Wednesday, September 30, 2009

slacktivize

It's getting to be a habit - me coming on here and being lazy and just saying - "hey, look at what this other dude (or dudette) wrote!" and then throwing a link on and letting that be that.

I can't help it, though. I'm a decent writer and I am the only person who has my stories with my perspective on them, but there are also other writers who are much, much better. One of my favorites is a guy named Fred, A.K.A "Slacktivist". I don't agree with everything he says, but he always makes me think - so I was a bit nervous when he recently took on a topic I sometimes try very hard not to think about: the difficulty of reconciling the "God of Love" with the God who says "kill all your enemies, and their babies, too".

The best thing about Slacktivist, though, is that everybody reads him - people from all sides of the Multiverse Fence, so the comments section is frickin' awesome. So, yeah: go read this post. Then read the insanely voluminous commentary it prompted (Seriously - how does he do it? I get two comments if I'm lucky. Oh, my aching ego). Then read this post, where he elaborates and moderates his original post. Then read all the other commentary.

It will not answer your questions. It will certainly challenge your perspectives, however, and perhaps even convince you that all those pinko-commie-bleeding-heart-psychos you hate might actually be thoughtful, considerate people who can even teach you a thing or two about love.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"the best thing about being stoned"

Once upon a time, a long time ago, a musician friend of mine looked at one of my paintings and ardently declared it to be "the best painting anyone has ever made, ever". Then he asked if I wanted to hear, "the best song we ever wrote, ever."

I, said yes, of course, so he and the rest of his band stumbled through a decently groovy tune which sort of imploded at the end into a cacophony of discordant notes and cymbal crashes. Then he looked at me through the purplish haze that hung over the room and with his typical impish grin said, "The best thing about being stoned is that everything just seems so stupid."

For some reason, the phrase stuck in my mind - possibly because it was so atypical. They had a rule about not coming stoned to practice or shows; and other than that one time, I don't think I ever saw it broken. It sunk in, and I ended up painting this picture:



and snatching his quote for the title. The painting is an exploration of apathy towards suffering - not a meditation on the relative merits of "the herb" - but one of my students told me Friday that I need to write about drugs and that picture seems as good a segue-way as anything.

So... drugs. Hmmm... DRUGS.

Hmmm... This would be a lot easier if I had more personal experience to talk from; but the truth is, I have spent most of my life avoiding consciousness-altering drugs - even legal ones like sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and Tylenol. There are a three reasons for this. First: I am a boring-type person who generally only takes carefully-calculated risks; and the idea of screwing around with the chemical composition of my brain-juices never seemed to me to be a very sound idea. Second: I am a chicken-type person, driven by fear to avoid things I don't understand. And Third: I am a law-abiding-type person, too calculating and too scared to break a law if I can help it.

The result of these three things has been, so far as I can tell in my non-drug-altered state, mostly good. I have never suffered the awkward, embarrassing, or painful consequences that often attend this sort of behavior. I've never ended up walking down the streets of Vancouver in the middle of the night wearing only boxer shorts and a bicycle helmet. I have never come to consciousness floating around a lake in a life vest, wondering how I got there. I haven't made a succession of whoopies with a succession of possibly diseased strangers, nor pulled over to the side of a road to puke out technicolor slime, nor gone to work badly hungover, nor had any of the other lovely life experiences that some of my more drugventurous friends have had.

However, if I have missed out on the debaucherous lows; so, too have I never soared the lofty heights of brain-boggling. I don't know what it is like to be chemically high, so I am therefore a bit hesitant to write about drugs.

Normally I have two options when I'm ignorant on a topic. First, I can make a bunch of stuff up. I can tell you about this one time when I was all wigged-out on a cocktail of mescaline, cocaine and wine coolers and I ended up walking down a street in Guadalajara wearing only a leopard-print banana hammock and carrying a crudely-lettered cardboard sign that said: "El Gringo Bailara para el Tequila". This would be the much more entertaining choice, but it's harder to maintain... so I think I'll just be my usual pansy self and stick to the second option, which is to sidestep the issue and try to come at it at a bizarre angle that will distract you from my ignorance.

