It ain’t that deep, but it really is

If you visit this site often you’ve probably noticed that it’s been a little thin on the posting the last week.  It’s because I’ve been going through some family health stuff, specifically with my Dad. And while I know that this isn’t exactly an autobiographical space, it is one that I feel comes pretty directly out of the thoughts and experiences that I’m having on a given day.

Usually, my day includes a lot action and thought about the making (or not making) of artwork.

And for the past week or so, that hasn’t been true.

Or rather, it’s been as true as usual, but in a very different way. That is to say, while I’ve not been in rehearsals (but that’s not usually a majority of my time) I’ve still been keeping tabs on a few projects, answering emails, doing some planning, working on budgets and reading of research. The difference is that right now I’m doing it with a slow and steady pulse of fear and anxiety in the background.

And so, the art making things (or art making supporting things) I’ve been doing have seemed to fade pretty far into the scenery of my feelings this week. I have felt a lot of things, but none that I was quite able to articulate in a way that felt complete enough to share here.

Today, April 29th, at roughly 5pm EST I expected to be arriving at the Art Museum. I expected to be receiving an award for an $80,000 dollar project that will hopefully launch me into a year of nearly full time art work. I expected to be celebrating with the other Knight Arts Challenge grantees on their great success and excitement embarking on something new and wonderful.

But instead I am sitting and my recent passed grandmother’s dining table waiting in limbo for the results of an operation on my father’s heart, one that is not simple nor routine.

And as I sit here pondering this series of events, and the cascade of cancellations that followed me to this moment, I realize something about my own work that seems but deeply paradoxical and true all at once:

A life in art, my life in art, is somehow simultaneously really not that deep, and at the same time, totally is.

Which is to say, that it is not the extent of me, that it should not consume me, stop me from remembering it is a life I am living and not some task to be completed, and will likely also be the only thing in the end that saves me, saves all of us.

At times like these I am confronted with the vast enormity of my own powerlessness, made aware of how little I am prepared. When I stares at such definites, I am so keenly aware of what a tiny portion of things I actually have any control over. I am made supremely conscious of how little I matter in the vaster cosmic scale of things. I realize this in a way that is both utterly terrifying and strangely freeing. It seems so true that who I am and what I do matter very very little when it really comes down to it.

In the face of such a truth there is potential paralysis, and it is a feeling that I have felt often in the last 48 hours. But there is also a way of seeing all of that meaninglessness and impossibility that removes from me a sense of obligation. In the face of a truly impossible situation, I cannot fall back on attempts to fix, or work harder, or do more. Regardless of love or duty, in this case I have no choice but to simply hold out my hand to take what is given, and do no more or less than the very best I can.

It is a rare time when I can do this in my work, to really look at the thing head on and say, “Ok, regardless of what has come before, here we are. Let’s do everything of which we are able.”

I think of all the times I have been confronted with moments so very much smaller than these that have taken up so infinitely larger a proportion of my heart and mind. And it is only logical that such things, those that work on the personal, human scale, feel so large at the personal human size. I think about the moments I have lost so much of myself in trying to perfectly solve this single problem or that particular person and getting lost in it. Lost in myself in worrying and fretting and letting myself ignore what I was really doing, to obsess over a tiny fragment of the whole.  These are the choices I have wept over, sweated bullets for and tied myself in knots about. These are the things that got so much in the way and seem so silly in retrospect.

And when they come again, and they will, these are the times I hope I can still capture just a bit of this feeling and remind myself to do the thing I know I need to and get back to everything else.  I hope I can remember that no one of these little choices really matter in the long run, not matter how large they seem in the moment. To do the thing that may be difficult or hard in that teeny tiny second, but pushes me closer to something bigger and truer in the long run. To use that cosmic sensibility to offer some perspective on the human scale so that I can see this moment both large and small.  That if I can see this huge feeling moment as a tiny bead on a longer chain, it might be easier to do the best I can, whether on not this single moment goes right or wrong, because I can see its connection to a larger string of that matter – forthrightness of character, honesty, kindness, an unwillingness to baby or coddle, a relentless seeking of excellence. Without it, I fear giving myself over to ease in the sake of the moment, in the sake of fear, in the sake of seeming safety. But if I can remember at these times that there is no ease or safety, not really, not in the long run, then I can be fearless, than I can dare to do the difficult, even when I might not know exactly what that will mean.

And at the same time I see all this, I also begin to see how deep, how very important it is to make a space for art in the world. In the face of such a thing as this moment, I see how vast my emotional strength must be. And more than ever before I see how we need to practice for these moments of sitting at our grandmother’s dining tables, of emotional weight lifting that readies us, however little, for what lies ahead.

We use art to build our capacity, our strength of heart and spirit muscles so that we might be a bit stronger.

Our work is instruction. It is sadness and joy delivered in ways that help us train through experience, teach us to process and think and prepare. Artwork is a way to add weight to our soul’s daily training, a bench press for the psyche, cardio of the guts.

Art work keeps us emotionally vital, it teaches our hearts to expand, and feel and understand. It toughens our inner selves and makes supple our character. And while it cannot prepare us fully for the intensity of actual battle, this training for life does help to bolster and build us up so our resources are there when we truly need them.

Our work teaches us to love and laugh and cry and give that up freely, so that it does not block us when we must race into the fray. It reaches us to open and receive when there is no other choice but to do so. It pushes out the boundaries of our hearts so that they can take in more than we thought possible. And it helps us in some tiny way see meaning in things that are so impossibly more than we can know.

It helps me to open up the borders of myself so that I can receive the enormity of a moment just like this.

There is no adequate preparation for the fracas of life better than this.

And it isn’t really that deep these little works on little stages, but oh yes, it really really is.

A

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