Impressions of SLAM

This afternoon I visited the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). As I am sometimes inclined to do, I took along my notebook, in case anything inspired me to write while there. As the art is often inclined to do, it inspired me at various times and from various pieces. Here’s what came out.


Araki Minol, Distant Road II, 1979; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by author

We perch most of the way up the Soul Mountain, a respite during our climb, and as we do I turn a head to look back at the wy we’ve come. Tens of thousands of steps upwards, upwards, ever upwards, this pilgrimage has been harder with each passing day, and yet, a moment like this – a brief respite, a chance to Preview the past and how far we’ve come – is welcome, not just for the termination (if only for a moment) of the incessant pounding of the hike, but for a glimpse of the earth’s natural beauty, arrayed out before us like a divine display of pride in the god’s own creation.

Behind, and below us, we see the craggy, snaggle-toothed lesser peaks poking their irregular peak tops out of the smooth, otherwise unbroken layer of clouds. The pure white dazzles int he shimmering morning sunshine, a radiance which would hurt the eyes, were it not also so beautiful that the body sacrifices itself to the risk of permanent damage just to behold the beauty of the moment.


Evangeline Montgomery, Sunset, 1997; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by the author

I wonder if this is the feeling of schizophrenia – a mass, a seeming jumbled disorder of conflicting thoughts, emotions, logical or illogical connections between elements that would see (to the outsider) to be nothing more than randomness.

I imagine that, to the jumbled mind, this perhaps makes sense – perhaps the lenses inside the brain so refract and refocus and prioritize the overhwhelm that, instead, it looks like this:

Herbert Gentry, Untitled, 1971; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by author

Smooth lines, patterns emerging, a sense of peace and cleanness at the outset and continuing into the whole of the experience.

There is no challenge here except what I make for myself. What I see as disorder, I know is less a problem of the other being “abnormal” and simply my own failure to apply the right kind of equipment.

What state could I put myself in should I wish to be able to see as the other does, the patterns which emerge from the chaos? How can I simplify my own experience, my own observations, the pre-ordained and rigid mechanics I have learned which are insufficient to make meaning out of something which, to another, clearly has a value beyond ink on canvas?


Gebruder Thonet, Bentwood Spiral, 1885; St. Louis Art Museum, photo by the author

Now, I can see a beauty, a symbolism, a regularity, a meaning behind apiece of art. But for the artist, before it is formed, to have not only the skill to achieve a piece, but a vision of what could exist, were she to apply that skill, is extraordinary.

I know not where that vision comes from. Perhaps it is an inherent tendency in us all, the creative instinct deep inside, that only some choose to listen to, only some choose to obey in the call to make something out of something else.

This was a single piece of wood, 28 feet long, and straight. The Artist, instead of imagining it as cut into smaller pieces and fashioned into a chair – or a picture frame – or an oar; instead of those useful, practical items, he choose to see art – this spiral, this sweeping interlocking interconnecting divergence from reality into imagination. Why? Why not? Because it’s there. Because all could do the same thing, given enough practice; and the greatest practice of all is to listen to the Muse as she whispers. She is always whispering. She is always inspiring.

Do you hear her? Do you obey? Or do you listen to the other whispers, in the other ear, of inadequacy, of limited time, of irrelevance once you have created, of insubstantialism, of ignorance by the rest of them out there once you have finished?

She is persistent, that Muse. but she is not overpowering. So be careful that you do not ignore her. Persistent, yes. Perpetually waiting for you to acknowledge her presence? To obey her directive? To do as you have been inspired? Perhaps not.

Therefore, take heed whenever the call is given. Ignore it at your own creative peril. Obey, and make, and make the world better for having done so.

The Most Interesting Person in Mexico

A couple of weeks ago I went to Cancun, Mexico for a short vacation. Going in, I deluded myself that I’d do a few hours of work in the morning, then relax in the afternoon. Yeah, right. Who’s gonna work when you can look at this all day?

