Write to Survive

I wrap my fingers around my tea.  Blasting into my face is this too-bright halogen bulb on the other table.  It screams for attention through its thin paper lampshade.  I don’t have time to be doing this but I just have to.

Here’s the rough sketch for the drawing I’m supposed to be working on.  Drawing won’t make me feel better right now but writing about it will.  Writing haunts me that way, seduces me.


desk sketch pic copy


The desk in the drawing has been called “The Magic Desk” by certain close friends.  It’s large, awkward, heavy, imposing, green.  A beautiful, unusual green.  Something between a sea-green and a medium forest green, with a teal underpainting.  Whoever owned it before me knew something about color.

It was found on the street in 2005 by one of my best friends and I in Berkeley.  He saw it first.  Originally he wanted it as much as I did – but being an oil painter – he cordially relinquished the desk to me, the writer.

I hadn’t even had any kind of a desk before this one conveniently materialized, only a couple weeks after moving into the first place I could’ve ever fit one.  Especially of that size.  It was meant for me, we agreed.

After that the desk came everywhere with me that didn’t require a passport.  I couldn’t live without her – or at least, couldn’t leave her behind somewhere or discard her.  Clunky, imperfect, but wonderful.  Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland – now she lives with me here.  It may be time to let her go soon, I’m not sure.

I earned degrees on her.  I wrote hundreds, probably thousands of hours of poetry and stories and essays on her.  I drank bottles of wine on her, cocktails, beer.  I watched movies by myself on her.  Learned languages, stacking tall beams of flashcards balancing so high I feared they’d tip if a door slammed somewhere in the house.  Escaped into art photography.  Hosted get togethers and dinners and hang outs on her and friends and lovers sat with her.  Scrolled profiles, chatted, wrote emails, found a true love online leaning on her.  I suffered final exams on her.  I suffered heartbreak on her, writing in journals way late into the night after night, after working the long shifts in a miserable job I loathed so passionately.  My loneliest times, I cried on her.  Sometimes for many days.  So many late nights, so many.

Each time I moved to a new place, everyone said it would be impossible to get her through the door but I found a way.  This is my desk.  Of course we’re getting my desk through the door.

The times I’ve felt well, good, inspired, elated, or I’ve celebrated, yet felt these emotions in solitude at my desk – and the times I’ve felt the most alone, the most angry, the saddest, insignificant, the most anguished and desperate, and the times I’ve felt the most small.  Especially the times I’ve felt the most small.  The feeling I want to communicate in the picture, this object self-portrait.

I’m supposed to be managing my classes and career change happening all at once so I haven’t written much lately, but this clearing is also happening.  I’ve got to get to the actual drawing, but first I wanted to write more – needed it.  There’s a certain feeling in my system that can only be tamed this way.  A craziness, a desperation.  It’s subtle but intense.  It’s like the tide coming in and swallowing everything up.

Overtaking reason.  Against the pressure of this super impacted highly stressful schedule I dropped everything and wrote 2,500 words more than this, then cut it all out.  We do not have to keep everything, though it’s tempting.  We do not have to prove we did something valuable with our time.






Palm trees and the beige buildings.  You can’t see those.  You can’t see the mini orange tube dress.  Legs extending long.   The damp sand stuck to her feet.  You can’t see the shapes of men’s bodies inside her imagination.  Pelicans floating, resting on the water’s surface.

Rocks scattered and seaweed adrift.

Intense warm penetrating skin, deposits into muscles like an unexpected opiate.   You can’t see the melting tension or the man in mind off-site, his absence.  You can’t see a wish.  Traces of graphite and charcoal in mind reach figures like touching, instead the outlines of bodies stretching.

You can’t see the far leaning palm trees to the left in the wind so precariously tall at this distance, green beams to a point aloft perched on long thin stems, the turn of her head toward beige long extending ranch-style apartments and muted businesses laid into sideways horizons, or the true colors or true expanse of the whole scene and most of all you can’t see her.

Men between two sights, one slow breath between them.  Ankles against the water’s pulse.  Language speaking inside sees past to dimensions off-shore, watching.

Contrast between younger and older.

