11.27.2012

The art of making

You know that old adage, "With great power comes great responsibility" - I'm wondering if it works in the reverse.  If you feel a sense of responsibility for something or someone, like a human life or global poverty, are you then empowered to do/fix/change/advocate for those things?  Do you think the people who are genuinely compelled for a cause or a purpose are given the ability to honor that urge?

I feel like there are a lot of folks out there with a spark for something, who may not have been given the means to do good by their ambition.  Perhaps lacking in time, resources, or the proper platform. Remember Lincoln's words, "Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition."  My question is, what do you do that that peculiar ambition?  And how do you get there?

I'd like a pair of those omen-reading stones from The Alchemist, Urim and Thummim.  

One thing I am compelled to do and I believe may play some part in bettering the world, is create.  A couple weeks ago I had my first go at soap making - a batch of orange olive oil and lavendar, respectively.  Like little soldiers, they're standing on a sheet pan, curing for four weeks before they can be used for bathing. Last week I made 108 Parker House rolls for Thanksgiving dinner.  And I've been working on a few paintings that have been germinating in my mind for months.  For me, these are all a part of what makes artistry a lifestyle and not so much an occupation.  It lies deep in your bones and calls out to you to make.  Perhaps it is also that bone-murmuring that speaks to an earnest connection with our Maker.   

On of my favorite artists is a guy from South Africa, William Kentridge.  He makes these amazing charcoal drawing videos - these incredibly transitory and ephemeral images set to music, inspired by South Africa's devastating history and remarkable hope.  He says this about drawing, "I believe that in the indeterminacy of drawing, the contingent way that images arrive in the work, lies some kind of model of how we live our lives.  The activity of drawing is a way of trying to understand who we are and or how we operate in the world.  It is in the strangeness of the activity itself that we can detect judgments, ethics, and morality."

I'm hopeful that in some of my making, I'm learning a bit more about how to live life, gaining a greater understanding of who I am and how to work out my purpose in the world.

I'll be showing (and selling) some of my work at a friend's neighborhood holiday bazaar in a couple weeks.* Here's a preview of some of what I've been working on:

Collision (Between heaven and earth)
Collage, charcoal, watercolor, and guache on paper
8" x 8"

*If you'd like more info on when and where I will be showing my work, I'd be happy to oblige.

11.14.2012

Heavier by the weight of where I've been

Here we are again.  I'm not doing much going lately, mostly staying.  Which is strange for me. That said, I have been thinking about a lot, in my staying.  This is the gift and curse of the stay.

It feels as though I've been on a steep learning curve.  The universe keeps hurling things my way, and I barely have time to process a question before another is crashing into me.  Little bits of the world have been whirling around and, as usual, are far more connected than we could have imagined.  
Lately, this is what keeps me up at night:

1.  Did you ever consider how if you live alone, you can go an entire day (a week, even) without touching another human being?  It's been awfully quiet around here.  I've been living alone for the past couple weeks, and while I am a noted fan of silence and solitude, it can make you incredibly hungry for human interaction. This got me thinking about the value of human touch.  We can ache for it with such longing that, whether good or bad, we cannot help but crash into one another. In Brasil, we greeted each other with a kiss - not one, but two, on either cheek.  Friends and strangers alike.  Which meant, no matter the day, you were known by someone.  I miss the richness of that culture, of being "known" so unconditionally.

2.  When you are alone, a mouse can keep you company.  Even if he is unwelcome.  This is a fact.

3.  Remember the story of Lazarus?  The sick guy who died and then Jesus brought him back to life.  I've always thought it was strange how the Gospel of John says, "When He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."  Why would Jesus, knowing his friend was sick and dying, stay two more days?  Maybe it was because Jesus didn't want to just heal him, he wanted to resurrect him.  I wonder what Lazarus thought of his silence.  

I guess the silence is actually the answer.  The Master of the Universe entrusts us with His silence.  "When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible - with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation."*

4.  This popped up on my daily TED Big Questions:  Why don't you stop thinking and simply enjoy it?

5.  A few weeks ago my sister passed along this great article in National Geographic that I keep coming back to.  It is on death and travel, respectively.  In it, the author speaks of how in the face of certain death, travel kept him alive - how he learned to open his eyes to the world, wide with wonder.  To say yes, even to the bad stuff.

"Isn't it wonderful to know, beyond any doubt and with infinite, unearned grace, that the world holds so much, that what we take most for granted in our lives - even the very shape of the land beneath us or the sky above - can change according to how we're willing to see it, to greet it?"

And this, from poet Rainer Maria Rilke, "Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space, doesn't it fill our hands differently with it's return: heavier by the weight of where it has been."**

6.  It's the small things.  And sometimes it takes a while.
I stopped by the Donut Vault on my way to the Art Institute today and had the most amazing pumpkin donut and coffee.  This place has forever changed how I feel about donuts.  Like mice, donuts can also keep you company.  At the Art Institute, I stood before Monet's Haystacks and realized something:  it took Claude Monet twenty-five paintings of haystacks to understand the light.

*Thanks to Oswald Chambers for these insights, from My Utmost for His Highest
**Read Edward Readicker-Henderson's complete essay in National Geographic here.

11.05.2012

It is 1939. Death has never been busier.

Several years ago I met a book that changed my literary life (how pretentious that sounds - but I mean it in the purest, most genuine sense).  With a story I would never forget and always love.  I was haunted by The Book Thief, just as it's narrator is haunted by humans.  Remember that line from East of Eden about Tom and his book-reading?  How "he crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands."  Well, that's how I read The Book Thief.

Markus Zusak changed the way I think about story and poetry and metaphor and reality and how they all layer together.  I love the risks he took in writing a story that was both too charming and too horrifying.  It is a story with some of the greatest, most vulnerable, real, and human characters in modern writing.  It is a story of a girl - a stealer and writer of books, an accordionist, a best friend, of Germans and Jews and one of the most nightmarish times in history, of a man with feathery hair and the human capacity to go on.

I was so pleased when The Book Thief was chosen as the fall 2012 selection for One Book, One Chicago and further elated to hear it was taking stage at the Steppenwolf Theatre.  I saw the play this weekend, extremely curious for how they would transform such a complex and compelling story into a live production, much less depict Death as the narrator and storyteller.

It was an incredibly simple, small, and intimate show.  Death, or "Him" as he is called in the playbook, takes the stage and really never leaves.  A remarkably vulnerable, compassionate, yet dutiful collector of souls, He introduces the story of Liesel Meminger, the book thief.

"It's one of the small stories I carry, each extraordinary in its own right.  Each one an attempt - an immense leap of an attempt - to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it."


Kind of like Les Miserables, I had read and heard and loved so much about the story, that I made it near impossible for the theatrical production to live up to such standards.  I read an interview once with Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), where he said, "A book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader."  

Regardless, I loved it.  It is a book and a play strewn with gems, lines I wish I had written.  And half the theatre was in tears at the climax of the show.  

The story concludes with our narrator's final encounter with Liesel, the stealer of books: 

"I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality.  But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know?  I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.  I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant.

None of those things, however came out of my mouth.

All I was able to do was turn to Liesel Meminger and tell her the only truth I truly know.  I said it to the book thief and I say it now to you.

I am haunted by humans."