Drone Pilot at Arcosanti: Guest Post by Cinematographer Andy Bowley

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley.

i can’t remember if we drank a lot of beer that night.

but i do remember parting ways with david, after a nice meal on the upper west side of new york, saying yes! drone! arcosanti!

or something like that.

a few days later, he wrote to let me know he really wanted to do it.

really?

i had a few weeks to prepare, so i bought a syma x1 quadcopter (about $35) and flew it all around my apartment.  my tweedy green chair became landing pad #1,  my other tweedy green chair became landing pad #2, and a pillow on the leather couch became landing pad #3.

lil uav, aka Mr. Droney

i practiced everyday i could and crashed and crashed and crashed.  and after a couple of weeks, found i could wing the little thing around — landing and taking off from pads 1-3 in nimble succession.  i knew i was ready for arcosanti when i could actually fly without sticking my tongue out of my mouth.

days later, i found myself standing in front of a whirring DJI phantom in the arizona desert. and now, the playground was vast.
instead of gliding from pillow to pillow, i was doing 1500′ runs thru canyons, over cliffs, and over top of paolo soleri’s glorious creation.

i couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  which meant i pretty much kept my tongue in my mouth too.

 Andy may have been able to keep his tongue in his mouth at Arcosanti, but I was unable to lift my jaw off the floor after seeing the footage. Here’s one of the strafing shots he took of Arcosanti.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIrNnlXnFFo[/youtube]
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Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody. He can be found here and there on this blog. Other posts by this generous man:

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

A Life’s Work Wants You to Be a Guest Blogger

guest_bloggers_wantedWould you like to contribute to the A Life’s Work blog? Maybe write something about your life’s work? Or contribute some photos? Or conduct an interview with someone you think is doing something they won’t finish in his or her lifetime. Or maybe you have a haiku, sonnet, or cinquain (or the form of your choice) on the theme you’d like to share, or a drawing or painting or a song? Maybe you visited Arcosanti, or the Allen Telescope Array, or an old growth forest? Maybe you attended an amazing gospel concert or a moving service? Perhaps you took some photos  of Sagrada Familia  or shot video of your friend walking across a vine bridge? Maybe it’s just an impression you’d like to share when you were in a cathedral or the desert or in a hot air balloon. Maybe a quote. Why not share it?

Just deal with the blog’s themes: legacy, continuity, work one devotes one’s life to, mentorship, stewardship, a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. It’s pretty broad. I want to see what you have to say about these things and I want to publish it here on this blog!  Have an idea but don’t know how to proceed? Share it with me and maybe we can work it out.

As a guest blogger, you don’t have to give me a gift or anything. No bottle of wine, no dessert. In fact,  I’ll pay you with an origami animal. Other benefits include the satisfaction of knowing your work is online for as long as online exists. I’ll link to your website, blog, Tumblr, etc. And I’ll promote the heck out of  it.

Just leave me a comment or shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen. I look forward to seeing what you have. And please feel free to spread the word.

d a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m  s { d o  t } c  o  m

Posts by guest bloggers include:

Bonsai and A Life’s Work by Karen Bell (photographs)

Time, Nature, Mortality… A Life’s Work by  John Yearley (words)

Her Life’s Work by Kate Hill Cantrill (words)

Arcosanti in Words and Arcosanti in Photos by Jessica Roth

Designing SETI Institute Graphics by Danielle Futselaar (words and images)

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins (words)

Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act,” by Robert Darden (words)

Mr. Pete’s Tree by Jon Bittman (words and photos)

Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren (words and photos)

Why Would a 21 Year Old Be Interested in A Life’s Work? Haroon Butt (words)

Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology  by Niall David (words and photos)

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far by Andy Bowley (words and photos)

The Meaning of Life by Jane Waggoner Deschner (quote and art)

Bob Marovich’s Top Ten All Time Gospel Recordings (list)

 

Process: A Life’s Work and the Canon 5D by Guest Blogger Andy Bowley

Andy Bowley 5D

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley and originally published in June 2010. I’m putting up this “encore post” because shooting video with the Canon 5D has recently come up several times at my day job. That, plus I just like this post and Andy is an awesome writer.

I know. You’ve been wondering after reading this blog: what’s Licata really like to work with in the field? Sure, he seems measured and nice and all when he’s tapping away in his socks, all warm and cozy in his New York apartment–but what’s he like in the trenches? Is he a screamer?

Well, no–the opposite, actually. He’s a wonderful collaborator. But more importantly for my sake, he is well in touch with his inner geek.

