Lost Bearings of the Mundane
Hyla Shifra Bolsta
I live in a tilt, sliding along with the rest of the game. Rocks, beaches, the sea, the birds, nothing has escaped and found its bearings; all of us unhinged, going down together into the history of life; no harness on reality, no course we know to rely on. Penguins and polar bears can’t count on the seasons, the ice or the water, nor can we. What floats to the top is a new standard that as yet we cannot spell. It reaches inside everything but has not touched down and claimed its name.
It’s as if the earth shifted its axis and plunged askew into new orbit. Yet I remain unchanged, superficially loving the familiar, finding beauty in the world that has created and defined my aesthetics, looking out from a bit of gray matter, immersed and positioned in personal currents. Investigations, injustices, catastrophes and violence penetrate tightly packed cells that take sanctuary in the six-inch space between two bony walls, my Temples. My brain interprets in Shock and Awe; I have lost my bearings.
The mundane isn’t an art or a science, not a path or a discipline, but all that there is. It means worldly, earthly, but a second, rare definition is “indigenous in all parts of the earth.” I’m thinking it may be the one commonality everything shares: Dreams of squirrels collecting food for winter; Spring plants pushing up too early, withering in the frost; Plans for retirement or the next kill; Limits of stability, cliffs falling into dust; Rejections from institutions or the flock; Folding the Laundry, Family Feuds, Marriages, Births, Ambitions and the ease of sharing time over a cup of coffee with your lover in the late afternoon.
What story of mine weighs enough to balance the scales? Silt oozes through ideas that were once clear. Bitter pieces of torn trust fly into my palette and I thank god I refuse to paint angst. Hope, recognition, purpose are constructs belonging to a grounded earth but the ground isn’t solid, the arctic ice has lost its footing in a cold world and fish who were once male are now changing sex in mid-stream.
Is there an art of living the mundane life? Each creature answers, each crystalline lens focuses and each prism refracts light; wavelength upon rainbowed wavelength. On the first sun-stroked day this spring, black carpenter ants swarmed our house. I doubt they think the boards are trees. Can they digest treated wood? Year round, mountain lions creep closer to homes; to what degree has their turf sloped and narrowed? Sonic booms, toxic plankton, runoff from farm pesticides; what’s left for whales?
There are stories of salmon so thick you could reach in and pull them from brooks barehanded, flocks of birds so thick the sky darkened when they flew by, so many whales the air stank from their breath. I’ve read we are down to the last five percent of it all. Lagoons choked, mountains gutted, rivers pushed into paths that leave their animals parched, while dinosaur vehicles guzzle gas on the road to extinction.
“Youtube” brings me glimpses of hubris and shame. An elephant in Thailand holds a brush and paints by rote what they call a self-portrait. Her world is newly insipid; wild, glorious, intelligent life reduced to cheap thrills for tourists now that their forests are decimated and logging is banned. Mundanity skids and I wonder how she copes, if she does.
With six billion cries we can burst through our clouds, through the canopy of air that surrounds this planet and maybe catch life before it drops away. After all, with each line I draw, I destroy what’s there to create what I envision will be better. Or instead, with one enormous shriek or a pitiful whisper, all of us will be taken out.
If there is an art to living in this earthly world, it could be that it’s going gracefully, knowing that, like the old story about five blind men, we touch a small part of the elephant. Unlike those codgers who’ll always debate the nature of the beast, we who see could rejoice in our senses and accept not knowing the truth.