Aha!

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Joseph Campbell

In one of the Upanishads it says, when the glow of a sunset holds you and you say ‘Aha,’ that is the recognition of the divinity. And when you say ‘Aha’ to an art object, that is a recognition of divinity. And what divinity is it? It is your divinity, which is the only divinity there is. We are all phenomenal manifestations of a divine will to live, and that will and the consciousness of life is one in all of us, and that is what artwork expresses.

Joseph Campbell, “Creativity,” The Mythic Dimension, p. 154

“Mom, how does your eye work?” a five year old once asked me.

“I don’t know off hand, but let’s draw one,” I deflected.

“Aha,” the little one exclaimed when it was finished.

Edvard Munch’s ‘Separation’

  
Painting: “Separation” by Edvard Munch 1898, oil on canvas.
 

A smoldering heart weakens,

hunkers him down gut deep

inside separation’s burn.

When distance collects between

a lover’s love and loving hand,

the road span widened, dear doves,

a brooding beat blackens fear,

rends aortic drums split sideways,

burst blood pooled and anchoring.

Longing’s weight drowns victims,

pins their boots to muddy bog,

only sludge and sink might free

the ache, loosed from bony cages

as echo moans sorrow’s sympathy.

Severance maims this lover’s heart, 

rendering touch crumpled amputee:

grip-shattered, shivering despair. 
 

Diurnal

  
Most animals play in the day

and 

oenothera biennis and rose 

petals expand daily 

contract at night

opening sunward

shutting moonward,

nature’s accordian

in and out eye music’s

glossy pupil blooming

earth’s aesthetic reflection.

Mammals like me 

mostly diurnal, though

human circadian rhythms  

pattern imprecisely,

governed by childless

sleep and post partum

delirium or soldiering on

through mine-laden lands,

disrupting the perfection of

REM to death to wakeful

retreat and once again nightly

or daily if confusion creeps in

for good, for bad and neither

the way cycles are complete

and wobbly, perfect and broken

for earth walkers nocturnal

eschewing sleep

for poetry.
 

credit: myeyesinthemirror.deviantart.com

Quotes from Readings of the Week

  
My readings have brought me these impressive quotations this week that emphasize keen observable presence in the art of creation, whether in relationships, literature, science or art:

“You need to get a long ways away from people before you can learn to listen properly.” Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear.

“People want to weep. Pathos in the form of a narrative does not wear out.” Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others.

“Metaphor is a property of language that gives boundaries to worlds and helps scientists using real languages to push against these bounds.” Donna Jeanne Haraway, Crystal, Fabrics, and Field: Metaphors that Shape Embryos.

“Monet, a simple man with a child’s outlook on life, and no formal academic training, had seized upon a great truth about time before anyone else: An object must have duration besides three extensions in space. Monet did not write down any theories or express one as an equation; rather he illuminated this truth in the limpid colors of his silent images.” Leonard Shlain, Art & Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light.

The Missing Art Gene

  
Her reading skills caught up with the other students by the end of second grade, and I was fully indoctrinated in the volunteer life. I first volunteered as the room mom for her classroom admittedly to watch over her–hover. Unwittingly, I also signed up to be the art teacher for her class, though I thought I was signing up to teach about the art masters via books in a program titled, Meet the Masters. Turns out I signed up for is a program where an art teacher came five times a year to teach parents how to teach an art lesson. 

When I found out during the orientation meeting that it was me doing and teaching art to second graders, I freaked out.  Approaching the parent volunteer presiding over the orientation for all of the art volunteers, I uncomfortably sought my release: “Excuse me, but I thought this was something else. I am not an artist. I cannot do art, but I can help out in some other way.” She, a no-nonsense, thin, long-haired blond, small-framed woman only a few years my junior donning serious glasses and a South African accent replied gently but firmly, “Well, you certainly can do better than a 7 year old no matter how bad you think you are. Just try it. If you really can’t do it, we will replace you.” She pinned me. What other excuse or protest could I make? However, I consoled myself with the silent sulky retort,  “I damn well sure can do worse than a 7 year old. Just watch me” as I grabbed my instruction sheets and left.

