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Breaking The Wheel

Background paper, Buddha corner, journalers, mala, and prayer wheel, all from Samsara by Connla for Iaconagraphy; page blend from free Beloved mini-kit by Connla and Tobias for Iaconagraphy; blended painting is Archangel Uriel by Daniel P. for Iaconagraphy.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with any sort of Asian spirituality, Samsara means “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.”  It’s a Sanskrit word, having its roots in Vedic traditions (read: India), which is fully explored as a spiritual practice not only in Hinduism, but in Buddhism as well. Samsara is viewed as a cyclical wheel, from which we desperately need to be liberated: the ultimate spiritual ideal is to achieve Nirvana (Buddhism) or Moksha (Hinduism), essentially breaking the wheel of Samsara.  This is accomplished by finding one’s True Self, knowing one’s own Soul, thereby ending the suffering of ignorance, empty desire, and the unethical actions to which both of those things lead.  For those of you familiar with my other work, and with my daily spiritual practices (Druidic Heathen), it may come off as a bit odd that I’m suddenly creating art with a Buddhist-Hindu “backbeat”.  For those who know me best, however, it comes as no shock at all that I needed to “get this art out”, or that I needed these assets myself, to be able to fully express the depth and breadth of my spirituality fully. 

Regardless of the shell I’m wearing (I artist journaled about that yesterday; see below), on the inside of all of that, I’m a Chinese-American, with a heavy influx of Norwegian and German bloodlines.  My first faiths, as a child, were Buddhism, Taoism, and Episcopalian.  When I first began my journey down this Druidic Heathen Path on which I’m presently travelling, it gave me great comfort knowing that the Celts, Germanic Tribesmen, and even the original Norsemen all shared an Indo-European cultural root: the same cultural root which also gave us Buddhism (and Hinduism).  That sort of let me know I was “in the right neighborhood”.  Truth is, there is a large amount of my Buddhist/Taoist root that I’m just never going to “shake”, nor do I wish to.  It’s perfectly congruent with everything in which I so deeply believe.

Background paper from By The Sea by Beetle for Iaconagraphy (retired; re-releasing, Summer 2017); journaler, block alpha, and tassel string from Samsara by Connla for Iaconagraphy.

As a Chinese-American, my artistic roots also lie in Asia: my first forays into art were with traditional Chinese Watercolor (to which I desperately need to return at some point!), and most of my earliest pen and ink drawings were of dragons and martial artists.  As I’ve evolved into a digital artist, I haven’t left those aesthetics behind.  Taking the leap into the world of creating digital assets that enable others to express themselves artistically through digi-scrap and digital (and hybrid!) artist journaling was a bit of a rude awakening to my cultural sensibilities: almost everything that is out there on the market that is supposed to have “Asian flair” has a tendency to be non-Asians’ idea of what Asian art looks like, rather than authentic. You wind up with a lot of cartoon pandas, and fortune cookies, and Chinese takeaway boxes.  While I hate the term “cultural theft”, because I think it leads to a certain level of pomposity, and most of the time only serves to further divide and segregate what should be a globally multicultural society, what I found “out there”, in the “digi-scrap/AJ world” was stereotypical at best, and offensive at its worst. I needed to do something to make that right.

While all of this was floating around in my fevered brain, in November of 2016, panic struck America.  I don’t like to get political in this blog (or anywhere else), because generally in the wake of the last election, I’ve found being political only breeds firestorms, and firestorms only breed a certain vapid level of hatred, rather than the peace I’m oathbound to promote, but regardless of which side of the aisle you or I are on, I think we can all agree that in November 2016, something on the level of meteoric catastrophe hit the world’s psyche, and pushed it off of some previously undefined edge.  I was immediately reminded of the history of the Cultural Revolution in China (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, was decidedly not a revolution, in the positive sense of that word, but actually a cultural apocalypse), and I knew: Samsara‘s time had come.

