I love bones. There’s something exceptionally pleasing about the way they feel in your hand, their smooth surfaces and occasionally jagged edges, their curves and swirls. I love their blankness, their lightness, their simultaneous earthiness and ethereality.
When I visited my old home in Colorado in April, my partner asked me to bring him something that could only be found there (“not a rock”).
I brought him some heirloom beans from the Adobe Milling Co. and a smudge stick made from sage I harvested on my grandparents’ property. I also gathered bones. On a walk around the old settlers’ road with my friend and her three kids, we happened upon what I guessed was a scattered rabbit skeleton. As I squatted to collect the bones, the kids helped, picking up tiny vertebrae and placing them gently in my hands.
“It’s a bunny skeleton,” I said.
A moment passed, and Preston, age 3, asked, “Are you making a bunny?”
After I returned home, the bones languished in a wooden box for a couple of months before I felt sufficiently creatively energized to make the mobile I’d imagined. Per my partner’s request, I wanted to make something really special, crafted as an emblem of my love, and as a testament to the enduring magic of the fragrant, sky-suffused high desert landscape that’s one of my favorite places on earth.
As well as Southwest bones and rocks, I incorporated Northwest moss and driftwood, in a union between desert and sea, dry and wet, here and there.
Inside, I lose my sense of time, watching Netflix and reading fiction like I have the flu. Ayla sprawls in the corner, torpid and immobile; every once in a while I glance over to make sure she’s still breathing. The blue ice I press against my neck, the fan, the copious water I drink, bring negligible relief.
My lassitude is self-perpetuating, and I’m feeling like an invalid. But to return my library books, to go to the store for popsicles and watermelon, to walk Ayla, to leave the stifling box that is my home, is too great an effort.
So I slump awkwardly on the couch, neck twisted painfully, nauseous from thirst, though my belly is quivering with water.
These days, all I want to do is take naps and baths and sit around reading.
I don’t want to go outside.
I don’t want to go to work.
I don’t want to write.
Although these activities are essential, seasonal inertia (in addition to other weird things happening in my body – more on that later) has engulfed me, and I feel exhausted and uninspired much of the time.
I have a dog who must be walked, so I go outside, reluctantly. The sky is moist and grey and mocks whatever nascent optimism dares to rise within me.
I like living in a safe, cozy apartment and having food to eat, so I go to work. The job that once filled me with rapturous excitement has begun to feel repetitive and routine.
I desperately long to feel effective in the world, to reconcile my creative stirrings with my actual output. And, who am I kidding: I’d love to “make it” as a writer. Trouble is, there’s nothing forcing me to write. Nothing as compelling as an exercise-hungry dog or the need to keep my job.
I know there’s really no such thing as “writer’s block”: just a lack of discipline. And while this seems like a really poor premise for a blog post, I have to write about something. Anything. Just to do it. Just to write.
To the surprise (and occasional dismay) of my friends and family, I like watching football. While most people would agree that this is a perfectly legitimate and normal pastime, many of those in my circle are indifferent to (or even frown upon) organized sports, football in particular.
I’m a casual fan: my grasp of the game is basic at best, and if the Seahawks aren’t playing, I couldn’t care less. But spending a few hours surrounded by people who are all excited about the same thing, drinking beer, and watching insane feats of athleticism is pretty fun. The beginning of my enjoyment of football coincided with the end of my self-identification as a misanthropic loner. I’m still an introvert who cherishes my solitude, but my identity no longer includes shunning things that have mass appeal.
All that said, it still feels really weird to spend hours watching a televised event. So when I watch football, drawing during commercial breaks (of which there are many) helps me to feel that I’m not wasting my life.
Discreetly drawing people who are constantly moving is hard. I do my portraits as quickly as possible – so they are very, very rough! The following were all done at bars during Seahawks games.
Lately a hyper-awareness of my own mortality has brought with it a sense of the futility of all human endeavor. It may have started with reading this story in the New Yorker, which reminded me a lot of dreams I’ve had in which I’m about to die (usually via trauma): there’s an instant awareness that “this is it,” that “my time has come.” It doesn’t bring sadness, just resignation, a recognition of death’s inevitability.
It’s one thing to think about death and finitude as abstract properties that exist in the world, outside of one’s immediate experience: even when someone close to you dies, it happened to them, not you, extinguished their consciousness and put an end to their experiences. You’re still around to feel the agony of grief, to be irritated by your body’s continued demands in the face of consuming psychic suffering. The cliche of young people thinking themselves immortal has its basis in a profound truth: it can be really, really hard to wrap your head around the idea that you, like everyone else who has ever lived or will ever live (unless certain transhumanists get their way), will die.
But I’m starting to get it. My waking hours are shot through with the knowledge of my certain demise. What was once a highly theoretical proposition with zero emotional resonance has become a frequent refrain in my mind, popping up whenever I think of anything remotely long-term. Artistic achievement, for instance.
Talking with a friend last night, I realized that any desire I hold to gain recognition is simply a thinly cloaked bid for immortality. This probably seems obvious. But I had never really felt the truth of it on a deep level. Since everyone (and probably eventually everything) is going to die, what is the real point of trying to get approval and affirmation from others? I’m convinced that there isn’t one.
This may sound depressing. It’s not. Quite the contrary: the more I come to terms with these realizations, the freer I feel. Freer from the judgments of others and from my own judgment of myself, freer of the need to judge others. Freer to create things that are true to my heart and increase my understanding and amplify my joy and make me a more empathetic and honest person, rather than feeling constant pressure to create things that will bring me acclaim. Because when I try to make art with other people’s responses in mind, I don’t make art.
Similarly, the knowledge that, one day in the not-too-distant future, my body will be dust, is helping me to heal from a deeply distorted body image. I’m starting to relate to my body more as my own precious vessel, a miraculous thing of inestimable value that enables me to move through the world. That there exists visible fat on my body is starting to recede into irrelevance. Deciding when and what to eat is beginning to have more to do with when I’m hungry and what I want, rather than an anxiety-addled calculus that has little to do with my actual health. Instead of seeing it as a malleable, and ultimately perfectible, reflection of my worth as a person (when I achieve a coveted sculpted thin shape everyone will think I’m really great!), I recognize my body as the part of my self that enables me to experience the sensory pleasures of which I’m so fond, to do work that has meaning to me. And I have the great fortune of having a very strong and healthy body that also happens to look pretty good (for now).