How Do You Feel About Emotion?

"Communication" (Side One) 18 x 14

“Communication” (Side One) 18 x 14

Yesterday I attended a Writers’ League of Texas workshop on “More Than a Feeling: Writing with Emotion” conducted by author Greg Garrett. He shared with us a whole heap of wisdom he said he acquired from his own writing guru Robert Olen Butler at U. Iowa. It was clear that he had verified all of this wisdom personally. Perhaps most importantly, he told us that each of us has within ourselves a “compost heap” of forgotten things that contains every emotion we will ever need to access in our writing. This morning I found his message reinforced by a quote from Brene Brown about vulnerability and the difference between sympathy (a disconnect) and empathy (connection): “Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.” And then I started to remember what my Buddhist gurus were trying to teach me about compassion and the necessity of going to “the places that scare you”…

So now I know I need to shed my armor and jump into my own redolent, simmering compost heap and return to my manuscript for one last heart-wrenching revision. Thank you, Greg!

Thresholds

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Today I am thinking about thresholds – but not physical doorways, gateways, borders, or frontiers. No, I am thinking of thresholds we use to mark the passage of time. Last night I watched a stunning sunset on Playa Tamarindo, and this morning I rose early and made my way to the playa in the dark in order to watch the full moon set over the same waters, just as the sun was beginning to peek above the eastern horizon. It was an unforgettable spectacle.

Ursula Le Guin writes, “A frontier has two sides. It is an interface, a threshold, a liminal site, with all the danger and promise of liminality.” I find the thresholds between day and night, between the presence and absence of the moon, equally infused with danger and promise. And yet in this case the promise lies in the confidence that this is a cycle that will repeat itself. After night, day will come again. The moon, too, will reappear in the eastern sky. And as it wanes into a mere sliver, I know that it will grow again to the bright disk of light I saw in the sky this morning. The tides that made the beach so broad, will soon make it a mere narrow strip.

What we remark most, what we find most enchanting, are the markers, the thresholds we impose on time – sunrise, sunset; the full moon and new moon. In fact, the sun holds its place while our planet slowly, regularly, turns on its slightly off-kilter axis. Likewise, the moon circles our little planet on its regular path, unconcerned with which portions of the globe currently enjoy its soft, reflected light.

It’s all a matter of perception.

Reporting From Tamarindo

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Reporting from Tamarindo BLOG 02/02 Eating my beautiful breakfast this morning (papaya, pineapple, watermelon, rice-and-beans, plantain, camote pudding) looking out at the beautiful Pacific Ocean… I found myself craving solitude. The breakfast was great, the view was amazing – but the hotel cafe was huge and crowded with noisy guests, ready to head off in a hundred different directions in pursuit of whatever they felt worthy of their time and effort. “I could go back to my room,” I thought. My room is at the very back corner of the hotel, where huge mango trees conceal more than a few howler monkeys. I hear them, but I’ve only seen one. I also saw a really big iguana! But no… I wasn’t looking for isolation. Just solitude. Just a place where I could feel happy to be alone. Well… I found my place. It’s called Cafe Tico and it has outdoor seating under a guanacaste tree. It has iced soy lattes. And it’s right in front of a bookstore, which will open in 15 minutes.

Arrived in Costa Rica!

 

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I love being in places that resist being tamed – places with mountains, sea coasts, jungles. Costa Rica has all of these things. It also has hotels, like the one I spent the night in, where a space has been appropriated and domesticated for human use. I hear the call of wild birds as well as the crow of a rooster, from somewhere in one of the simple shacks that line the chain link fence behind our hotel. And there is a noticia on the back of our door about what to do in case of earthquake. I am looking forward to standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean in a few hours’ time!

No Heroes

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We yearn for heroes, for larger-than-life, superhuman beings who are always good, almighty, victorious. Heroes are reliable; we can count on them, trust them to save the maiden and the victim of misfortune, to slay whatever dragons threaten. The old sagas of gods and titans titillate our expectations, which are further fed by comic book narratives and blockbuster movies. Our modern media toss the word “hero” around like confetti, celebrating all kinds of activities, christening the most unlikely of characters.

There are no heroes. Human beings are capable of heroic acts, but they cannot help but remain human beings. Our favorite comic book characters – Superman, Batman – have their human alter-egos who remain vulnerable to the emotional upheavals of love, sorrow, anger. Yet it is only when they don their hero’s garb that we recognize them as heroic.