Samsara’s time had come, but unfortunately, so had Christmas/Yule, which meant “holiday selections” needed to be our primary focus at Iaconagraphy, and my “passion project” would need to temporarily take a backseat.  So I bided my time, finding things that were suitable for extraction, and made the first draft of the artist papers that would eventually become the ones you find in the Collection today.  Then January rolled around, and it was time for the first Gathering of 2017, and I was forced to continue to bide my time, eeking out an element or a piece of word art in between, as I needed them while I was creating pages to help us make the shift from strictly digi-scrap to an artist journaling focus.  Finally, here we are in February–almost four months later–and I can finally show Samsara to the world.

But this set is about far more than digital do-lollies that will make your pages look pretty; ultimately, this set is about breaking the wheel.  Now, more than ever, the oath I took in March of 2016 as Rigfenneidh of this Grove are important, and I find they suddenly aren’t just important to me, as one individual: they are important to all, that everyone might learn to live that way, and perhaps fix this world in the process, and get it off the wheel, for once and for all.  It’s so easy for me to sit here and type that, but how does one live that way, when they aren’t Rigfenneidh of some teeny, tiny Grove who considers themselves responsible for the welfare of other people?

Newsflash: we are all responsible for the welfare of other people!

And we’re all living in a time when everybody is itching for a fight, but few are willing to fight the right way, or for the right things, or sometimes neither know nor care what that means.  That old adage of “the best defense is a good offense” is leaving the whole world blind, and scratching and gnawing at each other in its blindness.  The best defense is love and kindness.  Admittedly, that sounds very tra-la-la.  But let’s face it: if love were easy, we’d all be in it; we’d all have it; it would be everywhere, and it’s not.  Likewise, if kindness were easy, we’d all be doing it.  The modern ideals of love and kindness are sanitized concepts that have more to do with rainbows and unicorn farts than with the actual concepts of what love and kindness really are!  Love is not chocolates and flowers and romantic sweet-nothings whispered in some lovely’s ear, and kindness is not smiling blankly and saying “have a nice day”.  No, love–real love–is a willingness to put yourself between something dear to you and danger, no matter what that might ultimately mean for your welfare.  Love says because, not despite, even when all of the becauses suck out loud.  And kindness–real kindness–is an inner will to do what is best for others especially when the other person doesn’t deserve it.  It’s a form of practiced grace, for all of you out there with Christian backgrounds who actually understand the New Testament implications of that word.  Neither love nor kindness has a single thing to do with being nice.  Nice is just a very benevolent way of saying “clueless”.  Both real love and real kindness can call us to fight with righteous fury, but the keyword in this sentence is righteous, not fight….

Peace is another one of those words that we have over-sanitized; we can mostly thank the Flower Children of the 1960s for that.  In our society, we tend to have this vision of what that word means that includes some idyllic setting, with everyone “making love not war”, amidst enormous clouds of vaporous smoke (possibly of an intoxicating variety).  But that is no more real peace than our over-sanitized view of love and kindness are real love or real kindness.  Real peace is Truth.  Not my truth, not your truth; The Truth.  Real peace is freedom from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, and obsession.  How do we break free of all that? By learning The Truth:  that all things (including people, even the unpleasant ones) are connected, and deserve to be treated with compassion.  There’s another word we’ve over-sanitized: compassion.  We tend to view it in modern society as a sort of “pet-pet-pet” mentality, when in reality, it is something far deeper (and somewhat darker) than that. Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering”.  That’s right, folks: compassion demands more of us than band-aids and kissed boo-boos; it requires us to actually feel something, and then, beyond that, to actually do something about our feelings!  While that may not sound terribly peaceful by our modern standards of that word, it’s the only way to bring peace.  If we could ever stop to realize that everyone is going through the same thing–the same suffering–just on different levels and in different ways, through different things, we would be much less apt to get annoyed by others.  We wouldn’t be as easily distracted from The Truth by all the shiny bells and whistles that society tries to throw at us in an effort to get us not to feel such things.  Our anxiety levels would diminish (because there really is something to that old Southern saying that “misery loves company”), and we would become far less obsessed with chasing after the things we think are going to make us happy, and instead focus on what actually will: doing the right thing by other people and ourselves.

Which brings us to the doing of all of this: teaching those who need teaching and helping those who need help.  

