Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Irrational rage

Okay, my biology is currently waging war against my Higher Self. There is no good reason for me to be mad at the poor hapless French girl. She would be mortified if she knew. If I met her in person I am sure I could never be so mad at her. She just misunderstood me. She's going through a rough time, too. This is an opportunity for me to practice loving others as myself. I am not mad at her. I am mad at myself. I am making a mistake, I am not seeing things clearly, I am projecting, externalizing my inner split, projecting the conflict in my inner self onto an apparent Other who is really me.

I was just thinking, this afternoon, as I left my apartment for the first time in three days, having been moping around with a low-level respiratory infection all weekend, that I should make Libby a CD of her show at my gallery. I have about 80 high-resolution JPEGs of her fabulous installation, and she ought to have them to make into slides. I was thinking this because when I checked the mail on the way out the door, I discovered my slides and rejection form letter from the Smack Mellon residency program, the one that Libby was applying for last year, during her show. According to the letter, there were 430 applications for six studios, so neither I nor Libby should feel too bad about not getting one. I felt bad anyway. But it occurred to me that if Libby had some really high-definition slides of that installation, she might have better luck, next year.

Lest you think that I am some sort of psycho creepette with the inability to distinguish where Self ends and Other begins, let me hasten to add that Libby is about the only artist who showed at my gallery on behalf of whose career I would still cheerfully put in dozens of hours of unpaid labor. Libby, bless her, deserves it. All the others can go to hell--the ones who didn't hang their show by the deadline or pick it up when it was over, the one who spurned a Really Good Offer because she thought her piece was worth five times as much (it wasn't), the ones who showed me engaging, vibrant work in their studios and then brought lame, unprepossessing crap into the gallery, the ones who assumed I'd promised them a show because I was polite and actually looked at their portfolios, the ones who never even got as far as SHOWING me a portfolio but STILL expected a show, the ones who still owe me money.

Oh yes, I'm touchy, I admit it. Just because I can empathize with gallerists and college professors who are horribly rude to art students and ex-art students who want everything for nothing, doesn't mean I espouse rudeness, though. It hurts my feelings when gallerists and college professors snap at me or worse, completely ignore me, and I try not to behave this way toward other people. So when friends of friends write to me, telling me the Story of their Life, and wanting me to look at their Art, I say thank you, how lovely of you to write, send me some images, how nice. The hapless French girl, a friend of a friend, wrote to me half a year ago, and I wrote back to this effect.

I didn't hear back from her until today, when she wrote to ask if my offer to post her art on my website was still open. Huh? What art? What offer?

The proper response to this was, of course--I'm terribly sorry, my memory, dreadful, must be approaching decrepitude, but--who are you, exactly, again? No reason to be profoundly enraged. She just misunderstood me. It's a language problem, nothing more.

I know that the fact that I felt like someone had just injected essence of habanero chile into my carotid artery was just a symptom of stress. It is stressful when strangers pressure you to give them what you cannot give yourself. Earlier in the week I got a phone call from a guy who seemed to be under the impression that I was still running a gallery; he asked me how my "new shop" was going. "I don't have a shop, I'm working out of my apartment," I told him. "Oh, have you got room for art exhibitions, then?" he asked. Huh? "It's my apartment. I don't have a gallery. I don't intend to have another gallery, I'm working on my own art," I said, to be explicit. He went on to explain that he had plenty of galleries lined up to show his work, he just needed to schedule a show with one of them, only he hadn't, quite, yet. There was a hair salon in Jersey City that prominently displayed his portrait of the owner, though.

Compassion. That's the ticket. I need to feel compassion, we are all struggling, I need to focus on my blessings. The copy of Dante's Inferno that arrived as a surprise gift from friends in California, the other morning, blessing! Blessing! The friends even more than the Dante! The supportive family, the warm apartment, the new dishwasher that actually arrived the day after I gently teased Phil the Neanderthal about it! (I seem, bizarrely enough, to have gotten under Phil's skin--he actually behaves as though he likes me and wants me to be happy. Miracles never cease.)

I'm just going through a Phase. A phase of misanthropy, guilt, and self-doubt, one symptom being--putting an ad on Nerve.com with the headline, "Courtesan seeks Patron. Wastrels need not apply." Obviously I'm not ready to date, yet. But still I must wreak my wrath on strangers.

Why do I DO these things? Why can't I just be content, and accepting, and not totally fall to pieces when I discover that somehow I managed to assemble a 4' x 5' canvas stretcher with two corners at right angles and the two opposing corners about two degrees off, and did not discover this fact until the glue was dry, the canvas stretched AND gesso'd, and it was completely impossible to rectify, so that now the masterpiece that was to win the Onassis competition looks as though it is about to lurch precipitately off the wall? And thus completely lose my will to continue?

