Friday, March 14, 2014

Six Days Out...

Joey passed away on Saturday last, March 8, 2014. My only relief from grief and missing him seems to come during the relative oblivion of sleep, but as soon as I begin to awake, Joey is my first thought. He had the most exuberant way of greeting the day. Today I was particularly thinking about that – how Joey greeted the day. It would start as soon as I stirred; he’d jump onto the bed (all 85+ pounds of him) and put his nose into my face to see how far along I was into actually getting up. I usually didn't fall back to sleep after that, although the code words could be used: “Joey, you gotta stay,” and then he would settle down (usually) to wait, oftentimes trapping me beneath the covers with his weight and bulk, big lovely head resting on me somewhere cutting off my circulation and making a limb fall asleep.
When finally I got up, he was so excited he would jump (hence the name, ”Joey,” as in baby kangaroo) all the way to the door with a smile for me and those bright eyes looking at me to make double triple super sure he was reading the situation correctly, tongue hanging out and tail wagging, literally all four paws leaving the ground. I always enjoyed the infectious exuberance of this daily occurrence, while being careful that we didn't crack foreheads as his was harder than mine for sure.
So this morning I was dreading getting out of bed and having to face the deafening silence and absence of all that “routine” on this sixth day of his passing, and I began to think about what exactly might have been going through Joey’s mind every single morning that so enthused him, and more importantly, could I muster the same seeming enthusiasm, not just under the circumstances, but in spite of them? I cannot help feeling that all this will be so much worse if I fail to honor and respect and learn this lesson that Joey (and perhaps all dogs) seem to know intrinsically.
I've heard or read that dogs live in the moment, but in a way I think they live in the very short-term. They quickly lose any remembrance of past wrongs – those done by them and those done to them. And if they’re lucky enough to have an (good) owner, they anticipate certain events, some brought on by habit, such as meal time, and some brought on by obvious clues, like when I would pick up Joey’s leash and the car keys, and say the phrase, “Road trip!” Oh my goodness, as he got older, I had to be careful he was not on the kitchen floor, but rather on carpeting when I said those words so that he wouldn't slip and hurt himself in his unbridled joy.
So this morning, as I was struggling to come up with a good reason to get out of bed and begin another day filled with the effort of coming to terms with the pain and grief of missing Joey, and the effort of trying to fight off the guilt of, “could I have done something better/different/more on that last horrible day?,” I started really trying to figure out Joey’s approach, and what he so obviously knew about the proper way to start any day. I mean, he couldn't have been feeling perfectly well every single day between the epilepsy and the aging, and yet that never seemed to dampen his taste for the potential of the day. I enjoyed him enjoying what became such a ritual for us. And I was aware of his many gifts like this to me, but now I have to do it without him, and I’m not exactly sure how to transfer whatever his “it” to become my “it”.
Generally, I sleep well and have regular hours, so I get up rested; I am not one of those chronic sleep-deprived people you hear so much about these days. But I get up because I have these mundane things to do before I can do what I want, what my soul wants or commands me to do, things like balancing my checkbook, paying a bill, getting something ready to go in the mail, doing inventory so I can start my taxes, picking up something at the grocery store. And I probably got up many days these past 11 years because Joey needed to go out, be fed, be given his epilepsy medicine on time. But even though Joey had these basic needs, every morning, he seemed to have other more important reasons for getting up that he expressed with a joyful attitude.
So for now, what I’m going to try to ask and maybe someday be able to answer is, “What makes me feel like Joey did when he got up?” It for sure is not the prospect of balancing a checkbook. What is my equivalent to his apparent joy in checking out the new smells in the yard for the 2000th or 4000th day? What wonderful thing was he so happy about Every. Single. Morning? I mean, Joey always seemed beyond happy and downright exuberant. Do I have something like that in my life? What on earth could be so compelling? Every. Single. Morning.
I’m afraid I don’t know exactly, but I do know a few of the things it is not, and so I start the process there. I might try changing my morning routine to something else – anything else. Perhaps it’s as simple and unthoughtout as getting up and walking around the yard to see what cool new things happened overnight while I was sleeping. No planning; just observation. All I can do is promise to start there. Perhaps then I can start answering the larger question of what exactly makes me feel that amped up level of joy and exuberance as Joey so obviously did.
Making stuff for sure has from time to time made me feel peace and well-being and nirvana – not making the stuff I sometimes feel like I have to make, but rather making the stuff I cannot help making. That inexplicable out-of-body experience that happens as I am creating where I am nothing more than a vessel through which I can feel an energy or force or being much greater than myself charging my every move, my every creative decision, when I know without a doubt that I am doing that for which I am on the planet is a feeling that seems as intense as Joey’s exuberance. What if I could foster an attitude that allowed that in every day; more than once in a while? Would I feel like Joey? He did “it” every single day (the ol’ Nike tagline, best tagline of the 20th century, “Just Do It”), with no worries about something turning out or not, or worry that time would be wasted on an idea that could possibly go no where, no planning, no concern about all the other pesky stuff that takes time away from what is important. So an adjustment or realignment is in order that would foster a more focused faithfulness to the path given, and in honor of Joey's lifelong example.

