I’m not a gambler. I’ve never been one to buy scratch & win or lottery tickets, with the exception of raffle tickets for a good cause. But I have a weakness for the random—for letting books fall open, for reaching into my closet with my eyes closed. I wrote about random acts of reading in one of my early posts.
Lately, my hunger for the random has become ravenous. Perhaps it helps me cope with the relentlessness of karma, of knowing that everything arises as a result of a complex web of causes and conditions. If I just grab something, I cheat the chain of causality for one moment. An illusion of course, but it briefly satisfies something in me.
When I was at Women in Need thrift store a week ago, I bought a $5 jewelry “grab bag” and felt the thrill of not knowing what I would find inside. And then, at the Juan de Fuca 55+ Activity Centre Craft Fair last weekend, I picked up three “toonie bags,” again feeling excitement at the potential. I know the chances of getting things I neither want nor need are extremely high. But a pesky “what if?” tugs at me. What if there’s magic inside those bags?
I tell myself it’s not such an expensive gambling habit: $11.00 spent over the past ten days. As you have probably already predicted, the $11.00 yielded mostly junk. Costume jewelry I would never wear. Small glass bowls, silver candles, a MALIBU beaded bracelet: all of these go right into the Goodwill donation bag. But there were a couple of things I liked. A cheesy “love” ring that nestles nicely next to my wedding ring for the time being. Three hand-crocheted dish rags in a shade of grey-green that I love and will use daily. And the priceless frisson of possibility … If I do this too often though—spend too much money on “grab bags”—I get disgusted with myself, like a gambler must feel about their addiction.
Today, Mandala Monday, I asked Michael to continue with the buffet of randomness. Last time, we each chose a tarot card to inspire us. This time for our mandala-making prompt, I suggested that I would take a book of poems by Mary Oliver and open it anywhere, read the poem, and we would create mandalas in response. Being game to participate in most of my creative ideas, he agreed. I opened to the poem, “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field.” Do you know this poem? The huge white owl, wingspan five feet, picks up a rodent from the snowy field and flies off to the frozen marshes to devour it. Oliver imagines the animal’s death in the jaws of the owl as something incandescent, perhaps even pleasurable. Death, she muses, may be entirely unlike the darkness we tend to imagine:
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
Michael and I sat across from each other at the dining room table, he with his IPad and I with old watercolours and a piece of heavy paper I’d traced a plate on. The songs from Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas album surrounded us. We worked for a time. I sloshed paint and Michael used his magic wand. I persist in thinking of making digital art on an iPad as something otherworldly, technology out of my reach, which isn’t at all true. However, more and more, I recognize the ways I deceive myself, all of the little lies I tell to keep my life comfortable.
I like to mop up watery colour with an old rag, feel the wet paper under my palm, scrape at the bottom of the indigo blue with my brush, feel that I am using up every last bit of paint. The embodied experience of artmaking.
I got stuck on a phrase near the end of the poem, “aortal light.” Adjective + noun. Aortal – from aorta, the great arterial trunk that carries blood from the heart to be distributed by branch arteries through the body. I imagined aortal light as a lantern that pulses like a heart, sees all with a glowing eye. Warmth and insight at the end of life.
I fell in love with Michael’s “Arrival.” After creating hundreds of mandalas, he has developed a quick entry into the thriving, visceral archive of his subconscious. His images are evocative, and today both the image and the act of creation visibly disturbed him. I was riveted by the words he read to me after we’ve finished painting and writing. His honest expression of troubled feelings about the mandala—his fear of death—they scalded me. Would that I could be so honest! I like to think I won’t be scared when I am dying. I may be deceiving myself again.
Oliver writes, we “let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river
that is without the least dapple or shadow —
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.”
Choosing the random means taking a chance. Please, big “S” Self, let me take more chances in this life. Not just by grabbing toonie bags and reading random poems—please let me take a chance in being honest, vulnerable.