the present world is too real, the past unknown, and the future calls out to be written: fact and fiction

I try to avoid talking about personal stuff on here. I have a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” philosophy that may not be serving me well amongst the glut of options we now have for sharing much too much. I’m naturally an introvert, and sharing doesn’t come easily even with those closest to me, so the prospect of putting it all out there for the world to see is tantamount to living in a terrifying George Orwell/Aldous Huxley combo universe… which we kind of do. *shudder*

So I tend to keep personal things personal. But the personal affects the professional in many ways, and sometimes inspires it to a point where it is unavoidable to share, because it is the point.

My dad is a much older gent. He’s said that more than once, he was taken for my grandfather when he carried little me about in public. But it never occurred to me that my father was significantly older than the fathers of most kids my age. I didn’t really think about it until his age started to affect his life, and therefore, mine. He’s 90 years old now, and doing pretty well, considering. Considering such things as men of his age almost certainly have prostate cancer, which he does, and while it was fairly low risk for a few years, it’s suddenly become more aggressive. And the damage he suffered to his cognitive functions due to a stroke he had years ago is beginning to catch up with him again, so I’m overseeing more and more of his obligations. He’s past the point of no return, things will inevitably get worse and worse for him, and I’ll eventually lose him. I’m feeling quite realistic and rational about that aspect of life. I just hope, as we all do, that when his time comes, it’s quick, and painless. But for now, I worry about the time he has left.

Worrying about how the end may happen and how he’s conducting his daily life when I’m two states away is stressful. I’m grateful that he can still live on his own – it would devastate him to leave his house, but the separation is something we have to deal with, and one more thing to fret over.

My writing abilities have gone out the window. I can’t compartmentalize and get creative when these things are taking up so much of my energy. I can’t write, and that’s painful for me. It’s like being tied up, blindfolded, and left in a dark and silent room. I can’t move, can’t connect with that vital part of my headspace, and it’s killing me. I’ve been trying again and again to find a way to push out a few sentences, hoping it’ll trigger something for me. So far, no luck.

And then yesterday while I was thinking about this, while I was in fact contemplating posting about my dilemma to my fellow authors, I thought about what kind of advice they might give me. See? Any opportunity to communicate to others is always usurped by that do-it-yourself attitude of the introvert. I thought they might suggest that I write about my dad, since he is in the forefront of my mind. And then I remembered.

Years ago, I started writing a short story loosely based on his life, growing up in Mississippi during the depression. His mother had died when he was 12, his father was an alcoholic and somewhat a hermit, and so he lived with relatives, going from house to house between his grandmother and aunties. He was often left to his own devices, and spent lots of time living like a little wild thing, smoking and drinking and catching squirrels to eat, picking cotton for a few pennies, misbehaving and moving on to the next relative. It breaks my heart to think of him living like that, but it’s also fascinating. It’s one of those southern hard luck stories of poverty and lack told so eloquently by Faulkner and Lee and Capote. And there is an interesting twist that makes his story unique.

He served in the navy during World War II, on a destroyer near Iwo Jima. He was underage for signing up, so he had his father give written permission for him to enlist, or fudge his birth records, or something – I’m not sure what. So he was 17, and off to war. For as scrappy as he was eking it out as a kid in Mississippi, he was now a kid in a world ten times darker than he had ever inhabited before, with no family to turn to when things got rough, and no friends. Or maybe one very special, very good friend. A friend he still has a picture portrait of, and in the early days after his stroke when he was grasping at things to cling to that comforted him and reminded him of who he was, that picture was one of the first things he reached for.

I already knew from the time I was little that the sailor in the photo was special. He had pictures of other mates, but this one stood out, a 5×7 with cardboard backing in a slew of camera snaps. And he told me how this friend watched out for him, stood up for him, and meant a lot to him. My dad was a skinny little string bean of a thing in his youth, and this fellow, a Native American of about 20, was broad shouldered, meaty, and tough looking, with soft brown eyes. I was glad he had someone to depend on back in those scary days of war.

