Today, like most days, I work at trying to stay focused and in my element. Living in Mexico, and I suspect anywhere, there are many distractions keeping me from that goal. While some distractions are self-inflicted and fun (like FaceBook), most are merely daily nuisances like things breaking or deteriorating in the house, noisy neighbors or dogs and interruptions. Some, however, are bigger. These “bigger” distractions at the moment are centered around the tension between me wanting to be “in my element” of designing or painting and my inner moral compass tugging me into the national and international debate about gun control, dishonest politics and the lack of social equity in life. I am torn between the notion that I can actually move the needle on the debate and the self-doubt that nothing I say will make a damn bit of difference. In Rainer Marie Rilke’s poem, “Self-Portrait from the Year 1906” I find a similar theme.
The distinction of an old, long-noble race
in the heavy arches of the eyebrows.
In the blue eyes, childhood’s anxious
shy looks still, not a waiter’s servility
yet feminine, as one who endures.
The mouth made as a mouth is, why and straight,
not persuasive, yet not unwilling to speak out
if required. A not inferior forehead,
Still most comfortable when bent, shading the self.
This, is it countenance, scarcely configured;
never, in either suffering or elation,
brought together for a real achievement;
yet as if, from far away, out of scattered things,
a serious and enduring work were being planned.
This relates to my belief that enduring work is our true legacy. Yet how enduring work related to the movement or change of social systems and dystopias to the revealing and celebrating our inner gifts. And are these independent or are they mutual? Is one parasitic on the other? Will my gifts flourish or be extinguished if I continue to give-a-damn about the sad sate of the world and try to fix it?
Rilke’s composed his epitaph in the waning months just before dying of leukemia.
Rose, O pure contradiction, desire to be no one’s sleep beneath so many lids.”
Like the contraction of the beauty of the flower and the potential pain of the thorn, my search for focus and lack of distractions will be aided by how I approach the rose. If I rush towards the flower and forget of the dangers lurking on the stem, I will be pricked by the thorns of discontent. If I only contemplate the beauty of the rose, I will not possess it—only understand it through observation. My search is fully knowing and learning from the daily pricks of pain from malice, xenophobia, racism, dishonesty and lack of social equity in our world. It is for me to learn to coexist with the pricks and the beauty—having one without the other makes each poorer.
My friend Deborah Thompson sent me this wonderful quote after reading this post:
“There lay all my love of life: a silent passion for what would perhaps escape me, a bitterness beneath a flame. Each day I would leave this cloister like a man lifted from himself, inscribed for a brief moment in the continuance of the world… There is no love of life without despair of life.” —Albert Camus