In Loving Attention

It’s in the details.

I have heard of counting worlds in grains of sand, and the angels on the head of a pin, but Look. Notice this toucan smaller than a pencil tip, mouth open, the articulated wings, spreading. Attention to such detail, in this moment, is as an act of radical love.  It began with a sense of awe, the artist explains, at the body of an insect. It was the magnificent fragility that moved her. There is no way to do this, she says, except by accepting the storm of tremors in the heart and hand, the sandstorm of breath against dust. Everything cracks on this scale, she says, and flies when you cut, and all you are doing is making and remaking, twig by twig.

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Inspired by (and using found phrases from) Sara Barnes’ MyModernMet article “Artist Carves Impossibly Small Bird Sculptures You Need a Microscope To Fully Appreciate” about the work of Marie Cohydon.

About Face

Veiling and unveiling.

Notice a center in the chaos, a face gathered in the netted folds.

You need a frame to hold it. To find the frame, first be hollow.

Wait in emptiness, then select materials. From? Where you are.

Notice the changing light: solid fluid, transparent form,

shapes like clouds, like smoke. Face them.

Notes:

Inspired by the artist Benjamin Shine’s series of face sculptures in tulle fabric, as described in this MyModernMet article I found this morning. 

Soul at Night

Considering the architecture of passage.

If, in the middle of these days, it’s time to leave, 

if we consider time a mid-point, holding histories, 

here is genesis, here an afterlife, and here

a map on fire.

Mineshaft, funnel, honeycombed monolith

buried in earth, nine rings of illuminated

heralds, the light blinds.

Next, a big freeze: saws, tridents, snakes.

Now the ghost-bodied eagle, the rule of

law, what recompense can follow?

Grip the talons, fingers in the sockets

of an ancient skull, soar. Hold it, this

reverence to bear other rays.

An Elegant Intelligence

Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The following is a meditation culled from ideas and phrases emerging from time spent this morning with Plotinus, namely with his treatise “On the Intellectual Beauty” from his Fifth Ennead, written between the years 300-305 A.D. Plotinus was of the group of Neoplatonists that located reality “in a transcendental spiritual realm that gives meaning to the visible world” (from the Norton Anthology introduction).

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Plato may have distrusted the storytellers, but I’d rather hear them than any new ideas.

Rather than pale imitation of more perfect forms, art is the access point for transcendence.

Nature is an emanation from a higher realm, its source the same as art. Here we are, between the worlds.

Let’s go to the realm of magnitudes. Suppose two blocks of stone, side by side: one untouched, another wrought by an artist’s hands into a fine statue, concentrating all loveliness of form. Is it the stone that makes the statue beautiful, or something else?

The form is not the material, but the design, held not by crude equipment, but participation. Revelation happens when the resistance of the materials is subdued. The resistance? Stone, yes, but also these hands, these eyes, this stubborn heart. Every prime cause, indwelling, more powerful than its effect. What is musical comes from music itself. You may call it God, although I won’t.

Also note how the elegance will not depend on magnitude. Where does it come from, if not an original power? All gods are august in grace beyond our speech, and why? All there is, is heaven. Truth, then, is mother and nurse. All transparent, light running through light, all only mirrors.

Eyes in the divine, no satiety to call for its ending: to see is to look at greater length. Wisdom is not built of reasonings, but primal, complete from the start.

Powers of fire and the like may be thought great, but it is through their failure in true power that we see them burning, destroying, wearing things away––slaving toward production, they destroy because they belong to the realm of the produced.

There is no beauty outside being. Only in self-ignorance are we ugly. Light upon light, shine.

Naming Our Songs

After listening, how to explain?

There is no music center in the brain

the doctor observed. 

Just a dozen scattered networks

Try to describe it, then: adiago, allegro, aria. 

Barcarolle, crescendo, elegy, etude;

Fugue, glissando, hymn. Nocturnes never fail.

Poco a poco crescendo, requiem

Sforzando is fitting here: to play with sudden and marked emphasis

Tremolo, hold it.

Vibrato, here we are. Waltz.

Present, Past

In memory of the work of Walker Evans, American photographer.

