Post 4: About that dark wood…

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“So what’s he hiding anyway—

—and why?”

Well, cyber-friends, I am OVER THE HUMP! Post FOUR! I have now broken all my previous records for blogging-persistence! An entire month of regular blog-posts—consistently on time. What goal dare I not attempt now?

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It’s been a quieter week in Lake World-be-gone, my home town. We’ve enjoyed the company of several old friends who came all the way from America to visit us. Our current guests, Paul Marshall and his charming paramour, Saralena, have shared jaw-dropping tales with us of their luminous, triumphant and inspiring endeavors in Seattle, which would make an awesome novel, so epic that I will wait to relate them in some future post of their own. The four of us saw Aquaman, last night. ... a movie smelling like a locker-room from start to finish—except when it smelled like a barroom floor. An astonishingly complete and admirably concise compendium of toxic masculine mythology! But then, I’ve never been a sports fan, do not drive a stick-shift, and have hardly ever barbecued, so what would I know? Just forget I said a thing.

My favorite moment this week was the half-hour or so that Shannon and I spent outside shivering in each other’s arms last Sunday night, watching a bloody-orange lunar eclipse through the island’s vivid curtain of icy stars, as a pair of great horned owls nesting on our hillside hooted melodious inquiries to each other, about where all the moonlight had gone, most likely—and how they were supposed to hunt in such dimness. The mice, unsurprisingly, were silent on the subject.

We’ve even seen the sun here this week—on a few occasions. Good to know it’s there still too.

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...A-hem...

So then. ... About that ‘dark wood’ I referred to in my post three weeks ago... I have been...meaning to revisit that topic... Maybe today, hmmm?

Those who know me best should be surprised at very little of what I intend to say here and in the coming weeks. Though others at a greater distance may be. But, yes, I have, in fact, been very, very lost in a dark wood of my own for many years now. Lots of us are these days. Maybe even you. And most of us are sensible enough to keep that shit to ourselves, right? We all know the world does not reward a guy for wearing dirty laundry on his sleeve. Granted, I’ve done a much poorer job of keeping my lid shut than a lot of smoother operators out there do, but I’ve probably still managed to leave much of the world thinking I’ve got, well, most of my ducks in a row. I mean, we have a whole pond of our own here. All kinds of room for arranging ducks. And yet, anyone paying much attention to my little corner of the world must surely have arrived by now at some nagging questions—like the one I used as title for my first blog post here: “Where the hell have I been?” ... ‘The guy seems talented, right? And reasonably likeable. So, what’s he been doing all this time? The Book of Joby was published in 2007; where’s his next book? Anyone heard about his latest artistic triumph? Is there one? Where’s he hiding? Why is he hiding? What is he hiding? ...’

Well... I haven’t been ‘hiding’—exactly—so much as waiting for permission to...‘move forward?’ ... Not that those don’t come down to much the same thing on the ground.

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Don’t misunderstand. I’ve been anything but idle all this time. Beyond the rather astonishing amount of general avalanche-surfing life has handed my wife and me these past few years, I’ve been working on commercial art of various kinds like a crazy man! Mostly penny-ante projects, for clients none of you have ever heard of, or ever will—with one or two recent exceptions. (Thanks again, Ron and Gary.) These days, I am typically paid hundreds of dollars—sometimes even thousands—for weeks or months of this work, admittedly—which, by the time I’m finished with a job, often comes to less per hour than a supermarket bag-boy makes, but artists are ethereal creatures unconcerned about financial vulgarities, right? There are some plane old logistical explanations for this state of affairs, stemming from the globalizing internet and the digital r-evolution of commercial art, which I may get into in some later post. But for now, I will just report the stark facts of my situation. A year before I had the tremendous pleasure and good fortune to start work on Thimbleweed Park, I did seven book covers and months of concept and design work for nearly a dozen different self-published authors and independent software developers. Unfortunately, most of those products were never brought to market in any very visible way—if at all—and my gross income for that entire year was $2,700.

Nope. Didn’t forget any zeros there. Two thousand, seven hundred dollars—for the year.

You may be thinking, ‘Whoooooa! What?! I thought you were some hotshot artist and writer, living on a gorgeous island, and...wait a minute... Where’s this going anyway? ... Do I even want to hear whatever’s coming next?’

