Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death and Legos

On Feb.2, 2014, (James Joyce’s Birthday), Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an overdose. On that same day in the United States, about 99 other people also died of drug overdose.

This week in my practice, I had quite a few intense sessions with people, the kind of sessions that feel like they are of an existential matter, or an existential crisis. Talking people from the ledge, not necessarily people about to end their life immediately or go overdose, but people questioning their own life and its possible meaninglessness, feeling a lot of self loathing and worthlessness, or destroying their creative spirit with judgments, comparisons and criticisms. In about 9 sessions yesterday, I think Philip Hoffman’s death came up somehow in about 8 out of them and the morning before also in another session. What does his death represent besides a reminder of the deadliness of drug addiction and polysubstance and heroin abuse? It’s about recovery and finding yourself at a crossroads in your life, your shadow is beckoning you to eternal emotional pain and despair and a small shred of hope, a light in the distance, is still also there calling you away from the darkness. It’s about the work in most therapy, the goal being for the person to come to like him or herself more and hate him or herself less…

Some of these sessions went to a very blunt place where I pointed out, we all have what I see as 3 choices when faced with existential angst and self destructive thoughts about life being meaningless or ourselves being failures, worthless, whatever we make is not good, and being told positive things about ourselves makes us feel worse instead of better. So your choice is to end it now and be done with the endless suffering — what the BUddhists refer to as suffering due to addiction, attachment and delusion. The other is to kill yourself off symbolically and destroy your creative spirit and continue living the life of a deadened person; this choice involves giving up on yourself but continuing to appear to be alive but to be dead inside. Many have made this choice, a kind of circle of hell on earth, an acceptance of depression as part of everyday life. The other choice is the hardest for people who have been to the darkest part of their psyche and lived through it: the choice to awaken and emerge from the traps of addiction, delusion and attachment. All humans are at times addicted, deluded or attached. People wake up everyday and live through the day in such a state of mind. Addiction is not just to substances or gambling, sex, love, shopping, food or work, money, success, approval, anger, etc.

Delusion is not limited to humans wandering around in psychotic states. We are in delusion quite often in everyday life, when we do not observe what is really going on and enter a kind of state of ignorance.
“In the Mahayana tradition, two levels of ignorance (avidya) are identified. Dzigar Kongtrul explains:
There are two levels of ignorance: ignorance of the absolute, or the essential nature of phenomena, and the ignorance that prevents us from taking an accurate reading of the relative world. These two kinds of ignorance are like two kinds of thread: When they are tightly woven together, they are not easy to identify, yet they make up the fabric of delusion.
As a result of the first type of ignorance, we lack wisdom. Lacking an understanding of our true nature, we perceive that which is illusory and spacious to be solid and real. The second type of ignorance is the inability to clearly understand the laws of karma and interdependence, which then results in an inaccurate relationship to the world.” From Wikipedia

Carl Jung referred to this type of ignorance in terms of “attitudes”. When a person does not see clearly what is real, they take on an attitude or attach a kind of power to something that then renders it not real and the person continues to see it that way. We see this all the time with various kinds of simple realities. Your “boss” at work becomes more than a “boss”. A boss is someone who has the role of directing people who work for him or her and defining the tasks and roles of the people who work for him or her, but for many they attach more power to their boss and their boss becomes too powerful or their parent instead of simply their boss. We do this with all kinds of things. As an artist I have done this with a gallery or exhibition. My work gets rejected and for a while I live in a delusional state of mind in which this particular gallery and the “juror” who picked the work to go in the show and the work that was not admitted to the show become more than what they really are. I give them some kind of power to decide that I am a “bad artist”, “not good enough”, a “failure”. The gallery is one of probably millions and it is simply a place that payed someone to look through images of work submitted by artists and decide which to put in a particular show that would take place for about 30 days. When I let go of my delusions and attachments to this delusional idea of the gallery and juror of the show, I see the reality, and go back to doing what an artist does whether s/he gets in a show or not, creates art on a daily basis.

