Friday, September 14, 2007

I See Dick Cheney

I keep seeing Dick Cheney. Well, not exactly. I keep seeing balding white men with glasses, a curled lip and an expression of smoldering dissatisfaction. I saw the first one in a restaurant called Suzanne’s in Ojai, California. He was ignoring a woman I took to be his wife in the outdoor patio facing a lush garden replete with pale pink roses and a stone fountain. It was a beautiful mid-August night. Many couples seemed to be celebrating some occasion, as we were, chatting and smiling, sharing bites of their meals with one another. Dick Cheney’s wife seemed to tolerate his gradual retreat into glacial remoteness with calm resignation. Maybe he had a legitimate beef. Maybe the service was slow or the food not up to his expectations.
Why did I even notice him? We were having a lively discussion, enjoying the ambience, the unusual appetizers, the celebration of our 28th wedding anniversary. I noticed because one of the elements that make a restaurants a fun place to celebrate is the energy of others, the general good will and happiness, the sense of sharing at a little distance with others through a smile, an acknowledgement. Seeing and being with others who are in a state of pleasure and enjoyment amplifies my own. The warmth that emanates from other people in such a public setting is something we take for granted but it is important. It is a way we each can contribute to the common good in a simple and modest way. Sometimes we take it further, when eyes meet or by an appreciate glance. Sometimes a compliment or comment of recognition: “Oh, that entrĂ©e looks great, which one is it?”
So I noticed Dick Cheney because his light was out. I felt a chill. Not the feeling of annoyance that follows the ring of a cell phone and subsequent conversation. This was more a perception of absence. The look on his face convinced me that this man was in angry retreat from the human condition. His wife, abandoned, stared off into the distance.
Since that night I’ve seen Dick Cheney in a car stopped at a red light, hands clenching the wheel, eyes as flat as coins, mouth in a thin tight line. I saw him on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago striding along aggressively, crossing against the light as if daring someone to hit him.
I believe life is about call and response. The spark in each of us calls out to that in others to reassure us we are not alone, we are all together in the complicated mystery of life. I worry that if Dick Cheney multiplies, the world will grow too cold to sustain life. Each time I feel that chill, a sense of cold anger, I wonder if this is a trend, like the opposite of global warming, human tundra syndrome. I fear the simple glance or smile is not enough to bring Dick Cheney back. More desperate measures may be in order. Is this like the die off of the honeybees? I want to study this problem. Why is Dick Cheney multiplying? And, can anything be done?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Creative Work is Not a Luxury

Since I closed Studio Pardes about four years ago, my last foray into a public presence, I have accepted that writing is my primary work in the world and I have accepted that everything else, no matter how worthy, must arrange itself around that center for me to function well.
Today there is a mixture of cooler air beginning to infiltrate the muggy heaviness of Oak Park in August, the promise of sweaters just hinting. I have been writing every morning for three hours for about a year now, so I am able to keep some commitments, even if I can’t get myself to blog every week. That little bit of cool air started me thinking about my relationship to my creative work and the balance with other work in the world that we all try to do, whether its volunteering at a homeless shelter, picking up trash on a daily walk, or calling our congress people on a regular basis and participating in the democracy. It can sometimes seem like creative work is somehow an indulgence and work done directly in service to others or the world more ‘serious’ or important.
Lisa Longworth, a fellow artist and writer and I have been sharing our reflections on the balance of work as ‘engaged artists’ (to borrow from the engaged Buddhists). Neither of us is content to be alone in our studios and feel no connection to the world but our efforts to be ‘activist artists’ have been less than satisfying. (I’ll speak for myself, if you want to learn more about what Lisa is thinking, visit her terrific website and blog.)
Here’s my thought of the day on the subject: without a strong anchor in my own creative work, the energy that belongs there, which is really powerful stuff, the white light-straight-from-the-Source, gets stuffed into whatever the vehicle at hand is, a committee meeting at my temple, a volunteer bake sale, or even a casual lunch with a friend.
At times when I have not been plugged into the creative work I am called to in a daily, disciplined way, the energy can also ‘leak’ into life in general and causes intensity, emotional drama, and unnecessary conflicts and struggles with those around me.
The problem with creative energy is that it requires transformation in order to be shared successfully and a little goes a long way. Creative work, in whatever form we are called to it, is not a luxury but is the basis of life. It constitutes my relationship with the Source and if that relationship is not in order, we tend to seek substitutes in people, substances, and things.
This may seem like a pretty basic insight from someone with, oh, I don’t know, about thirty-five years of experience and education in art therapy, but there you go.