The bleak mid-winter is a time for ruthless stock-taking peppered with some extra rude encounters with mortality. So it’s no surprise that as I teetered on the edge of sleep, I saw myself from a disorienting perspective, juxtaposed with life/the universe/and everything else à la Zaphod Beeblebrox. Looking down from a great height, I saw myself in the form of a tiny carved ornament, a Japanese Netsuke, pressed so deeply into a creased white sheet that it was almost engulfed.
I think it was a remark made by the late Pete Seeger that inspired this odd little Netsuke selfie; in an interview he talked about how people’s distinct memories of an individual don’t survive much beyond two generations. So for example I don’t know much about my great-grandmother Susan other than she went out and shot a deer to feed her brute of a husband whose diabetes was slowly killing him. But Seeger didn’t leave it at that, the perishable nature of a remembered someone, but went from the sour note to the sweet, claiming that his beloved folk music could go on forever. And even though I saw my mortal self as a tiny, ossified face in an endless expanse, it was still in the form of a Netsuke, a valuable Japanese carving. I may be so much animated compost, but I’m also a card-carrying member of the cultural species and as such, making art does indeed have an effect on the world, if only for the parsec of time that my audience is moved to the left and towards Nature.
It’s not so bad being a gnarly little knob that’s been pushed firmly and deeply into the human condition. In fact it’s like free fall– if I imagine the eternity of the life/death cycle pulsing through me, it has a liberating effect: I can make anything of this life, anything at all!