The greatest gift we can give to another person is the gift of our time, of us being fully present with them. All other gifts are “gifts” that mask and replace this one true gift and that are not gifts at all; rather, these other “gifts” are fetishistic objects given to avoid giving this greater gift of our time.
We have come to value immediacy and ease over duration and devotion. But we must remember that our daily actions, the way we live our lives, form our soul and become our being. The more quickly we live, the more quickly we die. We cannot escape this. And if we live in a hurry, we will make our art in a hurry. Walter Benjamin feared this more than he feared the speed of reproduction and the loss of the aura. The aura was lost because artists sped up their process, and by going faster and faster, artists lost their souls, and their work lost its true value.
We do not pray to be done with praying, we pray to be still. We do not make love to be done with making love. We make love to be with the one we are loving, not to be done with being with the one we are with. Each moment is eternity.
We create our lives in the daily actions of living and thinking. Choose wisely.
It is easy to send a text. Communication at the speed of light, or faster. The thoughtless words of a text require very little of our time and very little of our attention. Often, autofill to does much of the work for us. Emoticons replace the emotions of touch. Such ways for communicating has very little do with respect or truth, and nothing to do with being with the person we are texting. Words, emotions, desires, are reduced to acronyms.
There is a Japanese word, kotodama, which basically means word spirit. It refers to the original, divine spirit of a word, before the word enters the world of people using the word for their own purposes. In the old days, Japanese people believed that every word had its own spirit and power and deeply affected our sense of identity. In modern days, our lives have become so fast that we have lost consciousness about what we value. Even in our speech, we become careless, and sometimes use words merely to fill up a void. My basic belief in words is that there should be congruence between words and internal experiences. Not only the meaning that the word conveys, but also the sound to which the word is connected has power.
I wish to return those divine spirits to words. Rather than creating work or living a life that exists only to be consumed, I want to create gifts that are devoted to stopping time, to holding us near to a moment of breath.
My desire, not only as an artist, but also as a human being, is to disturb the modern sense of time, to undo the desire to be done doing something, to fight against our contemporary insistence on speed, of instant gratification and communication. We must resist the temptation to join the cult of the artist, the desire to be seen as an artist. Only the work matters.
Consuming is empty; it is why, if we put our faith in consuming, or structure our identity by consuming, we have no choice but to continue consuming; otherwise, our “I” disappears. We trap ourselves in an endless cycle of consumption for the sake of consumption. And such a prison, created by our daily actions, distracts us from discovering and creating new ways for being alive. There are miracles everywhere. We simply need to move slow enough to experience them. Once upon a time, Albert Einstein never said: "There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
All acts of consumption destroy time and destroy being present. And this desire to consume is akin to that of lust. One empty signifier endlessly chasing another empty signifier. Floating signifiers disappearing beneath a signature on a credit card. A shadow world. Smoke and mirrors. Jean Baudrillard smoking a pipe that was never a pipe to begin with. This is not a pipe. That is not a president. Simulacres et Simulation.
The more we give ourselves over to consumption, the less gifted we will be. But the very moment we stop consuming, we become awake to ourselves and to the world of creating a life.
Remember the physical and emotional effort it took to dial a rotary dial phone? We had to actually want to speak with the person we were calling. We had to know all the numbers of the person’s phone number. We memorized our partner’s phone number, our children’s phone numbers, our mother’s. People we loved—their phone numbers, their images—inhabited the grey matter of our brain. We did not relegate such “information” to external memory chips. (How many of us know our partner’s phone number?) And when we called someone, we were always careful while dialing the phone so that we would make a full rotation of the dial so that we did not have to start dialing over again. Our actions were not automated.
Then, answering machines invaded suburban homes. At first, those machines were used to answer calls while people were away from their houses, and thus were also away from their phones, because their phones stayed home, attached to a landline, while they (the people) went about living their lives away from their phones, but knowing if someone needed to contact them, they could leave a message. (The American philosopher Janis Joplin argued that freedom is just another word for: nothing left to lose; now, perhaps freedom means leaving your cellphone at home.)
Eventually, people began using answering machines as a way to screen their calls, as a way of not being at home even when they were at home, answering their phone only if the caller was someone they wanted to talk to.