In our society, we’ve so often cast the teacher as the “know-it-all” with the loud mouth and the striking ruler who bases everything on logic and reason and their overabundance of mental capacity that the very words teach and teacher have become near-synonymous with forcing knowledge down someone’s throat or into someone’s brain.  But in the earliest societies–some of which I draw from in my Druidic Heathen practice–one could not teach unless one was also a poet, an artist, or a storyteller. In those societies, it was understood that it was the heart, not the head, which needed to learn lessons. Former priest and spiritual author Matthew Fox made a beautiful statement about this:

“The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only poets could be teachers.  Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous; it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners.  What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?”

“Knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous.”  That aforementioned view of the teacher as a pompous force-feeder of knowledge (whether we like it or want it or not!) is born largely out of our tendency to teach from the head, not from the heart. When we stay caught up in our own brains, we gravitate towards a facts-and-figures way of living that leaves little room for the compassion that is required, if we want to have peacelove, and kindness.  In other words, it leaves little room for The Truth.  There is also absolutely nothing whatsoever compassionate about force-feeding anyone anything, knowledge or otherwise.  Force-feeding is, in fact, in and of itself, a form of power trip, and such power trips can be soul-crushing.  It’s important that we move from such force-feeding toward teaching those who actively need teaching, rather than teaching the ones we think need to learn a lesson.  There’s a very big difference between those two things!  People who actively need teaching are those who have already shown, through their actions, words, and deeds, that their heart is “operating on the same wavelength” as your heart, whereas those we think need teaching tend to be the exact opposite: they’re the ones we have unceasing wars-of-words with, who never seem to come out on the other side of those conversations one bit wiser than when they first strolled in.  But why teach those who actively need teaching, if they’re already “on the right track”, so to speak?  For that matter, what does one teach such people, if they already know the basics enough to be on the same wavelength in the first place?  Shouldn’t we instead be exerting all of our energies on the people who clearly don’t have a clue, even if we have to hold them down if necessary?  No! At its best, true teaching is an exchange of ideas–a process of questions and answers which goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, and the Socratic Method.  It requires a dialogue. Those who are unwilling to engage in true dialogue cannot learn a blessed thing!  For those people, we have a different teaching method: teaching through example.  And that doesn’t just mean setting a good example in the way that you behave and speak, that also means employing the simplest form of education known to humanity: teaching through symbology.  Why do you think pre-school children respond best when taught through play, or through picture books?  Because those methods of teaching use symbology to get the point across when language fails us. Symbols communicate to the heart in a way that sometimes words cannot.  This requires a return to the artist, the poet, and the storyteller–lofty goals by modern standards for many of us.  But there is a poet within all of us; an artist; a storyteller. Every human being is a collection of stories; every doodle or artist journal page or bit of digi-scrap is the work of the artist within.  We are all forced to become poets when something is so wondrous it defies normal words, whether at the birth of a child, or at first falling in love, or when the sky turns to porcelain after a February snow.

Everyone needs help.  Those who trouble us most need it most of all.  That person who makes you so angry that your blood boils just thinking about them: that is a desperate cry for help.  Again, this teeters woefully on the edge of tra-la-la.  When we say “help others” in our modern society, we get caught up in images of “hands across America” (or wherever else); “hands touching hands”…it very quickly becomes a Neil Diamond song, and we’re all swaying with our own hands in the air at a Red Sox game in Fenway Park.  Yet again, that is not the true meaning of the words to help:

help: to save, rescue, or give succor; to make something less difficult or easier; to contribute to; to facilitate; to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means; render assistance to; aid; cooperate effectively with; assist; to be useful or profitable to; to refrain from; to avoid (usually preceded by cannot); to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.

Yes, that “hands touching hands” sense of the word is in there, but what most find surprising are the last bits of the true definition: to refrain from; to avoid; to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.  Sometimes the best help for someone is not a loving pat on the back, but instead a swift kick in the rear!  Continual allowance of letting a person make you so angry that just thinking about them makes your blood boil isn’t helping you, or them.  Chances are, it’s not hurting them, either, though it is hurting you.  When I say that their continued behavior is a desperate cry for help, I don’t mean help of the “pat on the back” variety; I mean that second kind.  Perhaps if someone refrained from being in their presence, or avoided their attitude, or maybe even went out on a limb and relieved or broke the uniformity of their behavior, by calling them on it–by correcting them–it would remedy the situation, and help them become a better human!  Certainly, such forms of help need to be undertaken from the viewpoint of the heart, not the head, so that they do not become dangerous power trips of their own, but correction is a form of help.  Just sitting around “bitching about it” isn’t helping anyone, however: it’s not helping you, it’s not helping the person who listens consolingly as you complain, and it’s definitely not helping the person or situation causing you to feel this way in the first place!  One can only accomplish this “second sort of help” if one is also actively living a lifestyle that promotes that more “traditional sort of help”, however: you need to correct yourself, by living a compassionate life, before you go off correcting others.

