Monday, September 26, 2011

'Lessons of Fire'

I'm feeling better and better with each day. I can feel the hope and my confidence growing, have a much better perspective on the last several months, and feel that I can make the changes that will get me back on a purposeful course. I do feel that this attention to honesty, and what I'm going through is definitely having some impact on my options, however, I don't regret the writing, as I feel it has contributed to a much faster recovery time. I also feel that regardless of what I write about in regard to my personal life and personal strife, it does inform my work in an interesting and honest way. I do think that I can find better ways of handling stress and personal issues without repeating the routes of destruction and insanity, but as always, I will make the best of what has happened, and attempt to turn it into the work. Although I believe that clarity of the mind is a much better state to work than a cloudy one, in the middle of doing the work, no matter my condition, I've always been able to function at a very high level while working. I also believe that the break-down of the body and mind through the circumstances that naturally occur in life, or as Hamlet says as he's contemplating his own life and death, "To die, to sleep; 
no more; and by a sleep to say we end 
the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks 
that flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation 
devoutly to be wish’d." Of course, he was looking at the idea of death, but he's saying that life is filled with shocks and heartaches. Life is filled with the unexpected. Who can judge the heartache of another? Who has the right to assess the damage of someone else? Who can say with certainty the actions and choices of another are wrong or right in specific circumstances? And what constitutes the allowance of judgment to another's struggle? Morality? Money? Law? Love? Perhaps in my thinking as I get better, there most certainly are moments I have of rationalization, (because I'm the only one who knows the details of my own story) but I think its natural to analyze in this way, otherwise there would have to be a continual crushing of one's own soul. I think for most people, when there are low points and humiliation suffered, its natural to look at the reasoning (or unreason) behind the folly to either make amends or call or attempt to make a truthful assessment without a total self assassination. I think that a continued self-infliction for one's folly can then turn back to self-destruction. There are reasons break-downs occur. Whether the assessment is subjective or objective, there is still a part of the equation that no one else knows except the person experiencing the circumstance.

I've been reading about, (and watching) the story of Bridgit Berlin, one of Andy Warhol's film actresses and also an artist at Warhol's factory during the sixties. Warhol was very close to Bridgit, (they used to watch television on the phone together) it’s a remarkable story of the trajectory of an artist from an old money family and how she came to create art, sometimes through self-destruction, radical personal choices, and originality. She was raised in extreme wealth with conservative values, and all the graces that high society had to offer her, until she made the choice to break that mold completely. Her father was one of the men who ran the Hearst Empire. Her mother contends that she had everything growing up, including a mother's devotion, birthday parties, (which her mother uses in every conversation as an assessment criteria) the best schools, the best everything, etc.

Part of Bridgit's artistic process was to record her mother's rants in regard to her art and life, so there is a very extensive and interesting record of the mother's complete and utter shell shock as Bridgit's life and art became more controversial and got more exposure. Because Bridgit had a weight problem, her mother was also preoccupied while Bridgit was growing up with eradicating her obese gene, sending her to the best 'fat farms' in the world, where Bridgit would sometimes lose weight but more often come back even heavier. In the conversations, along with the birthday parties, Bridgit's mother seemed obsessed with Bridgit's weight. As a result, along with the self-destruction of Bridgit with drug and alcohol abuse, was the self-destruction with the use of food, which she says, she still struggles with to the present day. It's an interesting story of rebellion, and a child growing up to completely destroy her family's value system while finding her own creative path. Eventually, her mother and father disown both Bridgit and her brother Ritchie, and didn't see them for many years. I'm not condoning her behavior, as one only has to look at the history of the Warhol factory to see the annihilation of a generation of artists, but there is also a vein of silver throughout that history, and one that has affected the ensuing generation of artists.

As I assess and analyze my own evident break from many in my own family, I am very much aware of the impact, and I'm not so sure it's such a bad thing. In fact, it may be that I've held onto family ties for reasons that are incredibly naïve. These are some of the things I'm learning in my current situation:

Lesson #1. Unconditional love is a rare animal, and it’s a cliché to say, but you learn about your friends and families understanding of it when you are in real trouble. I'm learning that loyalty is rarely understood and mostly fickle in a life and death situation, and mostly has to do with how it benefits the other person. I'm learning that most people judge the extent of their love through the positive or negative actions of the person they are required to love, as long as it fits in with the values of acceptable behavior within their own experience. Money and possessions are a huge criteria for judging whether you are in good standing or fall, and the work must be acceptable, again, in regard to experience. Envy and jealousy are enemies in regard to healthy competition, healthy competition breeds excellence, but envy and jealousy destroys the notion of one knife sharpening another. Further, unusual or deft talent breeds contempt, especially when the talent is developed and powerful. In that same vain of thought, creativity and brilliance is not governed by acceptable and appropriate behavior, in fact, brilliance can emerge and often does in extreme and adverse circumstances.

