Sunday, July 6, 2014

I never thought to find you in my madness.


Sitting on a bus, watching the sun rise over manhattan, I got distracted by the graceful, meticulous movements of the steering wheel, and shifted my focus to the bus driver. Dark, lean frame, he only moved as much as he needed, just as there was no excesses in his figure, in his expression, in his words. Every 5 dollar bill he folded perfectly, matching corner to corner, tucked into its one special place on the vast dashboard. He was master of that little tiny universe. People got on and got off, his spine stayed straight, his execution unbroken, he was the same. A rock. A perfect human machine. Practically invisible.

While walking my dog before work last week, a shockingly beautiful toddler stumbled over to interact with her, and the two regarded each other tensely for a second. Her mother watched from nearby, a mother that was so young and pretty it rooted my feet to that place, and when she started to talk, bursting pride of her smart, strong little girl, I felt compelled to witness her strength and clarity of vision for what she had created. From the hood, with her ghetto accent, she explained to me her search for the kind of daycare that would feed her little girl's mind, her efforts to provide as much information about colors and letters and numbers, to give that little girl the building blocks to have a mind as strong as she was pretty. I didn't ask if there was a boyfriend, or a parent helping her, but I listened, just in case there wasn't anyone to tell her that she was doing so good. That what she was providing was powerful. That for how lonely being a parent must feel sometimes, that her priorities were directed so fiercely and positively for this little girl's future, all chubby cheeks, exploding curls, long eyelashes, chatting in gibberish to my dog beside me, and up at me with complete, unbroken trust. That because of her serious respect for the task motherhood, in the face of economic and personal limitations, this little girl was going to be ok.

I was fabricating for a steel shop a few years ago, and we would go on regular runs to drop off our product to get coated with an industrial finish (powder coated). The factory was just over the bridge, almost exclusively manned by latin American women who managed to make it through the day in that non airconditioned and dirty space with full makeup and clean, brightly colored, feminine clothing, while I left black with the steel grease of the products I was handling. I watched all sorts of things roll past us to be coated - dvd player parts, xmas tree stands, household supplies, car parts... and these women would hang these various things up in a carousel shaped assembly line to rotate through a spraying machine, covering the handmade, raw material with a machine made finish, effectively erasing the history underneath each metal piece, masking the subtle differences in construction, the sputter of blown out gas from someone's welder that caught a draft, the muttering of hurt or anger or fear or frustration from a person who was screamed at by their boss, who wasn't given the raise they needed to support their family, the fight they just got in with one of their offensive coworkers, of laziness, of learning how to weld for the first time, of burning sweat rolling down into eyes... to the delicate tinkling sound of a real carousel. That sound still haunts me, an actual circus carousel song echoing through that massive, dirty factory, that we assume everything is made by a machine, that we consume blindly without any real awareness of where products come from, and that a human body may have constructed the things you have no respect for. I have been that steel worker that overheard someone write of something that I had fought for respect in a shop to be left alone from harassment to just do my job and valiantly create what he blew off as made by a fucking machine like I didn't bleed and cry to make that thing.

Waiting for the dryer to complete its cycle, I watched the woman folding clean laundry - in NYC many people drop their clothes off to be washed and folded, because we aren't usually gifted with washer/dryer set ups inside of our apartments - and I thought about the intimacy associated with folding laundry. There was a mountain of laundry in constant rotation in my house, and it was often the chore I received, and it has been a task I completed for a lover with very specific opinions about how their things were washed and folded. My dog would come with me while I laundered, right after we rescued her, and I would carry her shy little body home in the hot laundry, so now, whenever I do laundry, she buries herself in the bag and refuses to move until its gone cold, to relive being rescued/finding safety over and over again. I wondered how many other mother's children this woman folded clothes for, if she had children, if anyone of those people whose clothes she folded ever looked her in the eyes, or thought of her when they filled their drawers with meticulously folded underwear and pants, or caught the smell of a clean shirt while they were moving through their lives and thought of the person who made it that way. Is she an exstension of a machine, or is she an overlooked artist, a protector of our personas? I watch her unfold a shirt and refold it, because it was not up to her standards the first time, and am almost jealous that someone is taking such care of those clothes, those personal belongings that we will drape our bodies and souls in. She is shaped somewhat like the Venus of Willendorf, and I realize suddenly that I had been unaware of the powerful service she provides, that she is no different than a priestess performing a ritual, of household magic, and none of the people whose clothes she has folded, so perfectly, will even feel they have a reason to look her in the eyes.

