Random Thought #1: It’s Hard to Be an Artist
It is really hard to be an artist. No matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in, you are probably existing in a social milieu as a kind of foundling, a misfit in many cases; fragile in your monetary connections. You are much like a miscreant unwanted child, no matter how old you are, wandering the desert of social approbation looking for a home for you and your work. Hands out, pleading for help, for attention, for money, you may spend a lifetime working at incredibly demeaning jobs that pay nothing and demand everything, jobs which strip your energy, your time and your self-esteem, where you are often subjected to humiliation and contempt on multiple levels and platforms, where, at the end of the day, your paycheck is never enough to feed yourself and others if you are supporting children and/or a family and certainly not enough to even feed yourself.
We hear constant cries about how our children don’t value Math and Science and how we must encourage our children, especially our girls, to embrace Science and Math and go into the professions that require a solid foundation in these subjects. I support this wholeheartedly and my youngest child is a doctor. I love Science as a lay person, I am fascinated and read and study constantly cosmology, relativity, time-space, neuroscience, environmental and climate issues. I watch and read about animals, space, planets, microbes and medicine. It is all part of the stuff of life and it is captivating and spellbinding. But, are we ever hearing a cry out that we need more artists? How refreshing it would be if the headline in the paper would be: “Artists of all Kinds! We Need You! Our schools need to help children develop strong skills in Creative Storytelling, Music and Composing, Dance, Visual Art, Graphic Design and other related Creative Pursuits!” That would be refreshing. Without storytelling where are we? Science is absolutely dependent upon storytelling. The observance of phenomena and the subsequent theories about the patterns and consequences of related actions and interactions of this phenomena are all part of the scientific process. Science tells us stories about the world of phenomena and the Universe we live in. These thought experiments eventually produce medicine and related therapies that have changed our entire civilization for the better. Because Science has a seemingly “practical” application we give it more attention and more approbation, but, then, what is your definition of practical anyway?
Could we put Melville’s Moby Dick up against Salk’s Polio Vaccine? The polio vaccine saved perhaps millions of lives, but who was saved by Moby Dick? Can we even measure the soul’s evolution against the body’s healing? And in the end, who can put a price on Art anyway? We pay for a vaccine and we are cured or prevented from a disease for life. We pay for a book and we are deepened in our understanding and comprehension of life. Which one weighs more on the scale of evolution? Who in our civilization decided that the preservation of the body and mind through medicine and science is more important than the nurturing of the emotions, the edification of the soul and the understanding of the mind and mental states? I feel they are equally important, in fact both are crucially essential to achieve a fully rich and holistic life. Leaving one part of the equation out while beefing up the other is lopsided, unbalanced and will eventually cause the entire system to collapse, which is just about what we are witnessing today at this critical juncture in the human species’ development: the collapse of the system from multiple fronts. It’s not just the collapse of the eco-system–the eco-system is an outer manifestation of the inner issues we face as a species. Our internal compass has gone astray and we are now lost in the sea of confusion.
As it is, Art, in all it’s myriad forms, (and these days with digital platforms, ever burgeoning ways to be creative), is considered an adjunct to life. Yet, I am pretty sure, that just as some people have a vocation and talent for Science and go into Medicine as a vocation, a calling, a profession, one becomes an artist because one has to be one, it is not really a choice. Although some of us come to the creative practice later in life, the journey to being a creative artist is one that a soul and body and mind take because there is no other way to express the exuberance of life itself. It comes pouring, gushing, flowing and sprouting out in all kinds of ways. To not honor this urge would be to invite neurosis, psychosis, insanity, suicide, and a host of other unwanted illnesses including physical illness. But on the other hand, to EXPRESS oneself as an artist, to declare oneself, as in my case, a WRITER with a capital “W,” is tantamount to inviting rejection. Unless you are, like the top 10% of wealthy people in this country, the top 10% of lucky writers who are published and fairly successful in getting reviewed and read, you’re likely putting your work out into the ether of the internet hoping someone will stumble upon something you’ve written and be touched enough to respond to your directly. Or that someone will be moved to donate! Or that someone will be moved to publish you!
Hello world! Are you out there?
I’ve been informed that now that I’ve posted all my fiction on line to be read “for free” no publisher will offer me a contract with an advance because I am already “out there” for nothing! If that is true, so be it. No one was reading my work before I created this site and no one was offering to publish me for pay either. I get lot’s of offers to publish if I PAY but that’s not an option for me both financially and psychologically. I would rather give the work away to the public than pay someone to create a hard-cover book that everyone will know as soon as they look at is that it is self-published. Without the backing of a reputable publisher to provide you with an editor to gloss your work, a machine to promote and sell your work, an advance to keep body and soul together while you work on your next work, connections to get your work reviewed, and marketing to get you and your work out there on book tour and interviews, you haven’t much of a prayer that a large enough audience to make a difference will notice you. I’d rather just utilize this site to keep my work available. A friend recently sneeringly informed me that the days of “build it and they will come” are over, one must get aggressive about self-promotion and self-marketing and make a full time job of scouring the internet and marketing one’s site and blog to get attention. In some ways I do agree with him, it’s essential; but I just haven’t got much of a clue how to do this. In addition, I believe in Karma anyway. If I am meant to attract attention to this site and my work, it will happen.
