i’m drinking a tangerine Italian soda at 11:20 at night. the apartment is messier than usual. it doesn’t matter. there’s no good enough reason to be motivated to mind. it’s been one of those days. it’s gloomy out. nothing better to do than create things. supplies scattered around everywhere. computers. books. papers. i live here. fully live here. nobody is in my way. but i kind of wish there was.
there are those who would have you believe that doing this sort of thing makes you selfish. selfish to spend so much time on art, like you’re so important. selfish to write about yourself. no, selfish to not be writing about somebody else. talking about somebody else. existing as if you value everything else more so than what is inside you.
as if every other activity out there isn’t selfish. as if watching tv isn’t selfish. the person who assigns worth to something is yourself. the person who decides something isn’t worthy is you. but it feels like it’s everyone else who decides. decides that their meaningless and half-assed pursuits are somehow okay but yours isn’t.
am i supposed to just let the ideas die? what happened to the life of the mind. i literally have nothing better to do. i could make more money and work myself to death but i already have one job and i like it. i just don’t watch tv. i don’t want to. it’s boring. there i said it. it’s fucking boring. except when there’s company. when there’s company, it’s entertaining and enjoyable. that’s how i feel about it. maybe if i really loved alone time with my tv, i’d be too busy for art. it’s practically sacrilegious to say that out loud. i wouldn’t want tv gone forever. it’s just not what every person who exists on this planet is here to do with their time.
making art is not selfish and self-centered just by default. art is for others. as much as for the self, maybe more so. art is made with audience in mind. with communication in mind, however abstract. i use myself but i am not writing to me. I am writing to them. i am writing to you. i am writing for you. when i write, it is you i am thinking of. art is made because humanity desires it. humanity needs it. but i fail. like anyone i fail. so i keep doing it. i show up to fail. i hope the next time i will get it right. it takes a lifetime. but that’s okay. art is made to make the world a better place. a richer, more beautiful and more honest place. imagine a world entirely devoid of art. seriously.
you can be a megalomanic doing any sort of occupation in life. not just art. look at the world’s wealthiest people and how we admire them and excuse their flaws. and then look at poets. it’s REALLY damn hard to be an egotistical poet. maybe for a short time, but it likely wouldn’t be sustainable. poetry is humbling. nobody cares, at least in real life. “nobody” as in, society at large. in most cases it doesn’t pay because the world does not respect you enough to think that you deserve it. it’s even harder to please a crowd than in music, or visual art also. but these are all tricky occupations. you do it because you want to and you feel it is needed. you need it. others need it too and you know it. even if it doesn’t always seem like it, others need it.
you show up as your inadequate self. you may never quite match that pre-filled idea that someone else hopes, and you are passed up for better investments. you are rejected over and over, and in so many nuanced ways. and you show up.
you know that the rest sucks even more. the alternative fucking sucks. so you get up and you start again.
I took photographs of the long row of palm trees in the way off distance that we’d soon enough cross in the car.
The palm trees looked like fairy flowers, the kind you pick and blow wishes off when you’re a kid. Like dancers of all different heights, lined up in unison. Like the way your heart feels inside, when free of comparisons and worries.
I watched you as you talked, for the right moment to take a photograph.
The first lights of cars on the other side of the freeway began to flicker on. Dusk was not that near. Some must have been daylights auto-sensing impeding change, prematurely.
I focused on the line of your jaw. You looked handsome but I didn’t tell you. The landscape flat, the clouds thin, orange trees and wiry weeds to the sides.
I wanted to talk to you about music, but didn’t. I was tired of feeling stupid. I do it to myself, I guess I find others to confirm it.
Later, once we’d settled in to the cabin, once we were walking, the mood was about to shift.
I sensed the irritation when I lingered too long at the top of the hill. I love you, I thought. I’m sorry. I had to take more photographs.
I’ve never seen clouds like this in my life. It’s special, I’m sorry. My heart was sinking. I had to get the pictures. I tried to take them faster.
I recall the gorgeous picture of the palm tree in LA, the one you’d sent me in the very beginning, when we first met. Large imperfect leaves reaching into irregular directions that collectively balanced out into an odd symmetry.
Not a banal snapshot; it captured a wildness. It wasn’t about the tree – it was the way you had framed it in the shot. Your style of looking. You get it. You were speaking my exact language. I thought “this is my man.”
I don’t know if it was on purpose or an accident, the innate sense of choice. What’s called an eye. Or maybe not even that – maybe you just understood how to capture a feeling.
