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.
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.
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.
I read constantly. I love language. I write as a process toward clarity, so that my art-making process is more efficient, more precise, and has greater effect.
I have a confession to make, hidden in a post about writing: I am less interested in the finished piece of art as an aesthetic thing. I am interested in the process of making it: its motivation, its concept, its material form, its method of production, its process of manifestation, its presentation, its documentation, its display, its life in the world, your reaction to it. I am interested in the physical manifestation of the philosophic process of becoming and being. If you like an artwork and are attracted to its particular qualities, that is fabulous. If you can articulate what and why for me, that is what I really want. It helps me improve for the next go-round. The individual works of art are just place markers for me to understand the creative process and when it has been successful or not. This is probably why I am less concerned with the commercial value of the piece. The sale of the work relies on convincing a buyer of its worth. I think the participating in the process is worthy in and of itself. However, studio process takes time, and time costs money. And in order to do my best work I need your support, because my creativity adds great value to the world.
But back to writing:
I have a lot of friends who are writers, rhetoricians, readers, editors and thinkers. I spend more time with these friends than I do with my artist friends. My language friends teach me things that complement my art practice. I am very grateful for this. I have friends whose brains amaze me. They proffer such gorgeous expertise. My ears are so lucky.
This website may have just changed my world: –Literature-Map– I just typed in my favorite two authors and saw names I’ve never heard of. How much to look forward to!
I’ve taken classes with –Saundra Goldman–, who amazes me. I highly recommend her writing classes and she also offers personal coaching.
I would like to take a workshop with –Natalie Goldberg–, who amazes me. One of my friends went to France to enjoy that.
I would like to take a workshop with –Ariel Gore–. She is in Santa Fe, the other town that feels like home to me.
Here are two of my favorite websites that serve as writing tools: –Visual Thesaurus– which I love for many obvious reasons, and one a friend just turned me on to –Silva Rhetoricae– which helps me understand language.
Books on writing: The True Secret of Writing, by Natalie Goldberg. Rules for the Unruly, by Marion Winik. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Teaching a Stone to Talk, by Annie Dillard. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.
I’ve been enamored with quite a few of my friends’ families. I study and watch how loving families interact so that I can model and learn what kind of family I want to create. A few years ago, I helped put on a surprise 40th birthday party for my friend Grant. His family lived out of town, and so there was a lot of email correspondence amongst the family members and myself. Grant’s sister came up with the idea that we’d have a big poster with responses to the question, “What do you love most about Grant?” We got several email responses from the friends/family email chain, and then one from Grant’s mother stopped me in my tracks. She replied to the question, “What’s there not to love about Grant?”
And in that moment I realized that I wanted to be that mother. I wanted my kids’ internal voices to be that self-loving because their parent’s voice was that loving.
Parents verbally direct and nag children so that they finally internalize brushing their teeth and putting on their shoes from that internal tape loop. If the voices we use are kind, then their internal voice will likely be kind too. I fail every day by being my human and faulty self. Apparently I’ve transferred my habit of cussing into their internal voices as well. It is not always easy to speak with a soft voice when kids are being kids. Often the boys ignore me until I lose my patience, and then they look at me with shocked surprise when I yell the thing I’ve just asked them 10 times nicely to do.
But a really great thing happened last week, and when I hear myself telling different friends on different occasions the same story, I try to write it down.
Wallace, who is 8 going on 9, came home from school with a “get to know you” questionnaire that they filled out in class with a friend. One question was, “What is the best thing about being you?” and the next was “What is the worst thing about being you?”. I was so delighted with his answer to that one. It was a big question mark. He didn’t have any response to what was bad about being himself. And I was really excited to feel like I’ve done some good work toward helping him to feel “What’s there not to love about being Wallace?”
We mess up. I mess up. We disappoint ourselves, we disappoint each other. We are aggressive, we rage, we manipulate, need, oblige, and bully. I do. I do less of it than I used to. I am not always aware of it when I’m doing it, and often I only know because someone I care about has backed up or disappeared.
