I bought a microscope a few weeks ago. It has changed my world.
I’ve been trying to write an article on this topic for a few nights now, but I’m struggling with it. The truth is, I’m having a hard time describing in words what this experience has been like. It’s like trying to describe what it feels like to make art. And if you’re not artistic at all, then it’s impossible for you to really understand it. I’ve yet to read an essay or a book that describes it perfectly well. What I want to say is that I feel a sense of love – it feels the way one feels inside when one loves somebody. That strong sense of belonging, of curiosity, of caring.
I started a journey in early 2019 where I changed my presence in the online world, a world that isn’t even real for the most part. And I’ve made it a point to spend time in nature almost every day. That’s brought me comfort, peace and a new perspective on the world. But seeing the invisible part of the natural world up close is a whole other thing. It’s an experience of wonder on a grander scale than simple being around trees and water. It’s like visiting a new planet. And when you see something move for the first time, and you see that it has eyes and a beating heart and it propels itself in water with a tiny tail… And then you see single-cell organisms and minerals and fungi and algae. And you see the death of a creature as one of them devours another, right in front of your eyes. You see parts of butterfly wings and decomposed leaves. In a droplet of pond water, there’s a tiny little ecosystem and it goes on every day, all around us.
As you get older, it becomes harder to become exposed to new things. When I was younger, and I started hanging out with academics, I wondered why they’d constantly repeat themselves. Why is she constantly quoting Nietschze or why is he always listening to the same music? And then, I read an article about this phenomenon. We keep going back to the stuff we know simply because as we age, our exposure to new music, new books, new genres becomes more limited. We settle into habits and our time for discovery tends to become more sparse. Unless you’re a curious little asshole like me and you’re constantly looking for the next new obsession. Except, I wasn’t even looking for this. I just happened to be reading a book called Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn (highly recommend!) and after reading the first chapter, I placed an order on Amazon for a microscope. I just needed to see what he was talking about.
I guess the timing was right though. I’ve hit an artistic wall for the past few years. Haven’t been able to come up with new ideas or new concepts. The death of inspiration leaves you in mourning for a long, long time. I don’t think that feeling goes away until you find something new to kick you back into high gear. If an artist isn’t inspired, then, what is she? It’s like being without a sense of meaning, it’s terrifying and lonely. It’s a form of torture as every single day, you’re tossing and turning and just hoping that it returns. I’m longing to create again, my hands are burning and thankfully, with this microscope in hand, my heart is full again. I don’t even know how or what, and I don’t care about the why (never have). All I know is that there’s something really special about the world we can’t see with our eyes. And when you see it for the first time, it’s like holding on to a little secret for a while.
In a way, I guess that’s a good way to describe art-making: it’s the sharing of secrets, of the things we don’t say or the things we don’t see. It’s making life visible again. ‘Cause, sometimes we forget. Or sometimes we don’t know. And we make art to remind you. Or to show you new worlds that you’d never thought of discovering before. Or to show you make-belief worlds. Either way, we’re emotional translators. Because another thing happens when we grow up – we become set in our ways. Curiosity goes away, we become anxious or bored or tired. To me, art gives us a reason to look at life like children again. Children don’t ask ‘why’ or ‘why not’ when they see something cool. They just look at it, they’ll pull you into that direction, they’ll run towards it. They act on instinct. Much like the creatures I’m observing. This love that I have for them has taught me how to be young again. And that, I think, will inspire new work. Even if it doesn’t, it has taught me how to “see” again.