This is the only way we can break the wheel

  • Understand The Truth: we are all connected, and everyone and everything deserves to be treated with compassion.
  • Defend The Truth through love and kindness, with vehemence when necessary.
  • Understand that Peace is Truth. Spread it accordingly.
  • Teach those who need teaching through dialogue; teach everyone else via life-example and symbology.
  • Help everyone, including your Self.

I invite all of you to grab some digital assets (that freebie we released yesterday comes with a 30% off coupon for your next total purchase!), and create an artist journal page (or even a Facebook Meme–Canva can help you out with that!), and come on over and post it to our Facebook Page (or even to your own profile with the hashtag #Iaconagraphy).  Spread The Truth; break the wheel!



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Turning Balderdash Into Galdr-dash

Prayer and design by Connla; Background paper from Samsara (upcoming); photo mask from Notions: Masked 1: Ornate (upcoming); twine twizzle and jeweled bird skull from January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime (currently available); ravens from The Graphics Fairy; masked image Odin and Bifrost by John Bauer (open domain).

I’m writing this on a Wednesday, and as my keyword for the year is Mindful, I’m quite mindful of the fact that Wednesday is Odin’s Day, from the Old English Wodnesdaeg, meaning “Woden’s Day”.  Since one of his kennings is “Galdr Father”–“father of incantation”–I thought it would be very fitting today to talk about turning balderdash into galdr-dash.  In other words, I want to talk about the words we use, how often we talk, and our tendency as a race of beings to speak just to be heard, or in order to have something to say.

Face it, we’re living in a world right now where everybody has an opinion on something, and most people unabashedly do not keep those opinions to themselves.  Once opinions have been voiced, other people then feel the urgent need to vehemently express their own opposing opinions, and what started out as a snowball rolling down the proverbial hill quickly turns into an avalanche!  

While I try very hard to keep (political) opinion out of my social media marketing, and even my conversations, I do find myself having a tendency toward a constant need to say something (say anything, even, sometimes), just to keep the proverbial ball rolling, at all.  It’s the nature of the beast: if you don’t keep your Page updated, keep newsletters flowing, etc., not only your marketing but indeed your financial stream (such as it is or might be or become) comes grinding to a halt.  But ultimately, isn’t relationship-building far more important than any post reach, number of subscriptions, or even sales figure glaring back at us from our computer screens?

When we feel the need to talk just to be heard, or because we like the sound of our own voice, or even because we really like it when that post reach exceeds 1,000, the words we are speaking and the posts we are making are merely balderdash:

balderdash: senseless talk or writing; nonsense; foolish words or ideas.

Wouldn’t we build more relationships and accomplish more good in this world if they were galdr-dash instead?

galdr-dash: words of power, and with real meaning, intended as incantatory, while they may or may not maintain such a tone.

I don’t care what your faith-base is, words have power.  This is even acknowledged in the Christian Bible:

A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse.  A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds.  A word out of the mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything–or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.  By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.  This is scary: you can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue. –James 3:3-7, The Message

The things you say–even when they’re typed–can change a person’s whole world in an instant, for good or for ill.  So what if we were all a little more mindful of how we use our words?  And what might it actually mean to intend them as incantatory?

incantatory: a written or recited formula of words designed to produce a particular effect.

To intend your words as incantatory means looking at their intended purpose–what they might bring into being in this world–rather than simply “spouting” them.  It breeds mindfulness.  For example, when I say “I love you” to my beloved, I’m not just saying three tiny words, off the cuff, the way most people say those words a thousand times a day to a spouse or lover: I’m saying them with the purpose of reaching her heart, and kindling something inside it, which then wells up into the outward sign of a smile on her face.  When I say “have a nice day”, it’s not just some off-handed nicety, but instead intended as a blessing which I hope will have the end effect of, in fact, causing the Powers-That-Be to bestow on the person that I am greeting a pleasant day.

