Cerulean Blue

A while back, God asked to borrow a few tubes of my acrylic paint. How could I say no? I have an abundance of paint. He took the most exotic colors and has yet to return them. This morning, I’m working up my courage to demand that he either order replacements or return my paints. There was a tube of cerulean blue that I always used sparingly because of the magic it could evoke. I can’t say for certain but knowing that tube is missing may be the reason I’ve not touched my paints for months. So, I’m sitting here, waiting for God, planning how I’ll broach the subject.

“Just broach it already,” God says from the darkest corner in the room. I can barely see him, but he sounds present and impatient.

“Well, that cerulean blue was my favorite,” I say, equally present and impatient. “I think you knew that when you took off with it.” I’m standing my ground. God’s got nothing on me this morning. The fires are raging, the air is dense, and as usual, I’m predicting a bitter end to humanity.

The room goes blue. The bluest blue. The blue of perfect sky, calm ocean, deep lake. So blue I can taste it; I can hear it. I can feel it sinking in. My wayward hands and desolate heart are blue. My smirky face is blue. The insides of my eyelids are blue, and the claw marks I’ve made trying to escape are blue. Everything is exceedingly, abundantly blue.

“Enough?” he asks, grinning. His teeth and saliva are a dazzling blue.

Transformed, absorbed, I run with blue legs into the blue universe and throw my arms around a miraculous blue marble floating in blue nothingness. I am renewed. I will paint until my fingers fall off. I will paint with my body, my hammer, my shoes, every ounce of me. I will fling color around like confetti, and it will be God. Layers and layers of God. It will always be God.

“I still see you,” I tell God as he slowly removes himself from visibility. “I see you just fine. And I hear you humming blue. And I taste you in this beer. And I know you aren’t going anywhere. And I’m happy. But could you give me back that paint you borrowed? Please?”

“Sure,” the Blue murmurs. He hands me a bag of paints with more colors than I’ve ever seen. “Break a leg,” he says.

“Oh, good grief,” I say. “That’s what you say to an actor about to go onstage.”

“Right,” God says, hitting himself on the side of his blue, blue head. “I knew that.” But it wasn’t a mistake. God always means what he says. When God encounters headstrong humans, he often wrestles with them. They don’t come away destroyed, but they definitely limp. With these colors, I will not come out unscathed. Or even alive. But I’m okay with that. I’m going to paint anyway.

Good and Evil, Weeds and Greens

I just ordered extra-strength mold and mildew killer for a nasty basement area that hosts a strain of fungi I do not like. And later today I’ll chop, pull, and in some cases, spray chemicals on bugs and weeds and tenacious grasses that are choking the good stuff.

I hate this.

I hate every single stupid aspect of the battle between good and evil, weeds and vegetables, beneficial bugs and destructive infestations, liars and truth-tellers, thieves and the generous of spirit. I realize there’s a purpose for all of creation. Nature is not mistaken. We know a little but not enough. Defining anything as a weed or as evil begs the question of an omniscient creator who pronounces all things good (or potentially good, or redeemable). It violates my premise that God knows what God’s up to. This is why being rational sucks sometimes. The whole of life is filled with unsettling contradictions that must be addressed or endured.

I’m a consumer and a provider–a lover, hater, poet, pragmatist, winner, loser, dreamer, doodler; I’m easily duped but wise in the ways of my insular world. On occasion, I fail to be honest or kind—but I’m skilled at manufacturing reasons to justify myself.

As a human, I have a large degree of autonomy. I have the prerogative to be caring or cruel, truthful or deceitful; I have power over those weaker than I am. Each day arrives new but slightly tainted by the dregs of the day before. The brilliant colors of an unguarded sky disorient me as the hot wind of redundancy stirs the August dust. By late afternoon, I see in my face the toll taken by trying to live well. What do the “evil” people see—the depraved and debauched—do they see the same contours?  Small victories and apparent defeats? Do they glimpse God with her arms crossed, waiting? Do they see my futile longing to give every living thing another chance?

