Saturday, August 31, 2013

ABOVE THE GRAY WALLS

Last night I gave up waiting for a software update to finish downloading. It kept running into glitches as often happens when you start too late so I went to bed. I wasn’t in a good mood either. Nothing can be more frustrating than computer stuff that is supposed to be easy but doesn’t work and I wasn’t up for calling tech support at 1:00 am either. I left feeling unfinished, irritated and strangely vacant. Besides, I haven’t had a thought I could catch in several weeks and although there are many things I need to do I seem to remember them only after the lights go out and I’m under the sheets. In the morning, I’m a blank slate again.

 I should know by now that this pattern portends another change in consciousness but I always forget and perhaps forgetting is an important part of the process. This time a startlingly sharp image popped up as soon as I closed my eyes. And, what a trivial image it was. A perhaps three foot square planter bordered with cement walls was once attached to the original porch of my childhood home. Dad made it shortly after we moved in. Sometimes we planted it with squash and pumpkin or an annual flower and on some years, the weeds grew there in wanton abandonment. Why would I envision something that had been so indistinctive and hadn’t existed since dad remodeled the house fifty years ago?

 The rest of the night continued on the same stream. A slide show of old memories that I thought were permanently archived. But the very insignificance of that initial image made it stand out. Only after I started writing about it did I recognize what it was. It is a perfect symbol of my childhood identity and it is something I haven’t successfully sent to the emotional attic. Small, plain, attached to a porch that was so chipped and cracked that it should have been broken down not embellished, this little planter held all the paradoxes of my family. As usual, dad made the planter with an extra strong concrete mix. He always did this. He wanted everything he made to be thorough and permanent, but on an inconspicuous scale. The concrete could last forever, but it was something that you reasonably would want to last only until you came up with something better. Dad would make his concrete improvements too strong and too small and then break them up a couple of years later with great effort while cursing at himself for building whatever it was to last forever.

Being small, gray, barely noticeable and often left for weeds to grow in defined the essence of my childhood identity. So was the unfortunate proximity to a tattered old porch. The essence of the paradox was how to be outstandingly ordinary. Thinking of concrete, did you know that when I was fourteen my dad and I made the concrete walls of our basement in just one weekend. I mixed the concrete (according to his recipe) poured the batches one by one into a wheelbarrow and dumped the loads into the waiting mold where dad distributed and smoothed it with a trowel. That’s heavy labor and back then it never occurred to me that it was a lot to ask of a fourteen year old girl. It needed doing and there was nothing else to consider.

Feral cat Shadow in her favorite planter. She prefers round pots
 Now back to that little square planter. I’m really struggling to get to just why I know it’s me and it’s a false me that I must break through and rebuild, or maybe just break up and trash. But even though I’m ashamed of it, there is something about it that I’m also proud of. It’s tough, a lot tougher than it looks, because I know the recipe for the concrete and it’s made for maximum power. What I don’t like is that it’s roughly finished and gray; it doesn’t fit where it’s placed and it is a doomed effort at embellishment in an environment unfriendly to decoration. Also, it’s too small to fulfill its purpose and this was the essence of most of my childhood involvements.

 It’s past time to move beyond this identity. Having PQ in my life is of course one way to push myself beyond the confinement of the basic grey cement wall. The possibility of not doing grunge work for someone else is a new experience and feels strangely vulnerable and naked. Can we really survive on our own? Actually, the vulnerable feeling comes from pealing off a familiar cover. It seemed safe to be made of cement and be strong but insignificant. This way of existing pretends to be practical and safe. Pretending to be made of rough grey cement is not genuinely modest but a ploy to avoid challenging the perceived status quo. What would happen if I relied on the incredible fractal web of creation and re-creation?

This  real world is usually covered by socially sanctioned walls of exploitation and fear. So far, we are doing OK with paintings and PQ’s workshops as auxiliaries to our Social Security. But there is so much to learn. I’m thinking that not having a backup fund anymore is the push needed to make me leave my defeatist social conditioning in the dust. It feels risky, perhaps even riskier than it actually is because the low paying jobs that I was accustomed to never did more than barely get me through the month if padded with an art sale here and there and the occasional rescue from my parents. Such luxuries as doctors, dentists and vacations were never part of the picture.

Baby Swallows waiting for lunch to arrive.
 Coming to Taos was a mixed experience. There are many people here who have the same precarious life, but on the other hand, they are making a material sacrifice to live as artists in a place that doesn’t support stereotyping. Would awakening from this mediocre but virtuous spell be likely if there was enough money to cover the basics? It probably wouldn't happen before say age ninety. However, age does factor in here on a practical level. I barely have the energy now days to work at a grunge job all day and then look after house, garden, spouse, and chores before painting until 2:00 AM. Beyond that comes the almost unthinkable. What if I don’t want that life anymore? What if I want to experience the feeling of spreading my wings and soaring over all the dull grey concrete walls down below.

 There are good examples of how to thrive by merely going with the flow toward the many unconventional opportunities in this town. Some of the teachers come with fur and feathers. It is natural for the pieces to fall into place when unobstructed. In my own backyard feral cats have synched with the rhythm of human nature to their advantage and yesterday while PQ was picking up his weekly oxygen supply I noticed several swallow's nests under the portal of the medical facility. They shared the building with humans while living  their own version of how to use it.