Sunday, March 27, 2005


Maybe it's superstitious of me, but I see synchronicities as good omens, as signs that my mind is getting in flow, perceiving glitches in the Matrix. For example, when I hear on the radio that Ute Lemper will be singing at BAM with the Brooklyn Philharmonic on Saturday, and I pout and say aloud that I wish I could afford to go, and check my email to find that the Not Only Brooklyn newsletter announces "Special Promo for NOB subscribers, 50% off tickets to hear Ute Lemper." Then when I decide at the last minute to drive instead of taking the train, because BAM has a parking lot and I can listen to the News from Lake Wobegone on the way, and upon arriving I discover that BAM's event rate parking is $13.57 plus tax, payment of which would more than nullify my 50% off ticket price, I drive hopefully around the crowded streets listening to the NFLWBG, and a gigantic parking space appears in my headlights right across the street from BAM, and, bemused, I park and listen to the end of NFLWBG, then go on in and hear Ute. On the way home I listen to New Sounds, where John Shaeffer is playing selections from Ute Lemper's album, "Punishing Kiss," because the special guest produced it.

Ute was so worth it. The Brooklyn Philharmonic wasn't too shabby, either. I stayed for the "question and answer" period afterward, not because I had any questions, but just to get full value for my evening out. Ute was in conservative, Philharmonic mode; she sang a lot of Weill and quite a bit of Piaf, and "Ne Me Quittes Pas" with the ironic edge softened to near-extinction. I shed tears. Hearing her live made it clear what a consummate professional she is; every nuance, gesture, expression, breath and syllable was perfectly considered, judged and articulated. In the interim I eavesdropped on people with European accents discussing how "the satire is much softer and more ambiguous than I would have thought," regarding her rendition of Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins," and they were right. Her range of emotional subtlety was incredible.

On a perhaps irrelevant note, upon reading the program notes I discovered that I somehow managed to purchase Ute's latest album, "But One Day," a full three months before its official release date. You can find anything in the East Village if you know where to look.

Today, thinking back on the concert, I realized what a profound influence it has had on my views about art, having a mom who is a trained classical musician. Let me amend that; having a mom who is a classical music SNOB. I won't say that the snobbery rubbed off, although it probably did. But growing up with symphonies and Anglican choir music and Van Cliburn contestants stampeding through our household, along with being chained to the piano keyboard every morning at 6:30 AM until I rebelled in the tenth grade, gave me a healthy respect for artistic discipline. The classical music world may have its politics, intrigues and injustices, but by and large it is a strictly hierarchical meritocracy. People with talent who practice seven hours a day usually get somewhere. People without talent who don't practice usually get booted out of the orchestra. There may be a certain amount of jostling and whining about racism and sexism and chair placement, but, particularly with the instatement of blind auditions during the last decade, if you sound good you ARE good. End of story.

And then, god help me, I went to art school in San Francisco.

Another female friend, who shall remain nameless, freaked out on me lately. Things are probably okay, though she hasn't returned my last phone call; I think both of us need a break. This female-friend-freakout thing seems to be a regular occurrence with me; so regular that I've gone through and beyond taking-it-personally-with-severe-emotional-distress, and out the other side. I've started noticing patterns.

By and large, female friends who freak out are 1)close friends of mine, supportive almost to the point of cathexis; 2)involved, or trying to be involved, in creative careers themselves. Problems arise when our different creative careers start to evolve out of lock-step. Then, instead of being the loving, supportive friend I have come to rely on, they suddenly pick fights over trivialities, start calling me arrogant, lose my web address, forget my birthday and the name of my boyfriend, and have an important shopping engagement on the date of my opening. Hmmmm.

Not all my friends do this, of course. There are lots of folks, thank god, who come to the openings year after year, buy art, agitate on my behalf, cheer at good news and send care packages when I get dumped. These people Get It. They get that all of us struggle, all of us need love and support, all of us are on different paths at different paces, and that's Just Fine. We can wave at each other through the trees.