In honor of the birthday of Walker Evans, the American photographer credited as the “progenitor of the documentary tradition” with an “extraordinary ability to see the present as if it were already the past,” today’s post is assembled from phrases from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, the work of Evans’ collaboration with writer James Agee, chronicling the lives of Depression-era sharecropping families (quotes above come from The Met Museum’s page on his work).

These eyes, blank and watchful: neither forgiveness for unforgiveness, heat nor cool, or any sign of understanding, were not the first to look away.

The hallway in mud, and underwater, rain beating on rain beating on rain, out the brains of the earth. Steady rave and the breakage of thunder. The lamp is out, room breathing cool like a lung, ripe with the smell of rain on earth, and kerosene.

Where are the introductions now? Each mind disguised again in lack of fear, and busy.

Moon Life, Revisited

Inspired by the visions of the naturalist-artists from centuries past.

October is a great month for moons and all manner of star gazing––and perhaps, in this vein, also for attempting to throw the mind back to the imagined lives of those ancestors who knew nothing of video footage of astronauts stomping in lunar dust, nothing of the desolate-looking gray surface against black sky, whose thoughts of visiting the orb were in the same category as musings on Atlantis, the afterlife, and other wonderlands. With imagination as the chief informant, one gets documentation like that of Bishop John Wilkins, the distinguished natural philosopher who penned the mid-seventeenth century text, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, Or, a Discourse Tending to prove that ‘Tis Probable there May be Another Habitable World on the Planet. I came across images of the text this morning, in reference to the work that inspired Italian engraver Filippo Morghen’s 1776 Suite of the Most Notable Things, a series of fantastical etchings of moon life, no doubt inspired by discourses by Wilkins and other scientist-dreamers.

In this version of the moon, there are obvious parallels to New World mythology, complete with (predictably, perhaps) savages who ride winged serpents while battling a beast with porcupine spikes. The beasts are so large that the savage lunarians need to fashion a sort of guillotine-device, of a blade as tall as a circus-tent pole suspended by ropes from a tall tree, in order to cleave the bodies “from head to tail,” a process that is presumably a favorite pastime, second only to riding in carriages drawn by sails catching lunar winds, and fishing in vessels of hollowed-out pumpkins with sails attached. One may live in the pumpkins also, which provide excellent protection from any beasts that have managed to escape the giant knives. If a pumpkin sailboat is not to your liking, there are other models, wherein a standard canoe may be fitted with a pair of enormous wings. After a day on the water, one may dock at the pumpkin house, to summon the geese that will pull the carriages to the next planet, with the beat of an enormous drum. 

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Inspired by this article in The Public Domain Review: “Filippo Morghen’s Fantastical Visions of Lunar Life (1776)”

Nest

Imagine we gather, here.

It has been a long time since we have gone home.

Let’s gather.

We will meet in the nest.

I have hidden the meal, over that hill. See, in the distance.

In the forked branch of the second tree?

We will feast on what we find. Bring what you find.

Or bring nothing. We will share. 

There is a round table in the nest, and six chairs.

Around the table, we will feast inside our nest.

Come.

***

Inspired by the art of Charlie Baker, as described in this article

and by birds everywhere.

The Escape Artist to the Magician

Harry Houdini confronts predecessors, past illusions, and posers of the moment.

On this day in 1926, Harry Houdini gave his final performance, at The Garrick Theatre in Detroit. To mark the occasion, I spent some time exploring what I could of several books he left behind. I was interested to learn that Houdini had suffered a period of deep disillusionment when he discovered that much of the appeal of the artist who inspired him, Robert Houdin, was artifice assembled from the work of countless unnamed others. Houdini set out to name these in The Unmasking of Robert Houdin. Later, he devoted much of his non-performance time to debunking the claims of many of the leading mentalists of his time, a process he describes in A Magician Among the Spirits. This is an imagined monologue in which the escape artist considers the toll of his lost belief, even as he remains steadfast in revealing the truth. It includes borrowed phrases from both texts.

Do you think I imagined nothing of soaring heights? My first act was the trapeze. I was nine, and my father had lost his job, and all we knew then was how to live on the edge. It should go without saying that not all edges are the same. Some you walk by necessity; others are brandished by the charmer, those swords and weapons not for protection or battle, but merely to catch the light, wow an audience, earn applause.

