The Glass Ceiling

You guys have seen those creepy mirrors in interrogation rooms, right? The ones in movies where on side of the glass there are people sitting in the dark looking at people on the other side who can’t see them? Well, yeah, did you know that one side of the mirror being dark and the other being well-lit is a requirement for the mirror to work in this way?

Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? You’ll be able to see yourself in your windows at night when the light is on in your room, but you won’t be able to during the day when the sun is shining through.

Why do I bring up this interesting-yet-too-specific-and-takes-a-long-time-to-explain-so-it-really-doesn’t-belong-in-a-blog-post piece of information?

Good question.

Well, the other day I had this vision of me standing in a room without roofing. The sun was beating down on me and it was around mid-day. The sky was beautiful, with colours swirling and dissolving into each other like clouds. I wanted to reach out and touch them. So I did.

Well, I tried.

There was a ceiling made of glass in my way.

Since the sun was really bright, it didn’t look like there was a glass ceiling. I pushed first, tapped second, and then I just stood there. I looked out at all the beautiful stuff above me and felt like there was nothing I could do to truly experience them.

Then, as time passed, the sun slowly slipped out of view. It was evening. There was a light in my room, one brighter than the light outside. And now, when I looked up, I could see the glass. I could see myself in the glass. But I could also see the sky and the colours above because the sun hadn’t gone down yet. My reflection and the evening sky were two faint images superimposed on each other, still on the glass. I stared at it without blinking.

And then night came and I was alone. With myself. The glass was now a pure reflection of me and my room.

I know what the vision was about. It was about many things things that have present significance.

You see, I’m about to spend a year at home because I didn’t get into the postgraduate programmes I wanted to get into, which is partly something I didn’t want anyway but anxiety doesn’t care about what I want. I want so many things. During the day, when the rest of the world is alive, I’m constantly reminded of what I cannot have, be it because of my interests, where I come from, who I know etc. It’s just like the sun beating down on me through the glass. And I jump all day, hoping to catch one of those colourful clouds but I bang my head against the glass. This is all I can do during the day.

Then evening comes and I realise that there is a thick sheet of glass between me and the world, that the curse the 21st century casts on youth is the ability to see all that they cannot be or have. In the twilight hours, as I see myself and the world in the glass of fate and destiny, I am inspired by how it grounds me in reality by placing the good and the bad into context. This prepares me for the hours to come, when loneliness will take hold of me.

In the deep hours of the night, I am all I see. I look at my reflection on the glass and I write, speak, and draw. I reinvent, nay find myself in the void. This act does have the power to heal and restore but it does so only if I stare at the glass in the evening. To see myself and the world at the same time, to stop fighting and observe my existence in all its beauty, glory, and tragedy is the only thing that can bring healing in the night.

Well, now you know why I create everything in the night when everyone else is sound asleep.

About the artworks:

The first artwork contains a lot of ideas that I’ve already explored in previous posts with mountains, gyres, allusions to authorship, etc. The ice from the Hemingway post makes a reappearance as this post has a lot to do with fear of losing potential (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/07/10/obsessed-with-loss-of-potential-jpg/). Lions, as you know, mean a lot to me. They keep appearing in my dreams. I’ve been a lion in some and I’ve also been protected and attacked by them in some. There are other reasons but I won’t go into them now. If you have a good eye, you probably noticed how the speech bubble kinda looks like a human being, with the lion and its mane making up the mouth. Not exactly planned but I believe these things happen for a reason. Makes sense in context anyway.

The second artwork is more minimalistic. You can see the colours yellow and red making an appearance. And you probably know what they mean if you’ve been keeping up with the posts. If not check this post (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/)

In a lonely barren land

original artwork

The other day, I found myself talking to another writer who follows me here. We were talking about how I bring together my artwork and writing. Our conversation touched on how skill and craftsmanship can affect the ability to communicate in such a way. I shared some thoughts in the conversation that I thought was worth revisiting for my own nourishment as much as that of all the lovely people who follow me here on WordPress.

I ended an earlier post with a few lines that I believe will help me add a lot more depth to what I am about to do because the post is about something relevant to the discussion.

The only way to ground myself is to dig in, into myself. This is why I try. This is why I make art. Because I am alone in the genius.

