Study, Interior

For weeks I stared at the stacks of books and scraps of paper with story ideas and quotes from funny friends and old bills and filled journals and coagulating dog fur crowding my study and thought on a loop about what a failure I am for not being a person who knows how to clean a house with any regularity. That organically led to the thought that I would be better at answering email and writing regularly and just about everything else were I to clean my study.

It might have been months and not weeks. Anyway, there was a lot of staring and a lot of diagnosing myself incapable of cleaning anything and of writing anything and generally doing anything of value.

And then today at 11:07 am I was ready to sit down and write when Chafe said, “Do you want to take the dogs for a walk?” and as a writer whose work no one but me is depending on of course I am ready to do anything that’s not the thing I most want to do, which is to write. But then Chafe said, “I have to finish this tiger I’m drawing and then I’ll be ready. How’s noon?” because he is someone who makes a living sometimes drawing tigers. Yes, he knows how fortunate he is. Yesterday he was in a lousy mood and I heard him mumble to himself, “I guess I can stop complaining about my job drawing a shark and a monkey.” It’s often like kindergarten over here, to be completely honest.

But so at this point of course I want to walk the dogs because it’s not writing things that are necessary but emotionally taxing but also now I have to wait for the tiger to be drawn so I have some time to kill that wouldn’t be enough time to get any real writing done, is what I tell myself anyway.

So I cleaned my study. It took 20 minutes.

Weeks upon weeks of self flagellation including but not limited to:

— slob
— fat slob
— worthless
— undeserving of a study
— undeserving of this little house that I adore, that feels to me like a palace
— undeserving of a partner who helps support me by drawing tigers
— never going to complete a writing project again
— never going to contribute enough to the world to offset my deficits
— not a real adult

(I like typing them out because they are, on their face, ridiculous and it is helpful to name their ridiculousness in the times when I do recognize them as ridiculous.)

And then it took 20 minutes. OK the floor’s not swept and a lightbulb needs to be changed and the recycling needs to be taken out but the large majority of the study is cleanish enough and the storm in my brain has cleared and I am an adult person capable of doing things and offering the world value again, just like that.

There is no moral to this story. I do not know how to clean the study proactively rather than live through the weeks of self abuse. I am certain there are people who know how to do that and am almost as certain they could try to teach me how to do that and that ultimately I might still be a person who waits until the self harm mounds so high that some arbitrarily assigned wait to walk the dogs will tip it. It sounds like a lot of work that’s doomed to fail which is I guess how I would have described the cleaning and how I often look at the writing. 

When friends tell me they have a hard time appreciating the art they generate, that they are often dissatisfied by outcomes, I say, “That’s what being creative is, always looking to improve upon what exists.” Yeah. What a crappy, bloviating idea to curse someone with. I know.

So maybe life is just a lot of work that is ultimately doomed to fail if we keep improving upon what exists, which would be a good thing, so that’s some sort of existentialist fatalist relief? Anyway, above is a picture of one of my favorite things in my study, an anatomical model of a shark* which I’ll write about very soon, just to keep you in suspense.

*drawing a shark was also part of Chafe’s work this week and here it is

Gray skies. Greening outside. Listening to Hiroshi Yoshimura.

Flaking

Hey there, hi there, oh, but where have the days gone?

Into wearing grooves in the floor pacing around wondering what’s next. Into extracting and purging what doesn’t work and no longer fits. Into planning the rate and incidence of reemergence. Into late-term gestating What Comes After. Into germination of seedlings. Into forgetting what we think we know so that we can learn. Into the hole of hoping we don’t all go back to pretending we’re not gonna die.

But yes where have they literally gone? Why are the days flying? I’m still just feeding the dogs and watering the seeds and practicing guitar and why is there so much laundry for one person and trying to cook something different and spilling water and cleaning it up and walking the dogs and scouring Petfinder and meditating and avoiding writing. And no matter how hard I try to never have to buy coffee or clean the stovetop again I keep needing to do those things seemingly without pause.

