Intermissions for Thought Police (Lockdown Journals V)

Vera Rima 2020

**I don’t usually tackle such topics here — intro for this project can be found here, from first section (Lockdown I, II)

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The Root of the Problem

Wherever we fall on the ideological spectrum
It’s worth asking, why are we so angry?
It’s not enough to just say “divided.”

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Part V

Tough Love for Americans (and hope beyond the conflict)

Once again setting party affiliation completely, absolutely, totally aside.  It’s true that many are quite happy to sacrifice, for saving as many lives as possible and slowing or preventing the spread of disease.  Others question whether this solution is truly proportional to the problem, considering the multitude of other problems to be created in its wake.  Whatever the case, I find myself disappointed in the condescending, self-righteous, patronizing, and even irrational attitudes I encounter, even among people whose values I generally share. While I rarely tackle “political” topics here, in this case I feel it essential.

It is a fact that unfortunately makes many uncomfortable, that people in this system have the right to assemble and protest under any circumstances when they are unhappy with the decisions their leaders are making.  People who protest perfectly valid and sensible policies, are not all automatically idiots.  Ignorance may abound, but only as much as it abounds on the other side of the aisle as well.  Quite simply, the people just see it differently and they do not agree.  They do not agree that the course of action is appropriate.  Whether we agree or disagree on any issue, whether we scoff or not, dissent must be permissible.  Now let’s be clear, I am not talking about dissent that occurs as a result of a misinformation campaign and conspiracy theory – that’s a whole other subject.  This is not about what we could probably refer to as a “misinformation crisis.” I’m talking about legitimately justified dissent provoked by verifiable choices, decisions made, actions taken by elected representatives and leaders.

Dissent is not misinformation in and of itself — although it is rather convenient to call it so when we do not agree.  Protest and dissent are a communication, an interaction between the public and leaders.  Dissent is not a liberal enterprise or a conservative enterprise.  It is an American enterprise.  Like it or not.  Agree with it or not.  Believe me, I am angered by some of the things people object to, and especially angered by those fighting to take away rights we have already won.  But I would still stand up for an opposing side’s right to express their view, as much as I really really don’t want to, because this is a right I also want to have for myself.  Free speech is a treasure for all of us – just as much for “us” as for “them.”

When people want change or they do not agree with what their leaders are doing, they protest to have a say in the matter.  It is very important that we do not erode this.  Of course this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t critique a protest or an argument, but we can choose how to use our own voice in an effective way.  An effective way, hopefully.

However

Valid as protesting the shut down may be in one sense, in another sense it also underestimates our creativity and potential for vision.  Let’s not forget, we are already free.  A fight to defend freedom as it is, in its current concept as we know it, may be short-sighted as it is limited.  And essentially, backward thinking if we are fighting for a freedom as we knew it, rather than seeing and utilizing freedom as it is available to us now.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can get creative in what our idea of freedom is, if we want this force, this crisis and our response to it, to become generative rather than destructive.  Because on an average day we do choose to flirt with a variation of “force,” too — a level of force by choice, and we still find freedom in this.  We choose school, university.  We choose jobs, bosses.  We choose hard core exercise regimes.  We choose relationships.  We choose limits.  We choose to be “forced” to do things in our own lives.

This situation with the pandemic is obviously unique, I am not arguing that.  But we do choose constraints on a regular basis because for most of us, a certain level of constraint may ironically bring more satisfaction and more freedom.  So we can get creative now.  We can do things differently.  We can choose another kind of freedom.  We can reimagine our lives right now.  We can say, if I had this whole life to do over again, what would I have done differently?  What would I have started, what would I have followed through on, had I the confidence and more importantly, the time?  Because we have nothing but time now, if we are “stuck” at home.  If we can just wade through the stress and anxiety… it is good to ask questions, but it is also good to reimagine, to reinvent.  We can honor the recommendations, and still be free.  We could even be more free.  Anything is possible.  Anything.

May 27, 2020

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(Part VI

FINAL THOUGHT I)

I’ve always preferred poetry, since poetry is better at questions than answers.

Poetry knows that nobody knows all the answers.

Even at its most candid, poetry rises unknowns and mysteries, prizes them.

I wrote all this because poetry won’t, however, be my cop-out.

June 9, 2020

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This is not possible

 

Something that’s truly original must have something unplanned about it.  Something that couldn’t have been predicted.  Something that couldn’t have been controlled.  Something that couldn’t even have been wholly imagined from the start, since that’s what originality is — something heretofore unimaginable.  These are the qualities that make it unusual, that make it special.  And fascinating, and difficult to place.

They are also the same qualities by which the original resists being owned.  As a creation the original comes as an inadvertent and incalculable gift, not merely as a product of effort or ego.  The truly original is beyond “practice,” because practice does not require openness, nor does it require surrender.