I acted out at someone. I wanted something, I was anxious about whether I was going to get it, and I bullied and pushed. I woke up the next morning and my first thought was “I was a brute.” That’s not how I want to start my days. I apologized by text. I did get the opportunity to look this person in the eye again later and apologize in person, but I lost the feeling of fondness I had enjoyed from him.
Most relationships are optional, no one has to be here with me. If I am not a good friend, I won’t get to be a friend. A trusted friend. Trust doesn’t mean we are perfect, it just means we do the work to make it right when we’ve been wrong.
When I mess up with someone that I haven’t built trust with, will I have the opportunity to look that person in the eye and apologize? Do I get another opportunity? Will she feel safe telling me what I did wrong and allowing me to hear it?
This morning, I was out walking the dogs in a neighborhood with a friend. A lady approached us to “ask nicely” to do what she wanted, it was passive-aggressive. If you demand action from another, you may get the opposite of what you want. You can ask for what you want, but openly while allowing the other person to respond. Her ‘request’ elicited rage and threats from my friend. Both were wrong, both failed, and there will be no opportunity for repair. It left everyone shitty.
Repair is what creates trust. You can know someone for years without ever going deep enough to have conflict. That time spent creates the opportunity to demonstrate your values, so that if there is a conflict, it might be worth the effort to repair. Forgiveness is helpful, we must all let go every day our disappointments in ourselves, in each other. But forgiveness does not create trust the same way as repair.
I was a verbal brute one evening to Ted Schaeffer 20 years ago when we were dating. He messed up all the time, I forgave him all the time, why was it a big deal that I messed up? Didn’t I get equal opportunity fuck-ups? At least I should get a pass on a few, right? No. In one of the most memorable nights of my time with him was spent across a tiny kitchen table as he asked me to sit there and look him in the eye and apologize until he felt better. No half-assed, mumbled sorry’s. No “what’s the big deal? Get over it!” But he asked me to own my actions and use my imagination about how what I said made him feel. To utilize empathy. And then to make amends. I have to say it took longer than I wanted to. It was lousy and uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago, I got upset with a dear friend about an art purchase he had made. It was not so much that I didn’t like it, it was that I was left out of the conversation about his experience. The conflict had many subtleties, and though I was offended, I knew I had little right to be and was quite prepared to just let a day pass and get over it. But it made for awkwardness with someone I care about, and that just isn’t any fun. The next morning I woke to a long email from him that examined every facet of the experience from every angle, which he had to write before he could go to sleep that night. It was the most thoughtful apology I have ever heard in life or in fiction. It not only repaired the upset, it put so much trust in the bank I didn’t even know what to say in reply. I respect and appreciate him so much more and I will love that piece of art he bought just for the experience of knowing him better.
If you are my friend, and I have offended you, please allow me the opportunity to hear you and tell me how my actions made me feel.
Food does not taste so good if I am not hungry. Wanting is part of the delight of being alive. If I drop into my hunger enough to be able to envision what I am craving, I have a chance to feel satisfied and eat a memorable meal. Meat: I am hungry. I want the best meat I know of: Mickelthwaits. Close by, surprisingly affordable for the quality, but often sold out or closed. Available? Eat, feel satisfied for days, even though other sustenance meals are eaten. Not available? tacos, Fresas, perhaps less memorable, but good. That restaurant won’t be there forever, enjoy it. Even better? Eunice cooking wild hog in my kitchen. Even better? that meal in 2002 in France.
Desire is not random. Nothing worth having is random, though chance and showing up is a great part of discovering someone worth desiring. By showing up, I have the chance to connect if I am paying attention. There is a great amount of information about someone in his body language, in the language of his voice, his laughter. I learn what calls to me by feeling desire. I’ve learned that some tragedies are beautiful and I lean into the humanity of compassion, but the bloody aftermath drains my self love. Healing love is not satisfying like the bright light of shared laughter.