I don’t know the exact nature of their relationship, but I know from how my dad talked of him, and how he reached for him in his time of need, that it was a close one, and deeply meaningful to him. I also know that for a 90 year old man from rural Mississippi, he’s very liberal in his views, and was visibly happy to learn that marriage equality is now the law of the land. I don’t make conclusions, I don’t look for things when perhaps there is nothing to find, and I don’t dismiss the possibility that my dad hid things he felt he couldn’t act on, or have, or realize. If there is something unfulfilled in his life, I mourn for that, and I would have gladly traded the life he gave to me for an authentic life for himself.

Since my mother died, we’ve been able to enjoy a much different relationship. My mother, bless her, sat in the center of her universe like the regal sun, and we all revolved around her. We’ve had to adjust our orbits, and there was a rough ride for a while as my father, sisters, nieces and I found our places within the new space opened up by her death. I’ve learned things about my father I hadn’t known before, and have heard new stories from his past. If he ever decides to tell me more about his days as a sailor, I’ll gratefully listen to and support his truths.

And in the meantime I’ll retrieve a story I began a few years ago, and see if I can meet up with it again somehow. I don’t know if I’ll be able to have any more luck with it than with my other pieces waiting for attention. It seems like a good idea to at least try, and at the same time it seems nearly overwhelming, and possibly painful. But I need something, and maybe he needs me to create a memory dedicated to his life while we still have time to explore the past.

And so it begins:

I remember the cicada hot summers, air so thick and soupy it swarmed with the sound of them, and with the smell of tree bark and leaves roasting in the sun; molten ropes of moss that dripped off of branches, and puddled into dusty ground that singed little bare feet. You and I spent every day down by that lazy bend in the river. Stripped of our clothes, we’d swim and splash, chase each other with striders and little green water snakes. It was our oasis in the heat, our escape from obligations awaiting us in the world beyond; it was our shared youth.

quickie

First post of the new year, and it’s going to be a shortie, a very quick summary of what’s on my mind so far in 2016.

David Bowie – NOOO!

Alan Rickman – NOOOO!!

State of the Union Address – finally, some content!

Presidential race – fuuuuuuuck.

Theism – see above.

Fear Mongering – stop.

Echo – better.

Telly – documentary bingeing.

Weather – BRRRRR

Friends – new.

Father – steady on.

And that’s about it.

dorian gray is gay (and edward larson betrayed us all)

dorian gray as portrayed by hurd hatfield in the 1945 movie

dorian gray as portrayed by hurd hatfield in the 1945 movie

I’m re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I do every so often. In a scant few pages are packed philosophy and idolatry, a cautionary tale, a revelation of adoration, an abundance of clever wordplay, all wrapped up in gorgeous prose.

The book also was infamously used as evidence against Oscar Wilde during his trials. Using books as legal stichomancy is disreputable; but if certain passages were selected to condemn him, others can be pulled to defend him, and perhaps all artists.

In the story, Basil Hallward tells Lord Henry Wotton that he doesn’t want to show his painting of Dorian Gray at an exhibition because he’s put too much of himself into it. Basil says he has unintentionally revealed his artistic and personal worshipful admiration of Dorian, things he especially doesn’t want Dorian to know. If others were to see it, “…the world might guess it; and I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope.”

Basil goes on to say that artists should put nothing of their own lives into their work, and that art should not be treated as a form of autobiography. But of course we all do to some extent. Wilde did, too.

In order to create something beautiful and meaningful, revelations will occur. Some things can be cleverly concealed with a bit of creative manipulation, but artists will uncover parts of themselves, it’s inevitable. And, it’s intentional. Artists want to generate stories as experienced through their personal lenses. They create the path, and we navigate using our own perception. Neither has complete control of the exchange, and that’s what makes art beautiful, and imperative to human experience.

Those who hold nothing back willingly subject themselves to scrutiny, but the audience has the responsibility to scrutinize with the expectation of no absolutes, and refrain from censorship and misapplications. Without the synergetic relationship between art and audience, there can be no meaningful exchange.

