"What takes you to Seattle?" a friend asks. (These days it's all pleasure.) This is a city teeming with the energy of a new renaissance. As my plane lands, I jot this in my journal: "Green bosom, very wet. Seattle's definitely feminine."
"According to him, you are doing more than your fair share in helping straighten out the business world," a professor and business book author writes by way of introduction through a blogging buddy in his email note to me.
What exactly is the 'business world' anyway? I really can't tell. It's indistinguishable from the rest of the world. From life. From people. From the sacred.
How do I explain that I am spending more time watching the May flowers and kids playing at the playground than I do reading the Wall Street Journal or Business Week these days. And gaining far more inspiration.
The smell of cut grass, almost like wet dog, at Rainbow Park sparks ideas. The seven-and-eight-year-old boys kicking soccer balls. The Chinese girl jiggling furiously atop the see-saw-like contraption as her friend, in one seat, cries with glee. She is mistress of the cosmos, wrestling leela (1), balancing the tottering forces under her feet straddled across two ends just around the corner from Goddess Court (I kid you not).
So how do I explain that I'm not much reading business books for inspiration, rather this moment I'm reading classic literature like Emerson, Kerouac, Rilke. And I'm researching courtly love, neoPlatonism, the Italian Renaissance and the Reformation. Yesterday I delved into Michelangelo's deep and inspiring friendship with Vittoria Colonna and the movement of art away from being a trade where art production churned through an economy of patronage and commissions/endowments/contracts that often required artistic sacrifices ('You know St. Francis is our patron saint here, couldn't you include a cute dove and animals in this corner of the altarpiece?") towards art as a pure 'gift' from an artist acting as conduit for Inspiration.
Next time you visit the Sistine Chapel consider what Vittoria wrote Michelangelo in 1538:
I already knew that in everything you follow the doctrine of the Lord. I praise you for not painting for all the princes who ask you to do so but for confining yourself to a single work during your life as you have done.During the Renaissance everything was imbued with significance and divine beauty shone through in ordinary living moments. Heaven did not wait for the afterlife:
If medieval theology had removed God to a wholly transcendent sphere, to the Renaissance Platonists nature was permeated by life, divinity, and numinous mystery, a vital expression of the World Soul and the living powers of creation. In the words of Richard Tarnas, “The garden of the world was again enchanted, with magical powers and transcendent meaning implicit in every part of nature." - "Anima Mundi: Awakening the Soul of the World", Sufi Journal, Issue 67, Autumn 2005, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Renaissance was also a time of great wealth which is still evident in the architecture, cathedrals and pleasurable art of living in Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan. A well-rounded l'uomo universale was idealized so that wealthy patrons of the arts such as Isabella d'Este were also accomplished artists in their own right (she a lute-player).
Beauty, abundance, mystery, enchantment, innocence, presence, play, laughter, imagination and everyday erotica I predict will be burgeoning trends in the future. In my neck of the woods, Apple epitomizes a Renaissance company and has been lauded as a "corporate work of art."
"At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet." - Plato
Two Renaissance friends - one male, one female - both with a background of handling more monetary wealth than I've ever seen (think: venture capital, hedge funds) have enlightened me lately. One: "I don't understand why artists often insist on being poor. If anyone should understand the nature of, the source of, abundance it ought to be artists." And: "Sex and money, same thing. Same fear too: the dissolution of the self."
"Love is like a painter. The works of a good painter so charm men that, in contemplating them, they remain suspended, and sometimes to such an extent that it seems they have been put in an ecstasy and have been taken outside of themselves, and seem to forget themselves." - 15c Dominican preacher Girolamo Savonarola
I write privately: "You know I got to thinking about what you said about fear....that we fear the dissolution of self....but nothing dissolves, disappears, evaporates really, everything is thoroughly loved and embraced so that it is more like an expansion than dissolution. That's what it felt closest to when I realized something had uh, shifted? - I had expanded beyond any abstract imaginary mathematical circle I had always labelled 'Evelyn' and that expanseless expansion still had no end even when you are all of Self, all of It."
Will we be annihilated into blank black nothing non-being? A welling anxiety that philosophers term ontological anxiety rises and sits with us in that lurking question conscious or unconscious. That fear is the surface layer, an elaborate ruse to cover up guilt harbored that maybe, oh no, we're really Too Much.
Michelangelo had an ephipany when his friend Vittoria gave him a gift of poems she wrote for him. He confesses that his first impulse was to feel that he needed to reciprocate and make something to give her in return and thus introduce her unconditionally offered gift into an economy of exchange. Why is acceptance, receiving, Yes thank you very much, so hard? He writes to her of the breakthrough through his resistance:
The point of Michelangelo's letter is, however, to announce that he was able to overcome this resistance by invoking the parallel to divine grace. Through this parallel he understands that Vittoria's gift, like divine grace, is already given; it cannot be earned or paid for. To attempt to do so is to deny its unsolicited, gratuitous nature, and thus to resist it as a gift ("tenerla a disagio"). The idea is not far from ideas developed in more elaborate theological terms by Marcantonio Flaminio, coauthor of the Beneficio [a bestselling book of the period] and associate of Vittoria Colonna's. According to Flaminio, divine grace is already there, like the light of the sun. It is not up to the recipient to call it down; instead, it is a matter of not acting to reject it, not putting up an obstacle to the light. And it is faith that allows one to enact this double negative, to abstain from resisting the gift. In not accepting the gifts, in attempting to "buy time" in order first to make something so as to be worthy of them ("to receive them as little unworthily as possible, to make first something for you by my hand"), Michelangelo was in this sense putting up an obstacle to grace, resisting the prevenient claim of the gift. His enlightenment comes in realizing that he cannot actively take possession of them, because he is already possessed by them. Michelangelo expresses this reversal in an elegant transposition: "And I am sure, when I will have them, I will think myself in paradise, not because they are in my house but because I am in theirs." - "Gifts for Michelangelo and Vittoria", Art Bulletin, 12/1/1997, Alexander NagelThe abundant fertile spirit of the Renaissance is prevalent in one of my favorite places in Seattle, and perhaps one of the finest stores on the planet, Watson Kennedy. In their spring newsletter the l'uomo universale owner writes:
Yes, yes, YES, yEs! Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend.
If you have it, use it. Why wait to use that good silver from your grandmother. I can't think of anything cooler for a beach picnic than a well stocked picnic basket using your best china, silver, crysal and linens. Saving that Hermes throw for a special guest? It will make a perfect picnic blanket. If something breaks, so what. Every day is special.
(1) (Hinduism) Divine play or sport; the creation is often explained by the Vaishnavas as the leela of God, a conception that introduces elements of spontaneity and freedom into the universe.Some of my photos from Seattle: a floral shop in Pioneer Square right next to the enchanting Renaissance-embued The Globe Bookstore - where else can you get Dante and Machiavelli and Maughm and Wharton side by side? And a work of bubblegum street art on the large brick wall near Post Alley.