But it is the cathected female friends who Freak the Hell Out, and I'm tired of it. I don't mean to cast slurs on my own gender; guys freak out too. But with guys it's more straightforward. They want to sleep with you, you say no, you say yes to some other guy, they freak out. Then either they get over it and are your buddy forever more, or they don't and ride off into the sunset. I won't say that guys don't get professionally jealous, but the professionally jealous ones don't get close to you in the first place, unless they married you before you got famous. They show up at your openings only to get an in with your dealer; then they stop acknowledging you. Jerkish, but simple.

My views on my own career are pretty straightforward. At the age of twenty I realized I could either be an artist and possibly be happy, or not be an artist and definitely be unhappy. I knew it was going to be hard. I didn't know just how hard, but I have never had any regrets. I have often been lazy, but I've never lost sight of what I wanted to be, and I have ordered my life around this goal. I've prioritized studio space and studio time over money, family, lovers, social status and (to some extent) friendships, although I value my relationships highly and put a lot of energy into them. At the age of thirty-seven I have to acknowledge the probability that I will never have children, for lack of time, money and commitment; objectively speaking I don't have much to show for it. I'm often frightened, lonely, tired and in pain.

What I don't understand is why so many of my friends think I can carry them. Maybe they don't consciously think of it that way. They THINK they are being supportive, 'collaborative,' community-oriented, and politically correct. But I have literally had a friend call me up and say, "Serena, we should collaborate on a children's book! I'll write the story and you can illustrate it. My English isn't all that good so you'll have to help with the writing. Then we'll get it published; I don't know much about that so you'll have to do the research and networking and correspondence, since my spelling and grammar are so bad. Then we'll donate half the proceeds to abused children! How about that!" Or, "Why aren't you including me in your business plan? I know I'm not very good with money, and really disorganized, and don't know anything about bookkeeping or project management or grantwriting, and I've been under a lot of stress lately and have more than I can cope with, and I'll be busy with other projects for the next nine months or so, but it's really unfair of you not to include me." Or simply, "You sold another painting? You're making out like a bandit!"


Listen, friend, for every juried exhibition that I got into and you didn't, there were twenty I got turned down for. For every painting sold I spent ten times that amount in tuition, studio rent and supplies, and worked a thousand unpaid studio hours. My "successful" gallery cost me a year and a half of capital, another thousand hours of unpaid labor AWAY from my studio, and an excrutiating amount of heartbreak. I'm out of capital and I'm hanging onto my career and my equanimity by the skin of my fingernails.

Any more of this and I will become a fucking Republican. I'm starting to notice that a lot of people who talk about justice and collaboration and community really mean "I'll take the control and you can have the responsibility." Or "You do the work and I'll take the credit."

Then I listen to Ute, and I realize that she's brilliant because she PRACTICED. She studied and trained for years, and became fluent in French and English and German, and studied dance and acting and voice in three countries. That's why she brought down the house at BAM. Not because she blackmailed the Brooklyn Philharmonic with threats of discrimination lawsuits, or wept all over her 'best friend,' the guest conductor, until she got onto the program.

I apologize for moralizing.

Monday, March 07, 2005

futz, futz, yarrrrrgh

Okay, the problem is that this painting is just Not Working, it is fundamentally structurally unsound, and I am going to have to completely re-invent it, without scraping it down because you can't scrape down linen the way you can scrape plywood or even canvas. To avoid arriving at this moment of realization today I have:

*attended Pilates class
*gone to Tea Lounge for tea and bagel and art reviews in Brooklyn Rail
*mentally composed scathing letter to Brooklyn Rail, re: ridiculously pretentious review of Tim Hawkinson exhibit at Whitney--who READS this shit, anyway?!!?
*driven to Liza's and given her a 1 1/2 hour massage
*gone to Terrace Bagels to get more bagels for lunch
*decided to buy flowers in honor of spring, and changed my mind, for financial reasons and also for some vague undefined emotional malaise reasons
*returned home for lunch
*talked business tactics with O, agreeing that if this is going to be a drawn-out process of grantwriting, we need a dedicated person on team with strong financial skills
*sorted laundry (but did not get as far as taking it to laundromat)
*surfed Web
*assembled new stretcher bars
*formatted, uploaded and ordered slides of latest finished painting, with view toward applying for yet another goddamn residency, deadline in one week
*updated credit card information on earthlink account
*heated up dinner
*broke a glass
*stared at painting, closed eyes, tried to intuitively divine the way painting is supposed to look and how to get there
*decided to blog instead.

