Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house
The void is comforting; it takes away all points of reference. Imperfections are powerless in the edgeless, cornerless space that I call loneliness. Here, in the darkest period of my life, I remain a candle that rejects the gravitas of the candlestick for the blissful ignorance in the dusty nothingness under the bed where monsters sleep.
I burn here
I burn in red and yellow, like a fire.
Yellow is the tears; yellow is the sunrise; yellow is the reach and the contrast; yellow is the depression.
Red, my love, is Raskolnikov; Red is blood rushing into the brain with a vengeance; Red is the confidence that shrouds confusion; Red is the panic and the pain, the push that never pulls back.
I…I burn in these.
I try because I know this. I try because I seek the corners; reproach without the embrace. I have crushed the mustard seed and I have seen the faith. I try because in the void nothing can protect me from myself. By skinning myself and showing you that I bleed, I find a branch to hold on to as the storm tries to suck me back into that narrow middle of the hourglass where everything stops but hate prevails. I know I can stop them, I can stop the sand. But I don’t want to.
Your art makes the clock run faster and longer. Time goes faster in the museum; time goes faster on Instagram. It goes too fast for me. Yes, your art makes me feel happy, excited even. But it never grounds me. Your art has never worn my colours and I doubt it ever will. I am alone in this.
The only way to ground myself is to dig in, into myself.
I made this animated gif today cause I felt like it was a great illustration of how I try really hard to have the right perspective on things and it just doesn’t stay the way I want it to. Growing up Christian, I was always asked to not focus on things below (worldly things) and on things above (God, eternity, etc.). Now, as I go through a crisis of faith, I find that really hard to do. I really don’t have any idea what I’m supposed to look at. Well, I’ve got a vague idea of what’s beautiful and true. However, aligning your perspective to something sounds like a big deal and I don’t know if what I know right now is of substance or worth committing to.
My entire life has been an exercise in running towards the tunnel at the end of the light, an obsession with running away from anything that has the potential to create true human connection. Darkness embodies an emptiness for me that does not need to be filled. The void doesn’t threaten or judge; it allows me to be myself. In the acceptance of loneliness, I have the opportunity to be a part of this world at the low price of being an actor. It is in service of this necessary role that I have perfected the art of walking into a room and becoming whoever I need to be to protect myself. I have concluded that at the heart of this horrid practice is the belief that no one can ever truly understand me.
– from an entry in March 2021
I wrote this a few months ago when I was in a very dark place. Although the epiphanies that I had during this time were capable of leaving a mark on my mind, I recall them as having risen out of a mental state that was prone to self-hate. I look back on this period in my life as one of transformation. This is very odd as it happened only a few months ago. Usually, it takes a person years to look back on a period in his/her life and say that it had a transformative effect on them. Maybe, the pandemic and the small room I spent the last 12 months in probably has something to do with this unusual maturation of thought.
Before we start, I must say that I was hesitant to share the above passage, which has been taken from a longer piece I wrote; not because it is a personal piece but because I cringe at how my mind was reduced to a sponge that absorbed everything and anything to the point where I was falling down a bottomless pit of hopelessness and anxiety. I cringe not because I am ashamed but because I had no understanding of how fragile my mind really was.
When Keats said, “the only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts”, I should have given him a piece of my mind. LOL. Just kidding. Of course, we are not talking about Negative Capability here although I do believe that I have developed a similar capacity over the past year and it possibly had something to do with what I will be talking about in this post.
The past twelve months of lockdown has been like pushing a giant rock up a mountain, as in the Sisyphus myth. A few months ago, I finally reached the top. When the blissful distraction of hard work and focus had left me and the pain of self-hate threatened to consume me, my eyes searched for a glimpse of the promised land but I was disappointed. What I saw instead was the infinite regress of my own insecurity. I feared death, loneliness, the loss of potential and the uncertain future. The rock had by then rolled down leaving me with the crippling knowledge that pushing it up again was probably not going to change what I had just seen. In a moment like no other in my blip of a past, I felt panic. In that moment, I wondered what Moses felt atop Pisgah as his eyes saw the Promised land and he heard the certainty of death in the valley.