In reality, the gallery’s juror did not want any of ten images I emailed them to be in some show of theirs. I know these are ten of countless pieces I will continue to make. When I am not attached to my work being seen or to this gallery’s show, or even to a particular art work being good or bad or craving attention for my work or addicted to approval from the outside, I can be a relatively happy being who engages in the creative process for the sake of the process and my happiness is derived from the engagement with the materials and the process not with any product or result of a product. Because I have survived many of these rejections, each time I am quicker to be able to return to reality. Reality is always much simpler than the delusional or attached or addicted version of reality. In reality a glass of wine or a new dress is a material thing to enjoy but it does not have more power than that. Having a book published or a painting in a show or an award for a movie is a part of reality but cannot define a person. Exhibit A: Philip Seymour Hoffman, human who, given 46 years on earth, achieved a level of success, reknown, acclaim and material riches, as well as a family, and promise of more opportunities to hone his craft, gain more reknown and more enjoyment from his creativity as well as further fame and money, perhaps the joy of watching his children grow, that few ever come close to, he, who with all of thi,s was not able to escape the suffering that addiction brings to all who succomb.

Bringing us back to the choices and the therapeutic session sometimes taking on the conversation of existential dilemmas nobody escapes. Challenge is: can you wake up tomorrow and show up for life whatever it brings and be awake, not living in the past or some fantasy of the future moment? If you can do that, you will escape your own attachments to some definition of who you are, who you are supposed to be, who you expect yourself to be, your addictions to anything that seems like it will fill an empty hole, your delusions about your own reality and the people and other beings you encounter throughout your day. It’s an invitation to let go of your beliefs, your assumptions, your cravings, your attachments to outcomes and goals. As Marsha Linehan wrote: “The fundamental nature of reality is change and process rather than content or structure.” I found this quote, wrote it in my journal and shared it with about 4 patients in the course of my day, as I need to constantly remind myself of this truth; armed with this one small bit of wisdom about reality, you may save yourself from the terrible fate of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 99 other unknowns who died on Feb.2, 2014 in the USA of the same cause… as well as the countless people walking the earth, who have no awareness of their own suffering in the form of addiction, delusion or attachment…

The philosophy of playing legos, contributed by a five year old, to be explored in another post.

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End of Year Reflections on Life, Brushing Your Teeth and Sisyphus

When I was a child, I was very messy, and it seemed like I was not related to the rest of my family. I remember thinking, Why do the adults tell me to clean up my room? I will just mess it up again. And why do people make their beds every day? they just mess them up at night and have to make them up all over again. At least there is a reason to brush your teeth at regular intervals.

At that time I did not know the myth of Sisyphus, the poor man who is in hell pushing a large boulder up a mountain, only to reach the top and see it go fast down the mountain to the bottom, then to have to go back down and push it back up again, knowing it will just fall down the mountain.

I’ve remembered this myth a lot, especially as a therapist dealing with people suffering from all kinds of things from depression to eating disorders to addiction. This metaphor is so apt for such suffering; the sufferer has the knowledge that life does not seem like that, it actually is exactly like that.

Read the full story: http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/sisyphus.html
we, I included, only seem to remember him as that sufferer doomed to this repetitive task in Hades, however, in life, he wielded the ultimate power of stopping people from dying for a time.

Anyway, for better or worse, most of us just remember this man, seemingly helpless and powerless over his fate, doomed to this repetitive, exhausting task. I’m not sure what changes in knowing the whole story, but still, life seems to be the same as this image. We labor and sweat over pushing a huge boulder up a mountain, only to see it speedily fall to the bottom, and then, without question, we hurry down the mountain, and push it up again. And not just once, but over and over, much like we make our bed over and over, eat and digest our food and get rid of it and then eat again. Most of daily tasks of living involve repeating such things, with full knowledge that we will be doing it again. Same with even things that give people a “high”, like yoga or exercise. You leave the gym, feeling good, but knowing you will have to go back on the treadmill again soon, or back to the yoga class to repeat it all over again. Basically any activity will involve this, some that are pleasant, and some not.

This image is the image of the human suffering, or doomed to repeat over and over. However, there is something to be said for looking at this story from a very different point of view, and reframing it completely, mainly with the basic tenets of mindfulness.