My dear friend Caroline returned from her spiritual retreat all glowing. She finally understood that reality as we perceive it is an illusion, created by madness. She keeps urging me to access the bliss of eternal oneness. This week I haven't managed this, quite. I'm still struggling with my imaginary boundaries, trying to gently correct the lines without totally flipping out.

I wrote to the French girl, "I encourage you to create your own website; it's not difficult or expensive. There are probably a lot of people in your town who would help. At the moment I'm not designing pages for other artists. Please send me the URL of yours when you get it posted, and I look forward to seeing it!" Was this harsh? I hope this wasn't harsh.


Anonymous said...

(from Beck) I do this too - get wildly furious when someone makes a request that goes just a bit too far. I think it's because I don't 100% reject their request. If someone askes me for something entirely unreasonable--"will you give me a million dollars?" I just laugh.

But sometimes people say things like "your organization should scan all these conceptual sketches, take copious notes every time anybody has a discussion, and post it all on the web in a meticulously organized, platform-independent format, in case I want to surf by occasionally and see what you're up to, and research in-depth anything that catches my fancy. I'm not really good at meetings or getting stuff done so I can't help you set it up. But you should." And I have to do deep-breathing exercises not to go apeshit.

I think it's because I would actually love for people to be able to access a fabulously simple to use yet in-depth archive of everything we have done for the past five years. Just as you would love to get gallery shows with one phone call and someone to make you a free promotional website.

And maybe the only reason that's not possible is because we don't want to spend all our free time, and some of our sleep time, setting it up instead of meeting our other obligations, or even having fun.

Which is totally reasonable. But there is that little voice in the back of my head saying "does this mean I'm lazy and don't deserve to be successful?"

And, in fact, if I have spent 2 hours a day for the past 2 weeks doing volunteer work, I get much less annoyed than when I have slacked off a bit. Then, I'm already slightly on the defensive and I get even more defensive.

When I get defensive, people can tell, obviously, and the whole interaction degenerates. Maybe someday I will be able to say with a straight face, "hey, that's a great idea. Too bad I can't prioritize it. If you know someone who will do this for free, please put them in touch with me."

Perhaps then they would suddenly realize that they are asking me to do something that a reasonable person would expect to get paid to do. Perhaps then they would become suitably embarrassed and leave me alone. You never know.

So I don't think compassion is necessarly the key, as much as cheerfully "reminding" people where a reasonable boundary is. I think your note to the French girl was nicer than it even needed to be. What's with "at the moment I'm not designing pages for other artists." Do you ever? Would you ever even want to?

Compassion for someone doesn't imply responsibility for them, surely. As the saying goes, "Nobody loves a martyr. Not even the martyr." That's why people who give and won't take are as annoying as people who take and won't give.

That reminds me of a conversation I had with someone I've since removed from my life (for not unrelated reasons). I said that when I pay attention to people's energy, I discover things about them that they probably would rather I didn't know, and I was musing on the difficulty of handling it. I meant handling it in a social sense; I believe it is rude to imply that you know things about someone that they have kept private. And she said, "you can always send them compassion." I thought it was interesting that she assumed I was troubled because I didn't know how to handle it in a "I must DO something about this" sense. God, what a burden, to walk around beaming compassion at all the broken people of the world. How intrusive. How rude.

Not that compassion isn't a useful tool when someone is getting on my nerves. But the compassion is for my consumption, not theirs. :-)

serena said...

That's exactly it! I tend to go right for the heal-the-broken-other, rather than taking time to heal myself first.

Actually, I HAVE designed pages for other artists--for Julio, Ramon, Libby, and Chris. They were being represented by my gallery, so theoretically I might have gotten paid for it eventually, but as it happens I didn't, much, and it took up a year's worth of energy that didn't go into my own work. And these were people whose work I'd actually seen and had the opportunity to curate. The French girl never even got it together to show me anything.

I tend to take the Golden Rule a little too literally, I guess. I feel as though I have no right to be narcissistic and only promote myself, when a truly enlightened soul would promote all Art equally, for the sake of Art, not Self. But then quality issues come in, and I realize that I deeply and genuinely believe that my own work is more worthy of promotion than the work of most of the people who want me promote theirs, at the expense of mine. Thus I find myself still catering to narcissism, only in a more oblique way, and I'm back where I started, pissed off and frustrated to boot.

Julian Barter said...

That is so cute, I would of never thought of that. I am definitely making me one or maybe a few! Lol hair salon hoboken