can go to sleep at night, content that I am not the sun or the source of anything necessary, that all will go on long, long, long after I have returned to shimmering dust.