Posts tagged Illustration
Posts tagged Illustration
“Are ye the ghosts of fallen leaves, o flakes of snow, for which, through naked trees, the winds a-mourning go?” - John Banister Tabb
There are those times in Life, one of which I am currently in, when the path forward seems to lead directly off the edge of a cliff. I stand before this one temporarily stunned, staring across that expanse of open air, at this unprecedented view of rolling fog that obscures everything but the drop below. My bare toes hover just over that edge, miles above any visible landing. It’s a beautiful sight, all that space, unimpeded by tangible obstacles; and it’s terrifying, so many new questions, and unforeseeable answers.
Some people say that in such moments we are faced with a choice: We can stand still, turn away, walk backwards or sideways, and find endless ways to remain on this side of that edge. We do not have to risk that terrifying step out into the unknown. But if we do want to move forward, not backwards, not sideways, there is only one way to go; we must lift our feet and take that trusting, terrified step, and do so with the faith that over that edge is not a plummet of doom, but the opportunity to soar.
They also say that if we are courageous enough, or insane enough, or desperate enough, and we move beyond our fears, move beyond the familiar, the comforting, the seemingly solid ground, and into that unfathomably open future one of three things will happen. One: something solid that was unseeable from our previous position will appear beneath our feet, and catch our faithful footfalls and allow us to continue walking. Two: someone or something will catch us in that freefall and lower us safely to the ground below, and allow us to continue walking. Or three: we will discover that we have wings, and we can fly.
I was recently talking with a friend about this cliff before me, of my gathering of what I need to step forward, of my natural terror of the coming fall, and this friend shared with me words she had recently heard about snowflakes… about how snowflakes, by their nature, fall with confidence and grace.
May I succeed, then, in borrowing snowflakes’ essence as I take these steps forward, over this edge, into that vast unknown. May the year 2013 be, for all of us cliff jumpers, our very own Year of the Snowflake, and may our falls be filled with natural confidence, and gentle grace.
“I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.” - Chuang Tzu
Maybe it’s because of the weather today, the thick clouds enshrouding the city, blocking the warm gleam of sun and bringing both light and shadow away from their extremes, closer to a common center. The expanse of sky seems improperly contained, palpable in some common, vulgar way, like a god enveloped in skin; uncomfortably transformed by ambient restrictions.
Yet transformation can take place under all types of skies, can require activity, or passivity, and sometimes both. Cycles of growth for both creatures and crystals can be revolutionary, such as birth to death — and perhaps to rebirth again—, or they can simply be evolutionary, like tree rings growing ever outward, or onions peeling closer to the core. These cycles can require great effort, as for butterflies struggling to be free of cocoons, or they can demand passivity, as for babes being drawn through a birth canal. They can even need both, as with snakes who passively grow a new skin within the old, but then must scrape and shiver the old husk away.
And, of course, each of these three processes can be greatly inhibited, even harmed, by the wrong action or inaction….
For example, for butterflies there is the old adage of The Emperor Moth: “A man found a cocoon of the emperor moth and took it home to watch it emerge. One day a small opening appeared, and for several hours the moth struggled but couldn’t seem to force its body past a certain point. Deciding something was wrong, the man took scissors and snipped the remaining bit of cocoon. The moth emerged easily, its body large and swollen, the wings small and shriveled. The man expected that in a few hours the wings would spread out in their natural beauty, but they did not. Instead of developing into a creature free to fly, the moth spent its life dragging around a swollen body and shriveled wings. The constricting cocoon and the struggle necessary to pass through the tiny opening are Nature’s way of providing the butterfly the strength to fly. The ‘merciful’ snip was, in reality, cruel. Sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need.”
Yet, with babes passivity is actually the best way to emerge from the womb. If babes struggle too much, or if they tumble within the womb and emerge feet first, not only are their eyes, ears, and mouth the last part of them to meet their new world, but the breech birth can greatly endanger both the babe and the mother as the child is pushed free.
And with serpents, just before they molt, while their old skin still fully encases the new, their eyesight is significantly impeded by the excess layer. At this stage, snakes are partially blind, and vulnerable, until they have shaken free their old, too-small skin, and are once again in proper balance with the world around them.
