Stuck between looking back and looking ahead is the worst place to be. Flannery O’Conner’s Wise Blood got it right. “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.”
April and May are usually the best couple of months. It’s spring, life begins again, cold rains turn to warm rains. Everyday feels a bit warmer and better than the previous one. The cycle of death and discomfort of fall and winter hits the rear view and potential arrives once again.
Writing Things Down
This year, it feels, unseasonably cold weather stole Spring. Miserably cold days interrupted any notion of progress towards warmth and good. And so things went in studio as well. A lack of progress on my paintings forced my retreat into writing. Writing things down is usually great bastion for me to draw strength from and refresh my thoughts. This month, even writing felt like drips from a clogged pipe. When I hit publish on this post, I have no idea how many of the half dozen or so stories I’ve been working on will likewise have been published already.
In Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, he laments that he never knows his birthday. When I first read that, it struck me as a harsh, personal fact. I’m not one to make a big fuss of my birthday, but use it as a quiet day to reflect on the past year, gauge where I’m heading, where I’ve been and use the day to treat myself to a nice lunch or dinner and maybe a few extra drinks. Not having a day given to you to do that always felt like another unnecessary indignity Douglas had to endure.
On May 24th, I celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the day I quit my last full time job. I moved to Austin and started along he path of being an artist. I spent the day fighting off a headache from the night before, teaching some classes then heading out for a quick dinner and a few drinks. Of course it’s hard not to look back at that decision and everything that has happened since. It’s been a great twenty years, with more surprises, ridiculous stories, travels and funny disasters than I can write.
Looking back also helped me deny the murkiness of the future in a post-pandemic world. There’s a tremendous weight of expectations and potential, from both the past and future. I’ve hada hard time tuning out these thoughts with any distractions lately, writing and painting included. Since sinking like a stone isn’t an option, it makes treading water that much harder.
Back to my work – writing, once I finally fell into the groove, really can process my thoughts in a postive way. I’m always envious of writers and their ability to use their chosen medium in such a clear, concise manner. Sometimes, painting feels like an overwhelming medium due to its physical nature. Layering paint, in dashes, swoops and sometimes delicate brush marks feels like a burden when compared to the ease of writing words. Physical dimensions, along with the visual language, style, and formal issues confound me when I’m not fully dialed in.
I’ve always been a big advocate for concise storytelling – begin the story, tell the story and end the story – with a point. The journey can bend in various ways but there’s nothing worse than a meandering, pointless story that doesn’t go anywhere and ends with a thud.
And so it goes in the studio right now. Studio life is a jumble of meandering thoughts, disparate ideas and concepts, and dried out palettes waiting for a new beginning. I’ll get there, but right now my mind needs to continue processing life and it’ll find itself. right now is no good where I am, but I know painting will get me away from this.
This month: Alice Donut’s cover of ‘Where is My Mind?’