Names: what we name things. We name things all the time. Often we are using names we’ve been told to call things. Those names serve the purpose of being a point of reference in a conversation. Sketchbook. Pen. Cat. And then there’s more signifying names: my cat’s name is Figaro. Or Lukki. Or Maceo.
I had a name that was given to me when I was born – Michael – and it accompanied a middle name – Robert, my dad’s name – and Brown, my father’s last name. And that was my identity for many years, tying me to a long family heritage and, on a broader scale, a long system of patriarchy.
In typical male/female marriages, the man always keeps his last name. Conversely, the woman has to give up her last name. This is rarely questioned. Sometimes people hyphenate the names but even that is MaleLastName-FemaleLastName. Few men ever consider taking the woman’s last name. Ask some married couple you know about that sometime. They will laugh, feel uncomfortable, etc. It’s weird.
So when Violet and I decided to get married o so long ago, she said: Let’s take a new name. She declared that she wasn’t interested in just taking my name and perpetuating the patriarchal idea of ownership of the wife. At the same time, we wanted to be creating a solid container and, along the lines of the naming of things and, in a sense, bringing them into being via the name, a hyphenated name still seemed to create a sense of together-but-separate. It didn’t feel like that solid unified container that the contract of marriage created.
Violet suggested we take a new name. The new name would be our new container that we agreed upon together. It would be the name we decided to call ourselves. We are mirrors of the world around us so we wanted the name to reflect how we see the world.
Taking a name from another culture didn’t feel right. Our language is our language and its words and sounds and turns of phrase are a part of its own magic. It’s the language we have grown up speaking and the one we use to the call the world into being. Taking a word from another culture seems to support an imagined esotericism.
Quite importantly, we wanted it to sound right in our ears, with our first names, etc. It had to have a nice flow to it. Like harmonies in song, the last name had to work with the sounds of our first names. I like to feel words in my mouth: feel how they rolls off the tongue. Or not. How they starts and stops. Where they breathe and where they pause. So much meaning – and reflection of the world we perceive – is related through the sounds of words.
Lots of different words flowed through our mouths and ears. Finally we settled on “Divine”. It seemed to fill in the blank of that last name appropriately and would be symbolic of the container of this new family we were creating. It mirrored how we saw the world – all of the world – as divine. This divine life. This divine being.
Sometimes people meet me and they have this idea of me based on my name and on their own ideas of what Divine might mean – and why I might have chosen it. To some, it’s pretentious because the “Divine” is a far off thing or idea and who am I to call myself that? To others, it’s more what-your-last-name-wasn’t-good-enough? because we should be content with who and what and where we are in life. And, for others, it makes me super spiritual, whatever that might mean, because the Divine is so spiritual. The they meet me and they see that I’m really a rather ordinary person. I’m just this guy who sometimes has a rather crass sense of humor. I like wine and music. I like life. And to some, even that is an affront because, in their eyes, it’s not divine enough.
I can’t take responsibility for the projections of others. But I can take responsibility for who I am – and that is a human being, living his life. I enjoy this life quite a bit – with all of its many facets – and try to see it for what it is, whatever that might be.
And if we were to choose a word for that ‘what it might be’ then Divine seems to be a pretty good word.
Art: “States of Mind: Those Who Stay” by Umberto Boccioni
The other day we’d gone to Mother’s – the organic healthy food store nearby and one of the things that makes Orange County, CA so much more tolerable. Orange County is something of a conservative bubble within the general liberality of Southern California. If you look at voting maps, you’ll see blue almost everywhere but for the red bubble of Orange County. We live here because my wife teaches and is getting her PhD in philosophy here.
On that day, Southern California happened to be in the midst of a rainy deluge (thankfully, since it’s been a worrisomely dry winter) and, though we had walked there while the skies were clear, the sky was now down pouring. So we waited it out and, sitting at the counter along the large windows at the front of the store, ate a chocolate bar.