Exhausted from a week of doing construction during the day, and painting a set during the nights, I walked into a coffee shop at dawn to feed my broken body. The ladies behind the counter started cooing and gushing at me, asking if I was an artist, because I had paint all over me. I was suddenly filled with rage, that the hard ways in which I use my body, often to make the things that hold us up, whether in schools or at events are nothing in the public eye, compared to the romantic notion that I may have made some vague, un-useful 'art', that making something motivated by ego, that may never affect anyone was considered so romantic in people's eyes... that the hard effort of my body was insignificant compared to things they can't approach, things that merely sit on a wall... and then she made me a beautiful, well crafted cup of espresso and steamed milk. Art couldn't smell or taste as beautiful as the cup as I brought it to my lips and tried not to cry in relief, that after a week of making for others, someone made something, just for me. I cannot reconcile this cultural distinction, that we revere the things we don't need, but ignore the people that craft every particle of our day's existence, that human labor could mean so little, because we are taught that it is not romantic, but common. I have never had a more intimate relationship with my body and the world around me, and I think it is a huge disservice that more of us aren't required to do labor as part of our education, that the kids who go to college think they have some say in the economy when they know nothing about those of us creating as well as consuming it. People react with confusion bordering on disdain when they talk about how I'm wasting my talent, like I'm too good for menial work, but why do we glorify the things that inherently mean and affect us the least? Did machines build the roads that connect us? the sidewalks we walk on as we rush through our so-important lives? The buildings we live our lives in?

Just as culturally there is such conflict in priorities and our concept of valuable and desirable in relation to jobs and the work we do, I find myself in a strange place as a woman who falls outside of gender norms and cultural expectation - i'm too strong and too smart, my conversations too intense, my hair too short, my build too thick and solid to be what men learn is valuable in a female partner. The things I am most proud of and consider to be most valuable in myself negate most of the things a man is expected to provide or be proud of in a female counterpart, I don't naturally inspire tenderness or protectiveness in my coworkers and potential mates. I have come to terms with the fact that I will not experience love in my youth, that frivolous and lighthearted courting, the vigorousness of being wanted passionately are not things that I will have the firm elasticity of flesh to give to. At this point, I've witnessed so many embarrassed attempts from men who have no capacity to fathom my needs, that I would rather embrace the parts of self that are strong, and let go of the things that make me feel inadequate, less than, a failure, like all these aborted sexual encounters. I experience such a deep intimacy with coworkers, myself, building structures, trusting each other and our bodies, I would rather know that strength and relish in it, and build things that hold others up, whether they see it or not, and come home to just me and my dog for the rest of my life, than be boxed into culturally misguided notions of what is 'romantic', and be forced to give up the things I value the most about myself to fit inside of it. To be proud of what I am rather than ashamed for what I am not.

“I once knew a girl 
In the years of my youth
With eyes like the summer
All beauty and truth
In the morning I fled
Left a note and it read

  Someday you will be loved.”
Some people say a man is made out of mud
A poor man's made out of muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one morning when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said (well a bless my soul)

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one morning it was drizzling rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebreak by an old mama lion
Ain't no high tone woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me coming better step aside
A lot of men didn't a lot of men died
One fist of iron the other of steel
If the right one don't get you then the left one will

You load sixteen tons what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

the one that grows is the one you feed.

'But behind all your stories is always your mother's story, because hers is where yours begins.'

