Though not mirrors, winters are time for reflection, pondering selves and directions. Who are we? What do we want?
How did we do this past year in becoming and doing? What can we change in the year to come, just around the other side of the solstice point of orbit?
I’m thinking hard, and I don’t know if it’s a deliberate choice.
We finished putting up the basics of the “holiday” season, the month long run-up to Solstice—and by definition, the new year—festivals of all kinds. It’s fun and it’s pretty, but it reminds me of so much that’s underneath. Not only the living space itself and the trees, but family gatherings, friends celebrating, and a robust increase in kind feelings.
Those are the important and necessary bits. The rest is a reminder and flourishes. Bet I don’t have to mention how this applies to creative work.
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.
Today was for looking up. The light is growing more scarce, the nights longer. To avoid the onset of seasonal depression, or at least to mitigate it, I’ve been trying to add brightness. It’s like turning up the filter on life a bit. There’s only so much that can be done before it washes out, but every little bit probably helps.
And the story lover in me is forever intrigued by walking around city streets. What’s going on in all those glowing little squares? what triumphs and drama and everyday existence is playing out in ten thousand parallel narratives?
Life is always happening. We capture and reinterpret it with sparkle or sharp focus. The light around and within it is always there, but we have to decide what to do with it.
I’m not sure what it is about the weight of the day bearing down on the lowest part of us says about how we make art. But it is a near universal phenomenon that conveys how exhausted we feel after many hours of any task.
Construction? Sore feet. Gallerist? Same. Desk job? Trip to Disneyland? Blogger? Check. Check. Check.
We feel gravity most through our lower appendages. But we don’t often look down at or beside them, as a general rule. And checking out the places we walk can be extraordinarily revealing about the world nearby. The seasonal patterns of leaves and dust and water shift over the course of a year, with the refuse and discarded bits of consumption. There are lost pieces of apparel, and plants forcing their way up through the smallest of cracks in what we thought were impenetrable surfaces.
Maybe keep a closer eye on those feet as they carry the weight of all your efforts. There’s fodder for more work down there.
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(1981)
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.
I try to remember whenever I can.
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.
It does seem like the cycles of life are unsteady, randomly faster and slower. The days are indeed long, and the years are, truly, short. One of the consequences of growing older is a sense of perspective. Looking back is a vast open field of texture and color. Looking forward is a shrinking window of potential.
A regular patron at my work place was on his way home this evening, when I happened to notice him collapse onto the sidewalk as he was being helped across the street. The shift lead on duty, expected to deal with emergencies of this kind went to see about helping him while I took care of the shop, though I’d have rushed along without hesitation. The man is someone I’ve know since coming to Portland. He’s quite old, rather frail, and I know his name and what he likes to eat and drink. I still don’t know if he made it. After the paramedics came, there was nothing else either of us could do.
These incidents remind us of life’s fragility. We will all die some day. If we’re lucky, it’ll be later rather than sooner, excepting some incapacitating or degenerative condition. The time we have, though, is all we have. Even granting reincarnation means a new cycle wipes the slate of memory—and along with it, experience, knowledge, and that hard-won sense of perspective.
It can sometimes seem art is not so important, given our tiny lives, burning through a spark of existence on a little blue marble swirling through the void. But it’s part of our attempts to make sense of the world, of death, of our search for meaning. It is, in the end, as important as everything else.
Mostly this metaphor is so I can post this photo of a nearby park. The metaphor is the work that seems so confining always has another vista beyond what’s in front of us.
But there’s something else, too. Before I took that photo, a couple and their two dogs were running around on the grass in the fading sunlight. We can’t forget that life goes on around us, and sometimes we need to enjoy the grass, friends, and sunshine before it’s gone. It’s good to keep working, but life feeds the work.