Intermissions For Thought Police (Lockdown Journals I, II) –


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Invitation

I wrote most of this in May. It started as a personal journal or narrative type post I didn’t have the courage to publish, that morphed into a type of essay, and then a collage of perspectives of sorts. Centered around the same theme, in fivish parts. I decided the many reservations I had about tackling such a big and polarizing topic and sharing it specifically here, were beside the point. Writing isn’t for just giving all the answers, it’s for voicing questions and understanding them better. This includes challenging certain ideologies, as well as articulating their influence.

Writing is also not just for aesthetics, but for sorting through confusion to find some sense. I wanted clarity on the many ideas and feelings, and comfort on different aspects of the self reacting to a collective crisis. I also wanted a place to be sad and angry and not have to feel guilty about it. There was no better friend than the page at times. Though the page can never replace true love lost or a life grieved, it is such a kind place to land at first (– at least until it’s time to edit). A place to be understood, to be heard, in abstract or tangible ways. That’s what’s so beautiful about the writing process. The page hears you through phases of relative silence–or conversely through too much noise–and so do others in future who read and enjoy it. And in writing, you hear others too. You listen, to talk. Since we know that language doesn’t come out of a vacuum but out of a culture. We’re each another vessel for it, so only from there can we build or create, and if we do, we serve, we don’t just take. Even if that’s not the intention. It just happens. It feels important to start some kind of conversation in the world, even if hardly anyone reads it.

“Political” isn’t the right word for the places this topic goes. They are politically related, but I was thinking more philosophically in a way–although that’s not the right word either. Thinking civically, perhaps. What do we really value? How do we want to live? What do we want to pride ourselves on? What does it mean to be united? How connected or disconnected, are we? Why does it matter? And, in what ways exactly are we responsible for the welfare of others?

So I’ll say that this project is not political at its core, but civic. Even though it’s hard to escape that word political, since it’s surely unavoidable in engaging civic discourse. I’m disinclined to mix this topic in with other creative work. But I’m not sure where else to put this writing, other than a blog conceived to hold difficult ideas or forms, experiments and misfits from the start. And so I hold true to that. I don’t really like the idea, anyway, that art should somehow remain distinct and above political concerns to maintain its dignity and integrity, and its grace. On the other hand, I understand the problem with political discourse is the risk that it is alienating.

The goal is not to piss people off even more than they already are. If you don’t have the stomach for such discourse at all on an art blog and would rather be spared, you could skip Part III – Part V. Or even just only read Part II “Grandma,” and forget the rest. I wouldn’t blame you.

Why not? Cause there’s a lot more to life than what’s made the news, a lot more to life than what’s on current popular radar at any given time. I’d like to think that an artist’s primary objective is to remind us of that. Then again, that’s kind of why I wrote this. I was moved to stomach it — the more unpalatable aspects of the already terrible — in writing — in sharing — in no small part, to be able to just move on.

December 12 – December 27, 2020

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Part I

BAD THOUGHTS

Another person in the house just left.  I have the place to myself now.  It’s Friday night. Which has hardly any meaning now, but I wish it to. I want to at least pretend it does.

I scoop rice into a bowl, then pour a turkey chili into it I just made from scratch. To eat another dinner alone, another homemade meal alone.  I find roast dinners hardest to eat alone, although it didn’t always bother me so much.  I fantasize the day I will share these meals. I miss my boyfriend who works a million hours, while I complain to a blank white page and try to prevent from panicking.

Typically I would enjoy the silence and space of an empty house, not now.  I am not up for it.  I am thinking all the things you’re not supposed to say out loud. I am weary of isolation. I am weary of the house.  The whole #togetheralone concept does not pep me up or console me at all.  I am insulted.  I want them to stop trying to make this look good.  It doesn’t even need to be dressed up and sold to us in a fancy package.  It is what it is.  We’re doing this whether we like it or not anyway, and few even raised a fuss about it at first, at least not in public, since staying home was the right thing to do.  Though for how long, sparks a greater debate.

