I’ve loved rain and fall my whole life. Since I was little, I’ve been ecstatic to see rain come along, and sorry to see it go. It helps, maybe, that I grew up in the Arizona desert and rain was rare, but even so, it was just always a der sense of affection for it. Many of my friends and relatives felt otherwise, but my grandmother and I shared this fascination and affinity for gray skies.
The things we like are ultimately a mystery. We can point to similar things and see connections, but there isn’t an ultimate explanation for why you love or hate Rothko, or Joan Didion, or Madonna. Sure, you can come up with superficial things, like finding something pretentious or puerile or weird, but others will disagree.
The best we can do is give things a chance—or five—and see if we can open up to what they offer.
This is one of those posts where I almost want the title to stand alone.
We’re pressured to pick and stick to paths in life and career. But if change is good, and inevitable, where’s the line between getting somewhere and always starting anew? Is it focus, or stubbornness? Is it being adaptable or scattered?
It isn’t bad to change direction and break a longstanding pattern. If you always circle back, okay, maybe that’s a phenomenon to try altering. But I want to keep in mind that we only get to the end of a metaphorical path in life when life is over. And if we’re always journeying, how much does it matter where we’re going?
When we can’t get a song out of our head, some of us call it an earworm, a sort of audial meme so persistent it’s like it’s burrowed into our brain and consciousness. What’s the visual equivalent?
It’s possible music is different, and easier to hold in memory while we’re doing other things. But for visual artists—maybe this applies to writers, too?—do we also have images that could stand in for songs that won’t leave us alone? Pictures or pieces of them that annoy us with their nagging appeal?
I think I might start trying to notice if it’s a thing. And, if not, perhaps I’m not looking at enough art?
There are two pieces of media I think about when I ponder city life. there’s Rush’s “The Camera Eye,” where Neil Peart writes about how there’s
… a quality of light unique to every city’s streets
and this is strangely true, and clearer the more I’ve traveled. Each city has a familiar rhythm and skeleton, but the light and the way it falls on everything is its own.
The other is Sesame Street. No place I’ve ever lived has generated as many parallel thoughts and connections to it as Portland, but there have always been some connections in every city I’ve called home.
The connections circle back to art and creation. We find inspiration in the work of others now more than ever, because of social media and the Internet itself. But there’s endless possibility right there on my street, in the ordinary stuff I encounter every day. The people, animals, vehicles, trees, buildings, sky, shadows. It’s easy to get overly familiar. But around the corner is some Snuffleupagus or Oscar the Grouch, a big, chunky letter A, that I haven’t really looked at before to see what makes it worthy of attention.
It’s not the easiest thing, these days. Most of our attention—most of us, most of the time—is pulled a dozen different ways every second. We have our phones, we have high speed internet connections, TV, podcasts, and friends who are deeply connected to those things, even if we aren’t.
But I’ve been trying to take time, whenever I think of it, to do two things: 5 deep breaths, and just noticing the view.
For the latter, “noticing” means stopping whatever is occupying my time and looking & listening in a single direction for a few minutes. I watch what moves, what the colors are like, how it sounds, and if I’m really present, what is not there.
Taking these moments is a way to pull out of the neverending algorithmic tendrils that yank on our attention every moment. Break those bonds when you can.
There’s something to be said for a gathering of friends—or even just acquaintances—at your place. It’s your sanctuary, but you welcome in a few people you know to celebrate something.
It’s an old ritual. One that echoes with tradition and history, but of the most basic nature. The few rules (know when to stop drinking, know when to go home) are well understood, near-universally.
It’s good food for the soul, this communion of friends. They’re your friends because they’re interesting, they’re insightful, they keep you honest. They’ve got worth first as fellow humans. But they’re also valuable for inspiration and support, which every artist needs.
In another nod to getting out and enjoying/supporting the local stuff, I went out to a Halloween event on Portland’s east side. I tend to forget how fun it is to see bands at a small point in their trajectories, seeing the promise and ability, thinking they’ve got something. Being able to congratulate them after their set and say to their grinning faces how much I enjoyed their playing.
It was good to go, despite being soon after work, when the last thing I usually want to do is run out to see a thing. But it’s usually worth it, I reminded myself.
I get annoyed at the Captcha grid often, but I’m also trying to figure out how exacting to be picking squares with the tiniest wedge of crosswalk or traffic light. Does it make me more likely human to the algorithm to err on the exacting side or the casually sloppy side? No idea. I don’t know if I’m training the AI or failing its quiz. Either way, it’s slightly embarrassing.
I have wished for robot like qualities at times. Being more disciplined, remembering specific sequences of line, pressure, stroke, not to mention exact amounts of color to mix paint. I try to remember the human sloppiness and forgetfulness, as well as our ability—tendency?—to wing it is apart of who we are. Trying to express more of myself is expressing more humanness. Probably the bots should have to be proving themselves merely code to us.
It was a small thing. But today, I got to share one of my favorite painters to someone who had no idea they shared the same name: Per. Per Kirkeby is, of course, the Danish abstract landscape artist (not that it’s a niche for him).
There’s something vital about sharing the things we love. Sometimes it’s a show, often an album or song, and here and there a visual artist who captures our souls to the point we feel like we’ll explode if someone else doesn’t share the explosive potential with us.
It’s human to be so excited by art. And it’s human to want to experience it in some social way, too.
I’m writing this from the bus, on my way to my day job. It’s a decent one, with some benefits and good cow-orkers. The only drawback is that it takes me and my focus away from art and writing.
I love the eternal struggle with art, puzzling out ways to bring vague ideas and feelings into perceivable forms, digital and physical. But it’s isolating and insular. If I stay inside too long, I don’t have the human input I believe enhances and sustains us.
Both sides of work have their gifts. Both have their own downsides. But together, they give me things I wouldn’t have with just one. Most of life is similar, very few events and things are all good or all bad. Even in terrible situations good can be had. The ideal job can have moments of tragedy.
It’s easy to label situations and things with a simple word. But we can look deeply. See a bigger view.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.