Battening the Hatches

I am today, like so many in this part of the world, simply ecstatic to have seen the weather channel’s report that the president will be “monitoring the storm” from the White House. Thank goodness that the commander in chief will be WATCHING! After all, if the president is watching, he’ll redirect hurricane Sandy if things get out of hand. But most importantly I should not forget the historic, remarkable, astonishing, unusual, and altogether mind-defying nature of this particular “storm of the century.” The weather channel is right, I did take in the patio furniture yesterday to make more time to watch advertising today.
The ludicrous sensationalism of television reporting (even from something as mundane as the weather channel) of infotainment has struck a nerve for me today. I hear a lot of credible-sounding people touting Hurricane Sandy as the weather-event of their careers. This is worrisome. Yes, damage and dangerous roads, people who may not have hot or running water, or electricity in the coming days will face real challenges, but that is merely unfortunate. A deeper, sociological worry is being brought home to me. Broadcasters would rather spend their time, their money, their breath on hyping the ‘unusual’ behavior of a storm than talking about what people had ought to expect. And why is this? Because that is what most of us will most often choose to listen to. The most incredible thing is that any meteorologist, and certainly any climatologist worth his or her salt will tell you that this will not be the storm of the century, nor will its behavior be considered unusual for many more seasons. As far as career-making weather events, unless a particular broadcaster is planning to retire before next hurricane season he or she is yanking your chain. Bigger, heavier, nastier, wetter storms will be the rule in years to come, not the exception. But don’t worry, just ride this one out in your little blue box made of ticky-tacky with your eyes glued to broadcast media, and everything will be ok. Buy your placebo at the gas pump, there is no getting off the island if things turn bad.

The best news man ever to hit a screen encouraged us all to lean out the windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” Today, I’m mad as hell, but I’m going to batten down the hatches. And here, indoors and dry and warm for now I’m going remember reflection, I’m going to remember closeness, and purpose, and I will shut out the wind, the rain and remember the value in that by shutting out the story. Anyone who has ever had to sleep out in a storm knows that comfort does not come from knowing what is outside, but from trusting the dry warmth you can find. So I will take some time to think of the utopias that we all hope will not have to form in hell, and know that when things are at their worst, people tend to act for their collective interest. I just hope that when they ran to the big-box stores to buy their BPA-filled containers of water and all the bread and milk they could lay their hands on, people from my neighborhood remembered how to talk about their plans and wish each other well instead of staring up at the satellite picture.


I have struggled to put my thoughts in order, to build cohesive crossovers between my areas of interest. But I was always sure that I was looking for a unifying theory. Projects accumulate, and moments pass, time rolls forward, and things don’t come together. But I work, and I press and I struggle. Or, at least thats what I thought was happening. Last week it was suggested to me that I am not missing my unifying theory, that I am not subtly under-committed, but rather my work is suffering from fear.
I have been living this week with the idea that, “You might be afraid of what it is you can do.” The unfortunate conclusion I am drawing is that this could be my best unifying theory thus far. In many ways I have avoided and derailed and distracted from the reality I need to face. The fact of the matter is that as energizing and fun as the work can be, it is terrifying. I have stayed with just a foot in the water because it is only the craft that is energizing and fun. The art, the self-exploration, the self-exposition, the joy and anger, the sadness and the fear are painful and draining.

When I have traveled the paths of artistic truth they have been fearful and angry. The depth to which I can delve is limited in my trust, my belief that I can return to my sanity. The domestication of life in society protects us all from the voices that speak in our bones. To borrow a phrase from great lyricist “We’re branded with a secret in a language we can’t read.” I have taken the effort to come to terms with this fact, but I often feel that I was never meant to translate these secrets. They claim they can only ever be understood in their own original language. Therefore following their meanings as they develop will begin to distance one from his sanity, safety, and domestication. Distance from domestication is not all bad, and indeed it can be very pleasant. However, the fear that as you follow down the path of truth you begin to lose track of your way back to the place you know, the place where you are stable is a fear that should not be underestimated. There is a stereotype of artists, especially among young male artists, that we can be dangerous to ourselves, that we drink, do a lot of drugs, and have illicit casual affairs. There was a time I thought I was simply a more practical, mature, stable person than some of my peers. Today I am discovering that I have simply never chosen to give myself up to the current of the fearsome truths that play havoc with these less fortunate characters. In this light it must be said I am glad I haven’t. However, the pain and fear persist, I have not followed the road before me fearing I will neither recall the path back nor find safe passage through.

