Monday, September 10, 2007
The Three Ps
When I was a teenager and hitch-hiked everywhere, I learned the lesson about letting go. It was a quasi-spiritual revelation, and more than likely drug induced, but it still applies. The letting go thing was uncanny. When you're standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere for hours at a stretch, you get a lot of time to think.
One of the things you're thinking about, of course, is how to get somebody to stop and give you a ride. You start to develop a psychology, and if you spend enough time out there, hitch-hiking long distances, you develop a lot of theories. Theories about everything, but especially about hitching, which in turn become about everything. Things like: needy is unattractive; and that hard-to-get could be surprisingly more effective. You don't want to look desperate, but instead like picking you up would make their day. Of course, some people actually wanted you to make their day, or night, and I found that polite but firm worked just fine when saying no. No, thank you.
But the real lesson I learned was about letting go. Whenever I let go, I got a ride. Every time. Never failed. Well, almost never failed, as I remember it(not hard to tell yourself you haven't REALLY let go). So much so that the huge temptation is to tell yourself you have let go even when you haven't. Yes, I have let go, so pleeeeeease pick me up. Dead give-away is of course telling yourself. If you're telling yourself, you're not letting go. You can't fake letting go. We all want to; we all try to, but it never works, and for obvious reasons. You have to really let go.
I love the trying thing. To this day I know people who are convinced you get points for trying. I ask them to show me where it shows up in the box score, and of course they can't, but the denial is so HUGE.
For all our might we want to saying trying counts for something. We want to say: but look, I tried. Doesn't wash. Never has. The reality is that as hard as we try to sell it to everyone else, we won't buy it when someone tries to sell it to us. If the pilot comes on the loud speaker and says: I'm sorry, I tried to get us to Denver, but how's Toledo? NO WAY! Doesn't fly. Sorry.
We keep trying with the trying nonetheless. I ask you though, show me a time when trying doesn't really mean failure? We say "I tried" instead of "I failed." Check this out: I tried to save my marriage. What does that really tell you? I'm divorced! How about: we tried to win the game? We lost. Do it, with anything. He tried to swim across the lake. He tried to climb the mountain. He tried to pass the bar. Didn't, didn't, didn't.
Otherwise we just say: I saved my marriage; we won the game; he swam across the lake; he climbed the mountain; he passed the bar. We're supposed to try. We're not supposed to talk about it. It is supposed to be understood. Trying is the language of failure. Lose it.
In all fairness, I have to add, sometimes trying seems like all you want to do. Like trying is just enough, any more would put too much pressure on the situation. We don't really care about results. It is a variation on: it is the thought that counts. It is trying that counts. Not results. I didn't really want to save my marriage, I just wanted to try. Maybe then I won't feel so guilty. It is a guilt-free way of removing results from the equation. If trying is enough, then, of course, you didn't really try, you didn't even really want to try. Maybe all the trying in the world wouldn't have made a difference, which of course only makes my point that much more. This is when letting go, really letting go, comes in handy.
We have to know when trying won't ever get it done, and stop. Stop trying. Let go. A scary idea for most of us. Trying seems a lot easier to swallow. Trying and failing. At least I tried. The funny thing is, letting go has a way of getting results of course. Really letting go. Something's going to happen. Something for the best. But you have to let go.
Reminds me of this joke an artist friend of mine told me when he really wanted to get into this one gallery, about the guy who gets a flat in the middle of the night and doesn't have a jack. He sees a farmhouse in the distance and as he goes towards it he imagines again and again that the farmer won't let him borrow his. By the time he gets there and the farmer politely answers the door, he tells the poor farmer that he can take his jack and shove it. It is the wanting that gets us in trouble time and again. Wanting, trying, and the guilt are all part of the same stinky ball of wax.
Which gets me to the three Ps. Came to me in a dream, funnily enough. Perseverance, patience, and peace. Works in hitch-hiking; works in painting; works in everything. Don't want, don't try, no guilt, just do, and love doing it! We do it, "just DO it(deep down even the most stubborn and ornery know the fun is in the doing)," and let come what may.
Again, do whatever it is you do as an artist(no one can take that away from you). Don't want results, don't try, and that means success, appreciation, recognition, respect, gallery, money, any of it. Don't feel guilty because you're surrounded by idiots who think that those are the measures of being an artist(the guy who came up with "eyes on the prize" was of course blinded by want, and should have had his eyes poked out with a stick). You know better. Trust yourself. Just do, and be happy. Peace.
Why an artist like Rothko, whose work represented nothing if not this very idea of faith, should have folded so badly in the end, should give us all pause, and make these three Ps that much more imperative. Whatever else happened to him and so many other artists, whatever caused him to abandon the two essential principles of faith: I can do it, and It will be ok, I'll never know, but this is why we call the straight and narrow the razor's edge. Rothko is now more than anything a cautionary tale.
When you stumble, when your green grass has been taken from you, get it back. Somehow, someway. And know that it will come back, somehow and someway. I'm an atheist but the religious proverb: god helps those who help themselves, resonates with these principles. You can do it, and it will be ok. A two part harmony. Perseverance and patience; and peace.