Typically human of me

 

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I’m not sure how to talk about this because saying, “I’m disabled” doesn’t quite sound right. I am disabled, but there’s just something so heavy and restrictive about that statement, so final.

There’s nothing final about my experience.

My favorite part about riding my bike is the sense of autonomy I feel. For brief moments I look down at my legs and marvel at carrying myself miles away, up hills, down busy streets, fulfilling my own tasks. I am aware of the risks, but I feel confident that I could cope with those situations, and the confidence outweighing the fear makes me feel like I am the wind itself.

The first time I set out alone on my bike it was raining and cold. The house was empty with my husband and housemate each at their respective jobs. First I felt paralyzed with sadness, then I felt enraged by that paralysis. It felt like a poison. As I looked out the window trying desperately to think of what to do, I remembered how I felt days ago when my husband and I went for a bike ride that ended up being about 14 miles because I didn’t want to stop. I remembered the rage that kept building up and then dissipating with the next mile. I remembered how jubilantly I felt about my body’s power and ability.

As soon as I started pedaling, I knew I had made a good decision. The rain soaked me and my glasses fogged up. I almost cried several times, from equal parts sadness and gratitude.

I don’t have chronic pain. I have not lost any of my limbs. My hearing, vision, and sense of smell are all decent. I am not constantly sick from medical treatments. My body is not rapidly deteriorating under the burden of disease or illness. And even with those realities, people still do amazing things. Everyday.

Moments feel small to me lately. The giants have climbed back up the stalk and my house is not under threat of being smashed. Not right now. On a lovely Saturday afternoon my husband and I rode our bikes downtown to Atlantic Ale House for Noli tacos and beer. Others had the same idea, their bikes parked across from the cars while they congregated outside around picnic tables, leashed puppies, and cornhole boards. AAH is a small, new establishment, reflective of Johnson City’s development downtown. We were pleased to find that it’s style in no way points to a lack of substance. Our beers were delicious and I tried to make myself sip slowly while waiting for our tacos.

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R noted that just across the road are soup kitchens, low income housing, and for brief periods of time before they’re forced to disperse the occasional shanty town. Our city is not stranger than other cities in that signs of financial disparity are everywhere, but there is the peculiar balancing act of still feeling you have access to so much from below the poverty line without lying to yourself. To appreciate the wealth of a cold porter and fish tacos in the sunshine because there is this pleasure to be had for now.

I am starting to believe that our smallness is our greatest strength when we can embrace it. Especially combined with the fact that we’re so much bigger on the inside.

 

February mending

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February is my three year anniversary of having an abortion.

Anyone that has gone through an abortion knows that it’s a month long process at least. The exact day was February 17th. It was cold and lightly snowing on and off all week. I remember going for many walks prior to the procedure. I remember watching the trees through our second floor windows and saying nothing at all. I felt empty of words.

I suppose that’s why when I was bed-ridden and needed something to do with my hands, I turned to embroidery instead of drawing, writing, or painting. All familiar modes of expression felt too weighted compared to my delicate lightness. I learned later about the relationship between embroidery and death throughout history and realized I not only made space for myself to enact a traditional female role, but was making mourning embroidery. It had my blood on it. It spoke for me.

Embroidery taught me that you must love the scissors that sever and the needle that mends.

Eventually I started writing a lot, though in short fragments. I could not write a perfectly linear and coherent narrative because that’s not how I have experienced it. None of it has been shared much, for the likely and obvious reasons.

My desire to describe the trauma was born (pun intended) by the disappointment of how abortion is typically talked about, privately and publicly. Surely there are other people that feel devastated by having an abortion, yet also recognize that it’s better for themselves and the life growing inside them to terminate the pregnancy.

Actually, better isn’t really the word for it. I don’t know for certain what would have happened if I had not chosen to abort. I do know that me and my husband could barely afford to support ourselves and I had a lot of health problems that were already making pregnancy extremely difficult only eight weeks into it. I do know that I spent my whole life believing that I could not be a mother. That’s how I ended up pregnant in the first place. (The copious amount of whiskey didn’t help. That’s right. It can really only take one time, kids.)