When I get to this point in a painting, the point where I realize that I have worked for weeks on Entirely The Wrong Premises, and there's nothing to do but re-draw the composition on top of all those fiddling details I shouldn't have wasted my time on, it's freakin' annoying. I feel like I should have known it all along, and indeed, some part of me did know it all along, but on I stumbled, hoping to pull it together by getting more and more obsessed with fiddling details. And now I'm not sure I can pull it off even by completely re-doing the concept. Yarrrgh.

Yesterday I procrastinated by attending the monthly Sunday at Sunny's reading, which I've been going to nearly every month since I discovered it. The readers are always GREAT and it's at a cozy little dive bar in Red Hook with Christmas lights up year round. It amazes me how many incredible, cool, published authors are living in my actual neighborhood and are free to give readings in dive bars on Sundays, and chat about it afterward. For $3 suggested donation and free coffee and pastries, it's a starving artist no-brainer entertainment venue.

However, yesterday my vague irritation and emotional malaise seemed to crystallize, and I actually left before the third reader went on, even though I had a good seat and no particular plans. For the fact is, Sunday at Sunny's readings make me uncomfortable. I don't think it's me. Twice I've brought good-looking, literary male friends with me, and both times the two of us have suddenly been unable to think of anything to say to one another, once seated on barstools and waiting for the reading to begin. Twice I've gone by myself, decently attired, with a friendly but not desperate attitude.

AND NOBODY WILL FUCKIN' TALK TO ME. I feel like I'm in high school, perched on my barstool, awkwardly munching half a cream puff, looking around the room, trying to appear content. People stand around me, talking literarily. The month before last I emailed the moderator, because a friend of mine said she knew him, and introduced myself in person. He terminated the conversation midpoint and did not resume it, nor did he indicate that he recognized me when I smiled at him yesterday. Once I got into conversation with the guy who writes "The Financial Page" for the New Yorker, asking him intelligent questions about his new book, but still he answered me politely and then made a coffee date with the short, serious, bespectacled JAP girl instead of me.

What is this about? Am I old, ugly and negligible? Am I in the wrong venue, again and still? Because I've finally figured it out about the hipster scene; I know I should absolutely Not Bother. Last Thursday I made the mistake, again, of accepting one of M.'s perpetual invitations to totally inappropriate and horrendous events, this one being the opening of a Czech filmmaker's retrospective in Chelsea. Predictably, I entered a jam-packed room full of people drinking red wine, half of them declaiming loudly to their intimates, half gazing arrogantly into the middle distance or pointing cameras at nothing, none returning smiles or eye contact. It was unbearably noisy and chaotic and they were out of cups. The exhibit consisted of about fifty video monitors displaying grimy, noisy footage of nothing in particular. I saw exactly one familiar face--the guy who lived in the apartment directly above my ex-gallery, who never once dropped in to say hello, get a massage or attend an opening, but who gave me some random book on "psychic phenomena" for an inaugural gift, which I suspect may have been an insult. He nodded but didn't stop to chat. After twenty minutes of wandering around, looking for some interesting art or an interesting person to talk to and failing, I decided I didn't need to be there and went home. M. called a couple of days later--'I got to the opening really late, don't know if you made it, hope you had fun!' Fun? How is this possible?

But I really thought people who publish interesting books in Brooklyn and do readings in dive bars would not be like this. I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm still just reeking of loss, sadness and economic uncertainty.

