Friday, December 30, 2005
All of these people would think it was weird if I called them just to say hey. I call people long-distance instead. Most of these people I was fortunate enough to see or speak to over the holiday, and thus they'd think it was weird if I called again now. So I must perforce embrace my loneliness. I wait to emerge out the other side.
Saw the Anselm Kiefer show when I was in Fort Worth; it Blew Me Away. I'm sorry I didn't have time to go again. It's ironic that I grew up in a town that boasted two, and now three, world-class fine art museums, but in other ways is so hidebound, conservative and provincial that I fled at the age of eighteen, and never stayed for more than a week at a time thereafter. Evidently the current curator at the new Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art has been a personal friend of Kiefer's for twenty years, and that's how we scored the show; it's not even coming to New York. More shame New York.
Kiefer is one of the few modern artists I've ever encountered who successfully integrates a cerebral, referential thematic approach with a kinesthetic impact that pulverizes bricks. When approaching one of his works, you can either go read the paragraph of text on the wall beside it which explains the historical, philosophical, theological, and scientific references in the work and how they are used, or you can simply stand in front of it, say 'woooooow' and become pleasantly dizzy. Either way, your perceptual channels are thoroughly engaged. Afterward, I felt like a complete jerk for calling myself an artist. At least I am mature enough to recognize when someone is way, way, way out of my league.
I noticed that Kiefer's studio is in the South of France, which explains why I thought of fields of late-summer sunflowers, all looking down, when I saw some of his paintings. He is described as 'solitary' and hangs out in the NYC gallery scene rarely to never. I started thinking that it may not be a coincidence that the modern artists I truly admire, relate to, study, and would like to emulate--Isamu Noguchi, Lee Bontecou, Andy Goldsworthy, Rufino Tamayo, and Kiefer--are none of them scenesters. The scene does not nurture depth, mastery, humility or spirituality. It nurtures egotism, spectacle and fatuous obscurity. But you already knew that.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Once we are out of the loft and proceeding in state to the cat food dishes, though, I see the inevitable signs that he has NOT been sleeping demurely on my toes all night long. Carpets and painting tarps are rucked up in heaps; wastebaskets are overturned; violently dismembered Q-tips are strewn from one end of the apartment to the other. (I'm embarrassed to reveal this in public, but my cat has an earwax fetish. He is so attuned to the source of this precious elixir that at the very sound of the Q-tip drawer opening, he lurks. He watches the ear-cleaning procedure with apparent nonchalance, and casually glides over to the wastebasket as each one is dropped onto the rubbish with a faint 'plush.' He waits until I've left the bathroom before pouncing; he then hides behind the prone basket in order to surprise the evil Q-tips in their bid for freedom. Over the course of the day he will extract each one, tossing it like a baton until it has been wrestled into submission, and as for the earwax--well, best not to dwell on that.)
So then, every day of my life begins with an act of carpet-straightening, vomit removal, or Q-tip disposal. This is a crucial thing.
One of the primal fears of single women of my generation is that we will turn into old ladies who live with cats. Go ahead, ask any girl between the age of twenty-five and forty--"Aren't you afraid of becoming an old lady who lives with cats?" She will either hit you or burst out sobbing. Thus I write about my cats with trepidation; I keep our relationship very close to my chest. But lately it occurred to me that I need my cats for more than just respite from loneliness, alarm clocks and recipients of idle conversation. My cats provide an injection of vital chaos into my daily routine.
Just think--what would my life be like if, when I got up in the morning, things in my apartment were in exactly the same state of order or disarray as when I went to sleep? What if there were no soil footprints leading from the potted plant across the stove, no grains of cat litter on the rug, and the glue bottle was still wearing its cap? How would I start my day? More specifically--what would be the random, trivial task of adjustment that would serve as a bridge between inertia and conscious action?
Think about it. I'd get up, of course, eventually, cat or no. I'd stumble into the bathroom and stare at the floor. I'd put on the tea kettle, open the New Yorker, shower, dress, and go about my business. But what would there be to start me thinking? What force of nature beyond my control would preserve me from mindless routine? Sure, the phone could ring, there could be a blizzard, a carting company might drop a dumpster on my car. But such miracles cannot daily be counted upon. My cats provide a reliable source of mental jump-starts in my quotidian existence.
I realized, today, that I will never live in a space that looks like something in a magazine. Not because I don't have taste; on the contrary, I have too much taste. Take a look at any perfectly appointed room in any glossy designer magazine; then take a look at the art on the walls. Chances are the art is bad. If not actually bad, chances are it doesn't rise above the mediocre. This is because good art creates a certain amount of visual chaos. I am a woman of very small net worth (although, after doing a spreadsheet this week, I discovered that my net worth is, at least, a positive number), but I DO have an art collection. In addition to the overstock of originals by yours truly, I own a brightly painted, ceramic flying pig with anatomically incorrect udders; an original Julio Mendossa that is cracking disgracefully, partly because of the quality of Mexican paint and partly because the only place to hang it was the bathroom; a puppet from Java; a cat mask from Central America; a large plastic face by Donna Han; a painting of a giant hibiscus by Chris Smith Evans; and too many other strange and wonderful artifacts to enumerate. All of them are weird. None of them match each other or anything else in the apartment.
Someone once explained chaos theory to me like this; say you have a grid full of peaks and valleys, and an ant is climbing patiently over it, searching for the highest peak. If the ant is periodically knocked off whatever hill it happens to be climbing, at random intervals, it is statistically more likely to reach the highest peak in the shortest amount of time, than if it were allowed to keep walking unmolested. That is, random interference and inconsistency of input actually steers us toward enlightenment.
My big cat just punched me in the lip. That means it's time for bed.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
This week, I am sorry to say, I turned on my TV. I have no excuse for myself. Somebody mentioned those two fatal words, "Christmas specials," and my seven-year-old id took over. Once it was on--oh, Lord, I don't even want to START the litany of the crap I watched. I feel like I've caught up on ten years' worth of popular culture. "Sex and the City," "CSI," "Frazier," and "Las Vegas" were vaguely familiar but meaningless terms to me until now. With fortitude and discipline, soon they will be again.
Watching so little TV, I am likewise Not Inured to Commercials. In my seven to ten-year intervals between bouts of TV-watching, things change a lot; crass materialism becomes ever crasser and more materialistic. The last time I did a dose of TV, sometime around 1998, a car commercial came on with the tagline, "I may not have all the answers, but at least I have a new car!" I went into a state of shock that lasted for weeks.
This time was no different. Car commercials, diamond commercials, "the best gift award--Old Navy Sweaters!" rolled by in an unending stream of fey hype and shouting. By contrast, the spots for "Glade Holiday Candles With Scenes by Thomas Kinkade" and "Kenny G Holiday Hits" should have seemed restrained and wholesome. But nevertheless I have decided to devote this week's post to explaining, in excrutiating detail, why it was these particular ads that made me want to vomit.
I might as well admit upfront that I could be seen to have a professional grudge against Thomas Kinkade, because, well, he's probably a squillionaire by now, and with a bit of luck I may be able to scrape together next month's rent. But my issue with him is not directly financial; in fact, I support the aggressive teaching of sales, marketing and bookkeeping skills in art institutions. My issue with Thomas Kinkade is that his work is vile, fatuous kitsch. Harmless, perhaps. But perhaps not.
Kitsch, as I have explained elsewhere, can be defined as "the pretense that shit does not exist." It's a prettification, a smoothing-down of gritty and troubled perceptions. Surely this can't be wrong; surely such quiet sweetness can provide a sense of peace and respite, however temporary, from a world of drudgery and strife. Nevertheless, it is a lie; and contrary to providing true peace, kitschy perceptions blunt and obscure it.
Let me illustrate. Here is a picture by Thomas Kinkade.
For those of you eight or ten readers who have successfully avoided encountering this artist's work, I may say that this piece is fairly typical. Note the semi-rural setting, the cozy dwelling with warm glow emanating from windows, the profusion of flowers, the filtered light, the brilliant foliage. Note, furthermore, from a compositional standpoint: the frontal, standing-on-the-ground horizontal perspective, the gently winding path, the diagonal line of the fence. Grass and flowers in foreground, house in the middle, trees as backdrop. I had a book as a kid called "It's Fun To Make Pictures;" the instructions for "How To Paint A Landscape" taught you how to compose a painting that looked like this--verbatim.