Better is not the word for it. I have seen people pull through tremendous difficulties to establish and maintain the security and well-being of their families. I have also seen people become bitter, sad, demanding, or mean. Performing a biological function does not make you a giving, loving, and courageous human being.* It’s something you build, like a muscle, with repeated use. It’s something you learn to see in yourself.

I try to be giving, loving, and courageous. I know that when I am pregnant again someday, I will create a good home for my child. I’ve had almost three years to carry the memory of an ultrasound in my heart. Almost three years to learn how to be invested in myself and in a future that includes children who know love.

The time does not feel wasted. It would be a waste, however, if I continued to hide what has helped me grow so substantially.

About three years ago on February 17th I looked at an ultrasound and with a rare clarity regarded the tiny orb of life as perfect. It is still perfect.

* It is, of course, absolutely possible to be giving, loving, and courageous human beings without having any children. I just dislike the general assumption that birthing a child magically turns you into a parent.

Solitude vs. Isolation

I often seek external and indirect permission to do things. Sometimes it takes an embarrassingly long time to realize that I am doing it.

A lot of the fumbling that I do with blogging comes from asking myself, constantly, “Should I be writing this? Is it worth sharing? Why does it matter what I think or feel?”

The truth is that it doesn’t matter. Yet while I keep waiting for a worthwhile excuse to share or, even better, for at least a handful of people to say, “I’m interested in your thoughts and feelings,” the fact is I’m not sharing anything and writing less often than I feel inclined. Personal momentum carries me far, but with about a third of the way left to run, I start to think, What’s the point?

The like follows:
Where could this possibly be published?
Am I wasting my time?
Is it useful to even worry about where the writing ends up?
It’s nice to get paid. How do people get paid for things they write?
I don’t want to write short opinion pieces that simply amplify the latest outrage. So what should I hope to accomplish with my writing? What are realistic goals?
Is any kind of writing in service of Writing? 

I don’t know answers to all of those questions, but I’m fairly certain the answer to the last question is Yes.

In college, it was really hard for me and most of my peers to grasp that there is no way around the unglamorous, diligent work of being an artist. No matter how well you draw or how mature you are conceptually, your practice is just that – a practice. It wasn’t until, a few years in, I took a Figure Painting class that I observed first hand how beneficial it was simply to work regularly. Is painting a foot over and over conceptually rather dull? Yes. That is unless you can get over yourself, stop fantasizing about your future masterpieces, and earnestly take up the tremendous challenge of seeing and translating.

I could write privately in my journal – actually, I do, all the time – yet somehow I still feel the need to send out my thoughts and feelings. Maybe that’s weak or narcissistic or petty. I would like to think it’s because, sometimes, I need to be reminded that while I am working in relative solitude, I am not in isolation.

So, I’m going to try something new and different for me. I am going to write when I want, about whatever I want, and worry less about future masterpieces or permissions or appearing “poorly” to The Internet. I may regret this later and drop the whole thing. But for the time being, Hello.

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Things I’d like to see in 2015

  1. The end of white people claiming with desperate earnestness, “I don’t see color.” So many things wrong with that statement, I dare say, I can’t even.
  2. Jumpsuits. More jumpsuits. Everywhere. Except the kind that implies penal incarceration.
  3. Smut written by skilled, feminist writers. (Note: the gender and sexuality are not specified intentionally.)
  4. Whiskey rain storms. Preferably Woodford. Get on that, Jesus.
  5. The end to the necessity for lists on dating website profiles saying obvious things like, “Do not contact me if you want me to be your mom” or “Do not ever tell someone you have packed an overnight bag just in case.”
  6. Less “I don’t give a fuck” and more “I give the appropriate level of fucks most days because I’m a decent human being”.
  7. A study done to determine how cats make themselves 100x heavier when they are laying on a blanket you are “sharing”.
  8. For someone to call me a “mega babe”. I would also accept being grouped in with some “super babes”. I happen to know a lot of super babes so this seems more likely. Though none of them are in their early 20’s, so perhaps not.
  9. Any politician who makes blatantly incorrect claims about, say, climate change and does not within a few hours correct themselves publicly will immediately be removed from office. Kid President or Ellen Degeneres can take over until someone suitable replaces the former putz.
  10. Art trades that don’t involve me apologizing a million times for being such a slack ass about it. (I’m not going to start by apologizing again, but I will say that I have not forgotten those I owe work.)
  11. An orchid that survives.
  12. More singing. I love to sing. Did you know that? Probably not. It’s a secret. I don’t want it to be a secret anymore.
  13. For people to actually read their emails instead of skimming over them and making the whole effort at communication ineffectual for both parties.
  14. To come up with answer to “what do you want to do?” that is more than just “be a mermaid”.
  15. Three C’s: Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage. From me. From you. From everyone.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Art Domestic is moving

