I had a recurring dream for years before moving to Seattle. It was discovering, to my great surprise, that I had mountains right in my backyard. If I just walked the right direction, across the right field, and down some hilly wooded paths, the foot of a mountain would appear in front of me. I would scale it and look over into a breathtaking valley where snowy-sided mountains stretched out into the distance. I don’t have the dream any more, maybe because it happens to me here! In the winter, the Cascades and Olympics are a peek-a-boo affair. On days like today, their unlikely mass, high contrast with white snow and deep gray rock, appear to be right on top of me, and I gasp at their perceived nearness.
I will admit that the debate I’ve been having in my mind seems younger than my age, but it’s a tempest in a teapot, and where do you go to release these squalls? The blog, of course! I have, at this juncture of my life, the welcome dilemma of being friends with people of widely varying world views. It’s always creeped me out to spend too much time in a place where everyone thinks alike. I have an unusual past, religiously, that makes me especially suspicious of any demand to toe the party line. But we, as people, are such truth seekers, and wherever we find ourselves in our own journey, we are looking for a set of precepts to settle on and live out of. Finding people who share our values is a given in the socialization process. We concur, we prune, we adjust, we realign, based on information we glean from others. And then we decide. Even the most agnostic of us make decisions about how the world is made and what laws govern it… who’s in control and who the enemy is. And the more confident we become in whatever conclusions we make, it seems that our arrogance grows.
My conundrum is this: is it possible to have confidence in your beliefs and remain humble? I wish I had more examples in my life of this picture of grace (and there are examples), but usually the two increase in kind… the more firm the conviction, the more forceful and unyielding a person tends to become. Whether it’s about politics or food or child-rearing or God… money or art or beauty or media. I count myself in this number. When I am undecided, I can have much better conversations, free of the ache to convince or convert. But I am always intent on deciding, and building a structure to pragmatically choose how to live. And as soon as I do that, I’ve also chosen against a set of propositions. These propositions are ones that others are employing, and the mind belittles the other possibilities in its wake. There is nothing wrong with the process, but it’s the attitude that comes with it that I’m finding so problematic. None of this is as acute when you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who agree. The “others” are an abstraction, and the sting of difference is dulled.
The catalog for my last show at Half/Dozen in Portland is available here! It’s 42 pages, and includes installation shots and an image of each piece with details (very nice for obsessive line-laden drawings).
I’m teaching a painting course this semester, for the first time in a while. I must be in the right place, because I feel like I’m sticking my paw in a honeypot every time I have to prepare or research. Spending your time with this sort of thing can feel really… dumb in a particular light. Compared with other pursuits, choosing to spend your life making drawings is pragmatically absurd. Sometimes I can’t even conceive of the fact of it, but then it draws me in so deeply and holds me.
Music is dumb, too, in that pragmatic sense. But oh how I need it! It is one of life’s greatest joys. In the middle of any ridiculous dilemma, say, traveling with three young boys for a gruelingly long day, music can pop in and make the day livable. At the baggage check, waiting for my husband to park the borrowed car with my oldest son, and juggling an 8-month-old in a stroller, a three-year-old who is already whiny, and 6 bags of different sizes, a Sergio Mendez song comes into my head. I sing it quietly to the little ones, who get calm and happy. One of the airline workers must know it, because as we’re walking away, I hear him whistle some bars. I can’t tell you how many times a song makes a rough moment passable, whether coming from my brain’s jukebox or the car radio. In its best moments, art makes life bearable. It reminds us to think, reminds us to look, reminds us to listen, and think again. And think again. And again, getting our heads above the fog of the everyday. Okay, it’s a good job.