I am 200,000 years old and I will never age
In yesterday morning’s traffic my eye caught this truck, with its distinctive signage. It occurred to me that I should capture this in a photograph, and I fortunately had a camera with me in the front seat of my car. But by the time I had the camera switched on, the truck had pulled far ahead in traffic, and innumerable cars were between it and me.
So I did what any sensible photographer would do and wove in and out of traffic, speeding and slowing down until I was finally close enough to take a picture.
I don’t believe in spirit animals.
But that doesn’t keep me from having one. Several, in fact. They include the snake, the wolf, and the phoenix, that glorious bird of ancient Greek myth that burned itself to death and came back to life over and over again.
And then there’s the hawk, like the wolf, an outlaw. A true bird of prey, unlike the carrion-feasting eagle, the hawk often has negative symbolic connotations. Ironic, huh? That’s why it’s my favorite bird.
And also because it will just shred a squirrel or other small prey animal, as seen in these pictures I took when a hawk decided to have its lunch right outside our office today.
The Unity Paradigm (UP) is a framework in which all my work - past, present, future - may be placed so that it may exist within a common context. It is a function of Harmonic Theory, and attempts to reconcile various structures, some of which are apparently at odds, through juxtaposition and hybridization.
UP is an attempt to define, demonstrate boundaries, and on occasion dissolve them. It is essentially Buddhist and poetic because it seeks to identify analogous forces, parallels, parities, comparisons, metaphors, and so on, and show the relative oneness or sameness of disparate, often seemingly contradictory, contrasting, or paradoxical things. It is also a Daoist thought structure, or even Manicheanist, as it is sometimes a bringing together of opposites, and shows essentiality of all things, and the impossibility of polarities to eliminate each other or achieve some final victory over one another.
To approach work through the UP is to have a skeleton on which to hang all the organs, the muscles, and the skin of said work so that it forms an organic whole in terms of form and content in poetry, fiction, music, photography, philosophy, video, assemblage, sound art, graphic design, and so on.
It should be noted that successful unity between forms is neither universally sought or desired. At times, the unity displayed may be the contrast itself, or often a deliberately incoherent, dissonant effect.
In a fundamental way, the UP is an application of the musical Drone Principle, meaning that a single things is presented for a duration. In music, that means a recurring or sustained tone, as in the music of the Indian sitar, or Western Drone music, which begins with LaMonte Young. The monotone is also applied to ostinato figures and vamps.
The Drone has within it the implication of the mathematical and spiritual infinite. Under UP, I permit myself sustained monomanias. In this way it is also a framework for creative behavior patterns - indulgences and deprivations, and the attempt at balance between them.
I have sustained a monomania for poetry for half a year, leading to rapid development and learning. I believe I have reached a true breakthrough via this method of sustained attention, having increased my comprehension, close-reading technique, and facility with a few technical methodologies. I have read more poetry as well as criticism, which has deepened my hermeneutic practice. I feel as though I am now on the cusp of producing actual poetry.
All that being said, the most natural course to pursue at this, the beginning of a new year, is to leave the intensive and extensive practice of poetry momentarily.
To clarify, I won’t quit writing poems, but I will pause my study of poetry. Instead I will produce poems to the best of my current ability and focus my learning elsewhere, specifically on image-making, treating it as an aspect of the core pursuit of writing poetry.
Now the real poetic practice may begin. I will study again in the future, but for now I must apply all that I have learned and direct my curiosity to vision, a fundamental aspect of poetic experience.
Last June the kids and I went on a trek across the great state of North Carolina, and when we reached the Triangle we made a stop at the North Carolina Museum or Art. I did a blog post about it at the time, but came across a few more of the pictures I took of the place and must say that seeing these really does conjure the old wanderlust and insatiable thirst for culture in all varieties in me.
Teaching yourself has some advantages. For one, you have no one to answer to, so you can learn at your own pace. Now that can also be a drawback, as having regular requirements, assignments, readings, and so on can keep you on track. I’ve always been good at meeting deadlines when the work is something interesting to me in some way.
Taking classes can be rewarding in many ways, as can pursuing degrees and certifications. But the value of teaching oneself is immeasurable. I was married to a girl who was homeschooled, and by exposure to that subculture I was able to draw many parallels to my own methods as well as draw on a repository of techniques.
Catholic elementary education, with its high standards, public high school (less rigorous), attendance at two universities and a community college, and restless pursuit of what I think of as “general knowledge” (the sum total of human learning, a top-down approach that assumes the interrelation of the many disciplines or branches on the tree of knowledge) give me a certain perspective that, if I may be so bold, no one else quite possesses.
