Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sheila's Cutting Masterpiece

Before Sheila Blackwell’s senior art show I felt at liberty to offer up my astute appraisals without the need to self-monitor. I considered it my duty to halt the creation of deficient work in its tracks and I did not balk when the output warranted a negative review. I felt compelled to provide truthful insights whenever I was asked for an assessment. It was without hesitation, yet great assiduity that I passed on my viewpoints to assist others in their betterment.

I was bolstered by the knowledge that I was truly talented and my gift unquestionable. I had been offered a full scholarship from a very prestigious art school and had chosen to attend because the premier superstar in the field of realism not only taught there, but had also singled me out as one of his favorites.

I was not a braggart. Rather, I was deeply embarrassed by all the attention and felt the amount of recognition I had thus far received a bit over the top, but it was simply so. Not only was I a recognized realist artist of great depth but I also possessed an uncanny, unerring ability to detect good from bad.

When I viewed a phenomenal piece of art, a brassy, undeniable joy bubbled up from my heart and took full command over my brain. It was as though I had zealously snorted three lines of coke in its purest form. The possession was instantaneous and held me prisoner for hours.

On the other hand, a bad painting viciously stirred the insides of my gut and left it sweating in embarrassment for the creator. When being forced to engage with boorish art I would quickly cast my eyes away from the barbarous savagery. If I lingered too long, as if in retaliation for my slowness, I was left with a vile taste erupting up from my gut for days.

When Sheila entered our master level painting class, that same repugnant taste corrupted my mouth. It was not her ratty, greasy hair left unattended to such a great degree as to arouse concern for the safety of one’s own mane when sitting adjacent to her, nor was it the intrusive manner in which she set up her easel, nor her ridiculous steampunk costuming. No, I believed the horrid, acrid taste that sat squarely on my tongue for an entire semester was the direct reflection of her abysmal lack of talent.

I was proven correct within the first hour of our figure painting class. My attention was so distracted by her crude representation of the human form that when my mentor, Professor Thane, came round to review our work, my canvas was found blank. I was forced to move my easel from my regular spot with the first-rate view of the nude male model to some dark corner in the second tier so that I could begin to focus upon what was truly important.

During the break, the three most senior of us huddled together. "Have you seen her work? It seems a bit clumsy for our class." I commented. 

“I think she’s interesting. Give her a chance. She’s here for a reason,” responded James, my favorite cohort artist. I swooned whenever in proximity to his narrow frame and nerdy glasses, as his work was simply glorious.

“I heard, actually, that she’s a the granddaughter of President Zucker. That she is in recovery from some horrible drug addiction and that she’s a real artist alright…..a real make-up artist,” laughed Zella, who spent most of her time cleverly tearing down everyone around her.

“Ahhh, well that explains quite a lot,” I answered.

When we returned to our easels, I noted our brilliant professor making a hardy effort to guide his newest student.

“You are focusing too much on the minute parts of the body. Rather, try and view the entirety of the human form within its environment. If you map out your proportions prior to beginning in earnest, you will not run out of space,” he explained.

Professor Thane was a patient teacher but his efforts with her did not last long. After the third week he no longer even stopped to acknowledge her work, passing her by with a walking nod.

First off, she did not take direction well. With any critique, a darkish tinge seemed to creep over Sheila’s face and her glazed eyes would fixate upon some faraway point while she struggled to maintain her composure.

Secondly, she did nothing to correct her errors. Although she somehow managed to pass through three times as many canvases as anyone else in the class, her figures remained unchanged over the entire course.

I found it odd that James chose to pay her any attention at all. I admit he dropped a few rungs in my eyes, for what value could he possibly be finding in the interactions? I could only guess it was because she was so closely tied to the President of our University.

Near midterm we were coupled into teams to help one another formulate a presentable project. I recognized Professor Thane purposely partnered me with Sheila because of my strong voice and expertise. It was during my one-on-one interaction with this discourteous girl that I received some evidence (beyond the caustic taste in my mouth) that she was not quite right in the head.

“I do not know what to focus on. I love playing with the mind and fashioning something that already exists in 3-dimensions into something else altogether. I find it exhausting to try and work a flat blank paper into a figure. There is nothing unique about this tedious process,” she said in an effort to explain away her shoddy work.

“I think you should focus on getting better Sheila. You must start anew. From the ground up. You have no foundation upon which to build anything of worth. I do not think even our brilliant Professor has much to add unless you make a genuine effort to learn the basics. You must rethink how you see things. Forget your 3-dimensional canvas,” I implored.

I halted a moment because all of a sudden I realized what her canvas of choice was.
“Wait, are you speaking of your makeup artistry?” I asked quizzically. Sheila nodded excitedly and I admit it, I started to smirk. 

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked.

“No, that is where I do my best work,” she explained rather forcibly.

“Well, therein lies your problem. That is why your paintings are not up to snuff, because you do not know how to create from a blank canvas. You do not really know how to draw, so your figures are empty and characterless. You need to toss out your crude attempts and begin with a renewed effort.”

As I was making a sincere attempt to help guide her she began scrawling words across the figures in her drawing pad. Across one of her awkward torsos, she hacked the word CRUDE in all caps with her black charcoal. She ripped out CRUDE and threw it down. Then she focused upon the word EMPTY. Again she tore out the page and tossed it to the ground. CHARACTERLESS was next. The letters were nearly indiscernible upon the newsprint page as this time she had selected to use a white conte crayon to block out the letters.