As for those who try to use art against the artist, against others, and for dogmatic gain, they reveal an ugly image not of the artist, but of themselves. An idiot extracts what they please to uphold their own beliefs; a philosopher takes the opportunity to question beliefs. Why pander to ignorance, even to save judgement? At times, there may be little solace in knowing your own heart and head, but there is great dignity. In the end, that is what Wilde exemplified, and it has made him a champion as well as an artist.

throwing words al dente (or when all else fails, talk about the weather)

Okay, let’s try this again. Apparently I was experiencing brainfreeze yesterday – it reached a whole 3 degrees for a high, and there really isn’t any siding on my house, it’s quite draughty in here. But things are rallying, we’re expecting to make it to 17 today, a veritable heatwave.

We went from a record high to freezing cold, and several inches of snow on the ground. Not the gentle slide into winter I was hoping for. Don’t let this be a taste of what’s to come.

I haven’t updated since the height of summer, haven’t had the wherewithal to post one of my diatribes or talk about old movies. The empty space niggles a bit. I’ll see what I can do about that.

spit out the kool-aid (it’s a sugary trap)

If art can’t tell us about the world we live in, then I don’t believe there’s much point in having it—Robert Hughes

but is it art?

but is it art?

I just spent a depressing hour and fifteen minutes watching Robert Hughes’ documentary, The Mona Lisa Curse. This was made in 2008 – I’m always the last to discover nearly everything, and this is partially due to my avoidance of the media. That’s a choice, and I pay for it by remaining unconversant. But eventually I’ll come across things on a journey that is most likely motivated by a need for inspiration or a necessity of research, and that’s how I stumbled upon this documentary.

Hughes’ statement was made in the last few minutes of the program, which focused on the monetization of art, and art appreciation being usurped by monetary value driven up by clueless but rich investors rather than artistic merit.

I mostly avoid the media because nearly everything in it is scary and sad. The scene he painted for us is very scary, terribly sad, and that’s because it’s pretty accurate. It’s not a fantasy depiction of dystopian society, it’s fact. But this quotation, “If art can’t tell us about the world we live in, then I don’t believe there’s much point in having it,” which is meant to denounce contemporary art, is, I think, somewhat missing its own point. Contemporary art is telling us loads about the world we live in. It’s a chilling point, but a precise one.

Modern humanities scare the shit out of me. I suppose that looks to put me squarely in the camp of those who shake their fingers and say “when I was young,” even though a) when they were young is was fundamentally no different, and 2) it’s a little early for me to be setting up my tent. Aside from being untimely, I’m also outside of my demographic in my tastes and viewpoints. I know this, and yet I solidly agree with him in my existentialistic way: Everything’s shit, it’s all shit, and we walk around with this shit on the soles of our feet, oblivious to the fact that we’re the ones spreading the stench.

I’ve tried really, really hard to understand contemporary art. I’ve studied and observed, and I want to see the meaning, the beauty, the reflective messages, but more often than not, I can’t. Hughes stood up and pointed out the nakedness of our praise, and that’s a brave action to take. He was not afraid to be loud, clear, and direct—the way he laid into Jeff Koons was turn-your-head-away “ouch!” And the really painful thing of it was the integrity behind the observation. I think Hughes earned the right to make his declarations based on his nearly 50 years as a professional art advocate and critic. And before you think, “50 years? Yeah, but he was ow-uld!” consider that he started out in the 60s, right when pop culture had stepped into the forefront of expression. He was a young man in the thick of it, so I think his perspective has a generous dose of validity.

Art is subjective, I’ve echoed that sentiment a million times, and I believe it. But it’s also become subject to a popularity contest driven by mob rule. Artistic culture is being piloted by publicity and profit—the very things it’s meant to analyse and decry. Scary and sad, scary and sad.

