Oct 14, 2014

"Night Flight"

"Night Flight" 24" x 30" Acrylic on canvas

Jul 28, 2014

Savage Uncertainties on the Road Home. Part II

Metronomic dosing and the Great Divide.

Our wonderful hosts at the moment in Saranac Lake have a well-loved mob of aging hounds, one of whom is mostly blind and deaf but still managing to put one paw in front of the other and gamely carry on. He gets his evening treats like the others, but his come temporarily imprisoned in a 6 inch plastic ball w/ holes in it just large enough for one of the treats to fall out when the ball is rolled around and one happens to line up with its escape route. He still has a keen sense of smell, and appears to get no end of pleasure nosing the ball around the house and lapping up his reward whenever one is granted by the laws of probability. A shudder of recognition traveled up and down my spine the first time I witnessed this evening ritual.

At the time of my particular cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago, I was looking at an average survival rate of twelve to fourteen months. Statistics being what they are, I did my best to envision myself firmly within the band of outliers and exceptions who last longer. But the superficial potency of that bit of data, and the fact that ninety-four percent of my epidemiological cohort die within five years, changed my relationship with time, to say the least. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of treatment and all the research required to make decisions regarding same, my mantra very soon became “quick, have fun”.  This was a simple shorthand for “quick, spend time with loved ones”, “quick, spend time traveling and experiencing new things”, “quick, make paintings of lasting value”, and in general “quick, do something meaningful”! This is hardly unique. Few of us get through middle-age in general without confronting the naked fact that no one gets out of here alive. But a life-threatening disease has a way of bending and compressing time; heating it and folding it over and over on itself, until its been forged into an achingly sharp sword.

"Stir It Up" Digital photo, Walt Pascoe 2008

I was told once, only,
in a whisper,
"The blade is so sharp --
it cuts things together
-- not apart"

(David Whyte ~  from "No one told me")

So yeah, metronomic dosing. Pretty much what it sounds like: tick-tock, tick-tock. 

There was a bar in Canton, New York, where I attended St. Lawrence University in the 1970’s, called The Tick Tock. I spent a great deal of time misbehaving there in various colorful ways. It was still in operation 30 years later when one of my daughters went to the same school. A lovely little knot in the space-time continuum.

By this past spring the inevitable law of diminishing returns from standard chemotherapy had already set in. It was no longer working as effectively as before, and all that traditional oncology had to offer was variations on a theme; essentially more of the same with small tweaks that might buy me a little more time, but at great cost to my overall health and well being, and of course a terrible impediment to the “quick, have fun” plan. But just then, as fate would have it, a good friend introduced me to the CEO of a biotech start-up whose company is completely re-framing the problem of managing late stage metastasis: essentially taking a synergistic, systems approach to intervening in the complex array of aberrant biochemical pathways that are hallmarks of the disease. Its complicated, but suffice to say the approach is in complete contradistinction to the standard allopathic model of temporarily killing off the bad stuff by bringing you to the brink of mortality infusing high doses of toxic meds, and then managing the extensive collateral damage as best as possible. An important aspect of this new paradigm is the use of smaller, non-toxic doses of multiple substances administered w/ great regularity 24/7, 365 days a year, as a gentler but relentless nudge back to the normal rhythm of cellular regulation. So despite the fact that I now take pills like its my job ( I have a spreadsheet! ) I actually feel pretty good, and as though I’ve finally found something that is more aligned with my own personal sense of the multivalent nature of the problem. Obviously the bottom line will be whether or not it works. But for now I have the energy to pursue the equally important psychological and spiritual aspects of achieving a healthy state of being. And at the very least, I’ll die with my boots on, attending to what matters most to me, rather than clinging desperately to some pale simulacrum of life and the false security of traditional treatment. 

"Shipwreck" 36" x 48" Acrylic on panel, Walt Pascoe 2013

“Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. It says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself.” ~ Jeanette Winterson

It may sound like a difficult decision: to strike out more or less on your own with a treatment regimen that isn’t even in clinical trials yet, much less ready for prime time. But the fact is I’d already decided not to pursue a third round of chemo no matter what. And it was while in this dark and uncertain place that the serendipitous connection “fell into my lap”. A fascinating dynamic worthy of contemplation in and of itself. And although the future is as tenuous as ever in some respects, I’ve never felt the least doubt about this one aspect of my path forward. There are divides one comes upon, some more profound than others, and this instinctively felt like one of the more significant thresholds I’d crossed in a long time. So the long, strange trip gets at least a little longer, and most definitely stranger. Tick Tock.

