Another Kind of Balance

Another Kind of Balance

There are a handful of reasons why I like this antique cameo. Of course, I appreciate the expert carving; that’s one. And then there’s the fact that it shows Petrarch, and I am named Laura. And then there’s the setting.

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The setting suits the carving well–I have seen beautifully carved cameos in poor settings, and wonderfully ornate settings that overwhelmed the lesser quality of the carvings they hold. But the best part about this one is that it is a little “off.”

The pearls are NOT precisely at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock the way you first assume they are. Draw an imaginary straight line across the face of the cameo, from one pearl to the other sitting opposite it. You’ll find that the line isn’t perfectly straight; it’s a little angled.

And so, a design element that could be static and stable adds movement instead. The pearls seem to slowly dance around the setting. And it’s so subtle! Most people might assume that the pearls line up neatly in pairs and would never notice (except maybe subconsciously) that there’s another kind or balance and rhythm at play here.

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Keeping It Close

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My brain surgery ruined my balance. So beside having a hard time with stairs, and running, and stuff like that, it’s a challenge for me to carry an open container of liquid without spilling it.

A quick trip down the hall to the coffee bar at work becomes an agonizingly long journey on the way back with a cup of hot tea in my hand. I slowly proceed, not wanting to spill the sloshing, turbulent, hot liquid on my hand (ouch!), on my dress (how sloppy!), or on the floor (and–oops–stain the carpet).

But there are two things I’ve learned to make the trip less hazardous. One: use a cup or mug with a lid. Two: don’t hold the cup so far away.

This second one seemed counter-intuitive at first. Since I didn’t want to spill that tea on me, I figured I should hold it at a distance, right? And the farther away the better.

That was what I assumed, until one day when I, by chance, had to carry my cup close to my body. (Always up for a challenge, i was trying to manage my phone and a few notebooks, too.) Sure, there was still a tempest brewing in that cup, but it wasn’t nearly as close to spilling over as usual. I was actually safer from spills that way.

Hmmm.

I wonder how this might be applicable to life. What if the things we were afraid of, the ones we thought might hurt us, the problems that persistently pursue us…. What if we stopped pushing them away? What if we held them close, examined, and accepted them? Maybe we’d have more control over them that way. And we might be safer.

Letting it Out

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The other day I listened to a friend vent. And that’s ok–isn’t that what friends are for?

Heaven knows–I’ve had many friends who have let me whine and cry and yell and complain about my life. They’ve listened to me, and then did me an even greater favor: they forgot all about it.

They knew that those fears, anxieties, crazy thoughts, and self-doubts needed to be let out for one big reason: those thoughts weren’t me. My situation wasn’t me. They knew that “letting it all out” was the best way for me to leave it all behind.

When we’re possessed by our bad thoughts, we can fall into the trap of thinking that since our mind created them, they must be part of us. But they aren’t. We can’t let them hijack our mind and soul.

We need to get free of those demons, and find friends that will help us do that.

At the Core

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They say that an element of being strong and certain is making decisions from your core–the center of who you are–your understanding of who you are and what is right.

It is what I try to remember when I am faced with tough choices and when everyone seems to have their own opinion of what I should do.

Decisions that seem complex are really not that complicated when you strip them down to their essentials. What is best for you isn’t so hard to figure out when you know what is fundamentally right.

Who am I? At the center, all questions are really this one, single, core question.

Feeling Good?

There is growing scientific evidence that, “…when in a good mood, people become more intuitive and more creative…”
I read this in “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman, and immediately my mind rebelled. After all, the assumption that an artist must be tortured is so well accepted that it has become a stereotype. It’s as if, in our minds,  suffering is a requirement to being great. And looking at the lives of Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolfe, Edgar Allen Poe, Sylvia Plath,  and Frida Kahlo, I have a hard time imagining any of them ever being in a good mood.