The challenges of being a college student in the middle of a pandemic, my isolation from the religious community, and my frequent and reckless introspection had all led me to a place where I found myself drifting away from God, my family, and the rest of the world. I didn’t know what to believe. The pain of having everything you believed in shaken and taken out from under you is extremely confusing and painful. I felt more vulnerable than I ever did in my entire life.
But with time, music, the love of my family and a few friends (I’ve learnt I don’t have many), and the indescribable power of the God I truly want to believe in, I found myself slowly making it out of the darkness. I had finally realized that while darkness covers my imperfections, it cannot protect me from myself. I need people, I need God. I don’t know what that means yet but I have the courage to search. This, I know.
I thought twice about posting this because I did not want to add to the darkness in the world. The passage and the artwork are both very disturbing. However, I am sharing it because I have resurfaced, found land, and started on a journey that I believe will be a fruitful and adventurous one. If you’re still reading this, I thank you for caring. I would really appreciate your company in the comments section. Be well.
Drew this today. There’s a lot of stuff going on here but I’ll try my best to explain everything.
On the left side of this art piece(not sure what this is but let’s say this is a painting) are references to one of my favourite short stories- The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway. Before he goes into the story, Hemingway tells the reader about a leopard found frozen at the top of Kilimanjaro:
Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
As we read the story, we come across a writer who goes through his life waiting for the right moment to write about the things he cares about. He goes on a trip, wounds his leg and gangrene sets in. As he finds himself closer to death than he ever was, he looks back at the many times when he chose not to write because the time wasn’t right. He was obsessed with death and the loss of his potential as a writer, a loss that would result from anything short of perfect creation.
At first, I thought I was reading about a failed writer. I thought Hemingway was telling a precautionary tale about what happens to artists when they choose to find satisfaction in a fantastical image of themselves they create in their heads based on how much unrealized potential they think they have. It felt like a warning to those who reject the responsibility of adulthood for the childish pleasure of being satisfied with believing you ‘can’ and ‘will’ as opposed to realising potential by ‘doing’.
However, when I came to the end of the short story, I was surprised. Naturally, an artist who wasted his talent and fell prey to such a criminal fear should be made to stare death in the face and breathe his last in regret. To face the reality of who one is and not hide behind the possibility of what one can be is a crucial step in artistic expression. Without the courage to do this, our world will never be able to elevate the experience of life to art. But Hemingway does not allow the artist to die like this. In fact, it is unsure whether the writer even feels regret. He seems relieved that he will never know if he had it in him. He realizes that he never failed because he never tried. In the story, the artist dies in his sleep, dreaming of being rescued by a plane and setting off in the direction of Kilimanjaro.
It seems to me that the leopard frozen atop Kilimanjaro stands for all those who struggle with the fear of losing potential or creating something that does not do justice to the unique view of life they have. As artists, we feel responsible for our perspective on life. We often believe that without us the world will not come to know of the miscellaneous ways in which life can become sublime. We are important and that is why we create with the intend to share. We matter. It is our struggle to make our perspective perfectly tangible for others that leads us to the top of Kilimanjaro, to the House of God where perfection can be realised. But we get there as mortals and we often end up taking our best ideas to the grave because of our dedication to perfection. However, I believe that Hemingway found peace in that our potential is frozen in time like the leopard. It is tragic that the world will never know the best of what we see but there is some consolation in that our quest to find perfection ends in the eternal preservation of something that is not tainted by failures in an imperfect world. Potential is not utilized but nevertheless preserved as far as the artist is considered. The pain of an artist who is forced to question his ability can be brutal. In the tragic story of unrealized potential, there is some beauty in the ignoble escape of reality. Sad? Yes. But I can’t help but find peace in it.