For weeks I was envious of those who lived alone as I negotiated space with multiple roommates; then became grateful for the company; now find myself envious of those who live with just a partner.  Things make sense one minute then fall apart the next.  Deeper things too that need to change bubble up to the surface amidst an inventory of life as it was.  How odd that so many who are still working seem to be working harder than ever, while the rest of us don’t work at all; as such there seems to be a rift in understanding.  Like everyone else in my shoes I sit at home with unstructured time, and a list of projects I struggle to pursue in the face of anxiety.  I am occupied, I am lucky, I am very privileged to have this time, I do not deny that I have benefited in some ways, yet I feel unsafe.

This is quite different for those who kept their jobs versus those who didn’t.  It is just a whole different reality.  I’m not sure there is much sympathy for those who give it all up for an unknown or indefinite period of time, suppressing incomes and livelihoods to just hope that our jobs come back later.  Or like, recognition that we even did and do so.  Because we give up more than just money.  It is not all about money, actually, as temporary government action helps to fill in the financial gaps.  We give up our security, our stability, the future we’ve built for ourselves and have been counting on, we put it all at risk.  If you dare complain about the situation, people call you selfish.  They dismiss you and your feelings.  Or write you off as a “Trump supporter” which is a completely irrational leap in logic.  But it is just as selfish to expect a generation and a half to endure a second financial crisis in a lifetime, and not feel upset about it.  It is just as selfish in this situation to demand other people reflect one’s own ideas, beliefs, values or agendas unquestioned or else we disrespect their intelligence and their humanity.  In the name of carrying out whatever we personally feel is the greater good for the greatest amount of people, we’ve become rather aggressive and inhumane toward any sort of debate that doesn’t serve our own ideology.

As certain leaders, journalists, experts, professors, and other professionals dismiss the effects of the shut down as a mere inconvenience to be endured, some in a shaming tone no less, they fail to read their insult and comprehend that for so many, this is way beyond a temporary lifestyle disruption.  A livelihood is not a “convenience”; surely we can understand it is far more than a convenience – but perhaps it takes someone who still has their job to make such a statement.  On that note, it is in fact convenient indeed for one who has, to insist that another have not.

I might use a word as modest as “inconvenienced” in certain cases, yes, perhaps for those who keep their jobs (excepting health care workers), or who are able to work from home, or who are retired, and can not access or enjoy the usual amenities or the company of others.  But for those who lose their job and perhaps risk it for good, who may risk severe income or benefit reductions over a number of years, who prepare to potentially change their whole life path and start over in a new direction, who may watch buying power shift evermore to the top 10% of earners, who risk never quite catching up at the ultimate expense of their own health and wellness, I hear things among us like “our lives are forever changed.”  I hope that’s not true.  But for many of us right now this may not be so temporary, as many presume.  Even if we are lucky enough to return to work as we left it, this is a game-changer of our entire perspectives.  Anything could happen, especially in the next two years.  Anything.  Many of us are not going to forget that so easily.

I hope it’s not true.  I really hope it’s just a fear.

May 16, 2020

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Part II

GRANDMA

Friends can be like family, but it is also not quite the same thing.  I find myself thinking about my mother, and other people’s mothers.  I know the multitude of reasons why I didn’t have a family of my own, which is why I have this lifestyle now.  To begin with, my childhood family story is a bit of a riot.  I still turned out ok, but there are consequences to such a story that take a long time to escape.

I have two wonderful grandmothers who are still alive today so I’m very lucky in that way.  When I was a teenager I think, a younger teenager, I remember visiting one of my  grandmothers.  I walked in to the big kitchen and felt nervous being there.  She said, “Would you like a tuna sandwich, honey?” Her voice so calm and tone so sweet but I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know if I was hungry.  I probably was but couldn’t be sure.  I didn’t want to disappoint her.  I didn’t want to make her make me the sandwich, but maybe she wanted me to eat it.  I didn’t know.

“Ok.”  I agreed to the sandwich.  So I sat down on the long polished wood bench at the gigantic kitchen table made of the same polished wood and I stared at the colorful woven oval placemats and felt awkward.  The dining room table was even larger and it had its very own room.  The silverware solid, heavy, shiny.  When she set down the clear plastic plate with the swirly designs popping from its surface in front of me, something about the experience felt alien.  I think I was supposed to feel comforted.  The sandwich looked cute on the plate.  Fluffy.   Carefully centered.  Placed so as to avoid crushing the bread or patting down the mini peaks and valleys of tuna salad, so that the whole thing puffed up and out a little.  Grandma knew how to make it special.  How to make something so simple look like it had a personality.  I stared at it, and I didn’t understand something but I wasn’t sure what.  I ate it amid a mixture of odd and uncomfortable feelings.  I ate it; even though I am not so wild about lots of mayonnaise, tuna was still a favorite.