It’s a new year, and with that convenient marker of time come inevitable decisions concerning the alteration of one’s life mission and goals. I’m no different, although coming into my maturity makes me less apt to choose unreasonable or unrealistic goals.
Instead, this year I’d like to just spend more time doing the things I’m good at, and getting better at them. Poetry dominated my consciousness for a good six months, an inevitable outcome considering my view of the world as a place pregnant with meaning, in which the boundaries between each thing in itself are tenuous at best. Photography instigated this intensive investigation, but that’s an entire topic in itself, beyond the scope of this post.
In 2019 I’d like to continue my study of poetry both more intensively and extensively. As a photographer, I’ve developed a certain skillset concerning a certain narrow scope of subject matter and technique, so I’d like to broaden that base a bit with some new people in front of my lens and some new techniques in lighting, especially shooting at night and with flash. Musically, the way forward seems to be to simply stop living in denial that harmonics, resonances, rhythms, and noises form the skeleton and organs of my life, and I could no more do without them than I could do without the air in my lungs or the blood in my veins.
If there’s one thing that I truly believe about us (unreliable narrator mode is off, trust me!) it’s that the human capacity for learning is limitless. It’s true that the scope of human learning has surpassed what one person can reasonably hope to digest in one lifetime, but I maintain that a person can continue to learn until the moment of death. It’s one of the things about us that makes us unique from the other animals, and those singular qualities of the species, the things that most define us, are the mandate of heaven, the rules for living that we must follow whether we want to or not. We can only be what we are.
To recognize the things that make us uniquely human, to embrace them and spend time cultivating them, this is to imitate the creative force responsible for existence. To learn and use what we learn to make is divine.
Since it was so misty the other night and I was otherwise unengaged, I took the opportunity to do a little night shooting. This year I’d like to branch out in photography and shoot something else in addition to the people I’m close to.
I look forward to developing as a portraitist, and find inspiriation in various places, but this one is the most recent. Jenny Schäfer is a Hamburg-based artist working in a variety of media, and her portraits I find striking in that they seem to elevate the subject in unexpected ways. These are not typical glamour shots, and the models are not of the glossy magazine type. The photographer makes her subjects look interesting and attractive without excessive makeup or overt eroticism. Instead I find it more cerebrally appealing, or perhaps it’s libidinous in that it appeals to a certain sapiosexuality (and yes, everything is about sex with me, even when it’s not about sex).
Anyway, here are a bunch of pictures I took at night when I had a “foggy notion” to do so. Some are edited for effect, and others are left pretty much as-is. Some of the editing here is shit. What ya gonna do?
Dad has always been an inspiration to me. His humor and ingenuity and fiery spirit are in my blood, and his selflessness when it comes to his family are inestimable and inimitable.
I have my Dad to thank for many things, but one gift I’m particularly grateful for is that irrepressible energy of his. He hasn’t had it easy. He went through a rough divorce when he was young and lost a son to that. He’s cared for my brother Danny for almost 30 years now, since the car wreck he had in 1990 that left him permanently and totally disabled. For the past 10 years or more, our Mom has been more or less bedridden with a variety of ailments, from rheumatoid arthritis to cataracts.
The best laid plans are often undone by unforeseen circumstances such as these. But through all that Dad somehow maintains a sense of humor, and manages to stay active physically. He always finds the energy to play with his grandkids.
Maybe the best lesson Dad has taught me through his example, one that I hope to show my children through my actions, is to keep going, no matter what. We do not give up, Dad and me, and his grandchildren will be the same, thanks to him.
About this time last year I spent a week recording this set of tunes. It’s something of a swan song, I guess, as I have no plans to record anything like this or to play in a band ever again.
As a document of the state of one person’s soul in a particular time and place, this set of songs reveals the fury and abandon of a man who is on the cusp of rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of his self-immolated life into a new one. It is simultaneously my most abrasive and lyrically revealing work, and it hammers nails into coffins which it then sets ablaze, only to piss on them and put them back out again. It’s reckless and restless and libidinous and it just can’t remember where all the fucks it once had to give were put down.
There is also the sense that in spite of the dire circumstances the world finds itself in, there may always be found some hope somewhere that things can turn around, even if only (like these songs and the author’s life) through sheer force of will. Oh, and then there’re a few childrens’ songs to round things out.
Anyway, it seemed a propos to share this thing again seeing as this year’s almost through and it has some of my best lyrics ever, including such personal revelations as:
I am a trailer park Midas
All I touch turns to shit
No one would deny this:
Lovin me is the pits
(from “I Ruin Everything”)
I crave the feeling of rejection,
the flip-side of love’s selection,
a broken connection, a failed inspection,
a landslide loss in my next election.
