Friday, October 29, 2004

The awful truth

For those of you who know my identity (and if you don't know my identity, why are you reading this boring blog?), go check out my web page. I've spent most of the last four days on it. Surprising how little it seems, now.

So I'm officially out of the gallery, the healing space, my ex-boyfriend's building and his life. The last moments produced a torrential meltdown, as the ex-boyfriend distinguished himself by chatting casually and in a self-congratulatory manner about who he was going to rent the space out to next, and for how much, and by bringing out the bicycle he fixed up for me--the one I rode on all those times we biked across the bridge together for coffee and bagels in Manhattan, in bitter winter weather, and through the parks around the waterfront in summer--that bicycle, which for some reason he locked down in the basement last winter without consulting me--he brought that bicycle out and proceeded to discuss how he was going to readjust it for Jean, his friend's wife, who just had a baby and who came over to pick out the plants I was giving her for a housewarming gift. Not that I begrudge Jean the bicycle, but how tacky and tactless can you get?

Anyway, thank God for Neneng-girl, who literally hauled me back from the brink of hysteria, got my desk home, helped with all the heavy moving and forced me to go out to dinner with her afterward. I had plenty of groceries in the fridge, and no money to go out with, but it was probably for the best.

Looking back, I see clearly that I never wanted to be running a fucking gallery. Does this surprise you? It shouldn't. Looking back, I see that all I ever wanted, all I needed, was a better workspace and a partner who loves me enough to commit. I should have realized it, in fact I DID realize it, after we'd been together a few months and things were still blissful and rosy, and my landlord threatened to evict me in May. Boyfriend led me on with the idea that HE wanted more space, *I* wanted more space, we both had some money to invest, why not go to Staten Island and look at real estate? Then when we got there, suddenly he was looking at APARTMENTS for me to RENT by MYSELF and get ROOMMATES, and I said what the fuck? I am not renting an apartment in Staten Island by myself, one year after moving to New York, what are you thinking? And we nearly had our first blowout argument in front of his friend Roy, who I'd just met, and quite liked, and didn't want to drag into things.

There is always a convenient caricature for men like my ex-boyfriend to impose on women like me--the desperate thirtysomething with the ticking biological clock. So I shut up. I said, "yes, you're right, we don't have to hurry, of course it's too soon to move in, what was I thinking? Sorry." And I continued doing my impersonation of Superwoman. No, he didn't charge me rent for running a business in his building; he just got free massages, free labor toward capital improvements, and a whip over my head. "The business will be financially viable if you're doing 15 clients a week, if you're not doing that by May we'll call it quits," he said.

And I would agree, without thinking--is that what this man WANTS for me? Three clients a day, five days a week, when three massages a day brushes my limit of physical endurance? Plus running the gallery, answering phone, designing web site and publicity and curating and installing? And commuting across town daily because he has a phobia about living with me? When am *I* supposed to paint? Doesn't he believe in me as an artist? Do I believe in myself?

The fact is, being an artist, a real artist, the kind I have always wanted to be, is a full-time job. I have just finished re-organizing my portfolios for the last few years, and I can see that they are not there yet, they are not good enough. This is partly due to lack of maturity, and partly due to me not taking it seriously enough, not on the inside where it counts. Because I do everything else first.

But anyway, of course the business was never going to work, because boyfriend with his fear of commitment would freak out and sabotage things every time it looked like I was investing enough energy to actually succeed. Who can forget the Valentine's Day episode, when I was throwing a party to commemorate the closing of the best-selling show yet, with performance art and film screenings and dancing, and the day before he screamed at me, "We don't have a RELATIONSHIP, I'm not ATTRACTED to you! We think very DIFFERENTLY!" What does a person say, what does a person do, in that situation? Bring out a list of dates, times, locations, tapes of direct quotes and ecstatic noises? Suggest therapy? He would strangle me! I suggested "mediation," and a two-week "break." He didn't find a "mediator," he just came in sheepishly on Valentine's day, hung over from a vodka binge, and said, "I'm sorry. Thank you for being my Valentine anyway." And thank YOU for these grey hairs.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming the ex-boyfriend for my lameness as an artist. I'm blaming my parents for that. No, no. I'm blaming my own erroneous habits of thinking. I was waiting for some sort of definitive, external confirmation of my talent and worthiness before I got behind myself a hundred percent. I believed in myself, sort of--it's just that I didn't believe that the world at large was going to agree with me.

