Thursday, December 14, 2006


Drawings #2 and 3 on the Cantus.

As a painting, I'm thinking the bottom part would become almost like bars of a prison, very high-contrast, while the rest of it is rather like a waterfall.

Cracks are where the light gets in. or falls out, or where the souls come from. This one made me think of Kaballah.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The drought is broken

So I found that collaborator after all.

The above drawing was done while listening to Arvo Pärt's 'Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten' on a repeat loop. It's a sketch, merely; it only barely suggests the sense I have of an infinite number of cascading stars, drifting gracefully and impersonally into a humming abyss.
Cantus: a personal threnody; an ultimate closing chord; a mystical, threshold experience.
The piece is only five minutes long; I probably played it about twenty times in the course of making the sketch. I found that I couldn't turn the music off and polish the drawing. Without the music I didn't know what to focus on, or where to go next. The sounds were directly informing the movement and the weight of the lines.

To get it really right will require color, of course, and probably quite a large canvas.

The tentative plan, for now, is to make a lot more sketches from the same piece, and a lot more sketches from other pieces. Then pick some of them and make paintings. But this plan is subject to change at any moment.

The thing that feels like a breakthrough to me is not that I finally made a new drawing after months of not picking up a pencil; that's just detritus. What is almost impossible to articulate (but I will try) is that while working this way, I seem to be able to access an infinite inner space, as though the membrane between me and the universe had melted away and revealed the whole of Reality within my heart.

Which would be the definition, more or less, of 'mystical experience.' As hokey as that sounds.

Perhaps the reason this appears to me to be a breakthrough, why I feel that it is the right way to work right now, is that taking away any literal representation, any 'signifier', and doing a fairly abstract drawing that nevertheless is a direct response to an experience, allows me to work freely but not randomly. What has prevented me from becoming an abstract painter hitherto has been that threat of randomness; that lack of any anchor whatsoever between meaningful communication and untethered ego-indulgence.

I have, almost, worked this way before. 'Passage' was done mostly on a repeat loop to the final track of Rachel's 'The Sea and the Bells,' 'His Eyes.'

A dear friend of mine (hi Jake!) made a video for me, incorporating moving images of my paintings with relevant pieces of music, but I think to really get it right I'm going to have to operate the camera myself; so much of it is kinesthetic, about a specific movement relating to a specific shape, sound and color.

Another concern of mine is that this way of working not become a 'schtick.' Rebecca suggested that I take commissions to visually represent people's favorite pieces of music; although it's a good moneymaking idea, this would absolutely not work for me. I pick these pieces of music because they resonate with me and my style. Doing cheery little depictions of the latest Britney Spears hit would not only be agony, but probably impossible.

So don't even ask.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Definition of Success

This week, along with the start of the Holiday Whirlwind, which has, in fact, included gingerbread houses, I had a wonderful visit from Rebecca Sullivan of Ember, and her boyfriend Paul. It's one of the virtues of living in New York, that even if you met someone more than five years ago, and hardly remember what they look like, they come visit you eventually. As long as they don't rip the sinks off the wall, or smoke indoors, they're welcome.

And now I have somewhere to stay, if I ever go to Wales.

It always amazes me when artists of any genre show no interest in, or knowledge of, other art forms. For me, every kind of art informs and enriches all the others. Not only do I find it fully possible to dance about architecture, I don't even understand why this might be construed as difficult. I'm not a musician, and I like it that way; music provides at least one source of pure inspiration and enjoyment, informing my work in the most direct way. I do not and cannot paint when I don't have music playing; sometimes I'll wake up with a start and realize that I have been staring at a canvas for 45 minutes without moving, simply because the CD ended.

I'm not one of those people who can literally hear colors and see music, but each set of vibrations appears to me to instruct all the others. Thus, at times I will put a piece of music on 'repeat' until I get the corresponding painting right, or make a painting about a poem. I am still looking for the right musician to collaborate with--once I met a cellist who would compose a piece, send it to a painter who would paint a painting about it, he would compose another piece about that, etc. This sounded like my ideal life. But he was a flake, so I'm looking for another cellist, with staying power this time.

And, now that I notice it, I have an occasional habit of accosting talented musicians in random night clubs, and befriending them, or at least introducing myself, buying a CD, and getting on their mailing lists. And even more occasionally, they end up crashing in my living room. What a privilege.

So while Rebecca was here, I subjected her to my favorite tracks off the CDs of all the other talented musicians I've harassed in the last few years, and she listened not only politely, but intently. I noticed that she seemed to be apprehending a new song as rapidly and comprehensively as I myself apprehend a new painting; she grasped all of the important elements before it was half over. It didn't matter whether she 'liked' it or not; she was just taking it in. And we talked about the creative process, and synesthesia, and she, like most of my other creative friends, promised to buy a painting of mine as soon as she could afford it. She looked at the paintings as intently as I listen to her music; she said, seriously, "You're a real artist."

Which took me aback.

I haven't been thinking of myself as an 'artist,' lately. Having fought so long and so hard to be one, I have realized that the fight was killing me, and decided to stop. Lately I have been taking one day at a time, and focussing literally on whether the floor is clean, and what the light is like, and--god help us--politics. And, if I am to be truly confessional, trying to figure out what to do with the voice that has been growing increasingly hard to ignore, over the last six months or so, the one that's making that keening sound, having to do with, horrors! nesting, and loneliness, and biological clocks.

Because the fact of the matter is, that at the point I hit that last nightmarish breakup, the nesting alarm was ringing full-tilt. I was taking bike rides through Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, and my limbic brain was screaming, "That one! That cozy, solid brick house with the Greek trim, the French windows, the front garden with roses and cobblestones! Mine! Now!"

Then the breakup pretty much took care of that. You don't 'nest' when you're in psychic intensive care. You exist, precariously; you make some art. You do your job and keep putting one foot in front of the other. In a way, it was something of a relief; it's not comfortable to be compulsively coveting other people's houses, all the freakin' time, particularly when the basic starter home in your area costs upwards of $1.2 mil. It's purely an unnecessary mental stress factor.

Now, I do not believe in trying to force things. I refuse to do the personal ad thing anymore. I refuse to sign up for some horrible new thing called 'speed dating.' I will not hang out at clubs, or go to singles parties, or let my friends try to set me up. I refuse, refuse, refuse. I will not do any more 'relationship-finding' activities that constitute, basically, job interviews. It goes against my spiritual philosophy, my practical experience, and my innate sense of decency and propriety. It's yukky and disgusting, and it doesn't work.

No, instead I'm practicing that mental and spiritual acrobatic trick called 'letting go, and letting God.' I'm the first to confess that I'm not doing it very well. I mope, I hide, I leave parties and shows and openings early, instead of brightly getting on out there and Meeting New People. I do whatever I feel like doing in the moment, carefully ditching anything that feels like an agenda.

Because trying to force it got me where I was before, and there's nothing worse than that, and I will NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.

So instead I try to see things in a larger perspective--that this is just one of those things that all people struggle with, that it's a process of 'tempering,' that I don't know how it will turn out, but it's a necessary strand in whatever lacy web my entire life is weaving. And that, on some level, in some way, someday, I will perhaps get some decent art out of it.

Which brings me to a recent Adam Gopnik essay about Jerry Shore, which I found profoundly touching, in its illustration of how a life can be a success, can be a work of art, despite all apparent external failure.
...Work suddenly became very hard to find, and his search for it was not helped by his drinking and depression. Friends say that he lost confidence, as can happen quickly to a man caught up in a confidence game.

Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he may have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies. He travelled through Manhattan and Queens, making large-scale, exquisitely printed color photographs of some of the most aesthetically unpersuasive streets in New York City. For the next ten years, until his death, he pursued this project, with a focus and self-discipline made all the more moving by his ever more distressed circumstances.

I have been thinking, lately, about how art and life cannot really be distinguished from one another. Thus, discussions about whether or not madness and depression are a help or a hindrance to the artist seem beside the point. Our circumstances--mental, spiritual, physical and emotional--are our palette. What each of us do with our given palette is unique, mysterious, and not subject to any lasting critical standards but our own internal ones.
The project, which seems to have begun as a kind of surcease from his commercial work—a way of recapturing some of the concerns and obsessions that had led him to New York and to art in the first place—soon became a substitute. It was all he did; given the number of images he left behind, he must have been out with his camera, hunting scenes and taking pictures, nearly every day until he died.
Jerry Shore died at fifty-nine, in a 'well of alcohol and isolation.' He only sold one photo during his lifetime. Yet in those photos, and in their preservation by a collector, in their tender observation by a sensitive writer, his life is shown to be a complete success; an articulated, honest, loving vision.

