Monday, October 27, 2014

An Ode to Passion

Dr. Who takes Vincent to the Museum

This video has gone viral for so many reasons. For me it heals a wound I felt when, as a child, I learned about Van Gogh's art and a little about his life. I'm sure there's much more than what 'everyone knows'. Some of it can't be known because of the time period, lack of records, etc. Still, the popular portrayal of the man connects with a lot of people who struggle with rejection.

The questions–why did he paint, and what ultimately caused him to end his own life–go beyond one man's art and life. Every person exists with their own questions, whether they look at them or not. Why do we do the things we do, and what keeps us going? In some ways, it seems to me that Vincent Van Gogh had more consciousness and control, even amid the chaos that seems to have been his life, than most people who just drift. To act, to create with purpose and will, and to struggle to live every day, is the story of humanity and is linked the survival of our species. Those that fight and strive do great things. Not necessarily memorable things. Farmers that kept their families and communities alive don't have their life's work displayed in a museum. But their success, their art (and a well-managed farm is a wonder to behold) sustained the people all around them.

When you take away the struggle, when you take away the pain, that is wonderful and good and comforting to the animal part of us that needs food, shelter, water, etc. (And, apparently, a smart phone ....) But will a person who is always in such a good place ever become strong, ever create anything of their own? Maybe. When there's no struggle to survive, no necessity to run, to hunt, to invent things, to come up with new solutions to really tough problems, what becomes of us?

The Russians sent stuff and people into space first. If that hadn't happened, would the United States Space Program have achieved what it did? And when the U.S. got really far, far ahead of everyone else, what happened to the program? It gradually dwindled. In fact, it's dwindled world wide as other massive problems needed to be addressed.

And within these problems, there are people who are suffering ... and innovating, and struggling to live day to day. While big governments move the pieces around on the chess board, somewhere there's a man who is putting all his will and all his strength into keeping himself and his family alive every single day. He's lost in a sea of humanity, unknown, uncelebrated. Maybe he writes poetry in the quiet hours, expressing himself as a form of comfort or because he has no choice. It's in his blood. No one may ever find that poetry. No one else may hear his wife sing, or watch his daughter work out a better way to defend the family from invaders, or witness an innovation developed by this man and his friends. Their work could all be crushed. And maybe it may become too much to keep on going. In dark hours, exhausted, seeing no point in going on and finding it all too unbearable, because one by one family dies all around them or because they're isolated and ignored or told they're worthless, subhuman, disgusting, tainted ... sometimes they take their own lives. Perhaps it's to escape. Perhaps it's the last bit of control they'll have before others enslave or torture them or kill them at their own pleasure.

We all die. Maybe nothing we do, be it art or endless video gaming, murder or callous bullying, makes any difference to anyone. Someday, Vincent Van Gogh's paintings will crumble completely apart. All our works, all our lives, will be forgotten. So what's the point?

Vincent, and oddly the video, explains it all. Because it all goes away in the end, it matters all the more. Every day, every breath. And those that don't have to fight for it might not realize that until it's too late. Vincent didn't realize what an impact his life and work would have. He gave up everything. Even if he'd lived longer, eventually he would have died. But every moment he lived was precious to the art world, to the spiritual world, to so many of us that the number of people who adore his work can't be counted. So many people wish that he'd lived longer, produced more work. So many people who are dying right now wish for another moment, another breath, beyond all hope, one more day in which they could do something, see something remarkable, laugh one more time, hold their loved ones close, write another page in the manuscript. So many people, watching helplessly as a beloved friend or family member is taken away from the world, wish for five more minutes.

Loads of people have those moments, those days, those opportunities but don't take them because each moment doesn't feel imperative, there's no imminent threat, and they're not driven by a passion. Those with passion, under threat of loss or destruction or no, create anyway. Those with a passion for life live with an enviable exuberance. Those who love deeply and feel unworthy of that love and grace feel blessed and never-ending gratitude. Those who recognize the fragility of peace, good weather, and a safe harbor appreciate the cup of coffee early in the morning and that precious sense of being home. The video clip doesn't just heal a tiny but elemental fragment of the wound made in the world by Vincent Van Gogh's art, suffering, and suicide. It reveals the essence of life and living, art and love, struggle, achievement, and loss.

It's all bound together in a gift we're given the moment we're born. Time. What will you do with yours?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Not Quite an Edwardian Farm

It's that overwhelming time of year when farm work goes completely nuts. You'd think that with the weather changing and everything going dormant, we'd be pretty much done for the year. Time for hot chocolate and some quality writing time, right?

I wish.

Because the animals are spending more time indoors in their various barns, coops and stalls, that means more cleaning. The cooler weather means everyone is eating more, too. That means more trips to the feed store, or alternatively, setting up the barn to store extra feed in such a way that the rats can't infest and spoil it. I haven't decided which route to go, which means I have some feed in a half-assed situation that is sort of okay, and some feed that I'll have to keep running down to the feed store to re-buy every three weeks or so.

Shorter days means fewer daylight hours in which to do this stuff. It was dark at 7pm today. And when I woke at 7am, it was pretty darned dim outside. Plus, I have a long list of things I want done before spring. Remember the anti-deer fence around the vegetable garden? Didn't get finished. Now there's a new-ish plan that hopefully will be better in the long run, but there are some potential issues that have to be addressed if the plan is going to work.

I've been watching BBC's Edwardian Farm, and it's actually helped me a lot as far as trying to sort out priorities and setting things up so that they'll work more efficiently (which means less work for me in the long run.) All technology has done has taken some of the back-breaking out of the work. The work itself remains the same. And since we don't have nifty things like tractors around here (or horses, alas,) then any and all insights that might help are very welcome.

The farm on the show is both simplified and more complicated, probably to make for more interesting viewing and to make sure that a lot of history gets some stage time that it otherwise might not. After all, in the end, the show is an educational venture first and foremost. It's been doing a splendid job, and I'm learning a lot from watching. Small details jump out at me, like the depth of turned earth when they're plowing to suit various crops, and how their schedules adapt to the seasons. They take advantage of every single moment of every day. That inspires me to attempt to do the same, or at least look at how I budget my time.

For a while I used to get up early so that I could work out and have some quiet time in which to write. Now I'm thinking about getting up early to try to get some of those farm chores that just aren't getting done often enough (like cleaning and repairs) as a form of exercise and using the remaining time before work to write. Gone are the days when I could do some chores after work. Even when I work 'early' there's too little daylight left by the time I get home to do anything except maybe race around and make sure the animals are all okay.

This all means that even when I retire, I'll still have more work than I know what to do with. Typical farm life. I love it, but there are times when I think about how lovely it would be to sleep in or have a day off. But I would miss my animals, and I can't think of anything else I'd rather be doing. Good work, no regrets.