I’m moving the series Art Domestic to Tumblr. Partially because I’m not sure if I’m going to have a blog anymore — I’m not very good at maintaining it, obviously — and partially because Tumblr seems like a better format for it. I’m hoping the nature of Tumblr will encourage people to submit posts and to share the art in their homes.

Here’s the link: http://artdomestic.tumblr.com

p.s. If you want to make a submission, but don’t have a Tumblr account and have no desire to create one (understandable), you can still email submissions to me. Thanks!

xx

Art Domestic: Entries and Departures

September has really flown past. I can’t really account for steps forward or backward, only that it all feels like it’s part of the same dance.

There is a slender wall immediately adjacent to our bedroom door, which acts as mini entry area for us when we come home since it is also right beside the front door of our apartment. (If that sounds awkward, that’s because it is.) I wanted to collect an assortment of precious objects for entries and departures. When my friend Mira Gerard gave me one of her paintings a couple years ago, it fit right in.

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xx

Interested in participating? Check out the submission page. If a blog post seems like a hassle, you can also post to Twitter or Instagram under #artdomestic.

Art Domestic: Welcome to My Crib

Anyone that has rented an apartment in an old house or building knows that you’re likely to have weird or awkward spaces. Those spaces are typically part of the charm. Still, they can be a challenge at times.

For example, when your front door opens immediately into a narrow hallway and you’re not allowed to paint it, how exactly do you brighten or enliven that space? For a while we had paintings and such stacked salon style all the way up to the ceiling, but I had a drawer full of unframed art that I really wanted to liberate despite being unable to frame all of it.

This was our solution:

artdom1There’s a lot of stuff there so I’m not going to get into detail about each and every single piece. Most of the work I received as a gift or as part of a trade. I still plan to properly frame their artwork, but for now at least I can see most of it, which is especially important as people move onto other adventures in their lives.

artdom2In this section: Marie Porterfield Barry, Stephanie Streeter, Amanda Richardson, Liz Layton, Jessica Augier, Stephanie Ott, and just a corner of Ira Pratt’s octopus print. artdom3In this section: Liz Layton, Stacie Williams, Wyatt Moody, Reese Chamness, Marissa Schillaci-Kayton, Keaton Lawson, Stephanie Streeter, Jessica Augier, and Ira Pratt. artdom4Not all of it is art, as you can see. There are also a few wedding photos. We used to have more pictures up, but they kept felling off the shelf, so those are in a drawer for now.

In this section: There’s some more Liz Layton, Ira Pratt, and Marie Porterfield Barry work in this section. Charlie Haskins and Geoff Pratt each have a drawing poking out.

artdom5This is one of my favorite possessions. A little girl named Alex gave it to me.
artdom6“Little Womb” by Taylor Norris. This painting was part of her BFA show and I snatched it up. (Pun intended.)

artdom7Unfortunately I don’t remember what this silverpoint drawing it called, but I can tell you it was made by Jessica Augier when we were undergrad students together.

xx

Interested in participating? Check out the submission page. If a blog post seems like a hassle, you can also post to Twitter or Instagram under #artdomestic.

Art Domestic: REBIRTH

This is a high drama post, in case you couldn’t tell.

A couple friends on Instagram have started sharing photos of art in their home using the #artdomestic tag, which was totally their idea and very sweet of them. (How did I not even think of that?) Here are a few shots:

a-Danaartdomestica-Jenniferartdomestic1a-Jenniferartdomestic2So, if you use Instagram and you’re interested in sharing the art in your home, please use the #artdomestic tag so I can find it! And say a little something (or a lot something) about it. Curious minds.

