Reflection and Redirection

The last couple of months have been ones of contemplation. Wondering about a lot of things; how am I doing mentally, where is my art taking me, what do I even believe in and what message do I want to convey?

A lot of this inner searching is spurred by books I've recently read. Nina Simone's Gum by Warren Ellis seems, on the surface, fairly ridiculous. The idea that an old, chewed piece of Nina's gum could become a holy relic. But the gum is associated with a transcendental musical experience, a shared spiritual journey captained by Nina herself. The piece of gum enshrines that experience and becomes a symbol of her immense talent and what it means to Ellis and so many others. His book also explores more broadly the things we collect along the way, going through life. The objects which become meaningful for personal reasons, vessels for memories we cherish. Collectively they tell a story, our story. For example, the picture that goes with this post are items I've collected. A Grim Reaper candle I bought at an Arts in the Park type market when I was 13 or 14. I've kept it with me for 40 years now, important because it was one of the first pieces of art purchased purposefully, and with my own money. It reminds me I've always been drawn to that kind of imagery and the world it inhabits. It also ties me back to my mother who has a fondness for candles. There's the figurine of Johnny Cash, one of my earliest musical influences. Not as a player necessarily, but as a fan. He was one of the artists my father listened to and I would hear those records playing at home before the stereo was permanently replaced with the sounds of the television. Everything in the photo tells a piece of my tale and tethers me to those times, and the people who have shaped my life. I'm still collecting. The oldest things are the candle, but also the guitar tuner I've owned since I don't know when, and the newest are the towels that serve as the drop, setting the scene. I've only had those for about a year.

If Nina Simone's Gum had me thinking about the past, and how I choose to retain it, Nick Cave and Sean O'Hagan's book Faith, Hope and Carnage made me question the future by challenging my present. Their conversations revolve around more spiritual concepts. What is faith? What gives hope? What is the nature of art and does it have a purpose we as artists are obligated to pursue? Deep stuff. I found myself questioning my own beliefs actively, as I was reading. What do I even believe in? Particularly concerning the human condition and how it relates to the nature of our indiscriminate universe. It's a question I have a hard time answering. I don't know that I even have an answer that goes beyond the superficial into the spiritual. I agree with Cave that spirituality is a terrible word, it doesn't accurately describe that place just beyond our fingers where mystery lies. A place we can intuitively feel is there but are only occasionally able to access. It's an insufficient word, but it is the one we have. He postulates the shared human experience that takes us there is loss and deep grieving. Very much in line with the Buddhist tenet, I learned in a recovery group, that one of the things we must learn to accept as humans is there is suffering in life. Suffering is as important as joy, maybe more so. The passages that touched on recovery and sobriety resonated with me particularly as I was reading the book just after marking four years of sobriety for myself. 

Cave also puts forth the idea that it is the job of the artist to go to this "spiritual" place, gather information and report it back to the rest of us. A dangerous and provocative enterprise. Going to a place not always available, not always easy to come back from, and giving voice to feelings and ideas people don't usually want to talk about. This, more than anything else, has helped me decide to continue writing and presenting my art in whatever form it takes. I feel Cave's concept is a direct analogy to the idea I've dubbed Whitelandia. Whitelandia is the self-segregated environment white people have built, where they believe chasing the Almighty dollar has them living the good life, the roads paved in gold with only the occasional speed bump. A place where the heroic nature of the inhabitants is not to be doubted, and the answer to every question lies somewhere in the trinity of god, guns, and glory. Going behind the persistent cover story that everything is great in white America and reporting back that it actually is not has been the focus of my writing for some time now. I'm excited to announce I'll be releasing the first installment of work exploring Whitelandia in March, and even more exciting is the fact I'm writing new material for the first time in a long while.

My writing is moving in a direction that is new for me, more focused on my emotional state, which I find incredibly difficult as I don't particularly have one. As a Gen Xer I was raised by Baby Boomers who taught me emotions are not to be tolerated, in fact, they are to be ignored and hidden away at all costs. And yet, we are expected to Love, which is perhaps the most important emotion because it brings us closest to god. Very confusing and inconsistent programming which I believe to be endemic to our generation and is the condition that lies at the root of what is wrong with the soul of Whitelandia. By exploring this facet of myself, I hope to unlock...something, and by doing so be able to write more deeply than I ever have before. So far, this is resulting in works that are more poetic and not necessarily lyrical. And that's okay, I'm envisioning some spoken word pieces set to music for this output. Who knows. I don't. But I'm willing to see where it goes. As an inhabitant of Whitelandia, I'm determined to follow this trail and report my findings back to whoever wishes to hear them. I consider this whole process part of my recovery from addiction and alcoholism because I'll be looking at unhealed and previously untended parts of me. As I've become fond of saying, staying sober is easy, I simply don't drink, being sober however, sucks because it is extremely difficult for all the reasons I'm hoping to finally confront. Therapy, and finding the medication right for me, have brought me to the gate and given me some tools to at least try picking the lock. Time to see if I can, and find out what lies beyond.

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