Because I’m actively trying to put this into practice in my life (and urging you to do likewise!), I find myself quiet often, especially at social events.  If I don’t have something worthwhile to say that might actually bring some good into the worlds of the people with whom I’m communicating, I tend to keep my mouth shut. This may make me come across as shy, or perhaps even sometimes a bit stand-offish, but I promise you: I mean well.  And I am trying my best to bring this into practice in my social media interactions and marketing as well.  If something isn’t worthwhile, I simply don’t post it, numbers or no numbers.  So far, it seems to be working well.  This is also another reason for the newsletter becoming a monthly rather than a weekly offering:  if I don’t have truly worthwhile things to put into your inboxes, which are going to effectively make your worlds a better place, I have no right to be in your inboxes in the first place!

So, I urge you to give this a try in your own lives: before you speak, consider the purpose of your words.  Will they heal the person to whom you’re speaking? Will they bring more light into this world, or more darkness?  Might they lead to a firestorm of opposing opinions?  I’m not saying “don’t cause fights” or even “don’t fight”, because sometimes fighting is actually necessary to promote Light and Right in this world of ours, that’s a simple fact of life.  I’m not even saying “always be kind”, because too often kindness can be seen as weakness, and taken advantage of. What I am saying is to make sure your words count: that they be empowered, and intended to actually bring something Right into being.  If they can’t, won’t, or don’t do that, practice silence.  You never know what wisdom you might find there in that quiet space….



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Where Have All The Craft Men Gone?

Background paper is a digital asset from Iaconagraphy’s Walden Wood; feather “bouquet” created using assets from The Graphics Fairy and elements from Iaconagraphy’s January Gathering: Winter Wonder: WinterTime and A Winter’s Tale; journal block from Iaconagraphy’s upcoming Samsara. Opossum extracted and effected by me specifically for this page.

Last night, Suzanne and I attended a night of open crafting at our local library.  I taught her some nifty paper-crafting techniques, we met some lovely people, and between the two of us, we produced three very lovely cards.  The event was held on the main level of the library, and it was very informal: simply bring in your supplies, find a cozy place with some table-space, and “do your thing”.  This is a new thing at our local library: previously, it was “Coloring Night”.  Anyone interested in the adult coloring craze was welcome to show up, grab some free coloring page print-outs and use the library-supplied colored pencils, and color away, feeling free to quietly socialize (or not) with other folks who had likewise come to color.  Clearly, the elderly gentleman seated across from me was a longtime attendee of the previous “Coloring Night”, but that wasn’t the only thing that set him apart from the rest of the folks gathered around those tables last night:

He was the only “apparent” man there.

Apart from him, the event was, as “crafting things” so often are, a “hen-party”: a room full of women creating socially. (Please do not take that term disparagingly; I do not mean it as such.)  He was, to the uninitiated eye, the only “rooster” in the room.  And then there was me….

I resisted the call of paper-crafting for twenty years (as previously discussed).  I’m not willing to say that my resistance to it was completely gender-biased, because quite simply, it wasn’t, but I do think that many men’s resistance to paper-crafting, artist journaling, and even scrapbooking (possibly even to the “coloring craze”) is. Let me explain….

Unless you live on a rainbow-colored cloud somewhere in the stratosphere, it’s really not a secret that we are conditioned, as a race, that certain gender stereotypes exist: some things are “manly” or “womanly”, or not; girls should wear pink and have pink things; boys should wear blue and have blue things, yada yada. Gender stereotyping starts early in our culture, often with things as seemingly simple as pink Lego’s, or Barbie dolls, or the marketing of race cars and action figures.  And those stereotypes have reached right out and grabbed the crafting world by the throat!  All you have to do is take a trip to your local Michael’s Craft Store if you don’t believe me:

Wood-burning and leather-crafting are considered “manly” crafts by many.  Perhaps it’s because they are associated with a sort of “you decorate in early modern dead animal, don’t you?” stereotype?  Perhaps it is because these are typically more “tribal” crafts.  Care to guess how many aisles are relegated to these crafts at most Michael’s Craft Stores? One. Supplies for both are usually relegated to one small area, directly beside each other.

