Another Ten Years

Last month marked ten years of writing posts and posting pictures here. In most ways this site has become my de facto artist website rather than a space to post observations and non-art stuff. Kind of lame, I know. But I’ve had a personal website (and domain) for almost 22 years and I have administered it in a lot of different ways. But at some point – particularly after getting deep into full time teaching – I decided to lay aside HTML and CSS and private hosting.

I still have all of those older versions of my websites. Sometimes I browse them from their resting places inside my hard drives. I think about the effort and consideration that went into them. Thankfully I never committed the Geocities and Angelfire design atrocities… maybe WordPress is just the more contemporary version of those gaudy old things, I don’t know.

I have not written much in 2019. It has been a hard, strange year – emotionally, professionally, physically.

Physically, I have been sick and run down a lot this year. The medications I take to manage my heart disease are rough, and they constrain my metabolism and energy level; I have fallen asleep without wanting to a number of times this year. Though I work out every single day, my endurance seems to be sliding lower and lower. Normally I teach a course or two over the summer, but the reality is that I know I couldn’t keep up with that at this point. There’s more to say… but I won’t.

Professionally, while I’m not sure exactly where my artwork is going, I have a good body of work underway and am getting it out for people to see. I was recently promoted to Full Teaching Professor, which is the terminal rank in the Teaching Line. It took nine years to achieve. I feel secure and thankful for Mizzou, but there are a lot of pressures that rest on the shoulders of professors in a time when Universities are trying to do more with less. As someone who understands the importance of mental and physical health, well, those pressures can be life-threatening. I know that being an educator is not just time spent with students. If it were, I think I’d generally feel much better. God knows that I am still encouraged by being in the classroom – each and every time.

Emotionally, I don’t think I am the same after the heart attack. My general affect, emotional intelligence, and responses were dulled significantly. After two years it seemed that I had returned to normal. But have I? In 2012 I had a pretty major crisis of faith – one that corresponded with the onset of depression. There were other factors during the period of time between 2012 and 2015… then 2016 came with the death of my sister and my cardiac arrest mere days later. There have been a number of other things in the 3 and half years since then that have made impacts as well. Perhaps I am being changed by the medications and the inertia of routines… At least I am getting joy from working on LEGOs with my kids.

So I haven’t been writing. Maybe more will come.

An Update on my February 2016 Resolution

Of the last 685 days (since my heart attack), I’ve worked out on 627 days, beginning the second week of April – those early months were light. I worked out exclusively under supervision by the Cardiac team at the University of Missouri Hospital. After 12 weeks of observed/monitored exercise, I was cleared for doing it on my own.

By September 2016 I tried to do a heavier workout every other day. In January of 2017 I began to do those workouts daily. I am up to 359 days (including today) of “full” work outs – 45 to 60 minutes of elevated heart rate and an average of 4.6 miles of walking/running. Maybe that doesn’t seem like much. Even to me it doesn’t seem like a lot… but when you factor in my medications and how they change my energy and recovery, as well as the time it takes to get to and from the gym, shower, coordinate schedules with my wife and kids and teaching… yeah, it’s a major commitment.

In the past when I was more of an athlete and worked out consistently (before we started a family), my endurance and strength were much higher than they are now. But I’ve always been prone to overuse injuries – both rotator cuffs have problems from those years in my late 20s/early 30s when I lifted weights. Now I work on weight machines for only a small portion of my workout and try to keep impact to a minimum. I generally cycle through squats at 80% of my body weight (I press between 180 and 210 lbs), pectoral presses at 120, 100, and 80 lbs, curls at 100, 90, and 80 lbs, abdominal crunches at 150, and tricep presses at 150 and 130 lbs. The most important part of this work out is the squat portion, since my hips, knees, and ankles are pretty weak and painful. I’ve definitely grown in strength, endurance, and bodily comfort over the last year. I feel better than I have in 5 or 6 years.

Most of my workout time is spent walking, running, biking, or using an elliptical (I cycle through the different exercises over a few days). I also do some rowing and stair stepping from time to time.

So what’s the point of sharing this? I don’t have any big triumphs. I’m not reaching my ideal weight. I’m not prepping for a marathon. I’d be one of the first to be cut down in the Zombie Apocalypse. I still struggle with eating right (though we are mostly vegetarian in our daily diet as a family). I still love beer and carbs. I’m not sure that all of this effort is really helping me physically. But I do feel my awareness of my self and my experiences of living are more present in my mind these days. I do think it makes a difference for my heart health. Beyond all of this, though, the time spent working out is time for reflection and thinking about what interests me. It’s personal time. It’s mental health time.

Now if I could only manage to sleep more…

One Year After

It has been a year since my heart attack. Since my cardiac arrest. Since the trauma I don’t remember and that my family saw. Since members of my family kept me alive until the EMTs arrived. Since the radical changes of diet and lifestyle. Since the shift in horizon.

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Three days before that I lost my big sister; a life of incredible value and service, gone. Two months afterward my estranged step-father died; a life wasted in self-concern and alcohol.

How would people have summed up my life one year later, if it ended that night?

