Last fall, I got to work with the Austin Convention Center to select Austin art to showcase our talent to visitors. I love seeing the video we installed of Austin City Limits Lounge with footage with Dale Watson and my dancing friends. We selected 7 amazing prints by Margarita Cabrera, David Moreno, Mauro Garza, Liliana Wilson, Ruth Leonela Buentello, Rigoberto Gonzalez, and Sam Coronado from the Serie Project for a sitting room by Exhibit Hall 1. Wells Mason‘s tables make that room the loveliest spot in the whole building. Sam Coronado having inspired the screenprinting scene as showcased at the Austin Convention Center by SXSW’s Flatstock, we have artists prints for festivals made by hand by Industry Print Shop. Artist Renee Nunez created an installation on the 3rd Floor. Artist Virginia Fleck‘s mandalas are in the south lobby. We have nature photography by Joel Salcido, Jenny Sathngam, and Michelle Dapra Atkinson in a space with tables by Hank Waddell. I had the pleasure of meeting Jack White and seeing his studio to choose a piece. We have a custom glass and light piece of Reji Thomas. Two backpainted glass paintings by Eric Lee resonate. And maybe you’ll find a Hedonic Map of Austin gifted to the ACC As well. Best of all, I got to work with the talented Carla Nickerson who will continue leading the culture and curation of Austin talent for the Austin Convention Center.
Christmas 2015 is a new experience. My kids are happy, the presents are under the tree, and we are enjoying the break from the school-day rush. That’s not new. What’s new is that I am at ease, the opposite of anxious. Steady, solid equanimity; even in holiday traffic or out in marketplace. Happiness is much quieter than stress, no spikes in emotion. No dread of the “dark time of the year,” not cold at night. And its from undergoing a journey that had a difficult launch 10 years ago.
On Christmas Day in 2005, I had an accidental overdose that caused unstoppable flashbacks. These memories were undeniable evidence that my trusted therapist was right. She had been suggesting that I have complex PTSD from multiple experiences that were all rooted in family experiences in childhood and adolescence. After this crisis, I finally asked for her deeper help and diagnosis.
We worked through all of it, and she helped me create a linear narrative that helped me make sense of my experiences and accept my feelings about them, even if I was not ready to embrace the traumas. She showed me how to have compassion for myself, and how I could allow my emotions without being overwhelmed by them.
I committed to be open to change, not knowing the destination – changing my marriage, starting a nonprofit, changing my artwork, collaborating more, being more socially adventurous.
I was busy in the studio. Each artwork was a record of each step of that process, as well as being a practice of process itself. If I had an idea, I created something about it. If I had a problem, I created something about it. I made external records of what was going on inside of me.
I began remembering what had most excited and inspired me – and started working more in that direction. I had more conversations with friends and experts, and started adding to my creative inquiry. My good friend Hart Blanton, a Social Psychologist, helped educate me about different theories of behavior and emotion, and I was able to understand Robert Plutchik’s chart of emotions when I saw it as a color wheel. That helped me understand how to accept what feels unacceptable about trauma, grief, and rage.
For many years, I’ve actively strategized about of how to survive and avoid the holidays. My sons go to California with their Dad for Christmas to rightfully enjoy their great family there. But in early December 2013, I met Robert, my “I won the relationship lottery” life partner. We blended our families and doubled in size.
His love for me created the confidence of being loved that I needed to stabilze my life.
Last year, all of his family members were at our house. It was lovely. And coincidentally, my sons would be in Austin for Christmas, because their Dad Todd’s family were going on a group vacation and leaving the 26th. In an awkward family moment, all four kids, Robert and I went to Todd’s house for Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was easy. Later they left on vacation, and Robert and I went remote camping at Big Bend in a winter storm, he kept me warm.
Over the past year, Todd and Robert have become good friends. They work out together at a gym. We do family activities together. We spent October and November having dinner and a movie at Todd’s to watch the Star Wars episodes in order. At Thanksgiving we had a 2-Dad head of the table. On Christmas we will just be all together.
I am so grateful to all of my family, friends and community to help me on this journey of acceptance. Thanks for hanging in, and giving me emotional and artistic support. There are so many people and experiences to be grateful for, and so much room in my heart now. I deeply appreciate you. I have more than I could have dreamed of. Merry Christmas.