"Saranac at Dawn" Digital photo, Walt Pascoe 2013

As you might expect, an awful lot of the conversation here in Saranac Lake revolves around local geography, and what hikes, paddles, or combination of the two had been undertaken that day, what your favorites are, where you’ve been before, and where you’re intending to explore next. Upper Saranac Lake, where we are, is beautifully situated near the high peaks of the Adirondacks, in upstate NY. Its an area I hiked extensively when I was at St. Lawrence University, which is only an hour and a half northwest of here. There’s something about using your body to move through the landscape that awakens a deep sympathy for, and interest in, the geology all around you. Its fascinating, for instance, to trace the regional watershed divides, smaller cousins of the Great Continental Divide that runs along the Rockies out west and determines the direction that water flows in its journey back to the ocean. Upper Saranac Lake is part of the Saranac River system, and these waters flow northeast, ultimately finding their way to Lake Champlain. The evidence of glacial activity is everywhere here. And Lake Champlain itself is the remains of the Champlain Sea, a temporary inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, created by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age. There is a palpable sense of the ancient and inexorable processes that molded the Earth’s crust in these worn down but still majestic mountains, which were once as high as the Himalayas. I find it extraordinarily restorative to be among them. And here, while putting one foot in front of the other, time becomes so incomprehensibly vast that it all but stops for me. I am finally released from the “quick” portion of the “quick have fun” protocol. The intensity of the pressure inside the crucible of my desire begins to ease, and with every step I worry less and less about whether or not I’ll be here next week, next month, next year... and know that this, now, is enough. 

And when I finally return to the studio, I’ll bend to the ritual of work again as always, nosing my ball of tricks around until the laws of probability grant me a good idea... and trust there will be time enough on this side of the divide to get it all down on canvas. Tick Tock.

"Time Enough" 30" x 60" Acrylic on canvas, Walt Pascoe 2014

Part I of Savage Uncertainties on the Road Home was originally published on Melissa Johnston's wonderful site, Creative Thresholds, and can still be read there: http://creativethresholds.com/2012/12/21/savage-uncertainties-on-the-road-home/

May 7, 2014

"Bolton Landing" series

 "Bolton Landing I"  36"x 36" Acrylic on panel (triptych)

 "Bolton Landing II"  36"x36" Acrylic on panel (triptych)

 "Bolton Landing III"  36"x 36" Acrylic on panel (triptych)

These and more currently on view at New Arts Gallery in CT:

Mar 22, 2014

Jan 26, 2014

"Full Fathom Five"

Acrylic on canvas, 64" x 96" diptych

Jul 10, 2013

"At the Harbor"

Acrylic on canvas, 72" x 108" diptych

Mar 6, 2013

Jan 18, 2013

"Flamenco Sketches"

Acrylic on gessoed panel, 36" x 48"

Jan 2, 2013

"Lifting the Veil"

Graphite on gessoed panel, 48" x 60" 

Dec 10, 2012


Graphite on gessoed panel,  36" x 48" diptych

Dec 23, 2011

"Fatal Shore"

Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 64"

Nov 8, 2011

"Misery Whip"

Acrylic on canvas, 48" x 64" 

Aug 13, 2011

New drawing

Graphite on paper, 30" x 40" 

Jan 26, 2011

Dec 16, 2010

Oct 7, 2010

Jul 10, 2010

Jan 31, 2010

Jan 7, 2010

"Mundis Imaginalis"

Graphite on gessoed panel, 48" x 64"

Dec 17, 2009

"Sweet Tides"

Graphite on gessoed panel, 48" x 64"

Oct 19, 2009

Aug 19, 2009

A Small Meditation on the Creative Impulse.