It was at that point I had the sense to get up and walk away. She yelled after me “Hey thanks so much Prissy Zilla. You’ve just helped me create a fantastic midterm project.” I felt a wad of paper hit me in the back.

I did not speak to her again for another six weeks. It was at her opening that I learned the power of words, of words lovingly strung together like the beads of a bridal necklace or carefully formed into symmetrical alliterations for cleverness sake but especially of those cut out and left brutally alone.

I have little tolerance for Shock Art from Carina Ubeda’s menstrual blood to Andres Serrano’s fecal matter to Richard Whitehurst’s Rape Tunnel. Ms. Sheila Blackwell managed to take this genre to a whole new level.

I identified a conversation I accidentally overheard in the hallway between her and the dazzling James to be the impetus behind the direction she took with her senior showing.

I don’t have anything more to say to you. I’ve said it so many times but you don’t seem to be picking up on this. I do not want to see you. In fact, I find your behavior disgusting,” he said.

She stood limply in the long hallway, steel lockers encircled her while they stood as sentries for James. I glimpsed that familiar expression on her features. She stared off fixedly into the distance trying not to cry. For a brief moment I almost felt sorry for her until I heard her speak. “I hate you,” was uttered with such complete conviction I felt unease for James, until I saw him turn and leave.

For the final show each student was asked to go out into the small downtown area surrounding our campus and find a gallery or business that would display our senior work. It was an opportunity for the Art Department to interact with the community and for our students to learn how to sell ourselves. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Sheila had been invited to display her work at the most prestigious art gallery in town.

I admit to harboring an intense dislike for this girl and I had intended to pass over her show altogether, but as I walked by The Royal Gallery I noticed James and Professor Thanes standing out front, in what appeared to be a heated argument. I swear to you that I heard James call our beloved Professor a lecherous old fool. They were gone before I could reach them and I allowed the surging crowd to pull me into the gallery.

“I just heard that this show is insane.” “Did you see that instagram of the artist?” “Oh God, that picture made me want to throw up.” “It’s not real you know.” “Ha, I heard it was real.” “Girl, there is no way that shit is real.”

The gallery was jam-packed.

Patrons were pushing forward to view eight 3x3 inch windows cut into an imposing, solid blood red wall at the other end of the 600 square foot gallery. The boxes were backlit and appeared to be floating in the deliberately darkened gallery.

The tiny windows were situated a foot below eye level forcing viewers to bend slightly to see what was inside. The recessed boxes were fashioned out of black lacquered wood and inside, behind the glass, lay spliced pieces of rawhide pinned neatly against their glossy white backgrounds. There was a word tattooed upon each of them. The skin in first box I viewed was inscribed with the word “CRUDE”.

“Jesus, that’s not real skin, is it?” 
“Oh hell yeah, it is. I just read the artist’s intent. It is completely morbid and disturbing.”

I moved my eyes left, to where a placard hung.
//What you are viewing is the physical manifestation of my personal pain.
I was born Dismissed. Excluded. Rejected. Shunned.
I was called Characterless. Crude. Empty. Disgusting.
To rid oneself of such pain, one must first be able to manifest it physically.
Over several weeks I decided to tattoo these eight words onto my body.
Using my Tweezerman and my favorite X-acto knife, I then sliced and peeled each word, letter by letter from my body.
The physical pain of giving myself the tattoos and then cutting them out was so intense as to expunge the words themselves from my mind forever. \\
The crowd moved forward haltingly, as it was with intense fascination that people viewed her grisly pieces of stretched skin pinned up against their stark white backgrounds.

Yet, this was only the anteroom.

The real mockery stood breathing in the larger chamber. Dressed up for a masquerade ball, Sheila stood poised primly, shaking each patron’s hand as her cortege passed by. From across the room I could see the freshly formed scabs covering rectangular shaped wounds on her bare shoulders. The closer we moved to the artist, the more gruesome and legitimate her Venetian eye mask grew.

She took my hand and greeted me warmly by name. It was perhaps the first time I’d ever seen her lips turned upward. Tattooed upon her mask were the words  “I do not want to see you.”

As she lowered that hideous skin mask I caught glimpse of a groove contouring the edge of a giant, weeping wound where the skin for her mask had been cut away. It was this sight that caused me to retch. I was not alone.

“Ah Pricilla, are you alright?” She asked it with a certain smugness.

The crowd thronged in around her, its energy manifesting in a destiny she certainly did not deserve. Only I appeared to know the truth.

The taste in my mouth grew even more abhorrent. Her show made mockery of the entire process of creation. Sheila was not a real artist. She did not lend life to the inert. She inked some words upon her flesh. She shaved off her skin and hung it on a wall. She applied layers and layers of makeup to her face and then stood there as though she was someone of importance.  And this was how she had appropriated the attention of everyone I respected.

Art shouldn’t be easy. It’s what separates our work from any other. It's not just something anyone can throw together. That’s what makes it worthy of attention. It is artists such as these that I despise. Somehow receiving all this undeserved recognition. And for what? For being psychotic.

I remember reaching my hand out to her face to wipe away a bit of dripping makeup and hearing Sheila screaming “You crazy bitch, get the hell off of me.”