Now, all my three faithful readers, I'm not looking for strokes, here. This is MY problem, and I take full responsibility for it. I have started to make the shift--I am a full-time artist, now. I get up, work out, make breakfast, then I paint, and paint, or apply for grants, or work on my web page, or think and make sketches. If I don't get the grants, my plan is to apply for them again. Repeat until successful, dead or bankrupt.

So really, what was the hideous thing I tried to do to my ex-boyfriend? Oh, it was terrible. Secretly, oh, deviously, I wanted him to be my partner. I wanted to help him fix up his two or three or four empty, decaying rental units in prime real estate territory, make them beautiful, rent them out, and find a building that both of us together could buy. He would make it functional, I would make it beautiful. We would rent out still more units, live in the best and biggest and brightest one, I would have a big beautiful studio and make big beautiful paintings all day long. I would run a small healing practice, too, and he would do whatever the hell he wanted--design electronics, design buildings, fix up old computers, go to school, go climb Everest, whatever. This was the living hell I had planned for my boyfriend--the love, I thought, of my life. I'm so ashamed.

(You might ask, well, what were two or three or four rental units doing, decaying and empty, in prime real estate territory in an unmortgaged building? Oops, do not look too closely. The state of the building mirrors the state of the soul.) The state of my ex-boyfriend's soul is none of my business, now. And the more the days go by, the more glad I am of this. We desperate biological clock women, we tend not to take phrases such as "fear of commitment" seriously. We think, "he's probably just never met someone as wonderful as me." And it's true, he hasn't. But that makes no difference. When a person runs their life in fear, the thing they fear most is a person who runs it in love.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Welcome to dinner

It's Friday evening at the Brooklyn Apartment, and we're having a European festival. Slow-cooked marinara on the stove, with Italian sausage and linguine, Edith Piaf on the stereo, bottle of merlot with Stilton and Carr's wafers for hors d'oeurves (is that how you spell 'hors d'oeurves'? Seems like that many vowels in a row shouldn't be allowed, but it LOOKS okay that way. That's how I spell, by appearance.) Anyway, to continue, at the Brooklyn Apartment the Art has recently been changed, to denote the official Closing of the Gallery, and now I am one of those Private Art Dealers where everything in my apartment is discreetly for sale.

Not really. There are a few pieces I won't part with, like the temple-shaped lacy-cut-out ceramic lamp, and the puppet from Java, and the flying pig. Most of the other stuff I'd let go for an easy grand. I put the big green sun painting above the couch, and lo! it may be sloppy, it may be weird, but it does the thing I painted it to do--it hits the viewer, or at least me the viewer, squarely in the solar plexus with an agreeably buzzy vibrator-like feeling, sort of pre-orgasmically. Subtly so. At least it helped me alleviate my rampant PMS this afternoon, when I hung it there, to the tune of my finally-re-discovered Widespread Panic tape, which had been lodged in the tape player in the gallery lo these many months, as I hunted for it high and low. Oh, I needed that album.

"They say, turn the bright lights on
And there you'll find the truth
They say, open up this book
And there you'll find the proof
If it feels like a can of worms
Keep the lid on tight, and they say
Don't let it get too bright...

I realize that I live my life as though a group of assorted Ph.D's, wastrel poets, French intellectuals and complicated performance artists were perennially invited to an informal supper, even when I'm all alone in my Brooklyn Apartment. I took those "Cosmopolitan" articles very seriously, the ones that say, "Never eat your meals standing up in front of the kitchen sink, or crouched in front of the refrigerator. Set a place at the table, light a candle, make an occasion out of eating alone." Man, I follow those instructions to the letter, every day of my life. I load the Herbie Hancock into the CD player, arrange the mood lighting, put a blend of sweet orange oil, lavender and patchouli into the aromatherapy ring, crack open a bottle of wine and make a date with Helen Santmeyer. "And Ladies of the Club" has been on my bookshelf for the last ten years. Every time I go into a used bookstore I see "And Ladies of the Club" in hardcover for, like, two dollars, and I think that I should get it and read it, then I remember that I've had it for ten years, and now I'm reading it. It's kind of slow.