“Why can’t you catch the next flight, I’ll pay for it” in a smile I could hear over the phone.
I don’t know if that was the real you, or if this is.
We have different sides of ourselves. I guess I held the sides of you, that you’d rather disown. I held them along with the rest of you, with all of you, or I tried so hard to, but from your point of view, maybe, there was only one side to be on.
It just, wasn’t mine.
Artists are immature. Artists just need to grow up. It’s just, not very adult.
I didn’t understand.
It was all a mistake, a misunderstanding.
I focused the shot on your silhouette in the light. Beautiful.
Hurry up, I told myself.
Rain. Blue-grey-violet light filling the room. It’s late, 10:45 am. Waking to dreams of the one I’d loved the most until finally many years later I didn’t – not that same way, pointing at a studio apartment for rent in the paper. A large hexagon shaped space with beige floors in the photo, possibly carpet but nice, facing the street through bay windows. I wanted to live there instead of him, could I – but hadn’t I already? The thought makes me feel a bit sick. Something bad happened there? Can’t remember. Many years ago, yesterday. Being alone, wine, my computer, music, emails and IM, that’s it. Scribbling in my journal in red and purple ink in bed, at my green desk covered in scraps of paper, notes, purple orchids and pots, flipping through thousands of photographs taken traveling and academic papers, lost in a foreign history of my own. Plants, tall stacks of drafts, paintings beautiful amidst abstract misery and desperation. Had I really lived there? Or just imagined it? The memory makes me ill. Did I just make it up, the feeling? The place?
Now staring into asphalt and a partly cloudy sky, intermittent city trees, standing in the street, waiting. Forever. Where is my friend? We’re going to eat some sort of special bread from the bakery, a sweet bread or something? As the sun falls hours later she finally shows, separating from a group of people I don’t recognize, surprised when I bring it up as if she’d never really intended to go.
Another fuzzy event I can’t recall, another one putting me off for some unidentifiable reason too. So out of character for her, I don’t understand. There was no one to be with.
Sitting outside on the sidewalk uncertain of what to do now. Nobody around. The air is fresh and bright. There must have been a porch there, or some stairs, then a book appears in my hand. I open its nearly eight by ten cover and skim. 50 or so pages, with illustrations. Joy. It was about joy. This was written by a friend, a pianist, he’d given this to me. No longer conscious of the street, completely absorbed in its lyrical writing and sparse, minimalistic line drawings lightly watercolored until an elation grows and spreads too immensely to look down any longer, too much to process any more information mentally. I close it to feel its weight in my hands instead and look up lifting up into the air like years before, planes floating off a runway above shapes shrinking and tightening viewed through tiny windows. So happy. Magical. Then I’m here. Rain. Blue-grey light filling the room. It’s late, 10:45 am. Curtains. Oakland in the window. My room. No one’s around.
Were all of those people trades for someone I really want to be with today? Not sure I care what it means but it resonates for a few minutes.
Shaking off these dreams I get up to go out to the cafe. The significance doesn’t feel so important, but I’m pretty sure I know why I’m remembering them so readily. Vacation – no work for two weeks. Whenever there’s more space, when more time is sensed and freedom and days ahead open, the volume of dreams I remember increases and changes: popcorn strings of memories like momentary portals into a higher consciousness about these experiences, mixed with creative currents more otherworldly and imaginative, like being inside of a hidden universe that rarely reveals, suppressed by routine realities. Routines both necessary and destructive. I used to take them too seriously. And now I just don’t believe that I have to anymore. Everything in my spirit won’t even let me anymore; it’s over. My own way of seeing and being wakes up and takes priority and the space just has to be made for it, or it’s like I’ll just die.
This is the thing that may not make sense from the outside but it’s been said before many times over that a certain type of artist – perhaps so-called “real” artists – create because they have to. We have to. Maybe this is not true of all artists but in my own experience the choice has been to create, or to suffer a progressive downward spiral into an internal hell, self-imprisoned. I’m fine to coast for a while but finally these become my two options and for others who are like me I wouldn’t doubt them to feel just as lost and miserable without creating. Not that creating functions as a universal remedy for bad feelings – that would be silly. For me though feeling bad and not creating would be an even worse if not dangerous condition than feeling bad and creating. I didn’t desire this aspect of an artist’s life to be true of myself and I thought the idea sounded corny and overdramatic when I read about it in Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet,” at nineteen. Coincidentally it was the only idea from the book I never forgot: write if you must write, if your need for writing is as though your life depended upon it. I was too young then to understand these words more comprehensively, but cross the age of 30 when the focus of your generation suddenly becomes status and success and power and out of nowhere you feel like a complete loser. Your dreams of being an artist or writer become even more naive and irresponsible and idealistic than when you were nineteen. They’re beyond merely objectionable now, if not borderline reprehensible in a way they weren’t before. Those benign impractical fantasies of young adulthood suddenly become things you could actually harm yourself with.
