All These Remainders

“The creation of legend is never known at the time of its genesis. Only displacement can imbue the past with the aura of sentimentality. Oh, to yearn, to stretch back with every fiber! To feel again that desire; the shrouded figures that play still on those lost, faded shores. Seeing ever so faintly the afternoon sunlight through old windows and recalling the impression of newfound knowledge in those dusty old books. Oh, to squeeze the eyes tightly, if only to glimpse for one moment that gone-ness – to feel it in the pit, to be in that pit, to stay: impossible. Knowing that it all exists only because I can’t stay there. Oh, to regress into my own idealization, to see myself again as I did then…”

“All these remainders have a keening tonality, a tinnitus of sounds, which we are unable to hear outwardly but which our hearts intuit. They are the silent sirens of what has gone before, and they call to us with accolades and accusations.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

So ends my remembrance of Ox-Bow, ten years after. So much more could be said, be shown. I’ll leave it at this for now. The text I have shared in these posts is, perhaps (if only to me), my best artwork. It evokes for me the feeling of remembering and the instances that remembrance serves equally well. The words I’ve shared are as present to me as the times they transform and recreate. In turning them over, reading and re-reading them again and again, I sense anew so many true things. In them I know again the many secrets I held all those years ago. The creaking of the Inn, the internal affects of grasses and trees, and the whispers of the wind – which even now (this VERY second!) are stealing across the Lagoon and through the meadow, past the Mary K and over the dunes – are all as true now in these mnemonic words as they were when I wrote those words down. And they rest in me, speaking in me as to one who has glimpsed a deep but unnameable majesty. Darkness sits near (deathly close to) light.

- Matt Ballou, September 1, 2011.

Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

Half-light – the time of soul-sense

“Later on, again I saw the stars rushing in that great sky-arc, their pathways subtly changing over time, subtly changing tonight even as I gaze upward. I think of my place along those paths, and as I think I understand that it is no wonder that the ancients thought the earth was the center of all things. Even when one’s thoughts consider those things farthest from the self, those things impose themselves upon the self in a very physical way – an implication, an assertion. No other beings but us can know these things… To lie on the dock at 1am, the water lapping (piles softly swaying) at languid fingers, touching them with such immediacy even as light a billion years old breaks the plane of these wet eyes. A prayer offered to God. No, it is no wonder to me that the ancients thought themselves the center of all things.”

“Half-light – the time of soul-sense. It is muted sense, muted movement, and muted knowledge. When the world falls away to an edge; we are on it and in it, but at a moment of unknowing. How can we yet remain? Oh, to strain, to stretch! To allow that great letting occur, where our selves, our identities of self, are removed from our references, from our knowing. This is the pure spirit. What has happened?” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

It was a record, that flaming consumer…

“And the fire was always there with us as well; its cast of gray ash strewn about as a memory of the night past. Here and there on the ground lay also the print of a known foot, the circumference of a bottle, the twisted remains of a cigarette butt. It was a record, that flaming consumer: constantly fed and ever needing more, never totally gone out.”

“The bricks keep it contained, except on those special, pagan nights. Over the years they have become fragile, having seen the fierce flames that flash for three months and then fade for nine many times. The dune now cradles the fire pit in its sandy palm; nature allows us to knead that surface and turn it over with toes and rakes for another day. All the while smoke signals the call over the waters and the trees…” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

Disembodied Desire: “when the taut nerves mock the numbness of the mind”

“…the themes of alienation, absence and desire …all of this seems so far removed from the place where I’m talking from that it saddens me, and somehow makes me feel obsolete…kind of dead, elegantly wasted (?). I’m not talking about some slippage from reality but rather some absence of destination, a random lingering, an objectless longing.” 1

“…those blank days, mild and hazy, which melt enamored hearts into tears, when they fret with some vague, twisting pain, when the taut nerves mock the numbness of the mind.” 2

“Disembodied desire. It’s really a constellation of factors, a convergence, I guess. It happens when phenomena stack up right there, at the margin of your consciousness. Then, suddenly, it comes. All that is needed is that particular scent, the angle of the sun, your own freshly dried skin (still supple from the wetness), that old song; it has all been said before. These things usher in a yearning, a hoping. It’s a call from the past, something you’ve lost or, to be honest, something you’ve never really had. You don’t know what it is anyway, but that feeling, that sweet aching is almost enough – almost enough to make life feel right. To feel as if you’ve been called, to feel as if you’ve been wanted, to feel as if you’d been in the right place and had known it – had felt it – at the time. When that song comes on, when the night is just right, it is all there so close to the surface. Ah, but when you reach for it, it disappears! It is as if the exact cognitive mechanism used to focus in on that feeling, or time, or place, causes the very same thing to rush away. There must be some inverse relationship there: the farther you are from logically apprehending the shadowy image the closer you are to the essence of it. When you set up for a closer look even the sense you seemed to have of what you wish for flees from you. It is a small surprise then that wishes can take on such mythic proportions.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

1) Robert, Jimmy. Self-Portrait. Appeared in Tema Celeste 96, March/April 2003, page 76.
2) Baudelaire, Charles. From the Francis Scarfe English translation of the poem Cloud-dappled Sky, 1857.
 