I’ve always believed that I see life in a way no one else can. At the heart of this belief is probably a pernicious self-obsession and mild case of narcissism. That said, this belief makes me feel responsible for doing my best to create art that perfectly encapsulates my perspective on life. Every time I feel like I’ve failed to meet the impossible standards I’ve set for myself, I find myself breaking down, my image of myself as an artist with valuable perspective shatters into a million pieces when the thought that I might not have any potential after all hits me like a ton of bricks. The pain is often unbearable. It has led me to have diaries full of ideas that I have done nothing about because I’m waiting for the right moment. I am responsible for my art and I am ready to give it my all. But if I give it my all and that which I can’t control makes all my efforts futile, then I will die. The portrait of the artist in my head will die. I won’t blame the world. I’ll blame myself. I will blame myself because it is easier to do than to believe the world is messed up. Because then there is no way for me to redeem myself.
To embrace life is to recognize pain. And to recognize is to feel as one has to feel first to recognize. I might be afraid to feel
So yes, the leopard, the ice cubes at the bottom, the dialogue bubble with “if only” in it are all references to The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Notice how the leopard’s face kinda looks like that of a human, especially the nose.
The main focus in the painting is a big grey object with a hand sticking out of it. I value my hands very much. I’m a musician and my hands are something I use to enter a world where I understand things better. When I was in high school and even while I was in college, I had this haunting fear that something would happen to my hands and I won’t be able to realise my dream of being a first-class musician. When I got strain injuries in my fingers a few years ago and when I recently developed a ganglion cyst in the middle finger of my left hand, it scared me to bits. A hand sticking out of a huge metallic brace of sorts reminds me of this fear. Plus, it also hints at how our limbs, while still containing some divine magic instilled in them by our creator are now being replaced by larger-than-life robotic and technological developments. Today, someone can create a guitar solo, albeit tasteless(in my opinion), on a computer. That freaks me out. So yeah, that’s why there’s a huge grey arm in the painting.
At the bottom, somewhere in the middle, are two people with arrows pointing in opposite directions. On one end of the painting is a brick red spade and on the other is the leopard from Hemingway’s short story. The two people are two versions of me. On some days, I find the leopard attractive. I just want to not try and feel worth it. The fact that the arrow pointing to the leopard is held by a guy who’s lying down and in a posture that is reminiscent of a baby drives the point home. As mentioned before, it’s easy to be a child and paint yourself as somebody who ‘can’ and not as somebody who ‘does’. But on other days, I want to be brick-red; efficient and productive. Brick-red encapsulates such ideas for me. But getting there is harder because there’s a wall in the way, a brick-red wall. Being aware of what productivity is is in itself a hinderance to productivity. That’s because I’m so insecure. Haha, yes. I know I am. It is very easy for my pursuit to become all about productivity and not about the thing I should be productive in. Funny.
Then there’s the word ‘crash’ in big font on the upper right corner of the painting. This is because I often feel like I’m crashing into myself when I start to panic about these things. The yellow in the background and the yellow of the sad leopard also stands for depression. I find dim or dark yellows with a bit of red in them accurately represents what depression feels like to me.
Alright then, I think I’ve explained everything. If you’re still reading, I appreciate you very much. Please do say hi in the comments. Having random conversations on my blog is always a highlight for me. I love you all very much.
There are blotches of colour on the isle; that colour from the Book of Numbers: the Byzantine blue that clothes Mother Mary. Just like I imagine cameramen and makeup artists in a horror movie, I imagine them bringing the idol in, the blue of the sky closed out by frescoes of naked men. Wet blue drips off her and colours the blood-red carpet. Fear dissipates and the cement cracks as it breaks down the walls. Focus here, credence to the colour blue, portkeys in the colour of the sky.
Silence. It goes out carrying a knife. Not a samurai sword. But a knife. Less conspicuous. Conveniently deviant.
I hated its lack of discipline. I couldn’t predict it. As a kid I remember clapping in the shower, tapping my foot on the wet floor as the soap slid down my body. I hated the silence. So much that it had to be me, and only me, that killed it. Not nature, not some famous dude on the radio, but me.
There was an old piano in the living room of our first house. An old soul. On most evenings, I would hear it waking up, complaining like an old man as my dad settled down to play. But even that sounded beautiful. I would crawl down under it whenever my father played and lie there with my eyes open, basking in the silhouette of the parting sun as I felt my restless body slowly sinking up into the ancient wood.