To allow the original to happen is to take a step back.  To fade previously held notions and ideas into the background, to make space.  To forget the ego, the control just enough to allow some other voice or vision to speak clearly, without noise.

You can not have originality, can not nurture originality, can not embody it in any part, can not hope for it, can not strive for it, can not hold it, can not truly value it, can not prize it, yet also expect to hang on to old ideas for dear life.

Interrupted or intercepted, its quality becomes disorganized and eventually lost in confusion.  But fear will simply neutralize the offering.

This is why the original is available to anyone, but few accept what they would take instead of a blessing, for a curse.  Or at least a liability, not worth the risk.

We could be more brave.

 

By Choice

 

I have been saying it is almost time, for a long time.  But now almost is very near.

My life is almost becoming a dream.

Soon I will smell, feel the paint again, the ink.  I will light candles again and sit down at my large clean desk and forget the rat race again.

With the door shut.

 

 

 

No Power, No Master

 

 

birds 4

 

 

 

 

Rain.  Blue-grey-violet light filling the room.  It’s late, 10:45 am.  Waking to dreams of the one I’d loved the most until finally many years later I didn’t – not that same way, pointing at a studio apartment for rent in the paper.  A large hexagon shaped space with beige floors in the photo, possibly carpet but nice, facing the street through bay windows.  I wanted to live there instead of him, could I – but hadn’t I already?  The thought makes me feel a bit sick.  Something bad happened there?  Can’t remember.  Many years ago, yesterday.  Being alone, wine, my computer, music, emails and IM, that’s it.  Scribbling in my journal in red and purple ink in bed, at my green desk covered in scraps of paper, notes, purple orchids and pots, flipping through thousands of photographs taken traveling and academic papers, lost in a foreign history of my own.  Plants, tall stacks of drafts, paintings beautiful amidst abstract misery and desperation.  Had I really lived there?  Or just imagined it?  The memory makes me ill.  Did I just make it up, the feeling?  The place?

 

 

 

 

Birds 2 revise again 2

 

 

 

 

Now staring into asphalt and a partly cloudy sky, intermittent city trees, standing in the street, waiting.  Forever.  Where is my friend?  We’re going to eat some sort of special bread from the bakery, a sweet bread or something?  As the sun falls hours later she finally shows, separating from a group of people I don’t recognize, surprised when I bring it up as if she’d never really intended to go.

Another fuzzy event I can’t recall, another one putting me off for some unidentifiable reason too.  So out of character for her, I don’t understand.  There was no one to be with.

 

 

 

 

Birds 11 draft

 

 

 

 

Birds 5 redo

 

 

 

 

Sitting outside on the sidewalk uncertain of what to do now.  Nobody around.  The air is fresh and bright.  There must have been a porch there, or some stairs, then a book appears in my hand.  I open its nearly eight by ten cover and skim.  50 or so pages, with illustrations.  Joy.  It was about joy.   This was written by a friend, a pianist, he’d given this to me.  No longer conscious of the street, completely absorbed in its lyrical writing and sparse, minimalistic line drawings lightly watercolored until an elation grows and spreads too immensely to look down any longer, too much to process any more information mentally.  I close it to feel its weight in my hands instead and look up lifting up into the air like years before, planes floating off a runway above shapes shrinking and tightening viewed through tiny windows.  So happy.  Magical.  Then I’m here.  Rain.  Blue-grey light filling the room.  It’s late, 10:45 am.  Curtains.  Oakland in the window.  My room.  No one’s around.

 

 

 

 

birds 4 redo with exposure plus extra contrast

 

 

 

 

Were all of those people trades for someone I really want to be with today?  Not sure I care what it means but it resonates for a few minutes.

 

 

 

 

Birds 8 shape edit

 

 

 

 

Birds 6

 

 

 

 

IMG_Birds 12 exposure change extra

 

 

 

 

Birds 9 idea not final.jpg

 

 

 

 

Birds 10 idea not final

 

 

 

 

Shaking off these dreams I get up to go out to the cafe.  The significance doesn’t feel so important, but I’m pretty sure I know why I’m remembering them so readily.   Vacation – no work for two weeks.  Whenever there’s more space, when more time is sensed and freedom and days ahead open, the volume of dreams I remember increases and changes: popcorn strings of memories like momentary portals into a higher consciousness about these experiences, mixed with creative currents more otherworldly and imaginative, like being inside of a hidden universe that rarely reveals, suppressed by routine realities.   Routines both necessary and destructive.  I used to take them too seriously.  And now I just don’t believe that I have to anymore.  Everything in my spirit won’t even let me anymore; it’s over.  My own way of seeing and being wakes up and takes priority and the space just has to be made for it, or it’s like I’ll just die.