Images from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

A Submission to Delights

“A constant comfort of that place – apart from the foliage, springing paths, and multitude other charms – was my mug. Handcrafted and ergonomic, it felt then as it does now: a real weight in the hand – substantial, truthful. It declares by its heft the worth of what it holds. It is heat, a vessel security blanket, a confirmation of time. And of course I carry the time with me physically even now as I use the mug emblazoned with the O and the X (hugs and kisses from the past to the future) almost every day. It reminds me of 2am munchie runs and awesome weekend breakfasts, of wind swept evenings and overcast middays. Its circle pleases me and my mouth conforms to it easily – a submission to delights.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

On nights like these – remembering Ox-Bow and my mug of that time – I think also of drinking port with Lex up the slope behind the Inn. One late afternoon, both of us moving toward that state of mellow so frequently found that summer, we debated art and ideas. I had my prized Odd Nerdrum book with me and, in a sequence of events not without mystery and malevolence, the tome found itself flipped off the deck and down the hillside. I keep the book broken away from its cover to this day in remembrance of my time with Alex.

Photo: My second Ox-Bow mug today. I got this mug at the same time as the one I speak about in the text above, but that first mug – my primary mug, the one that I had used every day for two years – was stolen from my workplace in 2003. Now I keep the second mug as a commemoration and never drink from it. Both mugs were made by Becky Wehmer, long time Ox-Bow-luminary and an artist/educator at Waterstreet Glassworks.

A Sound of Being

“Evening often brings contemplation. The paths are quiet and fires smolder in the distance. I’m out behind the Inn again. Some people come and go, moving in the ethereal between-time, but we sit on the steps with a kind, unimposing light glinting out from within. There, the warmth of the air touches my arm as I bring my hand up for another pull on my smoke.

See how poetic that stream of consumption is as it gracefully spreads upward, as smoothly as my eye follows it, as light as my mind. Shared… a cigarette-trust between friends.

And there is just silence, but that is not to say there is no sound. There is a sound that true silence makes, a sound of being. What a precious joy now to sit and feel that silence, having grown accustomed to all the oft-unheard sounds of life embodied in it: there two girls talk quietly down by the lagoon, here the underbrush rustles with some rooting creature. Around us the sounds of the night move in close, the trees and hills settling in. Above, in the near cabins, assignations await. The studio glows, and there’s music trailing through the trees… notice the diffusion. The Inn lights lilt like ghosts greeting that twilight time, that time when the entire world is mother-of-pearl.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Image from a digital photo taken between May and August 2001.

Into Dust

“Can I remember it only in some half-form? Can I remember it only as a chimera, made of memory and will and hope? Can I not recall it totally, fully, being in myself as I was? Does no one understand the fullness of the emptying time? Does no one sense it in themselves, that time when they lost the tether? Let it loose again, to feel that it is gone! Alone. This is the deep pit of sensing, where I know the contour of death and dying. Suspended above the abyss. Glory.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

“Look… an abyssal missive, a doctrine of smoke… ‘into dust.’

In the end I suppose that I wish for it, (and sometimes still seek it with nervous hope) that confusion. Sweet psychological instability – the wobbly legs of a newly drunken lad – here as the land curves away beneath me. I guess that, at times, the seeking is more interesting to me than the knowing. I’ve seen it here, right here on this land; is there self-loathing? What’s beneath the surface of us all? Did I see myself here for the first time, or was I just revealed anew, from a novel angle and in skewed light? The absolute beauty of being permissive, of stepping aside and watching oneself from the wings – it can’t be beat, though it stays with you in some way I can’t yet fully understand. I don’t think I ever will understand it. Watching others though – there’s the bittersweet fruit. The fallen human trembles and tumbles through life, and even at the lowest point renders to itself the most poetic, romanticized stroke.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Still falling
Breathless and on again
Inside today
Beside me today
A round broken in two
’til your eyes shed into dust
Like two strangers turning into dust
’til my hand shook the way I fear

I could possibly be fading
Or have something more to gain
I could feel myself growing colder
I could feel myself under your face
Under…your face

It was you
breathless and torn
I could feel my eyes turning into dust
And two strangers turning into dust
Turning into dust.

“Into Dust” by Mazzy Star

All images above are from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

Pyramid Song, Summer 2001

“Alone in the cabin, two in the morning… “black-eyed angels swam”* in the murk, delivering tinkling songs of love and death to our sleeping ears” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

“It has taken me years to process this experience. It was something that could not be known in the moments of living it, only remembered as a fleeting figment seen with the mind’s eye, felt like a dream but never realized fully. It was all ashes and phantasm, crystallized cataracts in the eyes of understanding. To aim for understanding of the ethereal encounter – to know it, integrate it, and interpret it – is the essence of foolishness; its distance from this world is so far as to confound all reckoning.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.