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thoughts on water

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I am the Captain of My Soul

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INVICTUS

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY

Out of the night that covers me,

       Black as the pit from pole to pole, 

I thank whatever gods may be 

      For my unconquerable soul. 

In the fell clutch of circumstance 

      I have not winced nor cried aloud. 

Under the bludgeonings of chance 

      My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 

      Looms but the Horror of the shade, 

And yet the menace of the years 

      Finds and shall find me unafraid. 

It matters not how strait the gate, 

      How charged with punishments the scroll, 

I am the master of my fate, 

      I am the captain of my soul. 

William Ernest Henley was a Scottish poet who faced no shortage of hardship in his life. He contracted tuberculosis of the bone at the age of twelve. Then when he was seventeen, his lower leg and foot had to be amputated because of the progression of the disease. In his early twenties he spent twenty months in the Royal Edinburgh Infirmary due to further complications, in which he almost lost his other leg, and during which he wrote Invictus and many other poems. He was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, and when Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, years later, he based the complex jovial character of Long John Silver on Henley. So, interestingly enough, many people know at least the last line in Henley’s poem, and almost everyone has at least heard of Long John Silver. I would argue that few people know that they both came from the same man and his incidental hardships in a Scottish hospital.

“Invictus” means “unconquerable” in Latin, and Henley certainly did have an unconquerable spirit in the face of his arbitrarily dealt life blows. Even in the face of death, his spirit seems unbowed. That indomitable spirit certainly made an impression on Lous Stevenson at least. And the thing that stands out most clearly to me is that this spirit is a clear choice he has made. And it’s a choice we can all make.

In the face of the terrible stormy seas of life and whatever turbulent and absurd waves fate throws our way, we can either choose to cower in fear, or we can choose to be the captains of our own souls.

For me this is a clear connection to the stars and the compass, which are featured in my art piece. When I make art, I don’t usually know where I’m going with it when I set out (ironically). In this case, I was hugely inspired by a chandelier I had seen on Pinterest from a celestial photoshoot, and, with time to kill and my sketchbook and pencil at the bar of my favorite coffee shop, I simply started sketching, first with the moon and stars garland, and then the compass emerged as well. Later I blended the line work with the watercolor and starry sky photograph as the background, and added the gold foil letters from Henley’s poem at the last minute on rather a whim. It simply felt like the two went together, just as well as the compass goes with the stars.

The stars and navigation are a truly remarkable thing, when you think about it. Because the stars, being fixed points in the sky, are what sailors and sea captains have used for most of human history to literally orient themselves and navigate to their destinations. But it’s not just literal. Our myths and stories have a long history of the idea of wishing on stars; essentially, metaphorically using the stars to orient ourselves and navigate to our metaphorical (or perhaps metaphysical) destinations.

Maybe the metaphorical use derives from the literal use in the first place. It’s a bit hard to say. Because the idea of light and stars as guides is so deeply embedded in human mythology that it’s hard to say which came first. Lucifer was the morning star, after all, God’s highest angel, and that tale is as old as time itself.

So, we mere mortals aim for the stars. We shoot for them, you might even say. Because the stars are the highest possible good we can conceive of. And perhaps because we have been using the stars to orient ourselves physically since the dawn of time too, so why not this too?

But there’s something else implied in this sort of navigation; this captaining of our own souls, and it is this: we get to choose the direction in which we sail. Metaphorically we are all captains of our souls, whether we take up that mantle with courage and forthrightness or not, it remains true. And that means that we choose the bearings. Or else we drift, aimless and lost, because the waters are constantly shifting beneath us either way.

So, in order not to drift aimlessly, in order to not run aground and destroy the ship, we choose our goals, and we use the stars and compass to navigate our way there. More than that though, we choose the spirit with which we follow those goals, in the face of inevitable dangers and even that horrific shade of certain death. In fact, it is the certainty of our own mortality that helps us to determine what we want to do with the precious few moments we have on this planet in the first place. So in a way, choosing a goal at all means metaphorically staring death in the face and proceeding anyways.

It’s a good reminder for us all, especially at the end of another January, when New Years resolutions made with bright eyed hope begin to look more like the arduous tasks of change they almost always are (at least the ones worth doing), that no matter how narrow the road in front of us, no matter how difficult the winds and the waters, no matter how strait the gate, we still get to choose our own destinations, and we get to choose the spirit with which we set sail.

May we all remember to be the masters of our own fates and the captains of our own souls.

Behind the scenes shot- Chai Tea Latte, Pinterest, and a sketchbook. Bliss.

Behind the scenes shot- Chai Tea Latte, Pinterest, and a sketchbook. Bliss.

The final pen and ink drawing that became the line work in this piece.

The final pen and ink drawing that became the line work in this piece.

Part of the watercolor piece that later integrated with an astrophotography photo to become the background for this piece.

Part of the watercolor piece that later integrated with an astrophotography photo to become the background for this piece.

Close up of the final piece.

Close up of the final piece.