From a technical standpoint, then, I'd have to say his work is competent. Not inventive, but sound. Now, let's examine his palette. "Colorful," you say. "More or less realistic, but bright; idealized," you might observe, if you were to articulate your impressions. Indeed, this is why every middle-class family in the Midwest has one on the wall; it's pretty. If we were to get analytical, we would see that he has used colors from all round the color wheel; the vivid orange of the leaves counterbalanced by the soft blue-gray of the roof, the pastel pinks and blues of the flowerbeds popping against the whispery greens of the lawn, anchored by luminous yellows of window-light and deep charcoal shadows. Everything is balanced--and utterly predictable.
By way of contrast, here is a picture by Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo.
I have to say that I'm somewhat biased, having spent an inordinate percentage of my trip to Mexico City in the Rufino Tamayo Museum, gawping and having my entire conception of art and reality drastically altered. But even in the shadowy inadequacies of miniscule size and 72 dpi Internet re-re-production, one can see that this is an exceptionally stupid painting. Come on, those figures look like they were drawn by a four-year-old. And the colors! Pepto-bismol pink, clashing with blood red, burnt orange, puke ochre and flat black. Bleah. You speak of kitsch, you say--look at those asinine figures! Arms upraised in gesture of inane celebration on the left, straight-lined, skeletal smile on the right! Why This Stuff Gets Into Museums. I Mean.
You will have to take it on faith, then, that the experience of standing in front of a painting by Rufino Tamayo in his museum in Mexico City is akin to spending 20 minutes in a 210 degree Russian sauna, then having a buffed-out masseuse throw a bucket of cold water over your head and thrash you for half an hour with an oakleaf featherduster. For Those Who Have Eyes To See, as they say.
Here's an exercise, which I might entitle, on the spur of the moment, the Robert Irwin Perceptual Meditation. As you go through your day, try to note what your eyes are seeing. Not what your brain interprets as what your eyes are seeing; try to discover the mere shapes, angles, colors and impressions that your eyes are actually registering. Try to reduce these perceptions to a system of shapes and colors, as though the world were a complex game of Tetris; vertical, horizontal, angular, big, small, color gray, color beige, color blue-gray or lavender. Practice this for a few hours, or one whole day. Then when you are done, tally up the number and percentage of moments when you were actually perceiving the world as a system composed of foreground, middle ground, and backdrop, from a frontal perspective, with a balanced rendering of vivid colors from all round the color wheel. Unless you are a real-estate photographer, my guess would be--almost never.
My point is that a Thomas Kinkade painting is not a picture of a house. It's not even a picture of an ideal, snug, peaceful, cozy house in your happiest dreams. It is a picture of what the lowest common denominator of centuries of cultural symbolism has told you is a picture of a house. It's actually a very potent block between your experience, your perceptions, and your imagination. By providing ubiquitous, unimaginative, bland symbols of a grit-free 'peace' that never existed, kitschy paintings are teaching you to disconnect from the unique experience of your own life.
Perhaps that's hyperbolic. But back to Tamayo.
Standing in front of a Tamayo, let's say in the toxic atmosphere of a dangerously polluted city at an altitude that's giving you a migraine, the first thing you might notice is that those are some weird-ass colors. Moreover, they clash; moreover, they're dirty. Really, it looks like he's poured sand into his paint. If it's pink, it's only pink on the surface, although on the surface it's a strangely loud pink; underneath and peeking through, mixed in with the sand, is a lot of dull gray, and flecks of blue and tan and improbable red. He puts screamingly bright colors either next to each other, screaming in entirely different languages, or next to the dullest, ugliest colors you ever saw--reference, in the painting above, that nasty olive-brown floor, host to some orange feet and a red trapezoid.
Then when you look at his composition, you notice that he's breaking so many rules that he's created a new system of rules entirely. There is not a single instance of symmetry, plumb verticality or horizontality in the entire painting, except for the vertical-horizontal lines within the figures' heads, right where they're not supposed to be. Nothing is consistent, everything is new; for instance, the calves of the figure on the left are vaguely anatomically delineated, the rest is a riff halfway between stick-figure and crypto-Cubist nightmare.
Every bit of this painting, in fact, is a surprise. And it's that way with every painting in the museum. You go through, wondering if you could stand to have any of them in your home, but each one of them has at least one element that makes you profoundly uncomfortable.
At the same time, this Tamayo guy seems like he must have been a relatively cheerful fellow. So many of the figures are smiling; he paints a lot of couples, families, landscapes and watermelons. Ordinary things. Life things. But he paints them like nobody else on the planet.
Perhaps, though, if every person on the planet got in touch with his or her own true perceptions and started to paint, without reference to pervasive cultural symbology, this might be a planet of four billion unique artists. And such discussions we'd have then!
Utopian ideals aside--the final point I'd like to make about Tamayo, and about painting in general, is that once you get used to it, it's the relationships between colors and forms that make them beautiful, rather than the colors and forms themselves. Radical contrast breeds excitement, complex harmony, and a beauty that is rich, deep and all-inclusive. Kitsch is about avoidance--it edits out any awkwardness, any reference to death and decay, to comfort the mind's fears. But great art puts in the death; great art accepts everything. And unconditional acceptance is a prerequisite for enduring peace.
Once I owned an album by Kenny G. It came from one of those record clubs, where you get twenty albums for a penny. I put it on and was physically unable to listen to the entire thing. I'm not even sure I made it to the second side. 'Elevator music' was what we used to call it, back in Texas; also 'dentist office music'. (My childhood dentist wore the men's cologne, "Pour Lui;" for decades I thought that this was the smell of his distinctly ineffective anaesthetic. I didn't realize that it was supposed to be a good smell until I opened an issue of GQ one day and my gums began to hurt.) So maybe my dislike of Kenny G is a purely situational association, having nothing to do with the quality of the music itself.
But the thirty-second commercial for "Kenny G's Holiday Hits" still made me shudder as though some stranger had dripped snot down my collar. So, in a spirit of analysis and investigation, I downloaded a couple of Holiday Hits, to try to figure out what it was that bothered me so much.
Indeed, like Kinkade, the man has command of his instrument. He hits all the notes, sweetly if predictably. What started the hives on my neck might be called his "touch." He strokes each note like a pedophile patting an eight-year-old--with such conscious mildness that it borders on the creepy. There's a pathological avoidance of any untoward passion, harshness or 'edge.' The instrumental backup reinforces this saccharinity; disenfranchised drums keep a beat that never skips, wavers or syncopates, punctuated by emasculated harps and swells of synthesized strings, forcing a hypocritical climax. 'Twee,' that's the word for it, 'twee.'
My God, I sound like a wine critic.
Just to decompress, I then launched one of the greatest jazz holiday hits of all time, John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things." Ahhhhhh. Relief. Saint John and his band thwack into glorious dissonance with that first inimitable chord, crashing on the bass like an oncoming army; THONK da-duh-dah, THRONK da-duh-daa-duh...and then when the sax comes in for the melody, it's fifty percent grime, nasal and joyous; BONK-bap-bap BONK bop-bop DONK bop-bop BOP-bop...breaking it down, I noticed that that army bass in the piano never lets up. The underlying rhythm is dissonance itself. Above it, John on soprano saxophone deedles insouciantly like a drunk on a tightrope, wandering whither he might. This approximates joy; playing music without a net from your scarred heart, while the clock is ticking and the unpaid landlord pounds on the door.
Now I sound like a pulp novelist. This is why I never read music criticism.
Purple prose aside, the point remains the same--Art is not Art if it skirts the dissonance; it's commercialised pablum for the masses. And who are the masses? Not you, not me, not anybody. Societies without mass media do not have kitsch. It's aesthetic junk food. It bloats the body and blunts the soul, channelling individual creativity onto an interstate leading nowhere.
Well, so what? It's just art. Art is a luxury anyway; it has little to do with a happy life.
No, at the risk of getting didactic--art mirrors life, which mirrors art. If, as a culture, our art becomes impoverished, avoidant, saccharine and twee, we absorb a false and dangerously destructive message about the nature of happiness. A close friend of mine told me that her boyfriend recently said, "I keep expecting our relationship to settle down and be peaceful." She told him, "You've known me for six years and it's never been that way. Do you really think I'll change?" Peaceful does not, and will never, equal sweet, uneventful and bland.
