My Inner Struggle Vis-a-Vis The Brakhage Marriage
I kept typing all of this to Lars, who probably registered and cared about a small fraction of all of it, and so I finally decided to continue my reflections on this topic in my blog. What topic? I will tell you now. There is a tug of war inside of me and it has to do with this computer, with every computer, and with every living being in this cosmos, which itself is a living being and we are a part of it. It is between life and genius. What is genius if not loving? What is the purpose of great art if it only reaches other intellectuals and art enthusiasts, and if it causes ruptures in patterns of thought that could just as well be dissolved in one go by other more simple means? It is a sight, it is an articulation, it is a profound beauty, is it not, to witness a film by Brakhage. I feel sick when I think of the film I lost, the light playing and the tug towards narrative breaking into a somersault in reverse. It was heaven, it was love, it was play, it was the purest giggle and the tensest brow. I feel sick because I lost the hard drive with all of it in it, and also because the assistant teacher suggested I cut down the hour long film to ten minutes because people would get bored. What a fool! Has he ever watched anything avante garde? Besides, who cares if someone takes a nap as they watch? It’s been acknowledged as a tender occurrence by many artists. I fell asleep during Godard’s latest work. I never did get to finish that film I was making. It wasn't boring at all. I wonder if I ever will make one of that caliber again, whether I will find it in me even now as I get back in the habit of taking my camera with me everywhere.
I have my doubts because of a fork in the road. There are two ways of being and one has to do with machines and with art with a capital A, and the other has to do with gentle natural creative immersion and conversation with nature. Can films ever fit into the latter category? Holding a machine between me and the most beautiful aliveness in order to "capture" it. And its capturing is so visual and flat and direct, it often feels violent. How do I know when it is okay to film something or someone? The prospect of taking it with me, the camera, to the jungle to an indigenous community makes me nervous. I don’t want to flash it around or overstep my welcome. How will I know? If I don’t know, I must refrain from filming. I need a clear invitation from the land and from the people I hardly dare even ask.
I wanted to write about Jane Wodening, Stan Brakhage’s first wife. There is this push and pull within me that, since yesterday, has grown to be represented by that between him and her. She is a mountain woman, of sweet humility, a writer of the stories of animals, while he is a man of strong ego, relentless production and serious poetic ambition. I wouldn’t know about her if it weren’t for him, many wouldn’t, but maybe we wouldn’t know about him if it weren’t for her. Think about Window Water Baby Moving. Think about his even being alive despite suicidal thoughts in his youth. Think of the role of nature in his work and how absolutely that was born of her. Her, birthing. Him, terrified, highly intelligent, filming.
When I listen to him or other filmmakers, or even other artists, female ones too, almost any non-outsider one, I end up feeling tense, like I must prove myself and enter this cerebral world of communication technologies. There is also this yumminess of film that fills me up, and that is what keeps me coming back, but there is also this masculine need to be successful, to take “the work” as far as it can go.
The other part of me knows that the work really is what Jane did. Love every being around her and become close to life itself, honor her friendship with the mountain beside which she lived. Honor it with the way she lived. I feel like I left a beloved, a mother, when I left the mountain in El Valle. I didn’t care much for the house itself, I felt like my home was the mountain. I was scared, and ultimately that’s why I left. I felt unsafe. I was seeing spirits and there were men around that knew I lived alone. I wish I could live near that mountain again, and I am tearing up now thinking of Her. She was an entire world. She held me inside of her as I cried, she guided me, she scolded me. It wasn’t even that long. A few months. Imagine how we could get to know each other in years.
Stan left Jane to live in the city with another woman, younger, cerebral and urban like him. Gray in a concrete and steel kind of way, not that he was. Hs energy is a dark red purple. Jane went further into the mountain. The second childbirth film he made is nothing like the first. I won’t pretend to like it. How jarring it is. The first was so gentle and beautiful and palpitated with the reality of what was happening. They seemed so in love. I know nothing, obviously, but I’m exploring the metaphors inherent in my perception of all of this, of these lives that I am so far away from, in these dynamics that I can only superficially investigate in order to reach depths of my self.