I wrote this about two months back (link to the post: https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/ ). At the time, I felt that this was a sentiment that was mine alone. However, yesterday night I was reading Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (which was recommended to me by one of my professors) and I found myself sharing in the above sentiment with another writer, a brilliant one. Rilke talks about how personal and lonely the journey of an artist is. He writes:

You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself.

In the final paragraphs of the earlier post of mine that I mentioned above, this is exactly what I was trying to say. Art, for me, is born out of necessity, and as such the function that it serves is essential and perhaps existential. I look inside for answers. It has not been long since I have found a space to create such art. At the moment, it is a barren land, the loneliest of places, where trees do not hide birds and water moves no rock. But I know that I belong here, whatever season awaits me.

Now that I have touched upon my understanding of the space in which artistic creation takes place, let us return to the main intention of this post which I mentioned in the beginning. In the conversation I had with this person on skill and craftsmanship, I shared my thoughts on why proficiency in a skill should not stand in the way of artistic creation.

One thing is obvious: a painting does not captivate the eye by virtue of its resemblance to what the world actually looks like. Some of the greatest painters of all time have earned their place by distorting reality. I believe it is the obvious consistency, decorum, and evidence of conscious decision that comes across that people think warrants admiration. What is interesting here is that a painting only has to come across as the result of these things, it doesn’t really have to be.

I have noticed that if I sit down and watch a toddler scribbling on a wall with a crayon for more than 15 minutes, I can find a certain consistency in the way they draw. This probably has nothing to do with calculated decisions informed by thousands of years of art history but probably more to do with their muscle memory and the way they hold a crayon. Whatever the reason be, consistency can be discovered by those who are willing/gifted to look for it in all kinds of places. To a certain degree, that’s why I think the artist finds art everywhere. It is also why when I enter that lonely space that I mentioned earlier, I plug my ears. No matter what people say, and a lot of it may even be worth listening to, the recognition of art is a mediocre by-product resulting from a system of measurement that is highly dependent on a person’s ability to see. The artist truly doesn’t matter in the exercise if you ask me. Of course, that’s just one way to look at things. I choose to look at this way because art that I create in the void is a reflection of parts of me that all the light in the world cannot bring forth.

I am not very proficient at putting words together or making colors speak. If there is some classical way of measuring how steady my brushstrokes are, I’m pretty sure I’ll be very below par when compared to a lot of people I know. However, it does not discourage me from making art because I do not make art by taking into consideration how others see the world but by being aware of how I see it. Because, for me, art is a way for me to paint myself. I believe that the true joy of artistic creation lies not in other people seeing you but in you seeing yourself, especially the parts of you that have always remained hidden.

To do this, I must let go. When I make art, I allow myself to be a toddler scribbling on a wall. And the more I do it, I am made all the more aware of the consistencies, patterns, and rules that I follow without intending to. And as I stare at them, I am made aware of my muscle memory, which is a metaphor for so many things. I am made aware of how I hold my crayon and why I hold it so. I believe deeply that this is what Rilke was talking about. To dig into oneself is truly the only exercise that will make art necessary for the artist. And art that is not born out of necessity, I think, will destroy the artist.

Sometimes, by virtue of us being humans and living in the same world together, another person’s art can make sense to us. Over time, it is even possible that the brilliance of an artist who is able to beautifully traverse those fine lines between the important extremes will bring people together. If that happens, it is the most beautiful of by-products. But that is all it is- a by-product.

Dig deep into yourself, find ways to be deeply aware of why artistic creation is at its heart a journey into the void. Be excited about reaching out into nothing and retrieving something. Be okay with flailing around aimlessly in the dark. In such exercise is the birth of all the rules and consistency this world seems to be hooked on. No matter how bad or good you are at drawing or painting, you will find that these things exist regardless when you look inside yourself. But even more importantly, it is in such habit that you truly see yourself.

About the artwork:

I continue to draw on mountains and gyres, my fancy for which you’ve witnessed in the previous posts. What the colours mean can also be found in my previous posts. It is an illustration of where I am at the moment, discovering the depressing yellow underneath as I truly see how I wear my skin. I’m leaving a lot of skin behind on this journey. I am also running away from a lot of things, which I’ve made clear with the outstretched hands, and running towards something at the same time. I’ve represented the last part by bringing the legs together as a person would if they were to firmly place themselves somewhere.

