Join me for this discussion. Should be a lively one!
Last night the class at SVA’s DSI program was charmed and educated (in that order) by graffiti legend, James Top. This is a man who has stood on the third rail more than once, a fearless pioneer and the king of the IND and BMT train lines. I was struck especially by his passionate description of graffiti back in the day as “the voice of poverty, the voice of the oppressed, the voice of change…” Where are those voices today?
Thanks to my clients at Pure Branding for introducing me to this magical video. In classic Eames fashion, both the concept and the execution are startlingly simple, elegant and profound in equal measure.
Come see the work of the students in the DSI (Design for Social Innovation) program at SVA. I’ll be there. Some inspiration from the Indian Taittiriya Upanishad:
"Oh, wonderful! Oh, wonderful! Oh, wonderful!
I am food! I am food! I am food!
I am a food-eater! I am a food-eater! I am a food-eater!
He who knows this, has a brilliantly shining light.
Such is the mystic doctrine!
And anyone who withholds the food that he is from the world is a hoarder.
It is a question of yielding this body to the process.”
A wonderful parable for the eagerness that accompanies the early phases of change (esp. change for the better). A very good reminder here at the outset of a new year.
These guys–at the Atlantic Ave/Barclays stop in Brooklyn-have captured the rhythm of the city. It’s frantic, urgent, but measured, even, and totally working. Stop to dance, walk in time, or otherwise acknowledge that you’re feeling them, and you get radiant smiles and blessings. I picked up a CD and learned they’re called Underground Drum & Dance Ensemble. email@example.com
“Clear discourse presupposes three conditions: a speaker who knows what he wishes to say, a listener in a state of wakefulness, and a language common to both. But it is not enough for a language to be clear in the way an algebraic equation is clear. It must also have a real, not simply a possible, content. Before this happens, the participants must have, as a fourth element, a common experience of the thing which is spoken of. This common experience is the gold reserve that confers an exchange value on the currency which words are; without this reserve of shared experiences, all our pronouncements are checks drawn on insufficient funds…”
–Rene Daumal, Foreward to A Night of Serious Drinking
We are the ancestors of a future we can only pretend to understand now. What actions will you take? What foundations will you lay for a mythology that will sustain and nourish your great, great grandchildren. Will you be one of the heroes–known or unknown–who stand out for having understood something not about what is needed now (too late), but what will be needed soon?
Later, when the sound of your name rings clear and free of any earthly associations (ehem…flaws). One day when you are no longer a living memory for anyone, it will be your deeds that persist, that live on and cause ordinary and extraordinary people to wonder how you did it back then, way back, before anyone even knew how to do such things?
Think about your legacy. You have one whether you choose to own it or not. Live like every battle counts, because it does. That which is growing is living. That which is learning is thriving. Love yourself and love the fact that you mean something in your accidents and missteps as well as in your triumphs and glories.
Love beyond time and space; wrap your arms around that child hence who is unsure of her actions and whisper in her ear that she is indeed on the right track. You know this to be true because it is the one you laid. And it is leading us all home.
Over the holidays I visited my beautiful bohemian cousins in the country. In the morning we sat around the old living room drinking coffee and catching up. Across the room a book caught my attention.
“What is Odd Nerdrum?” I asked Lauren. She laughed and looked to her husband, Stu, for an answer. He put aside the guitar he’d been strumming, handed the book to me, and said, “Why don’t you see for yourself.”
I opened the massive tome on my lap to an image of two naked bodies dirty and rigid on a beach…Dead? Alive? It was hard to tell. On the next page a woman crouched in the corner of a dingy room, her cowering figure half hidden in darkness. Shadow, it was called. I knew immediately I was looking at something beyond. Something…other and outside. It was immediately moving.
We talked for a minute about the images and how they’d acquired the book. Then the conversation turned to our own projects.
I wanted to tell them about the book I’m working on. I needed to hear myself talk about it with them in this place, this old farmhouse that has been in my family for generations. I needed their approval, I guess, and also the support of the ancestors.
As I described my intention I heard myself saying the things I usually keep to myself. I heard myself explaining my heart’s true desire in writing the book. I was open and they were receptive.
Lauren, a writer herself, asked about ‘voice’ and I revealed to her my struggle.
“There are several voices and I don’t know which to use. I can be a very good, clear and rational writer, but my real passion is in the mystical–dreams, visions. But, this has got to be a commercial book. I want it to reach a lot of people. I don’t want to freak women out before the message comes across…”
I could hear there in that small room so far away from New York City and the book proposal I’d just sent to an editor, my own cowardice. Sitting there with the raw drawings of a visionary on my lap and in the spotlight of the intense gaze of two kindred spirits, I knew I was making excuses. I knew in that moment that I needed to push down on the throttle and write with the abandon I am capable of. I needed to exorcise thoughts about marketability for the purity of creativity. I was reminded of who I am as they sat there reflecting me back to me.
(Image: Nerdrum, Odd (1944- ) - 2000 Transmission (The Nerdrum Institute, Norway))
Back home in Kentucky for the holidays and for my father’s birthday. My brother gave him a gift of Wendell Berry’s poems and I opened to this one. So fresh and prescient - it could have been written today. I feel close to this man for having shared the love of this plain, special place.
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
- “How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”— David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
- Sleeping Beauties vs. Gonzo Girls
Is the violent female trickster poised to overtake the sleeping beauty as our leading heroine? Maria...
- You Are Boring
Here’s the full text of a piece I wrote for The Magazine a few months ago. I really enjoyed writing it, and would like to thank