Freeing Time by "Ferrell Beck"

Ferrell Beck is the pen name of an artist, writer and teacher living in New Mexico. Born in 1947, she received the BFA and MFA degrees in painting from Tulane University the University of Guanajuato in Mexico, respectively. For nearly thirty years she has taught studio art and lecture courses at five universities and colleges in the United States and Mexico. She has had fifteen solo exhibitions of her art, and is the recipient of numerous awards and grants. Her paintings are in several museum collections as well as in private and corporate collections. Beck also writes arts criticism and articles for regional and national publications, and has recently published a book of her essays on art.

My name is Ferrell Beck and I smoke marijuana. Who would believe it? I am a most ordinary 51-year-old, a mother of a well-adjusted and successful and tee-totaling daughter, the wife of a similarly abstemious artist-husband, a college teacher of some repute, and an artist with a long resume to prove my perseverance and accomplishments. I contradict any stereotype of a “slacker,” being punctual, efficient, active and highly motivated, and I dare say most of my friends, as well as my child, would be surprised or even shocked to know that mj is also my friend.

I don’t buy pot, don’t solicit it, and rarely use it. But when I have occasion to have a joint or two – once or twice a year, arriving from the most unexpected sources – I savor the experience and use it in a programmed way to enhance what I do as an artist.

Because my art, unlike the myths of unbridled self-expression born of angst, is heady stuff, dealing with a handful of themes: choice, chance and consequence; change and the process of change; and most important, relationships – causal, oppositional, complementary and paradoxical. These ideas feed on the high from the occasional mj experience, and are nourished by it.

The term high is the right one, since I use pot to open up, to connect with the realm of ideas, not to escape from anything but rather to escape to that mysterious place where ideas reside. I use it to brainstorm for an extended period of time, to clear away peripheral mental clutter, to locate the point of my work. Most of the time, I get something valuable from the process; on one occasion, I had a bona fide epiphany that changed my mind and life in a permanent way.

My routine is this: I plan to smoke on a day when I don’t expect any interruptions, when I don’t have any pressing responsibilities, and when nothing is expected of me. I would never drive under the influence, rarely go farther than the back yard, and don’t take care of normal day-to-day business while high. This is not a social activity for me, but a luxurious period of solitude and intense self-awareness. “Free” time. Scheduled free time. Time to think about anything which, for me, eliminates thinking about myself.

Mj releases me from self-consciousness, and at the same time, makes me attentive to how I feel – not emotionally, but on the level of muscles and impulses and cells. And thoughts, most of all.

So, I smoke a bit, then stretch, pace and think, take notes and jot down diagrams and sketches for artworks. If someone calls, they get an earful; otherwise, I smoke, pace, think and do whatever feels right at the moment. I might lie down and rest; I might do home-made t’ai chi; I might do a bit of manic housework; I might stay up late and watch Charlie Rose, compose a letter to the editor, make lists and more lists. If my husband is home, he leaves me alone although sometimes he’ll wait up for the late-night benefits of my heightened sensitivity. But he knows this is my time, between me and my head, and he respects it without understanding or envying it one bit.

Later, I’ll look at the evidence, sift through the notes and do a lot of editing: out go the silly, trite and obvious ideas, and I store the valuable ones in my cache of Things to Do. Transcribed into neat type, these scribbled jottings include ideas that may be developed into artworks or notes that may evolve into essays and eventual books. Notes like these – scribbled and barely legible, not typed and neatly centered on the clean page – serve as signposts and maps, revealing to me the direction of my work. It’s clear to me from the nature of my thinking – words like momentum, cause, arrows, plus signs and minus signs being the dominant and recurrent motifs – that, if the visual language of art weren’t my first language of expression and if I had a different temperament and background, I’d probably be a physicist or a theologian. As it is, I am, the ideas manifest themselves as signs and wheels, constructions and occasional pictorial paintings that explore these persistent themes.

In 1986, while doing my mj “thing” in relationship to a major multi-media exhibition I was working on, I experienced a true and lasting epiphany. I rarely talk about it, and have never mentioned the role of mj in this episode; I intend to fully explore this event in a future book of art-related essays titled Reflections, but I will summarize it here in case it is of value to this project.

I was preparing for an exhibit titled ONE WORLD: A SERIES OF MEDITATIONS that included eight “stations” of various media and themes: the show had a video component, maps, documentation, hand-made effigies of world leaders, an altar, etc. The intention of the piece was to invite people to a sequential “viewing:”/participatory experience that would prove that we function as One World, that we have individual responsibilities of attitude and action that determine outcome. In order to make this artwork, I had to be of two minds at once: thinking about the overall piece as Art with the critical detachment and decision-making that requires; and approaching each individual component in a spirit of total involvement and investment of mental and emotion purpose without think about Art. This is a difficult process, a back-and-forth of right/left brain, detachment/passion, etc., and is the process of deep creativity. At this point I give myself over to the work and am lost in it, and my focus is on that magical point where idea and form and intention coincide and resonate.

One night, standing at the kitchen island and making notes about an aspect of the piece that required me to make gifts, focusing very specifically on the object of the “gift-giving,” entering into a prayerful state of mind (and mildly high on mj), I had a sudden flash of insight, a moment so profound it was, in retrospect, like a lightning bolt or a power surge. I have tried to recapture the physical feeling: a downward surge, like heat, then – vaVOOM! – moving quickly back up? It’s hard to remember and hard to say.

But in that moment, unintended and unexpected, many things were revealed to me: something about the fallacy of the concept of zero, which I could never explain in words. An absolute knowing of “god”, instantaneous! A realization of my connection to everything. A sudden loss of fear. A sense of overwhelming peace, of the rightness of things and of my role in the big picture. Dramatic? You bet.

The next day I told a couple of my students that I thought I’d had a religious experience the night before, and they laughed; otherwise, I didn’t mention it, and I went about my daily routine seeing the world and my own organism in a profoundly new way, from a new perspective.

For a while, weeks and perhaps months, I felt very fragile and, at the same time, very powerful. I felt strong attractions to and from certain people; I sensed small children and babies turning their heads to look at me when I came into their view – much later I would think: as though they recognized something; an aura? I felt an enormous responsibility for every action no matter how small and went into an overzealous and annoying fit of recycling. I experienced numerous synchronic events. I had an innate sense of the intention of people and of inanimate objects like books and art, responding to positive and/or negative “vibes” which either drew me to them or physically repelled me. I relaxed when riding as a passenger in a car (I had always been a “white-knuckler”). I knew that I was a part of every living thing, of life itself, and that everything was okay.

These Ă”symptoms’ lasted for weeks and perhaps months, gradually decreasing and becoming more manageable. Within three months I suffered a debilitating though not life-threatening illness, a subject I also intend to write about more fully and which I’ve never been able to separate from the spiritual “zap.” (Perhaps I was so opened up to the world that my immune system was also wide open?) The changes in lifestyle required by the onset of illness, now chronic and mild, merged over time with the mental changes brought about by the “paradigm shift,” a term I only later learned.

Now, fourteen years later, every cell in my body is three times removed from this episode, yet I still experience the long-lasting effects of attitude and thinking. And while I don’t wish for another major breakthrough – way too demanding in a physical sense – I still use mj to open myself up to more subtle alignments in brain activity. For the type of work I do, and for the lifestyle I enjoy with its long periods of uninterrupted solitude, occasional use of mj is part of the creative process, part of my efficiency. Smoking pot is a private activity for me, and nobody else’s business. I share this information with you to counteract harmful myths about mj and to talk about the depths/heights of the creative process and the workings of the artful mind. I hope it’s of use to you.

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