I long for the day when we can celebrate humanity rather than heroism, when we can honor the deeds of simple kindness and reason, when altruism doesn’t have to be spectacular to merit our admiration. Human beings are remarkable creatures. For me, they are enough.

TOMORROW’S BLOG: No Villains

Giving Tuesday

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Some people say that humanity can be divided into two groups – givers and takers. On the contrary, I believe that, depending on time and place and circumstance, we are all givers, we are all takers.

Today has been designated online as “Giving Tuesday”, a day on which all of us make an effort to be givers. There are many worthy recipients for your generosity. Choose something you believe in, something you have vetted and which you know will make good use of your gift. Then give in the spirit of the quote above from Lilla Watson, knowing that we are all in this together.

What the Birds Say

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“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” -Maya Angelou

When I go for walks, my favorite soundtrack is the sound of birds, and I have been noticing how the soundtrack changes through the course of the year, through the hours of the day. In summer, I was always accompanied by the cooing of mourning doves and the calls of cardinals. More recently, the mockingbirds have been taking center stage. Evenings are always filled with the raucous cries of grackles. With all due respect to Dr. Angelou, not all birds sing – but they all have something to say and it is always worth hearing. The sketch above was done at the monastery I visit in Nepal, where I became convinced that the swallows outside my window, were reciting mantras about the vastness of the sky…

A Question of Balance

 

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During the first weekend of EAST Austin Studio Tour, 2014 edition, I had some wonderful, insightful conversations with my guests about my paintings and about art in general. It was a very rewarding experience except for one minor detail: Nobody bought anything. I had good sales during the 2013 tour, so I guess I had expectations for 2014 as well.

A young high school student sat down with me late Sunday afternoon in the waning hours of the first weekend’s tour to interview me for a class assignment. “What is the point of making art?” he wanted to know. I rambled on about the importance of the viewer as well as the artist in completing a work of art. “The goal of art is to engage the viewer, to get them to stop for a moment and engage with something more than daily life.”

With that as a goal, my first weekend of EAST was clearly a success. Numerous visitors were engaged enough to hang around and talk about my pieces. Some took the time to read the accompanying poems posted with several of the paintings, poems from my fellow writers at Austin Zen Center’s Tuesday night writing group.

Maybe this weekend someone will feel engaged enough with one of my paintings to want to take it home with them. We are open at 702 Shady Lane from 11-6 both Saturday and Sunday.

(The painting above is entitled, “A Question of Balance.” It is available.)

Obliterated

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Artists sometimes do odd things.

One of my favorite sites on my visit to Prague in winter of 2003 was the John Lennon Wall, where countless fans and tourists had posted layer after layer of tributes and expressions of devotion. It was beautiful and inspiring.

Today I read the news that a group of art students had taken it upon themselves to white out the entire wall! This was supposed to represent the beginning of a new era in honor of the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” and the inscription “Wall Is Over” was intended to be “an allusion to the subtitle of Lennon’s song ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’.” However, the act of overpainting the wall inevitably evoked as well the Communist era in Czechoslovakia; during the 1980s, the Lennon wall was repeatedly painted over by Communist authorities in Prague.

The very notion of “starting over” is misguided. We always work with what already exists, for better or worse. All these art students have succeeded in doing is in imposing their own idea of a massive blank canvas over hundreds and thousands of other ideas and messages, layered into a public space that was allowed to belong to everyone. The students acted in an authoritarian way that I find flies in the face of the legacy of the Velvet Revolution they sought to honor.

(Read the article from HyperAllergic here.)

Images Have Power

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Art is not just stuff. Art is a physical manifestation of the heart, an expression of the human spirit, a bridge linking minds across languages, transcending ideas. Images have power. Art is subversive.

This little video emerged on my Facebook newsfeed this morning, only days after the announcement that a wealthy Chinese businessman had bought a painting by French Impressionist Edouard Manet for a record (for this artist) $65.1 million. China is producing some of the most voracious and deep-pocketed art collectors in the contemporary world, as well as some of the wealthiest artists. China has also produced Ai Weiwei.

I have no need to hang a Manet in my own home. I prefer Ai Weiwei and yellow origami umbrellas.