Reflection Of Things To Come, performance & installation art piece, b&w photo from sketchbook & journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
1382, “foresight, prudent anticipation,” from O.Fr. providence (12c.), from L. providentia “foresight, precaution,” from providentem (nom. providens), prp. of providere (see provide). Providence (usually capitalized) “God as beneficient caretaker,” first recorded 1602.
I stumbled on a lost box of old journals in the studio last week. I thumbed through one and tossed it aside. It was half-full of incoherent thoughts. On the cover of another was a painting by the Zen monk, Ryōkan who lived most of his life as a hermit. I remembered the cover, but not what was inside. I had bought the blank journal at Orr Books on one of my monthly trips into Uptown.
I used to spend a whole day walking the pavement, visiting bookstores, buying art materials, taking myself to dinner at The Lotus. Dinner was the icing on the cake — beef lo mein, iced tea, fresh spring rolls, and a smorgasbord of books spread out on the table around me. Delicious.
Orr Books, Borders, and The Lotus are gone. Uptown is a shell of its former self. What used to be trendy has moved on. Or maybe it was me.
I sat down in my rocking chair and opened the cover of the journal. On the first page was a black and white glossy I’d printed of an art performance collaboration with Jennifer. That was followed by a color drawing of a mandala with Gaelic names and symbols, the Celtic Wheel of Seasons. Samhain (pronounced ‘sɑːwɪn) or Day of the Dead, has morphed into Halloween. It is the beginning of the seasonal calendar, the first High Holiday of the Celtic New Year.
The drawings reminded me of my old sketchbooks from art school. But that was long before. The journal I held in my hands was from the year 2001 — the first year I traveled to Taos, New Mexico to take a weeklong workshop with Natalie Goldberg. I had a corporate job back then, and big dreams. After 9 years, I was working hard emotionally to let myself leave. I wanted to jump off into a life structured around writing and art.
How high was the cliff? I was petrified.
The effort came in learning how to get out of my own way; I used every tool, rope, and carabiner in my arsenal. The Universe seemed to conspire in my favor. After two years of self-imposed isolation, I drove 1200 miles to Montana and hung out with my old friends in the Bitterroot Mountains for a week. I was in a gay bowling league in Minneapolis that year and met tons of new friends.
The last night of the Strike Pool, my name was called. All I had to do was bowl a strike on the spot, and I would win the kitty. Every eye in the place was on me.
Something must have guided my wrist. The pins fell in slow motion like the parting of the Red Sea. I left with pockets stuffed — over a thousand dollars in $1’s, $10’s, $20’s, and $5’s; a buff friend walked me to my car. The next day, I went down to the bank and exchanged the stack of green for a money order made out to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. That’s the only way I could afford to go on my first writing retreat sitting under Taos Mountain.
There were other things in the journal/sketchbook that reminded me of how hard I worked back then, how hungry I was, how much I wanted to live an abundant life around writing and art. I became fearless and put myself out there in strange and unusual ways. There were four pages on the stages of Alchemy, drawings from Prima Materia to Solutio, starting at the Full Moon on 5/7/1.
On a page marked June 9th was a Medicine Shield, I think it was a Butterfly spread. There was a page of drawings on the Ancient Tree Alphabet and its relationship to the Runes. “What Is community?” was written at the top of another page, followed by writing exploration, ideas, and meanderings.
I had forgotten I had taken an Enneagram workshop that year (the Ego forms around 1 of 9 enneagrams). There are positive aspects to each identity, but the False Cores of the Enneagram are harmful, learned belief systems, Monkey Mind mantras, that when studied, help answer the question of why we feel separate and alone, rather than part of a larger whole.