The hook of an After Time that wants to move at roughly the same pace as the Before Time is in my belly. And I am dragging my feet.

Gray skies. Bird conference. Listening to Eno’s Reflection.

Recent Feelings of Arguable Note

Pandemic February edition. I’m midway through a week without reading or watching anything. Media fast is my new magic mushrooms: an adventure in my own brain. I recognize that the week of the First Ever Impeachment of a Former President of the United States of America (Who Has Incidentally Already Been Impeached Once Before) for Inciting a Violent Insurrection Against His Own Government seems like a strange time to take a media fast but I’m working through The Artist’s Way with a group of buds and though the religious language was, early on, a challenge to get past, the course feels like it’s brewing something in me and this is the week that the course calls for media fast and since I committed to the buds I am compelled to play it as it lays. So I allow myself Heather Cox Richardson’s morning report and 5 minutes of Instagram every couple of days because, well, because these times are not easy, my friends. Thoughts and feelings are electrified when not pacified by the consistent cramming of media down my mind’s gullet. Below is a somewhat random selection of the places my mind goes when undistracted the bludgeoning force of external content.

• Impressed by the ROI in digging out a dog run in the backyard.

• Ad Rock’s rhymes in Fred Schneider’s voice is a new thing I invented that is not half bad.

• I just described an open-face burger as “cool” and while I acknowledge that’s boring of me I am into it to the degree that it’s possible that no one on Earth has ever described an open-faced burger as cool and that potentially makes me a pioneer. A pioneer of banal frontiers is still a pioneer.

• Finding this photo of me as a child made me realize that I have always had Resting Skeptic Face and that the expression is so comfortable I usually don’t know I’m wearing it until I hear Chafe say, “OK but just hold on and let me finish what I’m saying.”

• Curious why someone my age who loves winter as I do has waited this long to buy her first pair of snow pants and suspicious it may have had something to do with grown-fat-kid shame.

• Moved to tears by a visceral memory of my childhood adoration for Olivia Newton-John. The word dreamy was invented to describe her voice.

• Diaryland > Facebook. Let’s please make Diaryland a thing again.

• Can’t determine whether I should be troubled by how much I relate to Olive Kitteridge but, glory, is that a beautiful book. Also a beautiful book? Song of Solomon. Pilate is the Crone Empress the world needs.

• It turns out with nothing to pacify my brain I am left — unprotected — to have to think the thoughts that need thinking and feel the feelings that desire to be felt. The process goes a little like this:

Whoa, hey, there’s that visual memory of my dog having a seizure. > My friend is dead. > My other friend is dead. > And that friend is also dead. > So many dead friends. > Dead Friends was such a great band. > So many people are dead. > So many other people are going to die. > Welp, I went and loved all these people and now I am probably going to have to grieve some of them BUT NOT IF THEY HAVE TO GRIEVE ME FIRST.

Clearly a regular weekly media Sabbath — to ebb the firehose, to blow the dust out of the ducts — is in order. We’re almost in the home stretch of February, folks. Mercy.

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.

Bet your sweet bippy it’s here

Last night’s getting lost walking around our own neighborhood in a snowstorm  —

because none of us had our glasses on, 

critiquing varied holiday light and blow up displays and mistaking one yard scene for Santa’s coffin and gravestone, 

considering walking straight through a stranger’s house Ferris Bueller-style after being surprised to find ourselves at the unhelpful end of a very long cul-de-sac, 

wet mask encrusting with ice as my pockets fill up with snow, 

staying up late (PAST 10 PM), 

dusted Jack Russell in rust-orange coat,

yelling “CAR” and “GAME ON” and employing the buddy system,

under the last full moon of our bloated zombie year,

and it’s like cocaine is falling from the sky for how exhilarated it makes me but exponentially more exciting in that it won’t likely ruin my life,

and I can’t stop thinking about Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God and her wrenching depiction in retrospect of the last snow and not fully appreciating it before anyone could know it would be the last snow and then I wonder if I’ll have to keep moving north until all winter is over forever,

a friend saying, “I may be succumbing,”

feeling both ancient and newborn having barely wiped my eyelashes before they’re covered again,

a dancing blow-up snowman with a Halloween skeleton still hanging from the tree over his head spinning in the gusting snow and aren’t we all just walking around with skeletons hanging idly over our heads,

cackling into the wind because it hasn’t yet bested us and we still have snow and friends and a new year is imminent

