“When your neuroses become your style, you’ve got it made. Everybody has a personality composed of neurotic patterns. I’ve given up thinking I’ve got to go through the eye of the needle and become psychologically sound. I’m always going to be a mess!” ~ Ram Dass

Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles: Number 11 (1952, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Australia)

                    

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

Monday afternoon. Not too hot, mid-80’s, sunny.

Jackson Pollock, Ocean Greyness (1953, oil on canvas, Guggenheim Museum)

It’s been a long six days since I last posted, during which I have wanted to post several times, but for various reasons, have been unable to do so. In finishing the big furniture shuffle, we have the house in better shape, but as usual, I overdid it and was down for several days. Have I mentioned how much I hate the fact that I have to rest for days after I clean my house or do anything strenuous (not strenuous for most people)? Sucks, really.

Of course, the last room to be put back together is our bedroom, and once again, half of it is in order, and half of it isn’t. Since we moved my desk into Eamonn’s room, I was left with various items without a home, so to speak. But I took the opportunity to throw away more stuff and to clean the stuff that I’m keeping. Hence, the overexertion.

As I mentioned, on Tuesday everyone went to Bush Gardens, and they seemed to have a good time, although everyone came home tired and grouchy, which is always the case after spending ten to twelve hours in the heat. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded, so they didn’t have to wait in long lines.

Last Thursday, Phillip and a few of Eamonn’s buds came over to hang out. Corey and Phillip ended up playing XBox at 2 in the morning. Everyone seemed to have a good time. Then Friday night Corey, Phillip, Patrick, Lucas, and Shawn (Patrick’s former aide) went out for a boys’ night out. And Saturday, we all got together at the beach house before the Germans were to leave on Sunday.

By the way, Phillip corrected the usage of the phrase the Germans to describe our relatives who live in Germany because as he pointed out, he and Hannah were born in the U.S. and have dual citizenship. I just found it amusing that after I had been mulling over the correctness of using such a collective he made a point of negating it. He is very much like his father in being exact about things.

Anyway, they were to leave yesterday, but because of severe weather in the north, all flights in the direction were delayed three hours, which would have made them miss their connecting flight. And in addition, Patrick’s wheelchair and a few other necessities were locked in the trunk of the rental car along with the keys. It was not the best day for them. As it turns out, they left today. I did not go to the airport as I’m still feeling melancholy and sad, and frankly, I did not want to say goodbye again.

“It is so hard to learn to put sadness in perspective so hard to understand that it is a feeling that comes in degrees, it can be a candle burning gently and harmlessly in your home, or it can be a full-fledged forest fire that destroy almost everything and is controlled by almost nothing. It can also be so much in-between.” ~ Elizabeth Wurtzel

Jackson Pollock, Number 23 (1948, enamel on gesso on paper, Tate Gallery)

Corey had to work both first and third shift yesterday, so he is sleeping today. When I got out of bed today, I could barely move because my back was so stiff, and it made me feel so old and decrepit. Hate that too.

A few nights ago, I kept smelling something burning, and for a brief second, I thought the house was on fire. Turns out the fires in the Great Dismal Swamp are still burning, and the wind had shifted, resulting in a very smokey evening for our area. My asthma was quite irritated, and we had all of the fans in the house turning to try to clear the house. But it resulted in yet another evening of restless sleep for me as I actually had to use my inhaler twice during the night, which is quite unusual for me.

I haven’t mentioned it yet because as I said I haven’t really been able to write, but my other m-in-law is in the hospital. It seems that she developed a high fever, and Ann was with her in the emergency room last Wednesday in the wee hours of the morning. She has a UTI and an infection in her lungs, but thankfully, not pneumonia. She is doing better, but I haven’t been to see her yet, which really makes me feel like crap.

Ann has decided to move her mom from the rehab home that she was in, and I am so glad. My line of thinking is that someone should have noticed that she was ill before she spiked such a high fever. And the fact is that I spotted pus in her catheter line and told the nursing staff that she had a UTI the last time, and even then, it took two days before they tested her. Ann has found a place that is closer to home, and she toured it the other day. Another good thing is that the request can be made not to have any male attendants, which is also a relief.

