It’s early Tuesday morning and the studio computer is ringing like a Wal-Mart cash register. Artists are sending “Eyeku” to one another and copying to us. I’m thinking of young Basho, the first Haiku writer, cross-legged on his tatami. He was probably wondering who might ever see his latest effort. In the year 1670 Japan was in the grip of the shoguns. It was not a time of instant communication. Right now I’m reading something from another continent that must have been created only this morning: “Two leash-dogs meet in a yellow park, they briefly sniff, then move along.” Basho would be blown away. What a world we now live in.
Some Eyeku breed more questions: What is the value of sharing? Does expressing yourself verbally neutralize the desire to express visually? When and how do we find the kind of austere tatami that Basho thrived on? These days, like no other time in history, we need more than ever what can only be called “character.” Nowadays all distractions are potentially valuable. We need character in order to extract the useful. How do we go back to purity?
In the words of R. H. Blyth, the great English champion of Haiku: “We return to the friends of our childhood, the rain on the window-pane; the long silent roads of night; the waves of the shore that never cease to fall; the moon, so near and yet so far; all the sensations of texture, timbre, weight and shape, those precious treasures and inexhaustible riches of every-day life.” How do we find simplicity and direct purpose in the midst of chaotic communication? How, on our necessary islands of ego do we find challenging and yet comforting companionship?
In the companionship of art we are all of a time. Early or late we are to be shared. In a way we all have the same job. We are trying to evoke and reinforce meanings from the spaces we cover and the times we’re given. Short or long this becomes our purpose. What we artists do is important stuff.
PS: “The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go are also voyagers. I too for years have been stirred by the sight of a solitary cloud drifting with the wind to ceaseless thoughts of roaming.” (Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694)
Esoterica: Thanks again for being part of our community. Thanks especially to those friends who correspond regularly. It seems there’s so much that we can learn, so much that we can feel. As for me, I’m going to a remote island for a few days to look at clouds.
Purple cone-flower, softly a bee on yellow-speckled spikes, swaying in the breeze. (ab)
Young sparrow fluffed, momentarily left behind in gravel bath, camouflaged. (ab)
Headless white in shallows, bobbing heavy in swells, then stretching up long eyes to horizon. (ab)
A tiny bar, a lightning speedy robotic maniac bartender mixing apple martinis for 250. (sg)
At 3 a.m. we cross cobblestones and through a signless door, two chicks and a chaperone. (sg)
French toast and our respective cabs, we disturb the rats and climb our bedtime stairs. (sg)
A horizon glow, a prism up to the sky’s green center, shooting stars cutting. (js)
Green lace overhead, trembling, somewhere a big frog speaks. (lv)
A long dock, the sound of water, a cloud of flies hovering, one mad dragonfly. (lv)
(RG note) We’ll include a wider selection of your “eyeku” in the next clickback. We’ll identify you by your initials only, but if you wish them to be totally anonymous please just say so. Please send your “eyeku” to email@example.com. Thanks for the fun and the friendship.
Economy and directness
by Rod Taylor
Haikus are best for the stunningly clear, emotional insight, freezing something precious in time and sound. But they are also a forceful way to communicate, putting a tough discipline on how complex thought gets expressed. I think of my old grad prof, Marshall McLuhan, and his “We become what we behold. We make our tools and then our tools make us.” Hard to beat that for economy and directness of expression, which is a kind of poetry too.
by Michael Young, Oakville, ON, Canada
Has anyone mentioned Katikati, North Island, New Zealand? My wife and I visited Katikati in 2002. A recent initiative there has created a Haiku Walk down to a park off the main street of the town. The sandblasting of the text into the boulders gives increased heft to the permanence of truisms often contained in Haiku.
by Mona Youssef
How do we go back to purity? By letting go, by being spontaneous, sincere, speak out our minds with no fear of criticism or punishment, having the spirit of helping, up-building, encouraging. Love would cover it all.