“The celebrated description of human proportions by Vitruvius, used to illustrate his discussion of symmetrical temple design, is directly relevant here. He describes the circle and square ideally defined by the outstretched limbs of the body, a relationship of shapes very similar to the architectural solution he prescribes for vaulted circular building….
In the the new Roman architecture, man was shown his path and place by vaults overhead as much as by plans and openings.”
William McDonald, The Architecture of the Roman Empire, Volume I.
Notably, in this book, McDonald uses an illustration of Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, which uses a circle and a square, rather than Vitruvius’ original sketch.
This is a giant THANK YOU letter. I owe more thank you letters than this one, but this one needs to be public.
Dear Robert Faires, Sandy Carson, and the editors at the Austin Chronicle,
The picture on the right is the edition of the Austin Chronicle that featured me on the front cover. The copy of the Chron is sitting on a shopping cart at Fiesta, where I was buying groceries early in the morning with my best friend Eunice who was cooking food for the EAST preview party that night. There weren’t many shoppers in Fiesta at 8am on a Thursday morning, so it was noticeable when I screamed, the manager needed to be sure I was ok. I didn’t look quite as good in real life as the cover photo did, so it took a minute for the grocery store manager to believe me that it was me. Thank you Sandy for making me look good.
I BELIEVE in community. I believe like a fanatic. To quote Faulkner, “Memory believes before knowing remembers, believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Believes, knows, remembers…” That’s how much of a believer I am, how much of a dork I am for community. That is because friends and connections saved my life. I grew up in hell as an at-risk kid, alone and feral, trying to escape religious, emotional, and sexual abuse. How I’m still alive still blows my mind every day. And I have a nice home, two great kids, and lots of friends, I am healthy, somewhat sane, and have work I care about. I learned how to do this from friends, from communities of like-minded people I found, by following the spark of connection and the scent of what interested me.
The first time I picked up a Chronicle was in 1987 when I came to visit Austin in my hot little ’72 Datsun 240Z. That issue had the annual musicians register in it. Line by line the contact info of every individual musician and band. I was hooked. I met Dave Davis who played in a band called Zulu Time and was smitten. He was also an Oklahoma ex-pat. I stayed in a corner room at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. I was in heaven. I fell in love with a city.
And to again quote Battlestar Galactica, as I did in the article you wrote (because yes I am that much of a dork), community is what makes me feel safe enough to be brave. It is the network of people in our lives that you can reach out to. I don’t have family to count on, I have community. Family is who you get, but community is who you choose. And they are your neighbors, friends, co-workers, employees of businesses you go to. It is built by allowing your self to be seen, seeing others, and treating people well. It is a social economy in a particular place. We give and take.
The support I’ve received as an artist and as the quirky person that I am has allowed me to take risks. I want to think bigger than I do, I want to allow others the opportunity to come in more, and closer. I want to share how oddly grateful I am, even for the pain of my experiences. Because pain makes you reach out and ask, and need, and be seen. We can survive alone, but we need each other to thrive. The East Austin Studio Tour lets me invite everyone in, and to appreciate who shows up.
Being on the cover of the Austin Chronicle was the most meaningful message that what I give matters. I am valued most for doing what I enjoy most, and that is inviting people in to talk, play, and share my creativity in the home I am so fortunate to have. I can’t make new or better art without someone’s response and conversation with me about it. I can’t grow without you.
Robert, thank you so much for that article and for putting my silly self on the cover of the Austin Chronicle. You blew my heart open. I’m gonna have to dream bigger now.
Looked through an old box looking for my 1988 emotional diagram to include in the Hedonic Map. Didn’t find it, did find a lot of old letters and reminders.
1) I have walked away from a lot of people I love. But those relationships were either hard or impossible.
2) I’ve been writing and thinking about the same things my whole life. I’m including one poem from Kansas City, and one from Santa Fe. Why share bad old poems? Awkward self-acceptance, I guess, for all the leaving.
Seeing the biplane reflection
in the lined hatch-back glass of the car in front of her
made moral lines disappear.
The sky supported clouds and that plane.
