Friday, May 14, 2010

The Death of Ms. Moth

"The birds they sing at break of day, 'Start again...' I hear them say." (Leoanrd Cohen)

"The fucking birds woke me up at five in the morning!!" (Steve)

I woke up this morning with paintin' on the brain. Got everything set up before I even went in for coffee as was prescribed by my dear mentor, though he not know it, Robert Genn. He, like many others, insists that very little of making art has anything to do with inspiration or visions and everything to do and just going at the paint like a coal miner to his pik axe. Okay, I would never call how I go at the paint anything like how a coal miner goes to work with his pik axe, but I would say that just getting going, letting my eyes focus in on what's happening at the end of the brush, the little miracles that happen when pigment mixes with water, delighting in happy accidents ( I rely on them, really, and what is it to rely on accidents? This is most of the trauma that my logic is sorting out on a day by day basis) and when it's said and done I'm not satisfied unless some of the paint has ended up SOMEWHERE other than the surface on which I am painting. It just means I didn't have a good enough time doing it.

Anyway back to this very morning, I was on my way out of my bedroom, water jar in hand, when I saw the upright body of a dark moth laying in the doorway.

I told you just yesterday I'm a superstitious person, and believe me when I tell you there is very little that is positive about a dead moth, though I did spend twenty minutes on the internet trying to find something. Most cultures believe they are signs of death, if not the spirits of those already gone come to say goodbye to us. The white ones mean death in a year, the dark ones... well. Less.

Superstitious, yes, but I'm also open to various translations of the meanings. This death does not have to be the death of a person. It could be the death of a time in your life, negative thoughts, I know certain pragmatists that it COULD mean the death of a moth.
Moths are sensitive creatures, drawn to the light and moon-worshippers. This sounds like someone I know. Rather than get anxious about why my little totem bug is lying dead on the ground, I picked her up and put her near my paper. She became my model.

I drew her first with her furry belly up, then flipped her over, using my pencil and paintbrush like chopsticks, setting her down with her legs folded under her. That's when I noticed her body rise and fall, taking me completely off guard. Is she alive?

All of the sudden the technical thoughts in the foreground of my mind along with the white noise of useless thoughts in the background dissipated entirely. I was lying on the floor with this little visitor who was possibly living the last moments of her life, however short a life it was. Everything about this moment became sharp and clear. The song that was playing on the radio became her soundtrack. It was this:

And even though I know that moths do not breathe via lungs, but through pores in their body, I couldn't help but associate her slight, slow movements with that of a sleeping person. Up, down..... up, down........ up... down.......

I've never noticed that the fur around the head of a moth leading into the wings gives her a regal appearance. In this case she was a dark and dying queen, and everything about her was sad, romantic, tragic, from the way that her feelers lay crooked and by the angle I watched her, she seemed to have her head turned, her legs folded into her body.

What are the last moments of a moth like? What was she experiencing? Had I hurt her by picking her up? I remembered reading somewhere that the slightest human touch of the wings of a butterfly or moth cripples them. Does that cause them pain?

If you're starting to wonder about me, please be assured that all of this lasted the length of the piece of the radio. Soon after I was back to my world. I got up and went for my morning coffee, letting the white noise come back to the front and distract me from those sad moments with the moth. But I need to tell you that last night, in my "wanderings," I passed an ambulance parked on a quiet residential street. No one was inside but the lights were on. Before I'd passed the truck, a building door opened and two attendants were carrying out a stretcher with a small, frail woman who was very old. Shock white hair. She was barefoot. She was crying in a high pitched voice, like a frightened cat, "Ioannina! Ioannina!" Which I can only assume was the name of the woman, perhaps her daughter, who was following close behind with a man beside her. "Shhh" she was saying, but the woman kept crying out her name, over and over.

Maybe the woman is okay. Maybe she's not afraid anymore, but it was a haunting scene and something that I just keep returning to... that we are so temporary here. That ultimately, because this pressing and unknown end date is still something beyond our control, we must make peace with the idea of time. Ignore it in spite of how it marches on beneath us, carrying us on our guerneys toward our fight with Charon which we will, ultimately, lose.

This is not meant to be a morbid post. This morning was the most magical part of the day, which was spent, by contrast, in meaningless pursuit of phantom objectives. My moments with the moth were what really counted.