I felt the weight of many people pushing me to the ground. It was terrifying. I was aghast that one man felt it his duty to sit upon my person. I had done nothing but reach out a finger toward her face.

But, just as she had done in our painting classes, she turned my simple, helpful gesture into something quite horrible.

Her reviews were all positive. One wrote “I have never physically felt another’s mental anguish until I viewed Sheila Blackwell’s Cuttings.” Another complimented her on the faultless fabrication of her infamous bloody skin mask.

All the reviews also mentioned my name. “Fellow art student Pricilla Rockland attacked Ms. Sheila Blackwell in an apparent attempt to destroy her Venetian bloody skin mask. She managed to scratch Ms. Blackwell’s face several times and draw blood before she was forcibly removed from the gallery. We asked Ms. Blackwell what might have evoked such an extreme reaction to her work and she responded “Pricilla’s always had great difficulty in dealing with anything that is outside of her framework. I imagine that she just kind of cracked.”

What conceit on her part to imagine she could know of my intent, my inner workings.

My face has caught many insults today demanding I apply heavy make up before going out. I have found that Sheila was quite right about one thing. To remove one’s pain, it is best to physically manifest it first.
Author's Note

It was a challenging story to write as I wasn't sure I could carry off such a bombastic voice. 
I pulled material from a variety of places. Check it out!

A forward in Maugham's Cakes and Ale gave me the idea for the critic.

The mask came from this Psycho Sandra's website.

The removal of the tattoo came from a real story that popped up in my newsfeed somewhere.

The art shouldn't be easy is a direct quote from Suzanne Heintz.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Heart Hurts

This is my advice to you if you can take advice from an old timer. After you have fallen in love, never remove your VIZU. Either that or never become habituated to wearing the damn thing in the first place. My fiancée went with the latter. She never put one on. 

By 2017 we were all addicted to wandering around in our augmented realities. I lived in Portland so I downloaded an app that made it always sunny but my favorite app is the one where everybody smiles at me.

Back to Ana. I caught her ugly face one day in the window of a café. She was bent over reading a real book. I noticed her because she was the only well-dressed unattractive person I’d seen in years.

I don’t know why, but I backtracked and went inside the café to say hello to her. I stood in front of her for about five seconds before she acknowledged me. “Oh hi. Peter, right?” she smiled because everyone smiled at me.

God, and her voice. I had once tried to recreate it in my augmentation but nothing is ever really reproduced perfectly from the original and here it was again, talking to me with all that spice.
“Yeah, I can’t believe you remember my name,” I said.

“Oh you are not such an easy man to forget with those bigger-than-life attributes of yours,” she said, so neatly, as though it had been just last night rather than six years ago that she had taken me home after a drunken night of karaoke.

“Neither are you.”
I recalled how good it had felt as I had rammed her repeatedly from the back.
“I’m just going to go grab myself a cup of coffee.” I excused myself and quietly voice activated an augmentation program on her.
“Subject: Female subject sitting across from me 1 minute ago.
Name: TBD
Program: Alter visual.
Details: Enlarge breasts, lengthen legs, smooth skin, lengthen hair to mid back, decrease age by 10 years, alter glasses to vintage cat eyes, decrease forehead size, nose number 3, remove hair from arms, legs, upper lip and between legs.” 

The program gave me a preview that I approved. 

“Generate.” I returned to the table to find an extremely attractive woman who spoke with the voice of an utterly charming angel. 

I whispered, “Save. Exit.”

Ana took her real hardcover book and shoved it into her backpack. “Well it’s been nice running into you, Peter.” she said. “I gotta run. Judo class.”
“Why don’t you beam me your info into me before you take off?” I suggested. She smiled because everyone smiles at me but her eyes were definitely smirking.
“I don’t have a way to ‘beam’ into you but here, you can have this.” she replied tossed me a plain white business card that in nearly illegible handwriting said:
I am Ana Kieh
My phone number is 503-222-5555.
Call me anytime. I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.

I waited three long days before calling and rapidly became addicted to talking with her. Each morning around 10 AM, as I began brewing my coffee, I’d give her a ring and we’d chat through the morning. It became my favorite time of the day. We began spending our weekends together cooking, reading, gardening and having this amazing sex. Weekends turned into weeks until eventually she moved into my condo on the westside.

We would sit across from one another at breakfast; I reading my personalized newsfeed and her, a real newspaper, discussing current events and her voice flowed like warm oil into my ears. We were perfect together in this world I had created for us.

On Valentine’s Day of our fifth year together I finally popped the question. Over breakfast, I asked her, “Do you think you’d like to get married someday?”
“Depends on to whom,” she replied.
“Ha ha. I’m serious, Ana. I’m asking you to marry me,” I answered earnestly.
She paused for a bit, turning the pages of her New York Times too quickly for her to actually be reading it. She sighed. “I need you to answer me this question truthfully, Peter. I won’t be hurt but I need to know.”
“What, honey?” I asked.
“Well, I know you wear your VIZU like everyone else in America. What I am wondering is have you augmented me?” she asked faintly.
It was the way she asked it that told me my answer would determine hers. “Ana, my little clop clop monkey pancake, you are perfect and I love you just the way you are. I feel no need to augment you,” I lied.
Ana slid onto my lap and hugged me tightly. She placed a hand on either side of my face and peered directly into my eyes. She smiled, but she always smiled. It was the way her eyes lit up that let me know how very much she loved me. “Even as the world around us is collapsing you are the one person who helps me to believe that everything is going to be ok. I love you, Peter Denton and yes, I will marry you,” she replied.
I hugged her back. At that particular moment I felt the same way.

