by Duane Toops
I’ll admit that my process for creating these cut out poem, collage art piece “things” is a pretty intuitive and unstructured process. Basically, I make this shit up as I go along. Sometimes I have a vague notion of how I want it to look, or a rough idea of a layout but, like most endeavors, when you actually get into the thick of it, plans change and things go awry.
Take this piece for example. I initially composed it for a different blackout poem but, it just wasn’t working. I thought about scrapping it, after all not everything can be a master piece…not that any of my pieces have ever been “masterpieces” but, you get the idea. I considered just putting it away and coming back to it another time but, I really wanted to see where it would go, where it could take me, and what it might lead me to if I just pushed against the resistance a little.
Often I seem to respond to this kind of “resistance” in one of two ways: I angrily give up and throw the whole thing away, or I keep forcing it until it bends to my demands or until I descend into a kind of despondent lethargy.
I don’t recommend either approach. Neither are particularly kind ways to regard one’s self but, I can’t say that I’ve ever been a paragon of self-care.
Yet, more and more my process of making art is becoming my meditation practice; I focus, concentrate, and observe. I watch what comes up, both on the page and within myself. In this regard, it’s also become an implicit means by which I can practice, at least, a modicum of self-compassion.
As I encountered the “resistance” of this piece, I could see those two unkind responses rising up within me. I wanted neither of them. I stared at the half finished art for a while, not out of anger, or despondence, not really in consideration either. I simply watched. I attempted to feel what it was trying to tell me. I tried to listen to what it wanted to say; what it wanted to say about what it wanted to be, and maybe even what it wanted to say about what it wanted me to be. Maybe you could say that I tried to not only lean into the piece but, to also lean into the “resistance” itself. Perhaps, that was the kindest thing I could do for myself.
Stephen Pressfield writes that “We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or purpose that we must follow before all others.” He says that “Resistance will unfailingly point to true North—meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.” Pressfield even points out that “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
I wish I could say that Pressfield’s words sprang up in my mind as I was working on this piece, they didn’t. But, maybe in some unconscious way they did. As I began leafing through all the scraps of newspaper and magazines strewn across the table, a message started to come through. Words started to stick out, and catch my eye. I started cutting, and piecing, and taping, and there it was…”Defy the monster beneath the world”; a message of rebellion, a message of protest, a message for resisting the “resistance”, a tenuous message of self-care.
There is an ever-present monster beneath the world of who we are, a behemoth always at the ready, a Leviathan always lingering. It can never be completely defeated. It can never be banished once and for all, but we can defy it. And, in our constant and continuous acts of defiance we find parts of ourselves, maybe even the best parts.
Duane Toops is a father, a writer, an artist, and a poet, who sometimes makes podcasts, videos, and blogs. He has a B.A. in Religion, an M.A. in Humanities, and is ever in the process of practicing the path.