“There’s no reality except the one contained within us. That’s why so many people live an unreal life. They take images outside them for reality and never allow the world within them to assert itself.” ~ Hermann Hesse

Jackson Pollock, Number 16 (1949)

Last night I dreamed that the crazy woman I used to work with called me just to talk, and I knew that it wasn’t just to talk. I knew that she wanted something from me, but I could not figure out what. Then the dream shifted, and I was supposed to get on a flight with a bunch of Jedi younglings, and I knew that Darth Vader was going to be on the flight. Darth and I decided not to fight on the flight because of all of the children who could get hurt, and he took off his helmet. The whole Jedi thing probably came from my watching part of Men Who Stare at Goats before going to sleep.

A totally silly movie, but I love Ewan McGregor. I may watch the rest of the movie tonight, but really, it was more to pass the time than anything.

Undoubtedly, one of the stranger sci-fi dreams I have ever had. Especially since at some point we were on a bus instead of a plane, and the bus driver decided to drive in the water so that we could see all of the creatures in the water around us, and I saw a turtle with long, female legs . . . Not even going to try to decipher this one.

I do remember getting off the bus and seeing a woodchuck in the middle of the road. I startled the woodchuck, and it began to hop. The kids on the bus laughed. Other animals that we saw included a jaguar, a hippo, koi, female lions, and gators. The bus driver recited this litany of animals as she drove maniacally through the water, and no one seemed too bothered that the bus was in the water.

When I’m dreaming things like this, something in my subconscious registers and thinks that the dream would make a good movie or a good book, usually a good book, and then I wake up and think to myself, “Who would buy a book about a bus driving through the water?”

Oh, well . . .

“A doctor once told me I feel too much
I said so does god
That’s why you can see the grand canyon from the moon” ~ Andrea Gibson, from “Jellyfish”

Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the Secret (1943, oil on canvas, SFMOMA)

Last night because I couldn’t sleep I watched the movie Pollock, with Ed Harris in the title role, and Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner, his companion/wife/promoter. I’ve been wanting to see this movie for a while, but I knew that it would be an emotional roller coaster, and it was.

Harris is wonderful as the artist, portraying his struggles in attempting to bring his true vision to the canvas via his drip and splash method (action painting), and Harden won an Academy Award for best supporting actress as Krasner.

I remember the first time that I saw a Pollock painting; I was totally confused. Admittedly, I knew nothing about abstract expressionism and had little appreciation for the movement. But I have found in recent years that my appreciation for Pollock, de Kooning, Diebenkorn, and Rothko has deepened. The lack of a focal composition point makes sense somehow.

What I have come to appreciate is the immediacy of the work done by artists during this period. I’ve never been a fan of Picasso as I find his work to be quite disconcerting, which is what it’s supposed to be. And while I also know that Picasso and other surrealists influenced the abstract Impressionists, cubism befuddles me. Not so Pollock.

The years between 1947 and 1950 Pollock produced the works for which he is most famous. Instead of using brushes, Pollock dripped, flung, and splashed paint; he used sticks, knives, and hardened brushes, among other implements to move his liquid paint onto his huge canvases, which were laid on the floor of his studio.

Pollock maintained that through his technique of working on the floor, he was able to see all sides of his work: “My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.”

I suppose what appeals to me is how Pollock’s paintings reflect so much of his inner turmoil, how his subconscious defines the art. I can appreciate that. If I were to attempt to paint (which I would not presume to do as I have no talent in that area), the visceral approach employed by Pollock would be something that I might try.

“”The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. Think only on those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day. The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you do is who you become. Your integrity is your destiny—it is the light that guides your way.” ~ Heraclitus

Jackson Pollock, Mural (1943, oil on canvas (97 1/4 x 238 in), UIMA)

Let’s see . . . what else?

I feel as if I’ve eaten nothing but junk food for a week: chips, crackers, dip, other stuff that’s not healthy. I have been on a fresh fruit binge, though, to try to counteract the empty calories. I need some fresh vegetables, yogurt, and fruit for the next few days.

I seem to have run out of steam for this post. I had another tangent in mind when I began this section, but I drifted off while I was listening to Melody Gardot sing “The Rain.” Her voice is like smokey silk, half what I imagine I sound like but probably do not.

It’s quite easy at this moment to become distracted as clouds are rolling in outside this window, and the room is taking on the hues of dusk. I have my blues playlist running in the background, and the house is fairly quiet. The temperature is dropping, and thankfully, the nights are becoming cooler.  It feels a bit like fall, although if you were to ask me exactly why, I could not pinpoint a particular reason.

