Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dies Irae - A Lost Day

Holiday Explosion Four last night. The most self destructive yet. I lost yesterday, except for the pain I created which lasted into today. This morning I rose early to a deep smoldering fury, the taste of ashes, and a mild hangover from the tequila shots I knocked back before bed - only the third hangover I've ever had. I drove to work deeply frustrated at the speed limit and the traffic - I felt I badly needed to drive 90, the growl of the engine harmonizing with my rage - but I behaved. At work I wrote e-mails shutting down several projects, and postponing others until May. I told people who came into my office to make it quick, that I had too much to do and that I was grouchy - as if they needed me to point it out.

Later I ran a staff meeting by phone and checked with the only other attendee in my office. She said I hadn't sounded different than usual (I'd worked hard at that). She's an extrovert and passionate person, full of laughter but also prone to throwing things (she finally stopped throwing her phone at the wall when they told her there would be no fourth replacement...) so I boiled over to her about this season, this month, this darkness, this rage. She could relate. We finally got to where I could laugh at it. A grim laughter, but better than wrath.

This evening I called home that I was a little better, and that I needed an evening out. I went to the big sophisticated mall and wandered the not-so-crowded spaces. The drive there in the dark, and the drive from there up Durham's most interesting (and notorious) street at night enabled me to make some peace with the dark. I wandered some other lamp lit streets, smelling the restaurant smells, hearing the quiet conversations of little knots of smokers and college students outside cafes and bars.

I came home with an extension cord for my headphones, so I can finally move freely again while painting. I tackled the last of the sky in Ursas Major and Minor and finally turned it right side up. I adjusted the sky further, after this photo, before stating the bears. Then I took a break to let the paint dry.

I had been encouraged by The Cunning Runt to borrow an image from his blog, a gorgeous photo he took of Mount Greylock - a photo that seemed to me to beg to be painted, with the contrasting light and dark tree trunk silhouettes, and the warms and cools in the freshly wintered landscape. He was kind enough to e-mail a larger version for me to use. So here is a small watercolor started (guidelines only, at this point - and the camera made the cows too dark). I may do a larger painting, later, but I want to feel this image first with a small piece. About 7 x 10.

Then I painted the bears. I'm not sure if this is done or not - I have to live with it a while. Click the image for a larger view. Feel free to comment. This image seemed almost effortless - unlike some others.

My war with Chirstmas isn't over - just this skirmish. I wish I knew if this was the last one for this year. I despise what we have made of the month of December, and I'm deeply frustrated that most of the people I know hate the mad rush and the way we jam everything into this dark season yet we can't seem to change it.

Today's word-fill-in at lunch started with the very unusual phrase "Dies Irae." That's a phrase from the Latin Mass - "Days of Anger" - describing the day of judgement at the end of time, the end of life. The day of fire and ashes from which we need to be saved - God have mercy on us. I laughed a dark and manic response and completed the puzzle.

When it was done there was one four letter word that had not been crossed off, though it was filled in without my noticing, by crossing words.

Sane.

13 comments:

Liberality said...

I like all of your work that features the colors blue, green and purple but those are my favorite colors anyway. I was angry today as well. I can't wait for mid January to roll around.

linda said...

steve, your muse will take care of you despite the obvious pain you are feeling by this photo(which causes me to catch my breath) ...it truly disturbs me to hear you are suffering and struggling so in daily life, with so few respites for your art...why do so many great artists struggle and pay so dearly for the sake of their art? why must it be that way? have you ever wondered why? I see something of why written between the lines of your face, your day and lonely dark night spent walking alone, that you finally got that extension cord for yourself but your motherinlaw's toilet works just fine...I see it in your face, your hands that have no paint on them-strange to notice such a thing but you are an artist and therein lies the problem, is that not so? your hands are cleaner than mine...

you are trying too hard.

you will find time for everything as time moves toward the determined end of this madness we seem to want to call holy days......or you won't and perhaps that is an easier point of view excepting there are young children with expectant faces, is that not the brunt of it...my energy for it has all escaped me and I have no heart this year for even a tree or a wreath at my door...I want nothing of it, the madness, the spending of money we need to be not spending, the craziness I keep hearing of in child abuse and jets crashing with pilots bailing before they hit the ground, killing those below...where is the love there and there and there?

you know where I am and I am listening to what you are not saying...

I love your trees and nightsky, the bears lolling about, a mama and baby or a daddy and baby bear, my imagination tells me...they seem to be watchful tho, ill at ease right now but I am not surprised at that....maybe they are more sane than we are.

I don't even know if "sane" is the right answer anymore because the definition doesn't fit the crime...

