Friday, January 17, 2014
Another year, another long list of things I'd like to achieve or change. My New Year's resolutions always seem to weigh so more than a piece of paper should.
I've been thinking a lot about about change, and particularly about the relationship between the process and the outcome. As points of reference I've been re-reading Anne Lamott's fantastic book, "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life"--which I heartily recommend to anyone who is either writing or living--and I've been looking at a lot of pictures of what often amounts to an egg with eyes, or Daruma.
Although contemporary depictions of this Japanese spiritual icon are often Hello Kitty-esque, the Daruma stories are anything but cute. The basic plot: Daruma sat down to meditate his way to enlightenment. Some colorful variations: to keep himself from nodding off Daruma tore off his own eyelids and threw them down on the ground where they sprout into the first tea plants; Daruma meditated for so long that his arms and legs atrophied, which is why he often looks like an egg swaddled in a robe; Daruma meditated for so long that his arms and legs atrophy fell off completely--but in some stories an itinerant painting restorer who paints him new limbs.
So Daruma has become an inspiration and a yardstick for anyone who sets out to achieve a goal. In Japan people who are starting something new like a course of study will often acquire a Daruma figure, which comes with blank, staring eyes. You paint in the pupil of one eye when you start your efforts and paint in the other when they are complete.
Like all of my sculptural molds, this rendition of Daruma plays on the implied idea of limitless reproduction, evoking boundless reserves of resolve. Nestled one inside another like Russian dolls, the alternating positive and negative figures are also meant to remind me that there can be many unseen layers of resolution involved in any achievement, and that some of these, although essential to the whole, can feel at the time like a move in the wrong direction.