The problem with weeds and germs is that they don’t know their place: they’re not humble. They roam around the party sipping wine from everyone’s glass. They are invasive and infectious. Taking unfair advantage, they form self-defeating monocultures and thus fail to be a balanced part of an intricate ecosystem.

The God I hang out with is the Balancer-in-Chief. She climbs on the scales, lies down in the street, lets the bastards starve her to death. She sustains injuries from the blast, drowns in the flood, joins the protests, widens the cracks, and endures. Unlike me, she seems to know it will come out okay in the end. There will be justice. There will be mercy. There will be love. I shield my eyes from the glare of the moment, but I can only see so far. So while I’m still able, I yank at the weeds with a ferocious mix of futility and hope, and with a certain sadness, I leave their roots exposed to the merciless sun.

Covid God

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John and I have been trying to make some short upbeat videos for people struggling with our current global crisis. I’ve asked God if she wants to sit in or be of any help at all, but as the song says “…I get no offers. Just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue…” Paul Simon knew back then, sometimes we get so lonesome, we take some comfort there—from the lesser ones. The ones whose bodies are for sale—or whose lives are always on the front lines to feed and serve us.

“I love that song,” God says, suddenly overly present. “And I love that line about how a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

“Well. Hello, God,” I say, more exasperated than surprised. “Where’ve you been?”

“The usual,” God says. I take a closer look. She doesn’t look well. She’s got a ridiculous looking homemade mask on her face. She coughs. “I’ve decided to forgo the ventilator,” she says. “I’m definitely old enough to be in the high risk group, but I think I can beat this thing…and if not…” She shrugs and sits down, winded and gray. I back up six feet. She looks up and nods.

“Yes, go wash your hands,” she says. “Wash your hands of me. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I say. There’s no point in lying to God. “You make me crazy mad. I don’t understand how you suffer with those who suffer, rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Are you God or are you not?”

“Up to you,” God says, struggling to take a breath.

“Lie down,” I say, fluffing a pillow. I run to scrub up and get a mask. She’s stretched out, eyes closed. I put God’s head in my lap, and with gloved hands, I touch her sweaty forehead. “Can I get you anything at all?” I whisper. She opens her fever-glazed eyes and looks into my soul. I can see it takes a lot of effort. She says nothing. She just looks straight into my center for as long as either of us can stand. She touches her chest. A wave of nausea hits me as I realize the entire earth is short of breath. “Feels like a ton of bricks,” she murmurs.

I give her a sip of water. It’s all I have.

Earwax

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“God,” I said, irritable and tired from a long day of petty frustrations. “Did you listen to a lot of heavy metal when you were young? Or maybe you need to clean your ears. Your hearing has gotten pretty bad. In fact, some people say you’re deaf.”

“Yeah, and some people say I’m dying of skin cancer. Too much exposure while I was building the solar system,” God said, giving me a friendly shoulder punch. “But people love to gossip. I’m more interested in what you say.”

“The weeds in my iris bed have gone to seed, and I’m sick of fighting back,” I said. I didn’t want to talk galaxies or my ongoing disappointments with my co-author. I wanted wisdom, peace, and an easier life. God likes lilies and irises, and mine are choking in big autumn weeds and native grasses. I’m not sure they’ll even come up next spring. Seems like an easy problem for God. Just smite the invaders, right?

And to make matters worse, I’ve noticed my cruel and vicious impulses have gained ground lately. People would be astonished to know how many times a day my mind whispers “Oh fuck.” Sometimes, I go beyond the F-word. It’s more of a primal scream. My innards seethe at the utter stupidity of humankind. But I breathe and wait. Breathe and wait. Usually, my demands to be special, perfect, noticed, or loved give way to the nearly inaudible whimper of surrender. I realize can’t fix much of anything. All I can do is go about the business of being alive. And I can try to be kind.

I offered God my bowl of chips and salsa. “Thanks,” God said in that still, small voice. “I’ve heard it all, you know. The clang and clatter, the gun shots and bombs, the sobs and screams and slimy claims, the pontifications and pathetic justifications, the pleas and praise. Machinery. Magpies. The making of love. First gasps of air, last exhales. I’ve heard it from the beginning. And I will hear it all forever.”

