“A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I was up in some woods in California yesterday and the day previous, trying to clear my head. It’s been pretty damn cluttered lately. Once I exited stage left of the tour I was going to embark upon, I immediately tried to pour all the energy I’d been focusing on it into my own music, but my own music doesn’t want that intensity at the moment, due to a number of factors, and a quiet whisper in my mind keeps saying, “Go. Go away. Decompress.”
Yet…I keep finding excuses not to get away. Money. Drive. What if I don’t… dot, dot, dot. I planned on taking a last minute camping trip this weekend, too, with an old hiking group, but found the government had shut down the site we were going to camp at for some random reason. I’ll stay put for now.
But I did get away for a day.
Harbin hot springs is an idyllic soothing place. Mostly. If you can overlook the onslaught of pretentiousness and the desire of fellow nude bathers to vocally express how fiery they are about their vigilant vegetarianism, psychoanalyze you based on your star chart, or spontaneously burst into the Hare Krishna song before getting mad at you for accidentally using their avocado oil (all true stories, most from one visitor I happened to orbit near the vicinity of the entire stay there, the first incident being when I was in line to buy a gluten-free vegan strawberry muffin. She told me I was “so virtuous” to not order the chocolate strawberry muffin, the one she spent her entire wait in line debating out loud whether or not she should order, finally deciding she would be “indulgent and sinful,” as she put it. I looked her dead in the eyes and said, “Oh, you better believe I’ll be eating chocolate later tonight.”)
At one point, my friend of 13 years now, Kirsten (twin names, we’re basically the same material of a person in a different physical morph) and I hiked up a trail with a tantalizing sign speaking of a Tea House.
Upon further investigation, we found that the tea house was a meditation house: A little wooden hut-like structure strewn with journals and quotes and pictures of the hippie god Bob Marley. We pulled out our forbidden cameras and took pictures. (Funny anecdote: our first night there, Kirsten and I both had dreams we rebelled against Harbin. In my dream I shouted at naked people that I like wearing bras and took pictures. In her dream, she ate meat or some similar “sin.”)
In front of the hut’s pilot window overlooking the forest valley was an excerpt from a Rainer Maria Rilke book, Letters to a Young Poet, on feelings. Kirsten found a favorite poem by Derek Walcott, called Love After Love. I got chills as she read it to me out loud.
Being unplugged from the hub and grind for a day, and subsequently delving into Letters to a Young Poet while back in the Bay Area has stuck me inside of the quote at the beginning of this post.
It’s not about what the public thinks of my art.
Sure, I live to share my journeys with others–thus this blog and other such writings. But you can’t rush a process. You can’t beat a work of art into submission. If you tend to it, like a garden, slow and patient, it will flower when it flowers, age be damned.
The stories I wanted to publish when I was 15 are now being published at 32. The songs I wanted to write at 12 are now being written at 32.
Everything in its own time.
I am surrounded by bustling, talented, beautiful younger people who are putting out music and writing and photography by the bucket load. They are playing shows with big acts, getting photographed for spreads in sensational magazines, doing book tours across the world.
I am proud of them.
I guess I’m with them, too, on a smaller scale. I contributed to two albums this year that are on an independent record label, had writing published, played shows, worked hard. But it’s not about the crowd and the hype.
As Rilke says to an inquisitive budding young poet:
“So, dear Sir, I can’t give you any advice but this: to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to, the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.}
But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce becoming a poet (if, as I have said, one feels one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all). Nevertheless, even then, this self searching that I ask of you will not have been for nothing. Your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide is what I wish for you, more than I can say.”
And thus it is. Go inward. Seek whether or not this is your calling. And if it is, accept the cross and the gift with no expectation of reward. If not–take the other paths where they may lead you. They are just as well.
As for Harbin, I found relaxation, but yet was never so happy to get in my car, drown myself in coffee and blast Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails with my old-school BFF in the passenger seat texting away madly now that her phone had service, leaving skid marks behind us on the way out of the woods.