Example: When he invited me to shoot the work being done by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project in Waco, I suggested we do some macro work with extension tubes and obscure Ukrainian/East German lenses to get close-up shots of needles and grooves.

His initial response? “Ooooh”

I told him it would be tweaky and slow working with these lenses, which would sometimes allow us just a millimeter or two of effective focal range — and that we’d have to mount them to a Canon 5D DSLR and go through a not-yet-tested workflow.

His response? “Great. If you can think of more possibilities, bring ‘em on”

Just what I hoped hear. A director with patience. But more importantly, another geek who understood. I was excited. But time was short.

I began to test my macro set-up the next day. I was training for a trail race at the time, running every morning along the paths that cut through a wooded section of Central Park. Along the way I found a pinecone–perfect for the test–and maybe useful for A Life’ s Work.

My Manhattan pinecone had lots of interesting shapes and exuded its own woodsy charisma, but I needed to make it move for the camera. Not having enough time to construct a motorized turntable, I biked to the hardware store, bought a lazy Susan, plunked it under a metal Ikea filing box (the heaviest thing with a flat surface I could find in my apartment,) mounted my Zeiss Jena 80mm lens on an extension tube and tilt adapter, and shot some test footage with the Canon 5D.

The results?

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”300″]http://vimeo.com/12648502[/vimeo]

I liked what the lenses did that day – but the lazy Susan filing box turntable system was less than optimal. No matter. Much of the macro stuff I hoped to shoot in Waco would be moving–records spinning, needles dropping–and if all else failed I could use my new Kessler pocket dolly to make the moves.

That night, I somehow managed to pack all the gear (lights, grip gear, tripod and dolly) into two checked bags. I was leaving for Waco early the next morning.

Tune in next week for Here’s Andy’s post about the shoot and some beautiful HD footage. If you want to read Andy’s tech notes about the pinecone test, click here.

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Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody, but he considers the coolest thing on his mantle to be an old Pentacon six medium format camera, which now sits next to his beloved Manhattan pinecone. He has found a lot of other things while running through wooded sections of Central Park, but doesn’t want to talk about it.

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

 

An Arcosanti Slideshow

Jessica Roth, writer, guest blogger, and friend of A Life’s Work, took these photos on a recent trip to Arizona and sent this bit of text along to accompany them.

I make an annual sojourn to this spot…alongside the river, in a cave overlooking it, near the mesa that coughs up chalcedony and jasper, above the low branches of the bosque. Every time, I discover something new. A pile of sun-worn bones and cicada wings below an owl’s roost. A new elbow in the river. Another cave, higher, whose shadows are lined with small bells. The beginnings to stories I’ve still to tell.

These photos show an important part of Arcosanti, that is, what you see around Arcosanti. The structure-town is not intended to dominate the landscape, but be integrated with it. These photos may show a tiny bit of structure, some bells, some presence of people, but mostly they’re about the natural landscape you experience when you look out of a window at Arcosanti or walk a few feet from one of its doors.

Jeff Stein said this in the recent interview:

So not only am I part of this powerful urban architecture, but the architecture itself is contained, and we’re on the edge of a cliff so I wake up in the morning and throw back the curtain and there, only about a 1/4 of a mile away, is the face of the opposing Mesa. I can see down a valley, there might be a herd of pronghorned antelope prancing around down there. There might be some cows on some grazing land up above. The sun is doing different things with cloud formations in the landscape and in fact it’s a wholly engaging and beautiful and rich natural landscape that we’re a part of.

Top 10 Gospel Christmas Songs

I asked Robert Darden, author of  Nothing but Love in God’s Water: Volume I, Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music and founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, to list some of his favorite gospel Christmas songs. Enjoy!

The songs are in quotes and can be found on the CD (or LP) in italics.

Odetta: Christmas Spirituals
“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”

Died  December 2008. Legendary folk/blues/spiritual singer. Active in the Civil Rights movement. Influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan. Music historian/performer, legend.

from Black Nativity

Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Mary, What You Gonna Call That Pretty Little Baby?”

With arrangements by Professor Alex Bradford, gospel re-telling of Christmas story. Electrifying performances on Broadway in 1962. Took to London for several tours and revivals. Considered one of the inspirations for Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Two powerful voices – Marion Williams’ lower, warmer voice and Princess Stewart’s higher, raspier voice.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvaj-02z2HU[/youtube]

The Harmonizing Four

“Sweet Little Jesus Boy”
Little known group from Richmond, Virginia but very popular during the Golden Age of Gospel Music. Very traditional – rarely with instruments, a cappella, flat-footed jubilee style. Wonderful arrangements of old spirituals and hymns. Sang at funeral of Franklin Delano Roosevelt… best known for their speaker-rumbling bass singers, although sadly not on their few Christmas releases.

