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Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Van Gogh’

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

As the F train ran under the river into Brooklyn, I wiped my runny nose with a tissue and saw a spot of blood. By the time we pulled into Jay Street I had to plug the tissue into my nostril like caulk in a broken pipe. I get little nosebleeds sometimes, especially on cool dry winter days when I’m blowing out mucus every 15 minutes, but this was getting ridiculous.

At Bergen Street I got off the train, lest I freak out the other rush-hour commuters with my non-clotting stream of blood-snot. I huddled next to a trash can with my head down as the blood soaked every inch of the only two tissues I had, and began to paint all my fingers a deep, slick red. The G train rolled in, passengers came off, many of whom walked right past me. Couple minutes later another F train, a minute later another G. Part of me hoped no one would notice me, and part of me was angry no one was stopping to offer me more tissues.

I was about to leave the station and start phoning friends who live in Carroll Gardens when a guy in his early 40s asked if I was OK. Apparently I was shaking. I honestly didn’t know when the blood would stop flowing. There was so much blood he thought maybe I’d sliced up a finger. When I told him it was just a nosebleed he invited me to his brownstone just a couple blocks over. For a second I thought I shouldn’t follow him home, but then I figured that a guy who offers help to a bloody stranger during rush hour *has* to be a good person, right?

His name’s Ted. Studied theater at SUNY Purchase in the early 90s, now works IT for Verizon. The way he remained so calm and warm despite all my blood, and more importantly, the way he kept *me* calm despite all my blood, I was surprised he’s not a nurse or an EMT.

The bleeding stopped by the time we got to his place. After I washed myself up, I stuffed some paper towels and cotton balls in the pockets of my hoodie for the ride home, just in case. Ted gave me a chilled bottle of Blu Italy sparkling natural mineral water, with orange, lemon, and pink grapefruit flavor. He said I should probably hydrate myself. (I’m drinking it now. It’s sublime.) Then I shook his hand, thanked him very much, and we parted ways.

So yeah, Ted from Carroll Gardens is a super-cool guy.

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It does sound like common sense, and yet, when you’ve got a certain temperament, you need to re-remind yourself of this “common sense” once in a while.

I’ve tried meditating a few times before, and when I did, I always felt much better afterward. Alas, I lacked the discipline to make it a habit. Recently I got a tender, loving kick in the ass that told me maybe I should try harder to find that discipline. So I’m really trying meditation now. Still too early to tell how much this might change my life, but I like what I feel so far.

Today I re-read David Lynch’s Catching The Big Fish, which I originally read during one of my fizzled attempts at meditation. The book was even more inspiring the second time, and it reminded me that I should always try to be more Lynchian. I want to give it 4 stars, but first I need to see if this meditation actually pays off as much as Mr. Lynch says it should…

It’s good for the artist to understand conflict and stress. Those things can give you ideas. But I guarantee you, if you have enough stress, you won’t be able to create.  And if you have enough conflict, it will just get in the way of your creativity. You can understand conflict, but you don’t have to live in it.

In stories, in the worlds that we can go into, there’s suffering, confusion, darkness, tension, and anger. There are murders; there’s all kinds of stuff. But the filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering… Let your characters do the suffering.

It’s common sense: The more the artist is suffering, the less creative he is going to be. It’s less likely that he is going to enjoy his work and less likely that he will be able to do really good work.

Right here people might bring up Vincent van Gogh as an example of a painter who did great work in spite of– or because of– his suffering. I like to think that van Gogh would have been even more prolific and even greater if he wasn’t so restricted by by the things tormenting him. I don’t think it was pain that made him so great– I think his painting brought him whatever happiness he had.

Some artists believe that anger, depression, or these negative things give them an edge. They think they need to hold on to that anger and fear so they can put it in their work. And they don’t like the idea of getting happy– it makes them want to puke. They think it would make them lose their edge of their power.

But you will not lose your edge if you meditate. You will not lose your creativity. And you will not lose your power. In fact, the more you meditate and transcend, the more those things will grow, and you’ll know it. You will gain far more understanding of all aspects of life when you dive within. In that way, understanding grows, appreciation grows, the bigger picture forms, and the human condition becomes more and more visible.

If you’re an artist, you’ve got to know about anger without being restricted by it. In order to create, you’ve got to have energy; you’ve got to have clarity. You’ve got to be able to catch ideas. You’ve got to be strong enough to fight unbelievable pressure and stress in this world. So it just makes sense to nurture the place where that strength and clarity and energy come from– to dive in and enliven that. It’s a strange thing, but it’s true in my experience. Bliss is like a flak jacket. It’s a protecting thing. If you have enough bliss, it’s invincibility. And when those negative things start lifting, you can catch more ideas and see them with greater understanding. You can get fired up more easily. You’ve got more energy, more clarity. Then you can really go to work and translate those ideas into one medium or another.

David Lynch, Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity

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Van Gogh - The Potato Eaters

The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh, 1885

Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.

Those of us who consider ourselves “artists” are always comparing ourselves to the greats. Not just our work, but our lives. There’s a bit of conceit in this habit, to convince ourselves that there’s greatness in us too. But mostly we do this for humility and comfort: Well, Poe ended up drunk and crazy, and Erik Satie lived the second half of his life in indigence, and Herman Melville never lived to see his reputation recover after Moby-Dick… so all things considered, I guess I shouldn’t complain

The world has no pity on a man who can’t do or produce something it thinks worth money.

Says Gissing in New Grub Street.

Technically I met David Markson, but I never really spoke with him. I might have helped him find a book once, but I can’t remember for sure. He often came into the bookstore where I once worked. He’d sign copies of Wittgenstein’s Mistress and talk a while with the clerks. He was always warm and smiley in the bookstore, not the way you might expect the author of lonely, death-obsessed experimental fiction to act. I kept meaning to read Wittgenstein’s Mistress, but I didn’t get around to it until after he died. If I had read that book when I was still working at the store, I might have tried to get to know David Markson. At the time I was just too shy to get to know an author I hadn’t read. Jeff Laughlin worked at that store with me, and he knew David Markson much better than I did, and he wrote the perfect obituary for him.

Well, my own work, I am risking my life for it and my reason has half foundered because of it– that’s all right.

Says a last unfinished letter of Van Gogh’s found after his death.

I love the parts of The Last Novel when Markson (“Novelist”) calls his dead friends to hear their answering machine messages. That’s something I’m totally gonna do when my friends start dying.

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