For me, the most unpleasant transformations are those when I don’t know which of the three I am experiencing. Is my current discomfort due to not moving enough, to struggling when I should be still, or to temporary blindness that can only be removed by the proper combination of both movement and rest? Or does the discomfort signal nothing at all? Because, after all, discomfort does not always mean that something is “wrong”. Sometimes a process is, by nature alone, uncomfortable. Not all growth can be effortless, like hair getting longer, or noses getting bigger. Discomfort might be neither protest nor warning, but merely be the unavoidable ache of bones knitting, or the oversensitivity of new skin.
Today, as the sky darkens and the clouds press ever closer, as rain begins to streak the windowpanes and muffle the world under a steady thrum, I know only that I am transforming, and that I feel weary and nearly spent by the process; that I have had quite enough of my current blindness. I want confirmation on which way to turn, whether it is time to push, pull, wriggle, or simply relax and let external forces move me forward. Am I butterfly, beast, or babe?
Whichever of the three, I have been in similar discomfort before. I know that eventually I will emerge. I know that there is some future day, hopefully near, when I will be once again able to breathe freely, deeply, to infuse my body with fresh, clean air, and see the sun shining within an endless blue sky. And on that day, I will sing with the Beatles, an enthusiastic Happy (re)Birthday for us all: http://youtu.be/MjF1bG5LUcs
“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” - James Bovard
I grew up in a family of intelligent Independents, an environment that fostered an early belief that local and national election choices were not decided by influential sound-bites, manipulative platforms, or religious doctrines, but rather by studying each candidate’s backgrounds and skills, by noting the present state of local, national and international affairs, and then by choosing which person on the current ballot seemed best equipped for the job at hand.
These days, it seems instead that each election pushes both candidates and voters into increasingly distant and segregated extremes. Most candidates seem to obscure their individual strengths and expertise, and instead act as puppets, surrendering entirely to party-declared stances and over-simplified, over-polarized propaganda and pandering. With each election this leaves me, as a voter, feeling increasingly forced out of any real choice. If I believe in freedom on matters A or B, I can only vote Republican. If I believe in C or D, then Democrats are my sole supporters. Heaven help me if I dare to see that A and C are not opposites as the attack ads claim, and that neither B or D will resolve anything, but we actually need E instead.
Well-funded minorities claim that there is no middle ground: Agree blindly with “us” and you will be saved, or you are “them” and hell awaits you. To me, this is not voting. This is putting a coin into the slot of a machine rigged by people who don’t care what I think, who don’t care what is best for this country, who don’t care about the countries we impact. Even the coin itself now feels like a foil-covered candy confection, one that the machine-riggers would prefer that I eat, and not use to vote at all.
Perhaps I’m being naive. Perhaps the machine was always rigged, and it is simply more obvious now. The manipulators found ways to legalize their fraud, so they no longer need to hide behind aliases and subtlety. Or perhaps such pessimism is their goal. Pessimism keeps people inactive; it maintains and spreads a loss of faith manipulators find quite useful. Pessimism discourages voters from looking beneath the propaganda, from thinking, from deciding for themselves. Pessimists easily abandon the expectation that their vote will have any meaningful impact.
I can’t swallow that option. I don’t accept the claims of “us” vs “them”. I care enough to educate myself beyond the press releases and sensationalized sound-bites. I refuse to hand over my power to those so intent on making me believe that my power doesn’t exist. It does exist, and it is much stronger than they realize.
“So you see! There’s no end to the things you might know, depending how far beyond Zebra you go.” - Dr. Seuss
Zebrafish are rather amazing little creatures, and provide profound insight for a remarkable number of fields of scientific research. Their uniquely clear-walled eggs provide handy windows for researchers wanting to observe embryonic development (even the fish themselves stay clear for days after hatching). Zebrafish can regrow their own heart - without scarring - within just two months of having a large section removed; they help cancer researchers study the spread of cancers in which a specific gene promotes cell growth; they can be genetically modified to lose their sense of gravity; they are even providing neuroscientists with new insights into how creatures like us learn, or why we don’t.
From egghood to adulthood, these fascinating fish provide x-ray goggles into how we grow, physically and mentally. Which leaves me to wonder, what if the insights they provide could be metaphoric, even spiritual, as well?
What if, for example, we had undeniable proof that it is possible for our emotional/spiritual heart to recover from what may at first seem a devastating loss? Perhaps not in two months - we are after all more complex than zebrafish - but what if we really believed that emotional wounds could fully heal, without scarring, if properly treated? Would that fact alone allow more sufferers of “heart-attacks” to find the faith they needed to start and stay on a road to healing?