I crawled under a lot of things. But the rusty old piano in the living room was my favourite. The creaky old bed in my grandpa’s room came at a close second. I especially liked to crawl under it when he was just about to fall asleep. He would toss and turn, trying to find a soft spot and I would listen to the creaks and the woody whines. It’s a child’s dream to have such a haven, a place where you hear everything you can’t see.
When I was about six years old, we moved to a new house. Our piano came with us and we gave it a very special place in our new shell. I couldn’t wait to lie under the piano once again, caught in the tension between the familiar above me and the novel below me. But I was to find out that something was terribly wrong.
“The C note”, my father cried. Unfortunately, the movers had not been careful enough with the old musical contraption and the old man had lost a tooth. One key somewhere to the right on the mundane assortment of ebony and ivory had stopped making the ‘C’ sound it was supposed to make. A tragic silence had replaced it. I couldn’t care less about what letter had gone missing. For all I cared, the key looked like one of those those giant statues on Easter island.
Dad never got it fixed. He just avoided it most of the time since it was on the extreme right and he used it mostly for high pitched embellishments. But there were moments when he would get carried away, stimulated by the rising music, and stumble upon the silent key. Under the piano, I would feel his muscles tense up in silent disapproval and self-reproach. Then, he would move on.
When I was around 8, I found myself before the piano everyday. No longer under it but at a useful creative distance. I too stumbled onto the silent key a couple of times. But then I got used to it. In fact, whenever there was a pause in a piece of music I was playing, instead of making my arms briefly hover in the air, I would press down on the silent key. It became my “thing”. I started treating silence like sound, like another note. And in time, I fell in love with it. And just like that, the kid who hated silence was tricked into falling in love with it by some divine force acting through a couple of careless movers. It became forever clothed in the delicate colours of sound. It’s nudity covered, it became a safe haven for my childhood. A place where I could hear everything I couldn’t see. And I didn’t even have to crawl in to find it.
White softness, submissive and complying, sits before me with its back against the easel and asks me, “Do you see me?”
“Huh?”, I ask, my eyes returning to focus on the perfect edges of the paper.
“Do you see me?”, it asks again, quieter this time. Much quieter.
“No”, I say and run my index finger over my eyebrow.
How could I? I’m an artist after all. I’m supposed to see things on the paper. The paper alone means nothing to me. It hides behind colour in near perfect submission. It lays no demands for the focus of a trained eye or the sweet caress of a surrendering hand. It wears whatever I give it and flaunts it in absolute stillness. Why would I ever see it?
But today, I’m forced to. Today, I must surrender my title and see nothing. I must do so because the only way to open a closed door is to forget there is a key. At least that’s how it works at the cul-de-sac inside my brain I call ‘creative space’.
And today the door is closed.
And I know it because I can hear it. Yes, I hear it when graphite touches paper. I hear it and I know that the door’s closed.
You see, there’s music in the air and on paper when the door’s open. A swish here and a swish there. They’re all expressions of the past, a reproduction of decisions made seconds ago. An experienced hand will handle the temporal separation with fidelity and resolute organisation. What you hear then is music. It rises and falls, bubbles up and explodes, and stomps with grace at a full stop.
But today, I don’t hear it. What I hear today is graphite choking on paper like a cat choking up a furball. My hand is moving over the paper like a drunk man at 5 a.m. on the subway. There is no fidelity, no organisation. My mind has nothing to say to my hands and I’ve lost all control. I turn the room upside down looking for the key. I must get out. If I don’t, I will kill me.
It is in this quiet desperation on a Monday evening that I find myself in the company of a perfect sheet of paper. It is offering me a way out. A way to convince myself that there is no key. A cheat code that will connect me to reality and unlock potential. So I cave in.
I frame the blank sheet of paper and I hang it on the wall.
I tell others I did it because art should never make us blind, even to paper.
This piece is part of a series called ‘Mumbo is Jumbo’, where I talk about weird concepts and ideas that I have. In this short piece, I intend to highlight how art lies in the reason why you do something and not just in what you do. I also believe that we sometimes experience creative blocks because we forget this. The fact that I can get away with calling a sheet of paper art has to be good enough evidence. I didn’t even make it. I just came up with a reason to call it art and identified the reason as art in itself. You can too.
