We are considering the lilies as best we can.
But in this summer season, sweat on skin and
Concrete like a griddle underfoot --
Could you perhaps send
An image more readily apprehended?
Could you perhaps tell
How you care for scorpions,
For battle-readied beetles with their armor?
Or tell us how how you hugged a cactus once.
Let spines stick through your skin and sting you something fierce,
Wiped dust from fading green, and tender cracked it open
Cracked it all the way open.
Your hands prickled with blood, pierced with a thousand barbs,
You cracked it open and the cell sap (plop)
Sprang up a well. Cell fluids streaking down your hands,
Drip-dropping to the earth.
Tell us how cactus flesh, designed for desperate times,
Was made to store up rain.
How in the drylands, cactus flesh is crushed
To bring forth water.
Take a seed and bury it deep in earth.
Watch nothing as the seasons change.
When you remember, pour precious water
Into its grave like an offering to the gods.
In Spring, see something in the mud -- a flash of green.
The rosebush will begin to be: slow days of rain
And sun will send a sturdy stalk (when time is ripe)
And then a bud.
A young rose swells with life in slips of pink.
This one could be a thousand shades
Of lovely; could take its place with choruses of color—
Arrangements for a lover, maybe, or a friend.
Now when it’s just begun to flower, take that bud.
Rip petals off the stalk and bruise them well.
Use anything at hand; it only matters
That they’re completely crushed.
Discard the rest.
Pour out the broken petals, mix well with oil
And cover. Keep this mixture overnight
In a cool, dark place.
Strain through cloth and cast aside the pulp.
Repeat these steps three days.
Keep no thought of the seed you buried
Years ago, or that bud, all pregnant with potential,
Before you ripped it down and crushed
It crude so all the sweetness lifted off to scent.
Collect your fragrance in a vial.
When time is ripe, you will find the man you made it for.
When you do, unstop the vial.
Pour out every drop to wash his torn and scarring feet.
See how the essence hangs in air
Into an opened sky.
Some canvas, sticks, and a rust-based wash made from soaking discarded elements I collected from a nearby de-construction. One of three that will be a triptych. For a collective project reflecting on the final words of Christ. Here, I thirst. Very much in progress still.
I came to the conclusion this week that I've been quietly and entirely unconsciously running from who I am. Well, I'm finished running. As I turn back around and begin walking toward art making again, however that presents itself, I'll use this space to reflect on the work that is happening inside and outside through this process.
"Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-persuasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding. You make good work by, among other things, making lots of work that isn‘t very good.
“Those who would make art might begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them: most who began, quit. To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.” -- David Bayles and Ted Orland
This year I have started approximately 120348 projects, and about two hours in, heard this familiar voice in my head. "Ellen. ELLEN. Stop wasting your f***ing time. You have actual deadlines out here and _________ to call back and remember the 30 other half baked ideas that are scattered around? This is a waste of energy and time you could be devoting to something ACTUALLY useful."
Like an obedient child, I've listened to that voice every time. It's so much easier to give in to fear, to self-righteousness ("Let me do something genuinely valuable out here") than it is to do the terrifying, liberating, grueling work of seeing an idea through to completion, even if it ends up being not very good.
After the past two years, I'm finally ragged enough to admit I need to make some things. I need to finish a project. Not because I'm an amazing artist with bucket loads of potential. Not because I have an inspiring or convicting message for the world to hear. Not because what I end up making is even going to be recognizable as art.
I need to keep making because that's who I am.
A long time ago I sat in a studio in Tennessee carving a foam block and light peeked through the glass doors and lit the room on fire. In that moment, I felt the presence of God like I never had before.
I remember thinking:
This is the cleft in the rock where I see God.
Peaks and valleys followed, but my course work kept me on task enough to stay focused. Graduation, if not the value of art, was motivation enough to do some hard work.
But over the past two years, somehow, I got it twisted. I became the disciples, staring in self-righteous condemnation at Mary Magdalene pouring out incredibly expensive, fragrant, sensuous perfume all over Jesus feet. You should have sold that and given the money to the poor they said.
That's who I've been.
Don't spend $20 buying CDs for a concept project to help you process Alton Sterling's death. He's dead. His family is actually grieving. You think you have a right to piddle around a studio with some glass fragments and therapize yourself with this bull? Think about what you could actually DO with that money.
You're really going to take two hours to sit and THINK about how to best represent this thought in a visual form? Are you kidding me? Your brother is recovering from cancer, your sister's heavy pregnant and you're leaving the house to THINK?
Oh come on, you're a millennial. You could quit everything and go live in Syria, spend your life at a refugee camp. Or what about Flint? You're going to use your resources here to make a piece about that situation, instead of, oh, I don't know, DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT?
I could go on. The sound track in my head has been relentless. All the while, cutting down any sprout of an idea at the first sign of growth.
The trouble is, that's all well and good until you realize something equally as true.
I can't stop generating these ideas.
I am never more alive than when in the heart of a piece.
This is the cleft of the rock where I see Him.
Art has carried me through incredibly difficult seasons in my life. Where would I be if those artists denied their calling?
Is the soul of a man less precious than his body? Is the care of a man's body more important than his soul? And can't art speak to your soul with a voice stronger than the most hopeless situation?
And most importantly of all, the voice of Christ, cutting past the disciples' judgement.
Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing for me.
Mary wiped his tear-stained feet with her hair, took the empty bottle, and went. In a completely excessive, seemingly wasteful, expensive time-wasted moment, she devoted herself entirely to doing something that could only be called beautiful.
Besides, Jesus told the self-righteous disciples. The poor are always with you. She doesn't have to choose between a life of compassionate action and a life of making beauty. She, like you, will have a thousand opportunities to show my heart for justice and compassion. But leave her alone. "She has done what she could."
Should the vessel say to the Potter, why did you make me this way?
I give up.
I accept this truth, that has always been there, that I've been trying to escape and running to avoid:
My art is worth making. My story is worth telling.
Until I get that through my thick-skulled noggin, I have no business telling anyone else their story matters. The artists who've touched my soul the strongest are the ones who authentically, vulnerably, beautifully share their story. Not some text book telling me mine matters. I see mine matters when I see you validate your own.
Yesterday I got to see Chance perform for the first time. He went steadily through a few tracks before he broke away from the script and told us all he was struggling. He lost somebody close the night before, and this high-energy performance wasn't going to just flow out of him. "I need you guys to help me out."
Everything that followed, all the emotion, the music, the words were catharsis. He cried. He shouted. He sang soft and he shook the stage. And I left believing in art again, believing in God a little stronger. Not because he told me to, but because he shared his own story in a vulnerable, compelling way, trusting that the 16 thousand hearts on the other side of the stage would find it worth hearing.
It's been slowly growing inside for awhile, but that concert really drove things home for me. So I'm here to start crawling back to accepting two things I've known for a long time: God matters and art matters, and in my heart, it's hard to cherish one without the other.