Um... so... er... I once climbed a fifty foot poplar tree that was growing at a slight angle, on the assumption that at some point it would bend over and deposit me on the ground. This was a sound theory, proved out by dozens of experiences in the South American rainforest, but failed to account for an important variable: the relatively brittle composition of deciduous trees in climates further from the equator. As a result of this mis-calculation, I was only three-quarters of the way up when the tree snapped.

In the picture above, you see me in mid-fall - just before gravity flipped me upside-down, so that I was zooming rapidly earthward with a large tree on top of me. Needless to say, I managed to avoid the logical consequence of this stupid behavior (death or a broken back); but the important thing is to pause right there halfway to the ground (a moment captured forever by a disposable camera held by one of the gathered treeplanters, for whose benefit this entertaining spectacle was being enacted) and ask - "what in the world was I thinking!?!"

We know what I was thinking beforehand: Not Much. But what about during that photographic nano-second, mechanically sliced from eternity? My mind was clear of drugs - I wasn't addled by alcohol, sugar cookies, or one of those ridiculous "energy" drinks the kids are into these days. Nonetheless, I was absolutely and completely high. My consciousness was elevated and I was highly aware of the excruciating beauty of time and space, and the malleability of my place in it. It was a very, very real moment... free of all distraction and pretense. It was just me, my body and the universe, conjoined in an epiphanal moment of Being.

Why? Why would I seek these moments? Why would I grab a ski rope and tell my friend to take off, so that by the time the rope snapped taught the boat was hydroplaning and I flew fifteen feet through the air, swallowing a liter of lake-water and narrowly avoiding passing out and sinking to the bottom? Why? I didn't want to die, or break my back, or drink sewaginous lake water. In neither of those situations were there any girls nearby that I wanted to impress. So... why?

I get a useful insight into this from a song a friend of mine wrote called "One More Pill". I may be endorsing it because I happen to have written a story "treatment" for this music video that they made to go along with it. Nonetheless, I think it does an admirable job of exploring why we do stupid things - things that hurt us. In it, he sings about his own drug use, and how he takes all these pills in order to "ease the pain".

One of the cool things about knowing musicians is that you get to know more about context of the songs than does the average listener, so I know for a fact that when Jesse wrote this song, he wasn't just talking about drugs. At the time, he had recently re-read Aldous Huxley's distopian novel, "Brave New World", in which there exists a drug in pill form called "soma". In the book, soma acts as a symbol for all the things we do to avoid the painful, difficult realities of existence. The song "One More Pill" is powerful, therefore, not only because it honestly refers to Jesse's own specific life/drug experience, but also because it connects to something bigger - a more universal truth about all the crazy things we do in order to avoid pain.

The next question - the essential question if we are to figure out how to change - is where this pain comes from. We can't heal the sickness until we pinpoint the disease, and I am willing to risk foot-in-mouth disease by saying that I firmly believe that the pain we all feel is the pain of being unloved. This, I think, is the fundamental sickness of humanity - an awareness within us that the perfect love we crave is absent from our lives, and a yearning to be able to live ecstatically in moments of loving abandon. In this, crack-heads, sugar-fiends, caffeine-riders and stupid teenage males are all the same.

While I still think that drugs both legal and illegal are an unwise choice, I can see that their use arises from the same impulse that drives all of us to do do stupid things - a loss of hope. We recognize our brokenness, isolation, pain and love-deficiency, and for a moment it seems too much to bear. So we improvise shortcuts - ways in which we can dull the pain, or experience some other emotion so intensely that the pain becomes inconsequential in comparison.

We stuff our faces with food and our houses with consumer "goods". We have rambunctious sex in unhealthy situations - or obsess about sex to the exclusion of other, more positive pursuits. We pile the dirt around us up into forts, and pretend that we are powerful and in control. We create complex religious systems, whereby we delude ourselves into believing that we understand or dominate the God of the Universe. We chase thrills and experiences and rushes and highs, attempting to forget for a while the inevitable slide back to painful reality - a reality that can never be improved by escapism.

This, at least, I know something about. I'm an expert, in fact.

I know as much as anyone the fear of being unloved, or unloveable. I know the lies and machinations I adopt in order to stave off the fear, and I know that they do not really work. I know that if there is any hope, it is not in them. I also know that one of the most hopeless activities of all is the one where we try to avoid pain by pointing at all the other ways other people try to avoid pain.