So I try not to judge myself for 'failing' at anything, whether it be art, relationships, finances, or All Three At Once, the way it has appeared to be for the last--oh, since I moved to New York, pretty much. I try not to judge anyone else, either. Instead I look for the Jerry Shore in me, and in everyone--the beautiful, unique, irreplaceable perspective that this person brings to the world, whether it's a way of prattling artlessly in a way which sets strangers at ease, a habit of noticing, a way of phrasing, a grace. These things count; in the long run, they're the only things which do.

If you look for failure, you'll always find it. When you look for success, you can usually find that, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I've just discovered that I am now listed on Wikipedia as an anecdotal biographer of "Mission School" artists.

I think my website upgrade has just been moved to the 'high priority' file.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Being there

I've been thinking lately about how very lucky I am to have the job I do.

This weekend, one of my best regular clients hired me to drive out to Long Island and give her mother a massage. She paid for gas and travel time, plus a long session, and told her mother that my fee was $50. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this, but my client is like that, and presumably her mother knows her fairly well. Also I really enjoyed the excuse to get out of the city for a few hours.

When I arrived, I honestly believed that my client had put far too much faith in me. Her mother cannot be younger than seventy; she was in so much back pain that she could scarcely walk, sit or lie down. It was quite a job getting her onto the table at all, and she certainly wasn't about to lie on her stomach.

I know from long experience that very old people are the hardest to treat. Problems that have been developing for decades do not respond readily to an hour and a half treatment, particularly a subtle one; older bodies, as well as older minds, are much less responsive, and less resilient. As I stood there, planning out a strategy for how to address the severe back pain of a person whose back was almost inaccessible to me, physically and otherwise, I felt like the biggest fraud on the planet.

About ten minutes after I'd started work, she said calmly, "That seems to be taking the pain away."

At the end of the session she got up and said, "Wow, I haven't felt this good in...I can't tell how long. I don't have any pain. Just kind of the memory of pain. I have to remember how to walk!"

The daughter called me up later and said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you. My mother actually went to a party this evening."

After awhile, maybe a day or two, it dawned on me--I'm a success. I set out to help people heal, and I'm actually doing it. Wow. I hadn't noticed.

The reason I'm lucky, though, is that in my job, people are almost always present with me. They show up and tell me the truth. They're not making nice, defending, trying to prove something, trying to manipulate, extract, put up a smokescreen, or otherwise imposing an agenda on the interaction. They just tell me, "I hurt here. This is the story. This is what's going on."

Since they're present, telling me the truth, any communication we have is genuine, whether or not I'm able to do them any good. This is both a necessary part of the healing process, and something that is rare, in most ordinary social interactions. Not only do most people have a false self on, while charging through their lives; they're constantly telegraphing both an agenda (get this thing, make you think this, change this person's mind), and the woundedness underlying the agenda, without acknowledging either one. If you call them on it--if you say, "I perceive that you're trying to achieve this thing in the physical world. I perceive that you're doing this in order to avoid or work out some pain," they respond as if attacked. Properly so; that type of perception is almost indecent in its presumption of intimacy.

So of course, I don't do this. It's rude. But it means that it is almost completely impossible to genuinely communicate with most people, most of the time.

Since the vast majority of my human contact these days is with clients, family, or close friends, I forget how rough it can be, out in the social world. It's quite shocking, actually, running into an old acquaintance and having them hoosh me with "career this, politics that, oh I must run here do this schmooze this person fix that problem oh could you drop me off here I'm sick and tired NO I don't need a back rub."

Yikes. I'm just not used to it.

Moreover, since I'm spending the vast majority of my time listening, absorbing, assisting, paying attention, working to make sense, working to remain grounded and peaceful and supportive, I can't really tolerate much craziness from actual 'friends' anymore. I need to be listened to, all the way through, as well. My friends aren't my clients. I can't sit there and absorb the shrapnel, in my 'time off.' For me, friendship is no longer about dovetailing agendas. If people can't be as present as a person who is lying silently on a table, they're not friendship material any longer.

It's important for me and my clients to understand that I cannot 'fix' anything, ever. I have noticed that the number of astonishing occurences in my healing practice has sharply increased, once I started telling people, "I can't fix this problem. I'm not going to try. We're just going to find out what's there, what's going on, and see what feels good for a bit." Healing happens when you let go and allow it to happen. Trying gets in the way.

The same thing is true, I think, of art. The art is back there; I just have to allow it through. Messing around with 'career' concerns creates big whopping huge creative blocks. Which is, perhaps, why I haven't been making any art for the last couple of months. I'm fine with that; it feels like I'm re-calibrating my art-sensors. When I start allowing it again, I think it will be real.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Season

So part of my autumn resolution was to make a point of experiencing more of the Really Good Stuff, the stuff that I moved to NYC to be a part of, which does NOT include community art exhibitions of amateurish kitsch, third-tier gallery openings, non-profit schmooze-a-thons, and 'curator talks' about the Obvious and the Inaccessible. Dropping all of these things really freed up my schedule. Enough so that last Saturday evening, I got to see Meredith Monk at BAM.

I ended up going by myself, even though I've been socializing a lot more with real live humans these days, because Meredith Monk occupies that esoteric space between the avante-garde and the canonized, which, in practice, meant that my friends who might have been interested could not afford it, and those who could afford it would not have been interested.

It was at the Harvey Theatre at BAM, which was appropriate, and which I discovered at the very last second, after finishing an outcall at 7 PM, racing downtown, parking in the miraculous free parking space right outside the main theatre, which I had psychically reserved for myself, and pounding up the steps at 7:23, to see a sign on the closed 'Will Call' window: "'Impermanence' is one block away."

I'm frankly somewhat suprised that there aren't more photos of the BAM Harvey Theatre on the web, because it is so neat. It comes by its post-apocalyptic aesthetic honestly; it was a genuine movie theatre which was genuinely abandoned for twenty years, and when they converted it, they left it the walls as they were, crumbling plaster, rust, water-stains, and all. "Artists attracted to the esthetics of fading grandeur," like me, just love it.

So anyway. About Meredith. I'll spare myself the literal description, and just quote the review:
Impermanence uses music, video, movement, and text to create a celebratory and moving meditation on life. Each section of the work, announced cabaret-style by a spoken title (Last Song; Liminal; Seeds; Particular Dance; Disequilibrium Song, Mieke’s Melody #5), provides a non-narrative look at the different facets of impermanence and the joy and wonder of being. Accompanied by voice, piano, clarinet, breath, bicycle tire and other inventive instrumentation, the many scenes -- a montage of video portraits of extreme close-ups of diverse faces; a playful dance of energy unbound; voices rising from the dark singing a song of beginning and opening; an elegant dance of small gestures, performers balancing on chairs, seemingly floating in space -- create a collage of emotion, image, and sound that gently transport us on a journey that is haunting and mysterious, but at its core, essentially human.
During the first half of the performance, I was on the fence. It was subtle. I couldn't decide if I was bored or not. Some of the sound was sublime, some was silly. The imagery was evocative, if you were in that frame of mind, or tedious, if you weren't. The dance wasn't meaningless and self-indulgent, but since none of the members of the ensemble were exactly spring chickens, it didn't blow you out of your seat. In fact, I could have done most of it, over thirty-five and partially crippled as I am.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing. At least I didn't go home in a state of profound depression, trapped in my earthbound corpus, like I do after catching Mark Morris or the NYCB.

But during the intermission, as I scanned the immensely long list of prestigious awards that Meredith Monk has won, and the expensive German-published CDs for sale, I felt just the teensiest bit nonplussed.

I didn't leave, though, like the people sitting next to me did. And I'm glad.

Because it got better. The last piece was the best of all; it hit that sweet spot, the spot where I go off into a trance, and my astral body starts rotating, and seeing stained glass, and choreographing things in real time. And the interesting thing was, when the first member of the ensemble crept out, lay down on the floor, and started rolling, I was rolling right there with him. It was right. It made sense. There was some comprehensive wave which instructed, 'roll here, this way, now' and we all did.

This is the kind of thing that kinesthetic people understand, and other people don't.

So after the show I did go downstairs and pick up a CD, still buzzing on that last piece. They didn't have any recordings of it, but the one I got sounded just like it; I glean from this that if you've heard one Meredith Monk CD, you may not have heard them all, but you can recognize all the rest of it. She's like Philip Glass in that respect.

Anyway, I no longer begrudge her that MacArthur Fellowship.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Some improvement

Okay, so after nine days of vegetarian/almost vegan diet, no caffeine, no alcohol, and a whole lot of yoga, my left ankle is definitely not as sore. It is still stiff and locked up when I get up in the morning, but it has stopped seizing up when I am sitting down for more than a few minutes. My midriff is smaller and flatter, my shoulders aren't so knotted up, and I generally feel more balanced.

