Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Aerial Ladders of Artistic Impulse

Domenico_Beccafumi_056Creativity is, at best, an artifice to those who are waltzing their way to the grave. Perhaps this concept of the artificial was inculcated in my mind by the education landscape of the postmodernist world. Prior to modernism, creativity was a shadow or reflection of the sacred, of crucial beginnings, of endings that implied beginnings in a new world that was either good or bad.

Despite modernism, death is a reality that we must face. It can’t be avoided. Therefore, creation becomes a grasping for life–a mimicry of what we can’t achieve. This may seem to lack a logical connection for many, not worthy of a therefore, but it is a concept that, rather, is what it is. Human incapacity for logic has nothing to do with it. What can we really create to further or expand life, aside from offspring? Our children are our greatest achievements this side of death, and, yet, we have little control over the object produced. We can control, to an extent, whom we mate with, and that is all. Genetic selection doesn’t involve our mental processes. It happens when one particular sperm penetrates one particular egg. The inner and outer canvas that is human life is encoded by complex genetics outside our control. Don’t bore me with science fiction concepts, of scientists who play God. I’m speaking of the way the vast majority of humans, present and past, have produced offspring. They love and they lust, and they produce children.

How does the creation of art become a fulfilling endeavor for the artist and for the viewer of art? This is something I’ve mulled over since high school, and the sensation of having completed a cycle and returned to the same place I was at, mentally, when I was seventeen, is a little disconcerting. A long time ago, I had a dream in which I was traveling in an SUV up a mountain road and, along the way, ladders projected into the sky, held aloft by nothing, and, yet, workmen still climbed the ladders with their toolboxes in order to fix electrical or telephone wires, or whatever happened to be up there but empty sky. As the car drove toward the ladders, they remained standing. After passing them, however, the ladders toppled, and I could watch them toppling in the rear view mirror. This is the image that inevitably rears up in my mind when I consider my growth as an artist since high school. I never resolved the issues I had; I never resolved the internal conflict that nihilism creates in the soul. Instead, I continued forward, mounting ladders that I expected to stand on their own.

This, I imagine, is the dilemma that all artists face. Creation is a paradox. We can’t create matter from nothing. We can’t perpetuate life in and of ourselves, but the compulsion to create still exists inside the soul. And so we find ourselves gathering the preexisting materials of the universe and making something of them that is meaningful to ourselves and to others. The meaning, however, is dim. It’s symbolic; it’s artifice. It’s the work of people trapped deep inside Plato’s Cave, attempting to represent what we believe is the universe. Those shadows we see: they represent the known universe. Those stars, galaxies, and multiplex of galaxies: they represent the known universe. They represent the dome, the inside of the cave. What we create inside the cave is akin to ladders leading nowhere.

How is art fulfilling? How does it express or create meaning in the human consciousness? Can it ever rise above symbol? I don’t know the answers because, as I already admitted, I’m back to the same questions that filled my mind at the age of seventeen. I’ve watched the devastation of the falling ladders and have continued, nevertheless, to erect more. Perhaps, someday, one of my ladders will find a fortified wall on which to lean. But I have a sinking suspicion that when I reach to the top of that ladder, I will have reached the end of my life.

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This, Too, Shall Pass

Edmund Dulac from Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat

Edmund Dulac from Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat

And when you are dead, and you’re in your grave, you’ll be covered by the cold, cold clay. The worms will eat your flesh, good man, and your bones, they will waste away.–The May Song

In veritas. She isn’t the goddess in the well.

Then let not winter’s ragged hand deface,
In thee thy summer, ere thou be distilled:
Make sweet some vial; treasure thou some place
With beauty’s treasure ere it be self-killed.
That use is not forbidden usury,
Which happies those that pay the willing loan;
That’s for thy self to breed another thee,
Or ten times happier, be it ten for one;
Ten times thy self were happier than thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigured thee:
Then what could death do if thou shouldst depart,
Leaving thee living in posterity?
Be not self-willed, for thou art much too fair
To be death’s conquest and make worms thine heir.–William Shakespeare

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?–St. Paul

Vital spark of heav’nly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling’ring, flying,
O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirit, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav’n opens my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?–Alexander Pope

It isn’t spring, but life that takes flight.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly — and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.–Edward Fitzgerald, translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

And where will she end her migration?