I would live in fall perpetually given the chance, which is why I believe I am so enamored of living in Ireland. Who knows if that will ever happen. The likelihood is slim as Corey has no desire to leave the country, which I can certainly understand. It’s not that I want to leave this country, but it’s more that I want to live in Ireland, a desire I have long harbored. The history of poet and writers, the verdant landscape, the smaller villages. Of all of the places that I have dreamed about and given character to, Ireland comes the closest to my imaginings, or at least that’s what the people who have been there tell me.

It’s quite easy to build up a scenario in your wild imaginings about how a certain town or country might be, but it’s quite another thing to encounter the brutality of the reality of that place. The few places that I think would actually live up to what I have imagined are Ireland, New Zealand, New South Wales, and perhaps Wales and the Netherlands.

I wonder if I will ever get to compare my imaginings with the realities . . .

More later. Peace.

Music by Tom Waits, “The World Keeps Turning” from the Pollock soundtrack

                   

Stone

Go inside a stone
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill—
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

~ Charles Simic, from The Voice at 3 A.M.

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“There are no days in life so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Petunia by Georgia O’Keeffe (1925)

 

“If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin.” ~ Ivan Turgenev

“If I just work when the spirit moves me, the spirit will ignore me.” ~ Carolyn Forché 

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"White Rose With Larkspur No. 2" by Georgia O'Keeffe

I went back to a post that I had begun in April and tried to finish it to post today. Big mistake. I’m one of those writers who needs to maintain my volition once I’m on a roll, or I completely lose my impetus as well as my interest.

I never really thought too much about the effect this has had on me as a writer over the years until now, but in considering my writing habits, my method, if you will, I have had an epiphany. Too often in the past when I lost momentum, I would shut down. Stop writing. And then wait until the mood hit me again. I did not realize that I couldn’t continue with what I was writing because I really didn’t like it, nor did I have the courage to admit that I didn’t like something that I was writing.

Confusing?

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.” ~ Alan Alda

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"From the Lake" by Georgia O'Keeffe

In the past when I was writing a poem and I got stuck on a line, I would worry the words, move them around, try to make things fit. Granted, this is precisely what the writing process is about: reworking, retooling, finessing.

But there would be times when I would get stuck, leave the poem, and not come back at all, telling myself that I was a failure and had no business attempting to write anything in the first place. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, years later and some wisdom in my soul, I realize that probably in those instances when I just stopped and couldn’t go on, I was probably working with the wrong words, the wrong subject, the wrong structure. Now, I would come at the problem in a totally different way:

Now, I look at the words and try to discern my point in writing this particular piece in the first place. If there really isn’t a point, then I was probably just exercising my brain, ambling through the woods, if you will.

Nothing wrong with a little ambling, or a lot of ambling actually. It helps to make the synapses fire, and random thought more often than not arrives at the place you intended to be in the first place. Even if you cannot use what you have written as a result of your meandering, you have still exercised your creative muscles, something that is as necessary to a writer as swimming laps is to a swimmer, or getting the earth beneath his fingernails is to a gardener. All of these things lead to something eventually, but the practice is necessary; the tilling of the soil must be done before the planting.

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” ~ Virginia Woolf

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"Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1930)

These days, I use a lot of different things for inspiration than I did when I was still relatively new at the game. I used to believe, as many novice poets do, that the poem had to come from my gut. It had to have its genesis deep within my soul, and its creation was a reflection of my state of mind and being. No wonder I used to hit roadblocks all of the time. All of that soul-diving takes its toll.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not disparaging soul-diving. We all need to do it once in a while. Looking within is definitely a necessary part of the creative process. But limiting yourself to inner reflection can be as creative as moving around your belly button lint with a Q-tip: It isn’t painful, might feel a little bit good, but doesn’t give you much in the end.

“There is a boundary to men’s passions when they act from feelings; but none when they are under the influence of imagination.” ~ Edmund Burke

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"Calla Lily Turned Away" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1923)

To be fair to myself, which I am usually not, a lot of my need to write at one point  stemmed from my grief. I have said before that I shopped my way through my grief for Caitlin, but that is not entirely true. I wrote pages and pages of words about my pain, her pain, pain, life, death, cruelty. Everything that you would imagine someone immersed in grief might delve into.