It turns out the workshops were therapeutic–an hour of focused forms and colors–even if I had to shame-facedly compare my art to the parents who clearly had art backgrounds or natural talent. Some were artists by trade or passion. My art was better, by a hair, than most of the 7 year olds, though some were clearly far more talented.

Singing Joni

Joni Mitchell sings, ” I am a lonely painter. I live in a box of paints.” And when she does, I am stilled. But it is not the last sentence so much as the first, and not the last word so much as the word before–lonely–that moved me dozens of hearings. She moans the word, extended ‘O” evocative of Munch’s howl, though far more subtle, deeper and soulful. The anguish is not Munch’s, overlaid with fear, so much as the rooted, internal groan, petulant sugar, that she bemoans.

I sing that line out of nowhere driving in my car or listening to a conversation drifting in and out, particularly imbalanced ones where I witness more than counsel or contribute.

At first the metaphor of living in a box of paints brushed up against the literary lover in me. I imagined her a genie in a bottle, except a box of paints, transporting me back home–in my imagination–just visiting others’ worlds when I choose or must. But I know it’s the howl of the loooooooo that draws me to the line, to sing it. And not the lonely of loneliness. We are all lonely, though more like unsatisfied, unfocused and disassociated too often. A spiritual loneliness more than a lost or severed connection with others often characterized by missing someone or something. I do not consider that lack as lonely. It’s bigger yet smaller than one human or animal or other being, one activity.

No, the oooo in the looooo is both a ‘no’ and an ‘oh,’ like a sort of toggling between braking and accelerating a car or a dance, patterns of release and restraint.

Joni wants to paint but she sells songs instead. She is an artist, vast and particular. Many artists tear at the thrust of creation thwarted to pay the bills. We yearn to paint.

It is not so much a complaint–I can find a modicum of pleasure and certainly gratitude in anything I do, given that I allow myself to do so–as much as it is a longing, a desire ever felt, within centimeters of impossibly outstretched fingertips, a taste, a scent, a faint melody or flash of recognition come and gone. The hollow left behind–of not reaching–the come and gone, is the oooo. Both full and empty space, both present and absent. An ache. But one informed by the mind’s consent. I hurt because I worked out, something good for me. It will get better.

A promise. We live on promises. Some say that is wasting time, wasting away. Waiting is my least favorite thing to do. Impatience is my pratfall. But there is the impatience at not getting what I want–an open lane for some fucking space, room to race onward!–and there is impatience with something larger, more profound. Not attaining because…Perhaps that is the larger impatience. The because. What follows elicits the moan, sigh and gut grief.

Today “I am a lonely painter” with many mutterings to utter before the day is through, puppeteering a teacher, word-pump, and merchant. And as I dive into a replenishing yet jolting plunge into gratitude, I will channel Joni, fighting for all that is ordinary and plentiful right now–air, thought and motion.

 

The Art of Becoming the Latest Me

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage you were held captive in.” 
― Shannon L. Alder

  
credit: upload.wikimedia.org

Pure sound, entirely un-mattered, 

voice and air I was, intoned grief
laughter inverted all-in deranged
9th dimensional twisted despair 
shattered lines in flecked powder
bruised cilial cringe at the edges
ears only producing me, my being.

The howl I had become was vast
as wide as a woman’s crumbling
cry thro’ ancestry pierced endless
millennial fear of falling in losing out.

Coming undone, not always so sexy
by another’s fullness, sentient sea, 
the wailingly frothy palpable spume 
when the other subsumes, absorbs
light and time, screams in unfolding.

When I disintegrated, a pupil mirror,
you witnessed naked sound as sign
death knelled body downed into dust
no thud when the shrieks hit ground.

You hold me now, recombined anew,
not in tubes of echo or image’s flash
the grimace of dying inside etched in,
but in re-sight devoid of formed words,
broken past filtered through particles
ionic and clear, trampled and repaired
in memory as manifest born, a human
with skin sensate to the pelted stones
now mere flesh weighted walking on
descended far from aural awakening.

The Beauty Myth–Think About it.