I have fears of growing old, of becoming nothing. Wisping away like smoke into the night yet retaining all the same hopes and dreams and yearnings and fears, too, I suppose, and yet being but a wisp. Ever more diffuse. But these fears are assuaged when I rest in the knowing of what I really love. What I love is not to be admired or desired, what I love is simply love. To love is to be loved. To be immersed and alive in love is to be happy. I haven’t grazed the surface of it. That’s the potential I want to expand on, not mastery over a mode of expression. I love to create but not more than I love to soften and open and discover the truth. Not more than I like those moments of peace which are different than the moments of birthing something magnificent, in which there is a pulsation and an ecstasy. I understand why they could become the most important thing. Maybe it would prevent me from ever softening. That level of focus and goal-orientation. It’s not quite the same as purpose because purpose must encompass that softening and have it at the very center before it can be about creating. There is too much to heal and to undo before making new things can really be all that good. And making things can cause pain, too, and it can be a way of avoiding the truth. Sure, Stan revealed truths and beauties through his work, but was it the truth and the beauty? Did his choices cause more good than harm for certain?
The work to me must be love. That is the most important work, healing, getting nearer to what is truly good. Michael Snow’s film made by a machine in nature, is that really the most important thing? He expressed something. So did everyone who built something big and convoluted. The inventor of this or that. So many triumphant inventions, so much success that has led to nothing but disaster. The atomic bomb is an amazing sight. Even government footage of it can become art and it can be the subject of dissertations. I attended a 3 hour class about Conner’s Crossroads once and to prepare I read a lot of material on it. I even wrote about it myself in a notebook that got soaked and thrown out at the park in front of my apartment in Chicago, and I’m writing about it now. I don’t think I’ve written like this before, with this voice. I don’t think it favors clarity. It doesn’t matter though. I think this needs to be expressed.
What needs to be expressed is this struggle between the artist and the lover. I want to relax away from this need to prove myself. I want to accept the abundance of the earth and the nourishment of life into my body and to give, also, so that there is a flow from me to the nature around me. I want to live gently in a natural place.
Stan died from the toxicity of the chemicals with which he painted on his films. Jane is still alive and writing books that I am certain are causing more good than harm. They help people get closer to animals and nature. They don’t make people feel inadequate or closer to merging with any machines. They didn’t harm any of her family or friends. Stan stated clearly that his films harmed his family and ultimately himself. It’s a trope for the tortured genius to neglect everything but his work. I don’t want to live that way, I don’t prefer that, that is not me and I won’t have that pushed by a society that demands egos to be built like Jenga towers and then whittled down like Jenga towers until a final collapse that makes all enemies secretly rejoice. It’s like being a politician. Memorable, powerful and forever despised by half of everyone. No, not me. I’ll be quiet, I’ll only speak when I have absolute permission and I’ll only create from a place of total love and the clarity of being nudged by life, by a life whose language I have learned through sheer love and attention and nurturance of what is good.
Why would I do it any other way? Fear of being nothing, is it? Fear of being not enough, of destitution, of not succeeding and being lost and being hated and having nothing at all and no one at all. Fear of hunger and discomfort and being so hurt and ravaged and at the mercy of all cruelty. That is the kernel. It manifests as this panic, this twisting of my gut that tells me that I must hurry, that I must fret and tense up and forget to breathe. It’s not a very productive way to feel and in fact it ruins any creative attempts that I make because it turns them into something that isn’t purely for good. What would I be doing if all these fears were dissolved?
I have to ask life for permission to be doing any at all of what I’m doing. I want to speak to the land, to the animals, I want to rejoin nature and be myself, be who I am most deeply, cellularly and as a soul. Because the fears have come true. I am not connected, I am blocked from love, I am lost. And there’s more, and there’s worse. So why not simply work towards the better, the sweeter, the most loving?
I’ll leave it at that for now, but hopefully I will dissolve some more of my primal fears and relax and discover truths that I can then share, if life gives me permission to share.