Meanwhile, candle-making, quilting, sewing, baking, jewelry-making, and paper-crafting are marketed as “womanly”–complete with all the “bling”, bows, and feminine imagery one would expect to go along with such marketing. And that’s basically the rest of the store….

And then there is the area for paints, sketchbooks, drawing tools, and canvases, which is its own area, and basically “un-gender biased”: seriously, it’s like a few walls of antiseptic whitespace in almost every craft store you go into.  This communicates one very simple message: we all have it in us to draw/paint/sketch. Everyone can be an artist if they want to be. 

But it doesn’t stop there: name me, if you can, three men who have made a name for themselves in the quilting industry? As bakers? As paper-crafters?  I can name one in the first: Tim Holtz. Not accidentally, he’s one of two in the last: Tim Holtz and Gentleman Jim Hankins. Of course, when it comes to bakers, you have Duff and Buddy Valastro.  Now name me three women….the list goes on and on and on, right?  

You don’t have to be an anthropologist or sociologist to realize that gender stereotypes arise basically out of a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, which is inherent in pretty much everybody, whether we like it or not.  For example, little girls see other little girls playing with Barbie dolls instead of Matchbox cars and arrive at the pretty obvious conclusion that this is “what little girls do”, while on the flip side, little boys see other little boys playing with Matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls, and arrive at the same conclusion in reverse: this is “what little boys do”.  That “monkey see, monkey do” mentality doesn’t go away when we reach adulthood: as guys, if we see other guys not scrapbooking, paper-crafting, baking, etc., but see only women doing it, we ultimately arrive at a similar childlike conclusion: “dudes don’t do that”; “that’s a chick thing”, and, heaven forbid: “that’s girly”!

Which brings me specifically to the topic of art journaling.  Courtesy of modern marketing, artist journaling has been lumped together with scrapbooking and paper-crafting as “a chick thing”: it’s “something women do”.  Yet, you might be surprised to discover, the first true artist journalers were, in fact, men!

Perhaps the most famous art journals in history were created by Leonardo da Vinci, Henry David Thoreau, and Carl Jung.  Charles Darwin could also be included in that list.  All of these men were what we might today call renaissance men

a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field; a man of any period who has a broad range of intellectual interests; an outstandingly versatile, well-rounded person.

The ideal of the renaissance man originated in Italy (not surprising, given that the perfect model of the concept is historical art journaler Leonardo da Vinci himself), and is based on the belief that every man’s ultimate goal should basically be to be good at everything, and not only gain but exhibit as much knowledge as humanly possible, and not only the knowledge of academic things, but also knowledge of human experience, inclusive of (such oft-“female assigned” things as) emotions.  Somewhere along the way, that paradigm of the extremely well-rounded individual gave way to a preference for “cookie cutter gentlemen”: men who are the pinnacle of their specific chosen field; men who are heroes in their specific chosen sport, etc. I don’t think it at all coincidental that this paradigm shift coincided with the subsequent assignment of the understanding and expression (in art journals or otherwise) of emotions as “something women do”.   History (and literature and art) tell us that this paradigm shift happened somewhere around 1920 AD.

So it’s important that we ask ourselves: what else was happening in the world around the year 1920 that could have caused such a paradigm shift?  We really need look no further than that immortal work by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby.  Face it: in that book, Gatsby is the guy all the other guys really want to be, but don’t have the guts, or the glory, or the whatever to actually become.  Meanwhile, the teller of the story, Nick Carraway, is the “status quo”; the “everyman”, who looks up to Gatsby and “really wants to be him when he grows up”, but never quite makes that cut.  Fitzgerald’s character of Nick really is, in most ways, precisely that: he’s the “norm” for a 1920s “dude”.  He’s a veteran of The Great War (WWI; the “War to end all wars”), with a very specific college education, and a very specific college degree to go along with it, that has placed him in a very specific sort of job as a bond salesman. And he feels trapped, precisely because of that specificity.  Meanwhile, Gatsby, on the other hand, is a young and mysterious millionaire who made his money as a bootlegger (which, in the 1920s, may as well have read as romantic as the word “pirate”), who also served in WWI, but, unlike Nick Carraway, wasn’t broken by it.  He’s a symbol of the ultimate “free spirit” for men in that era, as readily as any flapper doing the Charleston might be for women of that era.  