“Have you no respect for the past? For what was thought and believed by your foremothers?”
“Why, no,” she said. “Why should we? They are all gone. They knew less than we do. If we are not beyond them, we are unworthy of them—and unworthy of the children who must go beyond us.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland


Friday, May 9, 2014

We are the scientists, trying to make sense of the stars inside us.

Edward S. Casey is attributed with distinguishing archetypal psychology from other theories by explaining an image as a way of seeing rather than something seen. According to Casey an image is only perceived by imagining because an image is not what one sees but the way one sees. He also states that imagination is an activity of soul and not just a human faculty. An image appears to be more profound, more powerful, and more beautiful than the comprehension of it. This explains the drive behind the arts which provide disciplines that can actualize the complexity of the image.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hence the dark and light now arouse each other.

In my mystics class, the speaker was talking about opening ourselves up to explore the room and each other with our senses, to allow ourselves to perceive things on a deeper, less obvious level. One of us, another student, asked if he meant 'sense' as in the 5 senses, or as in feeling emotions.

"Same thing." he replied.

He talked for a little bit about the possibility that emotions are a behavioral response to what is being sensed, that it is intimately part of the experience of logging information and drawing conclusions from what is being perceived.

That same student had given a small presentation on the life and spiritual development of C. S. Lewis, and one of the quotes she talked about from him had a lot to do with our separation from nature, and our passionate, constant longing to be folded into it, apart, whole again. I think being so heavily conscious is both the token thing that makes us unique in our own minds, and also forces us to feel different, alone. It seems that we have developed keen abilities to intellectualize things, to freeze images, aspects, objects and our emotional reactions to them, to be able to ponder things from a safe, objective distance. So we have become too afraid to be inside of an experience, looking out, to fearlessly step into mental illness, into connection, into love, into our fears, into something potentially painful. We do not nourish the brave parts of self, we quantify and qualify, moralize and demoralize, at a remove that severs us from ever being fully immersed in an experience. Maybe, just like we are taught at a certain point in childhood that we aren't allowed to touch each other, that it becomes an invasion of space, rather than a continuation of exploration, maybe we are taught then that we are separate from nature, that we are some distant, intellectual other, that, like Adam, we must spend our lives naming things rather than tasting them. How do we go past this forced perception? Education systems have developed out of a dogma that pits emotion and reason against each other, and we learn at a very young age that messy non rational emotions are expected to be considered lightly, if not all together ignored, rather than a natural part of ourselves that can be crafted, honed and wielded just as powerfully as our thoughts. We are all partially crippled creatures, and our cut off from the rest of existence is self imposed. We force it on our children. We are ashamed, filled with shame, conquered by it. Catholic, Christian or not, it consumes our existence. Especially the scientists.

We are ashamed of having feelings. Of feeling them.

A lot of the Mystics talk about emotion as how we access the spiritual, or how we tap into nature, each other. Every time that comes up, I wonder about anger, how we all learned growing up in western culture that anger and Satan are one and the same. I have always been hugely ashamed of mine, I ignore it, I walk away and allow safe, controlled bursts for no one to witness my shame and loss of control, I have almost completely eradicated my ability to perceive it. It is a thing unexpressed. When I am filled with it, it immobilizes me, and I am too afraid to be in that black space alone, or that I won't be around people I trust.

But actively ignoring it doesn't mean it goes away. It darkens my past so all I can see are the things I couldn't shout at people who were not kind, or gentle with me when they should have been. When I was tender, when I was fresh. It has left all of my memories twisted with black, with helplessness. I have not learned to wield it with maturity, I hide it like a phantom special needs child that will probably just humiliate me. I am ashamed of it, and as a part of myself, that shame spreads out and attaches itself to other things. If any emotion is a potential to experience the world more deeply, to access the divine, I imagine that cutting off any emotion becomes part of the problem, a kink in the connection, a cut wire, an artfully intellectualized self sabotage against feeling my own feelings and knowing myself.

"...winter in the course of the year, and midnight in the course of the day, are the time of concentration."