The VIZU used to require one to remove it once a year for maintenance, upgrades and cleaning. Because it sits over your eyeballs you don’t want to skip one but the change is so jarring, moving from hyperreality to de facto world, that it is kind of a big deal. I only removed it at night and only when I was alone.

Ana was off at one of her conferences, something about boundaries in the age of global urbanization, so when my Sleep Cycle Alarm woke me, I was surprised to find her sleeping next to me. I hurried into the bathroom to reinsert my VIZU before she was awake but I could not find the container. I was in a panic, ransacking the bathroom when the light switched on.

“Looking for your VIZU?” she asked, the light framing a face I had difficulty comprehending. She knew within the time it takes to blink once or twice that I had lied to her.
“I needed to know Peter. I guess now I know,” my baby said in the saddest voice.
“What are you doing home?” I asked without looking directly at her.
“I heard of a protest in Portland that is set up to happen this morning so I flew home early,” she answered.
“Oh you surprised me,” I said
“Yes, I can tell.”
“Do you have my VIZU?” I asked. She walked back into the bedroom, opened her orange suitcase and held out the silver VIZU container to me.
I glanced into her face and tried to hold her gaze but I looked down too quickly. Everything was off kilter. She was not smiling. She looked so mournful. The sun began to rise and it was grey and rainy outside.
“I am just going to go reinsert my VIZU, ok?” I asked.
“My appearance is what makes me who I am and I like me,” she said wistfully. My honey’s voice emerged from the lips of an alien woman.
“I know,” I replied. I made a quick exit to the bathroom.
“My heart hurts,” she said without emotion. I could hear her pulling clothing off hangers, drawers opening and closing. 

“I love you even now in my disappointment because this is also a part of you.” I heard the locks click shut on her suitcase.
“But, I cannot marry you.” she said from the bedroom.
I tried not to look at my reflection in the mirror. I focused keenly on the black of my pupils as I reinserted my VIZU. When I returned she was gone. I knew that she would be and I did nothing to stop her.
I assumed that there would be another bus along in a short while. The thing is, lots of buses came by and stopped but they all looked and sounded pretty much the same. Everywhere I walked I began to notice the homogeneity of everyone. The only folks who might have stood out were the homeless but I had downloaded an augmentation program that made them invisible.

I deleted the Ana Kieh program long ago. From time to time I wonder what it would feel like to remove my VIZU but I know I never will.

When I am outside in the sunlight my eyes habitually scan the smiling crowds seeking out that one thing that isn’t like all the others. I don’t know if I would talk to her if I did find her. I just crave to catch a glance of her goofy glasses, short little legs and every single one of her damn acne scars.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

“Mommy? You want to know something really weird?”

She is standing beside me contemplating a climb to the top of a rock climbing structure Parks & Recreation has carted in for a special event. The School of Rock has a band of middle school boys playing tunes from the 90s. Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis. The bass player is solid with a great groove. He’s carrying the band. I wish I could play that well.

Or does she call me mom? She is ten and a half years full of life now and mommy is rapidly receding. I watch her move across the park skittering from one point to the next, her balance always in question. A young untethered colt, one can never be quite sure where in one’s line of vision she will suddenly appear.

“Sure, I’d love to hear something really weird.” I say.

Or is she sitting behind me in our car? A car it would seem I purchase impulsively one night at a dealership.
Six gears. A racing car for the freeway.
No good for driving a family around town.

I cannot remember for sure. There is always doubt in my mind as to how certain events roll out.

Have you heard the story of Penny Beernsten? She is out running one day on the shore of Lake Michigan when she is viciously attacked and raped. The perpetrator leaves her for dead but she manages to crawl out towards the shoreline and is saved by her husband.

‘She identifies her assailant in a line up. Her eyewitness testimony helps to convict him. In a radio interview I hear her talk about how certain she is that it is he. She knows with all her being as soon as she lays her eyes upon him.  

Years later DNA evidence points to a completely different man for the crime.

I have an affliction. Rather, I think of it more as a coping mechanism developed during my childhood.

Exact sequences of memories tend to recede rapidly with little acknowledgement to the past.

Mostly all that is left behind are additions to my constellations of ideas and vague feelings surrounding a disordered flow of events.

I believe my forgetfulness develops as a measure of protection against the emotion of regret that follows each time my family moves. They are not moves within similar military bases but moves between states and across countries.

I learn Dutch. I learn to read in German. Neither language do I retain.

In 3rd grade I must learn to reread in English.

I count on my hand before I am in 7th grade Nashville, TN, Clarksdale, MS, somewhere in Holland, a long visit to Switzerland and England before settling somewhere in Germany, Clarksdale, MS, Decatur, GA, Cooksville, TN, and Gainesville, FL. Counting the moves within city limits would raise this number into double digits.

The only common thread running between these moves is that my father is involved with the university, our family is active within a church (denomination tbd) and we almost always live in an apartment complex.

I do vaguely recall certain highly charged emotional events but not with any sort of clarity. Photos help.