And what about those times when we lose our own sense of gravity, of where the ground is, of which way is up… Could understanding and accepting the mechanics of how we learn allow us to discover the seeds of desired change and insight within even the most difficult, perhaps traumatic, experiences?
What if our own cell walls, which can appear to separate us from others and from the world, were no longer opaque? What if they became clear, and we remained clear even after we shed them, and this new visibility allowed us each to recover the knowledge that we are not alone, that we belong, and that we are an important, integral part of everything around us?
Perhaps we could finally delight in seeing within… as far beyond Zebra as we were willing to go.
“I pull you from your tower, take away your pain. Show you all the beauty you possess, if you only let yourself believe.” - Sarah McLachlan
I think it may have started in 1999, with a question, which led to another, as so many things do…
Perhaps something reminded me of the original fairy tale, or perhaps it was an article about the Rapunzel syndrome, but something made me wonder… What if it hadn’t been the witch that locked Rapunzel in the tower? What if everyone was wrong… even the prince? What if it had been Rapunzel herself that had done it? If so, why? And what could possibly make her choose to leave it?
Soon after that the seeds of Elysium began to sprout. Or, if I describe it more accurately, Elysium found me. Stalked me. Pushed and tugged and pestered me, until I finally began to write.
I believe that there are many kinds of storytellers in this world. Sometimes the storytellers create the story, their very own thought experiment, and the journey is quite of their own making. I’m not that kind of storyteller. Instead, it feels like the stories find me; sometimes because I have asked a specific question, sometimes because I hum a note similar enough to their own that they believe I can hear them clearly, translate them accurately, and help them reach the people that they are looking for, or who are looking for them.
My responsibility is then one of fitness, rather than control. My role is to study the craft of writing, to keep my skills strong and flexible, and then be willing to be used. To let the stories reach inside me and take whatever they need to emerge. If they are angry, I must be willing to feel angry and observe how it feels, so that I can choose the right words. If they weep, I must weep; if they need to make mistakes in order to grow, I must relive my own such moments too… It is neither easy, nor comfortable; it can be as exhausting as it is rewarding. But I would not want it any other way; we did, after all, choose each other. We both have our selfish reasons.
This week I finished the marketable draft, ready for the eyes of agents and editors, of Elysium: Crown’s Folly, book one of the action-fantasy trilogy that first began stalking me in 1999. It did not take me that many years to write it, but it did take me that long to become who the story needed me to be. So that it had the right fuel, and could finally ignite.
“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” - Henry David Thoreau
This week, I found myself browsing dream symbol sites, looking for clues about what my subconscious might be trying to tell me with its stranger-than-usual presentation of my own legs in a recent nocturnal episode of What’s Really On My Mind.
The meanings of legs in dreams range as widely as dream symbols tend to do, and I’ll admit that I’m still not certain what my subconscious was trying to bring to my attention, but I did particularly enjoy the parting lines of one website, which inspired the doodle above: “Leg dreams may appear when we are learning new things, going through a phase of growth and development, where it can feel like we are learning to walk all over again. But remember, we must learn to walk before we run. And then when we can run, we can learn to fly.”
“Inspiration may be a form of superconsciousness, or perhaps of subconsciousness — I wouldn’t know. But I am sure that it is the antithesis of self-consciousness.” Aaron Copland.
I always have a pile of seemingly unrelated books on my nightstand, usually at least half a dozen, in English and Spanish, whose pages attempt to satisfy a lifelong addiction to library-induced bliss.
My current non-fiction favorite is titled Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, by Stephen Nachmanovitch and is a book that I would recommend to anyone interested in bringing inspiration into daily living, whether it be through one’s career or relationships, whether one be artist or CEO. Already halfway through, I continue to find gems on every page, and am deeply grateful for Stephen having taken the time to gather these thoughts in such an approachable and uplifting volume.
In a week where inspiration has quite literally been waking me up at night, pulling me again and again to my computer keyboard to tap through the pages of my current novel, I am grateful to be reminded of the power of play in the creative process, of how simply surrendering to that pull profoundly enhances a creation that seems to be dragging me along for the ride, constantly surprising me, continuously expanding beyond any conscious expectations, as long as I just keep typing — and let the muses play.