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So I didn’t work. My buddy Troy, who’d invited 50 different friends, called me “the 2%” all week. Because I was the only one willing to come down and hang out in the tropics, sitting on the beach, reading a book by the pool, enjoying the scenery.

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The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX

 

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The Royal Cancun, Cancun, MX

Oh, and speaking of scenery, the landscapes are pretty nice, too! 😉

We met a bunch of people. This is Dave, Stacey, and Troy on Monday at Isla Mujeres.

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I met a turtle in her pond who wouldn’t leave me alone.

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I met a couple, Max and Brittney, who had come down from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Troy’s city. Imagine, flying 2,000 miles and across the Gulf of Mexico, to meet someone who lives just a few doors down from you. And not only that, but this couple had a connection to me, too. Last August, on a whim, they drove a half a day to come down to this area and watch the eclipse at the same amphitheater in Chesterfield where I watched it.

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Ian Wardlaw

You might be thinking they’re the most interesting people I met in Mexico, but you’re wrong.

Perhaps you think it’s the friends from New Jersey (where my mother grew up and I still have nice memories of visiting as a child). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s the whole group of friends / frenemies that Troy and I hung out with a few times over the week, laughing and drinking cerveza and telling jokes and them smoking. (Hint – a couple of them are in that first picture above). Nope.

Perhaps you think it’s Janet and her daughter Billie, who Troy ended up spending a lot of time with, over the week. Janet bought us dinner on Monday at the resort. Pretty sweet! But no, she was not the most interesting person I met.

Perhaps you think it’s Kyle (I think), the iguana who peed on my hand on my tour of Tolum.

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Nope.

Maybe the people I met at the cenote, the freshwater reservoir where we ate lunch and swam after Tolum?

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Strike three! (Four?)

Maybe the tour guide, Carlos, who showed us how the sun can be viewed through a piece of obsidian. Still not the most interesting person I met.

No, the most interesting person I met was someone else. I met her after I climbed up the pyramid at Coba:

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And had to stop a couple of times to let my fear subside. I’m not usually scared of heights, but that was a little precarious. After we butt-scooted back down, we made our way out to the front of the park in groups of two or three. There I bought a frozen fruit pop and rested a bit.

Within a few moments I saw a woman standing by her bicycle. Mid-twenties and slim, she looked a little out of place compared to all the rest of the white European tourists in groups of ten or more, and very out of place compared to the shorter Mexican citizens.

Her bicycle was loaded on the front and rear wheels with bags. And it looked like she was on a tour. I decided to be nosy.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

“Yes, sure.” Her accent sounded French, but we spoke in English, as most people there do.

“Are you on a tour?” I pointed to the bicycle.

“Yes, of course.” Her demeanor seemed almost dismissive, as if I was asking if the sky was blue.

“By yourself?” I couldn’t see anyone else on a similar bicycle, and she didn’t look like she was waiting for a group.

“Well, I had a partner for the first part of the trip, but now, yes, it is just me.”

“How long have you been going?” Expecting a few weeks.

“Ahm, about six months now.” My eyes popped open. This is not the first time I’ve met someone on a long-term tour (there was a guy going through here from California to Maryland last summer). But it is the first time I’ve known of a non-native doing it across thousands of miles in a strange country, all alone.

Color me dazzled. Or is it “be-dazzled”? Regardless, I admired her resolve. I envied her freedom.

“Wow, very impressive. Good luck,” and I waved a short goodbye. She did the same, and turned away to purchase her ticket to go see the Coba ruins and pyramid.

And I turned away, back to my tour bus, back to my pampering in air conditioning, back to letting other people do for me instead of doing for myself.

Back to wishing I could do that.

Back to planning for the day when I can do that.

Back to yearning for the chance to go where I want, when I want, without obligations of schedule, of deadlines, of mortgage and health insurance and homeowner association fees.

Back to waiting.

Ugh.

What Should I Write About?