So where does Hope come from - or for that matter the Grace and Love towards which Hope yearns to burn? For my part, I believe it is God and that God sent Jesus to help me understand the way to Grace and Love; but I'll be durned if you catch me claiming to know who or what, exactly, Jesus/God is - or how, exactly, I jump from that belief to the Hope I need to stop hurting myself in desperation.

Where do I go from here, then? Must I run from destruction to destruction, chasing highs and smashing myself in the face with a metaphorical, metaphysical baseball bat? When do I rest? When can I just BE?

I don't have an answer to that question - not in the ANSWER sense. I do have the hope, however, that asking the question is enough and that the God I believe in but do not understand is grace-full enough to handle all my despairing attempts to grasp the Love that I have been designed, by God, to crave. For right now, at least, that's the only drug I need.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Josh Almighty's Blugh List

It is a horrible, mixed-up, no-good, very bad day. It is also the best day of my life.

It seems as though I ought to feel like reconciling those two things, but I don't. Maybe I am becoming a mystic, able to live within dichotomies and paradoxes, reveling in the mysteries and enjoying the freedom that comes from ignorance at its best.

This is not the best mental environment in which to write well. A long-dead romantic dude once described poetry as something like "passion recalled in tranquility". The same could be said of prose. Unfortunately, when I am in one of my funks of awesomeness and bipolar emotiveness is jerking me hither and yon, these moments of tranquility are hard to come by. I find that at times such as this the freewheeling approach to narrative structure that I generally take when I'm tranquil and the brain-gerbils are going tickety-boo ends up resulting in nothing more than an unstructured, vomit-splotch of words. Nonetheless, I still have the urge and commitment to write and to feed this blog, so the only solution is to revert to my favorite no-brainer literary form of all: The List.

Ergo - in no apparent order...

Things I can Think of that I'd Do Right Now if Morgan Freeman was God and I was Jim Carrey and this was the Movie, "Josh Almighty":

1. I would cancel the entire NASA space program.

2. Everyone with a non-working animal in this country would be required to eat it, with Worcestershire sauce.

3. I would make all schools Art schools, with optional tracks for the sciences.

4. Racists, homophobes, bigots and all other extremists would be drug into the street and shot (or at least, given a shot of tequila and threatened by large men brandishing rolling pins).

5. Anyone who called someone else fat (in a mean way) would instantly find that their left arm had turned into a wiener dog.

6. I would require all North American Churches to set up Booths of Shame outside their front doors, where they would be forced to apologize profusely while handing out money until they didn't have anymore.

7. I would hire welders to make sculpture and playgrounds out of every SUV and sports car in America.

8. I would make it illegal to say derogatory things about Pablo Picasso, unless you had at least minored in Art in college.

9. Every Monday would be declared a Huggy Day, and every Friday would become "High-Five-Friday".

10. The Presidents of the NBA and the NFL would be required to pay obeisance to the President of FIFA.

11. I would become Chief Potentate of Television Programming, and I would cancel almost all shows - probably even the ones you like.

12. I would fwidgle the rules a bit so that anyone who tried to use sexy models to sell evil things like antiperspirant would find that in pictures or on film, the models would turn into maggots and boogers.

13. I would switch the United States to Metric, build more traffic circles, and insist that everyone buy a bidet.

14. In my munificent wisdom, I would bring the following people back to life and install them as a Ruling Pentavirate over the United States and Canada: Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Malcolm Muggeridge, Martin Luther King Jr., and my grandmother.

15. I would cause all the video game consoles in North America to turn into Banyan Trees that would grow into mighty playgrounds, complete with treehouses a la Swiss Family Robinson.

16. And finally, I would invert pretty much anything else I have missed, so that last would be first and first last, with enough popcorn for everybody.

Monday, September 21, 2009

score

I scored my maximum utmost bestest thrift store deal ever this past week, and when I told this to pretty much everyone I talked to I discovered two things: One, that some people are not aware of what a glorious (and eco-friendly) adventure thrifting is, and Two, that almost no one knows the absolute most important thing about thrifting - where to thrift, and how.

So, with that gloating picture of perfectly-fitted two hundred dollar Alpinestar riding boots that I just bought for two dollars and fifty cents (!!!!) hovering over you, I will tell you my secret: find the right type of thrift store and drop in regularly.

