Every streetlight a reminder

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and thunder
Yeah, yeah we were altogether
Lost in our little lives

A person I know peripherally died quite recently, unexpectedly and young. I was not close to him, only met him a few times. Many people I love dearly are rent by grief. I am familiar with the pain of losing someone so loved, so young, so unexpected. The splitting open of daily life to spill the naked innards of love, the fracture in time and space that relocates us to an island of grief, lush with feeling and memory. Who knows how long we’ll stay in this place. This is where we live now.

In watching my friends grieve, these things make themselves clear: he was loved in vital and present ways, and was still alone in his darkness. We can’t anticipate when the connection will drop, and it is not always apparent to others when it does. The best we can do is connect and fortify, connect and fortify, over and over again. Still, that isn’t foolproof. I’m gleaning that he tenaciously loved winter, REM, the moon, and his friends and family. If those things are also said about me after I am gone, I will have been seen. That is our commonality, me and him, in addition to a darkness that’s long been lingering around corners.

In his honor, quite a bit of REM has been shared. I don’t much like the idea of holding up artistic favorites, but REM was, for many years, my Favorite Band of Record. At summer camp when my cabin mates were writing the names of the New Kids On the Block on their bunks, I wrote in black sharpie:

Chronic Town
Murmur
Reckoning
Fables of the Reconstruction
Life’s Rich Pageant
Document

Green hadn’t come out yet and the band still felt like my own special secret. Their mystical combination of intellect, vulnerability, and playfulness gave me a pulse, a pump of life. It’s hard to explain, or even to remember, that time before digital access when commercial radio was the normative culture and anything outside that felt like a breaching leap — dangerous and exhilarating. There was mystery in REM, they operated in a space unrelated to conventions of songwriting and time and language and gender and sexuality. The lyrics were inscrutable, the record art cryptic. They cast long shadows, so when the light flooded in I could be carried away. 

This friend of my friends loved the moon. The moon doesn’t generate its own glow, but reflects the sun. Its darkness is the precise state that allows it to hold and offer back the light. One of my friends died so loved, so young, so unexpectedly, and we sang “Moon River” at his funeral, at his uncle’s suggestion. Both men had loved the song, but my friend’s attachment to it was more than a small bit enhanced by its connection to the movie Fletch, in which Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher lets out “Moooooooooon river!” in a howl during an unexpected rectal exam. I have no idea whether his uncle knew this association, but their shared love of the song was a conduit of love for him. My friend was complicated, always picking up and dropping connection. It is good to love complicated people. Advisable, even, since none of us are uncomplicated. Connection is the light.

The sudden absence of someone we love, however fraught that love may be, inspires the outpouring of testimonies of voracity of spirit, proof of life. I’m sincerely curious why we don’t say these things to one another while we are here. There’s a fear there I can’t quite pinpoint. We make thousands of choices every day between jesuslizarding over the surface and holding our breath and diving, seeing each other in the murk below, covered in silt. We share the same air. Walking around in grief, the fresh meat of mortality, seeing all of us as goners, makes me love you even more.

Bizarro Narcissus

I sowed a seed
Underneath the oak tree
I trod it in
With my boots, I trampled it down
Grow, grow, grow, grow

Stopping in awe of the presence of perfect conditions to catch the sight that most compels me: the sun and its absence defined by me and some trees. Wringing my mind with the writings of a master set to music, our collective first language. Recognizing that entertaining romantic thoughts about my outline against the lake in white powder form is still only my same old everyday obsession with my own shadow. One step forward, one step back.


WIPs 4EVR

Woke up two hours later than I wanted to. The symptoms were relatively mild but heavy on my mind. Canceled all the things and waited to test until sicker I guess or maybe just until later. Hung out in the  embarrassment of canceling the things — do I honestly feel that bad? This is gonna inconvenience some folks, can’t I suck it up? Worked myself to the absolution of accountability if not all the way to the absolution of shame.