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To support this blog, and to adorn your everyday life with this reminder to captain your own soul, visit my shop and get it on a pillow, travel mug, notebook, etc, here.

To support this blog and my artistic work in general, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon, here.

Love and light, creatives.

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Why a Starlight Journal?

So, I have a confession. I’ve never used a bullet journal before. Or rather, I didn’t use a bullet journal until I got the first proof copy of the Starlight Journal. Which rather begs the question, why did I make an illustrated bullet journal for myself? And the answer is a bit convoluted, to be honest. And it starts three years ago.

Three years ago I went through a mindset bootcamp program, of sorts, in an effort to figure out how the hell this thing called “adulting” works. I felt (like most people probably feel even still) that I had absolutely nothing under control, and didn’t know how to do anything. I had a job that I basically loved as a full time product photographer, but it didn’t pay me enough to even keep a budget. Because the math just could not work. There wasn’t enough. I was overdrafting my bank account regularly, trying to keep to a shoestring budget, and paying too much in rent and in debt repayment. I was single and lonely and I knew it was all wrapped up together, because who would want to even be with someone who was so much of a mess? I knew that something had to change but I had no idea what or how or where to start.

Enter something called the Dating Mindset Bootcamp, which was really not very much about dating and was very much about how to be in your best mindset for your best self. Going through the Bootcamp taught me for the first time about masculine and feminine energies and how we need to balance BOTH to have a good relationship with ourselves and therefore with others. If you have absolutely zero structure (masculine), then you are nothing but chaos (feminine), and while we do need some chaos to keep growing and to keep life interesting, too much of it is just as bad as too much structure and order.

The other thing I learned (or learned to see in a different light) was that I was waaaayyyyy chaotic. Like, the thing is that I am a pretty feminine person. I love dresses and frills and flowers. I love art and beauty and love. I’m obsessed with water, which is archetypically associated with the feminine in almost every single instance. I’m clearly very artistic and creative. I love arts, music, dance, and anything that flows. I’m terrible at time (which is very masculine), I’m SUPER emotional. One of my best friends astutely proclaimed one day on the phone that I “just feel almost everything profoundly,” and I think that’s 100% correct. It’s amazing some days and terrible other days, and it makes me very empathetic, loving, patient, and kind. All of these are good things. But being terrible at math (so, finances), and being terrible at knowing how time works, and having emotions so strong that they can take over my afternoon is often not so good.

I needed to build some structure into my life. I recognized that. Because structure is the masculine energy that holds space for and therefore protects the feminine flow and creativity. I had all of the creativity and flow, but it was a raging river with no banks, and I was drowning in it. I needed to build some banks to organize and contain and direct the flow. I needed some structure. So I set out to find some. I set out to find a planner to keep myself more organized... 

This is a long story, my friends, so I'm going to pause here for now. Stay tuned for the next blog post to read on!

(And in the meantime, since this story is such a throwback, enjoy this major throwback photo from when I went to visit my cousins in California. I had those flip flops in high school!)

jimmy buffet california ocean photo

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Why Underwater?

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” - Loren Einsley

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Water is magic, in a sense. It is literally life bringing, life sustaining, and -can be- life ending. Water is beauty, power, grace, flow, divinity, creation, destruction, patience, awesome, fearsome, the source of all life and the thing that sustains life as we know it here on earth. It is the key ingredient.

Because it is literally all these awe-inspiring things, it is easy to associate it with the divine, and to see it as magical and otherworldly.

It’s even easier to associate it with divine mysticism when we realize that the oceans are still mostly a deep, unknown, mystery. Dip beneath the waves and your vision is changed, your hearing is changed, your air is gone, and gravity and light behave differently. It is about as close to another world as we earthlings can physically get.

 

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It’s no small wonder then, that psychologically speaking, water is representative of the divine feminine- of chaos, creation, power, beauty, flow, and life. The parallels are so self evident that they are universal. Every human on any corner of the earth at any point in time inherently understands the power, magic, and divinity of water.

Perhaps because of this universality, or perhaps they are just to intrinsically linked to ever untangle which came first, but either way, psychologist Carl Jung identifies water as the collective universal subconscious. Water is the dream state. The unknown and unknowable but beautiful alien realm. And that’s no wonder either, since whether we are daydreaming of a day at the beach,  or fighting night terrors of floods in our basement, water is the stuff of dreams both wonderful and terrifying.

The subconscious is a place to sort out the things that we know but we don’t quite know we know, or don’t yet quite understand. Much like the process of making art, it is chaotic, mysterious, and when it’s wonderful, it flows magically.

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For all of these reasons (plus my own personal divine Moana-like calling to the sea), I cannot think of a better realm in which to explore my work than in the flowing, brilliant, mysterious, fantasy land of dreams, the subconscious, and the divine that is the underwater realm. A better marriage of subject matter and setting would be difficult even to dream up.

And besides, as everyone knows, if there’s magic on this earth, it is definitely contained in water.  

 

To support my creative journey into the waters of unknown and light, visit my Patreon. 

underwater photography magic

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