Tag Archives: Kazantzakis

“Life is a whore. Whatever you do, you always get screwed.”

So said my seventh-grade clarinet teacher. Traumatic? Yes, to a docile pupil with virgin ears and no real life experiences to speak of, traumatic and daunting.

Life is probably not a whore, and in many ways, one can find ways to not get screwed at everything one does. But life is a grind. One would love to sit here on a gloomy Wednesday morning and write about a vacation in St. Barts, or peer through lush photos of delicious eateries at the hottest grub joints in town and around the world. Both are great things, but 98% of the time, either life clutches your balls or you clutch his. It’s a struggle.

Some of us were not born to wealthy parents, some of us have no privileged backgrounds. Some of us had to work part-time gigs just to get through school, some of us gave up our own lunch money to feed our siblings. Some of us chowed down on ramen noodles before playing in junior-varsity basketball games, some of us gladly accepted a bucket of the Colonel’s best from a kind neighbor.

The mountain top never seems to come in sight. We climb hills with different slopes, some steeper than others. We carry different loads on our shoulders and backs, some heavier than others. We have family and friends climbing alongside us, maybe trailing us, some more than others.

There must have been a time when getting bread and water on the table was the mountain top. That achieved, one would think that there was no slope to climb, no hill to scale. But life for many of us is more than bread and water. If I’m spending twelve hours of my daily life doing something, those twelve hours beg for a cause, a cause worthy of the struggle, a cause plentifully worthy of the climb. Not all of us have such pleasures. In the end, yes, it is about bread and water. Still.

As Nikos Kazantzakis put it in his travel account of Cairo, “Nowhere on Earth have I felt such violent and sensual contact of life with death. The ancient Egyptians used to place a mummy in the center of their banquet halls in order to look upon death and sharpen their joyful awareness of the tiny flash of their own life.”

There lies a partial answer to this struggle. Twenty-somethings do not discuss death. We are, after all, in our minds, immortal, infallible beings. We take to our beds at night, assuming that we shall rise the following morning. The question is never “if” tomorrow comes, but always “when”. I dare say this naive frame of mind contributes mightily to our misfortune.

Life is most brilliant when standing side-by-side with death. The sooner one grasps the concept of death and the afterlife, the more meaningful and fulfilling our everyday lives will be. Seventy, eighty, ninety years is no eternity. Our struggles, our hills and mountains, are no eternity. Fleeting, at best. A time will come when we twenty-somethings will face our mortal ends. When that time comes, we shall hold our heads high and pronounce that our mountains have been conquered and that our struggles were worth the climb.

Think twice about clarinet lessons.

So I spoke to myself and I began to write. But no, this was not writing: it was a real war, a merciless hunt, a siege, a spell to bring the monster out of its hiding place. Art is, in fact, a magic incantation. Obscure homicidal forces lurk in our entrails, deadly impulses to kill, destroy, hate, dishonor. Then art appears with its sweet piping and delivers us.”

Zorba the Greek, by Nikos Kazantzakis-

A massive sheet of canvas, perhaps twice your body length, is sprung out beneath your feet, white and pure as the very best of pearls. Your bare feet lightly tap the cool surface, as you eye the multitude of brushes and buckets of paint on your side.

You reach for your biggest, thickest brush. It’s a brute, with its ends brittle and nearing its life’s end, and bits of dried paint, in rays of shades and colors, permanently etched within the roots. You run your fingers through the brush, then dunk it into the gleaming bucket of rosy red paint. Passion, you say, goes well with brittle ends.

Paint is flung with all directions with the common trajectory being the canvas. You are merciless with some colors, snapping your wrist as streaks of red and black cling to each other. You are much gentler with others, with warm yellows and fresh greens, lightly dabbing the canvas and caressing with due care.

Writing is art, and there are many gears to writing.

At times, you sit down with coffee, pen and pad in hand, and sketch lightly, pondering and re-pondering with ease. You outline, erase, scribble, erase, re-outline. Your goal is to carefully structure your phrases, re-think your words. I dare compare this mode to the likes of Monet. Not because impressionist works are well-organized and structured, but because they are generally calm and soothing. You struggle with your thoughts, but even the struggles are tame and controlled, methodically transcribing themselves onto paper.

On other occasions, writing is war. A thought hits you like a brick, and you must not waste time by pondering sketches. You want to throw what’s in your head onto paper, in its most raw and untamed form. Expressionism, perhaps, best embodies this mode. Anger need not exist. In this mode, provocation is a likely goal in your writing. Emotional angst is often a trigger, often ending in a tirade of lashings with short yet blunt phrases, uncut words. Something is tugging your nerves, and through your pen or keyboard, you hope to tug the nerves of others.

But as stated by Kazantzakis, art is a magic incantation, and writing, and words, are the greatest incantations of them all.

Let the words flow freely from all our senses, all our modes, all our gears. Conquer the canvas, devour the vast emptiness. Paint our way through the jungles of our minds and mountains of our thoughts.


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