Joey was unafraid, unapologetic, did what he felt needed doing without delay as it presented itself, sometimes learned from a mistake, but did not let a bad experience quash any future experimentation. But foreseeing potential for trouble was not his forte. He was not conservative but rather lived quite flat out, and while perhaps part of my service to him was making sure he didn't get in too far over his head, his service to me is ongoing -- making me see that I have some work to do in diving into life more deeply, where the joy, exuberance, and spectacular potential is a natural side effect to wake up every morning with such excitement that all 4 paws leave the ground for a time.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Parable of Talents

“And remember the parable of the talents, will you now. Do you mean to stand before God, come the Last Day, and tell Him you spurned the gifts He gave you?” The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon

I was reading this morning before I felt I had to get up and start my day -- another day of not feeling like I was ready to get back into the studio and work -- when I came across this passage. I did have a Christian upbringing, complete with Sunday School, and Confirmation classes, and regular church attendance, so the reference niggled at my brain, mainly because of the word, “parable”, but I didn’t quite remember it, so I took to Google, and quickly came up with a reference in the Bible: Matthew 25: 14-30. While I do consider myself a spiritual person, I have had struggles with organized religion from almost the moment I got out from under parental control. I do find a bit of humor in this particular struggle since my upbringing and related education also leaves me with that unique form of Christian guilt, which lately has been about how I approach my work.

Everything about living as an artist is a self-directed balancing act, and I have always found this the most challenging aspect of the whole enchilada. Work vs. downtime; making stuff that you know will sell vs. making stuff that feeds your soul; the work involved with the making and the work involved with the making a living (given a choice, I would make stuff and give it away if only I could); and what seems like a million other pairs of diametric opposites sitting across from each other on the see-saw. I know some would argue that you’re only supposed to be making stuff that feeds the soul, but I think as an artist, I try, but only partially succeed in this. You’ve got to throw a lot of chocolate at the wall before some starts to stick. The stuff that doesn’t stick is not completely unworthy, and in fact plays a major role in getting to the yummy stuff stuck to the wall. It’s chocolate, not crap!

Needless to say, I hadn’t cracked open the Bible in quite a while. Lately, I’ve been revisiting my form of spiritualism, and making some attempts at beefing things up in that department a bit. This is hard for me in that I am not a particularly nostalgic person, nor do I like to waste time trying to answer the big unanswerable questions, like “Why am I here?” or “What happens when we die?” Ironically, the only folks that can answer that question are dead. I also continue to struggle with what to make and why I’m making it. The answers change over time I think. When I first started this particular leg of my life journey in 1998, the answers in the beginning were quite simple -- in hindsight. I was just starting out, so I could get away with answers that were easily satisfying and quite black and white. For example, I was honing my skills, both with my art, as well as learning to live as self-directed person – as an artist and micro business woman. Then, in the more recent past, I used to think I shouldn’t think too much. That what I make “in the zone” automatically has that mystical quality built in. I am merely a vessel for a much larger planetary force. Just do it (the best tagline of the 20th century, in my opinion). The work will speak for itself. The more you work, the more you want to work. That all worked for quite a while.

But, I really have to come out and admit that this is no longer enough for me, nor has it been for quite some time, and more and more I have been thinking I need to start answering some tougher questions and creating in a more mindful spiritual environment. Don’t confuse spiritual with religious. Whether my spirituality translates in some way into religion remains to be discovered. Another gem I recently ran into comes from Twelve by Twelve by William Powers, “…faithfulness to the path given.” That needs to be on a T-shirt. Or embroidered on a pillow. That you sleep on. So I’ve been asking myself a lot lately, “Am I being faithful to the path given me?” The rub is that I think there’s room for improvement, but the how is eluding me.

I’ve also discovered that the less you work, the less you want to work, unless you have a really good reason to work, which isn’t about money in this case, although it may come to that. So this is where I currently am at on my artistic path. I do still believe in that mystical thing that happens once in a while when you are creating – where you really can feel yourself being used by a force greater than yourself for something good. In fact, I think I still believe in all the mantras of the middle phase. I just need all that and something more.

Once I (re)read the “Parable of Talents” I remembered it from my childhood. I’m more impressed now than I was then, which is another truism I’ve discovered – sometimes you’re just not ready to hear or appreciate the message. “Talents” in this case are pieces of money. But in the way of parables, I think you could also use talents to mean the gifts you have, what you are good at, which for me is creating stuff. That part I have never doubted. I’m convinced I was put on the earth to make stuff.

But it’s the what to make and why make that, that is the bigger deal these days. If I can answer these questions more meaningfully, I’m convinced my talents will multiply. As I wrestle through trying to find the way to go and the answers that will satisfy me now and going forward, I cannot help but wonder if I am completely living up to my potential. Have I been doing the work that will multiply my talents? Lately, I think I could do better. So the timing of running into the Parable of Talents could not be better for me and it does make me wonder if there isn’t “someone” looking out for me. I don’t really believe in coincidences. It certainly is easier to bury your talents in order to go the safe route. But if you want them to multiply, you have to use them wisely and prodigiously and courageously. I’ve got ideas; I just have to go into the studio and make stuff. “Just Do It” still does apply. But it should also encompass answering the tough question of “Why?” I’m hopeful I’ll always be able to define and bring to fruition a worthy idea, and that these will always eventually overpower any natural inclination I have for safety.