How do we find simplicity and direct purpose in the midst of chaotic communication? By learning to subtract the distractions, by shaking the dust off the crystal, by seeing through the invisible, briefly, focusing on the focus point would keep us focused on the more important thing which is — simplicity.
How, on our necessary islands of ego do we find challenging and yet comforting companionship? We choose to wear our egos, upfront or strip it off on that Island. Each choice would lead to a different direction: a) finding a comforting companionship or b) keep on dreaming to find it! Searching deeper the inner person, we will find the pure child who can get along almost with every one, play, run, laugh and enjoy the full happiness in his world. The child in us can find a real and comforting companionship.
Eyeku: It grew upright and strong, branched to both sides bold, leaned down from the cold, new branches sprout out and holds the mother source.
Sorting through the clutter
by Nicoletta Baumeister
As all senses are reeling from the massive inundation of sensation, what becomes difficult to select is the sublime. Never before have so many mediums been commonly available and simultaneously, so singularly selected and manipulated for particular purpose. Radio, Television, Computer, Print image and text all broadcasting sounds, words, meanings and images from every culture, environment, viewpoint and abbreviation; each broadcaster shouting louder, writing bigger, sending more outrageous images in an effort to scramble to the top of your attention list. Was it, “the message is the medium” or “the medium is the message?”
How do we sort through it all? How does a person extract meaning, assess importance, assemble context? How do we know which ‘chatter’ will lead to a resounding shout? How can we find the sublime, the subtle, the wind which holds the kite aloft? In childhood, time is kind. A moment is swallowed whole, by senses open and able. From a few yet vital experiences, analogy, metaphor and poetry emerge. Are these not the voices of the self?
Floating on the stream
by Marion Barnett, Scotland
“Some Eyeku breed more questions: What is the value of sharing? Does expressing yourself verbally neutralize the desire to express visually?” These are good questions. For me, all creativity springs from the same source, expressing yourself in one medium which then encourages growth and change in all the rest. I run an email group for textile artists. A couple of years ago, we ran a renga project. Renga is yet another form of Japanese poetry. The renga master would write a line, then float it downstream until the next writer found it, added a line, and floated it away again — five lines make a renga poem. When five separate artists across the world contribute a random line to a growing poem, they find themselves inspired to make textile pieces that reflect that poem — a word, a line, a tangent.
(RG note) Thanks for that, Marion. Good idea. For starters, let’s have the following line pass through five creators until a poem is complete. Please don’t forget to copy your Renga back to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Of all the wonders we’ve together seen,” (rg)
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
by Sandra Chantry
In my morning study hour I have been using the Meditations of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was a Stoic — the Meditations are really his journal, written for his eyes only in order to examine his daily life and understandings. He writes, “Observe and contemplate on the hidden things of life: how a man’s seed is but the beginning, it takes others to bring it to fruition. Think how food undergoes such changes to produce health and strength. See the power of these hidden things which, like the wind cannot been seen, but its effects can be.”
I believe he is telling himself to explore in his mind the mysteries of the world that surrounded him so that he could come to a better understanding and see things in perspective. Over and over in his journal he reminds himself that contemplation is the greatest help to seeing things as they are and in perspective, urging himself to practice that until it becomes instinctive. He believed this was important for all men, since whatever their role in life, all are called to contribute in their own way to the good of the whole. All who are creative, in whatever way, are doing something very important to the well being of the world, so at the heart of all creation lies deep contemplation.