People think I am lying when I say I do not remember. Except for Amy McMullen. She gets it. She is plagued by the same sort of forgetfulness and tirelessly photographs the events around her. She tells me it is so she does not evaporate. I understand this.

For my dad the memory constellation looks something like this. My dad is an astronuclear physicist and has formed a laboratory that develops gamma ray detectors.

He is a prankster and loves to tease us. In one of our new homes he lists us in the phone book as Ray Gamma.

He somehow acquires a round wooden coin that is imprinted with the word Tuit and carries it around with him ready to pounce on us should he hear anyone utter the words “when I get around to it.” He gleefully announces to the offender that now has arrived, in the form of a wooden coin.

When I am sick he comes home early from work one day with two fairy tale books that I love so much I have carried them with me through all my moves.

I write a story that he tells me is very good. That someday I should become a writer. Later, I discover I have accidentally copied it from a story that someone else wrote. I am too ashamed to tell him.

I am crying at being teased so much at school and he promises me that everything will change once I go to college. He tells me this so earnestly that I believe him.

He has a belt in his hand and chases me through the house with it. He wants to knock the sass out of me. I lock myself in the laundry closet until my mom gets home.

He reads his bible daily, has a deep faith and strong sense of morality.

On the weekends he locks himself in the bathroom for hours to read.

My sister and I sit on his lap and listen to classical music.

On the weekends we go searching for fossils together. We find some stone tools and donate them to a museum. One of these tools sits on my desk today. I can feel the thumb groove someone wore into its black surface.

We watch Dr. Who and Star Trek together religiously.

He takes us to see Space Odyssey 2001 and it scares the bejesus out of me.

An emotionally charged memory might look something like this (there are not many.)

My dad’s partner in the lab has two girls. They are very popular at school. They ride horses. They are wealthy. Our families travel together to Orlando to watch a Space Shuttle take off. I can remember the intense feeling of fear, embarrassment and humiliation I feel upon waking up in the shared RV from a dream where I have masturbated myself to orgasm. I wake to find my hand between my legs. I do not remember anything else from that day.  Their father dies in a car crash a year later. Or was it my father’s other partner?

This confusion between waking and dream states still tends to bewilder me when I try and recall events. It is not that I am lying, it is simply that I am unsure as to the sequence of what happened and sometimes as to the actual events themselves.

I remember fighting for permanence when I was younger. Not wanting to leave my friends behind. Eventually I give up this fight. When I am 16 my parents divorce and what little stability I have evaporates in a 20 minute sit down talk. I leave behind what is left of my home and continue to repeat this pattern of movement over and over again. I travel more on a greyhound bus than any normal person should. Ever.

“We are having our breakup walk.” I observe.

“This is NOT a breakup walk.”

It is not even on our radar. Seven days before we go to see his friend’s play based on her accidental 7-hour recording of a breakup she had.

“I am a little disappointed. I wanted some meat.” I say.

He likes her play because the things they talk about are so remarkably mundane; laundry, dog toys, bank statements, toilet paper, coupons, bills. He finds it to be extraordinary in its rather ordinary dialogue. “It is taken from an actual transcript. How more real can you get?”

Safely wrapped in each other’s arms we tease each other with the one line from the play that has any emotion attached to it. “I will never find anyone who cuddles as good as you do.”

“You’re right. You won’t.” the other counters merrily.

The breakup point arrives for us a week later on the day of what would have been my 11th wedding anniversary.

Or was it the day before?

Without a recording I cannot be sure of what was said on our walk or over dinner. I remember him being upset as I had let the clams die by not soaking them in water. I remember taking them back to New Season to find out they were not dead, just very, very cold. I remember not having an appetite and then eating them anyway at his prodding. Eating clams that were no longer cold or sad.

“We are broken up, right?” I ask.

“No, no we are not broken up yet.”

But, I know that we can do nothing else except split apart. Although I love him, I cannot bear the thought of remaining with someone who watches and judges life as it unfolds in front of him, dissecting it apart until there are only little arms and legs and hearts and heads left strewn across an indifferent table.

We have no choice. The end has already shown us its face and it looks just like Frank Turner’s Anymore song.  “But now the little things you do that used to make me love you, Now just cramp my heart a little and let it slip.”

I know just what to say to send us over the ledge. He cannot give up his ideal dream. I do not want to be the one to try and break it.

“That was the fastest breakup I ever had.” He says.

I have been criticized for making decisions too quickly but for me, decisions are not something I make. They already are. The race car I buy in just under an hour is backed by a lifetime of experiences. My bottom is pleasurably heated during a winter in my friend’s Golf. My firm belief that the Germans know how to make better machines. My ex driving around in our new Prius while I am left with my decade old Subaru that needs new ball joints.

It is a Jetta. It is black. I like the illusion of control the manual offers over the automatic transmission. It is 2010, the final model before the cheap Jetta’s hit the US market. It is the TDI Cup version (only 588 with manual shift made) racing wheels and responsive handling. It turns me on when I drive it. It is a clean diesel engine and the gas mileage is excellent. It is the end of the year and the salesman wants it off his lot. The interest is 0%. I have no choice. I have to leave the lot with this car. It would be illogical not to.

“Do you know mom the weird thing about tomorrow?”

“No what dear?”

“You can never know tomorrow. It is never here because by the time tomorrow is here it is today.”

I hug my little girl. I feel her through her skin. Smell her blonde Ava hair. Touch my finger to her soft cheek. I see her.

