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.

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.

 

 

 

Blind Contour Drawing

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.  Here was something I’d certainly never be able to pull off myself, no way, 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, then?  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.

Does this get better or easier… well for reference here were the first and second attempts which preceded the drawing pictured above, completed within the same session.

 

 

1)

IMG_6399 face 1 color adjust

 

 

2)

IMG_6394 face 2 second option color adjust some sharpness

 

 

3)

IMG_6395 face 3 - 1 color adjust less contrast

 

 

 

 

And just, because.

Why stop there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, anything but that.  I want to know why work is so important compared to the chip in your tooth, the way you kiss, the colors in your 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 and 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 pretty 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

 

IMG_5596 5 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Not Looking

Four hundred and seven miles from home.  I lean over to pick up a light brown and white striped seashell, impressed.  It’s gorgeous.  Bold terra-cotta stripes against ivory on this other one.  Even better.  Even more beautiful.

“Look.”  He walks over to show me.  He gives it to me.  Something green, looks like part of a broken bottle.  Exactly what it is, turns out.  Boring.  The second he turns away I toss it right back into the sand.

“Here’s another one.  This is this stuff called beach glass.”  Never heard of it.  He gives me another lime green lump.  Okay.   I wait for him to turn away again.

“Look, here’s another one!”  He smiles and puts it in my hand with my other stuff.  I take it out.  It doesn’t go with my vision for the shells.  I prefer something natural.  I drop the ones I admire into my palm.  A tiny violet lobster claw, perfectly intact.   A miniature spiral.   Vibrant blackish-purple stripes set off against a cream-colored base on this shell.   Almost flawlessly symmetrical.  Very fine ridges too.

A few more minutes pass.  Here he comes again to hand me another, without a word.  Then turns away.

Alright.  Not sure what the big deal is but this time I give it a chance.  I concentrate on this piece of garbage refined by sand that somebody gave a fancy title to.  Let’s see.  Actually, it’s pretty nice.  Really nice.  Not the lump all by itself.  What jumps out is the striking contrast between the neon green and the beach pastels.  In shape and color and texture, so different.

I watch the whole image develop in my palm before my eyes, like a photograph in a darkroom.  This type of feeling is amazing when it happens.  I watch and feel the fence I’d built around something dissipate, melt into the afternoon wind.  I feel a sense of lightness.  I relax and let the idea in.  I let this simple collection of objects teach me.

The green glows in the sun.  Reminds me of glowworms I’d once seen.  I imagine this green lump hatched from some cocoon in my brain.  It pops out of the soft whites and pinks and browns and purples and greys of the beach.  All of these and then the intriguing green… stone adds interest and mystery to the whole collage.  It’s marvelous because this element changes everything.  Everything, since what it changes is my…mind.  I like it.

Back at my friend’s house I notice what he took home.  Five or six seashells.  Just seashells.  Haha.   He didn’t even notice me hang on to the stone I have now.  Funny how it turned out to be the last one he handed over, this one that I finally kept.  The subject was dropped after that.

I recall another unexceptional green object and my art teacher standing over me, years ago.  “Don’t forget,” he tells me while I struggle to copy a bell pepper resting on my desk.  “If you can’t make the picture look like this pepper, then it means you’re not looking.”  In my memory I look at the dark green pepper and feel afraid that I won’t be able to see it.

Makes sense today, harder to practice.  Forget what’s in my head.  Just look at this right here right now.  What is it?  Not that, over there.  Or in here.  What is this.  Otherwise I’m somewhere else, disconnected.

I’m posting this sign in my mind, right now.  Now this minute, I post it.  There it is, I see it.  When I feel like I don’t want to look or listen or know, when circling back like a vulture to some impaired idea on a dead end road, let me see this verdurous sign in full view on that path and let its words echo.  Go.  Go ahead.

TAKE THIS BEACH GLASS