I missed the last two months because it was my birthday and I didn’t plan properly, then in I went to a friend’s wedding in May and, again, didn’t plan properly. My apologies. I’ll try to be more consistent.

While I was in Portland visiting said friend, I had the mildly upsetting experience of becoming reacquainted with really old, awful paintings of mine, like when you are happily shoveling fresh blueberries into your mouth and suddenly one of them is so sour it momentarily puts you off eating anymore because your mouth is so offended.

Robert and I have the artwork of many friends in our home. A couple of them have expressed the desire for us to put away their old paintings and drawings. (Okay, so, mostly just Geoff.) When I came back from Portland, I emailed my friend to tell her I’d happily give her a new painting if she gets rid of the old paintings. Burn them, re-use the canvases, I don’t care. After I sent the email, it occurred to me that I never thought I’d be making such a request and, to date, I have personally only honored that request once when it was made to me.

Here is a friend that clearly values these paintings — they were hanging in her house without her previous knowledge that I would be staying with her — and they are examples of a short period of my life before college where I was desperately trying to develop some artistic skill and direction within the examples of Frida Kahlo, Egon Schiele, mythological storytelling, and Tori Amos. I find them to be embarrassing on their own, and caught myself telling other guests at the house that I didn’t “make work like that anymore”, even though they clearly didn’t care much either way.

So then would it be “okay” if they were juxtaposed with new work? If the fear of misrepresentation is gone, can the embarrassment simply be the harmless embarrassment most people feel about decisions made in their youth? Can it not just be appreciated as a fragment in time that is both lost and ever present? Can I be thankful to my friend for caring enough to keep these paintings through multiple moves spanning ten years or so? Or would pairing them together only heighten the uncomfortable transparency of not only the old work but also the new?

I don’t know. But it all kind of makes me feel like an ass for complaining. After all, it has not ever been my task to tell people what to think or feel about my work, and the life of the art beyond the artist, gallery, or museum is the whole damn point of this series. It’s unreasonable to say to someone, “This object you have in your home, I made it and I don’t like it anymore. Get rid of it.”

Thank you, Marissa.

Birthday Thoughts

I’m skipping the Art Domestic post this month because today happens to be my birthday.

Quite unexpectedly, I woke up sick this morning and spent half my birthday in bed. Also unexpectedly, this did not particularly upset me beyond the physical discomfort of expelling bodily fluids a little over-enthusiastically. I did what one might do for their birthday anyway — I read, watched something entertaining, napped, and pet my cats.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about my relationships, perhaps because my Facebook page was blowing up with messages and well-wishing comments, or because my husband bought me a really moving album that makes my soul tingle like its about to be struck by lightning, or because my dad called and I received flowers from my in-laws. And about 10 minutes ago, I received an email from a very dear friend of mine.

It tipped me over from thoughts without shape to word-shaped thoughts. Thoughts that reflect a wealth of feeling I am most often incapable of expressing. A sincerity that I am often questioning into exhaustion, and for the moment I have decided to follow without reservation.

While reading Hicksville this morning, I came across a passage in which the character Grace is described: “I thought her strong – hardened, wiser. But now I think it was fear: the appearance of strength people have when they’ve grown accustomed to fear.”

It struck close. I paused and then kept reading.

As it often happens when something is haunting your thoughts and feelings, other external situations and moments point back to it.

When I think about my relationships with people that I love, it seems that primarily what may make them difficult to love or to feel loved by is the prevalence of fear. Fearful people are difficult to love, find it difficult to love. The performance of unwavering strength and control is too exhausting yet self-sustaining to allow much spontaneity.

And what is love if not spontaneous?

I didn’t really know how afraid I was until my life stabilized and I was with someone who loved me fearlessly, recklessly. The tools I had sharpened during a decade or so of fear and uncertainty culminating in painful explosive bursts were not needed with him. I still tried to use them, and he pointed out the failings of my self-designed certainty, which also reflected the issue in friends and family. I found myself in a new context and it was, at first, crippling.

Only at first.

I have a lot more love in my life than I used to, in part because of psychoanalysis and knowing some truly amazing people, but also because I have come to want to be more than just strong (read: fearful). I want to be brave enough to love. I want to be brave enough to be sincere.

