Xu Bing, Phoenix, 2014*2015
I have seen Xu Bing's two phoenixes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine three times. They are huge soaring birds, suspended from the ceiling of the cathedral, and they are made of trash.
Trash soaring through a holy sky.
Now, I'm either old school or new age, but for me there are other holy spaces. Most likely landfills and garbage dumps are going to classify as holy with me. Some people say his work is about finding the humane in those who are thrown away as trash, discounted and marginalized. But I wrote about that recently in Odysseus and I don't want to write about it again, primarily because it makes me feel sad. [Full disclosure: I watched an old episode of The West Wing last night and I cried when they talked about the 17 year old gay kid who was stoned to death, naked, and then again when the homeless Korean War vet was buried and Toby (probably an HSP) flinched.]
Anyway, it's not such a great intuitive leap on my part to see these birds rising from the ashes of our trash. What is, however, a great leap is actually rising from ashes.
I've spent the last few years taking down some faulty foundations in my life, and that means having to rebuild some new ones. Am I building the new foundations differently, or is it the same old trash just in a new place?
I'm sure some of it is the same old trash, but maybe I'm using new mortar. Some pieces of me are never going to change, hard-wired, not my choice. That I am more aware of them and choose to embrace rather than hate on them now may mean I have new mortar: same product + new process = different result. Much like Xu Bing's work: same trash, new form, different result. How does one accomplish that?
I got a little Buddhist on myself. A couple months ago I decided to stop judging my feelings and the resulting decisions I made. I used to weigh every impulse and dwell on it: but is that the right thing to do? What will that mean? What will happen? Will I get the result I want if I do this thing I want to do because of how I feel? That's a pretty good way to end up living on a landfill made of your own trash: feeling responsible for things you can neither control nor predict, and winding up paralyzed by the fear of making a wrong move... implying that the very fact of who you are and how you feel may prevent you from getting what you want.
In the end, I remember the biggest mistake I made when I built those false foundations: I had thrown out myself. She was one of those one-eyed blinking dolls, half bald and half naked outside Mexico City. And I was not very different: one-eyed, half bald and freezing in New York City.
I don't think we can ever predict how someone else will react to our trash. But we can define how we treat who we are. Hold onto yourself, and you're already flying.