Simplicity and complexity: A piece hanging on the wall at sculptor Paula Castillo’s studio in Santa Fe.

The two entries below, a poem by Moramarco and a quote by Tom Robbins, were included in two separate posts on my favorite random access wisdom source, Whiskey River. But when I landed on the site this morning they both happened to shared the screen together. Intentional or not, these two are natural bedfellows.

For anyone who is a maker and pulls things into existence from who knows where, the states of mind described in both of these entries should sound familiar. They also perfectly mirror the questions my friend and former Yale art prof Susana would pose to any student who asked her if they should pursue a career in fine arts.

Hers is still the best litmus test I know, and it came in the form of two questions:

1. Can you imagine living your entire life in uncertainty? Of never knowing if your work is any good, of never really being able to get meaningful feedback from anyone else since you and you alone have to be your own measure of success or failure?

2. Can you imagine living your life knowing that at any point in time you could read something or see something that would force you to abandon everything you thought you believed?

Being willing to see the mental forms that inhabit the mind as migratory and transient—Moramarco’s poem is a direct hit. And as for failure, Robbins’ advice should be ensconced on every artist’s studio wall and read daily.

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees

Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?

If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are,
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.

If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.

But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.

How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.

–Federico Moramarco

So you think that you’re a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What’s wrong with that? In the first place, if you’ve any sense at all you must have learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a mediocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free.

–Tom Robbins