That Old Moon

What I learned about the moon from painting it...

Earlier this year, I decided it would be cool to paint a really huge moon in watercolor-- so I found the biggest piece of watercolor paper I could and did it.  (I've decided to do a whole series on heavenly bodies because it was so much fun.) 

During the hours I spent painting, I thought a lot about the moon-- and read up a lot about the moon. I mean, the moon is basically the closest neighbor earth has-- it's completely familiar to us, and yet, completely alien at the same time. Always there, but sometimes hidden. Have you ever looked at the moon and re-registered the fact that the moon is basically just a huge rock floating around our earth, just like we're "falling" so to speak, around the sun?  What? 

There are so many interesting ways to consider the moon. Here are a few things I thought about while I was painting:

1. I realized that to paint the moon so it would look authentic, I needed to paint a lot of layers. I had to let a lot of things dry, but when I tried to go too fast, its surface didn't look real. And that makes sense-- the moon's current topography is the result of 4.5 billion years of erosion, collison, and elemental churning. And that also made me think that...

2. Culturally, the moon is a palimpsest of meaning. Everyone borrows the moon-- she's been written into myth and fable since people first learned to communicate.  She's a staple of almost every cultural and religious symbology on earth -- popping up in everything from nursery rhymes to complex religious doctrines. A lot of art has either been inspired by, or features the moon as its subject. Artists have used the moon to depict beauty, fertility, femininity, grace, constancy, strength, hope, and delight.   But the moon has also been depicted as the companion of those who weep, the lonely, the heartbroken. It has been tied to insanity (the word "Lunatic" comes from the Latin word for moon: luna), and shapeshifting (werewolves).  It's glow can throw the world into a startling, subtle, and uncanny light as easily as it can create a peaceful or romantic atmosphere. I've started to realize how much I unwittingly turn to the moon, especially in my songwriting.  

3. To reach her was one giant leap for mankind, but I don't think we've stopped reaching. There's something undeniably cool about the moon-- and I'm not just talking about the light. The surface of our own earth is so apt to erode and change, especially while we humans tear away at it, but it's somehow comforting for me to look up at the moon and realize that I'm seeing a calm and unchanged face that's been there for ages... literally. 

4. The moon isn't just a mirror for the sun's light, it's a mirror for us, one we have gazed upon and there beheld all of our aches and longings and loves and hopes reflected back to us in its chalky glow. Somehow, she gives us light, and catches, with grace and poise, every poetic dream or tragedy that we care to project on her. Maybe it's unhealthy to project onto an inanimate object, but maybe it's only human. Or maybe, at the end of the day (and most of the night ;) ), the moon is a great cosmic gift of love sent to watch over us and make this pale blue dot a little less lonely than it otherwise would be. 

Below are some of my favorite moon-related pieces of literature, song, and scripture. Have your own favorites? Add in the comments!

AND who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,    
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last: and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.

-DH Lawrence

The Moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It's always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it's a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. the moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections. -- Tahereh Mafi

If you want to write a song about the heart
Think about the moon before you start
Cause the heart will howl like a dog in the moonlight
And the heart can explode like a pistol on a June night

So if you want to write a song about the heart
And its ever-longing for a counterpart
Write a song about the moon

If you want to write a song about a face
That you really can't remember but you can't erase
Wash your hands in dreams and lightning
Cut off your hair and whatever is frightening
If you want to write a song about a face

If you want to write a song about the human race
Na na na na na na
Yeah yeah yeah

Write a song about the moon.

-Song about the MoonPaul Simon

"The Earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God." -- D&C 88:41 

“We must strive to be like the moon.' An old man in Kabati repeated this sentence often... the adage served to remind people to always be on their best behavior and to be good to others. [S]he said that people complain when there is too much sun and it gets unbearably hot, and also when it rains too much or when it is cold. But, no one grumbles when the moon shines. Everyone becomes happy and appreciates the moon in their own special way. Children watch their shadows and play in its light, people gather at the square to tell stories and dance through the night. A lot of happy things happen when the moon shines. These are some of the reasons why we should want to be like the moon.” 

-Ishmael Beah

There are too many to list, but here are some of my other favorite songs featuring the moon.

  • Crazy Game (Indigo Girls) 
  • Dancing in the Moonlight (King Harvest)
  • Claire De Lune (Debussy) 
  • Pink moon (Nick Drake) 
  • That Moon Song (Gregory Alan Isakov) 
  • Moon River (from Breakfast at Tiffany's) 
  • Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd-- the entire album)