At first light lay proud foundations
Sense the greatness that before you unfolds
Seek no more for hollow answers
Answers that lay within you all along —VNV Nation, “Arclight”
As a preschooler I was fascinated by the Titanic, and I wanted more than anything for others to share my interest.
I’m fairly certain it was all I talked about to my (few) friends, and I also struggled to convey this interest in art. I built the ship out of blocks (I still remember how to do this!), illustrated and wrote my first book, and shared my interest at show and tell. For the better part of two years the ship and its journey were my sole interest. I absorbed everything I could about the subject before moving on to other things.
I struggled to recreate illustrations of the Titanic found in books. My drawings never lived up to published matter or, indeed, my own mind’s eye. How could they? I was young and unpracticed. It got to the point where my mom would help me draw the ship and I would copy her. Time and again I’d practice and get better. Looking back, in technical terms, my drawings were unimpressive – it was child’s art – but I remember the fervent interest that animated the work and I’m still astonished by what was achieved.
Today I still possess that strength of feeling but it is no longer directed at the Titanic. Instead, over the years, it’s been directed a multitude of subjects: military history, Star Wars, language studies, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Halo, political history, and, now, baduk. I still don’t know what drew me to all of these interests, but they comprise a good deal of my biography. These aren’t just encyclopedia entries but a real, living part of how I understand myself and the world around me. Each is connected with people, times, places, and events. In each I find an echo of my past, and an inkling of the way forward.
Free Your Hand
Last night I saw Rogue One and it was worth the wait. Parts of it reminded me of the games I’d play with friends and family using Micro Machine Action Fleet toys, other parts evoked the characters we’d assume playing Rebel versus Imperial. This morning I cannot stop thinking about the exhilarating experience of that film and all of the things it did right, not just in terms of film making but also fandom. I wanted to sketch space battles as I did when I was a child and while doing a bit of research came across something that evoked baduk to me.
On a page appropriately entitled “I Want to Draw: Simple Exercises for Complete Beginners” I found the following advice:
Technical drawing (straight lines, perfect circles) requires concentration. It’s about drawing things exactly as they are. There’s no space for creativity or personal style, since style comes from diversity. Is it really what you want to do? Draw the same things exactly the same way all the time?
It goes on to list some tips including “divide long lines into short ones”, “Keep it fast!”, “Touch the paper very lightly, don’t press your pencil hard”, “draw lightly – this way your mistakes won’t be visible”, “create your own style”, “sketch a lot!”, “measure the proportions”, and, finally, “Free your hand.” I was reading about drawing but thinking instead about how all of this applies to baduk!
Over the past year I’ve had a growing awareness of some ineffable obstacle in my baduk game. Study seemed fruitless. Reviews only marginally helpful. Practice difficult. The more I strove to size up the wall the more I sensed that it wasn’t anything external to my game, that is, something I could overcome by technical means.
Then the memory hit me: The Titanic illustrations. I remember my frustration at being unable to recreate exactly artwork which grabbed my total attention. But in recalling this frustration I had forgotten the other aspect of my labor: The drawings that I CREATED using my own mind and hand; the book I had illustrated and written. In being wrapped up with perfection I forgot my own learning and how through this I had expressed myself and created something of my own. I had also forgotten the relationships and memories the experience of these subjects had created. Whether it was drawing with my mom, building blocks with my preschool classmates, or playing with my brothers and relatives.
I knew my subject but I didn’t know myself and because of this I couldn’t express myself.
Sun Tzu writes, “if you know yourself and know the enemy you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” In “Arclight” the final track of Empires by VNV Nation, the lyrics “Seek no more for hollow answers / Answers that lay within you all along” are heard. The resulting mental deluge had me feeling burdened and free in the same instant. On the one hand I have Arclight saying “Forget your fear, and want no more” and on the other I have the realization that I’ve built something of my own shackles. Like Marley I’ve forged my own chains. Like Scrooge I still have recourse to cast them off.
Forget Your Fear
As I write this it is late in December 2016, and a new year is almost upon us. The new year is traditionally a time for resolutions “What will I do better?” In 2016 I’ve learned the value of dead work, of just showing up. Virtue and success are not things we can strive after, they are the result of a constant labor of love. Systems will not save us, nor will they necessarily elevate the best among us. Aleppo burns and Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America. Yet another Transformers movie is being released, yet another entry in the mindless Fast and Furious series. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water and hundreds still drown trying to find a better life. The president of the Philippines boasts of vigilante murders and China dreams of a digital dictatorship. Perhaps you are tempted to despair, but there is cause for hope.
In this Advent season we recall in the infancy narrative of St. John words that serve as the basis for my hope.
In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be
through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.