“Yes, this is very true. Tomorrow will never exist. It will never be real. It is only now that is real. Only this right now here will ever be real.”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


This past Friday I went to see the documentary "We Live In Public" and found myself transported back in time to when computers and cell phones were barely part of our lives. To see where we are now gave me a shiver that continued throughout the night. The message of the film was how all of us have a need to be seen and heard. For the lonely and isolated their only source of comfort is knowing that perhaps someone saw a comment they made, a video they put up on YouTube or a picture they posted on Instagram. In the documentary the main character, Josh Harris, an Internet pioneer and dot come millionaire sets up an experiment in a bunker type environment where 100 artists are recorded and broadcast 100% of the time.  Over a month the scene deteriorated from performance art into darkness as people willingly gave up their privacy and degraded their standards of morality for more and more peer recognition. Josh Harris accurately predicted what our need for social contact and the coming technology would eventually allow everyone to display their entire lives to the public.

I wondered what the effect of public attention had on the willingness of participants to commit the more morally repugnant acts. What was the tipping point?

What I thought about most is how today it is considered perfectly normal to be socializing physically and virtually at the same time. What does it mean to exist in two realities at once? With the advent of Google glasses and the experiment conducted successfully allowing brains to connect via the Internet we could potentially be existing in the multi-realities of any and everyone. We will be able to share with the public our exact visual and aural viewpoints and access millions of others.

When you consider Hofstadter's proposition (which I find intriguing) that our souls or our Iness is a collection of electrical patterns (patterns of events, memories, perception categorized and catalogued) that can be transferred to other mediums (suggesting transference of self, albeit degraded), it at once becomes obvious why our need for peer recognition can overtake all other facets of our lives. Just as spreading our physical genome is a core social driver, so is public recognition because with each intake by others of our words, images, thoughts so is our longevity after death increased.

The real question with technology is whether or not stepping into the virtual reality will cause a deterioration of morality or will gaining access to viewpoints and perceptions of others increase our empathy. I am trying to process all of it but am overwhelmed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

On Grief

Everyone grieves in different ways. I remember about 5 years ago I picked up a friend’s book she had written about her mother’s death and noted how differently her brother and her grieved. She absorbed her mother’s death on every level, her brother pushed his mother’s death squarely away. Tried to ignore it. Torch struck me because I was the sibling who ignored her father’s death. I was not at his bedside when the cancer finally feasted upon the last of his good cells. I do not know whether he was peaceful or frightened or sad or laughing. My sister told me he was not present at all, that the morphine left little to connect to.
At his funeral I did not look at my father’s body. I could not. I would not.

Last week a member of our writing group wrote about this viewing. To look at the dead body of your loved one. And all that one absorbs from that final goodbye. My voice cracked as I commented on his piece. I swallowed. I felt tears in my eyes. I hoped no one would notice. I stopped mid sentence and said “well you know what I mean, right?”

I never said that final goodbye. I refused to acknowledge his leaving or say goodbye, even at the very end. I was absent through most of his illness. It was quick. A summer’s breath spent laboring through the heat. The doctor told my father there was no hope. That pancreatic cancer had no survival rate.

I went and found a UPS man to climb into bed with. To fuck and fuck and fuck. I found pain killers, mixed them with booze and sucked down so many of them that I ended up blacking out at a fancy restaurant during breakfast. I recall a doctor hovering over me asking me what I had taken and because I was so frightened I told him. He was very stern with me, warning me to be careful with the amount of painkillers I was taking. That I could die. 

I convinced this UPS man that I loved him. I believed with all my heart that I must because it brought such relief to be with him rather than to be with my father. My father grew thinner. And weaker. He would sit in his room and listen to his classical music. I could hear it pouring out from under his bedroom door. I would sneak into his bathroom and open his bottles of Percocets and put the white round pills under my tongue, roll them between my fingers, shove them into my pockets.

We sit, my little sister and I, one upon each of his knees as he guides us through Peter and the Wolf, The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. I lay on top of him during his Bach concertos, Beethoven sonatas, Handel operas. We nap together, falling in and out of consciousness drifting up and down on notes, melodies from horns, pianos, strings.

I dated a classical guitarist when I was 24 and we would lie in bed together playing a game where he would put on random bits of music and I would try to guess the composer or the country it came from. I fell madly in love with him just for this one thing. Lying together, him playing me his music.

It has been 16 years since he died. Sixteen. And, I have felt very little. I have often thought that there must be something wrong with me that I felt so little.
But tonight my throat feels thick.

You see, it is nearing the holidays and I must once again set up my Christmas Tree. I beg my friend to come over and help but he does not want to. I understand. I have children. It is a family event. And he does not want to play pretend family with me. But, I want someone to help me straighten the tree. Someone to guide with the stringing of the lights. Someone to point out the bald spots that need more ornaments. Someone to make this decorating of the Christmas Tree a family event. I try and involve my children but I am so bad at this sort of thing. With each ornament I hang on the tree my throat feels choked up. I swallow and it feels like I want to cry. Or something.

