The Boxer or the Bag

This post used to be about power and violence and the storming of the Capitol (the Founders overthrew their king in order to award themselves liberty from his taxation while they themselves were enslaving other humans so really what did we expect since cognitive dissonance is our true founding principle and we will not reset the concentration of power until we reckon with that fact) but then today while driving to the woods I was reminded by the tenderness in Eddie Vedder’s voice that growing up in the age of irony made me self-conscious to the point of inertia and hopelessness because in the post-Vietnam post-Watergate era it was considered naive to be earnest and enthusiastic and so I often responded with flat affect sarcasm and despondency and part of what was so widely alluring about Eddie Vedder I think to many of us whether or not we saw it that way at the time was the willing vulnerability woven through a pretty traditionally masculine performance because we aren’t able to adequately love ourselves and each other because our society is predicated on the idea that a centralization of power is the only true bulwark against what we fear, when a decentralization of power is what will enable us to meet the necessary and natural suffering of being human without adding to it, and there is really no arguing that building a more peaceful future is going to take dismantling not only White supremacy but also patriarchy because the constructs of race and gender are tools of capitalism which is the practice of fear-based centralization of power, whereas having enough food and having healthcare makes one less likely to inflict violence, decentralization of resources means decentralization of power so rather than distilling power into the individual it is dispersed amongst the collective and if we’re all cared for and not in fear maybe competition and fantasy violence won’t feel good and maybe they don’t actually feel good but feel satisfying because they feel necessary because we’re all living in fear because we don’t feel taken care of, and I’ll readily admit that within the past week I’ve watched a few episodes of Cobra Kai and rapped along with every single lyric of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” because we’re made of what we’re made of but I’m going to keep trying to unmake those parts of myself that work in tandem with the centralization of power in the ways I’ve been taught to do because my fear has been exploited in order to keep power where it has accumulated and while I used to think of resistance as pushing back, that brings to mind an act that inspires reaction and what I’d be pushing on is far stronger than my little old body so now I visualize that we, the collective, are water eroding the structures of power, using connectedness and flow to weaken it and turn the pieces into sand that can be spread along a continuum that is the bed of our progress.

I guess I’m glad January’s almost over.

Only the Ecstasies of 2020 (Because Spelling out the Agonies is Salt in the Vivisection)

On January 4, 2020, we took a jaunt to take in Yayoi Kusama’s Fireflies on the Water and to explore the Toledo Museum of Art. We’d been to the museum a few years prior for the Kehinde Wiley exhibition and it’s truly an impressive place, worth the trip for the modern room alone. Seriously, when it’s safe to do so, hop in the car, drive to Toledo, walk straight to Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s Kitchen and stand in front of it long enough to realize what’s happening and you will transcend the understandings you have habitually held about art and then turn around and watch it happening to all the folks around you. 

Starting the year in an infinity room, in retrospect, was necessary and appropriate considering what was headed my way (and our collected way, obviously) over the course of the year. I stuck my flag in art on January 4 and set up shelter there. I didn’t know then how ideal that site would eventually be for withstanding the weather.

So here, in no particular order, are many of the arts that fattened me up for the haul, that kept me lubricated and rolling through every harrowing or demoralizing or even just irritating moment of the past year: The Ecstasies of 2020.

Midnight Gospel / Duncan Trussell Family Hour I came for Pendleton Ward’s whimsy and dynamic use of color, stayed for Duncan’s existential spright party. Duncan’s genuine curiosity is incredibly appealing, and his bald vulnerability has helped me stare down some of the ghastliest demons that have bubbled up from my long buried denial graveyard this year. Most merciful, perhaps, has been his gift for eroding certainty. Hare Krishna, sweeties!

As Is / Nick Cave Cave taught me to allow myself to be inspired by a thing without scrutinizing it, to follow what pulls me without needing to know why. As someone who has historically not written a story until I think it all the way through to its conclusion before I even begin, this was the owl pellet that contains the seeds of freedom. And who doesn’t need more freedom.

And speaking of seeds, unexpectedly receiving a package of Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds in the mail tops the list of our household’s Bizarre Moments That Turned Out to Be Wholly Glorious.

While I tended to rely on old favorites for music footholds for sanity, Susumu Yokota’s Sakura came across my radar — mostly likely resulting from my obsessive cycling between Brian Eno records — and was immediately comforting. Likewise RTJ4, a love at first listen.

Old Favorite Music Footholds for Sanity included The Breeders’ All Nerve, a record I am in the mood to listen to at any time of any day, Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, which lowers my blood pressure, Fugazi’s End Hits, which raises it but I don’t even care.

I finally read both Mrs. Dalloway and Housekeeping this year. Believe the hype on both. Good goddess.

While I’m intentionally shying away from filling this list exclusively with things to watch because it’s not as though we don’t all have a surfeit of recommendations from everyone around us all year telling us to watch everything they liked, Homemade was the first content I watched in 2020 that was created in the context of the pandemic and the lockdowns. A collection of short films made by famous and amateur directors all over the world, it was surprisingly comforting for film/tv to come into the dystopian present, as early on in the pandemic watching content in which folks were gathered together gave me psychic vertigo. Because there has been a glut of stuff to watch this year it seems Homemade has gone largely unnoticed, but it stands out in my memory as a powerful moment in art this year.

OK but taking into account what I said about not making this list all YOU HAVE TO WATCH, but you really have to watch Pen15. Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle have achieved something courageous in its strangeness, monumentally loving, and skin-crawlingly funny, a feat of both vision and execution.

Actual Collaborations with Other Human Beings. Talking to other artists about process and inspiration. Connecting with others finding their footing in building something independently. Supporting and being inspired by rather than comparing myself to the work of other artists. Practicing, coming back to the work over and over again even when it shames or doesn’t yield.

Early in the first lockdown Chafe told me about a conversation with a longtime friend of ours who has consistently made their living as an independent fine artist. They were saying they’ve given up a lot of material excesses and sometimes comforts in that pursuit but that every time they assess that decision they wind up back in the same place: “I’d rather be an artist.” The fear and pain and isolation of this year was balanced, at every turn, by art. Whatever it means, I’d rather not stare into the void to see what I might be without it. I’d rather be an artist.