I still seem to need a minimum of nine hours' sleep, though. Darn.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

My Old School

I have conclusively decided that fruit-and-vegetable fasts are primarily designed for people who grew up on junk food, and thus need remedial nutritional therapy. This would not be me. On Day Five I broke into the oatmeal, brown rice, and Indian curried lentils, and my body profoundly thanks me.

In my state of relative purity, I managed to go party-hopping last night and only consume half a glass of wine and one chunk of low-sugar cake, despite the bottle of Maker's Mark sitting right there, where I was almost tempted to grab it a number of times. Particularly as this was a Pretentious Art Party where I knew almost no-one, and almost no-one had conventional social skills.

Actually, that's not fair. More than half the people I talked to had average-to-decent social skills, which was why we were able to stay longer than the forty-five minutes allotted. We stayed at Sono Osato's studio in Dumbo until the pizza arrived, then quietly decamped before my willpower and Oriane's energy gave way completely.

Sono's studio

Early on in the evening, I committed the atrocious mistake of trying to engage in serious conversation with an untested stranger. In a moment of rash optimism, when he asked me what my work was about, I told him.

"Transpersonal spirituality," I said.

"Is that like, person to person?" he asked.

Oh, no. I was already in too deep to retreat; I went through a haphazard schpiel about the evolution of moral reasoning, the convergence of spiritual traditions in the esoteric experience, and the nature of mysticism, knowing that I was speaking to a wall. He listened, uncomprehendingly, and fled as soon as he decently could. I should have asked him about his work, first--when he told me he had a studio upstairs, I'd jumped to the conclusion that he was a Serious Artist. Turns out he paints watercolor landscapes.

This is why, as I get older, I socialize less and less, with fewer and fewer expectations. My life feels like a long, hopeless quest to find people who not only understand what I'm talking about, but have the wherewithal to push back. I don't want to be a snob. I really, really don't. But this sort of thing is unutterably draining.

Which is why I never quite manage to completely give up on Sono.

studio wall--nifty little sculptures

It is possible that Sono Osato may be one of the great under-recognized artists of our generation. It is also possible that she is a determined maker of mud-pies with a gift for spouting academic blarney. She is a good teacher, however; or at least, she was the right teacher for the Interdisciplinary Sculpture class I took at the San Francisco Art Institute, sometime back in the dark ages.

That class is looked upon by most of the participants, I think, as one of the major transformative experiences in our lives. It triggered a creative frenzy that, for at least one of us, ended in a mental institution--but I think that girl was headed in that direction, regardless. The basic lesson that Sono hammered home was, "Get in touch with your Real Self. Stop imitating whatever the Establishment has told you that Art should be. Do something authentic."

I remember this one guy, Gunther, a big blond German guy, came to the class making these completely underwhelming, Picasso-esque plywood sculptures. After being subjected to the first of Sono's authenticity rants, he came to the revelation that Gunther was all about crows. He started making whimsically subversive crow sculptures and scattering them around campus, with a puckish glint in his blue German eye. His final exam project was the one I remember best; a giant chair, set up on the roof overlooking the city, with a crow sitting on the back of it. When you sat down in it, the crow started telling you a bedtime story in German. It was vaguely creepy and wholly enjoyable.

Another guy, for the final critique, took us to the studio he'd somehow managed to garner, inside a defunct Chinese factory in the middle of North Beach. The factory was one of those urban buildings that is so strange, your eye doesn't even register that it's there; though it towered over the neighboring Victorian row houses, I would swear to never having seen it before, or since. We entered through a small graffiti-covered door in an alley, and went on an underground journey through myriad unlit rooms, full of enigmatic junk and inscrutable architectural configurations. The 'studio' itself was more of the same; you got the impression, when entering, that a gnome-like man had been engaged in frantically piling up twisted refuse in mad configurations until, hearing our footsteps, he had precipitately fled.

The whole critique was so strange that, even at the time, I was sure that later I'd think I'd dreamed it.

Sono Osato--black paintings, exploded crate

As much as I liked Sono, I came to notice that she seemed to have something of an oppositional personality. Or perhaps it was just me; when I'd run into her around town, at openings or in the library, it seemed that I could not say anything right. At least once, I experimented with paraphrasing the statement that had just come out of her mouth; when the next thing she said was "No, but..." I stopped trying to connect. She's smart, she's interesting, she's talented and disciplined, and we just don't resonate.

And indeed, the hyper-intellectualism and cerebral nature of much of her art and rhetoric brings up some of my core Issues. These ubiquitous tarred canvases, for instance--once she said, "They're about so many ideas and patterns converging at once that they fill up the entire space, and it becomes black." (Or something to that effect.) This seems to me to be both literalistically illustrative and not particularly useful or enlightening; I greatly prefer her sculptures. Strange and conceptually impenetrable as they are, at least they're fun to look at.

So really, I forgot that Sono existed for a number of years. Then, about three years after moving to New York, it occurred to me to Google her, like it occurs to me to Google just about everyone I've ever known, eventually. I discovered that she was living one neighborhood away, and sent her a cheery little email, saying, hi! we're neighbors!

I didn't hear back. I figured that her spam filter had eaten it, or that she's the kind of person who never ever reads email, or that she gets so many emails from former students that she just Can't Deal, or that she didn't remember who I was at all. Ah, well. I went back to forgetting that she existed.

Last summer, I was at Oriane's opening, the person standing next to Oriane looked vaguely familiar. "You look vaguely familiar," I said.

"My name is Sono," she replied.

"Oh, I was in your class," I said. "You look beautiful."

And indeed, she does look beautiful. "My thirties were rough," she confessed. In her forties, she seems a lot more relaxed, open, chatty and giggly. At the opening we got along with little to no oppositionality, after she asked, warily, "Are you still making art?" and I replied, "Absolutely." I can appreciate the fact that having a lot of poseur students clamoring round you must be wearying.

I gave her and Oriane a lift home, and in the car Sono started talking about former students. "And then I got an email from one of them that I haven't replied to, yet. This person was sort of...weird."

Moment On The Horns Of Social Awkwardness.

"That was me," I said, cheerfully.

"Oh! I thought you were someone else..." she replied.

"I'm weird, but I'm harmless," I laughed, and dropped it.

In fact, I always got the feeling that I, my actual being, must press some sort of button for Sono. It is obviously something beyond my control, and possibly beyond her ability to process. Maybe it's my blonde WASPy-ness; maybe I represent the Oppressor Class. Maybe it's my goofy theatricality of manner. Maybe I remind her of her mother, or a grade-school teacher from hell, or her father's mistress, or some other embodiment of Absolute Evil. Or maybe she just thought I was a pretentious, no-talent schmuck, and wanted no association with that at all. I can respect that.

But, after running into her at the opening, I figured that whatever-it-was had gone 'poof,' and that, with some mutual maturity and establishment of good boundaries, we could hang out in the same community. I invited her to my salon; she said she had other plans, but promised to keep in touch.

This week, Oriane asked, "Are you going to Sono's party?"

Ordinarily I am ethically and personally opposed to showing up at the parties of people who definitely have my contact information, and definitely have not included me on the invitation list. But Oriane assured me that it was the 'bring friends' type of party, and I need to get out more, and I'm harmless, right?

Unfortunately the awkwardness, whatever it is, is back. When your hostess makes a point of avoiding any conversation with you at all, beyond less than the bare minimum of platitudes, that's awkward. I wasn't aggressively thrown out, and large numbers of the other guests were perfectly friendly, which is a huge anomaly in the art scene, so it wasn't a wasted evening.

But jeez. I so know how Ed Winkleman feels, about wasting one's time trying to connect with people who just see you as part of the problem. Whatever that problem might happen to be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Hee, hee

By now, of course you have all read of the incident involving the Picasso painting, the casino magnate, and the elbow through the canvas. Amusing, but not so amusing as it might have been if all the parties involved had not behaved with class, integrity and style.

The part I liked best, though, was Nora Ephron's description of it on her blog:
Steve Wynn launched into a long story about the painting -- he told us that it was a painting of Picasso's mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, that it was extremely erotic, and that if you looked at it carefully (which I did, for the first time, although I'd seen it before at the Bellagio) you could see that the head of Marie-Therese was divided in two sections and that one of them was a penis.

This was not a good moment for me vis a vis the painting. In fact, I would have to say that it made me pretty much think I wouldn't pay five dollars for it.
Further noted was the fact that the art restorer says that it will take 'six to eight weeks' to make the damage go away.

