Self-Portrait with Machine, paper collage, 2021
My last post began with a statement, or rather, a realization, that came to me Saturday morning on waking:
It is not your job to acquire belongings; it is your job to figure out what belongs to you and create extensions of its light.
This was a wonderful thought to wake up to and one that I spent time reflecting on over the remainder of the weekend. What kept jumping out at me was the notion of “belonging”. The idea that we might go through life—many of us, our entire lives—driven by a false sense of what it means to have something “belong” to us. And that this need to have “belongings” is also somehow related to creativity. I had never made this connection before. It’s a provocative one, I think. And one I’d like to explore further. Here are some thoughts:
Firstly, it occurs to me one of the reasons we spend so much of our lives acquiring “things” in the way of wealth and possessions is that we have a fundamental need to feel something belongs to us. Just as Maslow suggests our basic psychological needs have both “higher” (inherently creative, moving toward higher values) and “lower” (ego-centered, stemming from a place of lack or need) forms of expression, I think it’s possible that our “belonging” need (not to be confused with Maslow’s “belongingness” need, which is different) has both higher and lower expressions. In its lower, decidedly ego-driven form, it manifests as a need to possess. To acquire. To accumulate, without even necessarily enjoying.
In its higher form, I would suggest that our belonging need manifests creatively. That when something “belongs to us” in a higher, non-ego-driven sense, it is not a possession but an extension of self. It is not to be coveted, strangled, consumed, acquired, or controlled. When something belongs to us in the highest sense, we love it in such a way that we want to increase its presence in the world. It is both ours and not ours. It flows through us and, in the process, becomes something new. In effect, we create extensions of its light, or essence.
An example: I believe nature belongs to me (and to all of us). It is at once mine and not mine. I cannot possess it. I cannot control it. But I can love it. And I can love it in such a way that I not only nurture it (i.e., by planting a garden, feeding birds, ensuring my yard is as safe and healthy for wildlife as possible), but also make artwork in its image. I photograph the birds, flowers, butterflies, and bees. I collage surreal landscapes and other nature-inspired scenes. I infuse natural imagery into my poetry in the hopes of transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.
This same logic, or ethos, can extend to any number of activities, ideas, and pursuits, in my opinion. The idea is that we are not driven to possess, but to pay it forward. To leave whatever belongs to us better than we found it. And that is inherently creative.
A final thought: if I am consumed by satisfying the lower “possession” need, I very much “belong to the world”. I constantly work to accumulate but never experience the innate, soulful satisfaction of having something “belong” to me in a higher sense. I am never the creator. But, if I am driven by the higher “belonging” need, I belong to the world, but the world also belongs to me. I am the creator of my own life.
The collage above, titled Self-Portrait with Machine, is one of my favorites from last year. Prints are available in my Etsy shop.