Later, pelican’s wings will shift into kitesurfers.  Then hers will be the only eyes closed.  Wind pulling soft at the tide, then violent.  Legs crossed in the cooling sand, whipping round the long braid and wet dress, face tilts up toward sun burning warm water off our bodies, chest open.

You can’t see her.



Impromptu Haiku

A picture isn’t worth a thousand words, when what you want is words.  All words.

Like most mornings I wake up alone.  Sometimes it bothers me.  Other times not.  It’s worse when it’s gloomy out.  Other times it’s worse when it’s sunny, so who knows.  Then there’s this need in me to be alone, to work, to create.

Words are on my mind.  The poetry that’s so deep in my roots.

Like most mornings, the first place I go is to my (tiny) studio.  Today some testing with pastels, trying out adding water to them for a watercolor style effect.  I like it, but it quickly eats up the pastels.

Apply another layer of varnish on my accordion collage, after the details and touchups I’ve been adding over the past couple of days.  It’s looking good.  Beautiful, finally…  Beautiful, it takes me somewhere else.

Roads, forest, ocean, fields and lakes, setting up tents anywhere, anywhere.  Nowhere to be later.  Nobody expecting me, us.  Another lifetime.

On my way out I take a flat blue oval into my hand to bring along: lapis lazuli, a stone of vision.  One of six or seven stones I keep on my writing desk.  Rubbing it in my palm as I cross the kitchen to my room.




The words come to me as I scan the room for a couple of books.  A haiku, I wasn’t even trying to write but there the words are.  I’d been wondering if I might be up for some poetry.  This is all that really needs to be said right now.  It’s the feeling that matters, the feeling in the moment.

Mountains.  Rivers.  Trees.  I need to get out now.  I pick up two of my favorite books to bring out with me today.  Animal Inside by László Krasznahorkai.  Dictée by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.  One illustrated, another interspersed with photographs, but today I only need their words.




Which is better?  I like them both.  Three nouns and no action, but images.  Images with inherent movement.  I leave.  I forget my sketchbook, still damp with the morning landscape.




If I need the beauty of words, then surely there are others out there who do too.  It often doesn’t seem like it, in this part of the world.  Even if we never meet, never speak that’s why I’m here, online.  Somebody out there who cares about words, they will find these ones.







Writing Under the Radar

The hinges squeak abrasively at 1:00 am opening the door.  My own room feels like a strange place sometimes as the only thing I ever do in here is sleep.  So drained before getting into bed I almost forget my painting clothes, layered in twelve hours of charcoal and glue.  I’m not sure I have much to show for twelve hours of drawing and collage but the process has been very slow today with lengthy breaks, more so than usual to eat, contemplate projects, chat with friends.  Nothing’s done but I made some progress.

The accordion collage I’m working on is all made entirely from magazine cutouts and colored or textured scrap paper.  I was most attracted to the image of this man, whom I didn’t even recognize as a public figure until long after I’d already pasted it into the scene.  Politics aside, the facial expression, pose, and modest office environment of the original image as rendered struck me.  It reminded me of the seriousness, sophistication, and passion evident in certain thoughtful people, and in the intellectual circles of university life I’m no longer involved with.


Collage in Progress




I showed the birds in his heart, underneath his newspaper.




Collage in progress close up





As for this imperfect drawing, I’ve only just begun learning to use charcoal so I don’t mind showing the mess of struggling with new materials.



charcoal drawing in progress




I’m excited to be settling in now for some writing, even if it doesn’t last long.  I’ve been waiting all day for this — to take at least an hour with language, or two if I can get away with it.  If I can stay up just a little longer.  Sometimes I really love the feeling of opening my computer to write, and sometimes I’m afraid of what will happen.  A mixture of freedom and dread — dread mostly having to do with my fears around any creative enterprise, failure and success.