I leaned forward, pointing my finger. “Then why don’t you pull the weeds? Uncreate. End the cacophony of greed and moral failings. Why don’t you make it all music and joy?” I was so exasperated. “You don’t know the least bit about self-care, do you?”

“Sure I do,” God said. “Here I am, hanging out with you. Chewing the fat. Watching the day draw to a close. What more could I ask?”

The F-word leapt to mind. The scream began. I coiled like a rattler. Clawed at my limitations. It was worse than being alone. “What more could you ask?” I yelled. “I can’t begin to answer that. Can’t even begin.”

“I know,” God said. “But it’s an excellent question, isn’t it?”

State of the Union

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“I love scientists,” God said, sipping herbal tea, relaxed and open. “I just love them. They try so hard to understand, reveal, predict, and invent. Aren’t they something? Such visionaries.”

“Yeah,” I said. We sat for a while. Then I added. “You know, I’m somewhat of a scientist myself.

“Hmmm,” God said. “I don’t often think of you that way, but now that you mention it, I can see a little scientific mindedness in you. More artist, but sure, a little scientist.”

Well.

My eyebrows bent down, but I pushed them back up to the level of civil discourse. “I love scientists, too,” I said. “But doesn’t it bother you that you’re kept out of the equations so often?”

“What?” God said. “Are you nuts? I don’t have to be recognized to be present. In fact, I get a lot of exercise jogging around in equations and hypotheses. They’re great places to work out. Science-types are like moles, digging into creation. They examine air, stars, creatures deep in the sea. I love that burning desire to understand.” God paused, looking like a proud parent, and added, “I never dreamed they’d come up with the idea of splitting an atom! Wow. Just wow.”

I was aghast. “God!” I yelled, “You know what we’ve done with split atoms, right?”

God gave me that “duh” look and said, “Children take things apart, and sometimes, they can’t get them back together. It’s part of the long, long walk.” God’s voice faltered. I could tell I’d hit a sore spot, but I was unrepentant.

“It’s more than that,” I said, my voice deadly serious. “And you know it.”

God sighed. “Okay. True. Divide and conquer is a primitive strategy. Bringing things together is a more advanced skill than taking them apart.”

If I could’ve held it together, I would’ve given God a “duh” look back. But I lost it and slid into my usual slash and burn. I stomped back and forth on our concrete floor until I gave myself shin splints. I growled until my throat hurt. I punched the air. I kick-boxed with God. My heart rate moved past the aerobic range. I shouted, “We are tragically fractured, and we just keep fracturing further. Human trafficking, walls and greed, gutted landscapes, forced pregnancies, prolonged suffering at the end of life. War. Torture. Starvation. Nuclear waste. And you sit there, admiring scientists and spouting off about bringing things together?”

“Yes,” God said in a stubborn voice. She appeared to be unfazed. “Exactly.”

She sat down and took a sip of tea, trying to hide her tears. I hid mine, too. A long moment passed. Then, a cruel storm blew up, and fierce as a mother eagle, God flung her powerful, protective wings around the cosmos. My reach is maddeningly limited, but I tried to do the same.

Inviting Abuse

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God and I were philosophizing as we watched the snow pile up. I was wound up—as in downright nasty. “The thing about power is that it brings out the worst in everyone. Like when people weaker than I am mess up and instead of owning up and apologizing, they lash out, make excuses, lie, threaten, and offend. What is wrong with them? Don’t they know they are squishable little bugs?” God raised an eyebrow, but it didn’t phase me. I ranted on. “It’s like they’re baiting me, inviting abuse.”

God frowned and held up her hand. “Whoa there cowgirl, let’s slow down a minute. Of course it’s an invitation. But not for abuse. It’s a screamingly clear invitation for compassion. You hold the cards. I think you know that.”

I glared. The way I saw it, if anyone should be screaming, it should be me. “Yeah, fine, compassion,” I snarled. “But what about me? What about justice? It isn’t fair. People act as if I’m to blame for their bad decisions and bad luck. At least they could say they’re sorry. A lot of people deserve a good whack, they need to be served papers, they need a call from my attorney.”

