Monday, February 9, 2009

On Losing the Burn




It's cold, wet and shitty out. Thankfully the schools are closed so I won't get a call for work tonight. It's good to sit here in the den, and listen to the rain with Booger the Cat curled up at my feet. I mentioned this in the comments to yesterday's post, and I've brought it up frequently in exchanges across this knotwork of blogs. These pieces are old work, and I haven't produced anything new in a long time. As I mentioned this morning, I tried to re-draw the cloverleaf knot in the center of yesterday's picture, and I couldn't figure out how I did it. It's a little depressing.



I miss the creative burn. It sustained me, fed me in a way, for a very long time. From '87 on, I always had a project on the board. I'd finish a piece, frame it up, and spend about fifteen minutes enjoying the satisfaction before starting a new piece. I couldn't wait to get home from work so I could tune out the world, and tune in to working on what felt like my real job. There is a saying- be careful what you pray for. I always took that seriously, and never pray for gifts or goodies. Nonetheless I found it creeping into the morning prayer- I would like to be able to do this undisturbed by the necessity of doing the daily grind.



I was teaching high school English in Los Angeles. And I mean L.A., not the surrounding areas that usually get lumped in with the city itself. I chose to go there. I had the grades, and the recommendations to get me into a quiet Orange County district, but I felt like I had a mission. I didn't go into teaching to get summers off. I was full of altruism, and ideals, and dedicated to "making a difference".



The school was not as bad as some, but it was bad enough. Gang turf. Dozens of teen mothers. Usually one or more students per school year shot, and many more arrested. You didn't hang around there after dark. When you're in college, or listening to in-service speakers, or politicians what you hear is something to the effect that the only difference between an inner city school, and its suburban counterpart is the numbers on the parents' W-2, and the funding level from the state. If they only had more money and (of course) better teachers they would perform on a par with the best. That's bullshit. The raw, politically incorrect truth is that inner city schools are full of stupid ass, lazy kids from stupid ass, lazy parents. There are bright ones among them, and they do just fine. They work hard, graduate, and they get the hell out of there as soon as they can. But there is also a huge percentage of the student body on whom education is simply a waste of time and effort.



But I'm getting sidetracked here. The topic is the creative burn, synchronicity, and all that kind of metaphysical stuff. You can't force synchronicity. Neither can you rely on 'The Voice' to tell you what turns your life should take. The high school went year 'round, and I was stuck on a track that would put my breaks in the late spring, and the late fall. No more summers traveling on the Hog. So I jumped ship, and took a transfer out of the main high school into a continuation school nearby.


Wait a minute. This is not the story I set out to tell, and I really hate talking about this stuff. I just got back from taking a break, to run some errands, and I found myself shaking in the goddamn supermarket. I'm not going to cliff hang this into two posts either. It's going to come out now, or I'm just going to nuke it. Anyway-


Odd that I never saw it coming. The signs were all there. Teaching in continuation was less work, but no reward. Nobody did shit there. We ended up with an affirmative action principal who was worse than useless. He opened the door to the most hard core thugs in the area. The ****gang decided who could go to school there, and who couldn't.

When I say I never saw it coming- well, when I was in field service, and later in the office I got to a point where I actively hated the job. That never happened at the school. But I remember during that last school year that I found myself unable to eat. I would get hungry, but I had no appetite, and I had to force down food. I was living on diet coke, cigarettes, and making up calories with crap like Ensure. Couldn't sleep either. I'd lay down and fall about eighty percent asleep, and just hang that way until morning without ever getting any real rest. But I had the burn. I drew the pieces I've been including with these posts.


I threw some of the worst actors out of my class. That prompted a parent conference. Remember, in these neighborhoods the gang affiliation is generations deep. Mom and Dad, and even Grandma and Grandpa had been jumped in as soon as they were old enough to throw down. The parents threatened to shoot my ass right there in the principal's office, then went out and rallied all the students into an impromptu 'demonstration' on the street in front of the school. The principal got them diverted long enough for me to get in the car and jam out of there. That was my last day as a teacher.

I broke. I got home, and found myself curled up in a sobbing ball on my living room floor.

The parents filed a million dollar lawsuit against the district claiming I had assaulted them. (Well, in their defense I did raise my voice, and say "Listen Dammit!") And I couldn't pull out of it. Day after day I'd get up, and tell myself, "OK, that was bad, but I can deal with..." But I couldn't deal with... It just kept getting worse. Before I knew it the District sent the Workers Comp people to my door. I never called them. I became passive as a sheep. They said, "Go here", and I went there. And the hired gun shrinks whose job it is to smack down malingerers, and keep the district from paying out claims suddenly declared me an 'admitted case'. When I asked what that meant, no one would tell me. So I got a lawyer of my own. The next two years were a fog of depositions, mandatory visits to doctors, phony bio-feedback machines...


And the burn. The burn was my lifeline. I finished up the last Celtic piece, and Eadhmonn, the instructor from Elkins, found out about a guy in the San Fernando Valley who sold stone and tools from his house. I set up the stonecarving table in the back yard at my mother's house, and started working like a crazy man.



JWM

6 comments:

walt said...

Here's something to ponder:

In order for something to exist, there has to exist a "need." So the saying goes, "Without a need there is no reason."

My own most recent Big Burn, my nursery business, lasted over 20 years. During that time I worked at it every day. It was seasonal, so there were slower, quiet times, but I was always "on." Not responsible for it, but responsible to it. It ran me.

Like with your burn, I was completely engaged. It was the closest thing to "being alive" I've ever been. Of course, it very nearly killed me, too. I well remember the lousy diet, the shallow sleep (when I could sleep), etc, etc. It was "consuming" -- and worst of all, it consumed my spirit. I tried everything I knew to do to incorporate some spirit into the situation, but every attempt was squashed like a bug, by "business."