Maybe this is where we developed the concept of Ice Queens in our fairy tales, maybe this is why I always felt trapped in semi darkness, maybe this winter was much longer than I realized. Maybe this is why I am so intense, why its almost impossible to find lightness of being. That for how much I want to burn with feeling, I may be actively shunning warmth/light/fire/sun because I am to afraid of what the light would show, that it might be something embarrassing and crippled.

That there are so many different ways to burn.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

If I told you you had a beautiful space time continuum would you fold it against me?

 'soul connects and loses itself in connection. it falls and falls; it falls into beauty.'

As I went to get on the modeling platform in a classroom with a small number of animation students, the small, ancient, whispering professor removed his shoes and stepped up next to me. I wasn't sure what to expect at first, I've never had a teacher cross that boundary, and even though I was fully clothed, there is always a sort of invisible wall of light and space that is rarely penetrated, but for pointing out a line, a muscle, a shadow, a color transition. He wanted me to react to his gestures, and than slowly shift from pose to pose, so the students could draw the history between poses, the in-betweens of our key/dynamic poses. I know this game. After the initial surprise, and realizing his limitations of body movement, I played back, loose and silly and expressive, and when he reached a hand towards me in offering and froze in his place, I brought my hand to just hovering over his, as if accepting a request to dance. He fought for eye contact a little, straining his neck, so I looked back, held that frail, blue gaze for the full 20 seconds of the pose. As we began shifting in space and for the rest of the session, he spun me and twirled me, embraced me and prayed to me, and I countered and accepted, flourished and played coy in an elaborate slow motion dance. I could hear Sinatra singing to us in a vague, bizarre mesh of time periods and artistic allusions that we trekked with our bodies, across his student's papers.

That experience played itself in my head as I stared at a spot of shifting light near the window, as I lay frozen in a pose last night. It bubbled up suddenly cause I could feel the snuggling movement of the other model's toes against my thigh, as he valiantly fought against the cut off circulation, trying to subtly inspire blood back through his leg. I remember the first time I posed alongside another model, and had to wrestle with the sharp awareness of the naked animal smell of another person in very close proximity to me that was in a non sexual encounter. It wasn't good or bad, merely real and new. Since moving to NYC I find I seek out these deep, personal exchanges with complete strangers and it has become part of some bizarre pursuit of intimate interaction, these moments of trust, of drinking in knowledge of self through others, of not being judged always stick with me, reminding me of other moments of intimate awareness of people outside of myself. Like the scent my little sister's skin gives off, a tangy baby sweat smell, of lemony sunshine, and earnestness that I will never, ever forget. Or sitting on the train the other day, when a large, distinguished, older man sat next to me who was just a large dark shape in the corner of my view, and who emanated such a strong, delicious scent I finally leaned over to ask him what it was, but only after I sat in silence for awhile, gulping it in for as long as I could.

In the physically exerting nature of some of my work, one of my closest friends/work partners and I often ride the train home together drenched in sweat and construction materials. During some of our intense discussions its hard for me to focus on his words completely, sometimes I'm so distracted by the sharp sweetness of his sweaty-body smell, a sensual-information overload.

Somehow these after-work train rides have become really important to me.

Being able to admit deep and true things and look someone in the eyes and witness the realities of myself and my life reflected back at me in the minute twitches and guttural responses of his face and body language leaves me feeling clean as I walk home from the subway. Whole. Maybe there is something to be said about the catholic act of confession, of absolution. Maybe it's not coincidence that I found my priest/confessor in the carpentry trade. Sometimes, deep inside of a conversation I get a bizarre urge to nuzzle his 5 o clock shadow, or lay my fingers in the grooves at the corner of his sardonic sideways grin, like the ways I do to my dog, who doesn't see my successes or failures, my gender, or my insecurities... just me. I don't even think I have words to communicate that emotional response in any other way. I realize now, suddenly, fiercely, like lightning why sometimes I want to eat the kind, loving, gentle words out of his mouth. I'm desperately trying to consume pieces of myself through other people's reactions to me, like some cannibalistic attempt to regain something that has been lost. To harness the existence mirrored back at me in the tiny fragments of muscular reactions in other people's faces. I can almost see myself in the eye contact I can barely hold and it almost feels like someone can actually hear me when I speak.