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Vanity of Vanities: the World-Wide Press

Our lives are laid bare, now. Our bones are picked clean; we’re the scavenger and the scavenged in these internet days. Some parts of my life I couldn’t fathom dragging out for the internet world to feast on, even though I don’t have any scandals or skeletons locked in my closet. No past abuse. No arrests. No divorces. The other day, I read a woman’s story of her divorce, as it was happening, on her blog. There it was–her treachery, her journey to becoming a single mom. Finally, after claiming nothing caused this divorce; it just happened! and deflecting naysayers who implied she was at fault, she subtly told her audience that she had biblical reasons for divorce. What is the biblically valid reason for divorce? Adultery. That’s it. So, basically, she told the world her husband was a cheater without actually using the word. And where was her husband in all this? Who knows? The woman has a huge audience. Why not get sympathy where the getting’s good, even if it’s at the expense of a man who only has a face in the family pic she posted?

I know nothing of this woman or her husband. I don’t know the actual factual truth from either perspective. However, for an hour I possessed a prurient fascination with her blog, where she discusses her divorce and her integration into singlehood. The entire affair gave me pause. This is the way the world has become: we’re in the grip of social media. It’s as if we’re compelled to share or read the dirtiest and mundane aspects of our lives with, theoretically, an infinite number of people. I’m left with nothing but questions. What is the motivation behind such airings of private matters? Are we attempting to gain notoriety, or some measure of immortality? Do we find meaning in knowing that, in a sea of voices, our voice will be heard by at least a few others?

And when our treachery comes under censure by hundreds, is it still worth it for whatever ambiguous motivations we had in the first place? I shouldn’t add myself in the collective ownership of treachery. This woman’s treachery–discussing what should have been private information about her husband on the internet–doesn’t belong to me. Somehow, I’m still involved, though, because I read her stories. I studied the disheartening picture of her complete family that is no longer complete. Also, I have to admit that I’m not always careful about what I write on my blog. Sure, I have a code I follow when I write my memoirs: I ask permission to write about someone whom I’m still in contact with, and if I’m not in contact with people I would like to write about, I mask their identities and settle for vagueness. Others’ stories aren’t mine to tell; I understand this. I may not have crossed my own lines, but have I crossed others’? It’s difficult to say.

Airing one’s divorce on the internet may seem different than grappling with the past and calling it memoir, but the only real distinction is measured in time. I write about events that occurred many years ago; this woman has been writing about current events that have created wounds, as yet unhealed. But it isn’t outside the scope of memoir to write of the present (think of the detestable Eat, Pray, Love). Honestly, revealing one’s ever-present dirty laundry to the world could be called a form of therapy or disguised as a literary form, but that doesn’t change what it is materially: a stinking mess. My honor code may be meaningless to those who recognize themselves in my words and don’t care for the way I’ve described them. Memoirs are tricky, and memoirists even trickier, and not necessarily because they’re intent on deceiving or are in any way more self-centered than the average person. They’re tricky because they’re writing their own histories, which involve others, and this history is intensely personal. They are historians who have conflicts of interest with their subjects.

Once, I read some articles from the pen of a memoirist discussing her life as a super-woman chasing after everything, including hardcore career, family, and her small hobby of being a contracted-for-publishing author. I found her tone a little off–perhaps narcissistic, or maybe even in the vein of she doth protest too much–which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that her husband insisted she not write about him. Write about being Super Woman; go ahead, he said, Just leave me out of it. Her publisher didn’t like it and neither did she, but they had to comply with his wishes. His rigid declaration was a triumph for the powerless person without a voice. He removed his wife’s power to define him, unlike the husband of the woman blogger discussed above.

I, frankly, would loathe for others to define me, being on the far end of the autonomy spectrum. I’m not sure why I believe I should define other autonomous human beings. My conflict of interest is showing, I guess. Deep down, at the bottom-most layer of my ego consciousness, I suspect I want recognition as a human being, even if it’s nothing more than my chasing after wind.

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Filed Under: Misanthrope Mom*

We had an Irish dance morning, which began with my first attempt at crock-pot rice cereal. I’m not much of one for whole grains–believing they are vile and meant for animals, but make good peasant food if the peasants are starving–so I added the beef juices leftover from a roast, as well as coconut oil, cinnamon, raisins, and chopped apples. It was a kind of savory mince treat, fitting into the paradigm of appropriate “humorous” foods, nourishing the phlegmatics and melancholics alike. The children also had whole milk or plain yogurt at their discretion. One of them slurped up an egg. Don’t be alarmed; my family is used to my cooking, which either follows some weird archaic formulation or is wholly based off science: Are all necessary nutrients accounted for? Affirmative. But it tastes terrible! All nutrients are accounted for. Detecting irrationality…detecting irrationality…please hold; cannot quantify irrationality.

My youngest child, who is also my only son, sat at the table wearing a long-sleeved white shirt with a rounded, slightly-frilled collar. It would have been an appropriate part of an Irish dance costume…if he were a girl.

“Why is [redacted] wearing a girl’s shirt?” I shouted.

“We couldn’t find anything else for him to wear!”

