I am reading a book I found in a used book store, Art & Fear. I have found in there some passages that have been life-altering. Sometimes someone says something you already know, but they present it in such an articulate and coherent way that it all comes together with power and focus that didn’t previously exist in the knowledge itself.
The other day I read something about perfection – namely, that artists who strive for perfection achieve paralysis. That there is no perfect in life. That art is about making something of the messy shit, and that process is in and of itself messy. I understood this concept in terms of community – namely, that I have pretty much completely withdrawn from society, because of this issue or that: lack of consciousness about Jews, women, Middle Easterners/Africans/Asians/Latin Americans, domestic violence, chronic illness, holistic healing, and fill-in-the-blank, plus lack of willingness to do the internal spiritual work demanded by Truth and Purity, to address all those matters and create the kind of world in which I want to live.
In short, nobody meets my standards. And that makes engaging with people some combination of exhausting and perpetually disappointing – in particular, after devoting decades of my life to education and activism, and seeing that the world continues to spin in its own distorted and dysfunctional way, despite the intelligence, power, and clarity in all my efforts. Hence, my song “Pointless,”excerpted here:
I gave it my everything
And ultimately got nowhere
Despite the many lives
I changed along the way
And now it all seems
Or does the work
So what’s the point
I really don’t see the point
To quote U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. And perhaps that’s because it doesn’t exist. Which I’ve been aware of before, as expressed in my questions and statements along the lines of, “Why do I always have to be the teacher;” “why do I always have to create what I want to be part of;” and “why am I always the one intervening and taking action?”
It is by engaging in the world, though – the distorted, dysfunctional, aggravating, infuriating, and yet utterly charming and magical world – that I find, receive, create, and connect. And yet, I have felt the need to be militant, to be on my toes at all times, in order to not participate in or get sucked into all the distortions and perversions that are flying around out there, and that furthermore are accepted as normal, true, or even desirable.
I am at odds with the world. And this book was talking about how that is pretty much the quintessential artist experience. Which felt extremely liberating, because I have primarily identified as an Iraqi Jew – the recipient and defender of, as well as devotee to, 4,000 years of Jewish heritage – while simultaneously feeling perpetually uncomfortable, unsatisfied, and in conflict with the various aspects of Iraqi Jewish identity, because of the lack of consciousness outlined above.
But an artist? Ahhh, that is home. Part/not-part. Always different. Never satisfied. The perpetual outsider. Always wanting and needing something else, something more. Always envisioning and creating other possibilities, new paradigms.
My name is Judeo-Arabic for “pearl in a million.” The pearl is the quintessential symbol of creation – the aggravation that leads to the itch that results in the creation of something splendid. That process of creation, however, that birthing process, is one of constant discomfort.
The thing is, I would much rather be perpetually uncomfortable yet awake, aware, alive, and engaged, than be perpetually comfortable yet asleep or dead. As a colleague said to me in my mid-20s, when I was struggling with how so many people seemed to have a problem with me, “Loolwa, you disrupt the even flow of their mediocrity.”
Which brings me to the next issue I found addressed in this book: the deep longing not only to be seen, heard, and understood, but to be appreciated, valued, and liked. The thing is, it’s a historical reality that the rabble-rousers, the ones who change the world for the better, not only are not liked, but are downright reviled and persecuted. You know, only for the world to realize, decades or generations later, oops, my bad, you were totally fucking awesome, sorry about pulling your limbs out from their sockets and burning you alive in the public square.
I knew from a young age that I was a rabble-rouser, and I was determined not to get persecuted for it. That led me to become a writer, actively translating my “out-there” ideas into language and points of reference that the world could understand. By actively positioning my work squarely in the mainstream, I elicited third-party validation by the very forces people worshipped. In this way, I strategically catapulted myself into a position of power, and therefore, safety.
But I not only wanted to protect myself from getting hauled away in a straight jacket. I really, truly, with my whole being, cared about humanity and wanted society to embrace the ideas and thinking that I knew would lead to an abundance of love and harmony, within oneself and between people.
But not only was the effort gargantuan and, over time, depleting – keeping track of the big picture, the tiny details, the relationship between them all, the radical ideas, the value systems and points of reference through which I needed to filter those ideas, the language I therefore needed to use, and the prestigious outlets or venues I needed to target – but despite all my successes, even where others had failed, the world still didn’t get its shit together. And probably won’t. Plus I don’t want to bother with all that hubaloo anymore. I just want to talk and express myself in a very direct way – as I shared in my song, “Talking about Me”:
Talking about me
In my own language now
After decades of translating
You may not
Understand or relate
I don’t really care anymore
I’m tired of persuading you
Breaking it down
Packaging it for you
So that it’s digestible
Fitting your perceptions
And points of reference
And that leads to an existential question: In a world that by definition does not understand or value me, how do I survive? I can’t speak for how the world truly was back in the day, but I can say that today we live in a world driven by “like”s – on Facebook and otherwise. Popularity translates into the ability to put food on the table and a roof over one’s head. Which means that, to some extent, I need to be engaged in engaging the very world I am critiquing or outright rejecting, and which therefore is at odds with me, and which therefore is likely to be entirely uninterested in or opposed to supporting me.
The passages I read in the book today really spoke to these matters and were super validating: I am living in the middle of the forest because I need to be away from the cacophony of society’s noises, away from the low-vibrational ideas and distorted perceptions. And yet, I am lonely, isolated. I want to be part-of. And yet, being part of means risking getting contaminated. And yet without engaging and connecting, I can waste away, emotionally and spiritually.
I think the solution is the same as what I came to recently with regards to a seemingly unrelated matter: For the past eight years, I have chosen to approach cancer as an opportunity for healing and transformation. To this end, I have mindfully and actively cultivated a healthy life – spending time in nature, eating nutrient-dense food, returning to my music, and most recently, becoming less accomplishment-oriented and more fun-oriented. And yet, despite my Herculean efforts to lead a low-stress life, stress keeps punching me in the face – such as in the form of loved ones having medical crises that I need to step in and manage (for a host of reasons I will not address here). After the most recent round, I came to this conclusion:
I cannot live in a bubble. I cannot eliminate stress. I am interconnected with other people and the world around me, and I care. So yes, I must do my best to eliminate whatever stress I can. But perhaps an equally important measure is to internally shift my relationship to stress, so that I can manage situations effectively and lovingly, without their adversely impacting me.
Similarly, whereas my heart was previously invested fully in the healing, transformation, and wholeness of the world around me, I may need to shift this profoundly caring energy. Perhaps I need to share my visions and ideas, but not invest so much effort into manifesting them in the world – an action which requires the participation of others, which may not be forthcoming. Maybe instead, I need to develop a certain kind of acceptance and internal resilience, where I can go out into the world as a creator, as an artist, sharing all I have to offer, but not being invested in the outcome – participating in the messy, distorted world and channeling my energies and efforts into observation and commentary, instead of action and resolution.
I still need to figure out how to make money as an artist who is peace with being at odds with the world. I recognize this quest as being an artistic endeavor, in and of itself, and I look forward to this act of creation.