My daughter pulls out the silver ball ornament. It is a special ball that opens up to receive a wish. I suggest that we all write a wish together but my five-year-old son is jumping up and down on all the plastic bubble wrap that protects the ornaments, the ornaments that are gathering stories. “Mom, remember when I made this…Hey mom, this is MY favorite ornament.” Pop pop pop such glee while Dean and Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful plays and my daughter eats cookies and ice cream, her blonde hair sticking to her forehead still wet from her bath. And then it is late and they are climbing into bed begging me for kisses and hugs goodnight. 

I find a pen to write my Christmas wish and what I write is this “Please come find me. I miss you so much. It has been much too long since I have seen you. I won’t be angry nor will I ever stop loving you should you not be able to find me. But, please come find us. I need you. Love, me” I place it into the heavy silver metal ball and hang it from a branch. I cannot stop crying. I wonder whom I have written this note to.

And then I know. I know. 

I have been looking for him ever since he left thinking that he would come back someday. I have looked for him in the men I have fallen in love with. They tend to possess one or more of his traits. His keen sense of humor, goodness, love of music, creativity, self-confidence, intelligence, diligence, integrity and search for morality and love. They also tend to harbor some of his negative traits. His stubbornness, inability to see other perspectives, hard-headedness on right and wrong, his ego and selfishness.

It has been a difficult ride these last few months. I have felt unmoored, adrift and without a foundation. I fell in love with a man who made me feel like I had a family with him. My children adored him. My son still asks when he is going to come over and visit. Together, the four of us went camping, ate dinner, watched movies, had weekly game nights, wrestled, rode bikes, woke up together and played in bed, made breakfast and laughed a lot. He made me a better parent. It was seamless and cohesive and kind of dreamy.

I tried so hard to believe in us because more than anything I wanted to be a real family. The family I had when I was small. A mother, a father, a sister. But, I knew it was not right. It fell apart each time the children were not with us. There was no foundation. No real trust between us. We were great parents together but terrible partners.

The other night I was hanging out with two mothers and one said, I cannot imagine living without my children and I cannot imagine dying and not having them with me on the other side. I cannot imagine any existence without them. I cannot imagine being me without them.

I said that I did not really understand this fear of hers.

Tonight I begin to.

For the first time since my dad passed away I understand how I grieve. I understand that even though I ignored him during his illness, was not present when he died and refused to view his body at his funeral; that avoiding this goodbye did not protect me from this loss. Did not prevent me from feeling him gone.

Because the person I keep waiting for is him.

I love you dad. And I miss you so much.

Merry Christmas from Andrea, Ava & Atticus.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

be the tiger, not the zebra

"how are you jmac? what's been going on in your life?"

"oh nothing, nothing. nothing has changed. everything is the same. i really have nothing to say. it's all so boring and mundane. now tell me about you. i am dying to hear." she says softly in that mild unaffected southern drawl of hers.

i love my jmac. hanging out with her is like an easy sunday morning. soft cotton candy. easy peasy. smooth whiskey. a delight. her personage unassuming. her demeanor attentive and present. "oh me? little ole me? i am so boring. let's hear about you!" and talk you do. about yourself. your life. your problems. and listen? she does. well.

what i love about the jmac is that change abounds but it is an imperceptible, subtle, shifting change rather than the sort of chaotic chop chop change that i seem to put myself through.

in the few years i have had the privilege of knowing her she has created and was granted a copyright for the monster tee shirts. have you seen t-shirts with felt sewn onto the front to form cute, tactile, furry and fun monsters? that's because they knocked off jmac's designs. during her time running dishy duds i swear she has creatively sewn together more impossible fabrics into funky, fun new designs than anyone else i know. tonight my son is wearing some king kong pj's of her doing right now. giant 3 inch orange buttons adorn the neckline and turquoise knee patches pull out the flecks of blue that contrast perfectly with that orange.

but, she's not by nature a clothing designer. nope, she received her masters in ergonomics. and not just simple ergonomics. she went and earned some fancy specialized ergonomics degree. with it she went into factories and set up people who sewed mattresses or splayed fish or spun nuts on how to do it without incurring permanent injuries. and from there she went and started her own consulting business.

she had two boys but found herself wanting a girl. and as a planner she began to consider adoption. she began a voracious reading frenzy about africa. she began campaigning about the horrors occurring in darfur. she sent them monies her small business earned. and then, 3.5 years ago she flew out to ethiopia and adopted a baby girl.

oh so BORING.

during the economic downturn her husband, who was the bread and butter man, lost his job. she met him in a factory in the south. he was that hot manager. she was the young, nubile ergonomist in a factory comprised mostly of males that employed assembly lines to manufacture their cars or trucks or something metal and massive. the affair was sizzling.

i look at pictures of jmac in her wedding garb with the long white train flowing behind her, her blonde locks spilling down her shoulders and i can smell the magnolias and the heavy alabama moisture hovering in the air around her, barely moving in and out and around her. she made a fantastically perfect bride.

she was hired by a nameless corporation and gave up her clothing design business, participating in craft shows, sewing, talking about her craft to make money. and each time i saw her she would say "oh you know, same old same old. nothing new for me to tell. just making sure everyone has their gel pad properly placed. sigh."

so this past friday when we gathered for taco night and and those crafty ladies were lining up their perfectly concocted tequila sunrises in glass mason jars with slices of lime scooched up just this way and that on the side rims; well it was of no surprise that after not have seen her for a month she once again reports that there is nothing, absolutely nothing of interest going on in her life. "come on ladies, let's hear about ya'll."

uh huh. so we talk and talk and eat and drink. crazy diesel thief across the way whose rig is specially crafted to siphon tons of diesel from slumbering truckers. an end to crocheted hats. kids. haircuts. halloween costumes. skirts. this and that. schools. boyfriends and husbands and dating. craft shows. friend drama. rats and rabbits. richard and horror films. a new shirt jmac's been sewing out for jen n.

and then it's getting later. we are all sitting on the floor near jen's piano, the big kids are singing crazy songs in the basement on jen and trent's karoke machine. the voices merge with the sounds of connect four pieces being released and spilling onto a table top by the smaller children.

and jmac starts talking.

