I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thinking too much

Alright folks, it’s official. I’ve been thinking too much. This is how it always seems to happen: I get a new idea and I’m super excited about it. It becomes all-engrossing; it's full of possibility and potential; my fingers itch for the doing, and I dive in. It’s big and it’s scary and it’s fulfilling in all the right ways. Then something new about the project reveals itself to me, and I start to think more deeply about it. I examine it from every angle. I lay awake at night pondering the implications. Suddenly each move is important. Suddenly, how I approach it becomes a potential shift in trajectory, in meaning. Suddenly, finishing that painting (or clearing out that closet) matters too much.

I have thought myself into paralysis.

Now, it’s not as if there aren’t multiple layers of meaning to parse out here. There are. And it’s not as if I’m not deeply invested in mining and carrying out the many layers of meaning in this project. I am. Very much so. Too much so, in fact, and therein lies the problem. The very thing I’ve been seeing unfold as a major theme of this endeavor has simultaneously become its roadblock: attachment. Oh attachment. It binds me to things, to moments, to people, to potential, and when it surfaces, fear steps in. I sit still, and I close my eyes; I can’t get up; I can’t let go, and I can’t take action, any action. Of course that means I can’t really participate either. I've precluded my own engagement.

So what is the relationship between fear and attachment? The boilerplate answer, of course, is that once we become attached, we fear loss, and that certainly can be true. But I'm not sure that's it, exactly. Because for me it engenders that paralysis, that heaviness that makes action seem implausible. The fear of action is the keystone, the fear of doing it wrong (whatever that means). Once something becomes important to me, once I become attached, I know the thing my actions are in service of, and I want to do right by it. I feel responsible. I project a certain reciprocity of attachment. Once something becomes important to me, what I do for it becomes more important as well. I don't want to disappoint.

So here I sit with this gifting project, thinking and thinking and thinking—about the nature of the project, about the layers of meaning, about the best way to proceed—poised in the middle with one foot in and one foot out, wanting to move forward while feeling the weight of that familiar tug of fear. I've become attached, attached to the meaning of a project that is—among other things—examining the very nature of attachment.

The irony does not escape me.

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