Lesson #2. Although I think AA is a wonderful program that saves the lives of many people, I also think it can breed a dangerous criteria for the harshest judgment I've ever experienced. Although I continue to use it as a valuable tool, there are pockets of it I feel that is more dangerous and extreme than fundamentalism. Although it suggests, "progress rather than perfection," I've experienced recently, just the opposite, and that many alcoholics in long term sobriety are some of the most judgmental and harshest of critics I've ever known. I think so much of its rhetoric and action destroys relationships before they even have a chance to get started under the guise of 'unhealthiness'. If you are continually looking to find unhealthiness in other people, you will always find it, always. I also learned that for many in this radical thinking order, because perfection is sought, resolution becomes a liability instead of an asset. Note to radicals. Resolution is easier to achieve than you may think, and it just may be that not everybody is unhealthy, although we all are at times, its human. You may want to look through the door of 'what is' healthy, instead of always knocking on the door that leads to the closet.

Lesson #3. I'm learning that I am not in control of my life, but I can make choices that enhance the positive outcome of that entity which is definitely 'in control'. I can't or refuse to regret the past nor will I shut the door on it. What's done is done, move forward and do the next right thing.

Lesson #4. I'm learning that 'being a man' has nothing to do with what I am, rather, it has to do with who I am. I can't stop or control what others think of me. I have to accept the idea that by speaking out against conformity is not going to always win the affection of people who accept conformity and live with in it. I'm very glad that you know what 'being a man' looks like, but remember, in the end, we will be remembered not by how well we were loved, but by how well we loved. Men in my family seem to be the hardest for me to relate to, but I accept that I will never win a membership to that club.

Lesson #5. "What have you done for me lately?" is unfortunately, a necessary evil in the halls of showbiz, capitalism, and competition, but shouldn't be the criteria for love amongst family and friendship. If a large part of your value system relies on money as a criteria for earning acceptance, then I will never belong to that club either. For some reason, ascertaining money has never really been that important to me, I can't help it, it's just my nature. Sometimes, it’s a huge frustration in my life, but I'm learning to just accept it. Poverty is not really as bad as it may seem to you, if you've never experienced it, you really won't know how it works. Sometimes, its sublime. I would rather be poor and have moments of euphoria with a creative rush, than rich, miserable, and angry all the time.

Lesson #6. I'm not really afraid of death. Note: I don't want to die right now, but after many, many brushes of death, I have accepted it as a part of this experience. I cannot live my life as though I'm not going to die. Looking death in the eye, alleviates fear, and either fortunately, or unfortunately, only increases my notion to risk. I have learned I can be smarter about risk, but not concerning my work and the notion of art. If my vision seems irrational to you, remember I have lived a lifetime of irrational behavior then, and I've met with colossal failure, but I've also had moments that can't be touched. Don't always assume that you know those moments, it may be that you've only seen the failure.

In the words of Jackson Browne "Don't confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them…" From 'These Days'.

Lesson #7. Pain is inevitable. Learning to embrace it is a journey that I'm looking forward to, for it too is a part of living and dying. Don't assume that you know what my pain is or what causes it. It just may be that we process and experience pain in a much different way. Much of the human experience is universal, but much of it is not. What creates and connects our relationship to each other in a powerful way is empathy. Empathy is the door to understanding, its necessary to build strong bridges. Empathy teaches us not to judge suffering, but to understand and embrace it.

These are a just a few of the lessons of fire. Goodnight.


Gerry said...

I decided to make a video partly in response to this entry. It will soon be uploaded. In it Doc explains why he is allergic to AA and why he drinks (due to his superiority he has to dumb down so he can stand the world). But I do think that if one way does not work, another must be tried both by the alcoholic and by those who have an interest in his continuing survival. Whatever works. Which might turn out to be many complex actions that keep the person challenged but not fatally tempted.
I do think that we get hung up on too many simplistic answers. I had to laugh at some columnist today who was noting that Rick Perry is too compassionate for the belligerent T-party group and must be meaner and more ignorant to get their approval. Which probably means they will get to pick a candidate this time, maybe, who will have to lose due to his extremes which will then put the T-party into a doubtful position, so it goes in politics as well as in life. I think complex answers work best for complex people who might find a too simplistic formula a too painful fit.

kanyonland King said...

I don't know that these lessons of fire aren't just lessons of life, that everyone needs to know. What can come out of fire is important if they keep you alive.