Tuesday, November 30, 2004

High style

Just returned from attending a free screening of the 1925 silent film classic, "Lady Windermere's Fan," accompanied by live accordion improvisation, at Barbes. Incidental expenses included one glass of Rioja, tips for bartender and accordion player; total outlay less than feature film at cinema, and the people sitting behind me smelled like lavender and entered into jovial conversation. I asked the girl what her perfume was--she does it herself, lavender oil with a bit of mint and shea butter.

It occurred to me that I could start wearing perfume again, even make one for myself, now that I'm not dating Mister Whiny Hyper-Sensitivity To Nearly Everything Nice, who broke out in hives at the scent of lavender or rose or patchouli, or 'J'adore,' or cats, or spicy food or bacon or goat cheese, or most of life's simple pleasures. In fact, it occurred to me this weekend that I could be sexy, now. Now that I'm not dating Mister 'The Only Sexy Women Are Psychotic Alcoholic Schizophrenic Nymphomanics And Certainly Not You,' which is kind of bad for a person's self-image and psycho-spiritual libido, I can wear clothes that make me feel like a Woman, in my own odd and inimitable way, and nobody is around to contradict me. Or to yell, "You look like an old Polish grandmother with cow-hoofs for feet," even.

In fact I was inspired by Badger, who made a flying visit over the holiday. I was able to give her six hours' in-law respite, and we did fascinating fun things like drive back and forth in traffic in the rain, and wrap paintings in bubble wrap, and deliver them to a bare apartment in Crown Heights, and it is a testament to the brilliance of Badger's mind that this was not boring for one single second. We discussed Art and Sex and Jealousy, and the search for expression of the ineffable, and a lot of other things that shall not be repeated. She said one thing that I knew, of course, but had to re-remember just how true it is; "Most people don't realize that art is happening Now." We had been bemoaning the fact that, respectively, people who go to galleries don't know how to look, and people who go to poetry readings don't know how to listen. Even the big-ass art dealers, most of them, would not know a great painting if it reached out of the wall and throttled them. Evidently the poetry scene is not much better. I think that it shakes down in the end, usually, but meanwhile the great artists and poets of today are eating a lot of rice and beans, and a lot of con artists are living in lofts to die for.

(In fact, I no longer trust any artist who lives in Manhattan. Either they have a trust fund, are married to a stockbroker, or spend more time schmoozing than they do in the studio. Brooklyn is where it is at, now.)

Anyway, I digress. Badger inspired me with her arm warmers. I'd read about them on her blog, but they made much more sense in person--striped children's tube socks, cut and sewn so that a loop hooks over your hand between thumb and forefinger, sort of an extended fingerless glove. Eureka! Fashion Innovation of the Year! When, on Sunday, Caroline called and wanted to go shopping, of all radical enterprises, I grabbed a couple of pairs of designer socks for the chopping block. Unfortunately, I forgot they needed to be TUBE socks; two pairs of socks with heels yielded three pairs of creatively stitched wrist warmers, after extensive clipping and patching.

Caroline and I ended up at Old Navy, where I became aware of the bizarre and somewhat offensive, to me, commercial innovation of mass-producing tee-shirts that are replicas of random samples from the Salvation Army twenty-five cent bin, complete with holes and faded, cryptic slogans, and charging $16.50 for them. Now I understand why Salvation Army has suddenly become unaffordable. But even though it was Caroline's idea to shop in the first place, I was the one who got sucked in. I found a 'tiny-fit' purple tee-shirt that makes me look, actually, HOT, plus two pairs of pants that make me look bodaciously curvular instead of merely stalwart. Upon returning home I ransacked my closet and divided the contents into "sexy" and "not-sexy", and vowed to prioritize the former pile in future.

Such trivial vanities, you say, why is she boring us with this shit? Where are the deep, pithy insights we have come to expect? Oh, I'll get to those.

Not that you are, probably, interested in the fact that I think I'm starting to become myself. I don't know how to put it any better than that. Badger's comment about "living in the Now," as much as this has been repeated by all the vaguely Buddhist-related books I've read for years and years, and tried to practice through Zen and yoga and running up big tall hills, somehow hit a deeper place, the way a Zen master will nudge a student into enlightenment by whispering, "See those stars? There you are!" at precisely the right moment. Whoa! Yeah, you're RIGHT, Badger.

Why, I have always dated men that I had to push against in order to stand upright, and the tension thus created was a dark cloud over my perceptions. This evening, walking to and from Barbes, I saw a hundred things I'd never seen before. I even found a whole bar that I didn't know existed, with a wondrously elaborate tin wall pattern, and sailor's chairs, and little glowing lamps. I looked into people's windows without wanting to own their houses. When I came home, my apartment smelled like orange oil and patchouli.

Rhapsodizing over orange oil and patchouli does not pay the rent, of course. I wonder sometimes why I'm not in a greater state of panic. Over the weekend I found a journal written about six years ago, and could not believe it was six whole years--"frantically worried about money," I wrote, working three jobs and going to school and working out and building an MT practice, and desperately scraping out a few hours per week to paint. Oh, yeah. I wore myself to dust trying to earn a living and make art; I didn't make the living OR the art. So now I'm making the art and trusting God for the living.

Had a minor crisis last week, when I discovered that my mail carrier had been returning my mail to sender for the last month, for no good reason and without informing me. Pitched an enormous fit at the post office which did nobody any good. Remembered just how many potentially important pieces of mail with life-or-death news in them might have been lost forever; pictured a $10,000 check from the Segal Foundation winging its way back to source, bearing an "undeliverable, addressee unknown" label--wondered if my unconscious mind somehow created this to block success, again and still. Realized I would have to make some uncomfortable phone calls, come Monday. Actually they weren't so horrible. The person who answers the phone at the Pollock-Krasner foundation is not a scary mean person who sneers at you for DARING to ask for twenty thousand dollars to support your crappy art--who do you think you ARE? She is a nice, competent young person who checks the file and confirms that yes, your application is here, and yes, it's still pending.

Not that I'm actually counting on getting twenty thousand dollars from Pollock-Krasner this year, and indeed I don't know how I am to survive, but I am painting every day, on linen canvas, no less. Linen is extraordinary. Linen with one coat of gesso has, already, more energy to it than cotton duck with ten hand-applied layers. Linen looks like a Degas. In fact I started pulling all my art books off the shelf, to see if I could figure out how many coats of gesso to put on, and fully apprehended what I had been lacking, not painting on linen. It scarcely needs gesso at all. The remainder of the roll of cotton duck in my studio has now been demoted to the status of spare drop cloth.

This was unbearably intimidating at first, but I'll get over it. I am planning out a painting, one among many, called "Rain," which I will seriously enter in the Onassis Competition next spring, and seriously avoid showing it until 2006, just in case I actually win. First prize is something like a hundred thousand euros, which is ridiculous for one painting, and how DARE I even think of winning? But I think the thing is, I'm no longer afraid of NOT winning. I'll just do my best, and try again. Now is now.

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