"They tell me it takes sorrow, boy
To help you feel the joy
They say it takes poverty
To let you love a toy
No! You can't have the gold
Until you've shared the fight
And they say
Don't let her get too sad...

According to my informal personal calendar, I was supposed to go by the ex-Gallery today and pick up my desk, with the help of the ex-Boyfriend. Unfortunately, according to my biological calendar, it is one week before my period, which means that if I had followed my original plan, the ex-Boyfriend might now be hospitalized, and I might now be in jail. Or at the very least there would have been some nasty irreparable damage below the psycho-emotional waterline in one or both of us. I had a very explicit dream, just before waking, warning me of such, and so today I prudently went grocery shopping, and picked up my winter boot at the boot-repair place (the boot-repair guy, although old and foreign, butchered it) and polished the boots, and sewed up the spots where the cats have destroyed the living-room furniture, and sat for an hour with Janice's cat. Nice non-psycho-pre-menstrual stuff.

Now we have Jacques Brel.

"Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s'oublier
Qui s'enfuit deja
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus
Et le temps perdu...

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas.

Well, tu m'as quitte, ya. Fuck you. I'll bet, at this very moment, my ex-Boyfriend is eating raw carrots and hummus in his dank little Oliver Twist apartment, with the cracked, dingy, bare walls, the naked linoleum, the bare fluorescent light bulb, in his undershirt. With his miniscule dick hanging out. Oops. I promised myself that I would not realize any of those many and elaborate revenge fantasies, such as posting my ex-boyfriend's impotent dick size in all the ladies' rooms in Williamsburg. Oops.

So, okay, is it not equally pathetic to be eating elaborately alone, with candles and Jacques Brel, as in aforementioned dank little apartment under bare fluorescent bulb? With laptop and imaginary audience for company? Don't answer that.

I don't know how I got onto that track. I was going to use this evening's blog as an excuse for a discourse on the kinesthetics of painting, how painting for me is not primarily a visual phenomenon, but a full-body sort of thing, a dance, a physical relationship, but I think I got too drunk. This is what dinner alone will do for you. You forget to pace yourself, and suddenly you're more than halfway down the bottle of wine that Janice gave you for taking care of her cat. And you are not sufficiently articulate to articulate the paradox of manifesting a kinesthetic effect through a visual phenomenon. It's a bitch.

"Go! Put your work clothes on,
Go and leave your mark!

And they say
Don't let her get too dark...

I wouldn't want you to think I was really a sloppy painter. A narcissistic painter, a painter without regard to the intelligence or sophistication of her audience, an egoistic slob. No. I had something to say about details, about not insulting the intelligence of the viewer, but at the same time, not omitting anything important.

Moi je offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Ou il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu'apres ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D'or et de lumiere
Je ferai un domaine
Ou l'amour sera roi
Ou l'amour sera loi
Et tu seras roi
Ne me quitte pas

I saw Fall last weekend. Neneng-girl got back from Indonesia and we went to her mansion upstate. I cooked all the meals. Halfway through the weekend, Neneng-girl halfheartedly said, "I'll cook for you this evening," but it was easy to convince her that cooking is not a hardship for me, I do it all the time, it's a pleasure to share the food with someone so I don't have to eat the same thing four days in a row.