A Gospel Christmas Celebration
“Silent Night” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy
One of my all-time favorite groups … one of the last of the best gospel quartets to be formed … singer Joe Ligon is one of gospel’s last great shouters … and is the model for Wilson Pickett, who used to guest with them occasionally … called the “Temptations of Gospel” … still hard on the road today!

The Texas Christmas Collection
“Christmas Hymn” by Karen Kraft
Know virtually nothing about Karen Kraft … this was recorded for a small Austin label in the 1980s, heard she lives in Bryan-College Station … interpretation of a song originally written by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – but the original doesn’t sound much like this!

The Legendary Groups of Gospel
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy

From Black Nativity
Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Joy to the World”
My favorite gospel soloist is the late Marion Williams … rarely in better voice than on this recording in 1962 … Most adventuresome gospel vocalist, endlessly inventive, taking chances and probably drove her accompanists crazy …

A Gospel Family Christmas

“Hallelujah Chorus” by Pastor Donald Alford and the Progressive Radio Choir
Most recent track in collection. The Progressive Radio Choir has been based and recording in Chicago since the 1970s. For a time, recorded with Pastor (now Apostle) Donald L. Alford, including their hit “He’s Alive.” Alford is now head of the Progressive Life-Giving Word Cathedral near Chicago, but the choir continues and this may be the best legacy of their short collaboration.

You can find some of these songs and many more great gospel Christmas songs on my Youtube playlist.

Want more  Christmas gospel music suggestions? Check out  The Twelve Classic Gospel Songs of Christmas by Bob Marovich.

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

The Guest Bloggers

Over the years (yes, I can write that and mean it!), this blog has had some wonderful guest posts. Here’s a list of them.mynameis

 

My Pursuit of Science Took an Ugly Turn by  William Swearson  (words)

Bonsai and A Life’s Work by Karen Bell (photographs)

Time, Nature, Mortality… A Life’s Work by  John Yearley (words)

Her Life’s Work by Kate Hill Cantrill (words)

Arcosanti and the Writing Process (words), An Arcosanti Slideshow (photos), and The Ultimate Selfie: NASA’s Golden Record 2.0 (words).

Designing SETI Institute Graphics by Danielle Futselaar (words and images)

Death Be Not Enervating by Duane Kelly (words)

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins (words)

Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense: the creative act,” by Robert Darden (words)

Mr. Pete’s Tree by Jon Bittman (words and photos)

Arcosanti – City on the Edge of Forever by Nathan Koren (words and photos)

Why Would a 21-Year-Old Be Interested in A Life’s Work? Haroon Butt (words)

Sunset and Sunrise in Arcosanti, AZ: 24 Hours Amidst a Sea of Arcology, photos and essay by Niall David (words and photos)

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far by Andy Bowley (words and photos)

The Meaning of Life by Jane Waggoner Deschner (quote and art)

Bob Marovich’s Top Ten All Time Gospel Recordings (list)

The people above are writers, playwrights, photographers, visual artists,  urban planners, DJs, college students, etc. I like that the list is so varied. I look forward to adding more names. Maybe yours?

You know the themes: legacy, continuity, work one devotes one’s life to, mentorship, stewardship, a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. It’s pretty broad. I’m looking for  visual art, video, interviews, poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Send me an email and maybe we can work something out.

d  a v i d [ a t ] b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m  s { d o  t } c  o  m

Bonsai and A Life’s Work: Photos by Guest Blogger Karen Bell

“There is something hopeful and serene about Bonsai!”

That sentence was left by someone on Facebook after they looked at photographer Karen Bell’s images of the bonsai trees in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Here they are, courtesy of Karen.

 

It might seem odd  to some that I almost included a bonsai gardener in A Life’s Work, seeing how I did include the Milarchs; their work with trees seems the exact opposite of what a bonsai gardener does. But what intrigued me about bonsai was that, with the proper meticulous care, they can outlive the gardener. Bonsai gardening seems to me like an extremely selfless act, and I really liked that. It’s also something that’s done for its own sake; that is, it’s like making a art, it doesn’t exist to edify or solve a problem. It’s there for its beauty.  I liked that a lot, too. I also thought the visuals could be very striking. I enjoy looking at hands engaged with work, and this had the potential for a lot of close-ups of hands at work.

But, it wasn’t to be. Not this time, anyway. Maybe the sequel, which I’m told I should title A Second Life’s Work.