Too many people think that strife and conflict have no place in a peaceful world--that if problems arise in a relationship, for example, then you are with the wrong person and must drop it and start over. Or, conversely, that if you grew up in a seriously dysfunctional, abusive family, and are so emotionally damaged that you'll never live in a Thomas Kinkade house even in fantasy, that the best you can hope for is to sweep your dreams under the rug, deny the pain, avoid intimacy, and live a half-life on the fringes of light and laughter.
The reason that kitsch is a tragic lie is that it represents the opposite of peace. It constructs a cruel, inarguable, ironclad judgment by what it omits--and it omits almost everything. Healing is grounded in acceptance of everything. Once placed in perspective, once looked at fully and loved, the sand in the paint is what makes it beautiful.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
But that's boring.
Rape politics, though, that's interesting! Got sucked into a much more highly trafficked region of the blogosphere, yesterday. My, my. Such drama. Listen to this:
I'm just curious what basis the moral relativists have for condemning rape in the first place. If I deem the slaking of my desire for lust - or violence, if you prefer that theory of rape - to be an intrinsic good, who are you to condemn it? Certainly, one could argue that it is a violation of private property rights, but then, what of those moral relativists who reject the notion of private property. If all property is held in common, then how can a woman object if I decide to make use of that which belongs to me?
Someone else, of course, took the guy apart:
So in case you ever wondered how conservative assholes like Vox Day actually view women, it’s as straight-up property.
But maybe Vox is just a nut. I mean, surely the readers of his blog, being decent human beings, will condemn this, right?
Actual rape is another area in which the feminists shot themselves in the foot. Back in the day, women had the protection of their fathers, husbands and brothers. Their fathers, husbands and brothers usually had guns. So what have the feminists been trying to do? Get rid of the men AND the guns! I’d take the protection of a man or a gun over a chastity belt any day!
Ain’t that the truth. Because you know that married women, or women who live with their fathers or brothers, are never ever ever raped.
And so on. Round and round and round and round. It's endlessly amusing.
The more I read, the more I looked for a place to put in my 2 cents, the more I realized there wasn't one. Because my 2 cents involve a paradigm shift. What is REALLY going on in these people's minds?
Caroline visited last week, picking up the last of her stuff on the way to the Course in Miracles academy. (This is relevant.) Caroline said, "I'm just not so interested in sex anymore. I realized I was using it for all these things--to prove how cool I am, to make someone happy, to release anxiety. I'm kind of over it." She said she owed me an apology for the time she and my ex-boyfriend spent the evening ragging on me about "sex drivers and sex passengers; we're the drivers, Serena's the passenger."
I said, "I always saw sex just as a way to connect intimately with someone I love."
She said, "I see that, now." Wow, vindication.
Course in Miracles lesson: I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me.
This is also relevant.
The way I see it, any paradigm that frames sex as an interaction between bodies, each with a separate and uncommunicated agenda, is doomed to failure. As I read more and more of this fascinatingly angry and violent libertarian Christian blog, I wondered, 'what the hell makes someone think like this?' Because the guy is obviously not dumb, and if he identifies as Christian, I'd like to think he's trying for something that could be construed as virtue. Many of his points, moreover, made some sort of sense, however offensively expressed. It bothers the hell out of me when people capitalize on victimhood to gain the moral high ground; I've been on the receiving end of this myself. It's tantamount to blackmail.
The most disturbing thing I saw, though, underlying the diatribes, was a nearly frantic desire to avoid seeing women as human--to reduce them, in a sexual context at least, to expendable bodies with confused and contradictory agendas. But again, the guy's not stupid, nor do I believe he's evil. So WHY would he want to do this? What if I went up to him and asked, "what if you tried having sex ONLY as a way to communicate deeply with an equal, who loves you and whom you love? Wouldn't that make the idea of 'rape' impossible and absurd?"
Well, I've tried this with folks of my acquaintance, and been greeted, frequently, with explosions of derisive laughter, snorting, rage, expostulatory abuse, eye-rolling, all manner of expressions of contempt and disbelief. I've heard all the arguments. Spare me. I don't believe them--at least, I do believe them, but with a caveat. I believe that the need to objectify another human being stems from a deep and hidden sense of personal shame.
Because it's humiliating to be rejected by an equal. More than that, it is terrifying to consider making any sort of deep connection with another person when there's something about YOU that must be hidden at all costs. We use sex to prove something to others that we don't believe about ourselves. As long as we keep a certain distance, we feel like we've gotten away with it.
Now, on day 5 of det0x-week, I'm remembering that I used to always feel like this--lucid, balanced, sort of floaty and serene. Back before moving to Mexico, upending my universe, moving to New York, getting sucked into the samsara of abusive boyfriends, failed business plans, steak tacos, crippling injuries and macaroni and cheese, I worked out every day, and meditated sometimes for hours, and used soy products. One day, I recall, I was meditating in my studio and the top of my head opened up, there was light everywhere, and the next day I went to work and got the angst of all my co-workers straight in the chest. The boundaries between self and other started to disintegrate, and I backed off.
I was hoping this detox week would help me tune into some guidance about what the hell I'm supposed to do about my financial situation, which is dire. Dreams and telephone are equally silent on the subject. However, during daily yoga practice I've started to gain a sense that this body, here, is merely a drop in an ocean of consciousness, and a small part of me is starting to tune into it. I notice that when my mind is there, in that subtle airy field, the yoga gets easier. It's not a dense little awkward body fighting against the world to remain upright in some ludicrously twisted position; it's a large, gentle mind subtly encouraging a single cell of itself to dance.
Regarding feminista outrage against right-wing nutcase rape apologists--yes, of course. But paradigms are always a choice. I am not a body. I am free. For I am still as God created me. Identification solely with the body makes 'rape' a permanently scarring, irrevocable experience. Shall we, as violated women, hold onto our wounds, forever bludgeoning the attackers with our morally superior anguish? Or shall we reach for an understanding that we are more than our bodies, we cannot be destroyed, we are endowed with the supreme powers of love and forgiveness? Just putting that out there.
While visiting, Caroline brought along this other woman Glinda, a fellow student at the CIM academy. Glinda gave me hives within ten minutes of meeting her; she's the type of New Age evangelist who spouts repetitive platitudes as though she's personally responsible for enlightening the doddering masses. "It's all love, all there is is love, really, it's all just love...we should all be grateful for the infinite gifts of God. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you."
It's not, precisely, that I don't think this is true. Two things, though; 1) you can't force it and 2) I can't STAND being spiritually patronized. From what Caroline indicates, and from what I gleaned from my ex-lover who disappeared into the Mount Baldy Zen Center, a truly enlightened master knows what's going on with YOU. He then targets his commentary to your particular blocks and buttons, wisely and gently opening a path for you to experience the infinite love and unity of God, not just go along muttering, 'yeah, I know, I know, God's love is infinite. How am I going to pay my rent?' Glinda's one-size-fits-all technique just presses my 'be-polite-to-the-idiot' button. She's not taking the trouble to find out the first thing about me before hooshing me with her need to play Buddha, and it's exhausting and gets us nowhere.
Which is why, for the most part, I keep my mouth shut about my spiritual practice.
Not to belabor a point, but whenever I've gotten started on the sex-politics issue in any conversation for the last twenty years or so, I've been accused of having no sex drive. Ergo the "sex passengers" episode. People, This Is Not So. I have been through enough episodes of advanced horniness to feel a profound compassion, respect and sympathy for men, who, if science is to be believed, feel like that ALL THE TIME. It's shocking that they ever get any work done.
No, I have a sex drive all right--it's just that it's integrated with all my other drives. My heart drive, my mind drive, my soul drive. Spiritual practice only increases it. Last time I really opened up to it I found myself stomping around the apartment, growling "Want mate. Want decent, loving, smart, interesting, sexy, faithful, committed mate. Want mate NOW." *throw pillow at cat, fetch vibrator*. It's very annoying. But no way am I going out to rape somebody. It just doesn't interest me.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Dirty secret: Judith Krantz is a good writer. A friend clued me in when I had the flu about ten years ago--she brought me a paperback copy of "Dazzle," which I re-read, more than once. I didn't read any more until finding "Lovers" on the dollar shelf at the Strand on Sunday. I am Deeply Immersed. I love her character studies of twisted, self-invented people, the way she goes deeply and logically into the machinations with which they invest themselves in shallow lifestyles. The luscious sex scenes don't hurt, either. I might even like Judith Krantz if I met her socially--anyone who can invent so many varieties of irresistible people must like people.