Things are Falling Apart

Original artwork superimposed over a random hourglass image from Google.

I was born in 2000, the year that marked a new beginning.

2000 was also the year at the wide end of the gyre; when things were supposed to fall apart.

Maybe they did.

I don’t particularly like my life. I have a roof over my head, good food, and people who (I think) care about me. But I hate my life. It’s going nowhere. I’m paralysed. This place is to me what Dublin was to Joyce. The difference is that I can’t leave. The fact that I’m the person standing in the way of me leaving doesn’t make it any better.

A few posts ago, I wrote about how it feels like there’s a storm trying to suck me into the narrow middle of an hourglass and how in that horrible place I can choose whether or not to stop the sand from falling(https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/ ). I was talking about not wanting to live. I don’t think anybody got that. Well, nobody really understands anything I say most of the time. To stop the sand is to stop time. At a deeper level, it is to destroy unity.

The hourglass has a form that has great significance in history. Two triangles meeting at their vertices. It is a symbol that appears in so many cultures. Here’s a link to a page that lists a few: https://hillerdrygoods.com/blogs/news/the-leone-blanket-story

Wherever it appears and in whatever form, this symbol always has something to do with unity, balance, and the like. Being stuck in the middle of an hourglass is about the disruption of balance and unity for me; when things get so dark that you are able to see how time could potentially stop. It was about things falling apart.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

-The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats

If you go through Yeats’s notes, you’ll find all kinds of diagrams with gyres intersecting at all kinds of angles. One such illustration that is often referenced in the analysis of ‘The Second Coming’ is an illustration of two intersecting gyres. Read more about it here: https://yeatsvision.com/geometry.html

In the context of the poem, the gyre could be seen as representing a period of 2000 years. Yeats believed that at the end of every 2000 years, at the wide end of a gyre, there would be a drastic change. One system would fall and another would rise (the origin of the new being the narrow end of the gyre). In the poem mentioned above, Yeats anticipates things falling apart. Right after the First World War, with the end of the millennium fast approaching, Yeats asks the question of what lays ahead for man. He is not naively optimistic about the future. He asks the question and he does not expect the answer to be pleasant.

When I look at the hourglass, I’m reminded of the intersecting gyres. I was born in 2000. Whether or not what Yeats says/believes in/concocted has any validity, I don’t particularly like the new beast. Confusion and panic reign and I’m a part of it. In a way, it is through me that it has become part of reality. I hate that.

I feel grounded in time only when I’m the author; when I create. That’s the other thing about the hourglass symbol. Two triangles meeting at their vertices looks like two mountains meeting at their tips.

My last post was about how mountains signify clarity and authorship for me.

The mountaintop is where you experience the satisfaction of feeling like the author- the person who knows what’s on the next page. The author is the one who knows what the book is really about. In the experience of that entity is where God meets man. The Sermon on the Mount, The Fire Sermon, Mount Sinai, Mount Carmel, Pisgah, Mount Moria, Mount of Olives, Mount of Transfiguration, Golgotha…the list of mountains that have great religious and mystical significance is endless. Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, is where the 12 gods live according to myth. In fact, in The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, which I talked about in one of my earlier posts ( https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/07/10/obsessed-with-loss-of-potential-jpg/ ), the Kilimanjaro , which like the Olympus is the highest mountain in Africa has a western summit which in Masai is called “the House of God”. In the post I explain how the mountaintop has a lot to do with perspective, potential, and perfection of the artist. The Snows of Kilimanjaro is about a writer. That really makes it worth mentioning in this post. To look at the hourglass symbol and see two mountains joined at their tips is not that crazy. It makes sense to me.

What is interesting is that I am not denied authorship in the narrow middle of the hourglass. In fact, I think this is where it is the most potent. However, this is also where I can truly hurt myself. End things. As I mentioned in many previous posts, it is the void in which I burn. ‘Void’ because that is what experiencing uncharted territory feels like most of the time- reduction. Searching for meaning in the void is scary. Once in a while, you find/experience something that makes sense but the joy is fleeting. It changes you, moulds you, and motivates you but the journey breaks you. You’re flailing around in something incredibly vast and tangibly transparent. Yes, darkness is transparent. I say that because most people would associate darkness with opacity, not being able to move etc. The void is different. That’s what makes it scary.

And I am afraid; terribly so.