still figuring shit out
i find myself googling the venice, ca based artist billy al bengston. i like his work, and laid back personality. venice is a very cool place. i've been there only once and it was like god smacked me upside the head. visions of surf, surfing, skateboarding, and a gritty serenity enveloped me when i stepped on to the beach. i'm no beach boy by any means. but there is a kind of vibe that venice produces that agrees with my own sine waves.
then again when i was in my early 20s i made several trips to so cal with my brother. often we would hop in the car with no destination in mind. just drive down i5 and see where the road took you. the road took me to a library in downtown l.a. when my brother had business somewhere and i was killing time. i found a small press anthology of local poets. i can't remember the poets but i do remember the book was cheaply produced and its edges were ragged. the library was sparsely populated but for the odd street person. and i was in love with the whole experience of reading gritty street poetry in a public downtown l.a. library.
then there was the time when the road took me to the l.a. county museum of art. i was still figuring shit out. like artists, art, reading, writing, learning how to navigate this odd, peculiar, dangerous, beautiful world. i discovered the boxing painting by george bellows that knocked me flat on my ass in awe. that was the place i saw the coolest dude i had, at the time, laid my eyes upon. he looked like the art mafia, but oh man! dressed all in black wearing doc martin boots his grey hair clipped very short with a bushy steel grey beard and round tortoise shell eyeglasses. i was sure i was staring right at the productions of late 20th century painting.
i thought that when you reached a certain age you would have lots of shit figured out. i was totally and utterly wrong. the older i get the more i know i don't know, and will never know. i reread this weekend an essay by the canadian poet roo borson. she writes about approaching the age of 50, and rereading basho who in his own middle age set upon his journeys that were collected in his book of travel haibun the narrow road to the deep north. borson is also working toward an understanding that she will not be able to figure everything in her life. aging is a curious affair. when you are young time is seemingly infinite and un-constructed. the whole universe is waiting for you to explore it. when you age time constricts. your mortality slaps you across the nose and yells, your days are numbered, dumbshit, what the fuck are you gonna do with them?
that is a fair question. one of the pleasures of aging is the knowledge of how vast the universe is and how limited your life is. against such vast-ness the older person rediscovers a vitality. you, the person with intellect and a lusting body, are limited by time. you are also limited by your abilities too. never mind all that. joy to the man or woman, or transgender person, who can look upon the present moment, whatever that moment might be, in utter awe. because, we are fucking here. yes, it sucks, sometimes. the buddha tells us, life is suffering, life sucks. even when i despair that we will not make this a better world i do my best to persevere. i don't know where the hell we are going. the future is looking pretty grim. and yet, the life we live is predicated on mutual love, respect and understanding. i am sure of that. anything less is sure of our destruction as a species.
borson reread basho at the age of 49 because she still hadn't figured shit out and was looking for a guide. so am i at the same age. i don't know what success is. if success is measured by wealth and fame than i am fucked. if failure is ascribed by the continuing exploration of how to live than call me a failure. i like bengston because he is a california artist. i am a california boy too. not a beach boy even if you looked at me right now tanned as a motherfucker and still shaking out the beach sand from my shoes. i still haven't figured shit out. but i know what the danish poet paul la fleur said, to be a poet is not writing a poem but finding a new way to live. in this place called earth we all occupy finding a new way of living is the hardest art. that is how i'll end this essay.