It’s Personal – the Unique and the Universal

Lind drawing of unique individual surrounded by the universal others

As a Male of a Certain Age, I have come to know my urologist much better than I perhaps would prefer. As some symptoms gradually worsen, I’ve turned to recommended medications to, um, stem the tide, as it were (or actually maybe more the reverse). And I’m having a few side effects. Nothing serious, just a little . . . unnerving.

Problems like I’m having are very common in men over 50. Add another decade or two, and it’s nearly universal.

And yet . . .

It’s a very personal thing.

The Space of Paradox

I love dwelling in the space of paradox, of duality, of yes/and. Two seemingly opposite statements, both of which are completely true. And the intersection of personal and universal have been grabbing a great deal of my attention lately.

There are very few things I can experience that is entirely new to the human race. Being weightless in space is certainly still limited to a select few people. Only 35 people have SCUBA dived deeper than 800 feet down (thank you, Wikipedia). We could probably come up with a handful of other examples. But for the most part, whatever is happening to me has happened many, many times before.

Marriage, birth, cancer, aging. All of these are happening all the time around us.

But when it’s to me, when it’s this being, this body experiencing it, there’s nothing universal about it. For this body, it’s the first time in the history of the universe that I’ve fallen in love, or that I’m moving out of my family’s home, or the test results came back.

In these moments, for me there’s a narrowing in, a loss of connection with a larger picture. The universal disappears. My world is very tight, very boundaried. Whether it’s an ecstatic first. kiss or a terrifying fall, it has all my attention. It’s an experience of aliveness.

So in the urologist’s office, as some version of all this passed through my head, it brought me a sense of peace. Even a feeling of connection to an unbroken chain of men.

I am unique, and that’s universal.


This month’s images

As I wrote this, I pondered about what of Flame’s art to share. No piece specifically deals with what I’m talking about. But then it occurred to me – our patrons have a deep, personal connection to the works of Flame’s that they’ve chosen. The unique/universal duality is deeply imbedded in all art.

So this month, I want to explore some of Flame’s most popular pieces.

Happy Tree

Deciduous Magnolia on UVa Campus near Rotunda

This work has my favorite back-story. This was commissioned by a University of Virginia student as a Valentine present for his sweetheart. This tree is on the UVa campus, and they would meet on this bench and read Shel Silverstein. This was an intensely personal work for them, and is now for many, many UVa students and graduates. One of Flame’s more minimalist pieces, we are left with this tree (a deciduous magnolia) not as the center of the universe, but as the universe itself.

Black Cat Moon

Black cat against a full moon

Black cats and full moons are deeply archetypal in Western culture. One of Flame’s early Sculpted Paper pieces, the prints clearly pick up the three dimensionality of the original. And people with cats deeply respond to this. Even though their cats are gray, striped, tabby, ginger, people see something of their cat’s spirit in this piece.

Arbor Moon Dance

Romantic dryads dance in the moonlight

This to me is the most romantic of Flame’s works (although there are a few runners up). Two of Flame’s dryads dance, limbs intertwined, as the full moon rises over this fantasy floating island. This graceful piece, at once joyful and somehow somber, resonates for me as a beautiful symbol of our relationship. But however much it means to me personally, it’s clearly touched the hearts and lives of many, many people.

The Unique and The Universal

Lind drawing of unique individual surrounded by the universal others

For this month’s post, I asked Flame for a quick sketch of one person standing in front of the crowd. I challenged her to create something in 20 minutes or less, and here it is!


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