What if you are doing that, but you are supremely focused on what it feels like in the moment to touch this boulder, to push it and see it get larger and heavier as you push it? What if you are looking at the mountain and the ground and observing the weather, the feel of the boulder on your hands, how your hands look as you push the boulder. and what if you are indeed, pushing it up the mountain with the knowledge that it will fall back down and you will start it over again, but it does not seem fruitless and you do not feel you are in a prison of your own making, but actually liberated in the doing of it, because you have realized that you do not care what happens to the boulder, you do not care how heavy or light it is, and you do not notice that it is a repetition, or you do not care, as you are excited to see it fall down the mountain, like a snowball you built up that has melted, but does not prevent you from anticipating the next snow fall with the excitement of a little child?

Do we imprison ourselves in our own suffering? Is the key to liberation simply our own mind setting us free?

I see this with dishes. If you simply notice the feel of the water on your hands, the sight of the leftover food sliding off the dish and watching the drain, feeling the air on your skin, does it matter if you will do the dishes again tomorrow and forever? If we live for the moment with full belief in the moment, and do not look back to the past, thinking of what could have been or what we could have done, and do not project into the future what we must be or need to be or have to be happy, have we not freed ourselves of the worst kind of suffering and pain, the emotional kind?

This is what the artist does. I take a piece of paper and rip it up and glue it on another piece of paper, or take paint on a brush and stroke it over the paper, and then repeat the motion endlessly. There is no final painting or work, there is no complete boulder. I start again every day, if I am open to the process I do not really care what the “product” looks like. In fact, it is indeed ephemeral, even if I see it in my studio the next day. I am on to the next piece of paper, doomed to repeat myself in some new way. Why are the most repetitive things in life, both considered like torture or to be soothing ways to heal from trauma? Emotional pain and suffering and relief from suffering are both in this image of pushing the boulder up the hill. How you feel about yourself, the boulder, the mountain and the environment inside and outside yourself is what makes the difference between doom and complete freedom. Yes, we either live and keep being disappointed, or we can die, or choose to be dead while living, or we can laugh in the face of life and death. There is a choice, the choice itself may be the only thing we have that will not disappear or disappoint. In the moment of the here and now, we have that small choice, and that may be all. Even if it is meaningless, the matter of choosing is of extreme and absurd importance…

Big News: Goodbye to Studio 307 on My Tenth Anniversary!

I have not posted in here recently until tonight when I added some photos to the last post on Altered Books. Anyway, the reason is that on Wed., Feb. 7, about a week and a few days ago, with just three weeks left of February which is of course, a very short month, I got stunned with the news that my landlord of 20 years was not going to renew my lease on Studio 307, where I make my art and work as an art therapist/psychotherapist, Reiki practitioner. Since I started in that studio on March 1, 2003, I have renewed my lease annually in February. As usual, I was not thinking about the lease renewal, as I am used to getting a notice under the door telling me to go to the management office across the st. and renew my lease. So I am not being “evicted”; I am simply not given the opportunity to renew my lease after 20 years of renting studios in that building. I started in 1993 with my first NYC art studio (not my first studio, which was actually in Paris, France, a tiny studio at the top floor of a building), on the fifth floor in Room 503. In 1998, I moved to the fourth floor to a slightly bigger studio in 408. I don’t recall if there was a window in there. So I stayed in 408 until I moved down to 307, my current studio, which is the biggest studio I have ever had. It’s about 346 square feet, but feels larger as the ceilings are so high. I have to take photos of the ceilings in there as I have been taking my “last” photos of the studio in the past few weeks and I will post some at the end of this post.

This was shocking and awful news for me, to be quite honest. Over these twenty years I have seen many people come and go. I have had several different kinds of neighbors next door in 308. I have been friendly with about 5 other people on the floor. The current people I know on the third floor and in the building were also shocked by the news, as I have been a great tenant. This is a commercial building but I have seen all kinds of people rent from there, not just visual artists. I knew one musician and have had quite loud neighbors. I have always been known as quiet,except for when there are several loud children in the studio, usually on the weekends. And I know an artist on the floor who regularly brings his two young daughters to the studio. There are lots of children who come to the building. There are no pets allowed but I have seen people bring their dogs there, and on 2 occasions in my ten years in 307, I had patients bring very tiny dogs during their sessions…

Anyway, I was certainly in no way ready to move out. My practice is in fact in process of growing by the month, and I am getting ready to start my art therapy group that I have discussed in this blog, but I am postponing beginning the group until I am in my new studio.

