Welcome to another dopey post by yours truly!
Sequoia Miller wandered on over to my last post and asked the typically penetrating question you’d expect of his brilliant mind: “What’s new?” All my blathering about change surely has to mean something. That is, something more than merely sitting on my duff and devouring the first two seasons of Justified while my muscles and brain atrophy.
And speaking of things occupying me as I watch my muscles wither, I thought of a new example for the Eddie Vedder quote Jared threw out in the comments to the last post: “I changed by not changing at all…” (See the previous post’s comments for further discussion). And its not that I just gave in to laziness (despite what seems evident), but for the first time ever I decided to let my facial hair grow unchecked. Maintaining the ‘Billy Goat’ beard I’ve had for 10, 12(?) years has been a work of control, purposely altering something in order to stay the same (The flip side of that quote). Now in the absence of that control, I am no longer actively pruning/changing my facial hair, but the net result IS change: I now have the beginnings of a full beard for the first time in my life. Three weeks worth, at least….
The point being that while active change takes effort change also can occur naturally. And the corollary is that while staying the same can seem natural it often also requires effort and an exertion of control. Consistency is maintained by dint, repetition by focus. It is not always simply inherent and artless, in other words. Quite often it takes significant work to resist change: Dyeing our hair as we grow old; Getting a face lift; Botox; Propping up our sagging flesh; Keeping a job; Maintaining friendships; Physical and mental exercise; Avoiding conflict; Confirming beliefs; Bolstering opinions; Defending prejudices…. Put another way, we engage in all sorts of efforts aimed at stemming the tides of entropy and difference (as Scott pointed out in the comments to the last post).
And this is the human contribution to the Universe. If we didn’t struggle to make this difference, to live as human beings, we would simply expire, decay, and dissolve back into the mud. And in the end all our best efforts aren’t enough to avoid our personal dissipation into chaos. But its the struggle that makes us human, that makes us who we are. This seems like a profound truth….
Many years back a friend and co-worker laid this bit of wisdom on me: “Sometimes you can become a stereotype of yourself”. That phrase has haunted me all these years, and maybe you can see why this issue seems to stick in my mind.
The fight against chaos throws up tiny islands for us to occupy, places where things are safer and more predictable. And like a manicured beard, a book club, a friendship, a steady job, a family, a longterm relationship, a belief system, a row of corn, a strip mall, or a city, all this negentropy (Scott’s word) is cultivated. It takes effort, tending, and maybe some planning. It is not a ‘natural’ occurrence, but a calculated human stand against chaos, an articulated response to something. (For a great article on why we tend to see pattern in the jumble of entropy check this out!)
We inherit from the culture and others around us, and this sense of definition is seductive. The deception is that we see these islands of stability as inevitable or necessary. As if we were already and for all time defined only by our current circumstances, caste, doom, karma, or fate. But in the modern world of multiculturalism, opportunity, and (occasional) tolerance we have more choices than our forebears. We are less ruled by stereotypes than at other times. Or maybe the stereotypes are just more open to negotiation. Whichever, our paths are not as rigidly laid out in front of us. Think of the difference that women’s suffrage has made, racial equality, and the civil rights movement. Its not perfect, but its a world no longer defined as strictly by constraints. Now more than ever folks have the ability to choose what they want to do with their lives, who they will become. Merit and personal desire are no longer the captives of tradition and the limitations of place, ethnicity, and gender. Real progress, for sure.
But I’m not here just to blather on about the philosophical implications of my beard (probably going to shave it back off, or go for an ‘Abe Lincoln’ sometime soon) and my flaccid muscles. I actually have been out in the studio, just not making things yet.
My project this past week, going into the next, has been reorganizing my space. I own a fabulous stand-up treadle wheel that I was allowed to purchase from the U when I left grad school. Its the one I had been using, and the offer was exteremly generous (Thank you Andy! Thank you Ted!). Somehow after a few years on my own I got sidetracked on a Brent electric and I never got back to using the treadle. So part of my motivation is to resuscitate the wheel, but I’m also reconfiguring things to give a new home to Ron Meyers’ old wood burning stove (Thanks Ron!). Its been hard to work in the cold weather with the poor heating options I’ve had….
But this basic house cleaning is not the change I was talking about in the last post. Consider it merely preparation. Once the studio is back up and running I will do some personal projects that are off the wheel, and then muck about with some functional ideas I’ve been considering. So, first things first. Sometimes you need to cleanse the palate before starting a new meal. You need to do some stretching before you run a race. You need to make sure the vehicle is in good working order before a big trip. Getting the studio prepped is me just lining up at the starting gate.
So that was only a half answer to Sequoia, I suppose. My next post should fill in some of the details.