Tall buildings provoke her thieving a peek over the edge:
not afraid of falling
but of the vertigo calling her down.
She can fly, can’t she?
She asked around to those who might know
of furtive chances
They recommend the flapping method
and tell stories of dented and messy car hoods
but the cool aluminum wings that are strapped to her do not bend
and will only allow her
a jump and glide off some high place.
A wrist’s curve and gesture
tosses like a ball
and undaunted longing.
Gestures glance off, do not hold, do not quite reach.
The most graceful arm does not stay suspended in air.
A certain turn of head will not repeat itself,
and a chance of eye lasts only a moment.
But I remember an embrace
that felt as an elongated dark blue with light edges.
It seems that we remained for hours,
standing still, together.
I remember every part of grabbing his wrist in play;
how I thought it would be solid and strong,
but it was thin and had no weight at all.
I did not know him until then.
I held her jaw with my hand to keep her head from sinking,
wondering if my hand was made to fit there.
The bone that made her chin pressed between my thumb and hand
and our numbness ended there.
I ache for the tangible bond of touch,
to know another is really present, engaged.
Wondering and questioning are not always the best activities;
a friendship is something that wants to be known.
This cannot be faked or invented, can it?
It would be a dangerous person
who could masquerade that strong connection of knowing someone,
a frightful person, indeed.
Bur risk and ache and hunger make me alive;
longing means that it is worth working for.
I should want to remind myself
that living is not to get by unscathed.
It’s a Friday afternoon in Santa Fe. I am sitting at your desk, typing on my computer, annoyed at the August flies. I painted my artwork in your yard all morning, you are out working. Your school starts next week, and in a little over a month, you have another hearing to see if you get help from the judge enforcing the visitation recommendations so you can have a relationship with your daughter, so you can even see her.
I stopped painting to take a little break, eat lunch, shower, and head to town to see friends. I picked up the book I am reading, by Wallace Stegner, my favorite author, and read an essay that made me cry and cry, “Letter, much too late”, a letter to his mother, long dead. I named my son Wallace after this man, because after I read most of his books, including “Angle of Repose” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain”, I could hear the voice of a son describing his mother and how much love and closeness they shared. I wished for that kind of love myself, that deep mother- son bond, when I had my son Wallace, and hoped to love him like Stegner’s mother loved him. Naming my son Wallace was a wish to know that kind of love in this life. And am I ever grateful for my two beautiful sons, who are loved so fiercely by me that they squeal, and demand, from the confidence of being loved.
I’m here visiting you, enjoying your company, checking in to see how you are. Cooking for you, taking care of you, and reminding you that you are loved. We ate dinner last night at a restaurant with your parents, you were a wretch to them and loved every minute of it. After dinner your mom called to tell you that you don’t have to be happy for her to love you. The love that your family loves each other with is gorgeous. Your family saved my life and gave me a hope that love might be possible for me too, and I have been grateful all my life for it. Yeah, long ago I was hurt that you didn’t want that big life love with me, but as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate so much that you have never offered me what you couldn’t give, you have always told me the truth, even when I didn’t want to hear it. And you have set a bar so high for trust that I have compared every other relationship in my life to it. Thank you for teaching me to be free. You taught me how to trust, and to love, and to stay true to myself no matter what. You have shared yourself intimately with me, without lies, and with a lot of sweetness and play. Thank you.
I’m still crying from the book, and from realizing that I need to keep telling you something you already know: that you are loved. That every day that you feel dark and suicidal, which I know you do, there are some fierce and beautiful women who love you and need you. We need you to just keep being you. Even if you are just sitting in your chair drinking and smoking, thinking, and looking at the sky, please don’t stop being. I love you and I need you and I just need to know you are still here in this beautiful, mysterious and hard world every day you can. I will give you what I can when you are low. Keep finding simple things to enjoy, and pondering the vastness of the universe. Your daughter needs you: she needs you to be there when she is old enough to break past the illusions she will be taught by her mother, to show her what love and trust looks like. Like you have showed me with ease and sweetness. Hang in. Be here so one day your daughter can say “I love loving you, Dad.”
