Transformation by Choice

Nearing Completion of Work on a New Commission

Dr. David Harold Fink, the eminent psychiatrist, says that, by changing our mental concepts of ourselves, we can change our lives.

Advertisement from April 1963 Harper’s Bazaar

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”

I must say that today has been one of the most satisfying of days. For some reason waking just around daylight, I felt a desire to go straight into the studio and work on this historic route 66 motel site that has been removed from our landscape but not from my memory. I am grateful to the patron who found my earlier painting of this site on the Internet and contacted me to commission a new one. Memories of these motel ruins I saw in my travels from St. Louis to Fort Worth keep stirring. And I recall the closing lines from the Woody Allen film “Another Woman”–

I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost.

As I painted this morning, my mind continually drifted to the Zeitgeist that swirls around us every day, and has done so for several years now. Wondering if my own temperament was coloring my perception of what I was hearing daily on the news, I had to pause and say emphatically No. The days we live in now cry out for introspection and evaluation since we are forced to spend time apart from the masses. And frankly, I look over my past life, admitting that there were years, indeed decades of rage probably spawned by my own self-doubt. Those days are gone, I hope for good now. I am deeply grateful for this gift of life, and that I am still allowed to share in it, and finally, to be genuinely happy.

But what I hear and read continually when I log on to the news or social media is a cascade of hate, anger and invective–words cascading like raw sewage across many platforms, cable news, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram–so much poison and stench.

Taking a break from my painting, I picked up and re-read portions of Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol and found the quote above from Harper’s Bazaar. It was in reference to people crowding into the new photobooths of the 60’s to print strips of pictures of themselves mugging in front of the camera. I laughed, thinking of people today on Instagram, holding up their smartphones and looking intently at them while posing for their glamor shots. The Harper’s Bazaar ad pointed out the potential for improving one’s own life wilfully.

From the Warhol reading I turned my attention to Rilke. The poem of Apollo I learned of for the first time when watching Woody Allen’s “Another Woman”, a severely underrated film that remains one of my favorites. Many themes can be abstracted from viewing the film, but what sticks with me the most is the protagonist wilfully choosing in the end to make hard decisions for the purpose of improving a life that others around her had judged a success.

From that point, I decided to re-visit a passage from my Greek New Testament, Romans 12:2. In that passage, the reader is urged not to be conformed (schematized) by this Zeitgeist, but to be transformed (metamorphosed) by the renewing of the mind. The renewing of the mind. Every day the invitation is there for renewal. Every day an opportunity to begin afresh.

I have now been three years retired from public school teaching, and a semester separated from the university classroom. When asked if I miss it, my immediate answer is No. I’m so thankful that when I sit down to read reflectively that I do not have to shape the material into a lecture or lesson plan. I do not have a schedule or deadline looming before me. I can now read for pleasure, at leisure, and take seriously the words confronting me. I can take time to hear the words, pause with them, roll them around in my mouth, repeate them, revise them, apply them. Every day, an opportunity to receive fresh revelations, novel insights.

I know I am meandering, but this is a blog, not a polished essay. So . . . back to the painting above. I have nearly completed the network of ruins beneath the motel sign and now look forward to refining the foreground whose foundation I laid last night with a series of layered masques and washes followed by plenty of dry brushing. Now the masquing has been stripped away and (my art history colleagues will understand this) I am free to “Jackson Pollock” my way down to the bottom of the composition.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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