Alex said...

Ursas came out much darker than I had expected but I love the hint of the arora borealis in the upper branches and the starry depth of their coats. The trees seem unfinished to me. The upper branches are fine, but something about the way the bears interact with them near the bases is off for me.

I've got another bottle of Meantime if you need to blow off some steam without heading too far out.

Steve Emery said...

Liberality - Thanks! I wish our society hadn't made such a big deal about Christmas - or that the holiday were at another time of year, when there is less going on and it's not so dark.

Linda - If I'm trying too hard anywhere it might be at work, where I take things to heart and carry a lot of stress around that probably isn't even mine. At home my family does a lot to make sure I get time to paint, that I don't have to do more for Christmas here than I want to, and they are very encouraging. Especially Dearest. Even Christmas is something I've blown out of proportion, over-reacting to a time of year that demands a lot of us AND asks that we enjoy it. But I actually bring most of my trouble into my own head, and I'm always upset that it comes out in ways that hurt other people.

Alex - I might take you up on the Meantime... And ten points to you for speaking up about those trees. I have been thinking EXACTLY the same thing - that the bottoms of the trunks just seem unpainted (yet) while the upper tree sections seem white on purpose. So I'll be doing something about that, figuring out what I want to do with the lower sections of at least the largest trees. Part of what I like about this image is the way the bears ARE the space between some of the trees - I'll see if I can preserve that, or of the piece as a whole would be better if I let go of it.

Summer Kinard said...

What great symmetry! Dies irae/sane.

I told some friends that we're not doing the commercial Santa thing with the baby, opting instead for Nicholasfest and Christmas as a time of giving to the poor/feasting the Nativity. They looked at me like I was crazy. Your post made me think, well, there you have it. I'm nipping the stress in the bud here. That kind of sounds wrong, but what I mean is that I relate, not that you've gone off the deep end. All that pressure to put on fake happy just pisses me off, too.

DebD said...

Steve I understand. It really does feel like we're on this crazy hamster wheel toy and we can't get off.

But I did have to laugh a bit. If I was feeling the frustration you were feeling, the last place I would have chosen to go would be the mall! LOL

I hope your time away is fruitful and and peaceful.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Years ago, I would escape into a dark theater, to be alone in the dark, to stifle my rage. I understand rage very, very well.

I wouldn't go to the mall either, as Deb said. That would put over the top.

How cool that you used CR's photo as an inspiration. And we have a daughter named Ursula - "little bear".

{hug}

Steve Emery said...

Summer - I like your style, as usual - and I admire the way you just drive on with what you want. I'm not sure why we're not all that free.

DebD - You know, I didn't think of that (the mall thing). If I go to this particular mall with NOTHING I have to do there, I just people watch and enjoy it. It's visually very pleasant to me, too - lots to see and enjoy, especially after dark.

And I loved your hamster wheel analogy. It's going around too fast for us to get off! Or no one wants to jump off first! Or something!

Pagan - I am so sorry you have so much experience with rage. It's an ugly emotion, self feeding and consuming. I've spent too much time with it - though much less in recent years, for which I am grateful.

And I really need to get clear what is the relationship between you and CR...

DCup said...

I wish I had words for you. Now that you're dealing with a sick child, I suspect the rage about the expectations of this month are taking a back seat to the immediate concerns.

I'm wishing this month away. I simply want it over.

Steve Emery said...

DCup - You can say that again - all of it. But I also forget each year that the worst of the holiday related pressures and work related pressures are often over by mid month. I always seem to fuss the loudest just about when it's going to get better. It makes me feel sheepish.

And sick child is home, doing fine, and we will dig into potential root causes in a week or so. We're grateful for how that turned out.

Leah said...

i hear ya, steve, this can be a frustrating time of year, especially if you're an introvert (which it sounds like you may be.) i really loved the book, "the introvert advantage" if that sort of thing interests you.

i love, love, love the bear painting oh so much. it's gorgeous!!

The Cunning Runt said...

Steve, your Ursas are very cool. I'm surprised at how your blues suggest the barely visible black of Bruin Fur, which is astonishingly lightless.

I'm struggling, though, with the spatial relationship of the bears and trees, looking for depth of field, a proximal ordering of things.

That may be a hack photographer's way of thinking about it, and I'm certainly open to persuasion.

The Cunning Runt said...

Oh, and at the risk of over-spilling the beans (which aren't all mine to spill,) Pagan and I spent nearly twenty years together and have two lovely and brilliant daughters to show for our efforts. We now live about forty minutes apart and like each other quite a lot. ;)