P.S. The 4D family is growing fast 🙂 If you like what you read, do share it and consider following the blog. We’re all friends here. Remember to always have a blast just existing. God bless!
Rays of darkness enter a postbox three blocks from your two-storey house. The quiet frustration of cars screeching to a stop at a red light that I can’t even see wakes me up and I blink. It’s another evening in the postbox. Here, I live among the many letters you send to your friends, exes and colleagues. I toss and turn, making space among your formal faithfullys and sincerelys, words penned with no regard to the meaningless flattery all regards have carried for the past hundred or so years.
This mundane evening, I proceed as I do every day, to reseal the letters that I fell asleep reading, making sure I leave no traces of spilt secrets. Once I’m done, I feast. I put my nose inches away from the efficient and neglected opening of the postbox and breathe in the crushed aroma of tea and coffee mixed with the mischief of leaves and seeds from the Asias. I smell yesterday’s rain on the coats of young ambitious souls on their way back from work and the leather of shoes not yet broken into. It reeks of monotony; all of it.
As the evening breaks into the pitch black of the night, I am confronted with what I must do to pass time. There’s not much to do at night. I certainly can’t read any letters. In fact, I can do nothing but listen to the stillness, an activity that’s such a bore I pity anyone who finds it beautiful. I like to process. I need smells and sounds to acknowledge the existence of my senses. I really don’t know why I spend so much time awake in the night. I could just sleep and be at my best during the day. I feel like an old fool. But that is just how it is. I like to tell myself my obsession with the laziness of the night lies in how the expectation of something new is glorified by nocturnal silence, a heightened experience of anticipation from a pause that lasts but around ten hours.
After this stretch of failed expectations and excusable disappointments, I finally find joy in the ever certain glorious break of dawn. The rays of darkness change colour like milk poured into a cup of hot tea. I hear the sound of birds echo inside my small cylindrical chamber of existence and condition my eyes to the yellow of the sun reflecting off the glass of an old pawn shop and falling on the red of the inlet of the post box. I hear the sniffs of dogs accompanied by the accomodating length of a whistle or a hum. I do not always smell flowers but I smell love and the expectation of love that flourishes in the sincerity of yet another day.
What I like to do in the wee hours of the morning on such a routine day, is scratch ever so patiently at the red of the inlet. Giving my living space a touch of individuality is cause for a lasting sense of warmth and security. After going about this for five seconds or so, I proceed to rummage through the letters in search of chocolate or liquorice that some kind old woman sent to her grandchild along with a note the child can’t read. Once I’ve helped myself to the spoil, I go on to read.
To know what day it is is not too much trouble for me. I just check the date on the first letter that comes in. As I read, I share in the frustration of my neighbours. I listen patiently to them rant about how their cooking appliances keep breaking down and how the country’s foreign policy is evil. I try to imagine their faces as they wrote the words down. It helps if I remember the edges of your fingers when you dropped the letter in or the sound of your coat brushing past the metal of my postbox. The sound of your shoes, the ruckus your loose change makes in your purse, all helps me to put a face to the words you write. That’s how I know about you.
You live a few blocks from me. You write quite frequently. In fact, you no longer slow down when you reach the postbox. You, like a few others who frequently visit me, have mastered the art of skilfully targeting the rectangular inlet with one hand, very much like you would throw a frisbee. I don’t even hear the spring in your step after you’ve successfully posted a mail in this fashion. I find this to be a quality among many who post as often as you with similar ease in technique. You send a letter to your grandma every week and I find you to be a very sincere and likeable person. I’m sure your grandma loves reading what you write. I wish I could know what she writes back to you. I do know she does not correct your spelling mistakes because you continue to post your mail without proofreading it. It made my day when you wrote ‘Police Chef’ instead of ‘Police Chief’ in your last letter. I enjoy your letters for this very reason. It seems like you write to your grandmother just like you must have talked to her when you were a child.
