Now that everyone seems to have the technology to make cheap watches (which I must designate in my heart mere instruments for marking time, not timepieces), I get to wondering whether the beauty of true clockworks will always be preserved or will only serve as curiosities and fodder for art. That precision we take so nonchalantly to be ours is a museum of measurement and the poetry of a mechanism we should keenly regret to lose if we value something more than the rigid math of time, the seamless meeting of Doing and Deadline.
The World in a Nutshell
All of the world’s in perpetual motion,
A loop of swift action, a constant commotion
That moves us in nervous centrifugal rings
To do and to act on a million odd things,
And so caffeinated we cannot hold still,
Or the moment of fixity surely might kill
Our fast-racing heartbeat, as used as it is
To zipping and zapping around in a whiz—
And all of us hope we will one day find quiet
And respite from all of our everyday riot,
But I am suspicious that it won’t occur
Until the last second of living, no Sir!
When a singer’s voice takes hold and sways me, I imagine a pearl dropping into a deep, deep well. Its subtly rich sheen and its smooth look of perfection rolls at speed through the air yet seems to flow through it with an attenuated grace as though purity and love buoyed it up delicately and cradled it gently downward. At last, reaching the depths, the note, the pearl, begins its plunge–the fulness of the water embraces its fall–the ear draws in the note and pulls it soul-ward.
When the choir breathes out in flawless song, I am lost in the jeweled depths. Gorgeous and welcoming, the magnificent impossibility of such beautiful sound carries me, too, in its cradling care. And I fall–in darkness, in love, in joy.
The dawn was chill and misty, palely blue,
Our hearts in morning shadow just as cold,
And bone and sinew feeling early old
As soul and body waiting day will do–
The sea was restless, slowing at the last
To push up foam as streaky as the clouds
And gather shells and pebbles in those shrouds
Around our feet, we statues standing fast–
All this, because our spirits captive are
Until revived by sun, our morning star.
So lifeless, silent, still and cold are we
When gold has yet to tinge the morning sky,
So empty is the world but for the cry
The seals and gulls raise up in minor key–
So heartless is the morning chill ashore
We stand like stone and cannot take a breath
Until the sun releases us from death
And brings the flame of sentience once more–
At last the light of day draws us to wake,
And we’ll bestir ourselves to act and thrive,
Rejoicing to discover we’re alive
Until the world’s foundations start to shake–
Would that I had the blithe wit and urbane persona of a Noël Coward, but alas, I operate on a lower and more plebeian plane. And for those who are keeping score, yes, I am a big chicken, if that’s what you were reading in today’s title. Still and all, I think of myself as being less than hideously fearful when it comes to self-exposure as an artist.Though the upshot of all this may be that my audiences become unwitting consumers of drivel and bilge at least part of the time, I also remind myself that there is some credible evidence, historically speaking, that the greatest masters of the many forms of art are represented in the present age only by those portions of their respective oeuvres that they or others chose to retain. Long have I wished that I might gain access to, if you will, the Rubbish Bins of the Old Masters to see something more accurately representing the whole of the bodies of work that led to the known and treasured glories. So here I am, letting all and sundry look into the underwear drawer of my art closet, so to speak. After all, I think that I’m merely admitting to what my betters may have left to the imagination.So I’ll keep showing off process and behind-the-curtain action from time to time, knowing as I do that not only are folk wonderfully gracious and patient with me even when critiquing but also , and more importantly, that I appreciate those of my fellow artists who are willing to share the same access to their gifts with me. We all have our weaknesses. But when it comes to showing off my work, I’m no coward.
Freedom’s a romantic notion we imbue with pretty joys,
Dreamed escape from life’s commotion and the race’s worldly noise,
Endless travel, music, dancing, and the heat of thrumming hearts,
But though sweet, the dream’s entrancing magic’s only where it starts–
Gypsy life is what we make it, rich as fantasy can be,
Only when we reach and take it: yes, it’s up to you and me
To create this liberation and its joys for which we long–
I have been scanning and digitally restoring a number of photos out of our family’s trove, a heap that resembles the disorganized and neglected stores of many other families. I make a small dent in the stack from time to time, then get distracted by everyday life and often don’t revisit the project for quite a while again. While many of us obsess over parting with beloved memorabilia of any kind, the truth is that the majority of us don’t do much with it when we have it.
All good things are that way, I suppose: love, joy, peace and happiness of both the material and the intangible sorts are seldom given their full respect when we have them, only mourned when we think they’re out of reach. And from what I’ve seen and heard from friends around the globe, this is a foolishness that transcends all sorts of differences and makes us more alike than not–no matter what our location or culture, our beliefs, hopes, and dreams, we all seem to wrestle with this forgetfulness about appreciating what we truly value that we have right in hand, and the minute that we suspect we’re about to lose our grip on those gifts, whether by our own decisions or perforce, we get panicked and become certain that it’s a sign of apocalypse. Surely the end of our own self and sanity, and very possibly, that of the universe as we know it.
I come across that box of yet-to-be-scanned photos from time to time and get a pang: what if I don’t get back to this project before I forget who’s in the photos, where the shots were taken, before the images are too faded or decayed to be rescued at all?
Well, what if?
Honestly, I know full well that it will not be the end of the world. Not even the end of my pleasurable revisiting of those memories–what’s more significant than retaining this flimsy physical repository of memories is whether I use the versions of them in my head and heart while they last (head, heart and memories, all three). Once gone from there, the data held in a picture is only cold, meaningless data after all, and it never contained the warmth and soul of anyone or anything depicted in it. It’s merely a shadow-play version of the husk that is my human form and will no longer be me when I die.