  
While I’m in favor of encouraging women to feel confident and happy, I worry that today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity. Spreading a message that everyone is beautiful reinforces the underlying assumption that beauty matters.


So writes Lindsay King Miller in Taking Beauty Out of Body Positivity. While she lauds the ever inclusive embracing of all female body types, she believes that reinforcing beauty as a value criterion is detrimental. She discusses what “body positivists,” those trying to change the accepted notions of beauty, are currently doing to change current conceptions but cites the dichotomy of beautiful versus ugly as problematic to such a cause, how beauty always implicates ugly. Ultimately, however, she finds the expansion of beauty beyond Victoria’s Secrets models refreshing, and as a mother of two teenage daughters, so do I.


Raising girls in 21st Century America is complicated. Raising girls probably has always been complicated, but in this world of consciously and commercially reinforced stereotypes about body imagery, where young girls are vulnerable to the obsessive compulsion to conform to culturally dictated beauty standards, it is particularly troublesome. 


Unquestionably, there is too much emphasis on the female body as artifact of beauty and sexuality. It is also undeniable that many walk the earth unconscious of their inherited values and aesthetics, what culture has produced in them:  their tastes, predispositions and prejudices. Historically, women have been treated poorly as citizen bodies, practically erased representationally in the arts, for instance (See Syreeta McFadden’s The lack of female genitals on statues seems thoughtless until you see it repeated). So women grow up in a vacuum of realistic body portrayals to challenge social “norms.”


In my early mothering years, I didn’t want to raise two daughters without at least attempting to defy norms. When they were little, I bristled at the pink and purple princess culture vulturing girls on commercial television, so I attempted to shelter them, feeding them a steady diet of commercial-free Public Broadcasting educational television. However, living smack dab in the suburbs of Southern California, I found I could not blind them to imagery that I did not agree with or even downright feared. And though I wanted to run counter culture, I was actually driving home the very ideas I wanted to avoid. 


I knew what I vociferously avoided would be the very thing to lure my children. By avoiding princesses, I was drawing the curiosity of princess-dom to two children not living in isolation but among blossoming princesses.


So I decided the best tact was to expose them to all that I believed would indoctrinate them, commercial television and radio, the internet, Justice clothing store ads and other girly-centered media, and then use the exposure as opportunities to discuss options and causes. 


I have always spoken to my children with words to make them reach rather than me sink. I would often remark that the store Justice was painted in colors that draw prebuscent girls of their age, pinks, purples and pastels, and then ask them who decided those were girl colors. They may not have understood the questions then, but now as teenagers, they are vocal feminists and advocates for the non-conformists, especially defying normative behaviors expected of them as women. Their dress and actions do not always affirm their words, but there is a consciousness of the conspiracy that captivates their style impulses.


I remember the trickiest issue of parenting two girls was body referencing and diet. To tackle the thorny body image issue, I steered them early from identifying anyone by body type or parts, skin color or size. I modeled pointing someone out by location, i.e., that guy in jeans and a tee shirt next to the cereal boxes–not by body traits–that tall white dude down there, explaining that no one wants to be identified by something that marks them at birth, something they did not choose. I thought it was the clearest path to disassociating their body as their only avenue of identity–at least as a starting point. Of course it was more complicated than that.


Before my children could think and prefer, I had them enrolled in classes:  art, dance, gymnastics, soccer, science, theater and whatever else I thought would expose them to opportunities and practice habits and hobbies healthy for them, a path to learning. It was no surprise that two daughters of a soccer playing mom would love soccer. 


With soccer they learned about their bodies’ needs, dietary, sleep and exercising. It was a no brainer to let them eat a begged-for donut before a game and then ask them how they felt during the game compared to say a pre-game banana with peanut butter. They figured it out. They also learned about competition and their bodies, fueling for better performance. We never talked about their diet but fueling choices. We talked about what they ate as promoters of good feeling and health, not body shape.


As a result, neither have been overheard to speak of one another’s weight when the taunting insults fly in their daily needling and razz-rationing. I don’t know what they say when I am not around, but I suspect they rarely judge beauty on the basis of weight, at least. I have witnessed their scolding their peers for doing so.