I’ve struggled in this blog, my first one, with the idea that the kind of writing I’m doing here is trite or simplistic or comes off as naive.  This is new for me.  With a background heavy in poetry, theoretical literature, and academic influence, I’ve mostly prioritized form and aesthetic in my writing over accessibility.  More serious usually, even when playful.  Except for some journalistic and travel writing featuring humor here and there, I have little experience writing narrative prose in general.  I’m not used to writing so directly on personal experience either — especially not in a public way.  I’ve never been so open, and it’s harder work than I imagined.  I gravitate more toward the style I’m more comfortable with in my sister blog, reflecting my true natural inclinations.  Poetic writing, experimental prose, mixed-genre, interdisciplinary art.  So it tends to lean into the abstract or conceptual at times, although I strive to not rely on that too much.  By abstract or conceptual art, I mean art that prioritizes form as a means of expressing and communicating messages.  So that an abundance of meaning is found in the elements of form — so that form itself (its structure and style and aesthetic elements) creates much, most, or even all of the content.

My aesthetic preferences originally began for no other reason than they spoke to me.  I’ve always been attracted to and inspired by adventurous form, deep form, wild form.  Form expressing and exploring the unseen, unappreciated, multifaceted, distant, complex, dreamy, mysterious.  Or an otherworldly quality.  Form that gives energy and attention to underserved or marginalized or green perspectives and subjects.  Experimental and challenging, exciting.  Sometimes exceptionally quiet and slow.  Or on a fringe, between genres.  I’ve wanted to see things I haven’t seen before or have seen little of, to witness fresh ideas exposed or old ideas exposed in fresh ways.  I believed this to be the main point of art of any kind, whether or not I made it myself.

Truly I’ve always been open to art and writing of all kinds, but was mostly partial to this stuff.  But it’s a preference that can be as limiting as its audience is limited.  I didn’t want to do it anymore; at least, not only that anymore.  In a world that’s already disconnected enough or connected too superficially, I wanted to communicate and connect more concretely.  To practice writing accessible prose, not just poetry.  To practice drawing from life.  Art doesn’t need to be out there in order to be impactful or even to influence consciousness, and it certainly doesn’t need to be out there to be transformative.  And let’s be real, this apartment I’m typing in right now is no ivory tower.  Form is the last thing on most people’s minds who love art and reading in this “real world” I live in, and got lost in after university.  I ran away back then from the intimidation and inadequacy I felt at the time and they’re no longer watching.  There’s only a handful of people watching at all, which is nice even if it’s only a few.  It’s lonely for now, but I’m free.  I’m branching out, doing whatever I want whether there’s an audience or not.  For the moment, there’s no real judge.  Except for me.

So my interests here have been different from the start, and my goals for this writing.  Maybe some familiar themes, but the approach is lighter, less intense, less edgy.  Focused more on the beauty and thrill and vibrancy of the moment rather than on its shadow, rather than on what’s – missing, perhaps.  Easier.  In both style and mood.  I’ve had a problem with easy and it’s really my problem, because easy has been beyond my limits in the past.  I respected hard because I did not see all the beauty and innovation in easy.  I didn’t know the challenges either.  Just because something is easier to read doesn’t mean it’s easier to write.  I’ve discovered how much rigor it really takes, especially with poetry, to write more accessibly without sacrificing the complexity I admire.  And there’s less hiding behind aesthetic masks, less shadow to run into, thinner skin.  I have to step into the light.  Here’s where writing really became hard, for me.  This project is revealing and scary and foreign.

I’ve wondered if this blog’s purpose is already played out for me and I considered retiring it to focus on my sister blog instead, but I’m not convinced it’s time for that yet.  I feel that this blog does have a distinct purpose.  Rather than indulging and challenging my artistic strengths, it’s really about developing my weaknesses.  And to share the process rather than being alone with it, for what it’s worth.  I’ve used the word struggle three times already and made the choice not to substitute synonyms, since that’s really the best word for this … freedom.  There’s the third time I’ve brought that one up too.  Often I have minimal to no idea how to do at least eighty percent of the things I’m signing up for lately.  Not only with writing, but with art also.  And the only reason I get anything done that I never even thought I could pull off until that moment, is because I kind of enjoy working my ass off and really just because I tried.  And because I don’t know what else to do that would have the same meaning for me, so I keep doing these things regardless of any real or imagined outcome.  I’m not so afraid anymore to begin somewhere, anywhere.  I’m more afraid to keep going, but I will.




