Being Amidst the Northern Latitudes

The image is fuzzy, but it shows a phenomenon strange to someone who grew up in the American Southwest. It’s summer, officially, and at 10pm, around when this picture was snapped, as the flood of Timbers fans streamed out of the Stadium on Morrison St, it’s still a bit light out.

The deep blue of the evening sky still hasn’t turned to indigo. Twilight seems to last forever these days. It’s unsettling and not just a little magical to me. For most of my life, 10:00pm is always solidly night. Yet, here, the shreds of day cling to the horizon, encouraging us to stay awake, keep working, keep moving.

The long nights of winter are a much lyricized tradition. We should remember their counterpart, the equally persistent light and promise of summer days.

The Anxiety of Small Moments Is a Reminder of the Joyous Big Ones

The idea that we have to overcome our fears and amxieties isn’t new, but the reality that simply living in the 21st Century generates some level of it is—by definition, even—very new.

Humanity moves from threat to threat, along its geologically short timeline. The big things we’ve done are still a scratch on the full line of eons. There isn’t just monkey mind to deal with, there’s lizard- and insect-level leftovers in there somewhere. It’s easy to dredge up trepidation and feel like we should just hide.

So along with that ongoing series of anxieties, I try to think about opposing feelings, and when I’ve felt them. We almost always have both in our lives. Some moments when we felt larger than life, loved, connected, part of a thing greater than our individual selves. It makes it easier to notice the small, ongoing fears and know they, too, shall pass, if we let them.

Always Be Close to the Edge When Experimenting

In fact, push yourself straight over.

To clarify, this isn’t an exhortation to be “edgy,” rather that we should be looking for places and times times to be wild with the work. To boldly go, and all that jazz.

Experimenting means looking for the wild places. It’s a time to be more free. We look for moments of flow, being open to possibility. We try not to judge what appears.

Be a mad scientist of making. Fail in explosions of paper and pixels. Turn yourself into an art mutant. You know, once in a while. Who else is going to get you to the wild places but you?

At This Moment, Everybody Is Going Somewhere

Just a quick observation: staying still is not an option for very long. We’re headed for old age, if nothing else (and if we’re fortunate). We can pretend we’re standing still, but the world moves.

And it’s okay to sit there, sometimes, and watch for a while. Looking around every once in a while helps you not to miss life, as a formidable fiction once said.

But don’t make it the only thing you do. Here endeth the platitude part of the lesson.

We’ll be moving in some way, of course. I think it’s better to try to move ahead making art, deliberately and thoughtfully. We’re defined by what we do, not what we don’t do.

Everything Is Distracting and Indulgent

Indulging your distractions can be a comfort, especially if anxiety or fear is creeping up on you. But since it can easily turn into an additive substitute for doing difficult things, I’m trying to balance my fears and my determination this year.

I’ll allow myself a bit of distraction, but only if I’ve started something: drawing, writing, class work. Usually, if I’ve started, my fear melts and I tend to keep working for a while.

This goes back to the notion that we need to be making amazing things. No. We just need to make things, and some will have the opportunity to become amazing. We need to give ourselves permission to do some bad work, and let time do the rest. Make some terrible drawings, call on that kid energy, when it didn’t matter a damn you didn’t know what you were doing. Make the work, balance the fear, keep moving.

In Which Pride Goeth Before a Long, Hot Summer

And our shadows are taller than our souls. Which I’m still not sure means anything, but it sounds damned good.

It’s Pride Sunday, an unofficial holiday that demarcates a lot of admonition and exhortations to be oneself, yourself, our true selves.

This is a day to celebrate differences, and particularly gayness with several allied associated bands of people trying to be their authentic selves. Celebrating as a marginalized group is empowering, and the history of Pride bears that out.

But I was reading an article in Scientific American on ways we either misunderstand or overlook what qualities we call “true,” or “authentic.” And there are multiple ways we fool ourselves into thinking we know what we mean by all of it.

But the article strikes an inspiring note by the end, even as it tears apart our cursory understanding of authenticity.

Healthy authenticity is an ongoing process of discovery, involving self-awareness, self-honesty, integrity with your most consciously chosen values and highest goals, and a commitment to cultivating authentic relationships.

We choose who we want to be as much as we reveal who we are by being honest, internally. We can be proud of that, too, and keep trying to become more of that ideal self, choosing the qualities we most admire.

We Forage for the Pieces of Our Work With Each Other

We don’t make art in a vacuum. And we don’t do it alone, either. Oh sure, we often create the specific work by ourselves, but the process involves others at some point.

And the process involves pecking out little bits of stuff important to us from a field of other things that aren’t. We find these things not in solitude, but through others sharing with us, and telling us where to look, and making things we want to look at.

These bits are the seeds and the fuel that let us grow and forge new things in the world.

Animals and Mystery in Tamsin Abbott’s Fusion of Magic and Glass

Raycomb House, by Tamsin Abbott

Tamsin Abbott builds wonder from carefully etched drawings on stained glass, usually hand-blown (Abbott tends to use “mouth-blown”) by other craftspeople.

Stained glass not only glows with intense color, it has deep religious connotations. Abbott’s work hints at this spirituality, but resonates with older, more animistic tales and associations.

It’s exciting to see other artists on related paths, and I wish I’d found these wonderful works when I was working on my own series of mythic animal-centric pieces. The inspiration would’ve been fascinating, I’ve no doubt.

A Mystery Is Only As Good As the Characters and Clues You’re Given

Solving mysteries is something many of us (to quote Jean-Luc Picard) find irresistible. It’s very satisfying to figure out riddles and puzzles. And they exist in art, of course, whether intentionally put there or not.

I just finished Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It was good, especially for a first novel, I thought, and Hercule Poirot a compelling and endearing character. But most of the rest of the main characters were somewhat tiresome English aristocratic types, and even though I grew up watching these same types on BBC dramas my mom loved, pushing my nostalgia buttons, it was tough to care about them and their problems now. The tenor of our times is corruption, political and economic stratification, and toxicity in media, social and otherwise, and relying on parental favor for living the country club life is, well, quaint.

Additionally, the clues and facts of the case weren’t all in front of me. Poirot solves the case using facts Christie never allows him to reveal to the narrator, Hastings, and therefore to us. This is obviously my problematic penchant for the type of mysteries I like.

Art—the static, non-story-driven kind—is not so coy. Paintings and drawings are all there in front of the viewer. Nothing is hidden from view, it’s up to viewers to solve any puzzle that exists within. Sometimes, it is what it appears to be. But sometimes secrets are there to be found. And the possibility is irresistible.

Making Art Is a Kind of Maze

You know the paper mazes on every child activity placemat and cereal box? And also the ones in big books of them made of tiny lines barely big enough to fit a pencil point?

The little ones are easy, you can usually see the way to the end by sight, without ever putting pen to paper. They practically solve themselves. The big ones seem like they’ll take a week, testing out pathways, backtracking, trying a new opening.

The metaphor speaks for itself. The only thing is that you don’t necessarily know which kind you’re working through when you start. You just have to trust that there really is an end, somewhere, and start working it.