I see by her book jacket cover that she's tried to minimize her lower lip by applying lip liner too far inside her lip line, though. Judith, there's nothing wrong with having a pouty lower lip! You, of all people, should know.
Sometimes I look at my book shelf and remember that once upon a time, I used to be an intellectual.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Once again, after nearly an hour of circling the store, I realized that if I am ever to own a drawerful of exotic lingerie, I will have to start consorting with discriminating European billionaires. The reason I don't get into sexy underwear has nothing to do with uptight prudery, whatever a certain insecure jerkwad (you know who you are) might have to say about it, and everything to do with an emotional allergy to black-and-purple polyester. Particularly polyester with a $78 price tag. I mean--plastic sequins, scratchy bows in bumpy places, excessive padding, badly-constructed hooks, hot pink chiffon ruffles with black ribbing, lurid blue spandex, orange nylon, stiff black-and-fuchsia fake corset thingies? Hello? This is not sexy. If I were a lingerie designer, I would be all about foamy layers of silk satin and Brussels lace, in shades of antique ivory, smoky bronze and dusty rose. Things that a Venetian courtesan might own. I know there are cubbyholes on the upper East Side that sell this sort of thing, at prices comparable to what I paid for my car, but there you go. The pink and lavender cotton bikinis I finally settled for weren't too terribly depressing.
I say the week was bruising, but it was magical too. I kept having those moments where I realize that I am living a life of infinite variety, wonder and intrigue. Driving way the fuck out Atlantic Avenue just after dawn, for example--there are all sorts of manmade constructions out there that you can't even tell what they're FOR. It might as well be one of those lucid dreams where there's stained glass in the library shelves and scrolls of eggplants underfoot. Then I get to wrestle with a pack of beautiful brats with names like Daysia, Hakim and Solange, teaching them to layer pastels and make Chinese paper puzzle books; then Horley and I go for strawberry pancakes at Tom's Diner, full of fifties kitsch and seasonal decorations; then I get a call to massage a startlingly handsome, mysteriously quiet man in Brighton Beach. My Saturday evening clients shower me with homemade chocolate macaroons and invite me to next month's tea party. Life is good.
Friday evening I had a wonderful time selling raffle tickets to the few hapless souls who turned out for the open studios closing party, simply because it never occurred to me not to. Commercially speaking, the event was a failure. All the sponsors flaked, the bar pre-empted the film festival for basketball, several unrelated events were happening simultaneously on the same turf, and most of the artists left when they found out there wasn't any free beer. I do not understand the Manhattan predilection for throwing parties in commercial establishments, where you get to pay for the privilege of screaming yourself hoarse over music you didn't choose, fight strangers for uncomfortable chairs and run the constant risk of being thrown out if your clothing isn't hip enough. It's worse than my seventh birthday party at Rollerland, and that is saying a lot.
But dammit, I spent Friday afternoon bleaching my hair and digging out the glitter gel, and this was not going to waste. I primed my pump with a fancy beer and commenced saying fatuous things to strangers, who quickly became friends. Before long I was channelling Universal Love, always a thrill. Renee asked me if I'd lost weight, and Jerry's brother was flabbergasted when he found out I'd been an adult for eighteen years already. Yes, I HAVE lost weight--the burden of carrying other people's shit. It means I can be friendly to everybody without having to calculate how much it's going to cost. What joy, what fun! I kept breaking off to do hip-hop or salsa in the middle of the floor, regardless of whether anybody else was dancing or not, and skipping through the room like I did when I was four. Do I look silly? Do I care?
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Meanwhile I've gotten into the habit of turning off the fridge whenever I'm working in proximity to it for any length of time. Sometimes I forget to turn it on again, like today, and the milk goes bad. It's like living in Mexico, revisited.
Otherwise, things are good, things are Well. I had a Quiet Personal Triumph last weekend. The gallery on Madison Avenue wanted to keep my work up through the end of October, and I almost said yes, despite the fact that Open Studios was last weekend. Then I thought, wait--it's already been up for 4 1/2 months, nobody has signed my guest book except people I've sent there, and as far as I know there have been no serious inquiries for the seriously priced pieces. Thus the decision--"Madison Avenue/Brooklyn Stairwell? Brooklyn Stairwell/Madison Avenue?" became more complex.
Eventually I decided on Brooklyn Stairwell. Fortunately I had help from sister and brother-in-law, who schlepped out to Madison Avenue on Friday and helped me summarily strip the walls and load the truck, parked in a bus stop in the rain. The gallery people were moderately unhelpful and wistful; 'we wish it could stay up longer.' But hell, people, you're treating it like WALLPAPER. Brother-in-law, an architect, said, 'it does look great here. I bet it's sold them a lot of furniture.'
It was the right decision. I didn't have a horde of people stampeding my stairwell, ah, studio, but those who came were serious and some of them bore checkbooks. I sold enough to earn myself three days of relaxation, while getting over the cold I gave myself, getting ready for the event. Everybody liked the homemade cake, too.
Cutting the last ties with the last abusive ex-lover was also the right decision. After I got over the extensive and extravagant grief-and-sobbing phase, which took about a day and a half, it's like the sky opened over my head. I can't explain it any better than that. I don't know who I am anymore, but I'm NOT that woman who got yanked around, abused and betrayed, and I never will be again. Who knows what the future will hold.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
It happened just like that, except that I was alone at the end of a long, barren weekend; and had just finished writing, in my journal, "I am very, very lonely." He was drunk, maudlin, romantic; "why you have not writing? I miss you, why you do not write me," over and over. It was the voice that made it almost impossible. But I said it anyway. "I am fed up with your shit, Hector."
And he hung up.
It was a thousand times worse than in rehearsal. I almost called back, but why should I pay the phone bill to Mexico, just to tell my ex-lover what a shithead he is? I went to the computer and composed the letter that I've restrained myself from writing these five months--you know perfectly well why...this has been a horrible year...two days before my show...other women...when have you ever asked my forgiveness?...I am only a fantasy... not a real woman...I cannot carry this any more." Then I called my friend in Vegas instead, and cried all over her, and felt a little better.
Connections between people, says Barbara Brennan, are like silver cords between their chakras. Some of them are bright and healthy, some are dark and tangled, some are active on the front half of the body, some move to the back when the relationship is in the past. When a connection is abruptly severed it is like a physical wound, like losing a limb; she has seen cords to abandoning lovers dangling out in space. The cords to my ex-boyfriend were all violently rent on that day a year ago in June; I almost didn't survive it. The cords to my Mexican ex-lover, though attenuated and mellow with years of abuse, were still hanging in there. I was glad to think that one bridge was not yet burnt.
But some people are never content to let things lie; if there's a cord, they'll yank it, then with the rebound they slam you into the asphalt. "Yo me cambio," I told him. "I will love you always, but if you cannot take responsibility like an adult instead of a wounded child, I can no longer do it for you. I need someone who loves me all the time, not just when it happens to be convenient." I know him well enough to know that he will not respond. The cords fall to the ground.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
I am ogling Phil the Neanderthal. That's how bad it is.
I got the new fridge today, finally, only two and a half months after the old fridge started freezing the cat food into a popsicle. Next week I may even get a washer-dryer. I've learned to handle ol' Phil, my Turk of a Brooklyn landlord, and I think perhaps he's learned a thing or two himself, judging by the rate of turnover in this building. I think he's starting to appreciate quiet, stable tenants who pay their rent more or less on time, in a lump sum, with a check that doesn't bounce. The technique I've consistently tried to use on him is to visibly expect the best, contrary to all available evidence. "Phil," I said to him, sweetly, in January, "I'm still waiting for my Christmas present. You know, the dishwasher?" "I'm calling the guy right now. Right now," says Phil, and lo, the dishwasher arrives. Stuff like that.
