Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Spiritual life

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

May 5, 2008
Everyone says the print media is suffering from competition with the Internet, and I agree, not for the reasons usually cited but, compared with the Internet where you're in control of content, magazines are depressing—calculated to make readers feel inadequate in ways that only retail therapy can alleviate, thereby selling ads. Vogue makes me feel I’m not young or thin enough, Vanity Fair that I’m not rich or fucked up enough, and New York that I’m not New York-y enough (have you been to all the new tapas bars? well I have, nyah nyah). Then a friend gave me an old copy (Nov. ’07) of Shambhala Sun magazine, and that made me feel even worse because if I, a meditator from way back, haven’t attained the inner peace Shambhala Sun is promulgating, I can’t blame it on circumstance: it’s totally my fault. Obviously I’m not trying hard enough—or I’m trying too hard not to try. Either way…

BUT (surprise, surprise!) Shambhala Sun has ads for things that can make it all better, which made me realize that anything can be commodified, even doing nothing.

So I could buy incense, spend $99 to $149 on a meditation timer, take any number of expensive workshops or maybe what I need is a buckwheat-filled meditation cushion with a memory foam insert (I did not make this up)—price undisclosed. Then there’s a series of articles about people who are just too good to be true: so calm, realized and serene that they’re totally boring and by comparison, despite meditation, my life seems complex, convoluted, and so full of drama that it could be the next installment of "Gossip Girl"—and it’s all my fault. One of the articles was a profile of Leonard Cohen, a 40-year student of Buddhist meditation. He used to be screwed up but now, older and wiser, “nothing unsettles him” and he’s worried that his songs are now “too cheerful.” I wonder if he has memory foam.

I once had an affair with a poet who had only one CD; it was by Leonard Cohen and had "Suzanne" on it. I mean I like Leonard Cohen and everything but…it was a short affair.

October 5, 2007
I’m just back from the city, where all artists talk about is how much they hate the art they see. I’m just as guilty as anyone else, and explaining the situation over Indian lunch to a friend who’s a food writer, I asked her to imagine how she’d feel if all of a sudden no one cared about what food tasted like or how it was presented, but only wanted to know about celebrity chefs, who’s eating at what restaurants, and the outrageous prices they’re paying for their meals.

So I went to bed with this art malaise swirling around in my head and by the time I woke up at 4:00 a.m. I’d decided to throw it all over and become a Buddhist nun. I already have short hair, and the idea of wearing sensible shoes and hanging out with Pema Chodron was very appealing. Then I remembered, from my hippie days, a place called Findhorn in Scotland, which is said to have such great spiritual energy that plants there grow to enormous size. The Scots have great accents, a good sense of humor, nationalized medicine and probably less severe weather than I’d find at Pema’s abbey in Nova Scotia, so I thought, perfect, I’ll move there. After deciding to buy a small cottage and spend the rest of my days raising cucumbers the size of kayaks, I roused myself out of bed, went to look up Findhorn on the Web and found—quel surprise!—that Findhorn has been commodified like everything else. “Experience Week—Seven days that can change your life” is required for entry, and costs, on a sliding scale, L365 to L505 (that’s at least $730 to $1010 to you and me) for a program that includes a work component. You can also take guest workshops with the likes of Caroline Myss and James Finley, who are on a New Age circuit where the same ten or fifteen names pop up no matter where on the planet you are—just as you can go to any art fair or museum in the world and see the work of the same ten or fifteen artists. The regimented daily schedule at Findhorn reminded me of when I was ten and at Camp Toowendawee, where the only thing I liked was being away from my parents.

Since I have no parents to bug me here I've decided to stay put for the time being, even if it means I have to finish my painting. If I want McSpirituality I can always drive up the road to Kripalu, where the vegetarian cafeteria meal has recently gone from $10 to $18, and to grow bigger vegetables in this hot, dry October, I’ll buy a sprinkler.
May 28, 2007
I’m reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart—well, not actually reading it, but picking it up every so often, and whatever I randomly open it to seems to address what I’m feeling at the moment.

From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death….trying to flatten out all the rough spots into a nice, smooth ride. To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake, is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to always be in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together.

We want to be perfect but we keep seeing our imperfections….

Isn’t this like art? We see all the imperfections in what we’re doing, everything that doesn’t work, yet if we ever do get it together, if we finally do know what we are doing, at that moment our work dies. There’s a lot of dead art out there, a lot of dead artists walking around, and not necessarily old artists either. Sometimes art dies before it even has a chance to be born—I see this a lot in graduate schools, where everyone’s trying way too hard, and there’s an emphasis on being able to explain what we’re doing. Let’s face it, none of us can explain what we’re doing because what we’re doing is completely absurd. We’re making things that have no reason for being—unless we can imbue them with such life that they transcend reason.