Christmas comes but once a year, but it’s a long series of train cars speeding past that start the day after Thanksgiving. We’ve been complaining at one end of our culture about the relentless commercialism of the season, but indulging in it at the other.
One aspect of the turn of the year I’ve always enjoyed is the shift in thinking as we spin around the back side of the sun—also, a cold face while the rest of me is wrapped up in warmth is hard to beat, but its not the main event and can last well into the following months.
Renewal is it’s own relentless feature of life on Earth. We’ve evolved with it and as a result of it. As biological imperatives go, so goes our ache to interpret and make something new in the world.
And it can feel lonely to look backwards on a year gone by, and forward into the unknown. But it’s a quiet time well worth settling into. The sun brightens and beckons soon enough.
Gratitude is a common religious and/or spiritual practice around the world. Stepping back from your life and assessing the good things is sometimes even a helpful bit of balance. We’re often so close to the things we do every day, it can be hard to see anything but that struggle. But there’s always more.
I’m able to indulge in this work in part because of where I live and the family I was born into. It’s never been wealth, but neither extreme poverty, either. I have two healthy hands and a decent mind in a functioning brain. I’m luckier than everyone who was never born, and many who were.
I’m thankful that I can do this. I hope I can better my effort and time to improve the things I make.
I’m a sucker for blooper reels and missed takes. It lets me see a bit of the actual person who’s performing a role, but if they’re good I don’t think about who they are or the absurdity of pretending to be someone else for storytelling purposes.
It’s always a good thing to remind yourself other artists are human and fallible, just like everyone. No one is perfect, everyone has to practice, we all fail sometimes.
I was a fan of the band The Police in high school—to be fair, I still am—and hungry for everything they’d made, including their solo work individually. I got Andy Summers’s experimental albums with Robert Fripp, I listened along with half the world to Sting’s solo debut, but Stewart Copeland was always my most compelling draw.
The Rhythmatist, released in 1985, was a kind of encapsulation of Stewart’s trek across Africa, visiting musicians and tribes from East to West, recording their music and composing songs as he went. I got the album on cassette (it was my preferred format just before I started collecting CDs exclusively) as soon as I knew about it. I loved just about all of it, and consumed it obsessively as I do everything I love. I hoped desperately to see the film that was attached to this weird, wonderful soundtrack, but it never came to Tucson theaters or video outlets, and I let go of the idea of ever seeing it. Until today.
The film was a strange avant garde film project, something he said he wanted to resemble a music album, with no clear plot or story that people would want to watch repeatedly in the way they listened to music. I chanced on an upload of the film to YouTube, and threw it on the living room TV immediately.
It’s a bit like Stewart himself: strange, goofy, intense, energetic. It’s full of infectious and odd low-bit percussive synth melodies layered over recorded African drums and voices as well as Ray Lema’s vocals and Stewart’s own drumming. He spends time with African residents, drumming with them, dancing with them, taking in ceremonies and rituals. It feels a little exploitative for me now, with Stewart feeding us interpretations of his experiences, and no Africans get to talk about their music or their lives. That could be my own sensitivity coming into play. But it’s a product of its time, and not a documentary proper.
There’s another video of Stewart being interviewed about the film and music, which is also worth a look if you’re at all into either or both.
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.
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 known amongst my very tiny circle of friends for spending the maximum amount of time possible at home, supposedly working, but often procrastinating and recovering from being social. But there is undeniable benefit to getting out there with fellow humans. We are social animals, and it benefits us to gather.
With that in mind, I determined to make it to the Oregon Zoo’s annual “Squishing of the Squash,” a fall tradition wherein the Asian elephants are given a couple of the biggest pumpkins grown regionally, and they amble over to enthusiastically stomp them into pieces and eat chunks to the considerable vicarious joy of the crowd watching them do it.
We went, as evidenced by the shot above, and were not disappointed. It seems a simple thing in the abstract, just a short trip to the zoo to watch some large creatures smash some gourds. But it was a new thing, a short journey into the cold fall air, new smells, animals, people, food, and colors. All of our mutual delight fed into the event, and the morning was joined in happy unison. It was beautiful.
Your town has its traditions, from the podunk to the metropolis. Pick one and go, it’ll feed your work and your spirit.
Unless you’ve just forgiven yourself for failing to do something you’d determined to start, or lapsing on a new habit, or any similar creative project, it’s time to do so.
It is very easy to beat yourself up about failure. Today, give yourself a break. It’s okay to have failed or fallen short of your ideal.
The only snag is that—like forgiveness—you want to see resolve to change going forward.
And if you haven’t failed? It’s time to acknowledge how far you’ve come and be content. Be kind. Progress and skill aren’t served well by self-flagellation. Good job, you.