Let me just say that when somebody at BWAC dropped my painting, "Thistle," on a nail while hanging it, and didn't tell me, and just hung it there with a gimongous nail hole right through the center of it, it didn't take me six to eight weeks to restore it. It took me about six hours; I cut a square of canvas to cover the hole, gesso'd it, lay the painting face down with a book on top of the patch for five hours and forty-five minutes, then I re-painted the center of the thistle head. Of course, to be fair, this option is not available to an art restorer.

Which is why art gets so much more expensive after the artist is dead.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Type O meltdown

I don't think that people with my blood type are meant to go on fruit/vegetable fasts. It feels like a cellular thing. My system just does not want undiluted acidity in the morning, and unrelieved cellulose in the afternoons. It wants cellulose and protein in the morning, carbs mid-day, and the acid fruit stuff after dinner.

But I am not giving up yet, particularly since I cannot be said to have fully begun. Already had a lapse yesterday evening, as some clients of mine swooped down upon me and took me out to dinner at Coco Roco. Which turned out not to be the greasy-spoon Cuban joint I'd always assumed it was, but a really nice place with a rotisserie grill and a heck of a wine list. I limited myself to plantains, black beans and rice, but I had to have a glass of that wine. It was worth it.

The clients in question were a girl from Missisippi and her aunt Faye; they seem to have adopted me as a protegé. I really never thought I'd hear from the girl from Mississippi again, after she came to me last month, in a state of crisis. She'd just moved to Brooklyn, had no job, had left her entire life and family in the South, and was interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in food culture. I gave her a massage and some what-to-do-when-you-move-to-Brooklyn advice that I wish someone had given me, four years ago. I do this for a lot of people, now. They're the sorts of people who only get a massage when they're in crisis, because they can't afford it at any other time.

When I got an email from her, thanking me for the massage and apologizing for melting down, I had to think a minute before I remembered who she was. I replied that I hadn't noticed that she'd melted down, particularly--all in a day's work, in my profession.

So this weekend she called to make an appointment for her aunt, who is visiting, recovering from malaria and a recent divorce. Her aunt and I got along like a house on fire. Since the aunt had a sore knee I schlepped my table over to their place, which was stuffed full of gorgeous antique furniture, poorly arranged. Before and after the session I held forth on my notions of how to rearrange the furniture to greatest advantage; after I left, they told me, they were both hit by a whirlwind of furniture-rearrangement energy, and transformed the apartment.

Both of them said that their massages from me had been benchmark events in their lives to date. They referred to it as 'before The Massage' and 'after The Massage.' They were making serious plans for how many of their relatives they could induce to come to New York, get a massage from me, and have their lives similarly transformed.

And I sat there, smiling and feeling woozy.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wish me fortitude.

It's that time of year again--the pre-holiday systemic cleanse, otherwise known as Spa Week.

Last year I did this after an entire summer of vain fantasizing about winning a week at a chichi spa upstate in the NYC Public Library raffle. Oh, to do yoga every day, sit in saunas, get massaged, eat healthy gourmet meals, generally be peaceful and serene. Then I realized--hey, I can do this myself.

This year I have a Focus. I want to get my system clear enough so that my left ankle stops locking up, and lose enough weight and get strong enough so that I can, maybe, one day, run all the way around Prospect Park, or take flamenco lessons, or both. This is ambitious. More than one chiropractor has flatly stated that I would be wise to hang up my running shoes forever. I didn't even mention flamenco.

But in order to follow the directions that Caroline so kindly sent me, after she coincidentally called to tell me about the healing diet she's on, I need a motivating force. A strong one.

Because this is the diet:

Hi Baby!!

Here's the cleanse/detox info.

the idea is to eliminate sugar, salt, dairy, refined foods, proteins, grains-- anything you might be allergic to. You eat foods that demand little energy for digestion, allowing the body extra energy to cleanse.

So in the morning, from when you get up til 12, eat acid fruits with nothing else. As much as you want, but wait 2 hours after eating the fruit to eat again.

Acid Fruits:

acerola cherry
sour apple
sour grape
sour peach
sour plum

Peak digestion time is from 12pm-8pm. Eat non-starch/green veggies. Again, as much as you want, but wait 5 hours before eating again, and don't eat anything after 8pm. Herbal tea is ok after 8. You can eat the veggies with fat (olive oil, flaxseed oil, or Udos oil) and/or mild starch (see below), OR eat them with tomato and lemon.

Non-Starch/Green Veggies:

bamboo shoots
bell pepper
beet greens
bok choy
brussels sprouts
green beans
fresh peas
squash (not banana or hubbard)
swill chard (? what's that?)
turnip greens

Mild starch: (eat with non-starch green veggies, oil... wait 5 hours to eat again)

caladium root

You can have black strap molasses, maple syrup (grade B is less refined so it's better), and raw honey.

Substitute Braggs amino acids for salt.

Take 4 tbls. of flaxseed oil a day

You can use braggs apple cider vinegar in your salad dressings

Dont eat black pepper- use paprika or cayenne

Eat garlic and ginger

Let me know how it's going!

I love you!

Yargh. This sort of thing is easy for Caroline. I think she's a natural ascetic. She probably spent a former lifetime as Agnes of God, or something. Me, I'm a naturally self-indulgent mesomorph. I broke my Mastercleanse fast with a steak taco, forget the carrrot juice. I get cranky when subsisting on rabbit food.

But I am also cranky when I sleep to much because my body seems to require it, when I hobble out of bed every morning, when my brain is foggy and I can't seem to get motivated. So I will see if I can give it a jump-start.

Oriane has agreed to attend the Russian-Turkish Baths with me, later in the week. I will try to make it to yoga every day; I will get herb tea at the Tea Lounge, and work on my stack of Improving Literature. I will scrub my apartment with a toothbrush.

I may be blogging a lot; I may be bitching, whining, reminiscing, or hallucinating. I need your psychic support. Do not abandon me in this time of trial.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Burning Man Riff

Jack the Dandy shares my pre-Burning-Man sentiments:
Serena, I look forward to someday reading that extended riff. :) The art does sound spectacular, and that is the attraction. Otherwise, I already live in the desert, know its difficulties, and don't need to share them with thousands of other people.

Because I live here I don't see the desert as exotic or a tourist destination, I see it as my neighborhood, so I feel kind of out of place when I hear descriptions of the wonders of Burning Man. It's like, pardon the comparison, but the frat boys go to Tijuana to let loose. That doesn't mean there aren't many worthwhile things in Tijuana. But there's a little of a neo-hippy "go to this exotic locale to let loose" similarity in basic geographic imposition suggested in events like Burning Man, I think, no matter how queer or revolutionary or artistically redeeming.

At least, that's the kind of sensation I feel when I think about it. I should go some day, I guess. *shrug*
Oh, I SO know where you're coming from.

The friend of mine who dragged me to Burning Man, bless her heart, came back from her first Burning Man sojourn on a high. "You HAVE to go next year," she said. "We can do the Barbie-cue!"

(I have this very bad habit of not stating my vociferous objections to my friends' brilliant ideas for collaborative art projects up front. I don't want to be a wet blanket, squelch their creativity, be unsupportive, yah duh yah duh. I appreciate that they are where they're at, and that they have their Issues, which will not go away if I dismiss them out of hand. So I let the notion of making a gigantic Barbie doll and burning her in effigy, with much screaming and rending of garments, in order to symbolize our freedom from oppressive, patriarchal notions of female body image, just sort of hover there, unmolested.)

But right away, you have my first impression of the nature of Burning man. "Neo-hippy, go to an exotic locale to let loose like frat boys in Tijuana." Uh-huh. The more my friend raved about how friendly everybody was, about all the neat art projects, about community and consciousness-raising, free drugs and Critical Tits, the more I smiled on the outside and balked on the inside.

"All the women rode bicycles topless around the playa, then the men made us cocktails," she said. My friend is the sort of person who LIKES getting attention from strange men who ply her with alcohol when she's half naked. I'm not, so much.

But there I was, in the late summer of 2000, staying with this friend, rootless, and with a not-quite-ex-boyfriend who was panting to go. Also my other best friend, who loved loved loved playing dress-up, to the point where she would try my patience by staying about three hours longer in the cut-rate consignment fashion outlet than I could stand, which is hard to do. Also, my other best friend's fiancé, who had a jillion friends who were Burning Man regulars, and had a cooking rotation and huge communal tent all constructed and ready to go. I had no excuse. I was trapped.