So, usually my writing practice topics are just made up on the spot. Occasionally I’ll do a series – See “Love Is…” (1) through (10).

Sometimes I’ll take a line from another piece of work and go with that. This is a good example: [from “In The Zoo” by Jean Stanford]

Other times I’ll just start with “I feel…” or “I smell…” and write about what’s immediately around me.

And then there are the lists of writing topics. Usually pretty soon after I start a new notebook I’ll have a day where my writing practice is just “write a list of writing topics”, and when I don’t have something in mind I can come to this page, close my eyes, point a finger somewhere, and see what happens. When I’m writing those lists, they might look like this: (these are all from 3/11/2018)

  • Write about a tree.
  • Write about family trees.
  • Write about family obligations.
  • Write about family reunions.
  • Write about class reunions.
  • Write about low-class reunions.
  • Write about high-class reunions.
  • Write about “putting on airs.”
  • Write about “putting on heirs.”
  • Write about “putting on hairs.”
  • Write about artificiality.
  • Write about superficiality.
  • Write about boob jobs.
  • Why haven’t penis enlargement surgeries received the same kind of market saturation as boob jobs?
  • How far would you go to achieve your happiness?
  • How much of yourself are you willing to change for someone you love?
  • etcetera etcetera …

Obviously I’m not going to write about all of these topics. I probably won’t write about more than 4 or 5 before this notebook is filled and I move to the next one. But the process helps me think of connections, helps to identify associations that might not have been readily present for most people.

So … I want to ask you, readers … What do you think I should write about? Leave a comment, and I’ll use those as prompts in the next couple of weeks. What greatness might we cultivate together?

Writing Practice – 3/27/2018

(Today’ s writing practice session did not begin with a prompt. I simply started to write.)

To start a writing practice session, I always do two things, though not always in the same order. I review the Rules for Writing Practice – keep your hand moving, don’t think, don’t get logical, lose control, go for the jugular. And I imagine myself inside my own brain, a flat bottom and a half-oblong dome above me, grey, and I have a paint roller in my hand. I dip it into a bucket of white paint and use that to cover the inside of my a brain with whiteness, blankness, cleanness, renewal, readiness for the experience of writing. Once all of the surface has been covered, strip, strip, along the bottom – working my way from the middle, next, next, next, out to the edge, along a Mohawk strip on the top, next, next, clear around to the curve to the edge, when it meets the floor, painting, covering, all in white a canvas, in preparation.

Then I am ready to write. To burn through to first thoughts. To offer myself to my Muse, wherever he is that day, if He will choose to show up or not, if he will deign to stoop down and place a soft, reassuring touch on my shoulder, if he will whisper, warm, tickling breath in my ear, “Yes, go, get that, follow that thought, chase it, don’t let it escape, pursue, continue, persist, never, ever, ever let go, find it, fight it, kill it, master it, turn it, transform it, tame it, succumb it to your power, to your authority, to your will, do not relent, do not release, do not avoid when the subject turns delicate, or embarrassing, or insecure, for you are to know that you are the one in control, you are the one from whom all these blessings flow, you are the god in this world, this world you have created, this universe at the tip of your pen, you are the Alpha and the Omega, what you bring about here shall live in mythology and archaeology and your subjects’ anthropologies for as long as they exist, for you are a deity far above all others, you have the power to build up, to tear down, to keep, to preserve, to destroy, to eliminate, to mould and fashion and to remake and to evolve, you are the thing in this world that all other things are subject to, and so therefore with such great authority comes great responsibility, an awareness of self, an introspection of your power, your ability, your authority, and your standing in this world, that world, that experience, you have power and authority, yes, so choose wisely, choose judiciously, make with circumspection and introspection and valor and virtue, for what you make, what you destroy, what you build and what you tear down become your legacy, your history, to the universe above you, the god who sits judging you for your godhood shall weigh your actions, your perseverance, your perversity or magnanimity and he, she it, they too shall judge, with the same measure as which you used to judge, so take care, be wise, be well, and do good work.”