Art Vs. Death

No Future

The thing I probably fear most in life at my age age is dying with my song unsung. I don’t feel old – most of the time anyway. But who knows how long I have left in this incarnation?

It has taken me many months to gather up the courage and resolve to begin publishing here on my brand new ‘personal’ site. I think my biggest fear during those months of hesitation was that I would lose the small amount of financial security the old site afforded me.

William Blake Tarot © Ed Buryn.

William Blake Tarot © Ed Buryn.

That security, by the way? It wasn’t real. It turned out to be a fantasy, just like any other future-based thinking.

Society has trained us to think of time as a linear progression starting at birth and ending at death. We are, as a species, deeply suspicious and afraid of radical change. The linear conception of time, which we call clock time or psychological time, is a fairly recent invention.  

Our modern fantasy of time as unchanging – a uniform march of hours proceeding steadily forward – offers us security. Yesterday I had time to watch TV after work, today I’m watching TV after work…therefore tomorrow I will also have time to watch TV after work.

But it also encourages us to become consumers, rather than creators. When we fantasize that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today, and so will the day after tomorrow and the day after that, it’s so easy to make a habit of saying: I’ll put that off until tomorrow.

This is exactly how the global corporate mechanism wants us to think. Because each time we repress our inner creative urge, we go against Life. We start to become dis-eased. Even if we’re not aware of it consciously, we are now inwardly unhappy, unfulfilled, anxious. And we, quite naturally, don’t want to feel that way. And there’s a cornucopia of foods, beverages, products and experiences on sale right now that will supposedly make us feel good again!

This fantasy of the future is so ubiquitous, we tend to go there by default. We don’t even think about it. One moment, we’re inspired. We have a great idea. We feel passionate, alive, filled with the energy of creation. But sooner or later resistance arises (because resistance always arises) and we make the unconscious decision to stop creating, to stop doing what brings us joy.

Maybe the resistance comes in the form of self-judgment: “I’m not good enough to pull it off.” Maybe it comes as doubt: “No one will like it/buy it/understand it.” Maybe it comes as fear: “My partner won’t like it; I’ll go broke; My kids will stop loving me; My friends will think I’m crazy…”

These feelings don’t feel good either. And we want to feel good. It’s our natural desire. So we tell ourselves we’ll do it in this imaginary time we call the future, a time when we’ll have more time, more money, more focus, more energy, more resources, fewer duties and distractions. Then I’ll finish that song.Then I’ll write that story. Then I’ll get out of the abusive relationship. Then I’ll quit this job I hate and start doing what I love.

We don’t just tell ourselves, “OK, I just made another decision to choose Death instead of Life .” But that’s what we’re really doing.

Blake & Boldness

As I was trying to get my energy going for another late-night session working on this site while also trying to finish creating content the readers of my old site have already paid me for, I felt despair creeping in. “I can’t do it,” the inner voice told me. “It’s too hard. There’s no way I can get it all done. I always dream too big.”

I’ve been working intensively with the William Blake Tarot of the Creative Imagination for the last year. I freakin’ love that deck. Ed Buryn, the creator of the deck, is a genius and his synthesis of Blake’s cosmology is unparalleled and amazingly succinct.

Anyway, I drew the 7 of Poetry – Boldness as one of three cards for the question, “What’s my best attitude or action tonight?”

The card shows Joy standing unflinching in her integrity as Death towers over her, threatening her with annihilation. Here are a couple sentences from Buryn’s commentary that really struck me:

In particular, Blake felt that creative artists should boldly raise their voices to resist societal error […] Although Death will be the eventual victor, the life-impulse and the boldness of art that you represent and create will never die or be vanquished.

You can do your duty to life — countering fears and mortality itself — by doing what you love, upholding truth, and encouraging others in the same bold path.

Emphasis mine. That’s my intention with to do what I love, uphold truth, and encourage others in the same bold path. The ‘societal error’ I stand against is the lie that says we are meant to be consumers and we should leave creating to the professionals. The lie is that if express ourselves authentically, if we do what we enjoy and share it with the world, we will die alone, destitute, unloved.