With some people, greater intimacy only yields greater discoveries, the rewards like that of earth itself: the closer you look, the more there is. With others, these sword-bearing magician illusionists, the effect is the opposite. The more you look, the less there is to see. Looking long enough, the familiar patterns and tired tricks reveal themselves. Finally, broken hearted, the once and future believer has no choice but to accept. The emperor wears no clothes.

I have been interested! I held seances, surprised clients. It was a lark! My ambition, my love was gratified. Moving forward, some hallowed reverence advanced with age, and I was chagrined.  I became more plastic, interested to discover if it was possible to return from beyond the veil.

What lengths I have gone to, by now. How many compacts I have made with the living: when you go, will you reach me? They agreed. I have waited, watched. No one can accuse me of being unwilling to receive a sign.

To be clear, I am a sceptic, not a scoffer. My heart softens still to remember the believer I once was, the unsuspecting heart of inexperience. I sometimes wish I could return. It is not so unusual, after all, for the senses to mislead. A little sign, appealing to the waiting imagination, the endless promises and guarantees of charlatans claiming special insight, heightened vision––becomes a menace to health and sanity.

No doubt some are sincere. Even my trained mind can be deceived, how much more susceptible the ordinary observer. Magician, you are lost to me since I have seen you. I thought knowing, as with all good things, would only enhance appreciation. I could blame you for pretending to be what you are not, but now who is the fool? I was told I had no finesse for illusion, not enough sleight in my hand. I lacked the guile that came naturally to you; it was your daily bread.  

I’d prefer not to look, but there are others at risk. My purpose is to warn them. After all, I was never the magician, only the escape artist. I have escaped the nailed box, the sealed coffin, the underwater milk jug, the chains, and now I fly from the illusion that you were ever anything like the promise you pretended to be. It hurts my sore wings, long cramped. I’d rather not do it, but there is an audience, after all, and their attendant faith. If my loyalty runs parallel to the seed of this faith, then my exodus is the sacrament at hand. Blame the moon for peeling back the veil; blame the intensity of my childhood will, to believe. Blame the failure of the blinders that you counted on, to hold. Blame the persistent posture of looking; I learned this as a matter of devotion early on. Try as I might, even in the early days of watching you perform, I could not unlearn it, not completely, until now. 

You Can Do This

Yes, you can. A tribute to the DIY gene of the species.

At times when the weary pilgrim wonders, about any of life’s endless challenges, Can I? ––it can be helpful to review the endless ingenuity of fellow humans. For those inclined to protest, No, but can I . . . myself? I am pleased to share this morning’s list of promising DIY possibilities.

You can, if you are so inclined, make an authentic cup of matcha tea while optimizing your computer’s RAM. You can regrow vegetables in water and remove cactus spines from your throat. 

Are there snakes in your home? Not to worry, you can remove these yourself, and then use this foil to fireproof your house. While you’re at it, why not turn your garden into a tortoise sanctuary? While you are observing the tortoises, why not preserve your stuffed animal collection in formaldehyde jars for a festive display on your living-room shelves? 

In case you were wondering, while doing your man’s laundry, you can make a crop top out of those way overdue BVD briefs. You can wear it while riding in your newly wood-paneled Prius, and if you prefer a bit more bling over your bumper, you can give your ride a custom exterior with pennies and superglue. 

Speaking of glue, while you’re at it, why not upcycle those old milk jugs and detergent containers into a DIY set of faux animal-head taxidermy wall hangings? Trust me, your visitors will be amazed by your chutzpah as they are wowed by the collection of googly eyes greeting them at the door.

Feeling like you’d like to work with your hands? You can make superhero finger puppets. Feeling dirty? Take last night’s Jack Daniel’s bottle out of the recycling and turn it into a nifty soap dispenser! Use liberally.

But make no mistake, earthling. You can’t wash away that creative spark, oh no. There ain’t no mountain high enough and there ain’t no project fine enough, that you can’t invent––with enough time, whiskey, moxie, and patience––some version of the ideal, blessed with your signature flair, and the beautiful, relentless confidence that keeps you from thinking it might do anything but work out perfectly, in the end. 

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This post was inspired by a culling of numerous DIY sites I visited this morning, including these:

And by all of the earthlings who have shown me ingenious uses for duct tape, superglue, humor, and a prayer. I love you.