I can only heal myself. I can love anyone, everyone, by healing myself. If I am full, there is no limit of what I have to give. Love is regenerative. I heal myself by loving what is unique to me, finishing my thoughts by writing, creating an artwork that I have imagined. Showing up and working in my practice. Embracing what is unique to me without shame.
As I was telling a friend recently, when I was a young woman I was hit on constantly by men. I had no trust that this was personal, that I was uniquely attractive to them, it felt like daily assault, not appreciation. I was simply petite and blonde and fit their projections. That is the purpose of romance: for a desirer to gain the trust of the desired, to make the sex urge into a song that will get a response. Young women have no reason to trust an impersonal swipe, nor should they. To learn the power of their own selves and beauty is to learn how to say no to anything less than what honors them. But it takes time to trust their own taste, to sample, to learn what songs uniquely satisfy, and what to listen for. And surely that is more satisfying to a man also, to feel desired in return?
But having lived through my raw youth, romance seems like another tv commercial to get me to buy something I don’t need. It is persuasion. I’d much rather ask in kindness for what I want and have another person enjoy that request, whether or not they can give it. I trust much more someone who speaks his truth without an attempt to please me, or pander. Let me decide if what he is offering is what I want. Let me have my own power in my response.
All the happiness studies find that it is married men who report the most overall happiness. If they are the provider of their families, they have the power. They have a wife to plan, nurture and care for them and their offspring. If it satisfied me to exploit someone, I would want a wife too. If it satisfied me to exploit a man for the pay of his labor, I would marry for money. Instead, I have friends. We mutually meet each others’ emotional needs, companionate needs, and need for shared resources. We operate on the barter system and the gift economy.
By loving myself without judgment and giving my best to my family and friends, I am free to enjoy my hungers, desires, and tastes that make daily life full of beautiful delicacies. The fatness of bacon at breakfast. My sweat on the dance floor to a brass band. A cold Topo Chico in hot Texas summer. The taste of lemon and salt on his skin. And then wanting it again, the desire for more of that. That specific thing, that perfection.
Mortality makes me urgent for these flavors. Time is marking our chances for experience. We will be dead soon enough. The angle of the sun hits us the same way only so many days in a row. Look up each night, the stars in the sky will seem in different places in relation to where we are standing on this moving planet. Paint a still life: it only will look that way so long before the shadows are in a different place, before the fruit rots.
Pay attention to time, to timing. What is in season right now in the place that I am? That peach at the farmer’s market will not be there next week. Eat, enjoy. Let it drip down your fingers. Give one away to a friend.
I love you so much. I love you so much that when I think of you I am overwhelmed. I love you so much and I know this because the experience of loving you has changed me. I cry with gratefulness just thinking of you. I am powerless to change myself, other than changing my habits. I can only change myself by opening my heart to love and allowing the experience of it wash over me and break down all of what is not solid or true. I am so glad that my experience of you has so vastly overpowered my pain that, this morning, at dawn, over a cup of coffee, while all the sleeping bodies in my house rest, I can write down your name on a very, very, long list of who I love.
This is an excerpt of the first five sections of W.S. Merwin’s “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” a much longer poem that is inspiring a future work of mine.
“Say the year is the year of the phoenix.
Ordinary sun and common moon,
Turn as they may, are too mysterious
Unless such as are neither sun nor moon
Assume their masks and orbits and evolve
Neither a solar nor a lunar story
But a tale that might be human. What is a man
That a man may recognize, unless the inhuman
Sun and moon, wearing the masks of a man,
Weave before him such a tale as he
–Finding his own face in the strange story–
Mistakes by metaphor and calls his own,
Smiling, as on a familiar mystery?
The moon was thin as a poor man’s daughter
At the end of autumn. A white bear came walking
On a Thursday evening at the end of autumn,
Knocked at a poor man’s door in a deep wood,
And, “Charity,” when the man came he said,
“And the thin hand of a girl have brought me here.