I wasn’t feeling that great though.  I think I was supposed to feel at home.  But I didn’t.  I felt bad.  The adult word for that feeling is guilty.  Grandma was doing all this, for me.  Grandma works so hard all the time, for everyone.  But I didn’t know that I deserved to be cared for.  I actually did not know.

She’d have to do the dishes, I thought, so maybe I should do them instead.  But there are a lot of dishes over there, from some other meal.  Should I do all of those?  I do not know what to do as I sit eating my sandwich.  I want to be a good kid.  But I am tired, so tired.  So tired.

Grandma’s beds so poofy like white and beige clouds I don’t know what will happen if I try to sleep in one, would I sink in too much and feel weird.  Anyway, nobody should be sleeping right now.  I shouldn’t fall asleep on the couch.  I shouldn’t be rude.

There is a concept of what family is “supposed to be” like, in a general sense of at least meeting and maintaining a certain standard.   If your concept of family is warped by tragedy, your concept of love may also be warped for a while.  For a while, but not necessarily forever.   Old wounds can heal.  Other people teach us things beyond the scope of the original family.

Ideas start changing, shifting, and feelings also.  Occasionally in leaps.  You might’ve managed essentially alone for a very long time, in the same way you’d always done because you did not know any different.  Until you do not want it to be that way anymore.  And know that it doesn’t have to be, and it won’t be.  Change might be too scary to welcome without a fight, but it finds you anyway because that is what is supposed to happen.  Especially if that’s exactly what you aim for.

I do not blame my mother, with whom I grew up, for the flaws she found impossible to overcome.  The alcohol, the violence, the homelessness, the intermittent chaos.  While she is accountable for certain things, I do not blame her for anything I could not do now, either, as the present is what I am accountable for.  I was the oldest child and things were harder to hide from me.  I do not know what it is like to be my mother.  Despite everything, she did give me gifts for which I am grateful, many of them unintended gifts.  Just because someone does not know how to love properly, or “normally,” does not necessarily mean that they don’t love.  Just because we do not get what we want from someone, does not mean that we should look down on them, nail them to the cross.  Even when it feels needed, it’s probably not even worth it.

Writing and reflecting about Grandma, her house, her homemaking, I realize I feel a different emotion than the way this whole situation has made me feel, even a different emotion than the way I used to feel during some of our visits.  Comforted. 

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Everyone is dealing with this crisis in their own way.  Some people want to be alone.  But we have to keep in mind that others need us too.

We must keep in mind that it is one thing to say to someone that you are there, but it is another thing to actually be there.

It is also another thing to genuinely want to be there, but truly not be able to.  And this is really felt, or not felt.

Who is present?

Who is listening to us?

Who is holding us dear, in a crisis?

And who are we holding dear?  I recall some wise words Dad had shared.  He said, “Somebody told me once.  You know what, man?  If you want a friend, BE a friend.”

Connection is probably more important than ever, and we probably ought to insist on it above and beyond all else in whatever way we can accomplish it.  Even as I too struggle to live up to my own ideals.

May 16 – May 17, 2020

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(To Be Continued)

Night Water

 

–Thoughts from October.  I dig up this saved draft I’d hesitated to share but now it’s wrapping its arms around a sleepless night and my travel bug, that escapist impulse to jump in a car, on a plane, a train, a boat, anything–

All that really needs to escape is that toxic tendency toward self-censorship.

Writing is still elusive.  Writing is hard, unforgiving in a way at times.  Writing involves so much organization, I often can’t even handle it without also making visual art.  Words have felt like pressure cookers, images like rivers.  Images like relief.

It’s said that words, language, are limited and inadequate – but which mode of expression isn’t?