Why am I so obsessed with this? Because we’re standing around letting it happen, and I really do think that we, the non-moneyed masses, are better than this, and much more powerful than we believe. Unfortunately we’re also apathetic, and more than willing to go with the flow if it means we don’t have to pick up an oar and paddle against the current. Politically, artistically, theologically, we’ve castrated ourselves. And you know what? That sucks.

crushed as the goal is reached

the walk - falling leaves  Vincent Van Gogh

the walk – falling leaves
Vincent Van Gogh

I’m back in the mode of thinking about art. Fine art – paintings. Out of any artist I can come up with, Van Gogh’s art is the most intimately communicative of his state of being. You can see what he’s feeling in the colors he uses, the textures of the paint – not just the concept he wants to capture, but his emotions, his connection, his outward expression of inward perception. That’s why I love him so much, and why his art hits me right in the gut when I look at it.

When I saw my first Van Goghs at the National Gallery in London, I reflexively let out this little squeak, almost a distressed sound, and several people turned to look at me, probably to make sure I wasn’t about to upchuck on the heels of that crude display. Sunflowers, a chair, a pair of crabs – fairly simple, innocuous stuff, no hidden messages or symbolic meanings, no profound statements or grand, sweeping canvases, and yet, there’s a poignancy in these paintings, as if he’s left pieces of his self inside the images, with their shaky edges and thick slaps of paint.

One of my favourite paintings, not at the National but at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, is The Walk – Falling Leaves. I first saw a picture of this painting many years ago, when I was reading Jean Paul Sartre’s “Nausea,” and it seemed to me the perfect representation of Antoine’s confrontation with existence in the park, a sort of melding and separating that he experiences between himself and in particular, the trees, and describes as the melting of a veneer, a residue of “soft, monstrous masses, all in disorder—naked, a frightful, obscene nakedness.” He’s frightened, horrified, and also mesmerized and grasping for understanding within himself, in the deepest resonance he can manage.

Van Gogh’s paintings seem to me to exist on this level of revelation. In The Walk, the trees are lovely and majestic representations of a fall day, and also twisted and blackened around the edges and at the roots, grasping at the earth as their temporary death approaches. They are, as Antoine explains, a breathless understanding, a “belonging… that the sea belonged to the class of green objects, or that the green was a part of the quality of the sea.” The objects and landscapes he painted belong in that same way: the chair a part of the quality of the man, the sunflowers a class of yellow objects, external things he managed to capture without changing anything in their nature. They live in a way that, as Antoine explains, inconveniences us – or me, at least. A wonderful, breathless, squeaky inconvenience.

I think that’s the best individuals can hope for when searching for some form of elevation. I think it’s a mistake to believe that a sense of achievement ultimately comes in the form of spiritual comfort. Or no, that’s not quite what I mean to say. I guess it’s the thought that we’re really getting anywhere by seeking comfort that is the mistake.

Not that I think Van Gogh was an enlightened man. I think he was a troubled man, battered by his own emotions and his inability to control all that he thought and felt, until he picked up his palette. Then, there is evidence of controlled chaos on his canvases. Controlled chaos is the true awakening of the “spirit” as it’s known. I’m not suggesting this comes with self mortification or the slashing off of body parts – not the sense of being in the way as Van Gogh felt himself to be – nope. Controlled chaos is the trick of it. To see with an “artistic eye” the abstractions of life, to allow ourselves to actively experience the horror, and obscenity and the nausea, and then to be able to find our way out of the park, stand opposite of the image, and smile back as it smiles at us. To be conspirators in the depictions.

That’s what his paintings are. That’s why they are so much more than paintings.

inspiration, agitation, sweet libation

Not quite an end of the year roundup because that no longer applies, but rather a brief account of what I’m doing, what I’m thinking about, what I’m planning, what will most likely not get thought about/planned/done this year.

iris apfel at home

iris apfel at home

My last post was a tribute to Isabella Blow, and I feel compelled to give a shoutout to another fashion icon, Iris Apfel. Ninety-one years old, this lady has scads of style – literally. She loves decorative chaos, from her modern take on Victorian clutter in her home to being up to her elbows in bangles at all times. It’s an artful chaos, the kind that, like a Jackson Pollock painting, keeps your eyes darting about, fascinated by the layers upon layers of clashing patterns and colors that somehow come together to create a cohesive look. She designed textiles with her husband, and has an eye for curious creativity. She’s amassed a clothing collection that has been on display several times, because it’s just that interesting. I admire the peanuts out of her.