Deep down, of course, I despise him. Though, looking back, that time he and my ex got into a near-fistfight within forty-five seconds of meeting one another was pretty funny. I thought Phil was the one being unreasonable until the ex declared later that he was deliberately attempting to induce Phil to hit him, so as to have an airtight lawsuit and get me the keys to the building. I know, I know, my ex is a psychotic motherfucker. Phil is only an asshole.
But I digress. When I paid my rent last week I sort of thought, gosh, ol' Phil has filled out a bit, and softened up, and that snaggle-tooth of his is kinda cute. Then when he arrived today with a couple of henchmen and made a lot of masculine noise getting the giant fridge up the stairs, I quite enjoyed it. I stood at the top of the stairs and watched admiringly, and they winked and beamed, and all of us were glad to be alive.
Only later did it occur to me--Jesus, I'm ogling Phil. That is pretty much the definition of desperate. But, whoopee! My libido is back from Timbuktoo!
Monday, October 03, 2005
Grigorio seems to have a knack for driving me Right Out Of My Tree. Moreover, he also has a knack for crossing my path repeatedly.
The long story is that I designed this stupid poster for this stupid benefit happening on Friday, which is certain to be a total failure because all the people involved are incompetent, disorganized and narcissistic. Oh, wait, no.
So I start again. I designed a postcard, weeks ago. I impressed upon the group in general, and Grigorio in particular, the facts about Printers and Turn Around Time and DEADLINES. These facts were all roundly ignored.
Two weeks ago, I designed a Fancy Poster, at Grigorio's request. Of course, all the Facts that he gave me were Wrong, so the Fancy Poster was Useless.
A week and a half ago I showed up at the Empire Diner with the Fancy Poster on my laptop, and upon learning that it was Useless, I re-designed a Postcard, which we went to Kinko's to print, right that minute.
An hour and a half later, at 12:30 AM, after Kinko's had quoted impossible prices and then roundly ignored us, I stormed out of Kinko's and emailed Grigorio the file, so that he could get it printed on his own time and not my SLEEP time.
Four days later I receive an email, "the file won't open. Your computer has a virus." (Which it doesn't. At least I'm pretty sure it doesn't.) Anyway all the information had changed, and they wanted another Fancy Poster, with elaborate and totally different information on it.
So I re-designed another postcard and ANOTHER poster, with extensive fiddly detailed elaborate information on both of them that changed every ten minutes. Meanwhile, there is this Archimedes character lurking in the background, throwing frequent narcissistic tantrums, making impossible, unreasonable, stupid demands, failing to understand the English language and generally gumming things up.
Finally, after more deadlines have come and gone, more harassment and changes and tantrums have transpired, I go to Kinko's on Saturday morning, drop off the files and place an order, for postcards and posters, fewer than originally required because the prices are ASTRONOMICAL, I mean ludicrously so. Which did not have to be the case if the file had been, say, uploaded to Modern Postcard a week and a half ago, when I first FINISHED THE DAMN THING AND SAID "NOW WE SHOULD UPLOAD TO MODERN POSTCARD." But whatever.
At eleven PM on Saturday night, I come home to a message from Kinko's. "All the files are corrupted and we can't open them. Please re-send."
Meanwhile Grigorio calls me at 11:20 PM and says, "Are you coming to the work party tomorrow evening?
I upload the files. Kinko's does not call me back. I call them at 9 AM. They haven't looked at the files. They look at them and put it on "priority." They don't call. I call them at 10 PM. They haven't started the job yet. They want me to email them another PDF file.
I cancel the postcard order and change it to 500 first-page flyers and 200 second-page flyers. This saves a huge amount of money, which would be wasted on postcards this close to the event, anyway, and streamlines the process. I meet Irving at Kinko's this morning, he pays, takes the flyers, I am FREE.
Grigorio calls me, freaking out. I tell him the flyers are done and Irving has them. He wants to know, "Why no postcards? Surely another day?" I say NO. I am done with this job. I have other things to do. Goodbye.
This evening, at the Square Foot Show reception in Chelsea (my pieces didn't sell) I run into Grigorio, who is posting flyers all around Chelsea with the Square Foot Show as the epicenter. He has about twelve nit-picky things he's found wrong with the flyers, and wants me to alter the master and get it printed again.
First I try to reason with him. Then I start issuing ultimatums. Then I storm off. He follows me. I throw a screaming raging tantrum in the middle of the reception.
The totally bizarre thing about this is that once I really get going, he actually seems to start listening to me. The more I let fly with statements like "I don't give a shit about this stupid poster, do you see anybody reading the fine print?!! NOBODY gives a shit, I am not getting paid for this, I don't need narcissists like Archimedes in my life, if he has been doing publicity for 20 years why is he incompetent and broke?" the more he stands there with a serious expression on his face and seems to take in the sense of my words. Which he DOES NOT DO when I am explaining things in a civilized, measured, sensible, friendly tone of voice.
I think Grigorio's mother must be a real horror.
Regardless, it was an exhausting and depressing evening. All the Bad Artists in the show were clustering round me, complaining that nobody bid on their piece and nobody came to their open studio and they're upset, nobody bid on my pieces and the gallery was too busy ringing up the sold pieces to give back the unsold ones so I have to come back tomorrow, rent was due three days ago and I haven't paid it, I have a listless and halfhearted crush on a guy who is in a highly committed relationship and too short for me anyway, and there is this Fool on my tail hassling me about postcards. Really. Grigorio is not just *A* fool, he is the ARCHETYPE of The Fool, from the Tarot deck. I suppose this is a distinction of sorts.
And this evening I come home and check my email, and there is a Kodak Photo Album of photos from the 20th high-school reunion that I just missed, and from the looks of it I might actually have had a good time if I had gone. Oh Well.
Monday, September 26, 2005
It has been more than three years and I am still
not earning a living in Brooklyn. Yesterday, on
the list: "finish 2 kick-ass paintings for Art
Gotham show. Mail CD to RA. 'Therapy' page on
website. New splash page on website. Call
Jerry's and re-order out-of-stock linen canvas.
Finish Arts Circle poster. Grant apps: NYFA,
Greenshields, CFEVA. Laundry.' This was for the
week, not the day. I spend too much time sitting
in the kitchen window, fussing over houseplants.
The city gets on top of me.
So after working on paintings until they need to
sit and dry, I hop on my bike with laptop, bike
the long way around the park, breathing in the
trees, and wind up at the Tea Lounge, to work on
the poster. 'Make the poster, like, over the top
fussy, stuff stuff stuff, old-fashioned fonts,
really long and intricate,' says Grigorio. Only
he has not finalized the program information;
thus I can only go So Far.
Then I go to opening at TablaRasaGallery (not
'Tabula Rasa'--no Latin scholars in Brooklyn)
because Horley invited me, and when I checked my
email there were no less than three invitations
to same, coming from different sources. I still
hate art openings. Artists are weird and
squirrelly, and one day they talk with you
candidly and the next they snub you, and one of
the in-crowd at this gallery used to be my
ex-boyfriend's fuck buddy. Usually we pretend
not to recognize one another and edge out of the
room. My ex-boyfriend used to go on and on about
Ursula's erotic magnetism, and then one day we
ran into her in the train station; after she
shook hands and went away my ex-boyfriend
exclaimed, "my God, Ursula has turned into a
shriveled-up old hag, I would NEVER fuck a hag
like that," which gave me pause, on a whole lot
of levels. But of course I didn't walk away
right then. You never do.
Horley didn't show up at the opening until an
hour after I did. I spent the time avoiding
Ursula and edging my way back into Gerard's good
graces; Gerard turned squirrelly after I passed
him on my bike in the park one day and yelled
"hi, Gerard" but didn't stop to chat because I
was late. At least I think that was it. When
Gerard thawed out he launched into an idea for
forming a virtual gallery in order to obtain a
booth at the Emerging Art Fair, then declaring
bankruptcy immediately afterward. There are a
lot of reasons why this isn't a good idea, but he
didn't want to listen to any; eventually he
laughed and gave up when I agreed to participate,
as long as he did the paperwork. He will never
do any paperwork.
