Tuesday, November 30, 2004

High style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 20, 2004

They're here!

The new stretcher bars came! The ones I ordered from Jerry's Art-a-rama! Along with 10 yards of real Polish linen! Oh my God, they're SO BEAUTIFUL! I've just been putting them together. You match the slots up, tap them with a hammer, and the corners are all smooth and square; you put some glue on the corner keys and slide them in and they stay, all square like that; you notch the cross braces and put them down and they fit exactly, you add a little glue and nail them down with a couple of brads and they're done, like frozen pie crust. They're drying in my studio now. The front edges are all gloriously and perfectly beveled, and sanded, and mitred. I petted them.

Of course, this all cost a jillion dollars on my credit card, but I DON'T CARE. I tried to be thrifty, I was resourceful, clever and daring. I put a note on Craigslist for any carpenter in the Brooklyn area who was willing to build stretcher bars in exchange for free massage, I emailed my entire client list with the same offer, I canvassed friends and friends of friends, and the guys in the woodshop next to Galapagos. You would think that any decent carpenter would be just dying for bodywork, in return for such an easy job as building stretcher bars, but you would be wrong. I did get a call from a guy who owns a frame shop up in Westchester, who checked out my website and was remarkably persistent--so when these beautiful paintings on these beautiful stretcher bars are finally complete and in an exhibition, they will have FRAMES TOO. It's all too much.

For the last week I think I have been suffering from post-election flu. I know I'm among sympathetic people here, so I am not afraid to admit that I became completely hysterical while ill-advisedly watching Shrub's acceptance speech. The country really is in the grip of a right-wing backlash, no shit no joke. Election day I woke up so happy. "I'm going to go VOTE!" I sang to the cats. I bicycled up and down the avenues, carolling "I'm going to VOTE for KERRY, have you VOTED today?" I really thought he'd win, and the nightmare would be over, and we'd all go back to loving one another, like the police state and suicide bombs and director of CARE International getting kidnapped and brutally murdered on video had never, would never happen. I VOTED, then I went home to PAINT, happy day, leaving my bicycle chained to the fence downstairs, since I was planning on taking it out again to watch the returns at Barbés.

When I came down, someone had stolen the rear wheel of my bicycle. A bad omen, almost a really bad metaphor. I walked to Barbés. The gathered crowd welcomed me like a neighbor, which is what I am, unlike the pretentious twits at Galapagos, which is where I didn't go, because I figured that there was a 99% chance that the ex would be there. He never wanders far from his rathole, sorry, home. Anyway, a very nice, handsome guy at Barbés immediately transferred his full and complete attention from the election returns to me, which was mildly gratifying, particularly as he didn't try to get me to go home with him right then. He just remarked calmly, at various intervals, that I was beautiful, and smart, and calm, and grounded, and a good listener. And beautiful. He wanted to see me again; I said maybe, I'm not dating just now, but thanks. Really, I mean it, thanks.

The day after the election I didn't get much done. I put a bicycle wheel on my credit card, and wandered around aimlessly, feeling sort of swollen. The next morning I was still in an unmotivated funk when the phone rang. "This is Mike at Jerry's Art-a-rama. Sorry to bother you agin, but how do you want these cross braces notched?...so the long ones on the bottom and the short ones on the top, thank yew, that's all Ah needed to know." This made my entire day, I kid you not. Too many employees of mail-order art supply stores would have just notched the cross braces all wrong, or not at all, and slammed them uncaringly into the box, leaving me to perhaps weeks of fury, phone calls, returns and adjusted bills.

We mortified Kerry supporters must be strong. There is a great spiritual challenge ahead of us. We must reach out to the backward fascist right-wing morons with compassion, tolerance and understanding. We must try to get inside their tiny little minds and communicate, we must not give up to alienation and separation, we must not all flee the country at once, or the world will only continue to get darker. This would have been easier if the wise, compassionate, informed and open-minded candidate had won, instead of the fanatical, aggressive, bigoted moron. But it warms my heart in a small way to imagine that perhaps Mike, of Jerry's Art-a-rama, voted Republican. Don't laugh. Leave me my hope that even Republicans are human.

Last week I saw one of my regular clients, an oddly buttoned-up and frighteningly driven woman who used to work for W magazine, and who now owns a clothing store that sells $100 T-shirts that people actually buy. She looked searchingly at me and said, "You look really good. You look better than I've ever seen you. You look like a burden has come off of you." Coming from someone in the New York fashion industry, that was a real compliment. I am still not sure that I agree with her--when I look in the mirror, too often I look older to myself, the sadder-but-wiser girl, the girl for nobody. But my APARTMENT looks really good, that I'm sure of. I have fully disemboweled, cleaned and re-organized nearly every space in it, now--the studio, the space-under-the-loft which is now my office, the inside hallway, the landing, the closet, the living room, even the bathroom. And today I stopped off at Lowe's to pick up some nails, spackle and odorless paint thinner, and came home instead with a matching incandescent torchiere and buffet lamp, which means that I never have to turn on the overhead fluorescent lights in the kitchen or bathroom ever again. This may not seem like such a big deal to you non-kinesthetic, non-energy-healer folks out there, but to me it feels like I have finally claimed my own home.

It is ironic, in fact, that I'm now on better terms with Phil the Neanderthal than with the former love of my life. Phil came over yesterday to install a carbon monoxide detector, said nothing about the fact that my landing is almost completely blocked with paintings, bicycle and massage table, and promised me a new dishwasher. It goes to show you that the surest way to inner peace and good relationships is to have no expectations of people whatsoever.

Do you know what? I am no longer going to be abashed about my spiritual stuff. I am doing Course in Miracles exercises daily, and they are saving my heart and my sanity, SO THERE. I have had it UP TO HERE with idiot boyfriends who scream and rant that I am headed for a CULT, that they WORRY about me, as though I were like, STUPID or something for believing in this shit, which obviously only exists for manipulating morons into going into the army and dying for oil interests. I say to these idiot boyfriends, not GO TO HELL, but that YOU ARE IN HELL ALREADY, and hell is your own mind and your own choice, and you can stay there without me, thank you very much. So maybe I will choose to write a weekly treatise on whatever Course in Miracles exercise I am working on, and YOU DON'T HAVE TO READ IT.

That last paragraph was very un-Course in Miracles, I'll have you know. According to the Course, there is no separation among minds, in reality; all this stuff with bodies and wars and Republicans is just a delusion of the ego. Which is a great relief. In reality, all is peace and bliss and eternal love in the Mind of God, which may sound like the most mind-bogglingly, took-way-too-much-acid-before-I-was-ten sort of shit, real want-to-slap-you-in-the-face denial, but which, in its essence, corresponds closely with what Buddhists, shamans and assorted mystics have been telling us for thousands of years. And everybody knows that Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are really, really politically correct, and not cults at all. So give me a break already.

I dreamed the other night, actually, that this guy I met at a Course in Miracles meeting called up to ask me out, only he didn't leave his phone number. I tried to dial *69 to call him back, but I couldn't because this old friend of mine whose contact information I had accidentally-on-purpose lost, because she complained more than 80% of the time in casual conversation, had called after he did, and in fact had shown up unexpectedly, uninvited, for the weekend. She was explaining to me how I was easy to track down, she'd just called my friend in Canada, and meanwhile I was frantically trying to email the guy from Course in Miracles, saying I'm so sorry, I'd really like to see you, and the keyboard wouldn't work, and I woke up still trying to type. The guy from Course in Miracles really is great except that he's, like, probably, seven years younger than me, and I can't, can't, can't go there. But why in the world would that be represented by a whiny girlfriend? Any ideas?