But at least I have some experience with wilderness survival. While my two friends spent weeks trolling every vintage outlet, fabric store and costume shop in the city, pulling all-nighters making sexy and bizarre outfits for themselves, I phlegmatically dredged out the camping equipment, not forgetting essentials like insulite pads, zero-degree down sleeping bags, and sunscreen. I made sure I had comfortable shoes and plenty of layers. I planned meals and packed coolers. On the last day before we left, I found some high-quality body paint at a costume store in Berkeley, and decided I was ready.

My friends said, "Don't worry, the weather will be fine. It always is."

Hello? THERE IS A REASON THAT NOTHING GROWS ON THE PLAYA AT BURNING MAN. Wherever nature creates a perfectly flat, dry basin of nothing but fine, powdery dust, nature is harsh. That's nature.

So I don't know how much you know about the set-up at Burning Man. It's a very well-organized temporary city, arranged in a circle that is open at the top, with 'streets' marked out and named. There is no money exchanged between people, and no barter--everyone brings things to give away for free, and somehow it all works out.

And it DOES work out. When we arrived and found our camp, we pitched tents and started costuming ourselves. Some naked guys came over and explained that we should prepare to have our minds blown. We replied, "We're artists. This sort of thing is our normal state of consciousness."

It was true. I kept looking around and thinking, 'wow, somebody actually went and manifested that.' There were at least two dragons--real dragons, huge gorgeous fire-breathing dragons, with scales and fangs and waving tails, which seated eight to twelve people. They didn't fly, but that was the only minor flaw. There was a huge sculpture that was a flaming metal ball on the end of a chain, attached to a tall pole, rotating so that the flaming ball wound up to the top of the pole, then curved out into an arc, and wound itself back up again, over and over. There was a giant fluorescent tie-dyed wind sock that you could walk (or dance) through, accompanied by colored lights and trance music. There were huge flowers like tree-houses, that you climbed up into and sat on shag carpeting inside, drinking free cocktails. There were giant tents as good as those of any nomadic desert tribe.

And all this is a description of roughly one percent of what's there.

The playa is the perfect backdrop for all this. It's impossible to take a bad photo there; even the hundreds of bicycles everywhere look like exotic, semi-living sculptures. It's the perfect flatness, the strong light, the uncompromising starkness. I sure wish my previous laptop hadn't been stolen with all of Pierre's photos on it, or I'd show you.

So anyway, my body paint was the perfect thing, both for my talents and my temperament. I installed myself comfortably in a big tent and started painting faces, backs and breasts. I didn't give people 'personas,' like Spider Man or anything; I just did fanciful, abstract curls and patterns and shapes, wandering wherever they would. After doing several, then holding conversations with people I'd painted, I realized that I seemed to be following energetic patterns in their faces, because the paint had a way of exaggerating their natural facial expressions as they talked. It was beautiful, simple and low-impact.

I also had the perfect excuse for getting out of Critical Tits. I painted about eight pairs of breasts, but oops! didn't get around to doing my own. The tits I painted were the Best In Show. Everyone got compliments.

While I was having such fun, though, my high-expectation friends seemed to be running aground. They had a long list of places and times that Exciting Events were supposed to be happening, and became increasingly stressed about what they might be missing. (The 'Menstrual March?' The 'Pseudo-Prom?' I ask you.) Worse, a major wind and dust storm blew up, and leaving the tent became inadvisable. I didn't mind at all; I just kept painting, happily ensconced.

I don't remember how long the wind blew; it might have been one day, might have been three. At any rate, by the time it cleared up, most of us had tent fever. My girlfriends in particular wanted to go Out; they hadn't shown off a tenth of the fancy outfits they'd created, much less seen enough of the fabulous art. So one evening, before the burn, we got gussied up, mounted our bikes, and went clubbing.

That was the evening we climbed the flower-houses, and encountered the bikes with the neon fish, and other things too surreal to recall. At one point we were crossing the open playa to the other side of the circle, and the belowmentioned fifteen-foot-high fantasy vehicle pulled up, lit from top to bottom in rainbow neon, bearing a large band. They launched into jazz or blues or rock n' roll, I forget what, we all boogied for five minutes or five hours, it was hard to tell, then they drove off again.

All in all, it was way more fun than I'd ever thought it could be.

But toward midnight, it began to rain, lightly. Some of us decided to press back to camp; some others decided to duck into a tent and wait it out, taking little sitting-up naps. Some of us got lost. The rain didn't stop; neither did it pour. It just got colder, and damper, and muddier.

The dust on the playa, as I have mentioned, is very, very fine. When it gets wet it makes very dense mud. Dense, heavy, sticky mud. Mud that sticks to bicycle wheels and shoes.

First your bicycle wheels start spraying mud when you pedal. Then they get slow and hard to push. Then they stop turning altogether. Then you get off and push your bicycle; the mud sticks to your feet, until your feet are roughly the size, weight and shape of large bowling balls.

Then your bike becomes too heavy to push, pick up, or carry.

It was like trench warfare. One by one, my companions disappeared into the darkness, as though picked off by snipers. At last, I was trudging alone through the blackness, wet to the skin, dragging my thousand-pound bicycle, quietly declaring, "fuck. fuck. fuck." Blaming my vain girlfriends who wanted to go all the way to the other side of town to show off their sexy outfits.

I was rescued by two consecutive strangers, who carried my bike a few blocks, until finally ditching it a short way from camp. When I returned I found that I was the first to make it back; my resentment was somewhat mitigated as, snuggled in my zero degree down bag on top of my insulite pad, I listened to my fellow campers draggle in and attempt to get comfortable among their frou-frou accessories. They all had rough nights.

So those were the highs and the lows, inextricably intertwined. I did not take any drugs; they weren't necessary, for one thing, and for another you would have to be suicidal to even consider putting toxic substances into your body in that environment. People rallied in the morning, and we saw more great art, and only one person had a nervous breakdown. I enjoyed it, but swore never to go again unless I am really cozy with a person with a camper.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


This afternoon I made it to the Klimt exhibit at Neue Gallerie, barely--it took me an hour and a half to get there on the train, I stood in line for twenty minutes, paid $15 (at least it wasn't $50), and stayed 10 minutes. It wasn't that the show was bad--how can Klimt be bad?--but that it was crowded, small, and I had other pressing engagements. It's kind of amazing, really, that they can pack the place for only five paintings, three of which were basically unremarkable. At least, they were remarkable when they were painted, but after three generations of plein-air, art-fair copyists, not to mention wallpaper designers, have done their insidious work, they're not anymore.

Last week I went to the Picasso and American Art exhibit at the Whitney, and took a lot of notes for a diatribe which I then put off writing, because writing diatribes about Picasso is getting increasingly depressing. What I mainly noticed was that a lot of the show reminded me of going through Soho, where street artists are selling kitsch on West Broadway (I have done this myself; I WASN'T selling kitsch, which meant that I did quite badly) and noting the gargantuan difference between original creativity and 'making a painting.' It was truly disheartening to note how many artists copied Picasso; they weren't 'influenced' by him, they just flat-out copied him.

In the case of a few, like Roy Lichtenstein, the results were a mild improvement on Stupidity As Usual, because they had to actually think about things while laying out an image. Most of them, however, got much, much worse. The Jasper Johns was particularly cringe-inducing. He just superimposed a standard Picasso-face on a failed Jasper Johns canvas. You see this in the hallway at art school all...the...time, as though putting a decal on a bad painting will somehow make it a good one. Oh, the eternal optimism of youth.

I am developing increasing respect for, or at least peace with, Jackson Pollock. Of all the lame-ass paintings in this show, his were the only ones which were actually producing some perceptible standing waves. The waves were sort of muzzy and dull, perhaps a by-product of alcoholism and semi-nihilism, but they were at least there. The Picassos had none, and neither did any of the copyists.

Recently I was rereading 'Light Emerging,' and came across a passage I hadn't paid much attention to before. It discussed the creative process as a 'pulse,' which extends itself from our core to the farthest reaches of the universe, and then contracts back in again. Our works of art act as 'highly-polished mirrors of self-discernment,' and as the wave contracts, it brings what we have learned in the process with it. Thus the end result of the creative process is not the work of art itself, but the distilled essence of our souls.

Most of us like it a lot when we're in the expanding/expanded state of creativity, and want to stay there all the time; we experience the inevitable contraction, contemplation and stasis, after the completion of a project, as depression and lack of productivity. But this is when a lot of the important work gets done.

It's difficult to look at an artist like Picasso without thinking that the state of Picasso's soul must be a real mess. I certainly wouldn't want that crap in my soul. What I notice most, now, about standing in a room full of Picassos and wannabe-Picassos, is that there's no light in any of them. They're all muddy, cerebral and flat. It crossed my mind, 'this is what would be on the walls in Hell.'

