Sometimes life can be discouraging, cause for despair even. Maybe your health is failing, maybe a dear friend committed suicide, maybe an employer screws you over. Nobody listens to you, nobody is paying attention. And the question may arise: why do anything at all?
I have asked it many times before. Why indeed? And the answer is always simple: because it’s possible. It’s still possible that this time something will relieve the pain, something beautiful will come of it, someone will be touched or even moved by what I still had the courage to do.
It’s interesting that the Latin word “posse” (to be able) and its relative “potens” (able, powerful) share “poti-” as a root (or “posis” in Greek, or “patih” in Sanskrit), meaning “lord” or “husband”. That’s just what it does, life: it expresses itself endlessly. And the process is not some superficial affair. It is a dedicated marriage, an ongoing union.
The other day I was listening to some of my own music from 18-20 years ago, and felt that it is important to my present-day self to reflect on the art of my former self. Not to find the youthful bravado as well as its inevitable mistakes and learn from them, although that’s informative. Not to reconnect with some deeply personal intention I might have had at the time, although that’s helpful, too. But the main gift of reflection is to hear or see one’s own work truly afresh, as if with the eyes and ears of an outsider, and learn that way about one’s soul.
In this process of discovery, change and consistency are not mutually exclusive.
I admit I feel a little embarrassed at the time that has lapsed since my last blog entry. But then I also realize that an integrated identity, the creative genius inside all of us, isn’t a static entity, but rather an ongoing and sometimes sputtering growth process. Hiatus really is the norm, just like the solid objects in the world around us in reality consist mainly of empty space.
We all admire the branch rich with blossoms. Yet seasons are inevitable, and sometimes the energy withdraws inside the roots.
Some scientists today have fantasies of living forever, of moving faster than the speed of light to visit far away galaxies, of going back or forward in time. They back it up with fancy equations, too. I am impressed that physicists have figured out that, at the atomic level, the act of measuring changes an outcome, that the observer inevitably influences the experiment.
Why does it seem so hard for scientists to accept that the experiment influences the observer as well? I’m convinced that the “you” who travels far and wide through time and space, who lives for an eternity, will bear very little resemblance to the present “you” seeking these experiences. It is the artist’s task to imagine this distant “you”.
Some artists look to complexity as a way of improving their art. In music, more complex rhythms and harmonies are considered a sign of sophistication. In my view sophistication takes the form of increased simplicity at least as often as increased complexity. Moreover, sophistication is rooted in experience, whereas many forms of complexity are little more than an intellectual effort.
I like that the origin of the word “sophistication” is in “sophism”, the use of argument solely to deceive. It reminds me of Zen koans that trick us into going beyond the intellect toward real enlightenment and inspiration.
Sometimes as artists we make crap. I’ve witnessed and experienced two responses to this: either we break down and conclude, “Look what I’ve made. I’m such a crappy artist, there’s no hope for me.” Or we insist that our crap is not crap, rather the result of our unique, idiosyncratic genius. Most of the time these assessments are inappropriate. Actually, they’re not that different, even if they appear so on the surface: an unwillingness to get out of the way.
There’s bound to be a bad fruit sometimes. Focus instead on healthy roots.
Peace and quiet might be good for our hermits and sages. An artist can’t afford to look for them or hold on to them. Even when emotions run high, deadlines are approaching, and the phone is ringing, the artist remembers herself and creates from the heart. Experience may be deepened, but life itself cannot be put on hold.