Hold On

A Monday reminder.

The challenge of Mondays is that so much that seems possible when a body is freed from certain daily obligations––traffic, work schedules, emails, meetings, bells––suddenly seems to slip away. It’s a tragic feeling, one I routinely brace for every Sunday afternoon into evening.

I am constantly having to remind myself (every Monday, and for the rest of the week) that the other part of the challenge is to find a way to grasp those ephemeral beauties again and hold them close––even while running in worn shoes, unlaced, in the cold rain, on a sore knee with a sense that it will be some time before you can stop again.

To hold and keep holding, this is the challenge. Like it’s your life, as the saying goes. Because, of course, that is exactly what it is. And although it has a way of coming into such sharp focus on Mondays, it’s really the challenge of a lifetime.

Small Wonders

Faith and humility.

When you are small, she said, you can move around and between what the big ones cannot. You will never carry much you call your own and can be easily lifted. Whatever comes your way will only be found, and you will not confuse it with something earned.

No hope is real comfort when you will often have to go without it. Same for inspiration, same for confidence. What you want to keep, she said, is what is left when hope and confidence and self-respect are gone. When all the rest collapses, notice: what is here, still breathing?

Accept its life and protect its breath. It is not distinct from your own, only infinitely more vast.

Service Work

Artistic practice as an act of devotion.

Here is a riddle, one said. 

And who do you think you are? asked another.

Only a servant. He was making films. The answer is unimportant.

Why ask, then?

There is a code in here somewhere. It is the mystery.

Which mystery?

The usual ones: possibilities of transcendence, rebirth, levels of existence. The role of ritual practice.

Such as?

Such as this one. Right now, I am filming a liturgical text. Contemplating the sacred frame by frame, but I am just beginning. He had been at it three decades.

Are you praying, then?

I call it excavation. I am a social worker with a background in archaeology.

But why?

The idea is to resuscitate the present. This is my devotion.

***

Inspired by an interview I read this morning, in BOMB magazine, with the filmmaker Ashish Avikunthak.

How to Be Moved

Notes for a community chorus.

Like this, she said, hands open, singing. Gonna let it move me, she sang, and we followed, fingers splayed and pressing into the space of the circle we made with our attention. Now stir, she said, and we did, and it stirred us up.

Let it come, she sang. We laughed, cried. Feel this, she sang, and by then we couldn’t help ourselves because our centers had shifted to the space between us, and it was this that we pressed with our open hands. It was into this that we poured our voices, surrendered our attentions––

And we held it like that, stirring and singing together, here. Something shifted, and we went with it. 

Life, she sang, let this life.

Driving Directions

Through unknown territories.

She said, child, you may know a thing or two one day, but that won’t be anytime soon, so you will have to muddle through. For now, it’s going to be like driving in a rainstorm in the dark, when all you can see is the tiny patch of blur lit by the headlights, and no taillights to guide you, and the actual road will be poorly marked or not at all. 

She said, child, I want you to know this, so that you will not be taken by surprise and swerve offroad. But of course, we are always in a state of disbelief, because who can resist keeping company with the secret hope that driving a dream would be an adventure story? This is not necessarily untrue, but most of us get the genre wrong. 

When you’re raised on those feel-good films that validate the trope of the noble quest, with anthem music and sidekicks and breaks for humor, when the going gets rough, it can be disconcerting to realize that you’re actually in a David Lynch film with a blue filter and the sort of musical score designed to remind you––not that you need it––that something is a little off but you won’t be able to put your finger on it and there isn’t any chance of it letting up.

But this is what she told me, child; she said, Listen. When it gets like that, and you are driving in the dark and the weather and the unmarked roads say go back, only then can you know you are getting somewhere. It isn’t like any of the places you’ve seen before, I promise you, but keep going. 

There will be others coming, child, more frightened and uncertain than you are now, and when they find the glow of your taillights before them, they will suddenly remember to breathe. They will think, Okay, and hang on. 

Hide and Seek

Morning notes, on looking.

Come out, out––wherever you are is called here and here you are again, strange stranger, at first light––which, in this room, at this hour, is always the lamp by this bed.