I think that a whole lot of modern art is all about attempting to get the hellish junk out of our souls, and not taking it back in again, but foisting it desperately and uncontemplatively on the world around us. It's not an accident that most Chelsea-type artists are too overbooked in their 'careers' to take a break for re-charging, meditation, and introspection. The whole paradigm is churn, churn, churn, produce, produce, produce, impose your 'vision' on the world so indelibly that it cannot be ignored. Most Chelsea artists, as far as I can tell, aren't too concerned about the state of their souls.

All this makes me feel better about the fact that I seem to be in a stage of relative creative quiescence, at the moment. One of the things I decided, while on vacation, is that my primary focus needs to be my healing practice, right now. I'm not very creative when I'm worried about going bankrupt at any second. Making this decision seemed to trigger a wave of business without me even having to do anything; a whole bunch of clients pre-paid and pre-booked as soon as I got back.

In fact, the very notion of showing right now, or madly trying to promote my 'art career,' makes me feel sort of sick, so I'm not doing it. I applied for a couple of NYFA grants, not because I think I'll get them, but just as a gesture of commitment and completion; now I'm going out more, reading more, and taking every bit of pressure off my mind to 'produce.' It will happen when it happens.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Agora II at McCarren Park Pool, September 29, 2006

co-written by Jake

I must say, we were hyped up about attending this performance. What with the reams of preparatory emails, the signed waivers, the dance lesson videos, and the required props, it was obvious that Agora II was going to be something special. The Event of the Season. Hoo-whee.

Jake, a veteran of Group Motion, came in from Philadelphia, not once but twice, the first performance having been rained out. We rehearsed our dance steps in the studio, decorated our props, and checked our watches. 'Player' tickets had to be there half an hour early. Since our 'mission' included the running of several laps around a larger-than-Olympic size pool, and the abovementioned dance steps, we figured that we shouldn't wear too much restrictive clothing. Like, say, a COAT.

McCarren Park Pool is one of the more special performance venues in NYC. Sitting on the pool ledge, watching the half-moon rise over the half-finished high-rise condos (look, all you greedy developers and invading yuppies, 'Park View' is a misnomer. A view of McCarren Park is not a 'Park View.' It is a 'view of a barren field covered with trash.' Get a life) I realized what it was--one never sees so much sky. McCarren Pool is huge. There are no buildings, or almost no buildings, crowded around it. It's neat.

Until you sit there in your t00-thin sweater and contemplate the fact that body heat radiates to the sky.

This performance was, in fact, just like Burning Man. It had the interactive, spontaneous, community-oriented thing going. It had the 'huge, flat space' locale. It had the 'large amount of chaotic activity going on simultaneously' concept behind it. Only this performance, this media-lauded performance by choreographer Noémie Lafrance, was unlike Burning Man in one crucial aspect: it was tepidly, arrogantly, crushingly lame. Burning Man Lite.

Yes, we had the surprise element of lots of oddly dressed strangers coming up and holding our hands. There were flocks of people on bicycles. There was post-modern music, there was nudity, there were attempts at striking visual tableaus involving long bolts of fabric, and screaming, and focused spotlights.

But at Burning Man, I'll have you know, the people on bicycles had huge neon fish sculptures attached to them, and the musicians were riding surrealistic, fifteen-foot-high fantasy vehicles, and the naked strangers had real conversations, and the participation was extended and genuine.

This performance even had the Burning Man factor of mild physical suffering. By the time it actually started, we had been sitting on a concrete ledge under a heat-sucking sky for a solid hour, and could not feel our fingers. By the time we finally got to start running laps, we had been shivering uncontrollably for forty minutes, and three laps around the pool was not sufficient to alleviate the chills. When the long-awaited participatory dance finale finally arrived, we were too numb to realize what was happening. Or maybe the cues were bad.

At any rate, it did not go on nearly long enough. Instead of being a vortex of dynamic group energy, rising and surging and going wild, it was more of a gestural indication of such. It was over in less than a minute. I kept dancing anyway, to the lame, five-piece semi-jazz band which touched off the 'after-party,' just to warm up. We went home as soon as I could bend my hands well enough to drive, though. Or rather, we went to Long Tan for chili-laden food and a shot of bourbon.

This is what happens, I am afraid, when Avante-Garde Choreographers spend much more of their time and energy negotiating NYC bureaucracies for the use of derelict WPA pool spaces, and setting up labyrinthine on-line instructions, and schmoozing every other performance group in Williamsburg, than in ACTUALLY CHOREOGRAPHING SOMETHING. The abundant raw materials of space and talent were just not used. I mean, come on, if you've got Streb in the mix, where on earth were the cool-ass circus acrobatics, on a high vertical structure that would have transcended the too-big pool plane, and allowed us to see what was going on? Where was the thirty-piece jam band of amazingly talented musicians that would have reverberated the entire space until the wee hours?

And if you're going to demand so much of your audience, you'd better be prepared to give something back. This performance was just patronizing. It was a pretense of interaction, an arrogant gesture, nothing more.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Woman, art, life

Rachel Winborn, 'In Floor,' 1995, photo by Charles Morris

Rachel Winborn, performance artist, has a new website up. Please go look at it. It's beautiful, and fun; click on each room in the little house, watch the videos, read the stories. Pay particular attention to the wallpaper.

In order to get a genuine sense of what Rachel's work is about, you have to allow yourself to become immersed. She's not making a one-line 'statement' about Women and Art and Drudgery; though her work is labor-intensive and conceptual, it is an exploration, an illustrative process. One of my favorites is "Launder":

For Launder I made 1200 bars of old fashioned laundry soap and "tiled" the floor with them. I built a wood plank or "boardwalk" around the perimeter of the room for the viewer to experience the piece. In the beginning of the exhibition the walls were bare. Once a week, while the gallery was open I came in and "did laundry": scrubbing the clothes on the floor. Over a 7-week period I did laundry on six days, the seventh week/day I rested. During each performance I washed one set of clothes each for a man, a woman and a baby. The water in the wash tub was never changed; I only added one pail of fresh water to it per week. By the third week the gallery had a rancid smell due to the moldy water and tallow soap. Toward the end of the exhibition it was evident that the clothes first washed were brighter than the latter washed. The more I washed the worse the laundry came out. Hence, the work is never

And there you go. Perhaps the ending is a typo, but it works for me.

I've known Rachel for two or three years, now. She's the kind of person you can invite anywhere. Down-to-earth, generous, engaging, she can and will make cheerful conversation with anyone, even if she doesn't speak their language. She's the mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Ruby, and she and her husband are expecting their second child soon. She's nothing like the stereotype of a snotty, shallow, elitist 'performance artist'; her art is a natural outgrowth of her life.

In addition, Rachel knows what she's doing in the technical arena. There aren't too many things she doesn't know how to make or do, from carpentry, to sewing, to photography, to soapmaking. Thus, the installations she creates have an integrity to them which transcends the act of 'installing a bunch of found objects in a space.' Rachel gets the right stuff for the atmosphere she is creating, whether she finds it in an attic, or spends months making enough ceramic tiles to cover an entire room, grouting herself into the floor.

Most of her pieces involve a leisurely, almost ritualistic exploration of a simple action, such as knitting and unravelling a dress/blanket in bed, or shaking flour out of dresses. As such, she is essentially creating physical poetry in time and space. The most arresting aspects of her pieces are sometimes the smallest, most incidental detritus of the process; the amplified sounds of flour-laden dresses hitting the floor, the smell of rancid soap. Her work owes a lot to theatre and set design; she cannily uses all the tricks at her disposal to create an energetically charged space.

One thing you may note, as you browse through Rachel's virtual house, is that the dates on the pieces range from 1995 to the present. Some of them are more involved than others; some are merely gestures, while others required months of labor and preparation. But she's not mindlessly spewing out piece after piece after piece, performing every weekend, having the sort of frenetic 'art career' that is expected, almost demanded, of the Chelsea set.

I, for one, don't have a problem with that. To me, there's something hollow and brittle about art which is churned out at the expense of the artist having an actual life. Rachel's creative pace is authentic to the dictates of having a well-rounded life as an artist, wife and mother, not merely the life of a woman artist making art about wives and mothers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Spiritual whammies

This week, my last in Maine, I've been unabashedly a tourist. Monday I went down to the Fairmont Museum in Rockland, to see the Andrew Wyeths and incidentally some other stuff. I became disgusted all over again with whatever New Yorker critic it was who reviewed the Wyeth retrospective and some irritating conceptual guy in the same article. He spent three quarters of the article extolling the virtues of the conceptual guy, whose signature piece was eight full-size resin casts of himself, in various poses of auto-adoration, entitled, "Oh, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie." I patiently endeavored to keep an open mind, until I got to the three petty, terse paragraphs tacked on to the end, which were equally dismissive of Wyeth and the hordes of people lined up around the block to see him.