Still, science is science, and there are lots of experiments that support Kahneman’s statement.
So what gives?
I’m not sure. I am not a psychologist and I’m only a wanna-be artist, and the only story I know–really know–is my own. Yes, I draw and paint when I am sad and troubled. If I am upset, making art soothes me. I get lost in the process and my brain gets quiet. I slip away to a peaceful place and when I come back, I often find that I am ready and able to face my problems with new insight.

I also draw and paint when I am happy, excited, and feel full of potential. At those times, making art is energetic–I try something new, I take a risk, and the results might be something great or complete trash.

But I guess the question really is: At which of those times am I creative? And the only answer I can honestly give is that I am creative at both times. In fact, I make art both when I feel creative and when I don’t. If suffering isn’t a requirement for being an artist, then feeling creative isn’t a requirement for making art.
And while I realize that a good mood might oil the wheels of the mind, making it run smoothly to creative, new ideas and thoughts, I also know that the very act of creating can create that good mood.
Can science explain that?

Taking Back What Is Twisted

A little more than 10 years ago, when I still lived in New Jersey, I attended a two-day workshop with collage artist Jonathan Talbot. It was a wonderful class and the techniques I learned have become staples in my art methods.

But there was a lesson he taught that has followed me even beyond art making.

In the early part of the class, he showed us a page torn from a book. He explained that he would pass around the sheet so we could each tear off a piece to use in a collage. Everyone must tear off a piece, he explained, it was not optional.

When the page came to me, I immediately recognized that it was rag paper–very old rag paper. Plus, the print on it (was it letterpress?) had those funny ‘s’s that look like ‘f’s. I held my breath, tore off a piece, and passed it to the next student.

Once the sheet had made the rounds, Talbot asked us if we knew how old the paper we had just destroyed was. “One hundred years old!” someone guessed. “No, more like 500,” I said, my heart simultaneously racing and sinking. What had I done?

“Yes, 500 is a good guess,” Talbot responded, and everyone in the class groaned. But then he continued, “Ok, before you get too upset, answer this: What language is that on the page?” I looked down at my scrap and saw the phrase, “Gracias al Señor,” or “Thanks to the Lord,” so I said, in practically a whisper, “Spanish…”

“Yes!” he told us. “Anyone hear of the Spanish Inquisition? Good. So what you just tore up was a set of instructions for burning heretics. Now do you all feel better?” Relief passed through the class. “Nothing is too precious to be destroyed,” he concluded, and we went back to our works in progress.

The collage I made that includes that scrap hangs in my living room. I think about Talbot’s point often, and have reached an understanding of what he meant, and also what he didn’t.

That’s because to me, the lesson is also that there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. There is nothing that cannot be used as the raw material for art. Nothing is beyond hope.

In Letter 9 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, one devil explains to another that only God can create, and all tempters can do is twist His creations so that they are used unnaturally. (Devils did not create wine, for example, but they can tempt people to drink too much of it too often.) So I like to remember this: Art allows us to take back what is twisted, to take our own fires of The Inquisition and use that heat and light to restore beauty.

Too much?

I wonder about an alcoholic taking his or her first drink. Do they know, immediately, that what they just tasted might own them, control them, take their life? Do they know right away, and do they already feel that it is too late to turn back?

Yes, I have written about creating with feeling. I have written about my efforts to think less while making art. And I don’t take any of that back–and yet–I also wonder about the power of raw emotion. It’s uncontrollable power. Can it be destructive?

Sometimes when I am finished with a drawing (it might or might not be a good one), there seems to be such an amount of direct feeling in the lines on the paper that it defies the effort I used to create them. I wonder where that amount of emotion came from, and it scares me when I don’t know. Why? Because, somehow, it seems like a lack of effort to control my drawing, or to discipline myself, and that seems both irresponsible and dangerous.

I think of, years ago, watching Nirvana give their Unplugged performance on MTV. Anyone who saw the performance of the last song could have guessed that Kurt Cobain’s death would be tragic. Watching it, you see him express raw emotion that escapes him and will take control and torture him until he succumbs.

Maybe, being less talented that Kurt Cobain was, I don’t need to worry. Then again, I think I might strive for balance, just in case.