Purpose of art
Maybe after all the purpose of art is to open a door to other dimensions. Mainly the dimensions of emotion, thought and make believe. Any form of art could be seen as a form of interpretation. Eyeku creates a short film in the mind of the reader. Images are created from what the words evoke. None of us see exactly the same images even though we read the same words. This is like life is. Everything we experience is likely to be somewhat different from what anyone else experiences just based on the fact that none of us are wired exactly the same and share the exact same life experience. We are all unique yet we are all the same. We all share the same condition we are born under: being a human. And being a human there is a given set of conditions and behavior patterns that we all share. But there is a range in everything. Just on the physical plane a heartbeat ranging from sixty or less to ninety or more per minute could be considered normal for a human being in a state of relative rest. This kind of variation is part of the human condition. And the less material the level of experience the larger the field of variation. No two experiences are alike. And this is what makes life so fascinating. I think we humans have a desire to express our experiences and to be acknowledged for how different yet the same these experiences are. In any experience the emphasis stands on a different word or part of the image for any given individual, yet the whole remains the same. Maybe it literally takes all of us to get the whole picture. Like blind men touching an elephant we recognize only parts of anything and tend to call it the whole. But if there are literally so many of us with such diverse experiences of anything, maybe the picture that eventually gets created in the collective consciousness from all of these experiences more resembles the truth than any of its fractions. On the other hand may be none of it ever really exists except in the experience of the beholder.
I think we all have a strong longing to belong that is part of our experience from the beginning. Whether a separation anxiety created by departure from our mother’s womb or a sense of being separate because of having a seemingly separate body from the rest of our surroundings including other people this dilemma of feeling separate has always been a strong conversation in art and more so in modern art than ever before. Modern society has alienated us. It tells us how to feel, dress, talk and walk. It shows us how to fit the accepted mold. Yet, somewhere within us we feel that something is amiss. We know that this is not really the way to belong. Something whispers that we first need to belong to ourselves and then we will belong to others. Modern science is finally giving proof to the ancient spiritual belief that everything is united, nothing is really separate. No person is an island and even an island is not separate from the rest of the world.
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA
For ten years I had panic disorder, and for three of those ten I was agoraphobic and never left the house. My “recovery” has been long and doggedly pursued, and has now gone beyond the bounds of recovery to miraculous cure. I no longer do what “normal” people do; I’ve got to go beyond that.
I’ve just spent four days in the “solitude” of one of the world’s most crowded and chaotic cities in the world — San Francisco — and did so completely by myself. I not only flew there alone, handled shuttle services alone, lived in my room alone, walked the streets of San Francisco alone, I also rented a car and drove up the California coast to Bodego Bay. Alone. It was a hoot, very relaxing, and every single day I looked for another one of my hidden dragons to slay, one of which was trying to understand what in the world I’m doing with my art and figuring out what it means to express oneself through an artistic medium. In gallery after gallery I tried to find the answer, then I reminded myself to stop trying so blasted hard and just take it in, then trust. While waiting for a ferry to take me to Sausalito (yes, alone), I watched water lapping against a harbor post and thought how utterly unremarkable a sight it was to paint or photograph. I came to the conclusion that the experience that vision evoked in me was definitely something I had to write about to communicate everything I was feeling. Canvas and/or camera just couldn’t capture it. Eureka! I was one step closer to understanding. Different experiences require different mediums of expression.
Ah, hubris. It wasn’t an answer, just a knock on the door behind which lay more clues that may or may not lead to where the answer is hidden. However, once I thought I had an understanding and truly let down my guard, the next day I realized that anything, especially the visually unremarkable, can have a story to be told through the existence of each creature of creation taking it in, and that creature communicating it through their absolute uniqueness. I realized there were ways that the seemingly dull little frame of water lapping against a pylon could be turned into a vibrant experience on canvas, photographic paper, pen on paper, or any medium yet to be invented. That little frame could tell as many different stories as there are people on this earth. All it needed was absolute dedication to craft, mastery of materials, and commitment to telling the story. Hey, who knew it could be that easy? Just a lifetime of dedication and effortless control of passion. No big deal. Right? Right.
