Looking For The Low Light

DSC_0029

This mist of busyness plus the-rest-of-life-ness has been continuing. The kitchen project is racing forward all of a sudden it seems. Suffice to say that the kitchen I’ve known for the last two years is no more, just an empty space with shockingly dirty walls…I guess twenty-six years of life and action will do that to a place. In the meantime, we’re cooking in the new outdoor space, which is smaller but has all the joy of newness and a place created with care.

DSC_0021

All of this means lots of spontaneous rearranging of affairs and minor kitchen panic from trying to prepare a meal without knowing where the hell anything is. This week feels like trying to stop sand from pouring down into the bottom of the hourglass. I feel like things may be slipping through the cracks and yet the sand pours down so smooth and soft that I stop paying attention to details and simply focus on the feeling.

DSC_0040

There’s no way I’ll be able to write all the e-mails I want to write in a week, or have all the conversations that need to be had, accomplish all the tasks. And as each week gets closer to Karmapa’s visit I know that somehow in the time he is here, every thing I have not done before will land squarely on my head in those five days.

DSC_0037

And I just think, okay. Things will slip through the cracks. Time is limited. And it keeps spilling out below me. So what to do but relax? Go to the lake and have a drink with friends when your brain can’t crunch any more numbers or formulate any more e-mails and the basics of your to-do list have been crossed off even if the non-basics are literally unending. Let it be a little. Play with your new prime lens and try to understand in life and in photography that place where everything glows a little before the sun disappears and it all goes dim. Every moment is a tiny flash of impermanence, in all its continuous glory. Every second a death from one moment to another, each grain of sand sliding down below us.

DSC_0046

I can capture it in an image, but even the image I think have captured and can hold is a fiction. All things pass. So what is there to do but live them and let them go, and dedicate them when they are good?

Throw up one’s hands and laugh a little, perhaps.

Advertisements

La Détente–This Thing We Call Relaxing

DSC_0050

This week, something amazing happened. In between the sixty hours of activity for the center, regular study courses, early morning meditation, driving class, and all the rest, somehow, dinner with friends, girls brunch, and an excellent birthday party that included twilight pool time and my first ever game of pétanque–surprise spoiler: I was actually kind of good at it–managed to find their way into my schedule. DSC_0039 My toenails are painted for the first time in two years, and despite having only managed to fit in a teeny bit of time to draw, I somehow feel recklessly confident enough in my potential to continue creating work that I’ve started gifting drawings and paintings to friends. After the personal benefit of creation, the second value of art for me is its ability to be shared and to bring benefit to others. Up until now, I’ve had a hard time letting go of work. Something along the lines of a sense of “poverty of creation,” if you will: fearing that what I make will not be good and when I do create things that I feel have some merit, cherishing and being miserly them. In this mindset, free time is often a nagging question of what is the most important project to work on in whatever precious minutes remain to me. At times I feel as though, despite all of the abundance around me, I lose myself in a mental state of poverty…the worry of not enough: not enough time, not enough skill, not enough discipline, not enough courage. And in fact, what lacks is perhaps none of the above, but rather simply…not enough space to see that no matter what we do, conditions in this life are limited, so we might as well just relax. DSC_0001 I don’t mean become indolent or put aside goals and projects. From what I am discovering, relaxation seems to be an inner state that allows for outer changes. When I accept that I’ll never be able to master everything, it’s easier to let myself engage in explorations that I don’t fully understand the value of, like nail-painting and pétanque, or actual painting and devoting more time to relationships. And when I manage to find the space for these things, often unexpected values show up. New ways to be joyful, to care for others, to let go of my expectations and just…see what happens. Every part of life is an opportunity to practice, to just observe what arises and remain with whatever it is, though of course…some leave you with sparkly toenails and others don’t. 😉

Daily Recommended Values

Ok, this time it is about art.

I mentioned a new drawing series back in the day, when it first got cooking. I thought then about posting each picture as I created them, day-by-day. But somehow it was both too rigorous and too personal.