With Providence we are aligned with the Universe; whereas the separation of Ego causes us anxiety, insecurity, and pain. The Enneagram types and False Cores were listed in the journal this order (turns out I’m a Four) with notes that followed on ways to turn the tide:
- Perfectionist – False Core: Something is wrong with me
- Helper – False Core: I am worthless
- Performer – False Core: I have an inability to do
- Romantic – False Core: I am inadequate
- Observer – False Core: I am nothing; I don’t exist
- Loyalist – False Core: I am alone
- Epicure – False Core: I am incomplete
- Boss – False Core: I am powerless
- Mediator – False Core: I am loveless
Wilderness & Thoreau
My favorite journal spread was a rough drawing of 10 Mile Canyon in the Pintler Mountains of Montana. I had taken a once-in-a-lifetime pack trip with a friend, 2 dogs, and 4 llamas that we carted in the back of her Toyota pickup. I had never saddled a llama before or even been that close to one. Their names were underlined in my journal with the following notes:
- Crow – for the Crow Reservation where she adopted him, part coyote, she called him “Crazy Indian Dog”
- Camas – from the purple flower, like a gentle lap dog
- Rumpel – Stiltskin – The King, The Old Man – he was 15 years old and all white
- Chaco – for Chaco Canyon in New Mexico – he was feisty and black
- Willie – the friendliest, roams free, he was brown, she called him William III
- 10-Mile – for 10 Mile Canyon – the lead and the youngest with a white stripe, very stubborn
I never would have remembered these details without writing them in my journal by the fire (it reminds me why it’s important for a writer to take good notes):
The glacial Montana lakes we passed that trip were not named. There was a Snow Cave at 9000 feet. We saw a pair of migrating Sandhill Cranes on the hike in. Llamas do spit but it’s okay; it’s only cud, regurgitated grass or hay. And they only spit if they are irritated. The moon rose on Friday, July 5th, 2001 at 11:45, one day past full. The wind was constant, keeping the mosquitoes away. Until later that night, when the tent zipper broke and we spent the buzzing night with our heads covered.
The journal was so alive. Did I really go on a llama pack trip in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness? Drive twice cross-country by myself, join a bowling league, win $1000 on a single strike, attend a writing retreat on the edge of Taos desert with 48 complete strangers, all in one year? When did I stop sketching and drawing? Have I become complacent? Lazy?
I don’t know if I’m supposed to be laying low, slipping inside like the turtle way I feel. Or force myself to get back out there, take the next step, walk hard in the world again. It’s alright to rest, reflect, fill the well. But that journal woke me up — nothing comes easy. Nothing comes without hard work and risk. In 2001 I was working my ass off. The Universe lined up beside and behind me, nudging me along.
It’s kind of like those few lines from Natalie about the angels cheering her on. Or the way W. H. Murray and Goethe write of Providence. Or these lines in scratchy block print from the first few pages of my journal, penned by Henry David Thoreau:
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be explained, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.
In proportion, as he simplifies his life the laws of the Universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854
Journal/Sketchbook Entry, March 18th, 2001
Near the Spring Equinox
Time of Crane Migration Through Nebraska
Do you believe in Providence? Not magic or miracles. But that if you make positive effort with Great Determination, the Earth and Sky, a Higher Power, will help you along? Do you believe in Fate? Or do you call it Faith?
Providence extends to the neighborhood, the state, the region, the country, the world. If the time is right, the old systems will crash to the ground, making way for the new. The right person will come into power, into the place they need to be. Change is not always positive. But it may be necessary.
Providence – is it fate or faith? Neither or both? Usually when it’s time to move on, challenging personal opportunities present themselves. Do we bite? Show a willingness to sink into the gristle? Or ignore the signs and keep living the status quo. Every day, we are presented with the chance to make a new choice.
If we’ve built castles in the air, then those are our dreams. The time is not lost. With effort, and practice, structure creates a solid foundation. What once seemed impossible is now routine. Am I living old dreams? Maybe it’s time to replace them with something new.
Journal Entry – Thoreau, Ryōkan By Hand, Ryōkan Journal, Corners, from 2001 sketchbook & journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 2008, all photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, October 16th, 2008