 

 

 

 

 

Time, Nature, Mortality … “A Life’s Work” by Guest Blogger John Yearley

Black Gospel Music Restoration Project
John Yearley
John Yearley

Fellow Extra Criticum contributor John Yearley heeded my call for guest bloggers, and I couldn’t be happier. Though to be honest, whenever I read anything John has written, I throw my fists in the air and curse the god of words. “Dammit,” I say, “why didn’t you give me the gift that you gave Yearley!?!” 

John Yearley is the author of Leap, winner of the Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Abingdon Theatre), and Ephemera, winner of the John Gassner Award (Summer Play Festival, LABryinth Intensive). His plays A Low-Lying Fog and All in Little Pieces are published by Samuel French. He has worked as a “script doctor” for New Line Cinema, and developed the animated series Mamu & Dinga. His new play, Another Girl, was read by the Naked Angels company in New York and selected for the PlayPenn conference in 2011. John is the author of the forthcoming book Daddy’s Not Tall Enough to Touch the Moon, a member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatists Guild, and a MacDowell Fellow. 

Recently I caught a few minutes of a nature documentary on TV. I’m not sure what the whole thing was about, but what I remember was the fish. Lying in a rapidly evaporating stream, it was just barely covered in water. The day was blazingly hot. It flopped around madly, but there was nothing to be done. It had only minutes to live.

I was riveted by this spectacle, horrified actually (I’ve dreamt of it several times). Thinking of it later, I wondered why this image so burned itself into my mind. Then it occurred to me – that fish is me. And not only me. That fish is EVERYONE.

We are all mortal. The water around us is, inevitably, evaporating. The only difference is how much time we have left.

A radio play of mine, entitled Like Christmas Morning, includes the following exchange. The subject is peppermint ice cream:

DUANE: It is so good! Why don’t more people make it?

CARLOS: I don’t know. Why does anybody do anything?

Why does anybody do anything? Well, there are a lot of reasons. The reasons for doing things that give immediate gratification are pretty obvious. I eat something, I have sex with someone, I feel good (hopefully). That part is easy. But why do people do difficult things?

The main reason is that they think they can succeed. One of the great narratives of our culture is the story of the person who undertakes a difficult task, perseveres against all obstacles (“they said I was crazy!”), uses their intelligence and hard work and just plain stubbornness to triumph over all adversity. If you turn on a TV right now and scan channels, I guarantee you that you will find some version of this story playing right now.

When you succeed, the narrative line is clear (“I did it!”). But what if you don’t? Are all your smarts and hard work and diligence only valuable in so far as the desired result is achieved? Pushing the question even further – If we are, as I have stated, all fish flopping around in our rapidly diminishing pool of water, how does any of this so-called “success” even matter?

These are questions I grapple with a lot. You know who doesn’t? The people featured in David Licata’s documentary-in-progress A Life’s Work. Why is that? Because they know they’re going to fail. The subject of the film is people who are engaged in work that cannot or will not be completed in their lifetimes.

So these people are, according to our triumph-over-adversity narrative, failures. Their work is bound to fail, at least as long as their water lasts. So why does watching these “failures” go about their self-appointed tasks – building their buildings, preserving their music, planting their trees, searching for life beyond the stars –why does it make me so happy?

A Life's WorkPart of the reason is the tremendous skill with which David tells their stories. The participants are filmed with care and love. They are given the space they need to talk about their work and what it means to them. What is so richly satisfying about the film, however, comes from something else. There is an almost ineffable sense of wonder in A Life’s Work. Wonder at these people who have thrown off the yoke of the conventional definition of success to just do their work. To believe that their work has value to the world no matter what. They are happy Sisyphus’ all.

That’s actually not true. Sisyphus’ story is a tragedy in that he accomplishes nothing. These people accomplish wonderful things. They just don’t finish. They work to work. Because they think it matters. Because it is important to them.

It is that particular aspect of this film, the serenity that comes with work done for work’s sake, that is particularly resonant to me. I am a fish, too. I flail as much as anyone. The things I long for (money, success, esteem) are ephemeral. I know that, but that knowledge doesn’t seem to stop me from flailing.

When I watch clips from A Life’s Work, however, when I am in the presence of its subjects, I am serene. I am able to hear the voice in my own head that I hear when I am at my happiest. It is a voice that says, “Just do your work. Live your life as best you can. Everything else is out of your control.”

Anything that can get that voice to speak up does me a great service. Here’s to hoping that A Life’s Work does that same service for many, many others.

Thank you, John.

“Her Life’s Work” – By Kate Hill Cantrill, Guest Blogger

Kate Hill Cantrill - Walk Back from Monkey School
Walk Back from Monkey School by Kate Hill Cantrill, available now!