(from “Next X”)
released December 31, 2017
JAMES WESLEY NICHOLS - lead and background vocals, Jazzmaster & other guitars, Casiotone & other keyboards, drums, drum machine, percussion, effects, sequencing, ukulele.
All songs written, performed, recorded, and mixed
by James Wesley Nichols (ASCAP) 2017
Recorded and mixed December 17-23, 2017
at KILLGUITAR, U.S.A.
Artwork by James Wesley Nichols
© 2017 James Wesley Nichols all rights reserved
And since New Year’s Eve is almost here again, there’s also this old thing:
I like to write satire and take the piss from everthing and everyone at all times, but I’m also the type who makes pilgrimages to cathedrals and basilicas and ancient ruins and volcanoes and baptizes himself in the sea annually.
A recent minor, ambiguously successful quest took me to the nearby city of Asheville, North Carolina where I indulged in a few snaps inside this gorgeous centenarian edifice, erected in 1909 and designated a basilica in April of 1993.
Poetry has suddenly and mercilessly erupted into my life and consciousness, much like Irazú and Arenal, active Costa Rican volcanoes I once visited on a trip there. Lava bombs ravage the countryside of my soul, demolishing every ramshackle structure in sight, making way for new ones. I say suddenly, but long did the poem’s magma stream below my life’s surface, slow effusive eruptions in the form of songs and photographs while the pressure below the surface mounted, waiting for its moment to explode.
All this is to say that along with this drive to find poems comes the desire to improve the writing in terms of effectiveness and craftsmanship. To do that, I need to read poems more extensively and intensively, and supplement that reading with fresh experience and study of other subjects. I’ll look for instruction and feedback from better poets, more established poets.
When the work begins to succeed in invoking the intended emotions in the reader, I’ll seek publication. As it is I believe that I possess a certain linguistic dexterity, but my use of it feels out of proportion. It seems sometimes bit too effusive, at other times a bit too explosive, perhaps too volcanic overall. I need to write enough and get critiqued enough to get into the groove of an assured voice and methodology.
My entrance into the house of poetry has only just begun, but the upward path toward it has been long and slow and inexorable. My arrival at its door feels inevitable, like a homecoming.
Shot on disposable cameras around Costa Rica, Summer 1999.
My belief has always been that those with greater means and opportunity are obligated to do what they can to help those less well-endowed. Parents are obliged to feed, shelter, and instruct their children, for example.
Beyond this, each of us lives in and benefits from the society around us. Our legal systems, housing complexes, roads, fire departments, book clubs, temples, elected officials and so on are in place to protect us from the mercilessly impartial brutality of nature as well as to nurture our gregarious mammalian instinctual drives.
Since every one of us has a room in this great matchstick house, isn’t it up to each of us to occasionally throw a bucket of water to keep it from going up in flames?
There’s a lot of talk about polarization these days, but atomization is perhaps a more apt analogy. A polarized society might have clear lines drawn between a minimal number of antagonistic forces. But when the old clear affiliations (political right and left, for instance) are riven and striated by countless ancillary disputes, the result resembles nothing so much as disintegration.
Is even poetry in such a splintered state? In a recent Guardian article, a couple of prominent British writers denounced the state of poetry today, citing a perceived lack of craftsmanship amongst other alleged deficiencies. Robin Robertson says that “the world of poetry is small and currently polarised.”
While the rise of “Instagram poets” may fail to elevate the art and craft of poetry beyond the most maudlin greeting card cliches, we might ask the well-known and successful writers quoted in the linked article, “is such critique at all necessary?” Rather than support for those on the margins and with less means and opportunity, rather than a not-all-that-difficult attempt at unity within this facet of the broader culture, is further division what the world needs?
Even if answered affirmatively, it makes little difference. The role of a bard in society is to map the inner geography. The poet is the cartographer of the soul.
In the love relationship between poet and poetry, the former is the beloved, the one wanted, the quarry, while the latter is the lover, the huntress, an invisible force of nature made manifest through the human animal’s unique capacity for speech. Poetry will not be corralled or controlled by our wishes or expectations or standards. Its locomotion is as free as the kestrel’s.
Poetry is animal nature, it is biosphere, it is weather system. You don’t just walk up to poetry and introduce yourself. It envelops you. It surrounds you entirely and constricts you in its tentacles until your entire life consists of non-sequitur and mixed metaphor.
It ultimately doesn’t matter what anyone says about contemporary poets or their work because the force of its desire for incarnation is irrepressible. The sheer futility of any academic attempt to repress the voices of the oppressed renders moot the question of whether their savaging of contemporary poetic work is necessary.
Poetry reflects the condition of the human soul. It can’t always conform to iambs and rhyming couplets, and although such musicality provides much enjoyment, it’s not always necessary.