Thursday, December 18, 2008

wings... or not

(also written at sea, sometime in October)

If I could walk up on deck and take flight, would I? Where would my wings take me?

I want to say back to you, straight to New York as fast as I can fly. I'd fight the frigid winds and work my way across a continent back into your arms, the arms I'm missing so vividly right now. But we live in the time of choices. Choice and ability are the blessings of our generation. As is so often the case, our blessing is also our curse. The truth is wings would change nothing. I am not held on this boat against my will. I do find myself too far out to swim, but the only thing holding me in sway here was my decision to come here. I could have stayed back East. I wasn't stolen by pirates or at gun point. Not attached to my back, but there are metal wings which could sail me home faster than my fantasy wings could possibly transport me. There are few physical barriers which remain, certainly none between populated areas, only financial ones and those are the ones which put me on this boat and which wings wouldn't help overcome, except perhaps as a carnival attraction. Which has its appeal.

In a way I've already signed up as a carnival attraction. "Look at me! Look at how far I can go! Who else does what I do?" I'm not charging for admission, but it ups my hand in conversation, gives me currency when answering that inevitable query: What do you do? Honestly, what I'd really like to do is bartend or play music, but so far I've managed to do neither. There is a ukulele that I carry with me even at sea, a physical manifestation of a promise to myself to learn an instrument that taunts me with how little I have mastered it. Which I could if I practiced every day, which I don't.

I do do what I do because I like it and I'm good at it. I chose what I do, so wings aren't going to save me from it. I'd have to chose not to do it, which I could, at any time; but then I would have to chose something else and I still haven't mastered that ukulele or convinced anyone to allow me behind a bar. I'd also like to garden, but I grew up on a farm and worked for a landscaper: I know this is not a pleasant thing when it is for other people. And I do really like what I do, it just doesn't allow me to do so many other things which I love that it demands a frequent reanalysis. So do I go back to school, which I hate, and try to take it to the next level, which I might not enjoy and which would force me to interact with other people, which I do well but have less and less patience for?

The life of an artist tempts me from time to time. Perhaps I should say the life of a commercial artist, though I don't mean that in the typical way. I don't just mean someone painting signs or sculpting custom fittings; I mean artist who live off selling their work. All the artists represented by all those galleries, who would shit a brick if someone called them a commercial artist, are commercial artists in perhaps the baldest way possible. All they are selling is art. Their most intimately personal and expressive works are the ones made for public consumption. I like to think I live the life of an artist on some level (despite being horrified by how conceited and stupid that statement sounds), constantly processing and trying to express, sometimes through words, sometimes through images, sometimes through other materials. I don't do it as much as I'd like to, but I also don't do it for money. But I'd like to.

Wings can't give me that. If I were trapped by circumstance, carried away from a place I loved, prevented only by walls or distance from return, I could wish for wings and dream of taking flight. People around me would yell and scream, surprised and scared then awed as I took to the sky. They would either cheer or toss threats and warnings, but my wings would not be wax and I would be gone. An eruption of feathers, a rush of wind, the exhilaration of freedom. But I'm not held in a prison, I'm held by contract and identity and bank account. A take to flight would feel like a free fall: what now?

So I go back to my work, which is not forced upon me, which I chose. The only foe attacking me is impatience and laziness. I remind myself what holding you is like, how sweet it will be when I return and how stale I felt during the long days this summer with too much time and too little motivation. On return, I'll be crisp and fresh, something more pleasant and refreshing to cling to, instead of the sluggish, fading facsimile I was becoming. It might have taken years to fade, but I've seen it enough times to know that I wouldn't be happy that way. That I would take flight from, but that is what you can't fly away from, the feeling that you've wasted time and the dead inertia that you've adopted. So in motion I remain, coming and going. Not on wings of my own, but not dead weight.

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