Despairing for Joy

Today I saw a woman standing at a bus stop.  She held up a blown out umbrella in a vain attempt to take shelter from the rain.  A sudden squall lashed at her, but twenty yards down the road the pavement remained absolutely dry.

So life sucks.   We can agree on that, can’t we?  There’s no need to defend this proposition.  But if some of you suspect that I’m being overly negative, just think back to a few moments from childhood that came as rude shock.  Extrapolate from there (review similar episodes from various stages in your life) and come to the aforementioned, obvious conclusion.  Don’t listen to Pollyannas who try to obscure the clarity of your dark vision when they babble on about newborn babies, flowers and sunshine.  The positive-thinking upbeats are just part of the evil.  Their one cruel purpose in life is to make you feel bad about your negativity.

As you sink deeper into depression reflect on the Buddhist teaching that all life is suffering.  Think, “Thanks a lot, Buddha.  That sure helps,” and feel even more justified in holding onto your black funk.

When you hit rock bottom find some satisfaction that you can’t sink any further, and then consider the additional afflictions that could arrive at any moment.  Marvel that the possibilities for personal misery are nearly infinite, and smile when you realize that God is magnificent in His Elaborate Creativity.

Find satisfaction in the fact that by wallowing in despair you are actually coming closer to the hidden foundations of All That Is.  A star doesn’t want to explode in a super nova, and galaxies fear the black holes swallowing them.   The seas shudder as they crash against the unyielding shore, and mountains despise the storms that gnaw at the magnificence of their height.  A microbe dreads the touch of an ameba as much as an antelope abhors the rake of a lion’s claws.

By embracing the pervasive Cosmic Despair you enter into the Great Ennui and become one with the true nature All That Is.  Unimaginable relief floods your soul as you realize that your futile struggle for happiness has finally ended.

“Thank God that’s over,” you’ll pray as your heart fills with sweet resignation, which is, after all, the purest form of joy.

So, The Last Kid Gets Married

My son wed his long time sweetheart, Amy Carlie, a few days after Christmas.  My daughter married Bryant Scott yesterday, May 20th.  I felt a lot more relaxed on the day that Alan walked the aisle, but found it harder to give Annie away.  A father feels a protective attachment to his daughter.

I spent the morning of the wedding beset with dull anxiety.  I kept mostly to myself and said the least amount possible.  When I saw Annie in full wedding regalia a few minutes before the ceremony I had to catch myself.  She looked stunning in her gown and with her hair swept up.  I knew that if I was going to break down it would be at that moment.

She looked nervous but happy and a little tearful.  She had been afraid that she would cry through the ceremony, so I told her a joke.  That didn’t work, so I deadpanned, “I hate you.  I wish you’d never been born.”  She picked up on her cue and said something about hating me too and that I had been a horrible father.  We meant the opposite, of course, but our declarations of mock disdain cut through the welling emotions that threatened to turn our walk down the aisle into a Dad/Daughter weepy fest.

We made it.  I shook Bryant’s hand, hugged Annie, took her hand and placed it in his. I sat down next to my wife. The ceremony was brief but funny, sweet, and touching.  Their ring bearers were the couple’s two dogs.  The officiant, a friend of the groom, declared the official words of union saying, “By the powers invested in me by the internet and a quasi-religious cult, I pronounce you husband and wife.”

Several hours later my wife and I drove home.  I sighed with contentment and relief that all had gone well and that my daughter had married a man who loves her deeply.  A feeling of gratitude replaced the odd sense of loss that had been plaguing me for several days.  I was happy that I had been given a chance to be my daughter’s father.

Come Up and See My Etchings

Rosemary, the printmaking instructor at the University of Delaware, insisted on taking as many students as possible to visit an artist in Philadelphia.   The grad students in her class knew they had no choice, but she even pressured a few undergrads to come along.  One offered the excuse that he had other classes on the day of the trip, but Rosemary dismissed it saying, “This trip is more important for your growth as an artist.”

The bus ride took us through grimy neighborhoods of trash strewn streets and boarded up buildings on the south side and dropped us off in Center City.  Fifteen would be artists dutifully trooped up the steps of a two story brick row house.  A quiet man in his late thirties opened the door slowly and greeted Rosemary in a monotone.  He waved his hand for us to pass inside, but left us milling around in the entryway.  He seemed reluctant to let us into his inner sanctum.  Rosemary said, “Can we see your studio?” He led us up a narrow, dark stairway to a room crowded with work tables, flat files of paper, and storage cabinets with wide, flat drawers.  Recently pulled prints hung by clothes pins on thin wires strung from one wall to another.

“So, am I right in assuming that you’ve all seen my work?” he asked us.  No one answered.  I barely remembered his name, and Rosemary had said nothing about the style and subject matter of his prints.  She simply told us that he was a etcher who showed his work at an important gallery in Philly.  He stared and waited, shoulders slumping lower.  He sighed:  another defeat.  “Then why are you here?” he asked.

Rosemary flattered him until he was sufficiently mollified.  He put on white gloves and laid out prints on a long, white table.  He combined imagery from several photographs to create interiors and landscapes that looked real but subtly wrong.  The perspective wasn’t completely consistent, but the individual details looked so accurate that the eye accepted the spaces as dry depictions of an uncanny world.  They reminded me of dreams I had of my Midwestern home town:  familiar streets and houses recombined with landmarks from other places.

I asked the print maker about his technique.  He told us that he achieved his photorealistic effects by pointillism.  He used a needle to meticulously prick tiny holes in the asphaltum covering his copper plates.  I asked him how long it took him to work on a plate.  I expected him to say months, but he replied, “Oh, about a day.  That’s the easy part.”  I followed up with, “But how many times do you etch the plate?  What about revisions?”  “I do it all in one layer, no revisions.  What takes the most time is designing them.”  He opened a drawer and took out a sheaf of preparatory sketches.  Each one looked like finished works of art.

Rosemary asked him to show us works in progress.  He laid out another pile of exquisitely rendered drawings and said, “These aren’t very good yet.  I hate showing you these things.”  We protested, and Rosemary said, “Really, these are wonderful.”  The man mumbled, “If you say so.”

He showed us a few more prints, an etched plate or two, and then escorted us down the stairs.  He stood on his porch and stared at his shoes as we walked away.  He retreated inside and firmly shut the door after he had said a quick goodbye to Rosemary.

On the ride home students chattered about classes at Delaware and argued about politics (Reagan’s Iran/Contra scandal dominated the news).  Some wore Walkman’s and listened to music.  I thought about the print maker and wondered if the effort he put into his images paid him back in the end.  How could a man with that much ability and accomplishment feel so discouraged? I had a tenth of his talent.  Was there any hope for me?

I was too young to realize that happiness often had little to do with success.