The right type of thrift store is completely non-profit. It is staffed entirely by volunteers, is generally fairly small, and only takes cash. It exists to fund a specific charity - say a small clinic or a homeless shelter. This type of thrift store wants to move goods fast because it has no expansive warehouse. It does not, therefore, make any attempt to set prices based on value. For some reason, these places usually seem to have better stuff.

Good luck, and stay the heck away from Matthews, North Carolina :)

Friday, September 18, 2009

fred

Another quick endorsement from the links: http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2009/09/our-trespasses.html ,

just because I feel this answers better than I am likely to an argument I had recently about all those weaselly little trespassing illegal aliens.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

why I want to bring down the US economy

In an effort to avoid falling victim to the Tyranny of Relevance, I would like to say a few words about a topic that is by now a sodden, tattered old hat: what it will take to fix the US economy.

I am also going to break with (my) tradition and get right down to the point: the way to fix it is to break it.

I say this not as an economist, but as a human being and a lover, because I think that the real problem is that we don't question the basic premises in anything more than a very cursory way. Obama may have thrown out a few remarks during his lengthy inaugural speech about how we need to change our attitudes and habits - heck, he may have even meant them - but you don't stop being a politician once you are elected. He is a politician, and this is still (ostensibly) a democracy. What that means is that anyone who wants to play the power game has to give the people what they want, which right now is more stuff, more play time, and less responsibility.

If it was anything other than business as usual, Obama would have walked to the edge of that podium and gotten to his knees and begged the world's forgiveness. He would have railed (a lot longer and harder) against American selfishness and greed, and would have pointed out that for the economy to become healthier (and not just perpetually and unsustainably growing, like some fast-metastasizing cancer), then the people who comprised that economy would have to accept fundamental change in their spending habits. They would have to re-prioritize their lives. They would have to sacrifice. They would have to develop discipline, and somehow re-learn how to discern the simple difference between "I need" and "I want".

This did not happen and will not happen, because the nation - present company most decidedly included - would have had to admit that there was no way in Heckifer they wanted it to happen. Rick Warren's wishy-washy, mamby-pamby, politicized, Christ-ignoring speech/prayer enforced this fact, and showed that the majority of the group calling itself "Christian" in this country is also firmly against any real change.

I am saying this now (instead of then) because I am doing my best to avoid generating "more heat than light" and because I feel that the work of the Truth is something that gets done slowly, inexorably... despite and in spite of any man-made power structures. The work of the Truth, I think, will not be done by powers and principalities that we set up to make it happen, because it is in the nature of power to control and destroy - NOT to serve.

This is not to say that everyone in power is inherently corrupt, just that power has a mind and spirit of its own, and it bends all purposes to its own ends. When you take up the ring of power to end the evil reign of Sauron (to MiddleEarthifize this argument); you may change a few little things, but in the end all you get is a new type of tyrant.

I know, I know - this is, in fact, hippie mumbo-jumbo. Go ahead and write me off, but pause at least one small moment to think about what things could be like, if the country really was ruled by Truth with a mind towards health, wholeness and peace (and all those other useless pinko-commie ideals).

By way of example: what if (as I mused in the comments of an earlier post) instead of telling some poor country that if they don't stop abusing political dissidents we'll cripple their economy, we said: "here is a pile of aid and a re-worked trade agreement that will cost us a lot of money and make YOU wealthier and more able to meet the needs of your citizens. There are no strings attached, but we think you are all as wonderful and valuable as us, and we want you to value yourselves (all of you) as much as we do"? What if?

No government would ever do that, of course, because we all believe that if we did we'd be taken advantage of. But why do we have to use the logic of governments? To me, the real Christian message says: "Here I am. I kind of suck, but I love you. Take advantage of me if you must, but I will always love you." THAT is the good news, the best (and possibly only) thing someone claiming to follow Christ has to offer. It is grace, it is backwards, and it kicks the llama's bottom.

When people talk about "fixing the ailing US economy", they are not talking about a path to health and wholeness. They are not talking about giving grace and seeking peace. They are not talking about inverting our priorities and living for others. No, they are talking about getting back to business as usual, where the accumulation of wealth continues unchecked by any limitations other than the depths of our depravity and the breadth of our greed. We don't want our daily bread and daily bread for our neighbors around the world - we want our daily fine dining experience and an orgy of hedonism atop our Italian-leather sofas.