By the end of the day after hearing this news, I had spoken to quite a few people and looked online right away for studios in the neighborhood and elsewhere. I quickly found that most of the studios are listed on Craigslist, although I looked all over the place and also contacted my connections in the neighborhood. I also got a real estate lawyer to look at my current lease and advise me. As I thought, I found out that week from her that the landlord can do whatever he wants and is not required to renew my lease at any time or give the reason why the lease will not be renewed. So I have to get all my paintings and other stuff out of my studio by 4:45 on Feb. 28, 2013. At present I have exactly 12 days left of having the studio. While looking at other spaces, I worked on figuring out how to make sure I get my large two months deposit back. All these practical matters have to be attended to as I at the same time inform my family, friends and patients and supervisees that I am leaving the studio, and most of all, get used to the idea myself.

This is a big loss for me. I have become extremely attached to this studio which is far more than just a “work space”. In another post, perhaps I will look back upon all that has happened over the ten years of being in this studio. Suffice it to say that I have shed many a tear over this big “termination”. There is nothing like being forced to move out of your space that has been your heart and soul for so many years and that has seen so much creativity of myself and countless others, adults and children, family members, many friends, colleagues, patients and supervisees. Since June of 2008 I have facilitated supervision groups in the studio that are based on art making as a major form of processing clinical work. I could go on and on about what this studio means to me, but I will continue reminiscing in another post.

The good news is that I have a new studio around the corner on Franklin St. I have not yet signed the lease, but I expect to give my deposit tomorrow and sign the lease next week. I will have to paint the walls in the new studio, as they are a dark red and blue, but it’s an opportunity to “make it my own”. I’m thinking of painting one of the walls gold, as I love gold walls, and the new studio is significantly smaller by about maybe 90 square feet or so but even more so because the ceiling is very low, so it will seem far smaller than my current one. So I must embrace the intimacy of the new space while still figuring out how to continue to have groups of 3-6 members in there, which I am determined to do.

I was going to wait to sign a lease to give the news to the people who come to my studio, especially my patients and supervisees, but I realized there is not much time left, so by mid Tuesday, I started telling people and continued through my last patient on Friday at 7pm.

More to say about the wonderful support of everyone who has walked into the studio this week as well as the many friends and family members who have been talking to me all week about this big transition.

Today marked my first day starting the big job of packing and going through the big painting racks which need to be taken apart and have so much on them as they go up to the very high ceiling. I found much old discarded art work of various people to throw out as well as other random things. Starting the process makes me realize what a big job this is going to be, even though I have good help on it. I am going to have a goodbye party and sale of art work next Saturday, so I hope to get rid of a lot of old art. Unfortunately I have a lot of very large paintings from the 1990’s to get rid of.

In addition there is the gigantic mandala, 7 feet in diameter, on the wall that my patients face, which I have to figure out how to dismantle and get out of the studio. It was that art piece, probably the biggest thing I have ever made, that symbolized for me how “married” I was to the studio. It was as though unconsciously as I created it many years ago, maybe around 2004 and 2005, that I was saying with it, I am staying here forever, as this mandala cannot fit out the door!

Never had I imagined that my leaving this studio would be not of my own free will. I am still shocked, stunned…

While many people have said how sad this is, others have commented on it being an opportunity to start anew. Alas, both are true. As Nietzsche said, “What does not kill you makes you stronger.”…

Goodbye 368 Broadway and goodbye Studio 307. Apparently I will be able to continue on without you, but I will always miss you…

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The Altered Book: A Great Project for In Session Art Therapy

When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.

I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.

I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)

More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.

There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.

This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.

Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.

The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.

At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.

Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.

The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.

The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…

To be continued…

Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…

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“I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong.”

