Instinct for Joy

Croci 1805 long

I came home from the gym at five this afternoon. The sun was still high in the winter sky but the shadows have already lengthened to cover much of the small garden outside my house. A shaft of sunshine shone on a drift of purple croci whose buds have loosened slightly. They will be open by  morning.

After putting my workout clothes in the drier, I started preparing dinner. A simple meal, by the time I finished eating it two hours had passed. My initial reaction was irritation and regret. I could have spent that time working on my photographs or writing or practicing the piano.

Then I thought back on the last two hours. I had washed lettuce and spun the leaves dry. I had sliced a ripe Roma tomato into neat red wedges. I had taken a zucchini and cut an inch-long piece into similarly sized pieces. A piece of creamy feta cheese, a handful of Kalamata olives, a dash of white balsamic vinegar and fragrant Italian extra-virgin olive oil. The salad was done.

Meanwhile I had pan-roasted an inch-thick slab of farm-raised salmon with scallion and garlic and steamed bright green broccoli flowerets and orange squash cubes in water. I had heated a cup of aromatic jasmine rice to mop up the juices in the pan and molded the rice unto the plate with a sprig of Italian parsley on the side.

Dinner was delicious! I had enjoyed every minute not only consuming but preparing the meal. This was no wasted time. Every minute had been a minute spent creating something and it was not just the dinner I had just eaten.

When I lived in New York City I spent every free moment I had visiting museums, attending plays and lectures, going to concerts and recitals that I could afford on my then meager income. I loved getting together with friends to discuss poets or cabaret singers or the new Filipino restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue. That was living immersed in the varied arts available only in a great city like New York.

I missed all that when I moved to Indianapolis. Here in the heartlands no one had heard of Cavafy or was interested in discussing Hesse’s novels. There were no ethnic neighborhoods. I had to drive the two hours to Cincinnati to eat Indian food!

I was depressed for several years until I started using my time to explore the surprisingly varied religious experiences available in the area. I spent weekends at a Benedictine monastery, St. Meinrad Archabbey, a few miles north of the Ohio River that divided the state from Kentucky. I spent time with new friends in Bloomington and Nashville discussing New Age spiritualities. I danced around bonfires with New Men redefining masculinities and sweated in makeshift lodges in the cold of winter while chanting Native American songs. I apprenticed myself at a Friends’ meeting in downtown Indianapolis and was assigned to teach yoga to the teenagers. I had found another way to waste time!

Ten years ago, on a trip with my sister to the American Southwest, I took a new Minolta 35 mm camera and discovered photography. I left that first camera in a restaurant on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. It was four years later that I bought my first Canon camera and started shooting again. I was hooked.

In 2007 I spent a vacation in New York City attending a weeklong workshop on film editing. I was seduced by the power of digital images that combined created a sense of movement, a sense of time passing, right there on my computer screen. The following year I decided to take a “sabbatical” from work and learn how to make digital movies.

That same month, May, I hired a young man from Bloomington to pose for me in a makeshift studio at my house. Kneeling on the floor, climbing on a stepladder to get overhead shots, twisting my body this way looking for another perspective to shoot, I realized I loved what I was doing! Instead of delving into video editing I found myself buying a more sophisticated Canon camera and shooting 60 more models!

Last year I decided I was not going back to work. I would live on what little money I had and keep working on improving my photographs. In the fall a nephew from a branch of my family that I had lost touch with came to visit me in Indianapolis. Jojo was living in New York City and spending his time painting in a one-room apartment in Queens. As he told me his story I resolved I would follow through with my own idea of shifting my photography work from shooting models and doing portraits to exploring artistic images using photographs as starting points.

Since then I’ve met another painter, a man a year older than Jojo who has been painting for five years. We met at the art museum where I had gone for a docent-led tour of Gauguin’s works in Brittany. Visiting his studio I was impressed with the paintings he had done but had not shown anyone else. At art shows around the state he has been exhibiting landscapes because his parents had told him landscapes sold. Now he wanted to broaden his field of work. Years of doubt were giving way to new light and clarity.

This obviously is a severely truncated story of my life meant to illustrate how life often goes in a spiral like the cycles of birth and rebirth that Hindus and Buddhists say is how the worlds come and go. I remember how in my final year in graduate school I took the summer off and took classes in British and American writers, the French symbolist movement and the philosophy of literature. I then went back and finished my degree.

Thirty years would pass before I would go back to those accidents of interest that surfaced that almost forgettable summer when errant sunlight lit up a figure in my psyche and it stayed there while I went on with another life.

Art for me is the creative aspect of a human being. It is called different names — music, visual art, architecture, dance, theater, film, cuisine, literature, religion, mythology, even science and philosophy. It springs in the dark fallows of a man or a woman bringing with it in the physicality of body, in its psychic representation in the mind, and in the heart which is another name for soul a feeling which for me is the real product of its prodigious activity – joy.

Art is the human instinct for joy.

“… And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Gospel of John 1:5


About orlando gustilo

Digital content producer, photographer, writer.
This entry was posted in creativity, culture, Food, Gardens and Nature, memoirs, philosophy, Photography, psychology, religion, spirituality, Writers and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Instinct for Joy

  1. ShimonZ says:

    Very much enjoyed reading of your experiences with enlightenment, and your path to joy. It sounds like you make good use of your time, though you speak of wasting. I regret that you haven’t published more of your photography. The description of your work with 60 models sounds fascinating, not to speak of your work with video (if I understood you correctly). Even the preparations for dinner, that you described at the beginning of this post, could have been a beautiful set of photographs.

    • orlando gustilo says:

      I meant “waste” as irony; it’s often in wasted time, the “fallow” (unpurposeful) times in our lives that we slip outside our box and connect with something unfamiliar (familiar=domestic, like ourselves, in witchcraft a witch’s animal friend/helper). I used shooting models to learn about camera settings, lighting and composition. While I shot a lot of photos, only a few were images I liked. Recently I embraced the idea of post-production since I shoot digital photos and this is the area that I find the most exciting. Having no background in visual arts I have been reading up on visual art, not just photography, and so far make the most profound connections with modern and contemporary art. I have not posted many of my images (as opposed to untouched photos) because I am still working my way to finding images that I can say, yes, this is my work! I am creating an online portfolio but the contents are tentative: I’ve finished a dozen or so videos but again they’re sophomoric and far from what I want to produce. I am very much still in the learning phase. Your idea of photographs of different stages or components of a meal is fantastic! I’ll have to work on that. When I am ready I want to create a blog with lots more images. Your comments have been very kind and constructive. Thank you.

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