I am not talking about all those other idiots who won't read this post, though. I am talking about you and me, with our much more sensible, reasonable, measured desires. The problem is never "out there" - it always starts right down in our very own guts. We may find a way to "fix" our economy by getting it back to what it was, but we will never really heal it until we fix ourselves and begin to make the hard choice to begin to really live - seeing our own best interest in service to others.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I AM is an Artist (and so can You!)

Once upon a time there was an artist, and his name was G... um, G...., his name was G...

Well, never mind. Let's just say his name was "The Artist", and although he was neither a man nor a woman, he came to be known as sort of mannish by the people who insisted on naming everything. Now, I know they're pretty much lame-donkeys, but I am going to take the path of least resistance and humor them for pronoun usage.

After all, The Artist as an entity is a seemingly insane mystery, so there really isn't too much point in arguing about what, exactly, he was. It will be a whole heckuvah lot easier to skip that and intuit what he seems to be by looking at what The Artist did, and how he did it.

So... Once upon a time there was an artist - The Artist. He was called "The Artist" because he was not constrained to live in the same space-time continuum as the artists we are familiar with. As everyone knows, time and space are functions of a State of Being experienced by people, and are irrelevant concepts for non-people things like, say, really tiny fast niblets like light particles. It is my opinion that this State of Being we people experience is beautiful and intensely creative, so I tend to believe that it was made by someone like The Artist, who existed in a way that transcended my own State of Being.

That's not a provable opinion, though, so I won't spend too much time on it. Instead, I will talk about what I think is super important - that The Artist was making stuff. How, I don't know. I have a pretty good idea of why, though. I think The Artist was making stuff because it was fun. He liked doing it, so he went all-out. We don't know exactly what he was making, we just know that he was always making it, having fun. He made rules and then broke them. He made stuff and then played with it. He made blobs of stuff and things that shone and others that didn't and to you and I it would seem that he was just this mad inventor tossing bits of matter here and there, because the rhyme of it all was beyond anything anyone but The Artist could comprehend.

Once upon a time, The Artist said to himselves (because he's a mystery and doesn't exactly conform to our understanding of identity), "That was fun making stuff and all, but lets make stuff that's alive and can re-create, within a certain context. Let's let it have certain capacities, and let's just make them up as we go along."

And that is just what he did.

Having made life and things like rules and space and places and time, he decided to make living people, so that they could be artists, too. The Artist made Ways of Being for them - behaviors and patterns that would allow them to always have fun making good stuff. This was necessary, because the artists he made lived inside a universe he had already made, and it had rules. He had to make a way for the artists to live in harmony with those rules. He kept these rules loosely defined, though, so that they'd have lots of room to maneuver as they played. The Artist loved playing, and thought it would be cool to watch these people play, and to play with them.

The little artist-people had a lot of fun playing and re-creating, but they also thought they ought to be able to re-define the basic rules. I am not sure exactly why they did this, or why The Artist felt it necessary to make them able to do so - I think it may have had something to do with the importance The Artist placed in people having free will so that they could be creative.

Nevertheless, that is what they did, and although this may have added a lot to the sorrow of the beautiful, creative universe they were in, they still kept playing and creating and having fun, as did The Artist who had made them. As time went on, it became obvious that some of the things they were creating came out of their desire to write their own rules. These things were ugly, and people got hurt. Tears came into the world, along with selfishness, pride, and fear. It was bad art, and it was wrong.

Oddly enough, The Artist was still smiling and having fun. This does not make sense to me, but it still seems to be true. Often the most true things make very little sense for a very long time. Until, sometimes, they seem to work out. This is because of another pattern that started to show up - another thing that became obvious over time was that this smiling, fun-loving Artist was still making stuff. Only now, he was incorporating all the stuff the little artist-people were making - the good, the bad, and the ugly. In so doing, he was making the ugliness beautiful.

Again, it is important to remember that very little of this makes any sense. As I sit here and try to make this all fit into my little artist mind, I find that more often than not I have to do violence to reality: I shave off bits I don't like and ignore bits that just won't fit into the work that I am making, the small work of art I contribute with my life to the grander piece. Despite all this, there is a feeling I get that something indescribably wonderful and mysterious is being made.

So...