Can you imagine, my ex-boyfriend actually thought, when I said we were going upstate, that I'd SLEEP in his BEDROOM. He said, "The sheets in the green room are clean." As if I'd take the room with acid-green walls, overlooking the DRIVEWAY, where he always sleeps, instead of the purple one with a view of the mountains and the pink handmade quilt on the bed? Men are such idiots. Taking the green room would only remind me of the last time we slept there, when he went up the day before and got the house clean and the boiler repaired and the fires lit and dinner ready, a romantic weekend with his girlfriend, while I spent my Saturday delivering art in Manhattan and then racing back to Williamsburg without food and giving four massages in a row, and then getting lost and driving three hours, and then being so tired my whole body hurt, while he stayed up in that acid-green room until about three-thirty, with the light on, making horrible torturing noises on the shortwave radio which kept me awake so long that by the time he finally turned the light out I had such bad stomach cramps from rage and frustration that I didn't sleep until 7 the next morning. I didn't actually think he'd dump me if I asked him, "WHY ARE YOU TORTURING ME?" but I didn't ask him and he dumped me anyway.

I am a fool and my next boyfriend will not be like that. My next boyfriend will not expect me to be anything more than an artist. Because this was my fault. I picked a man who matched my projections, inflicted by my parents--that I have to perform daily miracles in order to be accepted for who I am. That I have to run a financially successful gallery within two years of moving to New York City knowing no one, while simultaneously running a full-time healing practice, while simultaneously producing enough brilliant paintings for a one-woman show in any major gallery any time the major gallery happens to ask, while simultaneously being the ideal self-sufficient progressive girlfriend who maintains separate living quarters and is as good as a schizophrenic nymphomaniac in the sack. Or. else. I. get. dumped. And the scary thing is that I almost pulled it off.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Home improvement

Transcript of today's letter to my landlord, good ol' Phil the Neanderthal.

Dear Phil--

Here, at long last, is the list of problems in my apartment.

1. Heating system is kaput. Does not go on when needed. Is this clear? Heating DOES NOT WORK. Can’t tell if it is the thermostat’s fault, the heating cycle system, or what. But I need a Heating System Expert to come and take a look at it, pronto.

2. Dishwasher leaks huge floods of water on the floor when in use. I have solved this problem temporarily by not using the dishwasher. But it would be nice to have another one, or a decent seal on this one.

3. Drain pipe under sink is corroded with age and leaking. I have solved THIS problem temporarily with duct tape and sealant. But the longer it stays like that, the messier the problem YOU’LL have in the future.

4. Temperature control dial on oven shattered with age. I have solved this problem temporarily by stealing one off a discarded stove on the street, but it doesn’t match the old one, and thus I can’t tell how hot the oven is, and my bread comes out funny.

5. Floorboards in bedroom stink horribly with previous tenant’s cat pee. This problem cannot be solved without ripping out the floorboards and putting in new ones, and thus WILL not get solved until I move out. But just wanted to get it on record that this problem was not of my causing, and that I have doused the area with cat-pee-eradicating chemicals, enzymes, and sealants, repeatedly, all to no avail.

6. Cover over fluorescent lights in kitchen is missing. When you reonovate this apartment, I’d recommend getting rid of those horrible fluorescent fixtures entirely.

7. Several ceiling tiles are cracked, stained and broken. I can live with this. Again, for future renovational reference, CHANGE THE UGLY CEILING.

8. Security gates, allegedly ordered a year and a half ago, never arrived. I knew you were only bluffing. That’s okay, I don’t like feeling like I’m living in a cage. But for the record, they’re not there.

That’s it! Have a great day!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Tragedy strikes again

Richard Avedon *can't* be dead, dammit. He wasn't supposed to die until he'd photographed me for my big biographical interview in The New Yorker, tentatively entitled "The Healer". Where are all my ambitions, now? Dust, dust, everywhere I go.

Actually, the first time I saw Avedon's work it scared me shitless. As luck would have it, I came of age at the moment that the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas, known principally for their (to me, totally uninteresting) collection of cowboy paintings, mounted an Avedon exhibition entitled something like "The American West," with soul-flaying portraits of drifters, carnies, oil-workers, prisoners, and blank-faced girls in Farrah Fawcett hairdos. My parents purchased the book for their coffee table. I knew then that if I ever saw Richard Avedon setting up shop at any carnival I attended, with camera and stark-white backdrop, I'd run the other way. Every distorting blow that life had dealt these people was highlighted in naked relief; to my teenage mind, tormented by a subscription to Seventeen magazine which had subliminally convinced me that nobody would ever love me if I didn't get a nose job, these photos were indecently cruel.