Each image is a wish for the day–a need, or a thing that would do good. Thus the title, which I picked out while trying to figure out the French translation for absolutely everything in my early months here; in French, the most common term for nutritional “daily recommended values” is “apports journaliers recommandés.”

There are so many kinds of nutrition that we need in a day. And also, the metaphor just makes me chuckle. Considering art and life and everything…the same way I consider breakfast cereal. Sometimes you just have to bring a little levity to the table.

So, as a way to process my life and keep a connection with the practice of making things, I decided to do one drawing a day capturing a little bit of the day’s flavor. It’s become a kind of visual journal, subtitled in French as a nod to my slow but steady process of figuring out how to live in a foreign language and a foreign country. It’s been over a year and a half since I started the project, and the beginning is far enough away that I feel like the process of creating the images each day won’t be affected by the idea of the viewer if I start sharing them.

So, the first installment of Daily Recommended Values:

photo (1)

All My Ducks in a Row

Somewhere In The Low Light: The Opposite of Ambiguity

DSC_0007 I have decided that I need a tripod. The world captured in low light feels like my heart; it trembles but yearns to be seen clearly. Capturing those moments still that should be blurry but for the grace of a stable support: this is the use of a tripod in photography and of meditation in life. Such moments are the precipice where one yearns to feel, but the risk of being seen naked if we truly lay ourselves open still seems far too great. And so we stay in the shadows, where it’s safe, where the beauty of ambiguity cradles us with its ungraspable-ness. We hide amidst the blur. There is comfort in confusion. DSC_0001 Sometimes I realize how much of me really doesn’t want to become enlightened. To see the illusion of all things. I like my things real. I like my cake decadent; I like my sorrow sharp; I like my joy effervescent. DSC_0018 Well, I used to. Now, I still like my cake, but I resent that it makes my intestines sad. I still like my sorrow because it reminds me there are things I don’t understand, but I am mystified by how I can’t seem to turn its sharpness into an understanding that will change the way I act. I still like my joy, but it frightens me because I cling to it. After all, the only transition possible from temporary bliss is to something less than bliss, and it hurts every time. And yet this hurt hasn’t yet changed my vision so that I truly see the beautiful things in life as being as unreliable as they are. As just an essenceless apparition that will dissipate either now or later, unexpectedly or unwontedly. DSC_0020 I asked Jigme Rinpoche about art again today. We were talking about the renovation of the Lama House kitchen, working out details of countertops and credenzas, and which direction the stove should face. It was all very concrete and pleasantly comprehensible. Since January I’ve had this bug in the back of my mind, from our last conversation about life, my life, when he told me, enthusiastically, that it was quite a good idea to be an artist. So I asked why, just there, amidst the sawdust and reflection over water filters.

“Rinpoche, when we talked in January, I had mentioned about wanting to be a professional artist.”

“You want be a professional artist?” He perked up, with what seemed like the same enthusiasm in January.

“Well, I used to. Since I’ve been here, I’ve more been focusing on other things. It’s more on the side now. But when we talked about it, you had said that this was not a bad idea, quite a good thing actually.”

“Yes, good.”

“But why.”

“Because then you can bring to everything.” And he made a gathering motion. DSC_0026 And I sort of framed my ideas around this sentence, trying to see how they fit, and what it all meant. And some notions came up, like how art is a way to turn all of life into a reflection, and one that can be shared. And how viewing the world through an artist’s eye means that one is always looking with some kind of perspective, rather than just being caught up in the experience. I wandered over the idea that maybe in Rinpoche’s view being an artist doesn’t actually mean one has to make things, but is much more about the way one looks at things and approaches things. DSC_0015 I think I kind of short-circuited on this idea, and we pretty much had the above conversation verbatim a second time. I walked away nearly as unclear as before, but with the recognition that until I’m ready to make a commitment to artistry, the view or the act, I’m never going to be able to make very much sense of what Rinpoche says to me on the subject. DSC_0032 I keep trying to give up on art. I keep trying to “let it go” and see if the urge abandons me. So far it hasn’t, but so far I’m also not willing to shoulder the responsibility of whatever Rinpoche was making reference to (what is that motion a gathering of?) and what I apparently refuse to see or clarify for myself. An artist who wants so badly to be an artist but is so unwilling to claim the role. A bit like a bodhisattva who wants to badly to be free and free others but is unwilling to renounce her shackles. When the day comes. You’ll be the first to know.