Okay, so maybe Andrew Wyeth's work doesn't push the boundaries of what 'art' could be. Perhaps it is flat, boring, predictable and bland. Perhaps it does 'reproduce better than it looks in person.' Certainly most of the artists who paint pictures of boats and hills and buoys and figures and random Maine flotsam, who are NOT Andrew Wyeth, can be slotted into this category.

But in my HUMBLE opinion, Andrew Wyeth achieves 'mastery of technique and transcendence of subject matter,' which is my personal yardstick for artistic success. Yes, they're pictures of boats and landscapes and figures. The early ones in particular are virtually indistinguishable from anything at a random plein-air kitsch art fair. But the more Andrew Wyeth paints, the more the nervous, edgy, obsessive, piercing, penetrating, secretive nature of his soul peers through, and the more intense and even alarming becomes the result. That works for me.

I feel sorry for Jamie, however. The poor man is sixty this year, and from what I saw at the Wyeth Museum, he's still painting like a talented but confused twenty-five-year-old. He's stranded in the indecision between commitment, experimentation, fantasy and release. A few of the paintings were amazing; the rest of them were divided between competent studies and ambitious failures. I can identify with that.

For myself, I finally gave up all notion of this being a 'working vacation.' Instead I am re-connecting with my sense of wonder, and coming to terms with the fact that I'd lost it in the first place. After three weeks I am able to wake up and just be with the light. Walking to the herb patch to get chives every morning is a momentous experience, what with the billions of diamonds on the grass, and crouching forest and exultant fauna and teeming waters and whatnot. I recall this. Intellectually I've known that it is always there. I've just been numbly unable to access it for, oh, I don't know how long.

When I was about twenty-seven, I fell in love with a serious Zen Buddhist. Simultaneously I started working out a lot, and meditating, and eschewing most meat, dairy, alcohol, and other mind-fuzzing substances. Also I kept re-reading "Anne of Green Gables."

The upshot of all of this was, that colors gleamed, shadows deepened, light became crystalline, and I wandered around in a state of besotted, childlike amazement much of the time. Some of my friends at the time--well, a lot of them--found this annoying. Oh, they said it was great. But when the whammies started happening, one after another, a lot of them vanished.

I suspect that whenever a person makes a leap in consciousness, there is usually a corresponding toxic fallout. You have to cope with all the ways you've been lying to yourself before, all the habits you have that sabotage you, all the relationships which don't support you. Toxic fallout is not fun. Sometimes you find yourself vomiting copiously, sometimes your lover abandons you, sometimes you wind up homeless and half of your former friends say you make them 'uncomfortable.' Sometimes all of these things happen at once.

And when you commit to a lifetime of spiritual growth, sometimes, I think, these sorts of whammy episodes tend to happen at regular intervals. So much so that when you start apprehending the billions of diamonds again, something inside you cringes and waits for the other shoe to drop. Which obviates the diamonds and leaves you in a fearful, suspended limbo. And, incidentally, unable to artistically produce, since you're not taking in enough to feed it.

So the battery is beginning, just beginning to re-charge. I don't know how long it will take. It may take years. I think I have to work on being fine with that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The world gets brighter

Oh, man. Thank you, A.R. I went to see Rose the wondrous bodyworker again yesterday, courtesy of one of my best and oldest friends in the world, and Rose has given me a new right arm.

There was so much toxicity built up in the old one that by the time I went to bed yesterday evening I was cramping all over (it is not seemly to thwack yourself compulsively in the butt during a community dinner party), and had to keep climbing up and down the stairs in the middle of the night, as my system went into 'rapid flush' mode.

The amazing thing was that Rose did not go into the monster knots and whale on them, the way I would have done. She hooked onto the fascia in my shoulder and stretched them, one layer at a time. There was one point that I felt my arm getting longer and longer, and knew for a certainty that it could become infinitely long, that there was never going to come a point when it would go no further.

Oh man, I needed that.

This week I read a book which I now wish to recommend to everyone in the world. Our copy of Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found my Faith, by Martha Beck, seems to have vanished along with our erstwhile houseguest, so that I cannot quote the huge excerpts from it that I was intending to. However, if the houseguest DID take it, it could not have gone to a better place, so that's the last I will say about that, except that I hope to God she finishes it.

The reasons I'm tooting this book beyond all others are interlocked and legion. First of all, it's hilarious. Her writing style is reminiscent of that of yours truly, at my most puckish and urbane, and her material is, to say the least, flamboyant. Those Mormons--well, let's just say that if I had made up a religion, complete with elaborate rituals, at the age of six, and documented it thoroughly, it would have looked a lot like Mormonism. Weird-ass fundamentalism has got to be a natural developmental stage of the human psyche. But even at the age of six, I wouldn't have taken it nearly so seriously.

Anyway, if it was just funny, I wouldn't be bothering. What really impressed me was both her masterful descriptions of 'the peace that passeth all understanding,' that infinite joy that cannot be evoked in words, and her profoundly wise integration of justice and forgiveness.

There seems to be a pervasive notion in human culture, on all sides of political fences, that 'forgiveness' equals 'saying it's okay.' We see it in right-wing ideologies that equate 'compassion and understanding' with 'flopping over and playing dead while the criminal element tramples civilization.' We see it equally in left-wing ideologies that equate 'peace and forgiveness' with 'denying our wounds and playing dead while the patriarchy molests us and silences our voices.' Nobody seems very hip on forgiveness, unless they're ordering someone else to shut up and play nice.

This book makes it clear, in the most compelling way I've ever encountered, that true peace can only be attained through truth, justice, clarity, and then an understanding and compassion that encompasses both the abused and the abuser. You do not obtain peace, or even a lasting social stability, by sweeping ugliness under the carpet. Neither do you obtain justice by signing up for a lasting inner rage which obviates trust, compassion, and redemption.

I was going to go on and on, but this morning, in peace and clarity, I find myself completely unable to do so. You just have to read the book.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Happy birthday to me

Got David G.'s invitation for the 63 openings in Chelsea tomorrow evening. David will be attempting 20 of them. I will be attempting none. I am still, blessedly, in Maine.

I'm-not-there-and-I-don't-care, doo-dah! Doo-dah!

No, I am still sitting by ponds and watching obese tadpoles try to figure out what to do with their new limbs. I am wandering around in forests, gazing intently at ridiculously pretty flora. Today I climbed a small mountain and stared out to sea for an hour. This is all urgent business. My calendar is full.

Last week I got my first massage in I don't know how long. The bodyworker is great, and nothing at all like me. She started at my sore ankle and commenced subtly unravelling fascia. It took her an hour and a half to work her way up to my right shoulder, which I thought was causing the trouble; that wasn't the trouble. Evidently the real trouble comes from protecting my sore heart. She barely got started on it. I booked another session for tomorrow.

I'm a little better at standing on my hands, and a lot better at standing on my head. I lost three pounds in two weeks, then just now the scale told me I'd gained it all back, but I'm choosing to ascribe this to PMS. Being around nature and good conversations makes me happy, so I naturally eat less.

This year, I think I will make no plans at all. I will not try to save the world. I will not engender any grand schemes. I'm still up in the air as to whether to apply for a NYFA grant, although I conceivably qualify in two different categories. I think that making plans at the moment is bad for me.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Small town, big city

I seem to have hit a nerve with Chris:

I'm one of those people who says they're going to do things and then doesn't do them. It makes me feel really awful, too...

The trouble is, when I say the things I do, I'm totally sincere at that moment. But my state at any given time is mostly independent of anything else going on in my life -- I live most moments as if nothing led up to them and nothing will lead out of them. I basically don't have the brain power to spare on thinking of things as causal chains all the time. So when I'm talking to you, that's all I'm doing. Nothing else.

With that disconnect, it's easy to say things I don't mean or plan to follow up on. At the time I'm totally open, honest, and sincere. But when I step back into the flow of my life, some things get washed away...

So the next time someone doesn't do something they said they would, maybe consider going a bit easier on them. Because they may have hurt themselves more than they did you.

The Dandy, however, understands what I mean.

I am invariably shocked by people who don't do what they say they are going to do. Despite decades of exposure to this kind of behavior, I still don't get it. If I'm talking about doing it, either I will actually do it, or the consideration of doing it will be the journey in itself, with its own important (and measurable) results.

First of all, Chris, I think you're being too hard on yourself. From my admittedly limited experience of you, I have observed that when you say you're going to show up, you show up. When you say you're going to write something up, you write it up--in an inexpressibly lovely way, no less. You obviously have little experience with the true Art Flake. Which is fortunate for you, and I do not recommend acquiring such experience.