Because this year has probably been the most stressful year of my life to date, and the more I recover from it, the more I realize just how bad it has been. The hardest part has been having to invent each individual day from scratch, with no form, no structure, no companionship, and no income. God bless my little cat, who waits at the foot of the bed until he sees me stirring every morning, and then comes up and kneads my armpit. This is frequently the only reason I get out of bed at all. Sometimes I snarfle him, drag him under the covers and we play Indian cave for half an hour. He puts up with me.

Last Monday I had a run-in with a random yoga instructor, who substitute-taught the Wednesday Hot Power Yoga class, and offered us all free holistic health counselling sessions. We all said yes, and gave him our phone numbers. On Thursday he called and wanted to make an appointment. I told him, "I go to Pilates from 9:15-10:15 at the 7th Avenue Fitness Collective, then go to the Tea Lounge on 7th afterward. I can meet you then."

"No, I'm picking someone up at the airport. What about Monday?"

I told him that I attended the same Pilates class on Mondays, and could meet him at 10:30. He said he had to get his calendar. He called back. I said, "I can meet you at the Tea Lounge on 7th, after my class, at 10:30 or 11." He agreed to this, presumably writing it down.

On Monday morning I was too sick to go to Pilates. The yoga instructor called at 9:30. "I'm confirming our meeting at 10."

"No, 10:30 or 11," I said. I didn't explain that I would have been at Pilates, except that I was sick, because he didn't let me.

"Oh, glad I called," he said, and hung up. I went to the Tea Lounge at 10:30. He did not arrive. At 12:30 I went home, to a message on my machine. "This is me, I'm at the Tea Lounge on the left side," he said. That is, the Tea Lounge on Union St., where I suspected he'd probably gone.

I called back. "I was at the Tea Lounge on 7th ave., like I told you twice," I said.

"Yeah, the Tea Lounge between 6th and 7th," he said.

"No, the Tea Lounge on 7th Ave. and 10th, right next to the 7th Ave. Fitness Collective, where I go to class, like I also told you TWICE," I said. "I'm sorry if I sound angry, but to be a good counselor you have to LISTEN to people. I don't think I want to reschedule this appointment. Goodbye," I said, and hung up.

He called back. "You don't have to apologize for being angry. I'm sorry about the miscommunication," he said. I let the answering machine handle it. I do not need to get into any issues at all with someone who tunes out 85% of the words that come out of my mouth, the first three times we converse.

But I was way more bent out of shape than I should have been. Not-being-listened-to is now a hair-trigger issue for me. This is definitely and directly related to my ex-relationship with ex-boyfriend, who never let me finish a sentence when I was talking about something of crucial importance to me, such as sex, spirituality, art, economics or commitment. He would seriously investigate the outlandish claims of his diagnosably schizophrenic ex-girlfriend, the one who claimed to be married to John Mayer; he made a thorough search of the John Mayer website before regretfully admitting that there was no public evidence that John Mayer had secretly married a schizophrenic woman fifteen years his senior in Minneapolis. But I don't think he ever looked at a copy of Course in Miracles, or even Googled it, before screaming at me that I was in some kind of CULT that wanted to lobotomize him and induce him to sacrifice his life in the army of a Chinese emperor. I would listen and listen and listen to paranoid rant after paranoid rant, assuming that at some point he would realize how ridiculous he sounded, shut up and let me say something. It never happened. He continued ranting until he ranted himself right out of the relationship, never once asking for my point of view. I'm sure he doesn't read this blog.

So, you say, why the hell were you with this person in the first place? Good riddance.

But the fact is that I loved him, enough so that it's probably a blessing that he dumped me, because I wouldn't have given up, not until he'd wasted the last of my potential child-bearing years, destroyed my career, ruined me financially and dumped me anyway. And as nice as it is to study the Course without someone ranting in my ear, and pushing me to stock groceries for a living, and show my paintings in dingy bars and coffee shops because of course GALLERIES wouldn't want to, and move to a dingy, anonymous apartment in Staten Island because he didn't want to live with me, I was happier. I was happier when I was with him because I loved him, and when he walked through the door I'd light up like a sparkler and go to hug him, always.