Creative invention in my work does not feel like willful innovation. It feels more like a form of remembering. An act of psychological archeology not unlike the groping after images and snippets of associative sensation that you engage in when attempting to recall a dream upon awakening. A particularly vivid and moving dream that you know in every cell of your body is crucially important in some way, but that you are unable to retrieve whole. Maybe you jumped out of bed too quickly, or let your mind wander on to the new day's various demands, or just let your consciousness drift with the current of incessant inputs from your physical body. But in any case the line is lost, or at least unraveling fast, leaving you with only the faintest of threads to follow back to the important matter you want so desperately to re-engage. It's like this when I'm completely absorbed in working on a new piece.

I've been making things for so long that I no longer need attend to my hands and eyes. They hold their own ongoing conversation with the materials, by turns laughing, weeping, speaking with carefully measured clarity, or simply crying out with utter abandon, while my subconscious just seeks,seeks,seeks.....struggling to clean the windshield....determined to keep scrubbing and scraping down to the true new old always present. Hoping to elucidate the dream, and settle at last into what Proust so eloquently referred to as "the repose of enlightenment".

"Madame Psychosis"

Graphite on paper, 30" x 40"

Jul 14, 2009

From @proustr tweeting Proust 140 characters at a time:

"...the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

Jul 10, 2009

Proust, Barthes, and metempsychosis

From "Speaking With The Dead" by Jürgen Pieters p.125-6 :

"To write is to embark upon a process of what I would call a metempsychosis that does not involve a soul-it is not a transmigration of the soul in the sense that authors put their most intimate thoughts on paper so that they can be transferred into the mind of the reader, in the same shape and with the same content, but is a process that involves the transfer of energy that Barthes would label linguistic(both the transfer and the energy).
Of all the definitions that Barthes gave of the act of writing(it would be possible to collect a stunning anthology), the following is one of the most fascinating. It occurs in the preface to the 1964 collection of his Essais Critiques: 'Inevitably, to write is to remain silent. To write, in a certain sense, is to be silent like the dead, to become the person to whom the last reply is denied. To write is from the very beginning to grant that last reply to the other.'
.......This brings us back to the act of writing as a metempsychosis without a soul. Two of Barthes favorite authors described the productivity of the imagination in similar terms. The first one, Michelet, from the perspective of the author; the second one, Proust, from that of the birth of the reader. I'd like to begin with the latter. In the opening pages of the first part of the Recherche, in the famous scene in which Marcel for the first time professes his love for the written word, Proust literally refers to the principle of metempsychosis. Marcel is lying in bed, or rather, he is telling us that he used to go to bed early, when he was young, in order to deliver himself to what he was reading and to the dreams that developed from it. He had barely put aside his book and blown out his candle when he fell asleep. But then the thought that it was about time to go to sleep woke him up again, Proust writes, in his inimitable way of putting things :
' And half an hour later the thought that it was time to go to sleep would awaken me; I would try to put away the book which, I imagined, was still in my hands, and to blow out the light; I had been thinking all the time, while I was asleep, of what I had just been reading, but my thoughts had run into a channel of their own, until I myself seemed actually to have become the subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between Francois and Charles V. This impression would persist for some moments after I was awake; it did not disturb my mind, but it lay like scales upon my eyes and prevented them from registering the fact that the candle was no longer burning. Then it would begin to seem unintelligible, as the thoughts of a former existence must be to a reincarnate spirit; the subject of my book would seperate itself from me, leaving me free to chose whether I would form part of it or no; and I would be astonished to find myself in a state of darkness, pleasant and restful for the eyes, and even more perhaps, for my mind, to which it appeared incomprehensible, without a cause, a matter dark indeed.'

The birth of the reader is a complex process....."

Jul 4, 2009

Madame Psychosis

\mə-ˌtem(p)-si-ˈkō-səs, ˌme-təm-ˌsī-\
Late Latin, from Greek metempsychōsis, from metempsychousthai to undergo metempsychosis, from meta- + empsychos animate, from en- + psychē soul — more at psych-
: the passing of the soul at death into another body either human or animal

thnx Lisa Kenney, http://eudaemoniaforall.blogspot.com/ for lighting up my synapses w/ this compelling, DFW homophone from "Infinite Jest".

"And Lo,for the Earth was empty of form, and void. And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep. And We said: Look at that fucker DANCE"
Madame Psychosis (p184)

Jun 26, 2009

Jun 23, 2009

Infinite Summer

Re-reading "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace, in very good company.