Most of us remember the heartbreak of knowing we had finally found the best hiding spot, the one sure to win us widespread acclaim and shouts of amazement, only to notice that the voices of the seekers we’d been counting on had grown faint and then gone, with night coming and then lights on in the windows and kitchen sounds, the whole world indoors, and us outside

––[but all alone, not yet us because we could not know until much later that others had endured such betrayal, also alone; each had carried the shame in silence until one afternoon, laughing over ice cream with friends we were fairly sure would not leave us, a confession came, and the solidarity of finding other left-behinds was so sweet, however fleeting, that we did it again, years later over drinks with other friends we were by now fairly sure we would lose over time, not by decisive acts of Leaving but gone anyway––to distance, illness, marriages and breakups, children and the grinding gears that wore us down to our creaking bones until we began to suspect that perhaps it was ourselves who had grown tired, who had gone inside at the third call for dinner, gone to eat, leaving another waiting to be found and no one coming].

We’ve been at this for how long now, and what do I have to show for myself? I think you must be chasing me, running into the last place I’ve looked after I’ve left it, only to leave when I eventually return, wearing the baffled look of someone trying to remember why they walked into a room. 

I’ve given up my reasons now, old friend. Same for certainty in all things but this resolve: to look and look again; to keep calling by the light of this lamp. Come out.

Sense of Direction

Laughing in the basement.

If revelation is marked by unknowns, happiness by suffering, ease by difficulty, then it’s not a stretch to recognize that those serious truths everyone has been so steadfastly seeking were under our noses all along, hiding among the stuffed jesters and the Lego bricks in the carpet. If truth’s constant companion is the absurd, let us sit in the dark and laugh.

No, but seriously, you said, and raised self-doubt to the level of moral imperative, and at the crossroads between Either and Or, you boldly announced, neither will do–and chose anyway, as one must.

In your good company, we sleep no more in this underground of mirrors and toys; instead, we are awake with the question of whether we are, after all, in or out, as relates to the houses we once took for granted as ours. And now, you said, for my final performance, I shall confide the meaning of life to this scrap of paper, which you cleverly managed to lose.

Easy come, easy go, you said, while continuing to insist that neither would do.

***

Earlier in the week, some other search reminded me back to some of Søren Kierkegaard’s ideas, so today I am appreciating his teasing sense of humor.

From Fire

Trying, and trying again.

Some say that it is possible to dry a spirit from the cold damp if you bring it by the flame, urging hereTake hold. Offer a warm mug, an invitation to sit awhile. 

When it comes to what it is really like, we are left with feeble words, and there are limits to what these may hold, even if you mean to build a cathedral.

Often it is no muse but frustration that spurs a body forward––trying once more, and again––to get warm.

Disappearing Acts

Shifts in attention.

She knew something shifted when the plot no longer held her interest. Its pretense of coherent motivation rang false. She shifted her attentions then, to the way the nameless organisms within us would respond to the movements of forces outside, including other nameless organisms. Sometimes they were more vegetable than people, more tree than people, more bird. The stimulus mattered so much less than the effect. Yes, she would think, as she watched them. I know this lonely crowd. Then she knit herself a yarn cocoon. The yarn was the same color as her background. When her work was done, she disappeared. What is memory? Only forgetting, like a poem made by the act of erasure.

***

Inspired by the writing of Nathalie Saurrate and the art of Bea Camacho.

Abiding Patterns

The work of hands and hidden forms.

I am trying to clarify the pattern, the artist said, in reference to the shape of living here. The artist was after this great unconscious form. The artist saw this form everywhere. It wants uncovering, the artist said.

And what will happen when you find it? Someone asked. I can tell you one thing, it won’t be a retrospective. Then the artist posed a question: ever been to a Shaker retiring room? Tell me you don’t see it.

Point being, the ideals of a people are to be found in what they make. To enter the room is to see belief in action. Among these, to work is to pray. Among these, a reverence for simplicity. The wood is pine, abundant and unvarnished.

It evokes the old reminder: never paint a ladder, because you won’t see the cracks in the wood. Here is made by climbing hands. You can see them at work in every joint, in the weave of the seat, the file of the arm of the chair.

Feel them, even in this room empty of all but the furniture they once made, for the living. 

***

Inspired by the work of artist Tom Sachs, especially his furniture.