Blind Contour Drawing

You turn your body at an angle so you can’t see your hand.  Look entirely at the object, not at the paper.  Feel or sense the line with your eyes and coordinate that with your hand as you draw.  Don’t take your eyes off the flower, the face, the shoe.

In the modified version, if you lose your place you can glance, but only to reposition the pencil.  While drawing your eyes are on the flower, the shoe, the person continuously.  The paper’s still a mystery.

Move your hand with your eyes.  They have to go together.  You may think you can’t see, but you’re seeing better.  Using your eyes to see, not your idea.  Don’t cheat, don’t look.  You’re seeing, not looking.  Seeing.


IMG_6396 flowers color adust



With a little color



IMG_6397 hands color adjust with contrast



I’d never heard of this technique before.  I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, I’m not sure anyone did, but all it took was to try.  And a little practice.

Feel this line.  Use your eyes to feel.  Feeling’s always been one of the things I’ve excelled at, for better or worse.  Even in those more troubled times when it didn’t seem I was good for much else.  Even when it seemed feeling had no function, also.  I remember not to forget this.



IMG_6395 face 3 - 1 color adjust less contrast



If you could feel words to write expressively, then why wouldn’t you be able to feel a line too?  I’m not sure what it is about drawing simple lines that’s felt so intimidating before, although the few here and there noncommittal messy sketches had seemed okay.

It seemed to “improve” with each attempt, if you can call it that.  Here were the three attempts in order, completed one after another in the same session.




IMG_6399 face 1 color adjust




IMG_6394 face 2 second option color adjust some sharpness




IMG_6395 face 3 - 1 color adjust less contrast





And this just because.

Why stop there.







IMG_6398 face 3 - color change with extra contrast 2 final version







Intuition Is Science Enough

Projected onto the screen was a picture of brightly colored flowers.  In the second frame, a picture of simple horizontal lines of varying widths painted in the same hues as the flowers: reds, greens, blues, and yellows, some grey, some white, some pink, some dark brown, beige.  Then, a peacock painted in those hues again.

The assignment was to choose an object from the natural world, or a picture of a natural object, and do a type of color analysis.  Observe the colors present, then take a piece of bristol and paint a bar code illustrating the approximate amounts of each color.  Using this bar code as a guide, create a whole new design depicting those same proportions of those same hues.  At this point in the project explanation the professor, also a painter and color expert, began giggling.

“My husband, he is an engineer,” she said.  “He doesn’t like this project, he thinks it doesn’t work.  Because how can you really measure how much of each color there really is, how are they measuring?”

At this she burst into hysterical laughter.  As if one could not have underscored a more unnecessary, comically uninformed, endearingly quaint point.

“These are ART students,” she exclaimed in a tone of voice so exhilarated by amusement you’d expect to see tears also.

“These are ART students.  There’s no, MEASURING.”

“Hahaahahaahahaaha!!”  Shiny pools filling her green eyes.  “Hahahaha!”

“They are just, E Y E B A L L I N G.



Essay For A New Pleasure

We were on the BART train when he turned sideways toward me and leaned back at the same time and smiling that quirky-goofy smile he asked me, where would I go if I could go anywhere in the world right now and I said, I’d go somewhere where nobody’s ever been.  Where nobody’s ever seen before, ever known.  He asked if I was sure there was such a place and I said there must be.  It all popped out of my mouth automatically, without really thinking like I already knew.  Not sure if it needed to be a geographic place or any kind of a physical place although that would be nice… but trying to conjure up and describe one right then seemed feigned or misleading just for the sake of giving an answer.  Maybe some island or like anywhere that’s been undiscovered, I said.  I think it was more about my attraction to poetry and art.  There’s the kind of adventure where you go places and then there’s adventures of the imagination.

The person who asked me this question became my boyfriend.  He was a painter.  With him long gone for many years, it’s now me who paints.  I was only nineteen so I didn’t know you’ll get lucky sometimes and find people to go places, but almost no one to take the second kind of trip with you.  So, so few.

Work, the news, political debates, problems of the world, money and appearances, critiquing and criticizing everything – so much to suffocate life.  It all seems to get enough attention, I don’t think any of it needs me.  I want different things to be important.

