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.




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