Was it Henry Miller who pointed out something like anyone can be an artist — until the age of 35? This is not the same thing as declaring an intention to go into teaching or law or nursing or politics or business. Creative ambitions might be treated as a curiosity or a bit of fun at best, but taken less and less seriously as time progresses. It’s especially challenging for those choosing to abandon their former career path, to pursue art no longer as a hobby but as a primary occupation. Are you published? No. Do you have a professional website? No. Business card? No. Portfolio? Not in any organized fashion, not yet. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet the unsatisfactory answer to every question. Some start early, going ahead despite the odds to establish a position for themselves in the creative arts, publicly – others like me punish themselves for years first instead. Just for inevitably being who you are despite every attempt to be something else, yet not quite understanding why you just can’t fit in to the occupations or places you’ve wandered into for safety and security. By the time you finally come out of it to recognize what the trouble really is and you’ve already spent your money on degrees in other fields for other careers, who will indulge your grandiose aspirations now at this point? But if you find that this is something you have to do – and you know this to be true of yourself because of the consequences you’ve experienced in avoiding this truth for your entire life, then the choice is clear. Whether or not you’re any good at what you create at this point, whether or not you have everything you need for success in place, it ceases to matter. You’ve worked your way to the top in places you didn’t even want to be, simply by showing up and working hard. If you have to start at the bottom all over again, it will be worth it. And how long will it take, exactly, to get to somewhere in the middle, if you even dare to imagine you could? This ceases to matter also. You’re tired of pretending, of lying. You don’t think about the people who would criticize you as much anymore, or the what ifs, or the opportunities you’ve turned down or run away from in the past. You think about what you need to do to make it happen.
I don’t feel sorry for myself or for those in my shoes. I feel for those who are like me but still unable to create for whatever reason. I know these people are out there so when somebody says they’re an artist, I tend to believe them no matter their current occupation or lifestyle or hobbies.
Two weeks of taking pictures and assembling them, drawing, writing, cups of tea and coffee, sleeping, planning, going to the gym, seeing friends. I pour cream into my coffee as I only do in cafes – anywhere else, it’s black. It’s noisy in here, there’s nowhere to sit comfortably. Each conversation this morning is too loud and too much as I move from table to table seeking a place where I can think. Think and write. I’ve been desperately needing solace from these crowds. Yet appreciate an unexpected sense of relief in this scene too, full of friends telling stories rather than singles with their devices. I settle in near the speakers, faint music, not overbearing mainstream sounds like they often play but sounds with real feeling, though not especially edgy. I realize I’ve forgotten to put in earrings this morning, which I’ve been wearing since I was three months old. It feels oddly troubling.
My mind and body are glowing, not in a physical sense. Something else. I remember all the other times like this. I remember the soft sunshine and the libraries and the roses in the window and the moped and the kissing and the airports and the poems scribbled out for fun with no concern for editing and the smells of cattle in foreign places and the miles and miles of road and ancient redwoods and the river. I remember the intense dreams. Stories of living life as art.
You’re free today. You have two weeks. Sit down. It’s been a while since I’ve written, instead relishing the easy relief from words I enjoy so much in working with images. Writing is so exposing, really so scary. It doesn’t matter. Text messages pop up, you ignore them for now.
Go write. I’m dying to write now. It doesn’t matter how it turns out, doesn’t matter if it’s good writing or bad, doesn’t matter if it’s real art.
Stop being insane. Claiming to be an artist doesn’t make you an artist. Wanna come over and sit on my couch? Bring me some booze. Don’t be stupid, bring booze here and let’s figure out what’s up with you
You’re a joke
Bring bass and bulleit and you can suck my cock on it!!! my cock? There might be a hole in the back of your head when I’m done
Look bring good booze. My demon is angry and I want to play the guitar
So suck it the fuck up and obey
Listen lady bring bulleit and a gun
Booze or whatever
I got a song for you
Look I need booze and shit now
Booze and apathy. I know you got one you ugly bitch respond. Unless you like it real lolololol
I got you a new bulb that I think will fit the lamp
I think I’m just gonna delete your shit