A woman – maybe in her late 40s or early 50s – sat down next to us, remarking about the rain. I agreed: it was quite a sudden downpour.
“I just think about those people whose homes will be caught in mudslides!” she exclaimed, conjuring up images of large homes on hillsides and deluges of mud.
I agreed. Mudslides are intense but also… “I think about homeless people. It’s got to suck. Everything you own is soaked… I imagine that, for them, this drought we’ve been having is sort of a blessing, all things considered.”
She looked at me, with her pursed lips, her dyed silver blond hair, and her thin eyes. Uncomfortable. Silenced. Awkward.
“Mudslides are rough, too.” I shrugged.
And the conversation, what little of it there was, resumed.
So many people seem to only be able to empathize with those they feel are just as or more fortunate than themselves but when it comes to those they feel are less fortunate, they feel uncomfortable.
These blinders that humans have up, blocking each other out, living in bubbles based on imagined ideas of social standings… Our culture – with it’s hypnotized upward gaze – continues to exacerbate and perpetuate it. From birth we are presented with humanity as a spectrum of those who have less than us and those who have more. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to join those who have more and move up the social ladder. If we’re unlucky, we’ll slip down the social ladder.
And our lives, our cars, our homes, our social circles – all build on the bubble of our identities.
Yet, it’s so easy and so painless to step out of that bubble – and to include others. Look around. Do what you can on the very small person-to-person level. If you are walking into a grocery store and there is a person outside of that store asking for money, pick up an apple, a sandwich, something – and give it to them. Most often, people are just tired, hungry. Everyone wants just a bit of care. Every person just wants to love and be loved. If you can show that – through a smile, a gift, a handshake – then it helps to break down those boundaries a bit, it allows for basic humanity to shine through.
It is small things. It is compassion in the moment. It’s awareness… It’s life.
Why do we value art?
Art: it’s this visual record of who we are, how we imagine ourselves, where we’re going, where we’ve come from at some particular time. It’s the visual record of out psycho-spiritual states – as a human organism. If you were to take all the varied pieces of art from all the different art movements in some brief span of time, you’d find a wide spectrum of emotions, perspectives, and inspirations. Yet, it all came from the same place – this Earth, these humans – and happened at the same time and, ultimately, lies within a particular, though broad, spectrum.
The things we consider valuable on this planet – the things which have attained a greater sense of value than, say, food or water – are valued simply because they of their own perceived valuable. For instance, a gold bar is perceived to have a certain value. One gold bar can be melted down and turned into another. Cast it as a sculpture by Dali and it now has a greater perceived value. It has been turned into Art. It is that expression which creates new value.
Paintings, of course, are far more plentiful than gold sculptures by Dali and paint and canvas themselves far less valuable. These days, painting materials are easy to come by: paints, brushes, canvas. Give them to anyone and each person will make something different. And if we melt all those finished paintings, we can never create another that is the same.
And so, over time, art becomes valuable to more than just its creator. It captures a moment that passes and we are left with images, intimations, reflections and echoes of an experience. A great artist can tap a chord in another human that resonates in a way that feels, more than anything, entirely and viscerally human and capturing some sliver along the broad spectrum that is basic humanity. That is the key to great art. It feels, at its core, distinctly real because it is a reflection of ourselves.
When we look back through time, we see this song played out through the arts, a visual expression of this thing called ‘being human.’ We see the echoes of ourselves creating religious structures and retelling myths as we seek to understand the archetypal characters of our beings. We see ourselves discovering perspective and learning our place in the cosmos. We see ourselves exploring that… and becoming disenchanted when our belief systems don’t match up with our perceptions. We see ourselves seeking new ways of seeing, being, exploring. We see new explorations of minds, of archetypes, of the mystical experience…
Throughout the history of art, we can witness ourselves touching upon an inner light that is reflected in our portrayal of the world as we perceive it. It is a very beautiful dance, a very beautiful thing.
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