Nearly twenty years later, I think those same photos are beautiful, just like the fashion photos which revolutionized the medium, just like the celebrity shots, just like the New Yorker portraits which I will never be one of. The portait of Avedon in his obituary, standing in front of one of those grim oil-workers blown up twice his size, still scares me. This is a man who looked, and looked, and looked, and never stopped looking. He dropped in harness at 81, photographing a series of war wounded, in Texas. While I, finally living in New York, fret over my financial and matrimonial prospects and wait for my underpainting to dry. I wish I were a lot more like him. He will be sorely, deeply, irrevocably missed.

Yesterday I splurged on a ticket to a "New Yorker Festival" debate, "Art and Politics," with Adam Gopnik, Anna Deaver Smith, and some other noted intellectuals named Simon, Bernard, and Clive. The ticket was twenty bucks, and the mandatory "convenience fees" imposed by Ticketmaster came to eight-fifty. Scalping the intellectuals! Horrible! I nearly slammed down the phone. But opportunities like this were one of the major reasons I moved to New York, and for the last two years I've looked at the listings and reviews for plays, festivals, concerts, performances, and all the other wonders and promised myself that when my finances stabliized, I'd go. And this hasn't happened. Two years later I have yet to attend any of the cozy French bistros in Park Slope, let alone in Manhattan, nattering excitedly with my intellectual friends over the latest off-Broadway hit. I am not likely to see many familiar faces at Chelsea gallery openings, except those of people I'm sort of avoiding. I feel like I'm standing on a vortex of rent, heating bills, car insurance and parking tickets which is rapidly devouring my soul. Well, I suppose MOST aspiring artists who move to New York must feel this way, and few have already racked up their first dramatic, public failure, after only two years in the city.

But anyway, the debate made me very, very happy. Adam Gopnik said, at the end, "It's a measure of how interesting this was, that I was uncharacteristically silent." Indeed, Adam Gopnik in person is almost a stereotypically neurotic New Yorker; he talks too fast and has the physiognomy and mannerisms of a man with big psychological Issues that he has spent the last twenty years assiduously avoiding. But the debate was sheer bliss, because it was carried on by expressive, informed, intelligent people who think and argue for the sheer love of Stuff. Usually, when attending lectures entitled "Art and Politics" sponsored by lesser mortals (such as the SFAI faculty), I knaw at my fists for forty-five minutes before exploding into fluent and disgusted speechifying, after listening to dullards discuss whether Art is Political or Not, if Serious Art Should Say that War Is Bad, what the Responsibility of the Artist is in Response to AIDS, and other unbelieveably simplistic shit. During this debate I sat in rapt contentment as real humans chuckled over the unreliability of intellectuals, illustrated that transcendence is almost universally grounded in circumstance, and pointed out that many great artists have turned out to be political morons. Also that politics tends to come and get you wherever you're hiding. Nothing earth-shattering. Just conversant. I wandered out into the rain after the debate, basking in my love of the world in general, and New York in particular.

Then, oh then, I shopped. Sorry to shock you, but it's true. I had a GAP gift certificate from my sister, and I was set to savor it. I went to Barneys and found a display rack full of the very same hats that were hanging in my own personal gallery, one year ago, priced considerably higher than what they didn't particularly sell for last year. No, I wasn't bitter--well, I own three of those hats, acquired in barter at discount rates. And so my gallery WAS cutting-edge, and now I can prove it, and as an artist perhaps it's better to HAVE HAD a cutting-edge gallery then to still be running the damn thing, and thus have no time to make art.

Eventually, of course, I stumbled over a GAP, way sooner than the one I knew about at Astor Place. There are almost as many GAP stores in Manhattan as there are Starbucks, which is why my sister buys me gift certificates from there even though it is bland and arguably evil. Usually at the GAP I go to the sale rack and eke out my artist's budget on radically discounted, generic T-shirts and sweaters and linen pants, which I then wear with ethnic prints purchased from street vendors, until they become paint rags. Oh, this time I don't know what went wrong. I try to be immune to emotional manipulation by the GAP.