And why was I just hearing about this on the morning of performance? My children know I’m not particularly fond of clothes shopping and other nuisances and, aside from that, my son is very choosy with his clothes, so shopping with him is a big ordeal. I would have bought him a plain white boy’s shirt, though. I told them to find something else–and quick!–before their father noticed his only son was wearing a girl’s shirt. Thankfully, they found him a nice, blue plaid button-down. My son’s relief, once in the blue-plaid, sans-frilly-collar, was palpable. He ran his hands down the front of his shirt and turned into his cocky little self again (not that a shirt changes him in any real way, but he does puff his chest a little when confident).

In addition to son’s wardrobe issues, one of my daughters had a hole in her tights, but it wasn’t worth moaning over (as I would’ve bought her new tights, yesterday). They had a performance! At nine in the morning (and they had to be there early)! Who attends an Irish dance performance at that hour in the morning?! Despite these minor malfunctions and the strange food in their bellies, they danced well, and a small crowd turned out to cheer the local dancers. My son forgot some of his steps, but that doesn’t surprise me, as he spends most of his spare time playing Minecraft and practicing parkour. In a single day, he performs at least 100 handstands of various kinds; I’m surprised he didn’t forget himself and perform them on stage. Oh, and he shouts and throws fits if we don’t oblige him with math tests every_single_day. He must take math tests. On his five-page Christmas list, right after real axes and real knives and real TNT, he carefully wrote in bold colored markers: math tests; math speed tests.

I don’t know how it happened, but we seem to have become a math-oriented family. Math has been much easier to teach to my children than reading. In other news, my eldest daughter, and my first home-school graduate, just tested into the 99th percentile for math (97th and 96th in reading and writing respectively). I’m allowed to brag; my friends on Facebook said so! For years, I argued logically and factually in defense of home education, until I matured past such absurd rationality and decided that I homeschool because 92.5% of teachers are idiots works just as well, even though the percentage is cited from nowhere and the term idiot is not terribly precise. My eldest daughter’s success means my approach of Figure out how to do your work yourself and, by the way, do it perfectly or else is effective. I should write a book detailing my program. I’ll leave it to somebody else to write the one entitled Survivors of Misanthrope Homeschool Moms: a dozen children speak out.

*Filed Under > Misanthrope Moms > Bragging Rights > Eternal Sunshine of the Dappled Mind

**Oh, wow, I just fell asleep at the computer. I wanted to write something today, and I couldn’t face my dreaded writing project that looms in front of me like a great white door, behind which, monsters lurk. I hope this blog post doesn’t put you to sleep, too. I know I get tired of hearing moms bragging about their kids.

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¡Oda al acordeón!

Just when I needed a project, a new Flaco Jiménez accordion tutorial arrived in the mail. I’d ordered it a while back and had it shipped media mail, so it took its sweet time finding its way into my mailbox. And then, lo and behold, there it was. To get in the spirit of things, I posted the one picture I have of myself playing my Hohner. My husband snapped it when I was unaware, which is why I appear so placid. Also, I was concentrating on the music in front of me. I’m not much of a musician; reading music is a chore for me. But I love the accordion so very much, especially the diatonic, that my intense desire will feed my lack of talent. That’s the idea, anyway. It stinks not being wired as an artistic person. Sometimes, I wish I could jump out of my skin.

My husband decided a long time ago I would be la flaquita, but frankly, I believe my skills don’t warrant any kind of nickname, except maybe la tonta. In due tontería, I’ll post my Ode to an accordionist below. I’ve probably posted it on some sorry previous occasion, but here I go again. Because poetry. Because I don’t write it any longer. Because if I keep posting my old poems, I’ll someday write new ones. That’s the idea, anyway:

El estuche grande, negro reposa
en mi cuarto a veces;
Es un sueño, sí, como mariposas
que en crisálidas duermen,
para que, adentro, descansen loas,
sonatas y sonetos de las sombras
y marea, liras mojadas en losas
que brotan de la fuente.

Una vez abierto, sobre los muelles
se derraman las olas,
el sonido, el respiro me vuelven,
la copa poderosa
de licor me llena mi anhelo tenue
por lengüetas que vibran lentamente,
por manos que abren mi voz, un fuelle
que, para mí, resopla.

Al fin, es un sabor, dulce a la boca;
no es nada sino muerte
que en mi cama, sobre mi piel se frota.
Son hebillas con cierre;
son sombras sin loas; todas las cosas
que alimentan sueños, ya no me tocan.
Se transforman en canciones llorosas,
entonces se suspenden.

Quiero que la música nunca cese,
que nunca esté sola,
que el acordeonista nunca me deje
entre palabras rotas,
que el estuche negro nunca se lo lleve
del cuarto como mi amante leve
cuyos dedos son aire de repente,
espectro de mis coplas.

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