Once upon a time, from the very beginning, The Artist was interacting with the people-artists. This did not mean that he was grabbing their brushes and taking over their work - lots of times he didn't even let them know he was there - but The Artist was playing alongside them and with them. I am almost certain of this, and I think it is awesome. It is just hard to see sometimes, because we are made to play and create best within certain parameters, and when we push outside of them something happens to us on a deep level. The eyes and ears of our souls get plugged up and (for a while, at least) we are blind and deaf.

The Artist knew this (he made us like this, for crying out loud), and wanted to make it easier for us to find the way. So he communicated. That is what artists do, really... they communicate. The Artist communicated brilliantly, in all ways at all times to all people. He also started to weave some blatantly obvious strands into the overall pattern of the infinitely complicated and beautiful tapestry he was making.

One of the strands that I think is really important had to do with a nomadic group of rustics wandering around in the desert. The Artist started to talk to them, to point them towards a way of living that enabled them to do good work, to create with their lives a more beautiful form of art.

They were very, very normal people, so most of the time they weren't interested in what The Artist had to say, but he loved them like only a Maker can, so he just kept re-working and re-working the material, sending them artists who did their best to get the people to understand what it would take for them to make the best artwork.

These little artist-prophets reminded them that they needed to care for the poor and the oppressed and the beaten-down, to be selfless and giving at all times, and to enjoy the awesome awesomeness of everything. The little artists did not generally like this. They ignored these speakers and artists and leaders sent by The Artist, or killed them. They preferred to do their own thing - to follow their own course and to control their own pursuit of happiness. They began to re-invent the world in their own image, and to re-envision The Artist as something they could control. This did not work (duh), and pain and suffering increased exponentially. Although this was a direct result of the way The Artist had set things up, and seemed SO obvious, The Artist did not give up. He just kept making. He kept tweaking things, even though it didn't really work - in the sense that things did not get fixed.

This gives us an important clue into what kind of artist The Artist was - he was not one of those artists who fixate on end results. Instead, he just sort of enjoyed the process. How he could enjoy something as frustrating and painful as this is beyond me, but I guess that's The Artist for you.

Anyways, there came a time when The Artist figured that his masterpiece required him to focus some of his more obvious attention elsewhere, which is why he stopped sending as many really vocal little artists to the nomads - who by this time had settled, expanded into a group called the Jews, and fallen victim to their own bad work. A lot of people call this time "the four hundred years of prophetic silence".

The truth is, though, that The Artist never stopped playing around and making stuff. One of the places he moved his more blatant creative action to was Greece. Right at the beginning of those four hundred years of "silence" Greek culture inexplicably exploded as the little artists there "somehow" began to make a great many beautiful things. The culture expanded in influence and scope, and even though a lot of bad work was done, the astronomical amount of good work obviously portended some sort of great thing.

That great thing, apparently, was the Roman Empire, which absorbed the Greek culture and expanded it and took over absolutely everybody, including that group of formerly-nomadic Jews. All this set the stage for an even greater thing, because The Artist put on a person-skin and part of himself became one of the little artists. I don't know how he did it, or even entirely why, but The Artist actually subjected himself to his own rules. He entered his masterpiece at the level of one of the little artists and walked around monkeying with the rules, doing backwards things and showing them what it could mean for their art if they were to play and create in the manner they'd been designed for.

Some of them listened - a little - but mostly they just liked the spectacle he presented and figured that if they could harness his power they'd be able to go back to doing things their own way - only with more power. This was not in The Artist's plan. He knew that if they followed that course they'd just do more damage, and he kept telling them this until they did what they always did to those with the audacity to hang out with losers and tell the truth - they killed him.

Which, I guess, is why it's so cool that The Artist became a loser, and lost. He showed me that it is OK for me to be a loser. He wasn't done yet, though. He came back as a little artist person for a little while longer - to show the amazing, death-defying mystery of the masterwork that was being created. Then he went away again, leaving behind the intangible spirit of himself and what he did to show the way: the spirit that freed captives, fed the hungry, and loved the unlovable. It was the spirit of Grace, and it was awesome.