Images aren’t enough either, as enamored as we are of them.  There’s things that pictures just can’t do, can’t show the same way.  Pictures can not take the place of words.  So then it’s the writing that happens by surprise in the midst of creating art.  Writing is the relief.  Out of a sudden desperation, exasperation that  can’t be expressed immediately enough without switching mediums, turning to words.

Images and words have never been separate to me.  Two sides of the same coin.

There’s the times none of it seems to satisfy – images, words, whatever.  The moment’s raw and the only thing to do is keep going.  With the current project, with any project.  Whatever’s in front of you.  The medium hardly makes much of a difference.  It might make you feel better, or just more like crap but you don’t stop.  I feel strangely serene now in the face of intensity when it’s there.  Its presence doesn’t scare me as it once did.  As if my brain partitioned into two coexisting sides of reality, dark and peaceful.

When the inspiration gets intense, weird, dark, I imagine some of the reactions and opinions those pieces could incite.  Ah well.

Mixing beige paint in my room and laying it over black I contemplate my favorite person to be with.  Wanting this man is futile.  Will you leave once again and call me months from now, and what will I say then?  No more?  I love you?

Even the worst of you could not make me cold for long.  An inescapable fact, love.  I want out of here, too, restless.  It’s the middle of the night.

I toss this whole situation into question.  My job, my expensive life here in Oakland.  What am I doing?  This art.  These photographs.  This writing.  How much could I sacrifice to be able to do this all the time, nothing but this for as long as it takes?  Almost everything, I’m thinking.

What if I just said, everything?  What would everything look like?

 

 

 

 

No Power, No Master

 

 

birds 4

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

Birds 2 revise again 2

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Birds 11 draft

 

 

 

 

Birds 5 redo

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

birds 4 redo with exposure plus extra contrast

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Birds 8 shape edit

 

 

 

 

Birds 6

 

 

 

 

IMG_Birds 12 exposure change extra

 

 

 

 

Birds 9 idea not final.jpg

 

 

 

 

Birds 10 idea not final

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Freedom In Constraint

You have said something about them, you have tossed pennies into the fountain in far off fantasies in your mind after all they’ve done, you have gone to pick up your image in its water somewhere beyond sensible and wasted yourself incautiously dipping your hands into its greenish mud puddle feeling the mossy bottom and the stone underneath it, wasted yourself watching a kaleidoscope of colors swirl around your wrists, watching green diamonds and blue gems morph to purple and magenta on the water’s oily surface in the angles of sun around tanned arms and through reflective fingers, and you’ve fallen behind the others, picked up incomprehensible images from exotic pools to sink yourself into and create yourself from, not borrowed from your own origins as you should, not done what you’ve been called upon by those who brought you, instead you have pulled out a starfish inedible and invasive multicolored and textured and other vain nonfunctional fascinations.

You have picked flowers all day.  Rearranged letters of the alphabet all day.  A candle left burning in your room to follow the mazes of wax and the loops of smoke taking your attention, then the fan left on for a clearing.  Trails of warm lemon juice cleansing negligence, you have sprayed perfume yet left no scent.  It was you who did the leaving, you who did this to them, you whose body is too soft to resist the most simple attraction and mind not soft enough to yield controls, you who betrayed trust by telling stories, who let yourself be eaten by worms of curiosity, you who gulp foolishly not more than banal beauties and ugliness.  To squander yourself insulting those who brought you, you who created universes invalid from real pennies and distorted realities from nebulous transparencies.  You are the kind who survives on chocolates.

You hearing them rehearsing, how could you do this to us?  How could you do this to you also.  You have said something, you have seen something.  Stuff that doesn’t matter, waste like this.  Crap like this, let it go and the box flies open.  Make your mistakes for they call them mistakes not choices.  Let it all out of the trap, let the mystery of this trap triumph if you absolutely must play so rough but don’t ask us to look, don’t ask us to see, don’t ask us to hear, don’t ask us to act.

Heirlooms are survival too.  You are too green for us, too blue, too purple, too much for us.  You haven’t done enough, organized enough this territory, you will never catch up.  You do this to us, do this to yourself, look.  Listen.  You’ll see, you’ll hear this.  You do this.  To us, to us.

You.

 

 

green light version 4

 

You

 

green light version 3