“You don’t have an attorney,” God said patiently.

“Well, I could damn well get one,” I snapped.

“So could I,” God said.

Unthinkable implications flood the room. God with an attorney. I grabbed the fragments of power I thought were mine, wove them into a raft, and tried to row away. “I’m worthless,” I shouted. “Leave me alone.” I broke into a sweat as I pulled on the oars.

“Here, let me help,” God said, as she settled herself beside me on the leaky vessel. We rowed shoulder to shoulder, gliding over all the angst and blame in the world. I began to let down my guard, but then I realized that the escape route I’d chosen was circular. I panicked and hyperventilated. “We’ve gone in circles,” I yelled, humiliated and filled with dread.

God smiled. “Honey, all escape routes are circular. That’s how I laid things out. Check Google Earth sometime.” She kept rowing, maddeningly cheerful. So, I just gave up. We spent the day exploring the concentric wonderments of creation, the gravitational guidance of long-suffering servants, critical masses of insects and starlings, visions and dreams. By evening, I was completely spent. I laid my head in God’s lap and reached for her hand.

“What are you so afraid of?” God asked as she stroked my hair. I thought as hard as I could, given my exhaustion, the rocking motion of the settled sea, and the distracting brilliance of her deep black eyes. “I don’t know for sure,” I mumbled.

The last thing I heard was the gravely laughter of God playing a game of poker with a rowdy crowd of whiners. She had a royal flush. Her winnings covered a multitude of sins, imagined or otherwise. God pulled the soft flannel blanket of mortality up to my chin, and I drifted off to sleep in the orbit of a forgiving moon.

 

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

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“Hey, Original Source,” I said, feeling magnanimous. “Want to borrow a brush? I’ve made a lot of extra orange.” It’s hard to mix a good, true orange.

“Sure,” Original Source said. “I love orange.”

“Cool,” I said, growing self-conscious as she scrutinized my cheap paintbrushes.

Lately, I’ve been painting sticks and other smooth surfaces. Furniture. Old wooden boxes. Broom handles. Sometimes, I follow the patterns in the wood. Other times, I find an image and sketch it on whatever recycled object is available. I feel a little guilty, but the truth is, I’m a copyist. A reconfigurist. What I add is imperfection, which turns out to be an oddly satisfying addition.

No one creates from emptiness. There’s always preexisting light, or former acts of creation, partially dismantled. Digested. Great artists translate and solve problems. I envy their inner vision. But even then, Original Source is present, sometimes made more salient by denial.

“Look,” I said, showing Original Source a picture of a trout I’d painted on a piece of discarded trim board. “I saw this fish on the internet and painted it. I call it fish stick.”

She laughed. Original Source laughed. She howled. Her mouth opened wide; her beautiful teeth gleamed. Her mouth was a river. The room filled with clear water and rainbow trout. They swam in adoring circles around her, and after I grew my gills and fins, I joined them. Original Source troubled the waters with ribbons of lavender light. I longed to grab them, but I had no hands. In fact, there wasn’t much left of me, and it was such a relief. I wanted to give the rest away. I offered myself to the fish.

“Oh no you don’t,” Original Source said, as the waters receded and the fish went home. My limbs regrew, my old body reassembled. The awkward mixture of secondary colors that define me returned. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to dissolve into a single, primary color. “Not an option,” she said. “Your complexity is my delight.”

I lifted my hands to protest, but she continued. “When I lean into your soul and whisper a secret, you naturally mix it with what you already know, and when you pass it on, it takes a fraction of you with it.”

“Well,” I said. “That seems like a bad idea.”

“Not necessarily,” she said. “It’s one of the ways the universe expands. Keep painting. Whisper the truth. There are so many reasons for violet. Chartreuse. Magenta. Glaucous and marengo. In time, you’ll learn to love them all.”

“I already do,” I said.

“Ok, then,” she said. “Let’s use up this orange before it dries.”