Today, I hear you in the distance, your feet steady, the letter in your hand. I shield my face to brace the impact of your letter but nothing happens. I’m sure you passed by me because I can smell the undertones of lemon in the perfume you use. Did you forget to post your letter? I can still faintly hear your firm steps fading away. I almost panic. Is your grandmother all right? If something’s not right, do you need someone to talk to?
I sit back against the rusty metal and run my fingers through my hair. You’re a loner. I hope everything’s fine. Another letter comes in. Amateur. I could hear him slow down, stop and I could even hear his shirt strain against his belt as he bent down ever so slightly to put the letter in.
This is the third post of the series ‘Mumbo is Jumbo’ where I talk about weird ideas and seemingly irrelevant stuff that I believe have aesthetic value.
I hope you guys enjoyed this post. The 4D family is growing. If you like reading about weird stuff that has a touch of poetry and aesthetic perspectives, consider becoming a part of this family. We’re all good friends here.
I hang on to a blue handle hanging from a blue bar by a blue strap on a blue bus. Maybe they got the colours right. Maybe they didn’t. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t mind the colour. It compliments the morning sky well. I shouldn’t even be worrying about this. The commute from the gate to the aircraft isn’t that long. But the baby and the woman I gave my seat to were also in blue. Thus all this contemplation. From when I can remember, I’ve always seen a baby on an airport shuttle. The repeated introduction to ‘blue’ and ‘baby’ forced me to stop and reconsider. Is any of this important?
“You think too much” is what she said. That’s what everyone says. I reach into the right pocket of my dark blue jeans, trying to find the packet of fennel seeds. My left hand tightens its grip on the blue handle. The bus suddenly stops and I almost lose my grip. I glance at the driver without knowing it, re-adjust the heavy guitar on my back, and resume hanging on to the handle. Forget the fennel. I’ll have it later.
These buses look just like everything else the airline owns. You are met again and again with the same colours, the same uniforms, and the same smile. It deceives you into thinking all these services are not many but one efficient and flawless whole. But it isn’t. Oh, you thought it was about the aesthetics huh? I did too. Until today, when my contact with the colour blue and babies on airport shuttles for the hundredth time made me aware of my surroundings. That’s what got me thinking in the first place.
“You think too much”. Pah! I almost say it out loud. The woman looks at me. She’s sizing me up. But she’s also sizing up everyone else on the shuttle. That’s her fennel. That’s her way of taking a break on a holiday. She’s sitting down while she’s asleep. All of these people are. I can feel it. Because there’s nothing else to do other than to hang on to the blue handles on this blue bus. If only I could chew on some fennel.
We get down by the plane. I see what I’ve seen before even when it’s different. So I decide not to look at all; at the tires of the plane or the marks that heavy tools made under the wing. I just ‘proceed’ like they ask you to in those announcements. The word reeks of organised movement, lacking any curiosity whatsoever.
Once on the plane, I settle down by the window on row 27 or 28. That’s where the seats are mostly empty. I immediately produce a packet of fennel seeds from my pocket and pop a few seeds into my mouth, aiming for my tongue. I close my eyes for a moment.
I open and close the blinds again and again until we take off. Repetition is key. I like to think some staff on the ground sees the plane blinking when they look up. Or winking perhaps, considering how not many would oblige the way I do.
Once in the air, I treat myself to more fennel. There’s something about feasting on these tiny grains of exotic flavour while looking out the window on row 27 or 28, guiding them around in my mouth into the delicate blades of my incisors. It’s a calming process, one that compliments the view which casts the illusion that I’m moving at the pace of an electric scooter when in reality I’m a lot closer to the speed of light than I think.
Why do I talk of light? Because they say time stops at the speed of light. That’s when you’ll feel the slowest. The fennel makes me appreciate everything that’s slow. It perhaps works very much like tea or coffee does for some people. It makes me more of a photon. That’s when I feel the slowest.
This is part of a series called ‘Mumbo is Jumbo’. In this series, I will talk about seemingly irrelevant things in my life that I think I’ve not been able to communicate efficiently with other people. I believe this will be a very special project. I request your support and I hope you enjoy it.