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.
There’s a general sense—in the United States, particularly—that negative emotions are objectively bad and need to be countered immediately with positive thoughts. The drive to improve our health, status, income, and productivity is relentless. At least, it seems so to me.
But I think there’s an unappreciated world in dark moments, down days, moody patches. Being human is a spectrum of emotions, and being an artist requires being open to possibility. How can we be effective interpreters of the universe if we shun a big part of ourselves?
It might seem scary at first to just let some shadow feelings alone when they show up. But there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about them. It’s what we do with those feelings that makes the difference. I think suppressing or ignoring our emotional spectrum is a problem, and I doubt it makes for good art. Affective, relevant, insightful art is what moves us, both to shape our view of the world and to better connect with each other.
I attended a housewarming last night. I knew almost no one. These occasions are cause for me to greet my social anxiety like an old friend, or more like a sadistic Ghost of Christmas Present, full of boisterous merriment that seems rather malevolent. But that’s my problem.
If I can figure out a passable excuse, I’ll stay home. If not, well, I’ve been known to bring a book to parties and read in a corner. But I’ve tried very hard to curb that introverted instinct. To not withdraw, to be more present in the moment. It’s good to push against your boundaries, at least regularly. Social gatherings are prime opportunities to observe. As artists, we are supposed to be doing that more, to see and to listen and to feel as deeply as possible.
So, I went. As most often happens, I had a good time for longer than I’d thought. Most importantly, I met new people, saw new places, and listened to an impromptu music jam started by a few musicians among the bunch. People danced. Conversations bloomed. I soaked in life.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.