This site stands as MY MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE. Those messages do get through–but sometimes it takes years, and it might even take a lifetime! What matter? What have I got to lose?
Random Thought #2: Being Alone on Christmas Eve
I wandered out into an extremely cold day on Christmas Eve 2013. Here in my city of Chicago is it 7 degrees and with the wind chill probably 7 degrees below zero. I put on a sweater and one of my jackets, scarf, mittens, hat and sorrel boots and walked out to the local cafe, New Wave Cafe, where I go (usually daily) for coffee, humus plate and email browsing on my iPad.
I love my iPad, it was a gift from my son-in-law who got a new iPad mini. Yes, I love it, but I also find it annoying. I have the original iPad 1 version and (I say this from total love of Apple Products) because of Apple’s built-in obsolescence design/marketing approach, everything you buy from them is like buying a new car, it depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot. The same with an apple product. The design and capabilities start to disintegrate practically immediately and you are stuck with an iPad, iPod, iPhone and/or iMac (or whatever) that has already been improved upon with several successive newer versions and your version is not upgradable because apple wants it that way. They want to force you into upgrading into a newer product at least once and preferably twice a year. These days most people can’t afford that, so we are walking around with older versions of apple products that just don’t work very well but they beat having no product at all. That’s where I am with my iPhone (I have the dreaded 4.0 version with no room for storage and no room for upgrades) and the iPad 1. Woe is me. The iPad continually shuts down no matter what program I am using. It moves at a snail’s pace and some programs just don’t work at all. I need an external keypad (on my New Year’s list of gifts to myself) so I can test drive it for an alternative writing device, but right now my best use of the iPad is to watch HBOGO, NETFLIX and HULUPLUS in bed because I’m too lazy to fire up the iMac and lie sideways on my bed to watch the movie. The iPad gives me mobility so I can get out of the studio and do email and Facebook and cruise the net for research on articles or current writing projects, it is fun to watch video clips on You Tube and various other tidbits, it is OK for reading books on my Kindle program and fine for reading the New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair and other papers and magazines I’ve subscribed to, but a laptop it is not. However, I am going to continue to pretend it is a laptop and hope for the best. I am sometimes good at denial, even though it’s a river in Egypt.
So there I am at New Wave cafe at 10 a.m. in the morning on Christmas Eve and there are five of us there who haven’t “gone home” for the holidays, (most of the clientele are youngish–20-30-something) or gone over to spend the day/night with friends and family locally. I am home. I am local. The music coming out of the speakers is Tom Waits at his best: weeping, wailing and nashing his teeth over some decidedly glum chord progressions and the semblance of a mournful dirge that slightly resembles a tune. I am my own friends and family it appears. My two younger children are in NYC, probably more than happy and relieved that Mom isn’t around to annoy them with obligatory visitation. My oldest told me she was tired, reminded me of the last job I got fired from (one of the total humiliating defeats of early 2013), and said the best favor I could do her was to leave her alone all day to rest and recuperate and await the arrival of her husband, my son-in-law, from his family visit in Nashville later this evening. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the best gift I can give my loved ones is to leave them alone!
Random Thought #3:
I’ve spent the better part of 20 years studying and practicing Buddhism. I spent 20 years before that studying and practicing Christian mysticism and Astrology. I spent the period before that being raised as a Jew. I guess I can call myself a Jewish Buddhist Christian Astrologer. I’ve taken something (quite a bit actually) from each of these incredible religions and studies (although Astrology is not a religion and Buddhism claims to be the Science of Mind, according to the Dalai Lama), and I am a complete amalgamation of all of it. Call me the Spiritual Soup Kitchen, I don’t care.
The question I ask myself today is: IF I KNOW BETTER WHY CAN’T I DO BETTER? As I listen to myself kvetching in this blog, I really do wonder why I can’t get to gratitude from complaint. It just seems to all hinge on the difference between what I expect or want to happen and what actually IS happening in my life. One thing that is NOT happening is the ability to generate money, any money, and certainly enough to support myself and to do some things I would love to do such as: 1) have a car 2) move to a 1 bedroom apartment rather than 2 rooms 3) pay my daughter back for her financial help 4) travel 5)visit my other two kids in NYC. That’s the wish list for now. However there is an absolute necessity for me to force myself into making a gratitude list. After all, it is Christmas. Yet, I feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie I never tire of watching every year at Christmas because it has such a timeless gift of storytelling, performance and magic, (please refer to #1 Random Thought about Art). George didn’t appreciate his life either and was about to end it all when the Angel Clarence appears out of nowhere to save him. I believe in angels. I know they exist. I’ve had two incredible 3-dimensional visitations from Angelic Presence in my lifetime. No one will believe me so I won’t tell those stories now. Maybe later. Anyway, I know angels exist. And we all have our own following us around, including the Recording Angel who records everything we say or think or do–which scares the shit out of me, but whatever. The point is we really are accountable for every moment of our lives, including the subliminal thoughts we think no one hears. However these angels only want the very best for us and their love is total and unconditional. By way of saying thanks to them and to the Gods at Large I am making a Gratitude List for this Christmas Eve 2013.