Speaking of clutter (and nuts), I’m working on several different pieces at once—unusual for me, but right now, while I’m having trouble keeping my mind on any one thing for an extended period of time, it’s working remarkably well to jump from one to another during the day. I’m editing one piece, writing two more. Because they’re so different in tone, it’s surprisingly easy to shift about with renewed enthusiasm. I long for the days of unbroken concentration on a single piece, but until I can reclaim the ability, this is a great way to keep me going. I get a little nutso when I can’t write steadily. It’s like going stir crazy, all blue-balled in my head until I become an impossible bundle of nerves. This is the release.

The stress I’ve been under with some family issues, mostly stemming from my mother’s death a year ago, year and a half, has created monkeymind. I don’t think I’m thinking about it, but it’s there, disrupting my calm and consequently, my concentration. I’m hoping that will change this year. Either there will be progress, or I will have learned to back away.

There’s a new way to stay mellow in Colorado. Well, an old way that’s newly legal. Weed, of course. I’ve had it only sporadically since college, I’m lazy and antisocial, so I don’t like to go around looking for a source or a circle to insert myself into. Now I don’t have to. I’ve yet to go a-shopin’ but in a day or two there will be a place opening up about a mile from home. Seems I’m out of touch on methods of partaking. Vaporizers? And here am I, sloppy joint rolling my only method to date. I don’t mind pipes, like bongs, but I’ve never eaten it. I hear that’s a whole different kind of high. I’m planning on finding out.

Hey, there is a purpose to this. Monkeymind needs taming.

murmur becoming echo

ode to joy - immortal beloved

ode to joy – immortal beloved

I have a novel coming out in the fall. No, it’s not an erotic novel, but it is a very sensual story. In fact, sensuality is a key characteristic. It’s the first book in a series of five I have planned. The third in the series is the one I’m working on now, it’s my wayward child.

Murmur did not give me difficulties. It came pouring out so quickly, I could hardly keep up with the flow. I’d easily write for 18 hours at a time, and be ready for more. I began it as soon as I had finished writing a book I had started years and years ago.

That first book was the birth of the concept, and I’ll get into what inspired that one at a later time. I began it as a stand alone story, but saw about ¾ of the way through that I could easily expand the initial concept into a series. In fact, it was the only thing to do. Murmur came soon after, and when I had finished, I realized that it made more sense for it to be the first book in the series. So the first book I wrote became second, and Murmur took over first position. Follow?

I’ll reveal more as it gets closer to the release date, I just wanted to offer a bit of a touchstone for my Third Book rants.

book three, you are kicking my ass

Narcissus PompeiiVery, very ironic, since I thought you would be the easy one. No rules, no holding back, flowing like absinthe. Ha. You’re the Green Fairy of late stages, when the effects are hard won, puzzling and painful. Quite fitting, since a drop has never passed my lips. Kicking my ass at the conclusion before I’ve even begun.

You are an intoxicant. I’m craving you, but when I have you it’s all confusion and stupor. I want more, I’m desperate for you even when you’re making me ache. Hurts to be with you, hurts to be without you.

Am I raving? Yes. I’m a lunatic with this one, and it’s only right that I should be. This one has taken on some enigmatic concepts, along with very intense transcendence. In short, I don’t know what I’m doing. But I kind of like it.

This book is all about transcending. Transcending all boundaries, all definitions, labels, concepts of what is beauty and what is broken. This is about the void, chaos and confusion, and the sound of echoes through time.

I’m not quite ready to talk about the series as a whole, so I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it does make sense, it is exactly as it should be. I’m doing exactly what I want, I’m getting the words I want, everything is falling in place just as I wish, only it’s taking for-e-ver, piece by excruciating piece. Now, I’m thinking and I’m hoping that the difficulty is all mine. I hope those who read it will enjoy the playful irony of it all.

