Under The Influence of Anxiety
Not everyone feels like there’s time enough on this earth to be nice. Levni taught me that that was ok, so long as you promised to be good. You could never go wrong with being good. It’s far more important to be good than to be nice.
Being nice is important in preserving the self. Being good tends toward the preservation of others. Comic book superheroes aren’t always nice. But they’re always good. And sometimes in an effort to be judicious, one can come off as cold, detached or insensitive. I’ve experienced the most nefarious of intentions, bad actions, delivered in a package with niceness. It’s a sour experience that fills me with anger. Those of us who struggle with being nice often risk having our intentions to be good misread when we say what we feel needs to be said. Levni always said the good thing. Would I even remember if he was nice?
I rejected the possibility that I was performing the function of an artist for so long but that only showed my commitment to the role. I had to distinguish myself and most often it was through negation, denial or abstinence. Levni’s approach was the complete opposite. He was open, floating, swimming through time. He danced his way into our weekly meetings a dependably 20 minutes late to talk about my artwork. And where I saw flaws in my ideas, he saw light. He was open to every possibility, every improvisation, the jazz of making mistakes. He gave me Harold Bloom’s “The Anxiety of Influence” as a gift, a dense essay where the writer describes the impossibility of ignoring ones paternal creative influences. He then got me to start enjoying Bob Dylan for his ability to spit in the face of his influences, his precursors and contemporaries by borrowing, lying, cheating and stealing his way to greatness. Every birth comes sopping with blood.
The best thing he introduced to me was the old Russian film “Andrei Rublev”, still one of my favorites. In it, an old Russian monk and lauded religious icon painter, Rublev, goes on a spiritual journey where he meets a young boy whose father, a well known church bell maker, was recently murdered. To spare his life from marauders, the boy tells them he learned everything from his father over years of watching him. Rublev believes in and supports the boy, despite his youth and arrogance. He confesses later, as the new bishop is about to ring the new bell, with the boy’s life hanging in the balance, that he knew nothing. His father had always kept his work secret. The boy had confidence to find his way through the dark, to survive and to never cower to the daunting task of creating something from nothing.
That is why now I feel the urge to ceaselessly create. But the room becomes very dark and solitary when you don’t take the time to escape. Harold bloom preaches abstinence from food and sex to keep the artist from being satiated. Sustenance is the creative act and that alone. From this perspective, when you’re consumed by what you need to do, there is no escape. That’s why some of us never let up on ourselves, never take breaks away from our work. Those are the times where every window is filled with dark clouds. Every extra breath fills your lungs with smoke. Every sleep brings a familiar nightmare. For some of us, the only thing keeping us healthy is our work. And when we step away, we detach our air hose from the space station.
Don’t be surprised if we float away. Levni didn’t die. He’s out there floating and waving. From where we are, it looks like a plea to be seen and reconnected. Get closer and you’ll see that his look is one of pity, that you’re still stuck there, tethered to that big hunk of metal where there’s always something that needs to be done.