Study in Contrast
I’ve written in this space about perspective, how it seems that as the years go by, and the good and bad experiences accumulate, I have become better able to put them into context, see patterns, predict trends, like a scientist conducting a longterm study in which no real conclusions can be drawn until all the evidence is in, and therefore all results are valid, be they positive or negative. Most of all I’ve learned that whatever the variables, the one true constant is my own attempt to gather and examine the data, my own desire to learn, understand, and through that understanding, continue to grow. This is perhaps a Westerner’s best approximation of the Eastern philosophy of seeing life as all one, a continuum, in which there is no good or bad, beginning or end, only what is, and that there is always something greater than whatever or whoever it is you are struggling with at the moment. To struggle is good. To struggle means you are aware and alive. But one particular struggle should never be allowed to become so large that it overshadows the general vitality and meaning of who you are and what you are here to accomplish.
It was not always so. I think back on my melodramatic youth, in which the end of the world was imminent in repeated awful circumstances that I seemed to attract like bees to honey. I did then and do now feel things deeply. I was born without the capacity for denial or avoidance or restraint, a condition that should have diminished with each misfortune I survived, but instead only seemed to increase. As a child, I was always attuned to every vibration around me, for good and bad, and even sometimes felt other people’s joy and grief more than they did, it seemed, wondering how they could throw up walls against, filter or create compartments for the overwhelming things that roamed freely and wildly within me, even at secondhand. I was told I would grow numb with age and experience. But once I began to encounter my own endless series of thrills and ills in the world, often considering my heightened sensitivity the sooner the better extinguished, I found that instead, it thrived.
For a long time I didn’t want to be me. Not only because I didn’t fit in, but because even if I removed myself from the world and stayed alone, it was still difficult and exhausting living life on what seemed a more intense frequency of awareness, high and low. This is not a post about manic depression. With all due respect to the bipolar, I wish it were that simple a diagnosis. They haven’t invented a name yet for what ails me. My mind is hopelessly open and tangled. I am always available to and overrun by every possible intellectual vantage point of a situation and every unique psychological landscape of the people I engage with. And yet I have somehow become able to cope with the chaos, the way anyone who works with fiber learns early on that large heaps of yarn or thread will always get themselves into knots, in spite of your best efforts to keep them straight, so you had better learn how to disentangle them. To continue the metaphor, the way to do this is to examine the tangle, identify the smaller tangles of which it is comprised, and slowly work through each one, until you have one long continuous line without having to cut or throw away one inch of it. You have to be able to hold in your mind, or hands, both the parts and the whole at the same time.
the little picture
This post is about the blessings of focus. I follow blogs here, some of which are all words, some of which are all images, some a combination of both. It always intrigues me how we choose to present ourselves, what it is we decide to offer publicly or privately. The question is not always whether or not to be honest, but which thing to be honest about, and how. Much can be revealed not only in what one says, but how one says it, what subjects get highlighted and examined, visually or verbally. Even then, a year’s worth of extraordinarily forthright posts might not make up even a corner of the mosaic of one complex person’s inner world. And I know that those things I don’t see represented, don’t cease to exist because they are not on view. I would hope that the most conscientious of us try to engage a similar focus every day of our lives, in all we do, not out of shame or deception, but a conscious choice to invest energy in and pay attention to our most positive aspects and pursuits. There is of course a negative side to this selection process, when the little picture presented, however accurate in and of itself, is part of a bigger contradictory picture that, if revealed, could cause harm to anyone who might be relying upon the former as the whole and only truth. I think many of us have had occasion to be on either or both the giving and receiving end of such a shock and found our relationship with Truth never the same again.
The Whole Truth
For my part, in life, I would always rather see the big picture, the whole picture, however daunting or difficult. There is nothing more frightening to me than incomplete information. If I have all the facts, I can decide what sense to make of them, where to place my focus, whereas if I am given only a select portion, there is always the chance of some other information coming to light that will render my conclusions meaningless. As a photographer and a poet, to me there is no conflict in my mind between these two ways of seeing, wide and narrow. I am all about taking a lot of compelling and often painful available material and stimuli and finding a way to distill it all down to a few small precise things that somehow convey the dizzying whole. This is not just a creative strategy, but a personal necessity.
The Big Picture
I have always admired novelists and filmmakers their scope and range. The world they offer is the one I am living in always, in the world and in my mind, vast, complex and untidy. But there are times, even if I have examined and preserved and in a way absorbed into me all the messy heaps of original material, when I need to select and edit. Dozens of pages in a journal become a sonnet. Photographs get cropped down to the one detail that makes sense or serves a specific purpose. Focus can make a large thing small, or a small thing large. I have learned that one can see and feel everything, give it its full due, and then choose to make that cut that will bring something to light, and set something else aside, out of frame, or perhaps only saved to a file for later review.
The Art of Focus
For anyone who lives life fully and freely, it is always, and should be always TOO MUCH. Young and old, we all suffer from an impractical and dangerous ideal of simplicity and ease, and an unnecessary burden of guilt should we find being human or living life not to be a simple or easy thing. Ambiguities and ambivalences, moral, emotional, intellectual and behavioral, abound, along with incompatibilities, inconsistencies and outright contradictions. Life is not about absolutes of good or bad, right or wrong. It seems I will never be too old or wise to face another challenge to my already highly flexible and tentative grasp of where I and those I know and love fall on those or any other spectra. I read many confessions lately of loss of balance and direction, falling behind, not being able to do this or be that, and coming to terms with various public and private failings. I would offer that it is better to be a person beset by so much possibility they feel lost, fall short or screw up, than one without a doubt or care in the world, with nothing to do but kill time. So I would urge everyone out there feeling a little overwhelmed lately to embrace the big picture, however chaotic, and also practice the art of focus where necessary, wisely, and well.
Love your Vortex!