But the thing I noticed about both Chris's and Dandy's comments was that you guys know yourselves. Do you have any idea how rare that is, to meet people who don't spend a great deal of mental energy lying, to themselves and other people, about what kind of person they are?

One of the things I loved about living in a very small expatriate community in Mexico was that it was impossible to avoid getting to know everybody around you. I had friends from at least eleven countries, ranging in age from three to seventy-two. In that sort of situation, you not only have a much greater range of perspectives on the world to apprehend, you learn what you can realistically expect of people. And then you can roll with the punches.

For example, if Herbert suddenly explodes in a red-faced, violent rage about some trivial and irrational thing, you will not get terribly upset about it, because everybody knows that Herbert has anger issues, which are quite probably biologically based, and thus more cause for compassion than fear or censure. If Gretchen goes around telling everyone in town that Serena is an irresponsible thief who trashed her house, everyone in town goes around reassuring Serena that they all know what Gretchen is like, and nobody believes her. And everyone knows that Sophia is a rotten mother, but that it's probably not her fault because she still hasn't dealt with her own childhood abuse issues, and Sophia hooks up with a guy who grew up with a psychotic mother, and thus is the perfect person to take on a shell-shocked wife and her already-damaged daughter. To each their own complimentary dysfunction.

What I learned from living in such a community was that 1) you can't change people and 2) they're all perfect in their imperfections, and manage to muddle along somehow. It was particularly instructive to realize how difficult it is to intervene in an obviously screwed-up situation. I saw, firsthand, some of the most mind-bogglingly bad parenting styles imaginable, and even though the parents in question were relative intimates of mine, there was very little that could be done about it. I could drop a few suggestions, and provide a little clandestine love toward the neglected brats in question, but mainly the parental wound-infliction was inevitable. You saw that this kid had her life's work cut out for her, getting over that--and that, more or less, this is true for all of us.

The difficulty I had, in moving to the big city after this, was that you don't have the luxury of being able to observe people at close quarters over a long period of time, before deciding whether to put any effort into a friendship. There are just too many of them. By and large, you have to go on instinct. Or at least, I went on instinct the first three years I lived here, with very terrible results. Now I'm stepping back and re-considering my method of forming friendships. And until I have a group of friends whom I know I can rely on, collaboration is out of the question.

One of the mistakes I've made, I think, is in using a project as a short-cut to getting to know people. That's what they tell you in all the 'self-help' literature--volunteer! Volunteer! But I think what that means is 'volunteer to do something you have no personal stake in.' Because when I volunteer to do something art-related, I'm investing far too much of myself, too quickly. And thus I am placing my career trajectory repeatedly in the hands of Art Flakes. Shudder.

So it's not really a question of anyone having to change. Chris, you go right on ahead talking big and doing whatever you do; I won't abuse you for it. It's merely a question of me taking the time to learn what I can expect of someone, who I can work with, and who I need to avoid.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ye of Little Faith


Wow...Sounds great. Sort of unbelievable to think that you actually made it. Like all the obstacles and such that kept coming up ...let alone the human part of being a human being and all those issues.
Well...congrats. I really hope you have a great time. You sound like an 8 year old totally ready to "play house" with a vengeance .....GO!!!

Danny, you have not known me long enough.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time. On my occasional visits back to San Francisco, while living in Mexico, I'd run into acquaintances and tell them what I was up to. They'd say, "Wow, you SAID you were moving to Mexico, and then you actually DID it." Like this was something extraordinary.

How unfortunate, not to mention an evil omen for society in general, that so often it IS extraordinary when a person does exactly what they say they're going to do. So often, talk is just blather. People throw propositions into the currents around them, simply to test the response. It's why I've declared an indefinite moratorium on collaborative projects--repeatedly I'd get involved in something, meet with other 'collaborators,' go home and assiduously do exactly what I'd said I would, then turn up at the next meeting to find that everybody else had just been talking. And were perfectly prepared to talk some more, as long as this was all that was expected of them.

But enough of carping. It is nearly impossible to carp when you wake up here:

and the view out the window looks like this:

My darling sister knows me extremely well; she saved all the fun jobs for me. After I got the kitchen clean I was in a dilemma as to which room to attack first--the garden room, which I am converting to a painting studio, the Zen bedroom above (which I am keeping in its Zen state for now, although it requires an almost inhuman restraint on my part. I like simplicity in theory, and I am a big fan of desert camping for its mind-cleansing effects, but in practice my taste tends more toward the baroque) or the Library Loft.

After about half a day of chaotic multi-tasking, the Library Loft won out, because it was the biggest mess and had the most latent potential. It's about half done, now--I got most of the useless junk semi-sorted and stashed somewhere else, the bookshelves arranged, the desk set up with Internet connection, and a theme and some artwork decided upon. Then I took a break to blog. Sitting at a cute little desk in a cute little loft with this view at my right elbow, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to start writing a Stephen King novel, or something.

About this issue of Obstacles, though. Danny, you have got it all wrong. According to the World View of Serena, obstacles are not obstacles as such; they are clues.

You see, I see life as a combination mystery novel and five-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. It is not something I have control over, but something I can possibly influence, by the choices I make in response to it. Additionally, I choose to believe that there is some inner guiding harmony that links it all together. I could very well be wrong about this, but believing that it's all just some random chaos that is out to crush me produces immobility and despair, and thus is not productive.

So, my process in getting myself a month's working vacation in Maine went something like this:

Clue: Feeling of overwhelming Big City burnout.

Clue: Massage practice falling off in summer, due to client base feeling same Big City burnout.

Clue: Sister moving into rambling farmhouse in Maine, requiring help decorating such, and also some company.

Hypothesis: Perhaps spending the month of August in Maine is the way to go.

Clue: Car requires several repairs before long road trip.

Clue: Laptop hard drive crashes; flaky repair service in Queens does not repair it before August 1.

Clue: Potential subletters for August 1 are all shameless flakes; one of them unilaterally re-scheduled an appointment, without consulting me, because he had a job interview in Brooklyn the next day, and didn't want to come all the way out here twice. (And he wants to LIVE here?) Another hemmed and havered for two weeks, and finally called me July 30 and said "Is the apartment still available?" Another said she loved it and would probably take it and disappeared.

Clue: Best friend calls from Wisconsin and says she'll be in New York from August 1-9.

Clue: Sister going to Austin on business from August 1-7.

Hypothesis #2: Perhaps I should postpone my trip until after the first week of August.

Clue: Responsible-seeming person asks to sublet my apartment from August 17-September 18. She is a biochemical engineering Ph.D. student from Cleveland; her boss, a surgeon, informed her that these were the dates she was to look for a job in New York. We talk on the phone for 45 minutes, and she's a go.

Conclusion: Trip to Maine conclusively scheduled for August 17-September 18.

Results: Got to spend lovely week with best friend; got car and computer comfortably overhauled; had plenty of time to clean and organize apartment; have apartment expenses covered for month; get to spend time in Maine in absence of summer tourists.

In addition: Ph.D. student gets housing to suit her needs; friend of sister's, visiting first week in September, in desperate need of bodywork; other, perhaps unknowable, benefits may arise from this concatenation of circumstances. Who can tell? It's a mystery.

Do you see, Danny, how perceiving something as an 'obstacle' is an unnecessary value judgment which merely increases one's stress? Whereas if you take the attitude that any seemingly unwelcome information may be a vital clue as to the direction of the upcoming path, everything works out?

Beliefs, I maintain, are merely tools. You can choose to believe something, act as if it were true, and observe the results. If the results are uniformly chaotic, chances are high that your chosen belief is a crappy tool. If the results are increasingly harmonious, the more you let go your judgments and follow the clues--well, that works for me. Of course, working hypotheses are subject to modification any time they cease to be effective. This is just good science.

Additionally, I'd like to speak to this business of guidance. One of the reasons that it so annoys me when people talk about 'what they're going to do' merely to observe its effect on others, is that this, to me, is a back-asswards way of making decisions. You cannot trust a person who is not operating from his or her core. A person who depends upon the approval of others in order to determine a direction is both unreliable and unhappy. I regard my own inner certainties and inner aversions as the biggest, most non-negotiable clues of all; any external input may affect the peripheral choices I make, but they won't affect the overall direction.

Thus, when I know that I am miserable in the city and I need a friggin' vacation, I will find a way to take that vacation. It might have involved, worst-case, availing myself of the unconscionable amount of credit that foolish industries persist in throwing at me; it might have involved curtailing my trip; it might have involved a precipitously permanent departure from the city, if nothing else transpired. But there was never any real danger that I wouldn't do it.