Old Stomping Grounds

cake

Well, first off…cake because I promised y’all cake.

My birthday cake: hummingbird cake improvised with walnut goat cheese frosting, plus a cake for the other April gals at Dhagpo, dense almond cake layered with pastry cream and fig jam, enrobed in marzipan medallions, and of course a cake for the April gents as well, classic tiramisu composed in layer cake form. Sorry, not on top of my recipe recording at the moment…all of these things exist somewhere between the collection of butter-stained paper scraps on my windowsill and my brain, but they don’t yet exist in any shareable form. Eeps, pardon!

IMG_3370

And then, welcome to California. Land of my youth, land of my creation and my formation. This is the Pacific Coast Highway, from behind the windshield, for ours is a land of automobiles and palm trees, winding coastal roads, and shifting coastal mists.

IMG_3351

The dinosaur fountains at 3rd Street Promenade, which seem so much smaller now that I am bigger. Actually, everything seems smaller. I visited the house where I grew up, where my dad has retaken up residence. The garage that I recall as fathomless and dark and daunting, maybe the biggest room ever, is now…basically a normal two-car garage with some stuff in it.

IMG_3362

The palm trees have retained their height, however. Their goofiness and nonchalance. The importance of everything, the color and life and cool self-obsession of this place shocks at first and then insidiously infiltrates my being so naturally that I almost don’t notice.

IMG_3345

That everything should be beautiful seems like a given. That the temperature should always be pleasing, the light always golden, the ambiance always choreographed. Appearance in this place strikes me as ever so carefully manicured. We glamor ourselves into believing that all is well.

IMG_3342

That we are evolving, advancing, improving. The food is all organic, natural, farm-fresh, gluten-free and yes, also delicious. The people are tan and smiling. The storefronts pierce your eyes and call you to with adoration: prosperity! allure! confidence! We’ll give you everything! We buy our clothes, our gadgets, our food, our films, our cars, to decide who we want to be.

It’s startling and exceedingly simple. I can’t get over how pleasant everything is. I feel I could lose myself in this place without a second glance back the way I came. Pick up where I left off, working on being another toned yogi with a health food mission, a creative purpose, and a really inspiring backstory. These are generally good things, but from where I stand today, they also seem like all-too-simple ways to fall back into the habit of trying to simply render everything in this life awesome, rather than also facing its capricious nature and committing to going beyond even the best of the appearances that we are capable of creating. After all, both the most inherent and the most cultivated beauty fade with time, each one like the other.

IMG_3366

Fortunately, amidst all the glamour and temptation, there’s a few things to pull me back to earth. Little unexpected reminders. Amidst the crowd of laughing Buddhas on my grandmother’s bureau, a single, seated, Tibetan-style Buddha. And next to it, a grinning photo of me, circa 1996. Maybe even in her drifting state where past and present blend and future fades altogether, she still hangs on to the essential. She asked me about my life and said, “You like the people? Are you happy there?  You’re so so lucky Jourdie.” Or maybe it’s a just a coincidence, the right coincidence for me today. Either way, she’s right.

IMG_3393

And after all the rest, the people and excess and what we’ve made of this place, there is the place itself. California’s quirkiness is in its nature, as much as its inhabitants. Something about palm tree, prickly pears, and pale, pokey agave totally confirm that it’s hip to be weird.

IMG_3398

Nature always reminds me of my own strangeness and smallness. And the nature here comforts me in that. I’m in it with the willets, and the goopy knots of kelp, and the sandcrabs scurrying under the effervescent bubbles of tide foam. It feels pretty okay to be odd in such good company.

So I wander through the iridescent sunset and wonder what I’ll take back with me to the humid, blessed woods of the Dordogne. How much essence and acceptance can I find? How much may I be lost in the glamor and temptation?

Joni said it best.

“California I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am?”

IMG_3400