Strange traveling dreams last night. I was running down an unfamiliar street, trying to get to the ocean. I ran inside a strange boutique with all kinds of antiques. I ask the woman who worked there how I could get to the ocean. She laughed and showed me a secret passage way that went deep down into the building. There were no stairs to get down, and she laughed again, and then she told me to stay a moment. We sat down on an old velvet covered couch and she held my hand and looked directly into my eyes. A theatre troupe showed up, but they were hostile that I was sitting there, so I left, walking up the unfamiliar streets, (but not unpleasant ones). I suddenly remembered I had forgotten my guitar, but as I turned back, the shop was gone, she was gone—the whole damned street had changed as only dreams can alter in a split-second.
It's interesting now, when I have a dream, (now that I am paying attention) that some of them are clear directives, and some of them are only meant to be enjoyed and remembered for the symbolism and odd architecture. The one thing that stood out was how good it felt when the woman held my hand. Perhaps this is an image of things to come? I'm not really sure, but it sure felt comfortable in that moment, until the theatre company came in and didn't want me there. (Theatre can be a hostile place or the best place). I suppose the ocean is symbolic for where I really want to be, but the journey is fraught with passageways that lead nowhere but down, and the antiques are memories of the past, I suppose, (I'm finding meaning as I meander along). There was panic when I left my guitar, but when I turned to retrieve it, everything had changed. Perhaps it’s the thought of losing the only thing of value that I have, the one thing with intrinsic meaning.
Yesterday afternoon, I was showing someone the value of the book, On the Road, (I had seen a trailer of the film coming out) and was going through each one of the characters and talking about them. It's amazing how much I remember about the book. I suppose that is the power of art and especially for me, the written word, it can have such a profound effect on the reader at a specific time in life. I've mentioned before that my mother could always give me the right book at the right time. I read On the Road when I was probably sixteen, and fortunately or not, it sent me reeling into some pretty wild symmetry. I could definitely tell you some road stories with 'the boys' of Escalante and elsewhere, who were living a hundred miles an hour, fueled by whiskey, speed, and anything we could get our hands on. And like On the Road, so many of those boys are dead and dying. I keep wondering why I'm alive. That fact is probably owned by the willingness to create something out of the ashes of excess and raucous living, and there were always attempts to quell the tiger that ran to the jungle. I suppose my family has lost memory of the struggle I have dealt with all of my life. I don't think they look at the works of Jackson Pollock, Francis Bacon, de Kooning, Jack Kerouac, Anne Sexton, or Tennessee Williams very often. I do because I identify closely with these artists. Although I identify readily with the self-destructive parts, I also identify with the will to live in each one of them despite the issues that pursued them. It isn't self-destruction that fuels art, rather, it’s the will to live and create in spite of it. It’s the will to put it on canvas or on paper to better understand it and get it out. I believe much of the penchant for self destructive behavior is in the sub-conscious, and the only way to understand it is to stand it up in front of you like a mirror, so you can come face to face with it.
When I go back and look at Jackson Pollock's paintings, I can see all of his attempts to arrest the demons, in between one episodic drunk after another. He was always trying to get to the ocean as well, and his journey was fraught with the traps and foibles that a drunk will encounter. But there are the magical places in between where he was able to paint with such force and clarity, yes, clarity. There is many a drunk and addict who can see this clarity in his work. When he finally saw the ocean, he couldn't handle the wide expanse of possibility, and at last, he failed in success the same way he ultimately failed in obscurity. But he left something that is still alive on the canvas, I believe that. de Kooning made his black and white paintings because that was the only paint he could afford (black) during the drunk and often raucous years. Later, he painted into his Alzheimer's disease, and no one could figure out whether it was genius too. But I'll tell you something, when my father had Alzheimer's, he couldn't remember what happened a minute ago, but when he sang he never forgot a lyric, EVER! I marveled at that genius!
Saturday night, after playing at the restaurant, I came home and saw on my Facebook news line that an actor that I once knew, (not very well) had committed suicide at forty-seven years old. I had an anxiety attack, perhaps the dark subconscious springing up within me at the understanding of such despair that one could take his own life. I understand that feeling. Most days, I fight it with an optimistic scan of the future, or like many a writer, I write it out of me. There are many times I have the image of thirty some odd plays, stacked up on a kitchen table, the remnants of me after I am gone. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is a real one. I can live with the idea of obscurity, (with brief brushes of notoriety), what is hard for me is coming face to face with the fact that my work does have symmetry and form. But like some of my forebears, it has the symmetry that is perhaps difficult to understand within the life of someone who has not sought to escape demons. I was discussing this fact with someone, (I will keep his name out of it) that the problem with the self-destructive desire to create art, is that not many are actually getting the work done. It isn't that the self-destruction is not authentic, it's just that the work or the pursuit of it is not there. As a result, many a young artist-in-training are dying at alarming rates, (mostly overdoses of prescription medications). Note to young artists who have the gene: Fight the demons, but DO the work, it will keep you alive!
I can live with the idea that for most people, the work is not something they would pursue, but like a friend of mine who is as disciplined of an artist as I've ever known, (but constantly fighting poverty) at this point in our lives, what would we do? He is the one writer that I know who has kept away from the self-destructive nature of drink and drug, but that doesn't mean he isn't always trying to keep his demons at bay. We live with our choices, and all we asked is that there is an understanding between us.
Lastly, Kerouc's quote, (that I've read a dozen times posted by young artists) “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…” When you are quoting this, remember that Kerouac died a horrible alcoholic death, an esophagal hemorage, (bled out from the inside) and I love Kerouac's writing, (the earlier work) as much as you do, but keep in mind that self-destruction and its penchant for taking you in as dramatic ways as you might be living, is a much harder on the road than at least, fighting the fight to stay alive and clean, (don't worry, if you've lived long enough, you will have plenty to write or paint about,) but you can't live long enough if you burn too long like a roman candle. Just keep that in mind, and in fact, dying in your sleep on an overdose of oxycontin is a coward's way out, instead, live, and fight the good fight. And for God's sake, don't push the envelope of self destruction if it is not in you, thank your lucky stars that you can escape it, let me tell you, it’s a hellish way to live and work.
I'm sorry I got a little preachy, but hell, I'm just telling you what I already know, and perhaps this morning, I miss my students, who loved to hear about Jackson Pollock or Francis Bacon in the morning hour of class, and who had the capacity to think about it for the rest of the day. Now, too think about the ocean, and what I'll do when I get there. Maybe I'll do what Ellie wanted to do if she made it there, (from my play Under the Desert) "I'd take a six pack of crème soda and some salt water taffy and sit, drinkin' and thinkin' about the ocean…"