Browns River Day 4 by Stephen Kastner
Browns River Day 4 by Stephen Kastner

Giving yourself freedom from the inner critic, the one that is always ready to discredit and derail the questing spirit that dwells within each soul – that’s the voice I like to crush each time I pick up a pencil or a brush, tap out words on a keyboard. That critic came from an external source. Children are not born with doubt. Babies trust that they will be cared for, fed, sheltered and clothed. Perhaps gravity is the first critic, the one that inflicts pain upon failure to reach for a dream.

Imagination pushes us to reach out and grasp for the unknown. It swells up and flows continuously like a spring bubbling from rocks unseen, the deep source, the greater consciousness, the roots of Yggdrasil, the tree of knowledge, the whatever god you envision, honor and respect. Repairing the breaks or tears in the threads, the wounds and memories of pain that mark the cloth of our being requires that we reweave ourselves back to source. This is the action-as-meditation that I employ in making art. Silencing the critic is the first step.

Courage is the fuel, Courage or unbridled vanity. Is every successful adult artist the ultimate narcissist? The similarities are surprising, but the difference is found in the solitude of the artist. The results and the work of creating art in any form are inseparable. The process is the work, The work is the process. And the work-process must be effortless. Have you ever struggled with writer’s block?

Have you ever been constipated? Have you ever found yourself unable to take a shit for several days? How about for the rest of your life? What if one day, like Kafka, you awoke and realized that it has now been several days since you last took a shit? Then a week, then a month, then a year? Would you start to inflate like a balloon or would you stop eating? Would you search out oils and lubricants applied from either end to restore the flow of foods consumed and waste exhumed? Would you seek a doctor or a psychiatrist? Who draws the lines that divide us into polite and uncivil opposing camps? Is every artist a rebel? Does anybody care? Does your value rest in the hands of an audience that gives or refuses approval? What society do you choose to adhere to and who makes its riles? Can you make or break your own rules?

These are the voices of the critics. The external voices that invade each child’s mind at some stage of civilizing and shaping their wild spirit into a civil being. These are the voices that must be silenced. These are the killers who seek to put a cork in your ass and stop the flow.

I take out a pencil and a clean white sheet knowing that every single mark I make is a perfect mark. I make marks, shape statements with words, hack away at a block of hard maple with sharp chisels and a hammer, forgetting the world around me, seeking to hear a different voice, the voice of some unknown spirit or vision that wants to be seen. I am a hollow straw that reaches up to an infinite heaven and sucks down thought unformed into earth matter. The work is the flow, a mindless channeling of source to substance. When it flows, there is no effort. There is something external that seeks to speak through me and I am the means to its end.

These words on this page. What purpose do they serve? This is an exercise in releasing myself from restrictions, any and all restrictions. I hereby grant myself the freedom to dig deep and speak about whatever comes to mind. Is it an enchantment? Do you fear being possessed by a demon? Do you have demons within, waiting to be released? Then by all means release them! Art is a healing process. Once the demons have been set free you may get on to greater tasks.

So, I give myself freedom to be the unbridled master of the range, running free like a mustang stallion but there are predators. Occasionally, a cougar waits in the high rocks to spring and sink its claws deep into the soft and vulnerable skin of my neck. I watch for predators and vampires, those entities that feast on fresh, warm flesh and blood. There are legions of the unfulfilled, who seek to step up by stepping on the heads and shoulders of the unwary. Perhaps, these are the true narcissists, those who seek to advance by stifling other emerging spirits.

What does it take to survive predators and stand against the wind? Is anger a worthy fuel to break free from a constipational crisis? Who first told you that you were not good enough? And why did you ever believe them? Is there an inner child somewhere locked in a closet under the stairs? Make magic and rage against the machine that locked you up if anger will free the beast. Become wild again and run naked through the forest.

I walked down the river’s edge looking for the right spot, listening to the voice of the water tumbling over rock. It grew louder and I grew silent, looking for a sign. I climbed the pine needle strewn ridge seeking a perch, the perfect spot, the place where a vision would appear challenging me to overcome my own demons, to silence the critic and to unfold new skills. The work is a learning process, unwrapping the layers like peeling an onion down to the core. Each day, I return to dig deeper. Each day, I trust in the spirit of the work at hand, knowing that I am guided by something greater than myself. I work to discover what that something consists of, to solve a mystery, The Why am I here? mystery. The question we avoid asking, fearing there may be no answer. And what is wrong with having an unanswerable question?

Homo sapiens have been killing each other in their seeming forever over the answer to that question since our time began. Who’s god? Who is god? My god is better than your god and I can prove it by taking away your life. Ask your god to save you. Your doubt will be your undoing.

I stopped when I saw the bird’s head, the beak and the wings etched into the rocks below. I sat down and gazed at a clean, white sheet of thick and gnarled paper, plenty of tooth. I unrolled a packet of colors encased in sturdy pencils, I brought the tools, solvents, and sharpeners and set up a studio on the rock beneath a towering pine. I made the first marks of orientation, How could I ever capture the pure randomness before me? Have no fear. Banish doubt. Proceed. Each day, I return to look for the colors embedded in the ageless rock, the forms carved into granite by the tireless flow of water. The flow of a seemingly frictionless fluid that have left patterns, graceful liquid pathways that indicate a history of greater and lesser power imprinting its mark.

I look down from above and realize I need to embrace the waters and let them flow over my own skin. I descend and let my feet find the way, trusting each step to be the right step. I feel the sand and pebbles cleanse and scrub my skin. I walk into the water. It is power, unrelenting and there is danger. It is cool and seductive. I have choices to make. The choices could be fatal or rewarding. I must take each step into the water as fateful. I feel the rock’s slippery surfaces and pick my way upstream, into the deep flow. I find my way among the tumbling forces making my way to a black bowl carved out of stone and place myself in it like a Christian in a kettle, being boiled by cannibals. I let my thoughts pass away like clouds clearing to a sky blue. There is nothing more important than this moment. I consume the colors all around me. I know the rocks and the waters by becoming them. I posses the river and it possesses me.