Serendipitously I met the mystery artist who did
an installation on the wall of the overpass by my
apartment. It was a whole rainstorm of aluminum
teardrops, in shades of silver, copper and brass,
stuck to the concrete. It was beautiful and
exactly the right thing for that corner, an
exceptionally bleak one which I have to pass on
my way to the subway station, and I loved it and
was heartbroken when the city took it down. I
had already caught the guy's eye a couple of
times, first at BWAC on Sunday and then at this
opening, because he seemed nice and not too
squirrelly. Then I opened his artist book and
discovered photos of aluminum installations on
overpass walls, and went up to him and gasped,
'did YOU do the teardrops on Prospect and 4th
Ave.? Where did they go?' He doesn't get
permission first, is the problem, and the city
follows around after him and scrapes them down.
Later, when Hawley arrived, I found out that this
guy is a friend of hers. We talked about the
other street artist who does intricate paper
cut-out figures and pastes them on walls, where
they slowly disintegrate. I thought about doing
a web page, "Cool Street Art in Brooklyn." It
surprises me how few people notice these things.
After the opening I schlepped out to the Empire
Diner in Chelsea, where Grigorio plays jazz piano
from 7 to 11, in order to get a Final Decision
from him about the damn poster, already. The
benefit for New Orleans Musicians is scheduled
for October 7, and the printer turn-around time
is at least a week, and you can't print something
until you have accurate information, all of which
is obvious to me but not to Grigorio. Since I
last talked to him the plan has changed utterly,
including the name of the concert, which is now
"Mardi Gras Resurrection Party." In the end it
was established that we'd save the long,
intricate poster for the Bowery Ballroom concert
on October 19, and print a color postcard with
minimal information for the October 7 event.
After he stopped playing at 11 we walked to
Kinko's to take care of it Right Then.
On the way, for some reason, I started ranting
about the fact that all these men over 60 with
bad teeth, no money, and fatuous conversation
keep hitting on me, and not taking 'ack!' for an
answer. Grigorio said, "Men of any age want smooth skin in
a woman. Should men over 60 just be lonely?
Where's your compassion?" Grigorio himself has
got to be at least 45, but emotionally he's still
about 7--ingenuous, earnest, quite astonishingly
naive. Whenever I get into long discussions with
him I come out feeling like a jaded, cynical old
bitch. Many retorts flooded to mind, but I
contented myself with saying, "Women deal with
the aging/attractiveness issue sooner and to a
greater degree than men do." Which is
politicizing the issue unnecessarily, in my
opinion, but it shut him up.
We stood at the counter at Kinko's until 12:30,
bickering like siblings, until it became apparent
that Kinko's was incompetent and ignoring us, and
Grigorio had to make the Staten Island Ferry at 1.
He asked if I would stand there alone and deal
with Kinko's; I said no, I'm exhausted and
Kinko's SUCKS. After more bickering we settled
that I'd email him the postcard file, he could
stand in line at Kinko's all day tomorrow, and
the thing would be out of my life.
This morning I slept late and had a bizarre dream
about running into Marc Webb and Jamie Berger at
a gallery/library sort of space in Chelsea. I
remembered that Jamie had sent out a long letter
and decided to write back.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Monday and Tuesday I spent doing an ad hoc art installation on a loading dock in Jersey City. This guy I know had 'curated a show' there that was supposed to be opening this evening. He sent out a blanket 'call for volunteers' to build partitions and clean the place up for the show. After I got over being annoyed with people who think that my time is theirs for the asking, I showed up in Jersey city on Monday afternoon, to find this guy sweeping acres of filthy loading dock floor with a very small broom, and nothing else at all.
I was not terribly surprised, as this guy is of a type you get a lot of in NYC--the one who talks and talks, about all the people he knows, all his connections, his big ideas and gallery sales. I did not believe the talk. It simply occured to me that there has been an inchoate installation idea floating around in the back of my mind for several months, involving drawing on a really old, distressed wall in subtle and interesting ways. I had a feeling that the loading dock in Jersey City might be a place to try this out, and I was right.
So while the guy continued pushing his broom around and talking, I got out some charcoal and pencils, fetched a ladder, and started drawing. I drew for a few hours, then went to Staples for more supplies. The next day I returned with a boom box, extension cord, handmade paper from Chinatown, pencils, pastels, oil sticks, scissors, tacks, map pins, duct tape, mandala drawings, random things picked up off the ground, and two feathers. I spent all day playing kindergarten while blasting Arvo Pärt into the far reaches of the loading dock; I don't know what the local construction workers thought about it. The 'curator' pushed the dirt around on the floor for a few hours and finally went home.
Once I got done with my experimental mess on the wall, late Tuesday night, I lost interest in the project. The 'curator' called me several times to say how 'encouraged' he was that I was so enthusiastic; the carpenter who was supposed to be building partitions was not returning his calls, so he decided to go ahead with the opening on Saturday, just not hang any art. I ask you.
Wednesday the director of Arts Circle called and begged begged begged me to meet him at the Empire Bar between 7 and 11, where he is the house pianist. He had graphics and information for me which, for some reason, could not be sent over the Internet. I bitched and grumbled about this but showed up anyway; it was an excuse to leave my apartment. And there was, indeed, something a little glamorous about drifting into the Empire Bar at 10:15 with my laptop, perching on a barstool next to the pianist, and doing some desultory faux-antique graphic design while waiting for Grigorio to go on break. All I can say about the proposed benefit concert for displaced New Orleans musicians is that it looks good on paper; Grigorio talked with Woody Allen's manager about the possibility of getting Woody to play sax, but results are, so far, inconclusive.
Thursday the director of EAI called and begged begged begged me to come to his loft and rewrite the press release, answer phones, and attack the backlog of listings by artists who cannot follow 'upload' directions correctly. By this time I was starting to feel like a character in a Barbara Pym novel, a sort of ironic, tweedy middle-aged woman who sublimates her animal instincts by doing laundry for clergymen and typing anthropologist's theses. If it hadn't been Jerry I would have said no. I admit it--I have a crush on Jerry. Not Jerry qua Jerry, himself--what I love about him is that he is utterly open about how M.J. is the love of his life, the inspiration for everything he's doing, his reason to devote himself to emerging artists everywhere, and I have no desire to screw that up. No, Jerry is only my new template. I'd like to meet someone just like him, but available, a little bigger, and a bit less hyperactive. That doesn't mean I wasn't watching his hands moving around on the keyboard, and the way he'd take his hair down for no real reason and put it back in its ponytail, and his smile. It Has Been Awhile.
In fact, the Coney Island episode of a few weeks back definitely woke up my 2nd chakra. Unfortunately, simply getting laid isn't the issue. If it were, I could probably do a few shots of tequila, wander down to 18th and 4th avenue and have my pick of cute Latino gangsters. I'm not merely 'over' the ex, thankfully and finally. I've spent the last year really learning boundaries, which has cleared up my 3rd chakra (identity) and 4th chakra (heart). Which means, I think, that I might be capable of connecting with another person in a somewhat non-dysfunctional way. I don't know, though, because I haven't found a test subject yet.
Thursday after Jerry called my phone line went dead, possibly in order to protect me from more phone calls from desperate men. (Boundaries?) I fell into a state of panic and despair when the lady from MCI said that a repair visit would cost me $180, and thought briefly of cashing in all my available credit and departing permanently for South America.
But then on Friday I got a different lady at MCI, who apologized for the trouble I was having and promised to deal with it immediately; she also helped me access my voicemail, which contained messages from desperate paying clients. I earned $160 in cash and a lot of gratitude. Also, Lara called me from California to say she'd won the screenwriting competition. This caused me to hoot myself hoarse; I am genuinely, profoundly thrilled at my friends' successes. Hoo-wheee.
Then on Saturday were all the art openings. I thought I was working at BWAC, but upon arrival discovered that no, I'd signed up for Sunday. So I hung out by the bar for two or three hours, consuming random bad things and soaking up community vibes. A semi-retarded individual sat down next to me and talked soothingly of many nothings (you know the Long Island Railroad? I saw the train tracks, on Myrtle Avenue, I saw them! My friend, has a dog, the dog won't stay with anyone, he likes me, licks me, jumps up and down, but won't stay) and I did not mind at all, just smiled and nodded and dozed.