So on Monday I ended up writing myself a letter, the letter that my ex-boyfriend's Higher Self would have written to me if he'd been at all in touch, which he never was. I apologized to myself for not listening, insulting my figure, belittling my feelings, treating me like a crazy person, dismissing my spirituality, trying to control my behavior instead of genuinely being a partner to me. I held onto it for a couple of days, then decided to mail it. Once I'd dropped it into the mailbox I realized I'd forgotten to stamp it. Oh well. He wouldn't have listened anyway. Just another schizophrenic ex-girlfriend.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


I've now told four or five people about the fact that I will have a solo show on the Upper East Side from June 4 through Labor Day Weekend. They've all said things like, "that's FANTASTIC! I'm so happy for you! Woo, woo!" I'm rather pleased, myself. For me this means that my activities have a future that will last at least six months. I've been in some doubt.

Okay, well, the solo show is in a furniture showroom. But it's a furniture showroom on Madison Avenue and 62nd, with higher foot traffic than most high-end galleries, and that foot traffic consisting of people with money to spend on fixing up their living rooms. I'll have to do all the marketing myself, including designing and printing and mailing postcards. Fortunately I have a lot of experience with this. And it's in the Summer, which as everybody knows, is when every dealer, critic and successful artist in Manhattan shuts up shop, goes to their converted barn upstate and recovers from the Season.


In parallel news, I met with LMCC today, after showing proposal to four people, setting up meetings, making alterations, doing research, printing photos, making myself sick getting no sleep. The event planner girl got her stuff printed, barely--I had to stop by her apartment at 9 AM for it, with the meeting at 10:30, and her doorbell didn't work and my cell phone hasn't arrived yet (at least it did, but I wasn't around when FedEx delivered it), so I had to drive to the next block, park, find a pay phone, call her, and drive back--then I drove to the subway station and parked a block away, and limped to the station, and the train arrived just as I got there and none of my metro cards would work. I said "fuck" and started whirling around helplessly, and the subway guard buzzed open the door for me, and a lady said "you dropped your glove!" and I said "I have to catch this TRAIN!" and a guy on the train held the door and said "throw it!" and she threw the glove and I got on the train and the guy caught my glove and said "teamwork."

There's something in this business of "we are all one mind."

Anyway I was starving but managed to get tea and a scone at Starbucks and walk six blocks and get through security and not be late. The lobby at LMCC is decorated like a pink and green jungle, with ants painted on the walls and birds on the pink ceiling and a green leaf canopy over the hot pink sofa. It's a friendly place. The people I met with were nice, and listened, and took notes, and made encouraging faces.

The upshot of all of this, though, is that I'm not yet standing at the edge of the first hoop I have to jump through to get this project actualized. Because getting access to Space and getting access to Sponsorship and getting access to Grants are all different and not necessarily related processes. First we've got to apply for "fiscal sponsorship" and then, assuming we get it, reasearch and apply for grants and corporate sponsorships, and then, assuming we get THOSE, apply for Space. I say "we" even though, up till now, it's been pretty much Me, with some gentle feedback and critique from other people, because there is no way in hell I am going to do this alone. So who wants to be on my Team? If we get through all the hoops we'll get paid 40 bucks an hour. Come on, it will be fun.

At any rate, I am planning on embarking upon this labyrinthine process, perhaps in all futility, without expectations of outcome, because at least I will be meeting arts people, and can invite all of them to my uncool summer show. And the alternative is temp agencies. It will be temp agencies anyway, probably, but I have hope there too because I met a guy yesterday who works for one, and he says they're pretty good and represent a lot of artists. This is encouraging, because when I moved here the temp agencies weren't even returning calls. I tell you, when I say I had doubts about the existence of my future, I was not exaggerating.