Had this year’s first longing for Christmas only two days after putting last Christmas away. Already feeling the light and the goodwill toward all slipping. Yesterday, on The Saddest Day, it was 342 days until Christmas. Today it is 341. Turned on the retro multicolor teardrop Christmas lights we leave up all year long.

The house is cleaner than it’s been in the six years we’ve lived here due to a fervent semester-break purification. Sat on the new-to-us loveseat for a lot of the day. Zoomed into a meeting that made me weep alligator tears of gratitude and excitement. Worked on an art project and pet a dog. Sent email, did math homework, researched grants. Made miso squash soup. Allowed myself short and sporadic rafts of unproductive sitting time. Read an achingly beautiful book in front of the SAD lamp. Dutifully took the new-to-my-regimen vitamins that have breathed a solid 15% more life into my life. Took an evening walk under the cloud-masked full moon — slowly over craggy ice — to drop something in a friend’s mailbox. 

On The Saddest Day of the year I was sick with what could be either a seasonal nuisance or the death of me. On The Saddest Day of the year I was awed at every little thing that kept me going.

Ten years ago I would’ve stayed in bed — for a day or two or three or more — and the resulting offshoots of shame and depression would have spiraled throughout the following month(s), choking me into underfunctioning and inertia. But in the time since then I’ve gone to therapy (and therapy and therapy), incorporated daily creative practice, meditated a whole bunch of hours, gotten serious about advocating for my own health because who’s going to do it if I don’t, and grown supportive and reciprocal relationships. Those changes have happened in stardust epiphanies and in the swimming through molasses that is small changes on the regular, but each change, however small, helped to buttress everything that came after, in true Dr. Leo Marvin-style.

My therapist recently said to me, “If you wanna be praying when the plane goes down you better have taught yourself to pray beforehand.” I’m not so much the praying type but I do practice awe that the accumulation of these habits, along with heaping portions of privilege and luck, means I’m still here to write about this year’s Saddest Day. No sooner do I say, “In this moment I am here,” than I am in the next moment. I have survived that moment and created a future moment in which I am still here and safe and also grateful. Baby steps.

She gets it while she can.

“I get distracted by the sunlight.” Yesterday was my birthday and we are on the second five-day quarantine stint in two weeks due to close COVID contact. We hiked Asylum Lake and walked through two snowstorms of wildly different expression. Without fail every year I wish for a snowstorm on my birthday. Two is an embarrassment of riches, but to honor my dear ones who no longer celebrate birthdays in the corporeal form I don’t second-guess the goodness or my worthiness of it. For a full day plus whatever half life that day offers, I am receptive.

Last night we watched hours of the Beatles collaborating in songwriting flow, meeting each other on a riff and riding it until a song bubbled up out of it. Watching Paul fish the vocal line for “Get Back” out of the river of collective unconscious I begin to wonder what if I don’t question the sudden onset of creating but instead trust the time and mode of delivery. Too often I let I-me-mine get in the way of flow. Flow is a localized tributary of the universe’s constant expansion. Flow will always win in the end because there isn’t an end. 

I couldn’t care a lick if it’s boring to love the Beatles. I also love pizza and dogs. I will take joy in whatever form it’s offered. Yesterday I walked in two different styles of snow storms and my fifteen-year-old-terrier got a dashing new plaid sweater. 

And then today on my walk my adult kid called and talked for an hour — about the creative process and how it applies everywhere always, about how to be responsible to one another, about what kind of world and relationships they are intentionally creating — and I’m reminded how when we lived together we had an ongoing conversation winding in and out of our brains. To feel in the dark is only to love light. This is what it is to be alive together. While we talked the winds dusted me with last night’s snow off the ancient eastern white pines. “This is how good it can be.”

Like every other day I have been alive I’m conscious of the gift that is making stuff, my throughline, my seacraft, my artery. Art won’t save us, but only because nothing will.

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.