Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Keep the faith; forget the rest!

Rule number 2 comes right after Rule number 1(which is that there are no rules). 

Rule number 2:make yourself; don't let anyone else make you anything, because they can't without your consent. Don't let anyone make you unhappy, or crazy, or the bad guy, or a guru, or a saint, or a black sheep, and especially: don't let anyone make you a rebel! Rebels are condemned to servitude. Slaves. B to the other's A. A goes left and B can only go right. That is the sad myth of the rebel. They will never be free; they will always be fighting for freedom, which of course means what: that they aren't free. This stuff bears repeating.

Art has always been the sanctuary of the rebel. Art attracts rebels like San Francisco attracts crazies. Where else can they go? But the rebel is a myth. The rebel is B to the oppositions A. The rebel is in opposition. Don't be a rebel! The rebel is the classic victim, just in denial. The rebel deludes themselves into thinking that they are powerful, when the opposite is true. They are the victim.

So many of us think everything is paper/plastic. That we have no choices. Just two options. Either/or. For or against. Paper/plastic. The classic Western dichotomy, although the Easterns have their version of the black and white polemic: yin and yang. The Greeks saddled us with this thing, this symmetry, this duality, this either or. But we have to consent to it to make it true, to make it our master. To say that it is the ultimate male construct probably goes without saying. It is the way our minds work best because it is the ultimate oversimplification, and the ultimate neurosis as a result. It is the ultimate mind game. Men have historically been frustrated by the failure of women and children to get on board with this. On board is part of it. It takes consent, or force.

It is the fork in the road. I'm really guilty of that one. I'm always talking about the fork in the road. It took my family to get me to get back to myself, to get back to my off-road self. Life often seems to place us at the fork in the road, but it is what one might call the established authority that wants us to accept this dilemma-oriented view of life. If we conform, make the correct choice, we are good, accepted, in the flock; but if we make the other turn, the bad choice, against the grain, then we are rebel, cast out. We are not free. Door one and we are embraced, door two and we get shunned. It doesn't matter what is behind either door, really. At a different time and place they can actually switch. 

Again, consent is the thing. I've told this story before. When I was a kid I didn't do my homework. I figured they took enough of my time when I was in school, and when I went home I had better things to do. I went in my studio and painted. At Exeter I did the same thing. It caused a stir. I skipped sports after lunch and went to the art building and painted. I made my own choice. I wasn't rebelling. I had something better to do. You have to just say get out of my way. People flip out. Teachers, headmasters, they flip out. Anarchy! What if everyone did that? That is always the argument, isn't it? Well, let's find out, no?

So was I oblivious? What is that? Can you be more aware by choosing a form of obliviousness? I believe we can choose to preserve qualities like innocence and this obliviousness. I think another word for these things might be faith. When you're out in the middle of the ocean or a lake, well, you could drown. What is going to get you to shore? Swimming hard, yes, but maybe not. If you can float, you can take your time and find your way. Floating is the best way to find your center, your breath, your faith. The "I can do this." You can't panic. You can't lose your breath. I know about this. I've drowned.

There is a cartoon of a guy in hell whistling and one devil says to the other "We aren't getting to this guy."  I've always related to it. I was that guy. It is the do your own thing no matter what or where you find yourself thing. It is survivors who didn't let surviving or the thing they survived define them; and these people are often described as people of faith. Faith is a hell of a thing, no pun intended. It is not rational. You get on a plane and it is a hunk of metal that sometimes goes down. Faith is not denial. Faith does not say we are not going to crash. Faith says, if we crash, then it has been a great ride! Faith does not mask reality. Faith accepts that thing about reality about which we have no control. I accepted the consequences of not doing my homework or not going to sports. You make your choices and you live with them. If other people are jumping up and down about it, well, that is their choice. We can't get caught up in what others are jumping up and down about no matter how much they try to make us.

So here comes my Richard Tuttle Asshole moment no. 322. It really bugged Tuttle that I didn't conform to these sorts of forks in the road. He would chuckle about my naive belief that I didn't have to be a rebel, that I just did my own thing. He called it me trying to change the system from within, which he didn't believe was possible.  Anyway, I wasn't trying to make that kind of change. The rebel kind. Richard was a rebel. So Richard would try to teach me some protocol. He even gave me a demonstration of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, complete with priceless tea bowls in his crappy 11th Avenue apartment where he lived like a hillbilly. He tried to impress upon me that if you didn't do the right number of turns of the bowl, you were insulting your host beyond belief. I didn't care. I wasn't impressed. Richard's neurosis was that once you know the rules you only have two choices; to accept or reject them. To go along or rebel. 

This sort of thinking is a trap of course. The great philosophical trap. It is a closed construct. You can't get on the outside according to the powers that be.  Faith here is absurd. Faith is anathema. It was to Tuttle. Bush thinking: you're either for us or against us. He, Tuttle, tried to teach me some reality, some "ways of the world" stuff,  some protocol, some etiquette, some manners that my parents had apparently overlooked. He was so frustrated that I failed to accept the logic of this "the way things are done" stuff that he thought was so inescapable, that he finally shunned me. His parting words were scribbled on a drawing he sent me:"I don't want to be your alter ego." How telling. How perfect. 

Of course  I never consented to be his alter ego, anymore than I ever consented to do my homework. This was not my idea, it was his. I couldn't make him be my alter ego. That required his consent. He set himself up as a guru all by himself. He misunderstood my curiosity. I never consented to the guru thing. I had something better to do. I was being his friend. One of many, of course. I often refer to him as my one and only mentor precisely because he turned out not to be a friend. I knew plenty of older artist friends who somehow thought that they were my mentors, but not so. I only thought of them as friends. I suppose it would be accurate to describe Tuttle as someone I once knew a little that talked with me a lot. And I liked that. I like conversation.

But...consent is the thing!

Make yourself. Don't let anyone make you anything. If that makes you weird to them, then so be it. It doesn't make you weird or a rebel because they call you that. This is your life. If you are an artist you can do what you like, what you believe, what you love, what you are curious about, what you can imagine, what you feel. You can do what you feel like. I grew up being constantly informed that doing what you felt like was bad and selfish, and having a mind of your own was not a good thing but instead a nuisance. 

I didn't conform to these people, but I didn't rebel either. I just did what I did, and strangely enough always managed to prove them wrong, without intending to do so. I had better things to do. Your choices don't have to be to conform or rebel. Life is round. It is a rainbow of colors. If everyone in the room thinks you should be one thing or another, that is their problem. If they get angry, or punish you, or shun you, that is their problem. It only becomes your problem with your consent. Don't give it. Have faith. Have better things to do. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like this post. This has been my philosphy too, though I am not an artist. I did not non-conform just to do so, nor did I conform if it meant giving up part of myself. If it didn't and there was some other reason (such as maintaining interspersonal harmony)that was important to me, I did. How refresshing to hear you say this! I have kids in college and some of the things they and their friends think appall me, including how other people "make" or "let' or "don't let" them do something. I like your phrase "make yourself." C P S cuz in OH