I feel I have to post something about today’s tragic events. My heart goes out to the parents and families whose little children are now dead, lost to them forever. There are no words for this tragedy, and no amount of words can bring back a dead 4, 5 or 6 year old. The empty hole of grief and loss will accompany a parent for the rest of his/her life, and for sure right now life itself is absolutely unbearable…

I picked up my own lovely 5 year old from school with a heavy heart, knowing that those parents have been robbed of this simple reuniting ritual, and robbed of their little child. I know there are no words, but poets sometimes know what to say to express the unbearable for the rest of us. I turn to the Auden poem I posted this week in relation to a discussion of death and funeral rituals. Here are the parts that pertain to today, written in April 1936:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffins, let the mourners come…

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong…

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem has come to me often at different times of death and loss. “For nothing now can come to any good.” True hard words. What kind of world do we live in that such unspeakable acts can happen? Even before today, I have been asking myself this over the last several weeks. I admit part of this came from TV. I randomly watched several episodes of Oliver Stone’s Showtime tv documentary about the untold history of the united states, filled with footage of World War 2 and then a lot about the first atom bomb. I reflected a lot about these scenes and words. How human history is a long unending story of wars and killings and destruction. Hearing the narrative string together everything did not help to make any sense of this awful part of human nature. Even though we are not in World War 3, there is enough senseless killing and other unspeakable acts happening all over the world, in hot spots like the mid east, but also everywhere else, all the time, constantly, and today in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is no period in history that is not filled with the blood of innocents, no ethnicity or culture that is free of such evil. Whether in wars, each worse than the other, no matter where, or in “peaceful” nations such as ours, although we never seem to be free of killing our own and others somewhere usually far away: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, etc. I doubt there is ANY time in our nation’s history that is not like this.

I remember as a quite young child reading the Diary of Ann Frank and getting obsessed with her story and the tragedy and strangeness of her dying and her diary somehow surviving. A kind of triumph that her beautiful voice is there to be heard for the next generations; it is only through reading and other arts such as painting and music, that we are reminded that wonder still exists and some piece of goodness in some small place is shining through the constant darkness. For me, though my own preferred way of self expression is nonverbal painting, drawing and collage, I often turn to words and books for something, because of the paradox of the unspeakable and the miracle of words coming together in a simple poem or young girl’s diary that manage to express some hope for humankind…Or actually just put in words the horror of the endlessly destructive part of humanity we can’t seem to escape from, the very real hopelessness and unending emotional pain and suffering that is life in this world…

Over the summer a dear friend gave my daughter a wonderful children’s chapter book called “The BFG”, by Roald Dahl. Whatever age you are, read it soon! Suffice it to say without a long description of this great tale, there is a very instructive scene in which little Sophie, our heroine, is talking serious philosophy, ie. the strange awfulness of the nature of “human beans” with the Big Friendly Giant. I would like to end this post with that dialogue:

Sophie is lamenting the other bad giants’ endless killing and eating of humans when the BFG in his broken English reminds her,
“Human Beans is killing each other much quicker than the giants is doing it.”
“But they don’t eat each other,” Sophie said.
“Giants isn’t eating each other either,” the BFG said. “Nor is giants killing each other. Giants is not very lovely, but they is not killing each other. Nor is crockadowndillies killing other crockadowndillies. Nor is pussy-cats killing pussy cats.”
“They kill mice,”” Sophie said.
“Ah, but they is not killing their own kind,” the BFG said. “Human beans is the only animal that is killing their own kind.”…
A few paragraphs down, he continues to bring home the real part of the argument, for maybe some animals kill each other for food or some other reason, but not on a large scale and not constantly and not in such inhumane ways and not for no good reason whatsoever. We really are the ones who do that, each generation figuring out more awful massive ways to wipe out large amounts of other humans to today when we could just wipe ourselves out altogether and the whole planet with us…

He continues,
“They is shooting guns and going up in aeroplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”…
Then a little later he clinches the argument with,
“The human beans is making rules to suit themselves,” ┬áthe BFG went on. “But the rules they is making do not suit the little piggy-wiggies. Am I right or left?.”
“Right,” Sophie said…
The BFG, pages 78-79.