You write about character. If we don’t develop our character from the raw material given to us, then we don’t have anything to express to others. We cut our hair, move to the suburbs and decorate the bathroom. The odds that any one of us is alive are overwhelming, a phenomenon an actor-friend of mine, Anthony Zerbe, calls the “lucky sperm” syndrome. Each and every one of us is truly one in a million-million-million, and the fact that we breathe, rather than any of the other possibilities, is a miracle to be honored and never piffled. We have to keep pushing our boundaries, and we have to keep exploring who and what we’re made of, and we all have to keep hunting our dragons — each dragon particular to each person — and we have to keep slaying them to build the character sleeping within our raw substance. Character is not easily awakened; it’s more lazy than the laziest amongst us. For people like you — gregarious, the ability to travel about and keep company, erudite, curious and industrious — building character means going beyond your usual to a remote island, where you go against your raw material to count clouds and fiddle away your time. For people like me, it means throwing myself into the noise and clutter of a big and frightening city, alone and cut off, and loving every minute of it. It’s only when we’re outside of our cozy little boxes that the weight of routine and the predictable are removed, and we find both the ends of the skies and the depths of the oceans.
Longing for heart’s desire
by Lori S. Lukasewich
I’ve been thinking and writing a lot lately about why I’m an artist. I started off with the idea — a very elemental one I think — that I have never moved past the childhood joy/need to constantly establish who I am in relation to what I see around me. Every time I paint or draw something I get back more information about it and, if I’m honestly paying attention, even more about myself. I didn’t think it mattered what I painted, the subjects weren’t all that important, even though I know myself to be very persnickety about my subjects, which has been a bit of a mysterious sticking point in my theory.
Then as I wrote the word longing arose. Longing. I knew instantly that I have never made a painting that did not contain longing. At first I thought this was a great and deep mystery — what could I be longing for? I was afraid of this question at first because I’ve about had it up to here with psychobabble; I no longer have the time or inclination for that. Another phrase popped into my mind — Speaking to my heart’s desire — Huh? A trip to Europe? A new house and studio? Low carb fried potatoes? What the heck kind of a tangent was that? Obviously, my heart’s desire is not so mundane and when was the last time I ever thought of my heart’s desire anyways?
I had to get back on track so I started to think about the actual subjects I see that seem to require that I paint them. When I encounter beauty in any form it is as if I were a stringed instrument of some sort and one or more of my strings has been plucked and must sing along with the beauty. When I paint that beauty I prolong that harmony and the painting itself exists as a reminder to me of that state and hopefully communicates and shares that state with others. To be in that harmony seems to be my hearts desire and I long for it constantly.
Now this may seem glaringly obvious to others and in my thinking mind I am somewhat embarrassed. My mind wants to make this about some kind of intellectual socio-political blah blah statement of Great Importance. The real truth is so much simpler and so widely shared! And maybe that is what makes it truly important work. I feel greatly humbled by this. We are so lucky to be artists, wherever we may live.
Acting “as if”
by Suzette Fram, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada
Thank you for your letter Let’s do it. I love the ‘just do it’ attitude. I really believe that that is how we learn and develop our skills, and that is also how we ‘get into the groove.’ Don’t wait for inspiration, just start, something, anything. It reminds me of another expression which I’ve heard somewhere, ‘act as if.’ In other words, if you want to be a calm, peaceful person, behave as if you are a calm, peaceful person; before you know it, you will become calmer and more peaceful. I think these two dictums go well together. Want to be a great artist? Act as if you already are and just do it.
Thankful for the connection
by Myrle McIntosh
I have the soul of an artist but my karma or destiny in this lifetime seems to be as a caregiver. My husband has Alzheimer’s disease. There are no words to adequately define the stress and pervasive grief, both for him who was a professional person, and for me as I feel my life passing by with my simple coping. Therefore I find comfort in all your writings — a great deal, in fact; there are not many places to find comfort or solace. Having been a social worker and caregiver too often to reflect upon, there is not much that can nurture me. I do appreciate to the fullest your freedom and opportunity to go to an island and watch the moon and smell the fresh unsullied air. Thank you more than I can convey.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Teresa Kelly-Tagas of Bozeman, MT, USA who wrote, “As I read the many responses to your Haiku letter I could see paintings come alive. I think it a great challenge to see art created from these. I have copied a few to do just that.”