You know what else was awesome? That the Roman culture I mentioned earlier provided a perfect opportunity for the spirit of Grace that The Artist brought (by living and dying as he did) to spread all over the world. People weaselled their way into it - so of course things got ugly and uglier - but that Grace-spirit flowed outward into the world nonetheless, serving the poor and the marginalized despite all the bad artists who tried to hijack the power of the Story and use it for their own nefarious ends.

Again, I don't really get this. I don't get why the idiots get to have power. I don't get why they get to pretend they're making something beautiful while they curb-stomp the very people their art should be lifting up. I do not understand why they are allowed to make bad, ugly art that takes away what little the downtrodden still have and leaves them with only tears. I don't get why they are allowed to spread lies about The Artist, pretending to do his bidding even as they live fat, ugly, comfortable lives, ignoring everything important that he really said. I don't get why they sometimes seem to do so much more damage than all the many people who have never heard of The Artist, or have only heard of a perverse caricature of him created by these same pitiable fools.

I don't get this, and it makes me angry and indignant and most of all very, very sad. Except when it doesn't. Sometimes, after I have made a particularly bad piece of art myself, I find myself being glad that they get away with it. When I ignore the hurt of someone who needs my help or increase the hurt of someone already in pain, I am really, really glad that these people don't seem to get what they deserve - because if everybody got what they deserved, where would I be?

I remember, then, that spirit of Grace. I remember the bigger story being told by the master storyteller, The Artist who is not only making the greatest work of art ever, he is that art. Oddly enough, it is only through my own failure and my own bad art that I remember what good art is. I remember that I can have a part in making it, and that in so doing I will give The Artist a little more to work with - or at least diminish by six or seven the number of tears that will fall between now and completion of the masterpiece.

Is this an answer? No - but art is not about answers. It is about process and communication. It is about Being and loving and making. When I pretend to have answers, to understand, to have contained in my mind the master plan of The Artist, it is then that I find myself making bad work.

This makes me sad... until I remember the spirit of Grace. I shrug, I smile, and I go back to playing.

What's My Name Again?


Oh, yeah. That was it. Just made this in one of my classes while most of the students did their best to avoid working on the assignment. I think it expresses how I feel about myself sometimes. Except when I don't.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

healthy screams

Have you ever had a "screamer"? Apparently you take some ice cream and you put it in a slushy and then the simultaneous cold and sugar rush makes you scream. It's a thing - another one of those things people do that, for whatever reason, I just can't seem to get. Like watching professional sports, buying shoes, or stopping my body's natural waste-excretion processes by blocking up my pores with aluminum-based antiperspirant.


I know, I know. That makes me an eccentric, screwed-up, stinky-man. What else is new? It explains some things, too - like why I get on here and shake my ineffectual little fist at the looming bulldozers, and why I say strange things at awkward times. I'm not special, I am just a weirdo.

It also explains why I'm not likely to turn this blog into a mondo-effective internet marketing scheme so I can quit my day job and sell prints of my paintings whilst firing off bi-daily cynical potshots at whatever bit of pop-flotsam that happens to drift by: I just don't care enough about what everyone tells me I ought to care about.

I do not generally write about:

A. Whatever everyone happens to be screaming about at the moment.
B. How to get more money or power in your life.
C. How to make friends and manipulate people.
D. The bowel movements of my cat.
E. The bowel movements of the American economy.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that I decided a long time ago that it was dishonest and wasteful to get angry about things that I am not willing to work to change. The second is that I have a sneaking suspicion that when I scream along with everyone else, the resulting noise makes it impossible for me to think in that meditative, hermit-in-a-cave sense I am trying so hard to cultivate.

See, screaming is noisy. I find it very hard to scream and listen at the same time - and to quote the title of a book/cd combo put out by National Public Radio, "Listening is an Act of Love". I want to listen, think and love; and ultimately to work towards those changes I actually can make. It is my belief that screaming deludes the screamer into believing that he or she is being marvelously effective, all the while diminishing the capability of folks on both sides of the issue to actually hear anything. There's just too much freakin' noise.

Blogs are usually about noise. They are about shouting loudly that everyone else is an idiot. I did some research on how to generate blog traffic and one of the oft-repeated techniques was to go on other, more well-read blogs and make near-slanderous statements about the content.

I'm all for being obnoxious and near-slanderous from time to time, but I say enough stupid stuff on accident that I don't need to go out of my way to fill the air with the obnoxious detritus rattling around in my brain. As the old saying goes: "better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt."