And then, sometimes, I'm terrified he is half in, half out, living in the in-betweens and possesses some partially drug induced shamanic ability to dance through various states of reality. That maybe this is the only reason he can see me at all.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Age before Beauty

Slouching into the seat of the Metro North as it rolled up the length of the city along the Hudson River, I watched the rose-gold fingers of dawn stroke their way down Harlem, where it gilded building facades with a lovelorn copper, flashing off glass widows and painting the blanket of snow with ironic warmth. I pondered the blushing snow and the hush of sleepy commuters before rush hour. Ambling through the outskirts of NYC into the industrial wasteland of Yonkers where another new shop waits for me, all I can do is look at what is sprawled out in front of me. My inability to penetrate the obscurity of my own future leaves me locked into the silent landscape sliding past and its seemingly never ending waves of arctic chill.

'Wait.' the winter is telling me.
'You're not done cooking.' it says.

With the winter coat the city is wearing, all advertisements and cars and modern structures are lost under a sheet of icy innocence, lost in time, ageless. Opposite me, across the River, the terrain is so different from the flat prairie and marshland of my childhood. It is straight from the paintings of the prestigious Hudson River School of the mid 19th century, something I witnessed like fairy tale landscapes in my History of Illustration class, only it's real, like something I know but have never touched, like I could sense the closeness of those artists through their connection to this landscape, like their breath mingled with mine against the glass of the window, time overlapping around me. Familiar but not.

What is the difference between Love and Familiarity?

With hurricanes constantly blowing across the flatness of Florida, it is always in a state of running from something or rebuilding it, towns emanating newness, sparkling in the copious amounts of sunshine like a fishing lure for tourists - even roots can't penetrate too deep before hitting seawater, except for the banyans that have learn to walk on water and survive without the nourishment of soil. Florida is constantly washed clean, Florida is temporary. I remember the hours of flat scrub brush passing by on the highway like the dull pain that signals a pending migraine. Tourists flood the economy searching for its lightness of being, for its clean, white beaches and gypsy lifestyle. Its obvious youth and freedom from the responsibility of time and tradition are its charms, but escapism is difficult to feel connected to.

Outside my train window, the rugged rock wall of the Palisades hints at the origins of the Hudson River, carving its path through prehistory, just as Hudson Scenic is the hulking, aging behemoth that IS Broadway. The shop lay just far enough out of the NYC metro area that there was no local subway access, no stores or bodegas, and in the recent onslaught of snow, only the smallest foot path through mounds of snow and rusty industrial carcasses of factories around it. Inside the belly of the beast, I can feel the seriousness of its traditions, like the wrinkles in the faces of the Local 1 members it houses. I understand for the first time the notion of an 'institution', like being inside of history, wrapped in its massive ribs like a whale, impossible for anyone to hear me from outside. Suddenly the roaring twenties and the golden age of Broadway doesn't seem that far removed from the here and now, and I can almost understand how its reputation draws masses of tourists, still. I wonder what NYC would be without this at its very core, if all of our concepts of art and culture aren't intimately related and specifically begat from this small, dense community of grumbling, aging stagehands with their beer bellies and precise measurements and archaic attitudes.

I cannot decide if I am working for everything I am against, or if this in its own way an apprenticeship into really understanding the fabric of our cultural by allowing myself to swallowed up by it, I cannot bring myself to pass up the opportunity to work in the metal shop, to become an iron worker for Broadway. To really truly meet the laborer, to find the industrial revolution within myself, to be immersed in union banter, to be folded into history draped in the regalia of Rosie the Riveter and see what lies in the flame of the welder.

I feel like I'm about to unearth some serious roots.