GRATITUDE LIST CHRISTMAS EVE 2013
1. I am grateful for my life and my strong healthy body and mind
2. I am grateful for my 3 children who are all alive, well and happy or reasonably so in their lives. Of course they are human and they struggle and my son is an artist so I know his struggles, but they are alive and well! Even if I cannot see them or have no invitation to do so, I am relatively secure in the knowledge that I gave them plenty of love and confidence and a good start in life to provide them with the confidence and well-being to weather the storms of life. I am especially grateful for my daughter Bathsheba and her generosity and support over a period of years that must be a trial and tribulation for her. I am also so proud of her business, Sparrowhair and the wonderful contribution she makes to our neighborhood and to the world at large. I am also grateful for my son Ben and his acerbic wit and honesty as well as his enormous dedication to his craft and art of acting and his general creativity and talent. His latest project, the film Detonator, (http://www.detonatormovie.com/#!trailer) shows what a terrific actor he is and watching the movie made me very proud. I am grateful for my youngest daughter and her successful transition from medical school into being a Doctor, a neurologist, a neuro-engineer and making the world a better place with the care and expertise she provides her patients at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC.
3. I am grateful for my talents as an artist–the writing and music especially, but also the ability to think creatively and out of the box. Thank you for giving me a good mind, a philosophical bent, a critical faculty, a dreamy storytelling ability and the ability to play the piano! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
4. I am grateful for my 2 warm rooms filled with my books and all the wonderful hi-tech equipment I received from my daughter Bathsheba! (who I have thanked above) I love my little artists’ den and although I kvetch I would like more room I am GRATEFUL for the rooms I have. There are homeless people out there. I have food. I have a ton of clothes (I’m a clothes and shoe fanatic) and plenty of books, movie channels, magazines, candles, perfume, writing facilities, a warm comfy bed–what more could a person want? I am grateful! The only reason I have all this is because of Bathsheba. Thank you Bathsheba.
5. I am grateful for my deceased parents Francis and Blanche who gave me total permission and encouragement to be an artist and all the tools and lessons to perfect my various crafts to do so. They never put me down or said to get a day job or told me an artist can’t make a living, even though, as it turns out, this artist has never made a living. Perhaps it might have been more practical if my father had chosen not to support me financially but instead trained me for a day job, but I did (and do) have significant learning disabilities and perhaps he knew or sensed this ( I wasn’t diagnosed until age 52) but for whatever reasons he supported me and my three children and enabled us to have decent housing in a good neighborhood with acceptable schools. Perhaps this made me weak in the financial sector and codependent but it also enabled me to be home and raise my children, whose fathers essentially abandoned them, keep on producing more and more art as a writer and as a musician (and in performance in past years). I feel the creative process has kept me alive–it’s a Godsend really. I am an outsider and quite detached from the social milieu around me, I don’t fit in and as a misfit I would’ve been extremely lonely and perhaps even suicidal if I did not have the ability to access my creative process, my sub-conscious and subliminal thoughts and cruise the collective unconscious thought planes! This creativity has been my source of learning, not just about myself but also people, places and the entire world and universe around me. Writing has opened doors for thinking, research and through character development in my work, understanding of the life process. It is how I learn and grow and become a better person. Thank you Mom and Dad–your encouragement is the reason I am still writing and producing work today at age nearly 65, even after a lifetime of rejection.
6. I am grateful for the life and difficult times we live in. It is forcing people to reckon with true values vs materialistic, selfish behavior. We are in the age of exposure and the things being exposed are the underbelly, the truth, the real deal. The fact that we have a social movement that seeks to uncover the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful is a good sign. The fact that climate change is disrupting our dream of the beautiful earth is forcing us into gratitude and appreciation for the very beauty we are now losing. That is better than nothing, I suppose. We are starting to understand here in America that the Indigenous population we tried to eradicate and dispose of when the settlers came to this gorgeous land could have saved us from the very environmental nightmares we are experiencing now. I guess I have to admit I am grateful for the global nightmares because that may be the only way the human species learns. As Buddha says, “life is suffering” and through our suffering and pain we begin to understand the consequence of group choices. This is the 3-dimensional world of the dialectic. We could not know joy and bliss without pain and suffering. Indeed, the pain is the gateway to Nirvana.
And with that I wish all those who have patiently read to the end of this piece:
PEACE ON EARTH