Monday, July 11, 2005

This is my life

Today's schedule: 9 AM, get up, feed cats, shower, make tea, read New Yorker, email, journal, blogs, painting analysis, lunch. 2 PM, massage client. Change into painting clothes, work on large caty-wampus painting, because supplies from Jerry's have not yet arrived. 6:30 PM, yoga class. After class, go to bank to deposit massage $$, to co-op to pick up basic supplies and submission form for ad in "Linewaiter's Gazette," in the hopes that I can get more clients. Dinner. 9 PM; bike to East Village to hear member of artist's circle perform in piano bar. Midnight; meditation, Course in Miracles, bed.

A large part of my feelings of artistic and social paralysis, guilt, isolation and fear have to do with the fact that a deep inner part of me is sure, sure, sure that something terrible will happen to me for living like this. I mean, what? I'm not WORKING. I am not getting up at an agonizingly miserable hour, getting on the subway, sitting in an ugly place doing tedious, boring things for 9 hours, taking the subway home again and spending my evenings trying to summon the energy to make Great Art while physically, emotionally, morally and spiritually exhausted.

Well, something terrible WILL happen to me, if I don't get more clients and nothing sells out of my show--eventually, that enormous check to Phil the Neanderthal I have to write every month will bounce, and me, my plants, cats and paintings will be homeless.

But every time I look into getting a miserable, boring job, I look at the numbers, and realize again that one massage client=one ENTIRE DAY at miserable, boring job. And so I spend one more week in guilty limbo, and one more, and one more. Pray for me, pray for my lazy, unrealistic soul.

Yesterday I went again to Sund4y at Sunny's, and again nobody would talk to me, despite the fact that I was smiling and approachable, but I've come to expect this and really, really just continue to go for the readings and the free coffee. Beforehand I stopped off at BWAC to check on my painting, and I was glad I did--they had moved it, and hadn't printed any labels saying who painted it or how much it cost. Also, all my postcards and their dispenser had disappeared, along with the pen for my comments book, which vanished even before the last show opened. So fuck it, I stole another dispenser, borrowed a hammer, nailed it up, filled it with postcards, returned the hammer with thanks, and hassled John and Anna about the labels. I don't know if they will actually get printed, but my postcards are there. It is my goal to place every single postcard in a good home before my show comes down in September. I used to think that self-promotion was vulgar, but in New York it is a necessity of survival.

A woman in a sunhat and bleached-blonde hairdo about 20 years too young for her was berating Anna for saying that her work was 'not as strong' as another artist's. She was ranting loudly about how "you don't have to LIKE my work, I'm self-taught, I've been working for 20 years..." as if this made her look less like a total jackass for pitching this particular kind of fit. Note to outsider artists: never do this. There are right and wrong kinds of fits to pitch. When someone drops your painting on a nail and punctures it, it is permissible to report this fact tearfully to every important person within earshot, provided you take it home and fix it in a way that proves you know your shit. You can make people re-print your labels if your name is misspelled, but you may not whine that so-and-so's painting was hung in the best spot because she's the borough president's campaign manager. Basically, the goal of fit-pitching in the art world is to demonstrate absolute, internal self-confidence, so that next year you get the spot next to the campaign manager.

I learned the art of effective fit-pitching in art school, during the course of several successive and obviously rigged 'competitions'. There was one student who exemplified, to my mind, everything vile about institutional politics; being a mind-bogglingly bad artist, her path to career success lay through blackmail. "I'm being discriminated against for being a mixed-race black/Native American lesbian," she would cry, when she wasn't on the list for the scholarship, honor studio, or gallery jurying--and they would actually give her the award. I would have shot off my big toe to avoid association with her.

But after losing the scholarship, two successive gallery juryings and one honor-studio competition, I felt that I could not safely rely upon talent, discipline and quiet integrity to ensure my career advancement. When the results of the final, staggeringly skewed honor-studio competition were posted, absent my name, I marched up to the list in broad daylight and wrote on it, clearly, in ink. Then I dropped the matter entirely, being charming and polite to all faculty members whom I knew had dissed me.

They got the sign down fairly quickly, but not before several student body ringleaders had passed by and read, aloud, "'Go to hell. Go directly to hell; do not pass Go, do not collect $200. (signed) Serena T. LaBella.' BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!"

This would not have worked, of course, if my talent, discipline and relatively quiet integrity hadn't earned me some name recognition among the student body; I think the faculty were afraid of me. The day before the semester ended, I got a call from the head of the painting department. "We found you an honor studio. Another student failed to re-qualify." They gave me the best one. The student who failed to re-qualify was the black Native American lesbian, oddly enough.

Saturday my big adventure was biking to Pearl Paint for 200 ml tubes of titanium white. I was in a horrible mood, having decided to torture myself by digging up and re-reading the last letter sent to me by the ex-lover who, up until the beginning of May, was calling regularly and begging me to visit him because he was horny. In May I abruptly stopped hearing from him until two days before my show hung; then I received a cheery little note describing the rains and the flowers and the amiga who is visiting him through August. At the time I allowed myself thirty seconds to be startled and upset before I decided simply to never contact him again, and pushed it out of my mind. But Saturday morning I realized, "wow, that's really MEAN," and burst into tears.

