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.

Prayers for the wild at heart

I made two more paintings in the circus series to replace the two that have sold (the monkey and the giraffe), but then one of the new ones plus an older one (the elephant) sold so now I need to make more. Not that I’m complaining.

Self-Explanatory. Mixed media, 2011.

I focused on the tricks that the animals are made to perform because they are just as disgusting to me as the physical abuse so prevalent in circuses that include wild animals. It’s degrading. I’ve never understood the desire to kill, cage, or otherwise possess something you find beautiful. Don’t you love it or find it interesting because of what it is, and can you not see how possession changes it?

Detail from Self-Explanatory.

Sorry about the poorly shot photos. I kept forgetting to do it, and then ended up rushing. Since I’m interested in eventually producing prints, I’ll have to be more deliberate. For these two, as before, I used second hand frames from local thrift stores.

Obedience. Mixed media, 2011.

The amusing thing about all of this is that I tried a bunch of other things in an effort to earn some money, thinking that selling “public friendly” paintings or drawings could not possibly work for me. None of those other endeavors really amounted to much, or gave me the same level of satisfaction as making these paintings. If I can keep it up (EF wants me to have work there every 3-4 months), then this is certainly a viable option.

Detail of Obedience.

I’ve been thinking a lot about obedience lately. Last week I was reading about Eva Hesse and there was this phrase that really stuck out in my mind — “… haunted by obedience.” So many contemporary acts of rebellion feel forced, phony, or inauthentic. Symbols of it – like tattoos, strange hair styles, and so on – are now meaningless. Where is the real rebellion? Is that possible? Are we all haunted by obedience?

Kwaidan: The Woman of the Snow

The second story in Kwaidan was The Woman of the Snow, about a ghost that can claim the lives of mortals. She appears to blow onto their faces, freezing them to death, and the victims are later described as having no blood (or something like that). Despite her desire to kill people during snowstorms, she is not entirely absent of other desires or pity. The cold, frightening, powerful ghost compared to the subservient, warm, loving wife is interesting, but most especially after you can see where they overlap and how her sense of power and compassion affects her speech.

In this story, the theatrical nature of the environments are heightened one step further. There are scenes where the environment does not look real at all, and surrealism takes over to depict the true feeling of the moment. Visually speaking, that was perhaps my favourite part of this story. The movement of the trees during the snowstorm (along with the music) and the first meeting of the ghost woman were, of course, not really something I could represent in a single screen shot. Or even multiple. It was a strange combination of stillness or silence, and specific, graceful, unhesitating action.

At the end, I thought a lot about identity. You might not want to read this part if you haven’t seen the movie. On the surface, she decided one night to test his vow of silence. He failed her test, and she didn’t kill him because of their children, but she did leave them immediately. Given the context, it’s not surprising at all that he would tell his wife about that night. So, really, why did she suddenly decide to leave?

It reminds me of other stories I’ve read about female ghosts, entities,spirits and so forth that match up with men, then suddenly leave and “return” to their dominant identity.

June

My husband and I have been doing a small side project for two years now where we record daily our observations of each other for the whole month of June. At the end of the month, we’re allowed to read each other’s writings, which does not seem to hinder our ability to be honest. Annoyance, anger, doubt, and boredom come across as clear as happiness, admiration, love, lust, and tenderness.

I thought of this project last year when I found myself wondering about his specific impressions of me, and thinking in general about how you can live with someone and know them yet feel strangely hyper aware of your respective “otherness”. I can expect certain things from him and him from me with a fair amount of confidence, but as the journals have already shown, we are never entirely correct in our presumptions. (I use the word ‘correct’ loosely here.)

Aside from that, there’s also just a lot of mundane details your partner is capable of observing, which he or she may never talk to you about, yet nonetheless shape their perception of you. The way that R. does not read signage very well is a small detail I have been around him enough to know. (He has gotten better about it after being burned a few times.) Everyone has these minor, unimportant details, yet they are privileged information. Not too many people get to know about it because they don’t see it. Unless a lot of people live with you, in which case everyone might know that you don’t let anyone wash your silverware at home for fear they won’t do it well enough. But I bet no one really pays attention to the fact that you only clip your toenails outside. Or thinks about why you do it.

No plans for what to do with the material 5, 10, 15 years down the road. At the moment, I like it better that way. Then it can be about the experience. Then it can exist for our benefit. When it feels right, I’ll pull out the archives.