Probably not.

But I think the time has come for me to say it. Out loud. Publicly. You see, if I have been hiding all these years, it wasn’t from you. It was from this: the painfully slow, comically fraught, willfully un-examined trickle of consequences that come from a lifetime of tremendous potential and opportunity wasted in timidly, ashamedly, resentfully waiting and waiting and waiting for ‘permission’ to move closer to the light—that’s never going to come. At least, not from someone else.

And the gradual decline in my financial fortunes is hardly the darkest part of these woods I’m lost in. Not by a long shot. I have not, for some time now, been able to see the sky. Sunsets, stars, moons, hearts, clovers... Sometimes I can’t remember what they even looked like. For months at a time. I’ve tried climbing up to get a look, but the trees here just go up and up, layer after layer after layer of dark, rustling leaves. I wake at 2AM, and lie for hours in the dark, still climbing, fruitlessly. Will I ever see the sky again? Did I ever really see it to begin with? Or are my memories of some broader, brighter path through breathtaking landscapes filled with promise and adventure just...figments of what passes in this place for ‘imagination?’

Has anything like this...ever happened to you?

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If—having suddenly stumbled without warning into the Awkward Zone—you’re deciding this is not really what you came here looking for—I get it. I really do. Your decision to click ‘exit’ and move on is entirely sensible. It’s what I would likely do in your position. Namaste, and thanks for stopping by. Really. But if—despite my acute and rudely abrupt change of course and tone—you’re willing to keep reading as I struggle—out in the open—to make sense of the long, bewildering  journey that’s brought me deeper and deeper into this dark wood, well, thank you in advance. Your company on this ramble is a more generous and valuable gift than you may realize. Time and life have taught me how capable I am of very rapidly forgetting unwanted glimpses of myself. Most of us are good at that. It’s a basic survival skill. And is there any easier way to plaster over things than by writing about them? It feels so much like ‘doing something,’ doesn’t it? And once you’ve got it all down so perfectly in writing, it’s so easy to shelve and forget about. I have stacks of half-full, entirely forgotten journals...somewhere around here. BUT... if others have read whatever you wrote down... Then it’s a good deal harder just to bury all that lapsed camouflage-decorum the next morning, no? Or so I hope.

So, if you’re still here, I invite you now to come wander in my dark wood for a few more posts, while I write about what’s really going on down on the forest floor, and search with me for some trail of bread crumbs that might lead to some deer trail that might join some wider path winding through the underbrush toward some even wider route heading back toward that ‘direct path’ I vaguely remember traveling, long ago, before all the noise and shuffle left me...here somehow.

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Of course, I will also go on sharing whimsical stories from Lake World-be-gone—my new home. I do not mean to suggest that my life is really all just woe and shadows. Far from it. Even as I struggle with the bewildering absence of once-treasured inner landscapes, my outer world—marriage to the incandescent Shannon page, our new home on this exquisitely beautiful island, and the remarkable, often even heroic people woven through our daily lives—really is just getting better and better all the time. I have fabricated none of that. It’s just not the whole story. And Shannon and I came here to live, in part because we feel that Orcas Island can best nurture and support our search for vital things that have become...misplaced somehow—in both our lives. There is no point or hope in running from one’s self. We’ve both learned that all too well and long ago. We have come here less to run from anything, than to run—harder and with greater focus—toward things that seemed more and more obscured in the ever-mounting clutter we’ve found ourselves caught up in elsewhere. This move is one large step in our attempts to find ‘the path’ again. We really do have big plans—creatively—for this coming year and beyond. And, of course, while my sense of humor may run more toward gallows these days, it is far from lost. So though these woods I’m lost in may be dark, I dare hope the journey out of them need not be. Not entirely, at least. Hey—I’ve just written four blog posts in a row, right? Like I said, what else might not be possible?

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Annnd this has gotten rather long again. ... As you must already have surmised, ‘long’ is what I do. :] So I’ll set it down until next week, when I hope to explain clearly and specifically what I mean by ‘waiting for permission’—and something of where and how I learned to do such a sad and foolish thing.

Thanks—really—for wandering with me, even this far.

See ya next week, cyber-friends.

Mark Ferrari4 Comments