Sunday, April 15, 2012

Life, death, and abstraction

At first I wasn’t going to write this post because it seemed too personal. But then I couldn’t justify the difference between reading my poetry to 150 people at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, as I used to, and putting it on the Web. Anyway, this came up because of the week-long kundalini yoga workshop I just finished at Kripalu, along with another 3-day course just a couple of weeks ago. I love kundalini because it works on energetic alignment as well as physical; when I do it, I feel as if I’m straightening out my brain.

In the workshop our teacher showed the TED video by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, describing her stroke and the experience of coming close to death (note: it’s inspiring, not depressing, otherwise I wouldn’t share it; I’m not into depressing).  I had a similar experience—without the stroke part—and hearing it so aptly described and close to my own, was startling. I’d also never heard right and left brain function defined precisely this way: that the right brain thinks in pictures and is about the collective, while the left brain is linear, wants to name things, and is concerned with establishing an individual sense of self. I used to owe it to my lack of formal higher education—and that could be part of it—but now I also understand that from going to the other side and coming back, where everything is new again, I developed the peculiar ability (which both helps and hinders me) to stand outside a thing or situation and see it without the names or the layers of meaning society has given it. I can still often look at humans and view them as an alien might coming across them for the first time—and believe me, compared to other animals (I think it’s the lack of body hair with the thatch on top), they ‘re completely weird and funky-looking.

I also realize now why I’m so ardent about letting art speak for itself, about allowing for the possibility of emotional response rather than always having to define it or give information that makes it seem rational. This is why I rail against the museum wall texts and idiotic artist’s statements that become the lenses through which art is viewed. Art, like music, is a language without words, and the way it invokes sensation is mysterious and inscrutable. I’ve chosen to be an abstract artist because it’s an investigation into making something that’s essentially unknowable, where the possibilities of interpretation are boundless.

But then I’m also a writer, which gives the lie to it all, as I go about creating defined situations in order to promote undefined ones. Life is a paradox.


They say write about what you know
Well I know
about death

I have felt death’s
icy numbness
creeping up my legs
toward my heart

I have seen faces
hovering over me
as I am pumped full
of the
of strangers

I have felt my body
into a pillar of

Don’t scream, the doctor said

I have wished for death and prayed for life
to a god I didn’t believe in
but promised
I would
If I lived

I have known an aloneness beyond description
before descending
into unpeopled blackness

And I have wakened
to the cruel bright whiteness
of a recovery room

too loud, too alive
with voices
the clatter of metal against metal

My husband, noting I am conscious
fills me in on current events
He and Willy had been talking about it
In the car on the way to the hospital
and now he is giving me
an update

And I’m feeling guilty
because I’m alive
and I don’t believe
in God

After two weeks I go home
everything is strange
I feel like an immigrant
newly arrived
who happens to speak the language
but doesn’t know the customs
and no one I meet
has been where I’m from

So now I know about death
but I’m no longer afraid
I believe in a god
And I’m not married anymore.

Copyright © 1994, Carol Diehl

Carol Diehl, Alexandra, 2011, pastel and pencil on board, 9' x 12".


Rob said...

Thanks for sharing.

LXV said...

Thank you Carol, I'll try to get over my TED aversion and watch this video on your recommendation. I'm glad you came back to tell the world where you've been. Thanks for sharing your poetry here.

I think the proliferation of and ready access to "pictures" in peoples lives will change world language. Already the search engines are developing modalities for sorting images. Along what lines, I can't imagine, but I suppose it will most likely mimic brain function in some way. As a technophobe and paranoid, this doesn't really sit well with me, but I'm afraid it is the way of the future. Time will come when no one will need to write an artist's statement anymore; unfortunately it won't be soon enough for me.

Kate Knapp Artist Blog said...

didn't someone once say "A picture is worth a thousand words"? well I must say I agree...and I had seen that TED talk long ago and really dug it...very intersting...glad you mentioned it... curious as to what you almost died from?...the poem paints a good picture...