I’m sitting right now in the library overlooking the Compass at VCU. The Compass is the focal center of student life at VCU, if not the geographic center, despite the design and prominence which might lead you to think that. Now that I think about it, I’m directly above what was, when I arrived here about three years ago, an empty pit. The library has since been renovated. There’s significantly more glass compared to the “concrete bunker” design of the previous library, the popular design of the 60s and 70s. My friend Kyle described the shift in style in terms of Communism and the former imminent threat of bombs. Less bombs, more glass. With it, perhaps, also the theory of less to hide. Maybe so, Kyle, maybe so.
My time at VCU is coming to a close. The year has just started, but it’s the last little bit of school that’s commonly expected at this point. High school felt like less of a milestone, because there was never any meaningful thought given, any plans made in earnest that didn’t involve going to college. I moved along the rails of expectation.
I just heard someone downstairs say, to someone presumably about to walk out into the rain that’s now falling, “stay dry!” I’ve always hated this expression, and I’ve heard it a lot since I’ve worked in some kind of food delivery for almost five years now. “Stay dry!” Not, “I hope it stops raining” or “I hope you remain resolute in your tasks that are outside despite the rain!” or even “I’m sorry it’s raining!” No, “stay dry!” The rain is coming, and the rain makes wet.
I loooooove people watching, and I think I might make some people on this campus uncomfortable when I look at them. I have to imagine that this is something to do with the internet, but everyone seems somewhat skittish when looked at. An insular society, self absorbed, utterly concerned with how they appear, but only to those they are careful to appear to. It’s not even a matter of me staring people down, and perhaps I’m projecting an anxiety onto people’s neutral, or even just “is there a reason you’re looking at me?” face. I’m not sure. There’s a lot of people here, and everyone looks very different. Where I came from, there weren’t so many different looking people only some.
I’m trying to congeal my thoughts into something useful, I’m not sure if my writing is helpful, and I’m struck by my own melodrama more than I am convinced of the brilliance of my own writing. I think I’ve thought to highly of myself, so the only alternative I see is to think too lowly. It’s a sick vacillation that often paralyzes on either side. Really, I am just trying to psyche myself out, because tomorrow is the “go out and shoot” day, I’ve decided. Not sure what, not sure where, I’ve got many rolls of film and some sleeping stuff and I’m gonna go sleep in my car and take pictures. It feels so irresponsible to have less of a plan than that. Why?
Senior year, and the stakes are so much higher must be a part of it, I think. Life is starting so soon, and what, 95% of BFA grads stop making art within five years? What is that? Is it arrogant to think that I’m the 5%? Probably. I also have some say over whether or not that’s the case, and it really pains me to think that this thing I have enjoyed so much, this thing I think about and stay up late over and have been trained for, that I may give it up. I don’t want that to happen, but at the same time, I’m not willing to give my life over to it entirely. I really can’t.
And that happens so much, I’ve seen it. I know what it looks like and that’s not the look.
I remember when I used to smoke cigarettes. I can’t believe that I used to smoke cigarettes, I used to walk to the studio and smoke. I gave that up pretty easily. I don’t think I ever really quit, I just want’ entirely committed, I wasn’t addicted.
I also think it’s funny that I’ve heard a lot of artists say that they didn’t start in art, didn’t go to school for it, fell into it sideways, etc. Part of me just wants to keep delivering things on a bicycle for as long as I’m physically able to. Strangely, there is a ladder to climb in that world to. I don’t want to deliver food, but once I’m a legal courier, man, then I’ll have it made. Move to New York and be a New York courier. Or Philadelphia. Or maybe Boston. That is where one can make a life for themselves delivering paper!
Perhaps you get the idea.
And in spite of all of this I know where my life is found, I know where truth is found, I know that these things do not need to be chased. I don’t talk about it so much, I think about it more often than I speak of it. I think I live out my life in accordance with the truth of the Gospel. My friend asked me the other day what makes the church I go to different than other churches. I say we believe in and act out our lives more closely to what the Bible calls than other churches do- he said “Don’t all churches say that?”
In many ways I can’t keep silent about this because the whole anxiety about what the worth of my art is, what the worth of my job is, what the worth of where I live is, the city I’m in, all this endless fixation on myself and where I think meaning is found or where my head is at or trying to figure it all out is getting really tiring. And I know, and I suppress and I don’t talk about who Jesus is and His life and what that means. And I want to. It’s what I want to do and yet I don’t. Some would say that that means that I really don’t want to- but the desire gets stronger every day, and I can thank God for that, because it isn’t coming from me.
So I’ve got to wake up tomorrow and go make art, and yet I don’t have to. I don’t have to do it for my own glory, but I believe God made art and man and made the possibility of making art and there’s goodness in that so I’ll do it.
I can’t write my way into a justified state of being. I can’t unsort my state of mind.
But He’s got me, so I’ll write for now and trust him. I’ll make some more photos and keep living my life in trust and pursuit of Him trusting first his righteousness. I can’t imagine another way, I can’t hold these thoughts without adding more, and more, and it is only and endless complication, and an endless questioning.
One of my professors said, in a very surreal moment, that the end is never reached, and yet you cannot question everything because you will only drive yourself insane, into nihilism and depravity. You will become cynical unto the point of death, you will hate everything. The meaning of life cannot be found at the bottom of philosophy (or art or theory or Marxism or postmodernism or ) and yet you have to believe in something even if it is an illogical position. It seems to me that this moment has been endlessly portrayed- the halls of Academia, the cynical but likeable professor telling you that there is nothing worth believing in. I smiled, I actually think I laughed.
We laugh and laugh and laugh, but it is a laugh of tired resignation, a nervous laughter that gets repeated to the point that we actually think it’s funny, to our detriment.
An appalling and horrible thing / has happened in the land: / the prophets prophesy falsely, / and the priests rule at their discretion; my people love to have it so, / but what will you do when the end comes?
We are held aloft on clouds of ironic aloofness. We set the goals that are just out of reach, we tell ourselves that it is only questions all the way down. I do these things, I do these things. But there is a cornerstone, there is a rock, there is hope and goodness. There are things above to set one’s mind on. Praise God!
Behold I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; / and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”