You did it. You hung in for a 4 year war with the mother of your daughter to save her life. You fought a precedent setting multi-state court battle to get full custody. The joy I heard in your voice on the phone today was so thick and real. I haven’t heard you sound that way in 30 years. Your family rescued me from despair, neglect, and religious and emotional abuse. I think it was just practice for what your family will do for your daughter. I am so deeply proud of you for fighting for her life. I am so moved by the commitment of the freest man I’ve ever known. I am so deeply excited that you have just begun the deepest relationship of your life.
by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
By Wallace Stevens
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound,
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet
Over the seas, to silent Palestine,
Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be
The blood of paradise? And shall the earth
Seem all of paradise that we shall know?
The sky will be much friendlier then than now,
A part of labor and a part of pain,
And next in glory to enduring love,
Not this dividing and indifferent blue.
She says, ‘I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?’
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.
She says, ‘But in contentment I still feel
The need of some imperishable bliss.’
Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires. Although she strews the leaves
Of sure obliteration on our paths,
The path sick sorrow took, the many paths
Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love
Whispered a little out of tenderness,
She makes the willow shiver in the sun
For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze
Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.
She causes boys to pile new plums and pears
On disregarded plate. The maidens taste
And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.
Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set pear upon those river-banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.
Supple and turbulent, a ring of men
Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn
Their boisterous devotion to the sun,
Not as a god, but as a god might be,
Naked among them, like a savage source.
Their chant shall be a chant of paradise,
Out of their blood, returning to the sky;
And in their chant shall enter, voice by voice,
The windy lake wherein their lord delights,
The trees, like serafin, and echoing hills,
That choir among themselves long afterward.
They shall know well the heavenly fellowship
Of men that perish and of summer morn.
And whence they came and whither they shall go
The dew upon their feet shall manifest.
She hears, upon that water without sound,
A voice that cries, ‘The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.’
We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
With satellite maps at our fingertips, it is almost impossible to get lost in the world anymore. If I think I know where I am going, I am likely to miss all the beautiful details of discovery. I may not even be able to describe the landmarks or paths that took me to my destination. What is distinct about right here?
I am at a concert, excitedly waiting to see if the band plays my favorite song. We are packed at the front of the stage. The guy whom I am pressed up against pulls out his mobile device and looks at setlist.com, and–poof–the mystery is gone, my song will not be played.
We need maps, diagrams, plans, and information. But some of my most memorable experiences are of not knowing, of lostness. My senses are heightened, I remember every detail because much depends on my attention. Walking in Venice, on a hike in the woods, painting in my studio. I want to be surprised, I want to not know where this is going. I want to be solidly in the path, in the moment.
Vulnerability, uncertainty, chaos, anxiety. There is no failure while I still have the opportunity to try, that is why we do not judge someone’s life until they die. We go so far out of our way to avoid pain or intensity. Our arrogance deflects what is possible. Our money pads us from suffering. Sureness discounts wonder. I want to feel it all. The highs and lows do not stand out without all that blended color that is in the middle of our not knowing.
Co-Lab Projects, 613 Allen Street, Austin, TX 78704
Artist’s reception will be on October 12, 2013, 7:00pm-11:00pm
October 13-19, 2013 by appointment
Help me make art: a Hedonic Map. I am launching a project that will first exhibit at Co-Lab in October 2013. I’m excited to announce that the project will be hosted by The University of Texas Department of Psychology during the spring and summer of 2014. I’ve been thinking about how we each have intense experiences in a certain places, and realize how connected we are to others who have similar experiences in the same spot, or could show on a map where he or she had the exact same feeling overtake him or her.
I want to make a map of those places of yours, of mine, of ours. I need your high-highs and your low-lows. I will create an installation: an emotional map of Austin, a Hedonic Map, so to speak. Austin, Texas: a city with so many awake people and intense experiences; I want to make a record of these lives in this place. Are there patterns?
I have researched different types of pain and pleasure by behaviorists, psychologists, thinkers, artists, and friends to create a series of questions for you to respond to as a survey.
OTHER ARTISTS’ and THINKERS’ PROJECTS:
SEND ME MORE external references if you know of any. Stay tuned, or email me with info or questions.
This project is funded and supported in part by the City of Austin through the Cultural Arts Division believing an investment in the Arts is an investment in Austin’s future. Visit Austin at NowPlayingAustin.com.