Was questioned recently by someone about why, considering my advancing senior age status, do I continue to go on – trying to learn and do and “find myself” as an artist given my near total lack of obvious fame, success, financial gain etc etc etc to date.
I was taken aback. Why wouldn’t I? I had to pause and give it some thought over a few days. Is it because I need to prove to myself that I can stamp out all the lemons of my life into vintage lemonade? Some. Maybe. But there is a point that enough is enough, and I might be justified in just kicking back and enjoy a bit more. Maybe. Is it because that after 30+ years of Buddhist practice, I have become an embodiment of the Ho’nimyo spirit. NOT. Maybe a little.
As truth often strikes during the most mundane moment, I was walking through my quiet house seeking coffee when I paused to look at the print of a painting by Sylvester Urquhart, friend and talented artist. It hangs directly at the end of my hall so I can’t miss it everyday. Then there is the one by Gibby Perry in my bedroom. It struck me that a large part of my art collection was done by dead friends. I walked around. Dead. Dead. Dead. Her too.
The HIV epidemic barreled through my life starting in my mid-twenties and before retrovirals the swath it cut through the creative community was wide, relentless, and greeted AT BEST by the non artistic community by puzzled indifference. By the time I was thirty, if I listed the top ten persons I knew, or was inspired by as an artist, most by then were dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Him too. One reason I didn’t return to Los Angeles was that most of the people I would have liked to touch base with were gone. Gone gone gone. (short apology to the few who are still here and want me to visit) By the time I left LA in my early thirties, I was a practiced, if not professional, mourner. It was like we had become artistic orphans, those of us young uns left. Fewer opportunities to work along side, or follow, those who inspire. Don’t get too close. There has to be an untouched scrap of yourself to hold onto at the funeral.
I may have been more content to exist more to sidelines and admire and support, rather than do, had the HIV virus remained an animal-only disease. I know a large part of my struggle is powered by my need to keep faith with those whom I have lost. I am reminded of the original story of Pyramus and Thisbee (Shakespeare’s inspiration for Romeo and Juliet). What is rather forgotten about that story is the actual symbolic Metamorphosis of the mulberry bush. It could be titled “How the Mulberry Got Its Color”. It seems at one time the mulberry fruit was pure white. After the two lovers talk through walls, etc, have the unfortunate encounter with the lion, bloody scarf, etc etc they sacrifice themselves, one before the other under the pure white mulberry bush. The roots of the bush are so overwhelmed by their blood that it turns the dark mulberry red that we know today. I, like many others for various tragic reasons, have been likewise transformed. There is a part of the self that is indelibly marked by catastrophic loss. The tricky trick is to learn to go forward as a red mulberry.
I also believe our society was marked by this anti-creative tsunami. We just don’t realize it, as we continue living in a universe minus hundreds of former suns and are used to the dark. Some of our pale little stars may shine a little brighter now in comparison. Perhaps. I may not have “discovered myself”. I may still be at sixty-plus years clueless as to what my “mission in life” may be. But I still CAN go on. I have to muddle on because they cannot. What could I possibly say to them when we meet again if I did not?