There were lots of men like Nick Carraway in the post-WWI world (which is why he makes the perfect “everyman” to serve as narrator for Fitzgerald’s novel); there were conspicuously less men like Gatsby post WWI, and even less than that following The Great Depression of the 1930s. The question becomes: why?  The answer: WWI and the Great Depression communicated, for once and for all, that the world is not a safe place.  In fact, it is a very dangerous place,  without any guarantees, and, as “bread-winners” and “the backbones of families”, it then becomes a man’s place not to “dilly dally”; not to “waste his time on shenanigans”, for, if he does, everything will unravel, exactly the way things do for Gatsby at the end of Fitzgerald’s opus. (Spoiler alert, for anybody who didn’t have to read this in high school!) In that way, The Great Gatsby becomes sort of a modern morality tale for the would-be twentieth (or now twenty-first) century renaissance man:  don’t quit your “day job”, because bad things will ensue; stick to the status quo with all of its “guarantees”; don’t ever be ruled (or even given to artistically expressing) your emotions because that’s how wars happen.

The type of man guys are told to be in that post-Gatsby world doesn’t have time to do something as “silly” as maintain an art journal.  He’s too busy bringing home the cashola; scoring the big win for his company, his family, or his team.  Women, certainly, can do such things (as maintain an art journal, or scrapbook, or paper-craft, or other-craft), for theirs is the realm of emotions–where do you think the term hysterical comes from?–and they have certain “freedoms” that men don’t, simply because not “as much is riding on them”. Really? Really?  We also live in a world with the highest percentage of self-made women in history; women who “rule” their own businesses, families, and households, whether as CEOs, single mothers, divorcees, or simply as independent females who don’t require men in their lives to get things done!  

Which leaves us with a worldview where renaissance women are totally acceptable (even, I daresay, expected), while renaissance men are often labeled as effeminate, or weak-minded (“not determined enough” to master just one specific field), or “wishy-washy”.   You don’t have to research marketing and business long at all on the internet to find a plethora of programs run by women, which teach people how to combine career, family, and marketing to become self-made people.  These programs are not only created and taught by women, but are also aimed at a female audience. Meanwhile, on the flip side of that, most programs created, taught by, and aimed at men teach such things as how to build your career by becoming more self-focused (i.e., to the exclusion of family, friends, and such not-as-important things as one’s emotional well-being).  The consequence? Ultimately, women are empowering other women, while men are (too often busy) pigeon-holing each other into a rat race mentality which leaves most men feeling incredibly trapped, whether they’re willing to admit it, or not. And that rat race mentality, instead of “preventing wars”, or even preventing “living in dangerous times” is only serving to further all of the above.

So, what could potentially happen if we destroyed the gender wall in crafting, and men reclaimed the title of renaissance man, via artist journaling?  For me personally, it has meant, as Thoreau said, a return to living deliberately:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Living a compartmentalized life is not truly living; it’s merely surviving, and to survive something is to “just get by”; to come through “by the skin of one’s teeth”, and then just barely.  Why should anyone wish to live like that?  No, better to go all-in and have the rush of experience, even if we fall flat on our faces in the end (which hopefully I haven’t done in making this blog post so damn long!).  Artist journaling forces one, by the simple creation of art through random drawings and often (especially in the digital methods) through collage, to stop compartmentalizing, and reach outwards, towards more ephemeral symbologies of our day-to-day.  In a lot of ways, it’s as much a return to a more “tribal” mindset as the weekend football game that men are encouraged to like, while at the same time being discouraged to be artistic. Face it: we’re living in a world right now where women are empowering other women to break free from compartmentalization, while at the same time, men are being pushed further and further into their respective corners by each other.  Maybe it’s time we tore down that particular gender wall and paused to join these ladies in their cut/fold/glue and other forms of artistic expression–digital or otherwise. Maybe, just maybe, we could learn a thing or two from them….