I’m reposting Kate Hill Cantrill’s guest stint because her short story collection, Walk Back from Monkey School,  is NOW AVAILABLE, and that’s how we treat our guest bloggers here at A Life’s Work headquarters.

Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in literary publications including Story Quarterly,Salt Hill, The Believer, Blackbird, Mississippi Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Swink, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Jentel Artists Residency (where we met), the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (where we spent time together), and the James A. Michener Fund. She has taught fiction writing at The University of the Arts, The University of Texas, and the Sackett Street Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn where she curates the Rabbit Tales Reading and Performance Series and is completing a novel. 

I want to write this about my reconnecting with my mother. I can’t write it. There are drums thumping in my backyard and a bum singing in my front; I love both on some occasions, but not all occasions. As hard as this is, as frustrating as this is, this is my life’s work, and I need to find a way to make it happen.

My mother is a brilliant sculptor. She once went depressively insane — full bodied and real — and I stayed with her for my first year after college to keep her from both blowing up herself and blowing up the block on which she lived—Brownstones in Philly tend to link arm and arm and what happens to one might happen to all—just ask Osage Avenue. The Philadelphia Fires. Just Google it.

I told her to leave — not just leave the foot of my bed at 3am when the 3am Crazies happened upon her, but just to leave. I told her to stop crying, to stop threatening death and to allow me to become my own person. She listened (or perhaps she was simply called) and flew to Scotland to an environmental and spiritual community to become at first a maintenance person (and then, I think, a student, a clown, and then the cook) for—give or take—five years.)

For the sake of brevity I will just say this: I mourned my mother and felt full body and soul that I didn’t have one anymore — a mother that is. It felt easier than one might think since she had not been there for real for many years before that. She had always had my awe and admiration, but she had not always been there to be my mother.

Why do I say this here? I know why I say this here. My mother — for the duration of her motherhood — has needed to pursue her Life’s Work. And when I write need, I mean need.

Soleri Bronze Bells by Niall David Photography

She returned to the states to care for her own mother in her final days and wanted to drive with me across country where I was to teach for the summer — I won’t even get into the details of it even though I thought at first that these details were the purpose of this essay, because we stopped at Arcosanti and smelled the soil, rang the bells — she just knew that after five years we needed to re-connect. We were both broke — we made rice and beans to have tacos on the way. We feared and therefore avoided the “gators” (the busted-blown truck tires) on the road the best we could. We listened to Moby and Johnny Cash. We slowed down when mean truck drivers got up in our rear. “It’s really great becoming a graying old lady,” she said. “I get away with this kind of thing.”

She became my friend, maybe again, maybe for the first time for real, I don’t know. All I truly know is that I had my mother back, and she had just returned from 5 years of pageantry, puppetry, cooking, and healing. And when she came back she took hold of the carving tools, the patinas, the C-grip clamps, and she went again to pursue — but closer to me this time — her Life’s Work. And I felt holy-hell proud of her for it, and I learned from it, too, once again.


Death Be Not Enervating

[The instant I finished reading this post by Duane Kelly on his blog, Lapis Loquens, I emailed him to see if he’d let me post it here. He graciously agreed. I related to his post because A Life’s Work would not have come about were it not for death. Some people think that’s morbid. I’m not one of them, though.]

I often think about death. Some reasons are my father’s early death, my daily writing work and my agnostic uncertainty about the hereafter. I also suspect that it’s just the warp of my basic personality to keep mortality mounted on a prominent easel.

My hunch is that most people view most people who dwell on death as suffering from sapped ambition and pleasure, shuffling through their dank days despondent and morose. Not the best company at a dinner party.

But rarely is that the effect on me. This musing was prompted by a painting I recently stumbled on. Created in 1872 by Arnold Böcklin, a Swiss artist, it is titled “Self-Portrait with Death.”

The colors are dark, at least in reproduction, so I’ll briefly describe the work. Böcklin is showing himself at work as a painter. (It’s curious that most self-portraits of painters don’t depict themselves actually painting.) He holds a palette in his left hand and a brush in the right as he studies the canvas (positioned where we the viewer are). However his attention is divided. Besides seeing the canvas he listens to music coming from somewhere over his left shoulder. The musician is Death, who instead of shoving the artist into despair or dragging him off to another world, concentrates on playing a violin. The music is not unpleasant and Bocklin cocks an ear toward it.

Böcklin has painted Death as artistic inspiration and a spur to work. This is commonly my internal experience of reflecting on death, dying, mortality, the all too quick passing of time. I don’t know anything about this 19th century Swiss painter but when I saw this painting I felt an immediate affinity.

Duane is a playwright, short story writer, and blogger based in Seattle.