When they were young, my message about body-intensive focus would be lost, I feared, in a society that prizes beauty as exceptional whether the craze is body shape svelte or zoftig, Twiggy or Marilyn Monroe. The tidal wave of social stigma was too forceful, I thought. They would find out winning the lottery of a culture’s beauty award, one has to have the right metabolism and bone structure, the right chromosomal admixture. One has to measure the self against others on arbitrary dice rolls of anatomy. I desperately wanted them to understand that where body beauty is often the goal for young women, intrinsically achievable happiness is sidestepped or forsaken.


I’m troubled with using “beauty” as a synonym for feeling valuable and powerful and magnificent. It’s not far removed from nominally inspiring, but ultimately shallow, slogans like “Confidence is sexy” and “Nothing is more attractive than happiness” that treat emotional well-being as an accessory. I seek happiness because it feels good, not because it makes my hair shinier. Happiness, confidence, self-esteem—these things should be ends, not means.


Yes, and so how do we teach our daughters about the relationship of beauty and happiness, ends and means? How do we keep the word in our vocabulary without having it used as a weapon or a criterion for worth?


It is not enough to say that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” to quote an insipid, grammatically inferior Ray Stevens’ song lyric. Some “body positivists” would have media drilling the empowerment of all body types into cultural consciousness.To do so, expands the definition beyond meaning, dilutes its aesthetic etymology and weakens it as a tool for evaluation of non-humans. Beauty is not merely in the eyes of the beholder as there are objective criteria for evaluating beautiful art or poetry, for instance.


Miller offers another conception:


Instead of insisting that beauty is necessary for everyone, more body-positive activists are working toward making beauty optional—something we can pursue if it matters to us, but also something we can have full and satisfying lives without. We should affirm our bodies for what they can do, how they can feel, the tribulations they’ve survived, and the amazing minds they carry around, without having to first justify their existence by looking pretty.


This is not merely a manifesto for those perceived as old and ugly to feel better about themselves. It takes a body fullness that does not need outward validation, a self-sufficiency that manifests contentment and dispassionate awareness of cultural tagging. Critical thinking skills help to distinguish self from selling, what is sold to and through women.


Whether or not I have succeeded as a parent in a myriad of ways from teaching them to clean up after themselves to balancing a bank account, I have given it my all to encourage my children–all of them (daughters, nieces, nephews, students)–to think. And why I love my careers as teacher, writer and mother–for the seemingly insignificant but wholly critical contribution I attempt daily at raising awareness, teaching analytical skills by which to destroy the inherited, constructed world. It’s the least this world citizen can do.

“A History of Sluts”

A chronicle of powerful women who made their mark and were slut shamed, “A History of Sluts,” by artists Chelsea Dom and Alice Lancaster, endeavors to expose these women and their treatment.

“Slut-shaming has become so engrained in our culture that it’s now a normal and accepted practice. Women are taught to see their bodies as something shameful. I wanted to show through my project that some of the most powerful and influential women in history have been slut shamed. It’s okay to be confident and empowered. We have to take away the fear associated with the female body, and not ostracize those who openly express their sexuality.”

Fear about the female body brought back memories of some of the early myths about women that embodied such fear like the vagina dentata (toothed vagina) myth of the Greeks.

Fun research this inquiry provoked and here are some of the unearthed jewels:

Vaginas with Teeth–and Other Sexual Myths, which is a riotously good read and short, if you are in the mood to be bewildered and bemused.

And for the completely whacky, there is this movie clip called Teeth, apparently a 2007 movie about a young woman who found she had teeth in her vagina? I missed it when it hit the theaters, so I’m guessing.

In other words, the fear of women and the aggression it provokes is age old. Enculturating women to be ashamed of their bodies, rape, mutilation by self or others, slut shaming and other practices, despite laws, public outcry and international outrage, persist.

Relentless exposure of these practices, specifically brought to women’s consciousness and men’s consciences is critical to change behaviors, and educate as well as empower all people.

I cannot get behind all political art, but I like this project. Art messages the way words do not. The drawn subjects are well-chosen and representative of impactful women. I look forward to owning a copy.