Learning and turmoil, the boiling in your gut when you do not know the answers. When you know neither the way nor the goal, you can only step forward if you cannot stay where you are. So I remain living within the confines of my fear and slowly, carefully, with waning patience, I am pressing its borders.

Dirt Bagging

A term I would like to help redefine. Dirtbag.
Yvon Chouinard can be heard in Chris Malloy’s documentary, 180° South talking about his humble beginnings at a forge in California. He talks about hiring his friends and how production would stop when the surf came up. But most interesting to me was the use of “dirtbag” to describe these more intrepid than enterprising youth. Here it is a term of endearment. This is of course notably distinct from its typical usage, because this is not as simple as ironic, friendly ribbing. To hear the legendary climber, conservationist, unusual businessman and founder of Patagonia carry the word in his mouth is to hear the parts of this whole. The group of accidental entrepreneurs in the California forge were enterprising climbers, dedicated surfers, alpine junkies, backcountry devotees… people with a deep, profound, and abiding love for dirt.

The “dirtbags” in question were not named this for being loosely connected to society, uninterested in its virtues, or deadbeats you wouldn’t want to meet in an alley. Instead it describes their philosophy and freedom, their virtuous frugality, and describes it in terms of their reverence for organic matter on the ground. These are people who hold just enough faith and investment in society, in having jobs and making products, in financial planning and business to get them to their next great outdoor adventure. They are “dirtbags” because they carry with them through all of their ventures a spiritual bag of dirt.

Slung over their shoulders like so many, course, beautiful, highly individualized Santa Claus sacks are the bags full of spiritual and metaphorical and metaphysical bags of dirt. It is a large, joyous, fallen-leaves-smelling burlap sack full of humus reminding them of what is really important. To true “dirtbags” the money they earn, the accolades they accrue, the positions they’re granted, and titles they hold are of no consequence, and so it is for the continuum of life. For to the universe at large, even the natural earth around you, none of those things matter. The “dirtbags” carry this truth with them everyday, and so are always ready to step out on the next opportunity to commune with the only great importance, that they are human and the world is still here, and is (in places) still alive as they are.

And so I have been challenging myself to redefine “Dirtbag” and I have found some use to seeing it as a verb. Everyday I hope to be “dirt bagging” I pick up my sack of peat, and humus, and yet-uncomposted leaves, sling it over my shoulder and remember what’s important.


I had a conversation earlier this week about how to maintain momentum, and interest, and live within the world of endless work. Like so many other people these days I am keeping two part time jobs and trying to find the time to get what I hope will one day be my full time occupations off the ground in the meanwhile. We discussed strategies for maintaining productivity and activities like writing morning pages or blocking time for your projects ahead of anyone else’s demands. And yet, for all the strategies we employ there is a persistent nagging problem of inertia. I’ve learned this lesson before, mostly in my running practice. When it comes to brain chemistry, to willingness, to desire to continue with a challenging pursuit, there is no substitute for inertia.
This week I found myself sitting, flat on the floor of my intentions with my projects spread about me, my legs laid flat and immobile. So it begins again, the struggle to find the joy in beginning. The starting will always be the difficult piece. There are always reasons to do it later, instead jump in. Its not usually a case of the water is fine, in fact its difficult and frustrating and it hurts my brain a little. However, struggling through the beginning means that continuing will be easier and most of all it does not feel wasted. There is no waste in struggle and failure, but agonizing over whether or not you WILL waste your time is a colossal and tragic waste of your soul.

I do not know for sure what it is I need to achieve, but today I am again on my way to understanding. A body in motion.