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Since I didn’t go, I have to assess it myself. I know my life has been valuable. I know I have taken deep draughts of experience and thought. I have been astonished. I have been disappointed. I have known love and sacrifice. I have seen things that made me cry in sorrow and weep in happiness. I have tried and failed, then barely hoped and succeeded. I have yearned and yearned, in spite of cheesiness or irony. I have worked so hard and received so much through no merit of my own doing. I have believed and doubted. All through I have attempted to be honorable and careful, passionate and present. Sometimes I have succeeded.

img_0200I am SIMUL IUSTUS ET PECCATOR.

I am AGATHOKAKOLOGICAL.

I have tried to understand what it all means. I still don’t. But I think I have some sense of how it feels.

~

It feels a little like these songs (click the titles to listen):

 

At Last

I can say that I’ve lived here in honor and danger

But I’m just an animal and cannot explain a life

Down this chain of days I wish to stay among my people

Relation now means nothing, having chosen so defined

And if death should smell my breathing

As it pass beneath my window

Let it lead me trembling, trembling

I own every bell that tolls me.

 

Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Driving home I see those flooded fields

How can people not know what beauty this is?

I’ve taken it for granted my whole life

Since the day I was born.

Clouds hang on these curves like me

And I kneel to the wheel

Of the fox confessor (on splendid heels).

And he shames me from my seat

And on my guilty feet

I follow him in retreat…

What purpose in these deeds?

Oh fox confessor, please,

Who married me to these orphaned blues?

“It’s not for you to know, but for you to weep and wonder

When the death of your civilization precedes you.”

Will I ever see You again?

Will there be no one above me to put my faith in?

I flooded my sleeves as I drove home again.

 

A Widow’s Toast

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

The tears are warm, I feel them still.

They’ll heat to vapor and disperse

And cloud our eyes with weary glaze.

You raise your glass and may exclaim,

“I’ll put my hands on the truth, by God!”

But it’s faster, love, than you and me –

Faster than the speed of gravity.

That’s how it catches you from falling

And how it always, always, always slips away.

Specters move like pilot flames

Their widows toast at St. Angel.

Better times collide with now

And better times

And better times

Are coming still.

Neko knows what to say.

~

I find attention, clarity, and rightness in teaching. I find wonderful confusion in my art-making. I find solace and laughter in my wife. I find a strange wine of joy and frustration in my children. I feel both lost and found. I feel both at home (warm, in bed), and far away in the dark (clouds, wind). I’m in orbit around a great truth and yet my tether is strung out miles from safety.

Believe it or not, all of this is so much better than the 3 or 4 years before the heart attack.

I know that some would want me to declare something, some truth, some more faithful words, some thoughts that sound more spiritually centered. I’m sorry.

Today, I want to take the lessons – the cumulative astonishments of being – as they come. I want to have joy and camaraderie in my students. I want to be gentle and full of wonder with my children. I want to continue to cherish my wife. I want to be a better husband, father, son, brother, artist, teacher, mentor, helper, and friend.

No regrets. I have not loved every moment, but I have been given such grace and love. I’m thankful.

~

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Post-Heart Attack Drawings

My recent work, titled WHENEVERWHEN, is a series of abstractions. A few days after I awoke from my heart attack I began to make drawings; from then on I worked almost exclusively on the WHENEVERWHEN series. The first images I created are below. I made them laying in my old room in my mother’s house while convalescing. I worked on them within two weeks of my cardiac arrest. All are available at $75 each, unframed ($100 gets you one custom framed). Email me at mattballou(at) gmail (dot) com to purchase. Click to enlarge the works.

img_0734Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 9 by 8 inches, 2016. SOLD.

img_0733Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 7.5 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0732Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon, white-out, and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0731Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, crayon and marker on paper, 8 by 9 inches, 2016.

img_0730 Untitled WHENEVERWHEN drawing, collage, adhesive tape, ink, crayon and marker on paper, 10.25 by 9 inches, 2016.

Back To It

Last month, while I was in the hospital, my oldest daughter (Miranda Grace) wrote this note to me:

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Her Wording:

“DeAR DDAD’ I Hop you can mac it THRTHW UL UV TiHS DAy LOVe MiRANdA TO DAD”

Translation:

“Dear Dad, I hope you can make it through all of this day. Love, Miranda. To Dad.”

Man. A 5 year old shouldn’t have to think that, let alone write it. This note has been breaking my heart the last week or so. I don’t know where it was the previous weeks, but she pulled it out at a meal a few days ago and said she wrote it for me in the hospital (my wife confirmed this). I’m working on a painting of it now.

I’m pretty sad that Miranda and my other kiddos had to see me have a heart attack. I’m sad they had to see me in the hospital and very weak for the last 5 weeks. I’m thankful to have survived and thankful I’ve been able to grow stronger again. I’m slowly coming back. We’ve made huge changes in diet and everyday routine.

But tomorrow I’m going back to it. Back to teaching. Back to the Art Department. Back to grads and fellow faculty. Back to our awesome office staff. Back to demonstrating that making images, translating experiences, and providing points of access for others are important. These are activities that human beings have engaged in for many tens of thousands of years. No matter how much things change – shifting modes of communication, the weirdness of politics, the coming transhuman singularity, etc, et al – the need to create and speak across the gulfs between individuals will always be a key aspect of the human equation.

I’m glad to be getting back to all of that.

If you see me, make sure I’m taking it slow and easy, though.