In front of my apartment I met my next-door neighbor, an upstanding young man who has been in the Air Force, surfs, rides horses, and scuba dives for shipwrecks. He has adopted the alley cats and named them Reef and Giala. After we'd been discussing the cats for some time, along came the prophet Jeremiah, in the form of a drunken Samoan from down the block. Jeremiah did a great deal of portentious mumbling, much of which I couldn't catch, but the gist of which seemed to be that my next-door neighbor and I should get married. Not immediately, but someday. I thanked him, and urged him to go home and drink a glass of water (compulsive maternality dies hard). "I love Brooklyn," said my neighbor, as Jeremiah wandered away.
Then I set off for Jersey City after all. I did not make it. Traffic was horrible, the Holland Tunnel costs $6, and after sitting on Canal St. for an hour I decided that the odds of reaching the loading dock at long last to find an embarrassingly pathetic scene were too high. I turned around and went to Lowe's instead, where I bought latex gloves, turpentine, chrysanthemums and a toaster. Mmmmm, kinky.
Late, after Prairie Home Companion, I went to the MadArts opening down the block, where I found the inevitable Steve the Poet. I have come to accept Steve as my brother--bad poetry, bad teeth and all--and we had a pleasant chat. He kept backing me around the room, but again I hardly minded. Boundaries are all about knowing you CAN walk away at any moment; then you choose to stay.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
An Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare StateThen, someone else sent me this one:
An Objectivist Review
by Robert Tracinski | The Intellectual Activist
September 2, 2005
It has taken four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it has also taken me four long days to figure out what is going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.
If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.
Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicle, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.
But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.
The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.
The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.
The man-made disaster is the welfare state.
For the past few days, I have found the news from New Orleans to be confusing. People were not behaving as you would expect them to behave in an emergency--indeed, they were not behaving as they have behaved in other emergencies. That is what has shocked so many people: they have been saying that this is not what we expect from America. In fact, it is not even what we expect from a Third World country.
When confronted with a disaster, people usually rise to the occasion. They work together to rescue people in danger, and they spontaneously organize to keep order and solve problems. This is especially true in America. We are an enterprising people, used to relying on our own initiative rather than waiting around for the government to take care of us. I have seen this a hundred times, in small examples (a small town whose main traffic light had gone out, causing ordinary citizens to get out of their cars and serve as impromptu traffic cops, directing cars through the intersection) and large ones (the spontaneous response of New Yorkers to September 11).
So what explains the chaos in New Orleans?
To give you an idea of the magnitude of what is going on, here is a description from a Washington Times story:
"Storm victims are raped and beaten; fights erupt with flying fists, knives and guns; fires are breaking out; corpses litter the streets; and police and rescue helicopters are repeatedly fired on.
"The plea from Mayor C. Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to restore order and stop the looting, carjackings and gunfire....
"Last night, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said 300 Iraq-hardened Arkansas National Guard members were inside New Orleans with shoot-to-kill orders.
"'These troops are...under my orders to restore order in the streets,' she said. 'They have M-16s, and they are locked and loaded. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will.' "
The reference to Iraq is eerie. The photo that accompanies this article shows National Guard troops, with rifles and armored vests, riding on an armored vehicle through trash-strewn streets lined by a rabble of squalid, listless people, one of whom appears to be yelling at them. It looks exactly like a scene from Sadr City in Baghdad.
What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the Super Dome?
Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?
My wife, Sherri, figured it out first, and she figured it out on a sense-of-life level. While watching the coverage last night on Fox News Channel, she told me that she was getting a familiar feeling. She studied architecture at the Illinois Institute of Chicago, which is located in the South Side of Chicago just blocks away from the Robert Taylor Homes, one of the largest high-rise public housing projects in America. "The projects," as they were known, were infamous for uncontrollable crime and irremediable squalor. (They have since, mercifully, been demolished.)
What Sherri was getting from last night's television coverage was a whiff of the sense of life of "the projects." Then the "crawl"--the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels--gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city's jails--so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.
There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit--but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals--and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep--on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.
All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters--not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency.
No one has really reported this story, as far as I can tell. In fact, some are already actively distorting it, blaming President Bush, for example, for failing to personally ensure that the Mayor of New Orleans had drafted an adequate evacuation plan. The worst example is an execrable piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail, by a supercilious Canadian who blames the chaos on American "individualism." But the truth is precisely the opposite: the chaos was caused by a system that was the exact opposite of individualism.
What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. They don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.
But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.
The welfare state--and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages--is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.
Source: TIA Daily -- September 2, 2005
Copyright© 2002 The Intellectual Activist
Eyewitness Report from New Orleans
September 6, 2005
On Saturday September 3, award-winning filmmaker Gloria La Riva, internationally-acclaimed photographer Bill Hackwell and A.N.S.W.E.R. Youth & Student Coordinator Caneisha Mills, a senior at Howard University, arrived in New Orleans.
The following is an eyewitness report of the crisis in the area written on Sunday, September 4.
While 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water, Algiers is one of the few districts that have been spared the worst of the flooding as it sits higher than most of the city. An historic district established in 1719, Algiers is on the west bank of the Mississippi river, across from the French Quarter. Probably 15% of the residents still remain behind, most of them determined to stay in their homes. The majority of homes are still intact, although many have suffered damage. While their houses survived, the peoples’ chance of survival seemed very bleak since there was no electricity or disbursement of food, water or other supplies.
We arrived in the Algiers district of New Orleans after getting through seven checkpoints. We quickly learned that the current media reports that relief and aid have finally arrived to New Orleans are as false as all earlier reports that also had as their origin government sources. The people in the Algiers area have received nothing or next to nothing since the Hurricane struck. Left without any way to escape, people are now struggling to survive in the aftermath. Now they are being told they have to abandon their homes, even though they want to stay. They are not being given what they need to stay and survive, and are being told they must leave.
“Imagine being in a city, poor, without any money and all of a sudden you are told to leave and you don’t even have a bicycle,” stated Malik Rahim, a community activist in the Algiers section of New Orleans. “90% of the people don’t even have cars.”
One woman told us it was not possible for her to evacuate. She said, “I can’t leave. I don’t have a car and I have nine children.” She and her husband are getting by with the help of several men in the community who are joining resources to provide for their neighbors.
The government claims that people can get water, but residents have to travel at least 17 miles to the nearest water and ice distribution center. Only one case of water is available per family. Countless people have no way to drive.
While the government is touting the deployment of personnel to the area, there is a huge military and police presence but none of it to provide services. All of them, north and south of the river, are stationed in front of private buildings and abandoned stores, protecting private property.
The goods that the government personnel are bringing in are for their own forces. They are not distributing provisions to people who desperately need them.
Not one of them has delivered water to Algiers or gone to the houses to see if sick or elderly people need help. There is no door-to-door survey to see who was injured.
The overwhelming majority of people who have stayed in Algiers are Black but some are white. One man in his late 50s in Algiers pointed across the street to a 10-acre grassy lot. It looks like a beautiful park. He said, “I had my daughter call FEMA. I told them I want to donate this land to the people in need. They could set up 100 tractor trailers with aid, they could set up tents. No one has ever called me back.” He is clearly angry.
Although some of the residents do express fear of burglaries into houses, acts of heroism, sacrifice and solidarity are evident everywhere.
Steve, a white man in his 40s, knocks on Malik’s front door. He tells us, “Malik has kept this neighborhood together. We don’t know what we’d do without his help.” He has come in because he needs to use the phone. Malik’s street is the only one with phones still working.
Malik and three of his friends have been delivering food, water and ice to those in need three times a day, searching everywhere for goods.
There is a strong suspicion among the residents that the government has another agenda in the deliberately forced removal of people from Algiers, even though this particular neighborhood is not under water and is intact. Algiers is full of quaint, historic French-style houses, with a high real estate value, and the residents know that the government and real estate forces would like to lay their hands on their neighborhood to push forward gentrification which is already evident.
Downtown New Orleans
Although entry is prohibited into downtown New Orleans north and east of the Mississippi, we were able to get in on Sunday.
The Superdome is still surrounded by water and all types of military helicopters, army trucks, etc are coming in and out of the area; however, most of the people who survived have already left. On US-90, the only road out of New Orleans, convoys of National Guard troops are pouring into the city, too late for many. According to an emergency issue of The Times-Picayune, 16,000 National Guard troops now occupy the city.
Thousands of troops are in New Orleans but water is premium and still not available. One African American couple we met looking for water told us, “We have four kids. When they told us to leave before the hurricane we couldn’t. We have no car and no money.”