Now, years later, I am no longer ruled by my grief. Unfortunately, it is still a part of me, and I fear that it always will be—grief for my daughter commingled by my grief for my father, mixed with grief over the changes in my life over which I have had no control. But I am more than my grief.

I sit outside in the sunshine and look at the sky, listen to the sounds, and contemplate life with an ease that always used to elude me. I sit down at these keys every day (almost), and just let the words flow. Yes, I push them about a bit, but they come with more ease than I ever enjoyed before. I write about so many things, which is why I entitled my blog “musings,” as that is exactly what these post are: musings about music, art, words, politics, love, and in particular, life.

“I have lived on a razors edge. So what if you fall off, I’d rather be doing something I really wanted to do. I’d walk it again.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

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"White Sweet Peas" by Georgia O'Keeffe (1926)

I remember a time before I began to take medication for my depression when I would sit and wait for the words to come, beseech my inner muse to create. I felt that if I did not create, then there was no point.

So many creative people throughout history suffered from some kind of mental illness and/or drug addiction. Van Gogh’s depression led him to create incredible, brilliant skies and flowers, but his self-portrait shows a man without mirth. I often wonder how much beauty in art and writing the world would be without if Prozac had been available 300 or 400 years ago. Not to be glib. Just a comment on how many of the artistic names with which society is familiar were/are victims of this disease.

But I’ll let you in on something that might sound absurd: Most creative people will fight prescription mood-altering drugs tooth and nail. I did. When the firs quack I went to gave me a prescription for Prozac and began to talk about his relationship with his wife, my first response to him was that I wanted to feel the pain. It made me who I was.

Fortunately, medications for depression and other mental illnesses continue to evolve, and the zombie-like affect that Prozac had on my psyche is not a necessary fact of life.

“Anyone who does anything great in art and culture is out of control. It is done by people who are possessed.” ~ Nancy Grossman

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"Jack in the Pulpit No. IV" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Writer and poet Anne Sexton suffered from deep post-partum depression and horrible mood swings most of her life. She was institutionalized several times; her children were taken care of by others. She endured years of hell on earth, yet she produced some of the most profound, beautiful poems of the whole confessional movement, a genre of poetry in which she was an instrumental contributor.

Ernest Hemingway’s mood swings are the subject of countless analyses of the writer’s work. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to be clinically depressed, as was his firs wife Zelda, who was eventually institutionalized. Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock—all artists who suffered from clinical depression. Musicians who suffered from mental illness include Mozart, Beethoven, even Curt Kobain.

Writer and publisher Virginia Woolf ultimately committed suicide when she could no longer stand existence. Poet and writer Sylvia Plath became famous for her book The Bell Jar, which is considered semi-autobiographical: The protagonist, Esther, suffers from depression and is committed. William Styron, well known author of The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, suffered from such a debilitating bout with depression in 1985 that he wrote a memoir entitled Darkness Visible,  a moving retelling of the author’s personal battle with mental illness. Even famous cartoonist Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” suffered from depression.

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.” ~ Pablo Picasso

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"Black Place No. 3" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Many creative people have phases in which they are driven to create—write, paint, sculpt, whatever medium—to the point that they will work until they are physically and emotionally exhausted. In some cases, yes, this is the manic phase of bipolar disorder. But not necessarily. I would contend that these phases are also part of that wiring that sets creative people apart from mainstream society, the inherent need to make something, to produce something, to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s surprisingly hard for me to elaborate on this as it’s something that you don’t really realize that you are in the midst of until you are in its midst. And it is not something that is easily explainable to those who are more left-brained (logical and ordered). That is not to say that creativity does not exist in every field. As I said in an earlier post, the geniuses who look at numbers and see beauty are as creative as those who create color-saturated canvases or tear-inducing symphonies.

On reflection, I’m glad that I did not finish the post to which I referred in the beginning. My explanation as to why I didn’t has morphed into something in which I am much more content to post, even though some would still consider it belly-button gazing. I’ll leave you with this passage by Sidney M. Jourard:

“The act of writing bears something in common with the act of love. The writer, at this most productive moment, just flows. He gives of that which is uniquely himself, he makes himself naked. Recording his nakedness in the written word. Herein lies some of the terror which frequently freezes a writer.”

More later. Peace.