So I’ll keep leafing through these paper and binary mementos of mine as long as it pleases me to do so, remembering mostly that what is seen therein is always more beautifully carried inside me. Change is indeed the only constant, yet in the photograph my great-uncle took, probably in Johannesburg, around sixty years ago there is the ephemeral prototype of the photograph I took in New York less than a decade ago. Fifty years or fifty centuries, it matters little if we learn to respect and rejoice in what remains true and crosses the boundaries of place and time as long as we keep it alive inwardly.
Humans are not the only animals that can look both forward and back. But we’re the ones that choose to recognize this trait with a certain reverence and, particularly, to think we ought to make some use of it. We’re undoubtedly the only ones that impute a moral value to one or the other, depending not only on whichever we personally prefer but on what we think can benefit us or others.
We can spend our time and energies on studying, learning from, or even dwelling in the past. We can devote our hopes and plans to the ideation of what lies ahead as scientists, fortune tellers, scam artists or futurists of any sort from literary to application development. And there are certainly those among us who for whatever their religious, philosophical or preferential reasons are dedicated to keeping attention focused on the present time.
All of these approaches have their uses, to be sure. But I like to think that there’s room for a balanced use of this knowledge, these skills. In any time, there is much for us to learn. The successes and failures of the past inform present action, but keeping eyes on present action demands enough concentration that the revisiting of historical notes had best be done while not in the very act of the performance. Likewise, learning to predict, extrapolate and imagine possible improvements and variant outcomes is often the richest trove of possible new successes, but again, dreaming of these accomplishments-yet-to-come is only useful if we aren’t so immersed in them that we can’t complete the steps of today necessary to position us for the future.
We may not be the only beasts able to remember or to aspire, and are clearly not the only ones able to be completely present in the moment. But if we’re the only ones that truly care about such capabilities, why then, let us expend what effort and wisdom we’re able and see how well we can integrate the three. Only then, I suspect, will any of us ever live the fullest lives for which our many possible directions can set our courses.
There’s nothing like sorting through one’s personal archives to stir up the notion that life’s short and memory shorter. Go through the files of family photos, yes, and there are ghosts staring back at me that I never even knew, let alone can name or place without my mother (perhaps my grandmother or great-) on hand as reference. How many thousands of stories have I ignored or forgotten among only the few handfuls of fading images I keep boxed up in storage, I wonder?
Delve into nothing more exotic than the household files, meaning only to rearrange what’s there more neatly and perhaps cull a few records that are far out of date, and I find I am plunged into a well of information that, even in those records and bills and receipts not older than a year, escape me like ephemeral puffs of ether as I try to grasp what they meant or why they were recorded in the first place. An atomic cloud of ideas and ideals sprays out of the folders that I thought would only hold a few needful numbers, a name or connection I must think I needed at tax time or on my next appointment with the named practitioner. Stories trail out in smoky wisps.
Reach back into the recesses of the cupboard or closet, hoping to simply rearrange my goods for daily use, and I always discover that my tidying has turned archeological, that items long forgotten lurk in the shadows and recall to mind grand plans since erased: a superb meal here, a skirt to hem there, a pint of paint bought specifically for a project that has lain neglected so long that the other parts were used eons ago for something else entirely. My life is a tale of constantly shifting shores, tangents taken and those unnoticed ones that might have led me in a completely different path to who-knows-where.
What is my legacy? I cannot know, other than that it is short and small. My life’s story will disappear in a hiccup about as soon as I shed my human shell. But in the meantime, what adventures can I take? How shall I flesh it out to my own satisfaction? That is the time of relevance to me, not history past or future but my own small window of experience. Shall I forget the stuff of my life long-shelved, my ancestors, the wide unfolding scenes of history and space? Oh, no, never by choice. But what will shape my happiness the most is none of that, is rather my living in this moment, possibly with a tidier cabinet here and there or a better sorted box of memories to visit from time to time, yet always with an eye toward the light, toward the rising and setting of the sun. Day in, day out, forever.
Life is astoundingly brief and runs away apace. But grasping the essence and ecstasy of any day need not be gigantic in its way, only enough to fill an undemanding heart with some small measure of contentment that might overflow, only enough in turn, to run out toward another heart or two.
When I post drawings, they almost always require a digital tweak or ten to be clean and sharp enough for putting up on view. Most of the time, it’s merely the need for getting rid of visible dust and scratches or evening out the tone across the piece to more accurately reflect the appearance of the original, stuff like that. Even a direct high-definition scan doesn’t eliminate all of the little oddities.
No doubt there are endless ways to do what I do to the images much more simply and cleverly and efficiently. But having as little technological skill and wisdom as I have, I must content myself with doing in a hundred steps what others can do in ten. At least until I have the time, the money and the gumption to get the necessary education, anyway.
Still, slow and ambling and rambling as I am, I get the occasional urge to mess around with the existing drawing and manipulate it further digitally. Silly, yes, given that it takes me eons to do the first drawing part and a multitude more ages to do anything further via the digital medium. But you know how these things are: inspiration or perspiration, it’s all a command one has to obey once the Muse prods me in that direction. Here’s last night’s drawing (above), followed by the series of phases I put it through today. That is all. For now.