No one can give that to me. I can’t buy it for myself. And having it once does not mean I will have it always. I have to work at it, constantly. Thankfully, the shifting context in which I shape myself allows for more bravery and sincerity. It has to. It’s dark and uncertain.

And I have never felt a deeper appreciation for other people in their nuanced, weird, uncomfortable, unknown, fearful, vulnerable, courageous beauty. I won’t be able to keep this moment, but I have it now.

Thank you.

Art Domestic: Amongst Dried Flowers, Heirlooms, and Friends

This post is the first of this series to be of someone else’s home and I’m really excited about it. I have been in this home multiple times and there are many treasures there. If you’re interested in participating, check out the submission page.

xx

My name is Liz Layton, and I am sharing my home (Halldór the Cat, Mirian aka Little Cat aka Baby Cat aka Mel, the Kitten, Sid the Significant other, and Strummer the Baby) for this edition of Art Domestic!

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The piano is a favorite place for Baby Cat to roam around.  It also houses some of our art treasures.

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One of these treasures is a Christmas present, made by Sid’s mommy.  This is a fabric & embroidery piece, that depicts the “Dala Horse”, a Swedish symbol that is often seen carved out of wood, but is branded onto many materials.  The symbol originates from Dalarna, Sweden.

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Further down our dining room is this photograph, given to me by my friend and BANDMATE, (we did one show to a one person audience in our school’s painting studio, once, as The Fiber Optics, and it was not at all bad or embarrassing), Andrew Scott.  This piece was featured at his B.F.A. show.  He is easily one of my favorite artists.

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Hiding between a pearled photograph I took of a horse, and a melon colored scarf thing I use as a window decoration, is another Andrew Scott original.

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This mixed media piece is postcard size, and features a stamped astronaut, some mysterious gold script, and layers of paper that culminate into a soft surface that is gilded with crayon of the Crayola variety.

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In the corner of the living room is a piece from my own B.F.A. show, as well as a tiny golden goose thing we found from the basement of our previous house, and now use as a shelf that holds the LP cover of whatever record we are listening to at the moment.

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This is Sid’s most recent LP he’s acquired, by Guerilla Toss, entitled Gay Disco.

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Above a tiny bookcase lies an original artwork I purchased from a British artist’s Etsy shop.

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The artist’s shop is called “SeeSusieBean”, and the illustration features one of my very favorite musical artists, Grimes.

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This pleasant and exceptionally symmetrical fiber art is made by my grandmother, who made SO MANY QUILTS.  Many of her works were rather large, but I very much enjoy and cherish this pink heart embroidery loop piece, as well.  And it perfectly captures her personality- warm, sweet, old fashioned, cheerful, hardworking, precise, meticulous, prolific, and highly skilled.

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Her name was Miriam Jane (Race) Alspaugh.

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My latest acquired work of art is a print from my friend Patrik (who performs locally as Mannequin Hollowcaust).

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I LOVE seeing his print beneath the “Moon in My Room” that I gave and then permanently borrowed from my little sister.

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I enjoy the simplicity of the image, and how it simultaneously evokes a strong sense of mysticism.  I hope Patrik is okay with his print being presented within my gold spray-painted frame.  His illustration is entitled “Ominous Rituals Under Harvest Moon.”

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Our mantelpiece is my favorite place in our whole house, to decorate.  The area is divided into a warm/yellow side, and a cooler/blue tone/melancholy/ moon side.

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The piece on the left is an illustration of my family that I commissioned from the highly detailed Marie Porterfield Barry.  She is  also a very favorite all-time artist of mine who happens to be a colleague and dear friend.  The little green-gold wooden box in front of the family portrait is a tiny keepsake made & given to me by my friend Diana, who is from Romania, and can speak three languages and has an amazing family, herself.  The box holds some of my strangest tiny treasures.  Next to the family portrait, on the right of the dried yellow roses, is a porcelain (or ceramic?) tile-shaped piece that I cherish, depicting a graceful farm scene with a prominent windmill.  My mother got it as a souvenir, from the Southern California Danish community of Solvang.

Yay.