This is the thing that may not make sense from the outside but it’s been said before many times over that a certain type of artist – perhaps so-called “real” artists – create because they have to.  We have to.  Maybe this is not true of all artists but in my own experience the choice has been to create, or to suffer a progressive downward spiral into an internal hell, self-imprisoned.  I’m fine to coast for a while but finally these become my two options and for others who are like me I wouldn’t doubt them to feel just as lost and miserable without creating.  Not that creating functions as a universal remedy for bad feelings – that would be silly.  For me though feeling bad and not creating would be an even worse if not dangerous condition than feeling bad and creating.  I didn’t desire this aspect of an artist’s life to be true of myself and I thought the idea sounded corny and overdramatic when I read about it in Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” at nineteen.  Coincidentally it was the only idea from the book I never forgot: write if you must write, if your need for writing is as though your life depended upon it.  I was too young then to understand these words more comprehensively, but cross the age of 30 when the focus of your generation suddenly becomes status and success and power and out of nowhere you feel like a complete loser.  Your dreams of being an artist or writer become even more naive and irresponsible and idealistic than when you were nineteen.  They’re beyond merely objectionable now, if not borderline reprehensible in a way they weren’t before.  Those benign impractical fantasies of young adulthood suddenly become things you could actually harm yourself with.

Was it Henry Miller who pointed out something like anyone can be an artist — until the age of 35?  This is not the same thing as declaring an intention to go into teaching or law or nursing or politics or business.  Creative ambitions might be treated as a curiosity or a bit of fun at best, but taken less and less seriously as time progresses.  It’s especially challenging for those choosing to abandon their former career path, to pursue art no longer as a hobby but as a primary occupation.  Are you published?  No.  Do you have a professional website?  No.  Business card?  No.  Portfolio?  Not in any organized fashion, not yet.  Not yet.  Not yet.  Not yet the unsatisfactory answer to every question.  Some start early, going ahead despite the odds to establish a position for themselves in the creative arts, publicly – others like me punish themselves for years first instead.  Just for inevitably being who you are despite every attempt to be something else, yet not quite understanding why you just can’t fit in to the occupations or places you’ve wandered into for safety and security.   By the time you finally come out of it to recognize what the trouble really is and you’ve already spent your money on degrees in other fields for other careers, who will indulge your grandiose aspirations now at this point?  But if you find that this is something you have to do – and you know this to be true of yourself because of the consequences you’ve experienced in avoiding this truth for your entire life, then the choice is clear.  Whether or not you’re any good at what you create at this point, whether or not you have everything you need for success in place, it ceases to matter.  You’ve worked your way to the top in places you didn’t even want to be, simply by showing up and working hard.  If you have to start at the bottom all over again, it will be worth it.  And how long will it take, exactly, to get to somewhere in the middle, if you even dare to imagine you could?  This ceases to matter also.  You’re tired of pretending, of lying.  You don’t think about the people who would criticize you as much anymore, or the what ifs, or the opportunities you’ve turned down or run away from in the past.  You think about what you need to do to make it happen.

I don’t feel sorry for myself or for those in my shoes.  I feel for those who are like me but still unable to create for whatever reason.  I know these people are out there so when somebody says they’re an artist, I tend to believe them no matter their current occupation or lifestyle or hobbies.

Two weeks of taking pictures and assembling them, drawing, writing, cups of tea and coffee, sleeping, planning, going to the gym, seeing friends.  I pour cream into my coffee as I only do in cafes – anywhere else, it’s black.  It’s noisy in here, there’s nowhere to sit comfortably.  Each conversation this morning is too loud and too much as I move from table to table seeking a place where I can think.  Think and write.  I’ve been desperately needing solace from these crowds.  Yet appreciate an unexpected sense of relief in this scene too, full of friends telling stories rather than singles with their devices.  I settle in near the speakers, faint music, not overbearing mainstream sounds like they often play but sounds with real feeling, though not especially edgy.  I realize I’ve forgotten to put in earrings this morning, which I’ve been wearing since I was three months old.  It feels oddly troubling.

My mind and body are glowing, not in a physical sense.  Something else.  I remember all the other times like this.  I remember the soft sunshine and the libraries and the roses in the window and the moped and the kissing and the airports and the poems scribbled out for fun with no concern for editing and the smells of cattle in foreign places and the miles and miles of road and ancient redwoods and the river.  I remember the intense dreams.  Stories of living life as art.

You’re free today.  You have two weeks.  Sit down.  It’s been a while since I’ve written, instead relishing the easy relief from words I enjoy so much in working with images.  Writing is so exposing, really so scary.  It doesn’t matter.  Text messages pop up, you ignore them for now.

Go write.  I’m dying to write now.  It doesn’t matter how it turns out, doesn’t matter if it’s good writing or bad, doesn’t matter if it’s real art.