Here – this is a good representation of where I’m going with this, what I’m doing and the reason behind it all. Hey look at me, all sharing and everything. Another side effect of the drug that is Echo.

The three descend the stairs to the café below, and once seated, Aequus begs to try the absinthe. Around them people talk of everything all at once. Their voices are at discord: no rhythm, no melody. A rush of white noise. 

A carafe of water and three glasses of the yellow-green liqueur are requested by Amadeo, and these are brought to their table along with a china bowl of glittering sugar lumps, and three pretty little silver spoons, pricked and ornamented. The twins watch as Amadeo places a spoon across each glass, a lump of sugar centred in each spoon. He methodically trickles water over the arrangement until the liquids louche, and passes a glass to each. “Enjoy,” he says. “Don’t expect too much—it’s merely drunkenness, until you develop an acuity for it. But that takes experience.”

“Like the first time getting high.” Caprice smiles and plays with her spoon, tapping it against the glass, the table top.

Amadeo puts his hand over hers, gently silencing. The room echoes with the clink of spoons against glass, of cutlery against china accompanying the drone of conversation, but Caprice’s rhythm is a dissonance amongst the din. Incongruous. They’re not meant to be here. “Getting high?” he says. “No, not like high. Like drink. A lot of drink, a pretty colour, fascinating taste….” He takes a long swallow that begins with lips softly coated, the tongue, the palate suffused in warm bite and florid bursts: coco and citrus; the back of the throat, the slide into earth and jade. It flows through him, the pleasure. He knows how to coax passion from the milky depths. The twins watch, fascinated, aroused. “This is absinthe, children. Not a hypnotic, an experience. It’s the experience that enthrals—what you ask of it, what it allows. It’s the consent that gives one the impression of transcendence.”

Aequus tries to mimic Amadeo’s limpid sensuality. He coughs up the herbs, licks the spatters fromabsinthe his lips. “I guess it’s not consenting to me, yet,” he jokes.

“It’s condescending,” Caprice laughs. “You’re like a baby sucking at a bottle, it’s not mother’s milk!” But she must force down her own mouthful, inelegantly hiding her shuddering swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing like a tackled lure.

“Nor is it an emetic, but it has been treated as both,” Amadeo says. “Alright—what are you doing here?” He rolls the glass between his palms, lifts it again to his lips.

“We’re tracing the origin of us,” says Aequus. “The true origin—us before us. If anyone should know, it must be you.”

Amadeo laughs. “Oh I know; I’m there when it happens, I know. But babies, you don’t need then what you have now. It’s like the absinthe—the consent to transcendence.”

Aequus thinks about this for a moment. “Theirs, or ours?”

“Both.”

Caprice pushes away her glass, reaches across the table for Amadeo’s hand. “Uncle, isn’t it like the origin of you? You then into you now. It is similar, yes?”

“No, baby.” Amadeo reaches for Aequus, and holds both of their hands in his. “A body? Yes. All that is me held in one form, all that is me that cannot be held.” He smiles at them, a doting, familial look. “You are flesh and blood. You came into this world as all humans do—tiny, wet, crying in the shock of vicissitude. But the pain we experience, that is much the same. The pain of singularity, when you are in fact multifaceted little jewels.

Aequus studies the foggy liquid in his glass, inhaling its scent and taking cautious licks around the rim. “Do you think we can’t bear it? We will. If it helps us to know, we will.”

An unsteady silence, and Amadeo speaks again. “I’m not worried that you can’t bear it. I’m worried that you can.

“That boy upstairs—it’s not that he doesn’t see; it’s that he does. He sees what all else are blind to. He lives in agony, he lives trying to create a world within a world, without the constructs to do so. Everything he does in attempt to create sense, it falls apart over and over and over. But you; you have always lived outside the bounds, you were born into this chaos. You want to pull the world in with you. Very clever, babies. You may yet find a way.

I don’t know why I’m sharing. For one thing, it’s a pretty safe bet, since no one reads this. Maybe I just want to send a little echo across the waves, perhaps dole out a bit intoxication along the way.