— slid in a scant 50 hours before the deadline — sorry — “lifeline” (thanks, Rod), to clinch a respectable ranking on my Impossibly Best Hours of 2020.

For v. Against

Yesterday I left the house mid afternoon to pay a visit to a dog. It was finally mercifully cold in a way that will not be ignored, a state of weather that brings me a molecular peace I cannot fully describe. Winter walking is high maintenance and I come correct. My orange coat is for below fifty degrees and above 20 degrees (while my blue coat is for below 20 degrees), my thinner cap is both warm enough and fits nicely under my earphones, my plaid scarf is small enough to tuck into both the high neck of my coat and my pocket should I find it too warm. In addition to the clothing, tolerating the out of doors when it is below forty degrees means, for me, something on which to blow my nose, and in This Our Year of COVID it means a cough drop or two in case I am in public and find, in terror, I need to cough. And a mask of course. Always a mask. 

This route is highly trafficked by vehicles but for a full mile I passed no other pedestrians. Passed the grocery store, passed the intersection, passed the elementary school, passed the playground, passed the field in a bucket valley where we played glow-in-the-dark frisbee, and saw not a single person. 

Lately I’ve been trying to listen attentively to a new-to-me piece of music every day, so I loaded up Bill Orcutt’s Odds Against Tomorrow. Orcutt had been recommended to me many a time by my bandmate Neal and for some reason ended up in a bin in my brain reserved for Someday, Whenever. Yesterday was someday, whenever. The long and short of it is that the record is a dream of a heaven I want to live in. It’s Dylan Thomas’ Child’s Christmas in Wales. It’s the Tree of Life. It may not be Lake Michigan, but it’s definitely a lake in Michigan.

So there I am on Whites Road in my bubble of transporting guitar — far from the only bubble proximal to anything called Whites — and remembrance of night frisbee and on my way in the cold to pet a friend who happens to be a dog then swinging by the bookstore to maybe buy my 2021 calendar, an errand I wholeheartedly enjoy. I’m floating on magic. My nose turns on like a faucet. I pull off my soggy mask and stuff it in my pocket while I blow my nose again and again and again. Bill Orcutt plays Moon River and I remember standing around my friend’s grave with a small group of his family and friends and singing Moon River to his newly buried ashes. I forget to put my mask back on.

Past the golf course as I approach the stop light a man rounds the corner. He’s older, seventies maybe, and wears expensive and thorough winter gear — a silver gray puffy coat, waterproof pants, a performance fleece hat, boots with a sturdy if pristine tread. I admire his preparedness, smile at him. A fleece neck gaiter obstructs the bottom half of his face but I can see that he is saying something to me. I pull the earphone away from my ear and say, “Pardon?”

“You should wear a mask!” He is yelling through the gaiter and I see now the knotty vein trickling down his forehead. I don’t have the context to tell if his anger is sudden or if I’ve just entered its room as it was ongoing.

Of course he’s right that I should wear a mask. I usually do. I want to say to him that I have been so careful, that I have not hugged my parents this year, that I have only hugged my child once and that was when their grandfather passed away, that I cared for my mother for months while wearing a mask and keeping the windows open and the air purifiers on full blast  and slept in hotels while BYOB (bringing your own bedding) so that I could go home to my immune compromised partner and not kiss him for weeks because just in case. I want to say that I simply forgot in that moment, had only just been blowing my nose and hadn’t replaced it, would not want to endanger him or whomever it is that he loves and hopes to protect. 