But the clearance rack depressed me. There was cute, cuddly postmodern lingerie on the clearance rack. You might think, having been recently dumped, that I'd want to splurge on some new lingerie, to re-affirm my erotic self, to clear away the cobwebs, to nurture the idea of future intimacy. I could not cope with the lingerie at all. Lifting it off the rack turned a knife in my heart. No, what my wounded limbic brain wanted was a preternaturally soft, bright white turtleneck sweater and a faux-shabby, fitted corduroy jacket lined with antique-looking cotton print fabric. The total price came to twice the amount of my gift certificate, but my limbic brain would not relinquish either item. It did the same thing in Philadelphia over a pair of crossed-lace men's snow boots. What appears to be the issue is that my emotional mind wants to feel comfortably, warmly, cozily armored. It wants clothes that will do the masculine job of protecting it, while not completely relinquishing femininity. Anything that smacks of intimacy freaks it the hell out.

Because last year my now-ex-boyfriend dragged me into a coat shop in Greenpoint and thrust me into a royal blue, full-length down overcoat with a fur-trimmed hood and embroidery on the cuffs. When I protested that I couldn't afford a new winter coat, he paid for half. I put the hood up and the color matched my eyes and he said I was adorable. One afternoon he came into my gallery with a pair of flannel-lined jeans in my size. I felt like a beloved woman. This year I will have to wear that coat and those jeans because I can't afford to throw them away. I have to live with piles of gifts that he gave me, furniture and appliances and tools, which are too big and necessary to give back. I wish I could take a tractor and dump every bit of this in his yard and set fire to it, spray-paint the walls of his dank little apartment with obscenities, smash the windows of his van. I haven't done this yet and will probably be able to restrain myself. But don't you dare tell me I'm crazy and violent, don't you dare. Betrayal makes people crazy.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

He called me "sir"

I forgot to tell you--my friend Caroline bought a car. That's not the story. The car she ended up with is a perfectly fine Honda, blue, low mileage, kind of choppy ride but solid and reliable. Before that, though, she almost got shafted by a creep. The creep posted a really splendid '98 Saturn sedan on craigslist for suspiciously cheap. Caroline called me that evening and said "I think I've been really stupid, I'm obsessing."

She hadn't been stupid, of course. The creepy stuff only started happening AFTER she'd given him a $600 cash deposit on the splendid car. He didn't write out a proper receipt, couldn't come up with the proper VIN to do a check, acted shifty. He told her that a New Jersey title for a car with North Carolina plates that wasn't in his name would be accepted by the New York DMV, no problem. She called the DMV and there was a problem, the problem being that they wouldn't accept it, period. Caroline was really upset. She asked if I would go with her to get her money back.

Oh, woo-hoo, a Confrontation. I got dressed up. I wore my purple silk calico dress with a shawl collar, my new burgundy clogs, and tasteful feminine jewelry. I put my hair in a twist and wore lipstick. I drove Caroline to the appointed assignation zone, having carefully coached her not to mention anything amiss until we had the bastard cornered.

He was a creep, all right. As soon as Caroline said, "I'm having second thoughts," he got belligerent. Said he wasn't giving her money back, had turned away customers for her, blah duh blah duh. Caroline was gentle with him. I wasn't. "You are doing something ILLEGAL. Give her her money or she will make your life hell," I told him. "You stay out of this, sir, I mean ma'am, I'm talking to HER," said the creep.

Ha! Did you hear that? He called me "sir!" We won, of course. Got every penny. I can't tell you what a milestone this is, for me. Getting older has its advantages. Back in my teens and twenties I used to crumple when confronting creeps; they used to run right over me, get all my money, reduce me to tears and trembling. This one didn't even make me flinch. I'm getting to recognize and understand creep tactics, and to despise them, and to dominate them. Sir, indeed.