Biking into Manhattan on a sunny Saturday didn't help my mood, unfortunately. The Brooklyn Bridge is fun to bike across, except for the tourists who stand planted in the middle of the bike lane with their cameras pointing at lousy shots, and the toddlers on tricycles who stray determinedly into your path, and the packs of bored teen-agers who look right at you and don't get out of your way, and the couples holding hands who don't look at you at all and don't get out of your way, and the other cyclists coming the other direction who seem determined to run you off the bridge, or into the tourists. Then once you get to Canal Street it is gridlock in every direction; pedestrians stepping off the sidewalk directly into your path and staying there, trucks unloading in the middle of intersections, traffic cops who defend the rights of no-one.

Then in the paint department at Pearl, a salesperson asked what I needed. "Your best deal on white oil tubes," I said. "Professional or student grade?" "Professional, definitely." "You're in the wrong aisle. Professional grade is over here, at $18 a tube. Goodbye," she said.

Well, I go through about a tube and a half of white a week, when I'm in form; 'professional' or not, $18 a tube for Gamblin is too high. I skulked back to the 'student grade' aisle, hid three $8 tubes of Georgian under my bike helmet, treated myself to a couple of new palette knives to ease the pain of humiliation, charged the lot on my 'emergency' credit card and left. Not wanting to feel like a friendless loser, working alone all weekend, I decided to stroll around Soho before returning to Brooklyn.

Soho sucked, too. All the outdoor patios were full of people having fun in merrily chattering couples or groups; all the sidewalks were full of crappy art and jewelry, all the stores were full of size-4 princess clothing that was ludicrously out of my price range. I bought an ice-cream cone and felt fat, lonely, poor and guilty. After checking out the 'sale' at French Connection and discovering that they still wanted $40 for a size-4, almost-out-of-style-and-season tank top, I decided to head for home.

Just as I hit the Brooklyn Bridge, the thunderstorm broke, seemingly out of a clear blue sky. Huzzah! Suddenly all the happy people were screaming and getting out of my way. By the time I hit the peak of the bridge, I was drenched. By the time I coasted down the other side, I was trilling "'Till there was you," joyfully unto the Lord, and the one other wet cyclist who heard me and laughed. I sang most of the way home. Water on the skin is the best mood-rejuvenator I know. The glow lasted till the next day.

Sunday my rear wheel fell off when I was halfway across Hamilton Avenue, by the freeway exit and the Battery Tunnel entrance. I removed the wheel to change the inner tube on Thursday; I don't know how or why I was able to ride on it for two days if it wasn't properly re-attached. Some guy stopped and made ineffectual suggestions while I got it back on, largely unassisted. He reminded me of, and very well could have been, my last Nerve date nearly three years ago, who caused me to swear off online dating forever. I seem to recall that the 'clueless, desperate elf-guy', as I think of him, had, as one of his main conversational foci, the number of miles he'd clocked while losing 75 pounds (but not the pot belly.) Not the adventures he'd had, not the things he'd seen or thought about, just the mileage.

Fortunately he didn't seem to recognize me. Up until that historic date, I had assumed that men who asked me out through Nerve were, at least, reading my profile, and contacting me because they divined a spark of commonality between us. Oh, naive idealist, I. I never actually PAID for online dating, because up until quite recently, men outnumbered women 3 to 1 online. Also, it bothers me, chasing men; I want to be courted. But not courted by men whose standards are: female; has pulse; will listen to me whine about the hundreds of other females who, quite properly, blew me off. My final Nerve date caused me to break ranks with the ironclad politesse of a lifetime. After what was probably only twenty minutes of conversation which included, on his part, casual racism, embittered whining, weight loss/mileage ratios, and an offer to jump into my lap, I said, 'This isn't working out for me," grabbed my bag, hat and coat in one fell scrabble and bolted, shaking off the bad energy like a horde of rabid mosquitoes. I kept looking back in desperate terror that he might be following me.

So, well, meeting men by losing my bike wheel on Hamilton Avenue isn't working; neither is going to literary readings or weekend parties upstate. My friend H. asked me, "so, what do you want? Just some casual fun?"

No, no, no, no, no. I have spent my life slapping the faces of men who just want casual fun, then pretending that what I wanted was casual fun, then stopping that pretence and going properly apeshit on people who toy with my soul. Goddammit, I want a Real Relationship. One where, if there's a problem, the two of you discuss it and work it out in some way. Is this delusional and unrealistic? Other people around me seem to be having weddings and babies and buying houses and going to couples counseling.

Not that I'm whining, really. Really I believe in karma, and divine guidance, and resonance with particular people, and in making a life-plan to learn certain lessons before we're even born. I notice that in the past, I've simply run into the people I've needed to meet and recognized them, without having to make any particular effort. I'm just wondering when the next one is going to come along. Hello? You out there? I'm ready now. Not perfect, not even flat-tummied, but sufficiently de-traumatized from the last one that I can handle more punishment. At least I think so.

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