Still, there are some people who write thoughtful, measured things that, despite the vapid nature of the interwebs, still manage to convey the idea that they are not so foolishly convinced of their own rightness that they can't hear the voices of their detractors over the sounds of their own screams. So I will try to be one of them here, and point out a few things that are bothering me about all this.

First and foremost, I am disturbed by the status quo. The American government spends bajillions of dollars on stupid stuff, because they have bajillions to spend (now, where they got those bajillions, that's another story). Everybody who benefits from that spending does not like the idea of cutbacks to them, and most will do whatever weaselly thing they need to to ensure the cash cow keeps excreting money.

As a result, the health-care system is bloated and ugly and stupid - Canada spends about six percent less and while I can tell you (as a half-Canadian who just moved from there) that their system isn't perfect, it protects the poor a whole heck of a lot better than the American system, which seems to be mostly about getting more money for those who already have lots. For me, protecting the poor is super-duper important, and anyone who (intentionally or otherwise) keeps that from happening is, in my humble estimation, a big poo-poo head.

Second, I am uncomfortable with all this talk of "human rights", because as soon as we take the conversation into that vocabulaterial realm, we enter a world of power and control. "Rights" in this sense are the sort of thing that must be protected by someone or some entity powerful enough to enforce them on others. This works as long as the most loving course of action is within the game plan of the people with the most power. While I am aware that this is the way the world spins, I am just too much of a fruit-bat idealist to let that slide.

I am a HUGE fan of grace. I think we should care for the health of other people not because they have some inherent right, but rather because they are awesome, incredible creatures just like us, and I think their best interests ought to be ours. When we start screaming about "human rights", usually we're just concerned with one particular right for one particular group of people, like, say, white Americans living in my town - a demographic of ME. I don't want health care for poor Americans, I want health care for poor humans worldwide, because I love those who suffer and want them to be healed. For this to happen, though, there is going to have to be some sacrifice on this end. And who wants to sacrifice just so that one of my seven billion neighbors can be a little more healthy?

As soon as I share this opinion, however, I start realizing the endless digressions and qualifications I must make - like, say, about the difficulty of knowing what real health is, and whether our current pharmaceutical monstrosities are really providing it. Does health mean keeping unconscious people breathing in sterile rooms forever? I don't know. As Bob Dylan said, "everything is broken". The question always prompts more questions, which demand more silence, more thinking, and waaaay less screaming.

I think I'll shut up now.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

kidses

"Let those little kids come over here - don't tell them to get lost, because these are the sort of people who make up the upside-down kingdom I'm trying to tell you about!"

- Jesus Christ, paraphrased by me.


Maybe, for whatever reasons (possibly even some good ones), you get really angry when anybody tries to quote the Bible at you. I understand. I also get annoyed a lot of the time when people quote and misquote the Bible at me. I do think, however, that people who would like to burn every Bible they see share a problem with those who thump the Bible while screaming and pointing - they all tend to either not read it, or only read it selectively enough to convince themselves they have won the next argument.

The Bible-thumping screamers annoy me the most, however, because I grew up meandering around in the morass of that world (ha, ha... "morass" - a silly word that fits) and it's almost funny the sorts of things they very selectively ignore. Almost.

Like, say, the demand the Bible makes that we become like little kids. These folks use a sort of mental whiteout on this stuff, or transmogify the core message it into something decidedly un-mysterious, like: "isn't that sweet - gentle Jesus loves children!" Then they go right back to pompous adult behavior. But what does it mean to be like a kid, really?

Unfortunately, I don't have a particularly good answer for you, so I'm just going to finish up this musing with a couple quotes from people who, I'm thinking, know better.

---

"Sadly it is not only the force of gravity we get used to as we grow up. The world itself becomes a habit in no time at all. It seems as if in the process of growing up we lose the ability to wonder about the world. And in doing so we lose something central - something philosophers try to restore. From somewhere inside ourselves, something tells us that life is a huge mystery. This is something we once experienced, long before we learned to think the thought...

To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of choice.

This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never quite gets used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable - bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. You might say that throughout his life a philosopher remains as thin-skinned as a child."

- Jostein Gaarder, from Sophie's World.

“A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough… It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again,” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

~ G.K. Chesterton ~ Orthodoxy