The lie says that when you are still young enough to have the energy and passion to actually enjoy yourself, you should spend those years doing what is expected of you by society. You should make a good living, build a solid career, save up for the future, etc. Then when you’re too old and worn out to care that much anymore, that’s when you should start living!

What are you doing? “Oh, I’m working as hard as I can to save up for retirement.” I mean, think about that word, retirement. It doesn’t mean “to live joyfully!” It means to withdraw, to rest, “to pull oneself back from”.

putting it out there

Back when I was in my first real rock and roll band, there was this idea that if you were serious – if you were working on a serious album – you didn’t share your demos with people outside the band. I don’t think it was just our band. That was a time when you could still make money selling records or CDs. So you didn’t want to give it away for free. And you didn’t want to intentionally share your four-track basement tapes with the world, because you wanted people’s first impression of you to be the full-on studio album in all its sonic glory.

Well, in the age of Spotify, CDs are basically either expensive business cards or convenient ways for your fans to give you a $15 donation. Which is fine with me – I think the democratization of the music industry is the best thing that could ever happen for 95% of the musicians in the world. (I love Spotify and I’ll probably be upgrading to one of the high-quality streaming services as soon as I can afford a good portable headphone amp.)

So, one of the things I’m going to do on this site is share my creative process with you in the form of song demos, works in progress, and other imperfect musical recordings. I’m also going to write when and what I feel like writing. Some of it will bore the hell out of you. Some of it will tend towards the insignificant. Some of it will be transcendent and full of beauty. But I’ll trust you to take from my work what you enjoy and skip what you don’t. As Blake says elsewhere, “I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.”

Not that I need reasons for sharing more music, but here are three that might encourage you in sharing your own gift:

  1. Because I need an audience. What can I say? I’m an exhibitionist. If I can’t look forward to sharing what I’m working on and getting attention for it, I tend to slip into that fantasy of the future. “That’s a great idea, but realistically it’s going to be another 2-3 years by the time you get it finished and release the album – best put it aside for the moment and come back to it when you have more time to focus on it.” And guess what? Ten years later it’s still just an idea.
  2. Because I’m finally at a point where I’m willing to face rejection and  take criticism. I really love the new songs that the Muse has been bestowing upon me for the last three years and I want them to be the best they can be. It takes a lot of work to turn that melody inside my head into a recording that I’m happy enough listening to that I want to share it with you. If I’m going to do all that work, I want to make sure my fans actually like it. So I’m going to share – and here’s an open invitation to tell me what you like and what you don’t like.
  3. Because, just in case I get called home early, I want to make sure I leave enough to keep my fans happy. I was in my late twenties, with a double major in English and French literature and an M.A. in French under my belt, when I finally figured out what I loved about my all-time favorite writers. It was their voice. Or their soul, if you prefer. The way their minds work. I would read anything they wrote, even a shopping list. Same goes for my favorite musicians. And it was so disappointing to fall in love with someone’s creative voice and then have that voice fall silent because they’d only managed to leave behind a small body of work.

Some human beings out there are going to discover me one day and just freaking fall in love with my soul, my voice. At the pace I’ve been going for the first 20 years of my career, those people are going to be pretty pissed that I was such a perfectionist that I only released two proper albums plus a handful of random demos on YouTube and Sound Cloud.

OK, that’s my screed for the night. Hope you like the songs. Hope you enjoy getting to look in on my creative process. And I hope that by finding the courage to do what I love and share it with you boldly, I can encourage you to use your gift and in so doing to enter the Eternity of the present moment. As my first ‘all-time favorite writer’ Jack Kerouac once said, “Life is either art or sex. It’s that or die.” What he and Blake were both expressing is that we don’t overcome fear and death by outliving them; we conquer Death and enter Eternity by joining fully with Life.

Art – authentic Self-expression – brings us into union with what Blake called “the infinite and the Eternal of the Human form.”

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