Winter will come and the vixen wind,” he said,
“And what have you but too many mouths to feed,
Oh what have you but a coat like zither-strings
To ward that fury from your family?
But I though wintry shall be bountiful
Of furs and banquets, coins like summer days,
Grant me but the hand of your youngest daughter.”
“By a swooning candle, in my porchless door,
While all I wedded or sired huddle behind me,
The night unceremonious with my hair,
I know I cut a poor figure,” the man said;
“And I admit that your cajolery
(For opulence was once my setting-on)
Finds me not deaf; but I must ask my daughter.
And no, she says. But come again on Thursday:
She is more beautiful than the story goes,
And a girl who wants a week for her persuading
Merits that slow extravagance,” he said.
Further in autumn by a week’s persuading
The youngest girl on a white bear went riding.
The moon played in a painted elder tree;
He said, when they had gone a while, “We walk
In a night so white and black, how can you tell
My shoulder from a moon-struck hill, my shadow
From the towering darkness; are you not afraid?”
And, “You are thin and colorful who ride
Alone on a white and monstrous thing; suppose
I rose up savage in a desolate place;
Are you not afraid?” And, “What if I were to wander
Down a black ladder, in a trope of death,
Through seven doors all of black ice, and come
On a land of hyperbole, stiff with extremes;
Would it not make the hair rise on your head?”
The wind with moonlit teeth rippled and sulked
In the paper trees, but three times “No,” she said.
“Oh then hold fast by the hair of my shoulders,”
He said; “hold fast my hair, my savage hair;
And let your shadow as we go hold fast
The hair of my shadow, and all will be well.”
Later than owls, all night, a winter night,
They traveled then, until the screaming wind
Fell behind or dead, till no stars glittered
In the headlong dark; and each step dark and long
as falling in the bailey of the blind;
Yet all the while she felt her yellow hair
Hang loose at her shoulders, as though she stood still.”
I’m not sure it is possible to make a single artwork about this inspiration. But I think all the work I do are tiny iterations, that if I’m ever so fortunate to live long enough to do more and my best work, are tiny pictures of the whole that I can see. And what is remarkable to me about this, is that from the same idea, one awake person can conclude that this is the case for God, and another awake person would conclude a case that god is an externalized delusion. And somehow, both are right, and necessary, and not in opposition, but dance together perfectly, like waltzers. Yes, and yes: both.
The most amazing set of words from Mark Helprin’s The Winter’s Tale, Nothing Is Random, the preface to part III:
“Nothing is random, nor will anything ever be, whether a long string of perfectly blue days that begin and end in golden dimness, the most seemingly chaotic political acts, the rise of a great city, the crystalline structure of a gem that has never seen the light, the distributions of fortune, what time the milkman gets up, the position of the electron, or the occurrence of one astonishingly frigid winter after another. Even electrons, supposedly the paragons of unpredictability, are tame and obsequious little creatures that rush around at the speed of light, going precisely where they are supposed to go. They make faint whistling sounds that when apprehended in varying combinations are as pleasant as the wind flying through a forest, and they do exactly as they are told. Of this, one can be certain.
And yet there is a wonderful anarchy, in that the milkman chooses when to arise, the rat picks the tunnel into which he will dive when the subway comes rushing down the track from Borough Hall, and the snowflake will fall as it will. How can this be? If nothing is random, and everything is predetermined, how can there be free will? The answer to that is simple. Nothing is predetermined; it is determined, or was determined, or will be determined. No matter, it all happened at once, in less than an instant, and time was invented because we cannot comprehend in one glance the enormous and detailed canvas that we have been given–so we track it, in linear fashion, piece by piece. Time, however, can be easily overcome; not by chasing the light, but by standing back far enough to see it all at once. The universe is still and complete. Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is–and so on, in all possible combinations. Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion, and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful. In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others. All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.”