Undoubtedly it is similar in the other states that got the direct hit of Katrina, Mississippi and Alabama. On the radio we hear reports of completely demolished towns. What differentiates the rest of the Gulf coast from New Orleans is that the many thousands of deaths in New Orleans were absolutely preventable and occurred after the hurricane. On everyone’s lips is the cutting in federal funds to strengthen the levees of Lake Pontchartrain. Two reporters from New York tell us they just came from the New Orleans airport emergency hospital that was set up. We made our way to the airport.
New Orleans International Airport
The New Orleans International Airport was converted into an emergency hospital center. Thousands of people were evacuated there to get supplies and food, and for transportation that would take them out of the city. Many people arrived with only one or two bags, their entire lives reduced to a few belongings.
Some people did not want to leave their homes, but say they were forced to do so. For example, one white woman and her husband were forced to evacuate. She said, “The military told us that we had one minute to evacuate. We said that we weren’t ready and he said they can’t force us to leave but if we don’t leave anybody left would be arrested … but it was the end of the month. The two of us have been living for a couple of months on $600 a month and rent is $550. At the end of the month, we only had $20 and 1/8 of a tank of gas. There was no way we could leave.”
When it became apparent that nobody was coming back to pick them up, the couple walked five miles to the airport to see if they could get help.
Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, doctors, nurses and community organizations came from as far as San Diego, California and Kentucky to provide support during the crisis. None of them were dispersed into the community. When we arrived at the airport on Sunday, September 4, there were approximately 20 medical people for every one patient while people in regions such as Algiers and the 9th ward were left to fend for themselves.
The majority of people in New Orleans blame the local and national government for the catastrophe. One young Black man said, “The government abandoned us … [it’s] pre-meditated murder.” Another said, “Why would you [the government] protect a building … instead of rescuing people that have been without food or water for three or four days? It seems like that was the plan. … We couldn’t starve them out, the hurricane didn’t kill them, it seems planned.”
As we drive to Baton Rouge tonight to visit evacuated people, we hear on local radio that possibly 10,000 people have died in the flooded areas of New Orleans. Tonight in one announcement, we hear the names of some of the missing people still being searched for, a 90-year-old woman named Lisa, a man 102 years old, two women 82 and 85 years old. The elderly, the most vulnerable, left to their own devices.
Bodies are lying everywhere, and hidden in attics and apartments. The announcer describes how one body, rotting after days in the sun, was surrounded by a wall fashioned from fallen bricks by survivors, and given a provisional burial to give her some dignity. Written on the sheet covering her is, “Here lies Vera, God Help Us.”
At a Red Cross shelter outside of Baton Rouge, we meet Emmanuel, who can’t find his wife and three sons after the floods. His story is shocking but not unusual. His home is near the 17th Street Canal, where the Pontchartrain levee broke through.
“I stayed behind to rescue my neighbors while I sent my wife and kids to dry land,” he says. It is difficult for him to relate what happened. He had a small boat so he went from house to house picking up neighbors. While doing so, he encountered many bodies in the water.
“My best friend’s body was floating by in the water. One mother whose baby drowned tied her baby to a fence so she could bury him after she returned.” Because troops kept driving by him and others without helping them, he had to walk 30 miles north until he was picked up.
The people of New Orleans did not have to die; their lives did not have to be destroyed. This conduct of the government is a crime of the highest magnitude. There is not a single adjective that is adequate.
Negligence, incompetence, callous disregard while all are true, none are sufficient. Those who manage a system that always and everywhere puts the needs of business and private property ahead of the people, that always find money to fund wars that benefit the rich of this country rather than meeting people’s needs should be held responsible and accountable. The real problem however, is not with the managers of the system, but with the system itself. They call it the free market. It is the economic and social system of plutocracy, the system of modern capitalism, of, by, and for the rich that in words declares itself to be of, by and for the people. The reality, however, can now been seen in the streets of New Orleans.
Act Now to Stop War & End Racism
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It doesn't ask
It just walks in where it left you last
You never know when it starts
Until there's fog inside the glass around
Your summer heart
--John Mayer, "Something's Missing"
People keep asking, 'how has your summer been?" I know they're just making conversation, but I find it confusing. It's not like I did any thing differently "for the summer." Except turn into another person--there was that. Just in time, too. The old one was simply not a sustainable proposition.
Last year for my birthday I went to Canada. For a pile of bleeding nerve endings I was outwardly functioning fairly well--I made the 12-hour drive up to Toronto without mishap, was a neat and considerate houseguest, delivered up cut-rate massage therapy on cue, cooked and washed dishes. On my birthday I wanted to see 'Vanity Fair.' It had just come out, starring Reese Witherspoon, and I had been looking forward to it for months.
When it was time to leave for the theatre, my hostess looked me in the eye and snapped, "Well, I'd rather see 'Collateral.'"
So on my thirty-seventh birthday, in Canada, I watched Tom Cruise shooting people in cold blood, rather than the peerless Reese wrapping nineteenth-century aristocrats around her little finger. It wasn't such a big deal, which is why I didn't make a big fuss; a fuss would have been petty and embarrassing. It just sort of happened that I didn't feel like calling my Canadian hostess again until March. Of course, she wasn't calling me, either; over time and distance I could practically feel her seething, 'Serena hasn't called me in months, after I put her up for four days over her birthday, and listened to all that crap about her stupid broken heart.'
Over time my gradually healing mind began to pose the question, "Is this, then, friendship?" And the answer emerged, serenely and kindly, "No."
Which is, to this new person I've become, okay. The old me would have felt guilty, as though I were the one who had been selfish and petty, and envious and unforgiving. But that person is dead, killed by codependency. I've been thinking of making a T-shirt, or a bumper sticker: Codependency Kills. Maybe that sounds melodramatic. It's been running through and through my head.
It still surprises me when people don't get over it. My ex-friends are not horrible people, most of them--they can be generous and loving and fun. We've had a lot of wonderful times together. But over six months it has never once occurred to Neneng-girl, "You know, maybe it was a little childish of me to expect that Serena would include me in all of her projects, no matter how tentative or unsuitable, and unwise of me to force the issue when she was already under stress. I've been a bit spiteful, these last six months, failing to return her emails and phone calls, blowing off her exhibition and disinviting her to my events. Maybe I should call and apologize."
So, in peace and in gratitude, I am Letting Go.
This year on my birthday I had, at last, a reception for my show. Art receptions are a bit like college keg parties--people who attend them act like they are bestowing a bigger favor than people who throw them. I am not a trendy person at the moment; my art reception was not mobbed. Nobody was there who had the potential for being able to afford my work, at any time in the near or distant future. Not only did John Mayer fail to pop in and spontaneously perform acoustic renditions of "Clarity" and "Something's Missing," but H. couldn't even make it with his accordion.
But neither did I have a second to stand around wondering if anyone was coming, and for this I am grateful. Some Arts Circle people came, and one of them gave me a little jade frog, which is currently residing in my favorite plant. One of my clients came, the one who wrote a few months ago to say that I had 'inspired' her. A friend of my ex-boyfriend's came, the one who made a point of attending all of my openings even though we were never close; she is now separated from her husband of a year and a half, and looks as though a 16-ton weight has been lifted off of her head. "Last time I saw you I was such a mess," she said. "You are talking to someone who was a puddle of jelly for a year," I replied. "I would never judge you and I'm so glad you're here." Some of my less flashy and more dependable friends were there, and a friend of my mother's, whom she met at a knitting convention, and who turned out to be the retired executive vice-president of MOMA, in charge of publicity, marketing and fundraising. We all had a lovely time, and by eight-thirty I was ready for bed, and not at all interested in enabling the gentleman who followed me and Mom to the train station, hoping for a dinner invitation. Hint: social cheek kissing is not supposed to be damp; and I do not date men over fifty, particularly if they are still renting.
The gallery extended the show. They are renovating and don't want to change the art until after it is done; thus my show will be up until they can book a contractor, which means that it could very well stay there all season. I can't afford to hope that anything more will come of it, though. I did the best I could, postcards and emails and website and urging friends and family to push every remote contact button they could; the fact is that the gallery didn't help, I haven't reached critical mass, and it's time to ratchet up my massage practice and turn off the air conditioning.