Jan 2, 2005

The Book of Irrelephant

This is a favourite topic of mine--the artist as struggler for immortality.

Every basic drive of Mankind's leads back to one thing--living forever. We cannot live forever, this fact has been proven a few times. On a cellular level we want to live for as long as possible, so we strive for longevity. Since we cannot attain longevity past a certain point (about 80 yrs is high average) we sublimate these desires into other outlets: art, literature, murder, children, charitable trusts, the list goes on, but at the base of them all is the desire for immortality, if not in tissue and blood then at least as a name and a function, as an erata in a history somewhere.

I recognise my own mortality, just as I recognise the top of my own hands. I also recognise the outlets I have used or continue to use to achieve my own brand of immortality, fleeting tho it may prove to be:

Making art. I tell people that "my art is the exhaust of a life being lived." I am a creator, so I create. It's what I do. I write (you didn't know that?) and I paint and I work in wood and I garden and I use a camera and I do a thousand and one little things that not only are creative but allow me to be more creative, and hopefully at least a few of these things will outlast me. Oil paint on canvas can survive over a couple of hundred years if care is taken to preserve it. I know of a few of my canvases that have already been lost to fire, to the trash can, and to my own activity, but perhaps a few will live past me.

I wrote on my other website concerning a huge painting that is still in the process of creation. Right now it stands in the garage, all 24 square feet of it, and when we drove up J. told me how much she liked it, how much of me she saw in it. I wrote about the same thing on the site, about how it was old enough that it seems to have become sort of a record of my artistic progressions, how if you were to cut me in half and count my rings you could match those rings to the images on the painting. A record of mortality that I hope lives beyond me, carries my story forward past my death. I'm almost afraid to finish it, for fear of putting the final brush-stroke on and then dying.

Children. I have one beautiful daughter who will carry on the teachings and moralities of my wife and I, and the genetics of myself and her mother. In this way my name will live on a few generations, perhaps a little over a hundred years, as "grandfather" or if I'm lucky, as "great grandfather." I could write all day about her, but this isn't the place nor the time. Suffice to say that our children are our surest paths into the far future, carrying with them our names, our genes, our teaching.

Another? Other people. I touch other people every day, some complete strangers, some intimate friends, through my voice, this blog, my emails and phone calls and day-to-day happenstance meetings.

I record things that are of myself through this blog. I know of at least a few of you who are diehards, who check every day to see what foolishness I am up to. On you I write my stories, my instances and occurances that I am often forgetful of, having written them. When I finish a painting, I usually give it away or sell it immediately--it's a story that's finished, I don't need to keep it here. I have been guilty of forgetting what they look like, because they are already separate from me. The same is true with my stories; I write experiences and jokes and incidents, and often forget them because more rush in to fill their place, but some find their homes elsewhere, and are related in my name, or my memory. That, too, is my immortality.

When I go to Oregon in the summer to bring my daughter home for the school year, I make certain to go to the Pacific coast. There is an entire story there, for later. But, while I am there, every year now I have written in the sand some message, some word or sentence that needs saying. I write in the sand with one of the myriad round black stones that litter the ground, and sooner or later the tide comes in high enough and that message is washed away. I like to think that the message I wrote there lies in the breast of the ocean, and with every beat of the waves is repeated into the ether, to live forever. That is an immortality, tho perhaps not as obvious a one as the others.

This blog is like that sand writing. I know it's not permanent, it cannot be more permanent than magnetic encoding on a storage device somewhere in a computer, and with one sweep of the magnetic tide it will be gone, but bits of it, if not whole chunks of it might remain with one or more of you, and as long as you live I will live. Some small part of you is the book of me; you carry a passage of my life, or two, or many passages, and in you I live on.

The best part of that is that it's a two-way street. I carry you with me, bits of you, memories and pieces and scents and sounds and letters, and as long as I live you have a sort of limited immortality. I am a walking library of people; lives as books long and short, books finished and books still being written to this moment. And so long as I live, you will live in me, and as far as I can push the library of us ahead of me I will. That is my promise to you.

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