I want to say those things but instead because he is a man and he is yelling at me I scoff and say, “I am outside and nowhere near you,” because I am a far deeper well than my best intentions and are we ever fully healed?

And now on days between 20 and 50 degrees when he is out and catches a glimpse of a bright orange coat he will see not a woman enjoying a winter walk, exploring new music, grieving a friend, anticipating a friendly dog exchange, but an asshole who indignantly refused to wear a mask. And, however bizarro that orange-coated asshole alter-me is to the reality of my pandemic year, he will be right.

Thatsa lotta ham!

On a walk this afternoon I passed a UPS guy heading up a driveway with a hand truck loaded with 6 honey-baked hams. He flashed me what I perceived to be a coy smile. By the grace of brain chemicals or my nightly prayers to Dolly Parton it occurred to me in just the nick of time that there is no tone in which “Thatsa lotta ham!” won’t seem sexual. Pickle narrowly averted.

Today I texted a friend for help and went into a shame spiral during the few minutes it took for them to respond, flagellated myself for not finishing an essay draft, didn’t do enough laundry, didn’t even put a dent in a new project I prioritized to start today, flayed myself for not finishing the revisions on a short story, have put off doing yoga even though I know it will vastly improve both my day and my life, got irritated for no actual reason at all, second (third fourth fifth)-guessed my value as a partner (friend parent person), sulked about Christmas, went into a new and improved shame spiral about feeling sorry for myself when people are dying alone from COVID and people are dying from trying to save them.

Then I did more laundry, went for a walk, was inspired by a guy with hams, listened to the Amélie soundtrack, lit the Dolly Parton candle my kid gave me, remembered this picture of the stained-glass banana a friend gave me for my birthday, thought about how long it would take me to explain why this stained-glass banana is enormously significant to me and how I’m not sure I could, thought about the time Chafe and I were walking and I was puzzling out a prospective story and I said I don’t even know how you would go about making that work and then he said You would probably have to write it to find out, thought about how fiction is a resource, remembered that action absorbs anxiety, and got back to work.

Thatsa lotta ham!

Hoping only hurts a little

(I really hope I am not alone in this but) Why do I not know how to walk toward someone on the street after 47 years of passing people on streets? Why do I not know where to look or when to make eye contact or for how long? Why does it get harder the closer we get? It feels as though we should by now have figured out a standard operating procedure for strangers crossing paths, such as not making eye contact till the final moment then a glance and an eyebrow raise and an upward chin nod, or maybe a nod when you’re within the range of focus and then a disconnection of eye contact. This feels like something the French and the Japanese probably have figured out that Americans have too many conflicting puritanical and xenophobic tendencies to reconcile. Or probably folks who live in big cities have this down, they have their patterns of touchpoint because they pass tens of people every day, whereas I pass maybe four. It’s probably easier to keep one’s eyes to one’s self, to default to no greeting whatsoever, but that feels like setting a baseline expectation of disconnection, too cold and lonely for sustaining life.

I can’t be alone in missing whole human faces in front of me in physical space. After embracing denial for the first six or so months of isolation, missing things is sneaking back in, twinging my heart. But missing in 2020 feels more like honoring than lacking. 

I didn’t play music during the month of October. A month is a long time for me to not play music and the lack had left me feeling squeezed out and empty. Prior to pandemic the band I’ve been in for many years was preparing to make a new record, honing songs and chiseling out time to escape to the wild north to record and stick our toes in Superior; and the other band I’m in had just played our first show and were getting feet under us. And then there was the Great Pause. Chafe and I have continued to write and play together, a luxury no doubt, but we’re starved for that regular raucous communion of drums and loud guitars, the alchemy of togetherness, why harmony makes us feel like we suddenly have more nerve endings. Like in the moment the back-up singers come in here at around 1:50, I’m reminded we can be better together, that together is a better state. As we begin to end this year I’m conceiving of a 2021 in which we are less virtually together and more actually together. Here’s hoping, and hoping never hurts (or when it does it only hurts a little).