Still, there was a reason for doing it all: it needed to be done. It was my calling, and it came with requirements I couldn't trust to anyone else.

Now, re-turning to you, since this is your blog, after all -- if something (like, say, your art work) is not happening, then look to "Necessity," and you'll see why. Maybe you can find re-newed need -- even if you just "want" to -- or maybe someone needs you to do art work for them? If you can sell them, the "money thang" alone will create the need to produce them.

And you say you don't remember how to do the pictures, but I assure you: a part of you will remember, if you start back into it. The only real question is whether you need to -- which you alone can gno.

I'll say this: when I closed my business it was as though a door closed within myself; I do not think I could ever return. The Fire that burned so bright, burned out. Nicely, I'm pursuing a different sort of "heat" these days.

Sorry the whole thing nearly wrecked your health -- haha, we could swap tales, no doubt! But now, except for this little blogging "re-view" exercise, you've got your wits and several years of "potential" energy stored. Zoltan spoke to all of us: Do what you want. Do what you "need" to do, and you'll have a reason to do it.

Of course, you gnew that!


wv: moobel, 'til the cows come home!

mushroom said...

That's some sage advice from Sensai -- or possibly oregano.

Confirmed by word veri -- bransauc -- meaning, of course, art is your brain sauc ...

Or you need to eat more bran.(=8(

Seriously, I enjoyed reading that a lot more that you enjoyed going through it.

julie said...

This is not the story I set out to tell, and I really hate talking about this stuff.

Funny how that works, sometimes. Getting it out somehow becomes not an option, but an imperative (I bet Ben knows a thing or two about that).

Anyway, there's probably nothing I can add that Walt didn't already say better than I possibly could, but thank you for sharing this part of yourself. Even though you didn't want to.

It's cold, wet and shitty here, too - perfect night to stay in and curl up, listen to the rain, and let awareness take you where it will.

Robin Starfish said...

Your burn isn't lost at all; it's just reversed direction - enormous kinetic energy leaps off your pages as it unknots whatever tangles it has been wrapped in. It's crafting something new out of you because of what you sacrificed for it - returning you the favor as you become the work of art.

That's how it looks from this end anyway. It's your writing that carries the flame now - keep lighting it up.

Ricky Raccoon said...

This blogging thing may seem “so 2009” but Sam assures me it’s not all that different than a stack of stationary and pen. I think the larger deal beyond the blog is more like the entrance to a great cavern than a box of chocolates. That last one sounds too random for me.

How does a mouse find his cheese? Well, he follows his nose, of course, and he tries one way to see if it’s there and then another. But he doesn’t try any-old-way. Unless he has to. But one thing is for sure. There is cheese, and the guy who put it there made a way to get to it, and a space for the mouse to fit inside. Also, and this is key, I think: it doesn’t have to be cheese, it doesn’t have to be today and there actually is more than one series of trials and errors to get there. But they need to be gone through. In other words, I can’t get to C unless I pass through B.

Let’s jump back to the entrance of the cavern for a minute. In the lobby you see there are a number of different passageways. At the end of one you may find paintings, another music, another writing, a nursery, Celtic art, robots, or another passageway to a new land never seen by any man. Of these they are all valid, and any one of them you may find to be so fulfilling that you are convinced “this is it” and certainly “your destiny”. And you would be right. Because I think ultimately there is more than one destiny available to you, and then another after that one. I think that’s why we can sense a target but not know what it is, because there is more than one that will fit you at any given time or place.

I wrote this post:
What you do everyday

…and it may seem put-together well, by that I mean like everything fits as if that’s the only way it could be told. But it wasn’t always that way. The best thing about it was seeing all those years, the random unconnected images replaying in my head and not knowing how or if they fit. They just replayed randomly. I wasn’t even trying to get anywhere. I just watched and paid little attention. I didn’t know until it was “written out” that they had meaning and most importantly, that I could move beyond them. They seem settled now in this form – although parts from that story may fit into something larger down the road. So I’m paying attention to that too. Replaying them in my head only kept them from going further. I barely even noticed them. Some I hadn’t noticed at all, until I started making one sentence go to the next. That’s a big reason I keep writing. To see what happens next. This is not my vote for writing prose, but to keep writing what comes to you.

I vote this expedition continue.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"And the burn. The burn was my lifeline."

I can relate to that, John.
All my burns eventually burned out, prematurely, in that I can never go back due to the choices I made.

Of course, eventually, that would've happened anyway.
And yet, I can see purpose formed from all that. A purpose that's still essentially forming.

When I first started bloggin', it was prettymuch a love/hate relationship.
Now it's almost entirely love.

My Destiny has become the light that burns within me, and vice versa.

Or perhaps I should say, all the small paintings of my life are finished, and I'm now workin' on my Master's piece, ie the big picsure.

And no matter what kind of paint I'm using, or means, it's all a part of that Destiny, even if I couldn't write anymore, which is always a possibility, in the event my hands fail me again, or any number of things happen.

Anyways, I believe the love/hate thing, or love/strongly dislike will change into a work of love for you too. It will evolve into a higher calling...as it already has.

And that doesn't preclude what you already have burnt out on, 'cause Destiny has a Way of reviving stuff we long think is dead. :^)
The form may change but the Form remains the same.

It's your younique gifts that will coontribute to your Masters piece. It may be a gift you gno, or some gift(s) yet discovered, but it will happen. The choices yu make will have a huge influence on the essence and form your life takes. :^)

Man, I'm really wordy tonight. Heh.