On a date in my thirties I usually find that the first thing someone wants to know is what you do.  How about another question I think — ugh anything but that.  I want to know why work is so important compared to the chip in a tooth, the way you kiss, the colors in individual strands of hair, the placement of lines in your face, your point of view, the map of your town, what kind of fruit you like, what makes you happy, what kind of dreams you have, how you move, the way you think, whether you’d enjoy a mysterious piece of art just for the imagery or the musical quality without worrying about the meaning, or pitch a tent somewhere in a rock shelter in the pouring rain and watch the storm pass on an extended trek in the high mountains, or if you’d rather turn back, and yet it’s so few people I feel so deeply curious about when I look in their eyes that it would hurt if they’re not very curious about me.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with work.  I work for a living too and damn well appreciate it.  As much as it supports my needs my job doesn’t reflect my actual reality inside, which could be something that doesn’t have to connect to events, something to choose each day no matter the scenario.  Work for me has become more like a fact of life than a statement about worth or perspective or values.  And what happens when you don’t have that job anymore, or when you don’t have that stuff any more, then what?  I don’t like to ask people what they do for a living.  I want my experience of you to be free from all that.  Maybe one day, tell me what you do.  For now, I just don’t even want to know.  I want to know you in this moment, now immediately.

“But what you do is pretty much what you are, right?” I’ve heard.  I can’t answer anymore, only giggle.

At the moment I am single in this world and I take journeys by myself every day.  Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for ten.  Sometimes it’s a lonely journey.  Sometimes it’s so wonderful I forget I’m alone.  Maybe even most of the time.  Even as I yearn for more road trips and new cities and beaches and trails and peaks, I’m still going places I’ve never been without even leaving the house.  Seeing in new ways, having new experiences, creating something new as well as consuming it.  I don’t have everything I want or even everything I need sometimes, but this might be the happiest I’ve ever been.

Listening to the strange music of stained glass rip and crack with each score and break into quirky, imprecise shapes dropping down onto my worktable, those first couple of lines from Cumming’s poem “somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond / any experience” rings in my ears also.  “somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond / any experience”… This is today’s ride, having never done this before this fall.  Mosaics have fascinated me for years and I’ve long wished I could make them myself.   There’s been so many things I’ve wondered how does anyone do that, but having turned a corner I don’t wonder anymore, I just go find out how and then do it.  I’m not sure why it had never occurred to me before, that it could really be that simple.  Like I had this idea that people just magically know how to do things already.  They must have started a long time ago.

A logic (not really) that so clearly doesn’t follow here.  It’s doubtful we’ll hear any stories about young mosaic prodigies who were just born with the natural gift, unless there’s anybody out there who finds it perfectly acceptable to sit down a five year old with piles of glass, cutters and pliers and encourage them to cut out a hundred triangles and then mix some cement.  No, it’s a safe bet that this is something most commonly learned as an adult.  Setting aside artistic instinct or some skill in design or color, each one begins with the same level of technical incompetence.

It was the painter -also otherwise employed- who first inspired my interest in mosaics, although I never asked him how he’d done those few ceramic tile pieces he made.  Even though words and pictures have always gone together for me, and even though I’ve turned cameras into instruments and occasionally painted or sketched or collaged almost as long as I’ve been writing, I had this story for a long time that I could only really “just” be a poetry writer and also that it was the most I could afford.  For a genre elevated to the extent of being called “the highest form of art,” poetry’s also the cheapest form as all you need is to take out a pen and paper.  And not even that much paper.  With poetry your art is always portable too, which I gratefully celebrated on a different kind of journey in whichever guest room or bus ride or camp site or hotel bed I found myself in years ago while convinced I was running toward something new rather than away from essays, debates, the news, politics, problems and appearances, and my friend the painter who left not only me but this whole world.  It was worth it, is all I’m saying on that for now.

And, imagination is a force, as the poet Barbara Guest suggests.  Or sure can be.

My first mosaic early in the process.  So happy to have found a local artist who teaches.  In future I’ll remember to protect my laptop also, not just my eyes.


IMG_5596 face crop edit 2


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