Now, we are rarely, some people are never, away from our phones. (The creeps have won. And yet there are people who wonder how the people who have recently been elected got elected into these positions of power. People wonder how fake news is created and disseminated and believed. [Everywhere we go, we have a phone with us.] People “share” links rapidly without thinking, often without even reading beyond a headline, still people wonder how fake news exist. People “share” without reflecting and engaging, still they wonder. “Sharing” for the sake of getting people to "like" what they post, and all their "friends" will indeed, mindlessly, like what they post, because they are all of the same “mind”. Seriously. And yet people still wonder how an orange man has become president. Anyone can become president. This is true. After all, we live in America, not so much the land of the free, but the land of the comfortably numbed narcissist. So, yes, anyone can become president, but, one of my fears, is that not anyone can be president.)
When I was young, we had a rotary dial phone. My mother still has the same phone in her kitchen. 56 years. The same phone. How many iPhones have lasted 56 years? Ok, granted iPhones have not been around for that long, so here is a challenge: If you are, say, 33 years old, how many phones have you had in your life?
Now look in the mirror. Go ahead. Whisper aloud the number of phones you have owned and thrown away. Now cry. When I was young, I thought having a touchtone phone and an answering machine was a sign of wealth; now, I know it is a sign of evil. (Also, when I was young we had a newspaper that we paid for, magazines that we paid for. We did not expect news, knowledge, information, to be free. We thought that people writing news, providing insights, should be paid for producing knowledge and insight, the way I felt that I should be paid for my work as a garbage man.)
Years ago, I blew out my knees from running marathons. So now I can only hike. The same is true of the joints in my fingers. I basically have blown them out from writing so much. It is easier for me to type, and I can type much faster than I can write. And people can read my typewritten pages much more easily than they can read my handwriting.
So, when I write to a friend, a true friend, a real friend, I must slow down, so that my handwriting is legible. Even then, my handwriting is still a challenge to read. Friends used to complain about it when I wrote them letters, now they are more appreciative of it. They now know that I took a long time from my life to slow down enough to write to them and that while I was writing to them I was devoting time to being with them.
And then as they read my letter, they were devoting time in their life to being with me. The marks on the paper were marks of time, of body, of being together. Then the journey. The duration of the letter being sent from Lotus to Stuttgart or to Pittsburgh or to Hsinchu or to San Francisco. And the wonder of actually holding an envelope containing a letter that has made such a journey? Magical. And then you open the envelope and struggle with reading the script of the person’s handwriting. The struggle is part of the love. And the struggle with reading such a script is giving you more time to be with the person who sent you the letter.
A few years back, I wrote a letter to a woman who I knew was moving too fast, so I wrote in tiny tiny tiny script. And I wrote part of the letter in German. (This was to someone who did not read German.) I wanted to give her a different experience of time. I wanted to create a possibility of time being different. I wanted to be with her longer than for a fleeting moment.
If we value speed and instantaneous communication and instantaneous gratification, then we value tweeting over writing letters to each other. Imagine all that cannot be said in a tweet. Imagine all of what can slip into a handwritten letter. Imagine the beauty of an erasure, a nearly disappeared letter or word. (Not a Derridean erasure or a Percival Everett Erasure, but the traces of having erased. No word, no letter, can ever be truly erased once it has been written onto paper, and the little scar on the page of having attempted to erase a mistake is a gentle reminder that we are human after all. The delete key on your computer keyboard is an ahistorical demon wanting nothing to remain. No evidence. No half-formed thought.)
Imagine a shoebox under your bed filled with letters, instead of a folder on the screen of your laptop filled with typed documents. Imagine touching the words that your lover sent to you, knowing her hand rested on the paper you now hold in your hand, knowing she sealed the envelop, knowing this letter was carried to you from her.
‘Tis the season to be giving, not gifting. So give love as a gift. Replace “I love you” with “I love to you.” And give this love without any expectation. Give this with wonder, with the desire to see what the person you give your love to does with the love you give to them. Too often, we forget to let go of the idea of our self.
Every moment of living is a gift, we must be able to give and accept such gifts without clinging to them. If our intention in giving a gift is to bind another person to us, to put that person under an obligation, to exercise a hidden moral tyranny over that person’s soul, then in loving that person we are only actually loving our self. Nothing is more selfish than committing such an act of narcissism. So give, then watch what the person creates with the gift you have given.
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