"well i have to take off too. i am so tired. been getting up so i can get to work by 6 am to help manage all the construction workers. you know, motivate, inspire them."

what? i ask. what construction workers. what are you hell are you talking about jmac?

"well you know they are building like crazy out there so sometimes in the early morning before they start, i will go to the tent and give an inspirational sort of speech. i stand up in front of oh, around 1200 construction workers and talk about some safety topic."

WHAT?!!! we ask. you have got to be kidding.

"yes, well all that building that is going on and so many teams of crews. so before my last speech i had seen some pbs on baboons and stress. it was really quite interesting. you see most creatures in the wild experience high, intense levels of stress but the stress is short lived; either the creature escapes and whew or dies and whew. but there is release from that stress from either outcome. while we humans, our stressors like mortgages, bills, traffic jams, unpleasant bosses are long lived so our bodies and brains are continually coated in these stress created hormones which wreak havoc on the body. so i went for the inspirational speech on how to cope with daily stress."

you give inspirational talks to 1200 stressed out males? i ask astounded.

"yes. and because i had just seen that pbs special i somehow managed to end that particular speech with the line "be the tiger, not the zebra."

we all started laughing hysterically. half of us were drunk. actually i think everyone was drunk except me. but, regardless, it was exceptionally funny. either jen or rebecca piped up "but jmac, don't tigers live in china and zebra's in africa?"

"YES" she exclaimed.

more hysterical laughing.

"as i was walking off the stage someone whispered to me "hey, you know tigers live in asia and zebra's are from africa, right?" of course i hadn't really thought about it but duh and of course the line developed a life of it's own and followed me wherever i went. turned into a bit of a company tagline. and it was asked that posters be created with this imagery on it."

Oh My GOD NOOooooo we all screamed deliriously and at this point we really were delirious.

"it gets better ladies" jmac stated in her understated way.

"i was responsible for approving the posters that were to go out and i received some graphics from some designer and they looked just fine to me. a tiger chasing down a zebra with the line don't be the zebra, be the tiger so i gave it my approval and they went into print. and of course after i approved it a coworker walked my desk and said "you didn't approve that image, did you jennifer?" well why not i asked? "look at it! look at what the tiger is doing to that zebra" and sure enough staring me right in the face! if that tiger wasn't nearly standing upright on it's rear haunches, reaching it's giant paw out and touching that zebra's ass. crap."

there is no way i can describe the point that all four of us ladies had reached in our shared giggling fit but let's just say the image of fish out of water, spastic bodies flip flopping, lips pursing in and out, gasping for air does come to mind.

we need that poster jmac. we want that poster. we chanted. we demanded.

"well, unfortunately nameless corporation banned them. they were removed from all work sites and are no more. the only thing i have left is the graphic."

and after we had all calmed down a bit we each agreed that this story would not be forgotten. we sat in a circle, held out our pinkies, joined them together and swore that we would never, ever let jmac forget that there was always something she could share with us about her life.

oh so BORING?

uh huh....

Monday, May 23, 2011

sex at dawn

a friend lent this book to me and although i am only 100 pages in, what little i have read struck an ah ha chord with me. the author's gist (so far) is that humans sit as close to bonobos as they do to chimps and in fact, have a bit more in common with bonobos. female humans and bonobos copulate throughout our cycles as well as during lactation and pregnancy. we both enjoy various position (chimps only like the rear entry). our vulva is located more to the front of the body. bonobos and humans are hypersexual animals and they use sex for tension reduction, bonding, entertainment, conflict resolution while chimps use it primarily for reproduction. bonobos are also a very peaceful, communal, sharing group of primates. chimps are mean.

this little morning monologue is just me trying to reconcile human's hypersexual nature in a society that is structured around a nuclear family.

people have asked me what i am looking for in a relationship and i have always responded that i am searching for my ideal partner. he is my best friend whom i have the best sex with, we make each other laugh all the time, we are both madly in love with one another and when we are ancient we are still getting it on. we stare into each other's eyes for all eternity. hold and support one another throughout life. yup, this is the vision i left my husband for.

right before i left my husband i heard the siren's call beckoning. i asked the advice of an acquaintance who appeared to have one of the most solid marriages i had witnessed. they were so loving and supportive of one another and doted on one another in public and on fb. she told me that YES indeed, this ideal did exist because she in fact lived it everyday with her husband. ten years later they are still staring into each other's eyes. they are perfect partners and she had just been with the wrong man throughout her first marriage.

It did exist! my ideal. so i left my husband because we were for the most part miserable together. our home was a war zone with little affection shared between the two of us...except when we had sex which was about twice a month. and then for a couple of days we were madly in love with one another again making promises in order to find a way back to what we had in the beginning.

I found out a year later that this woman cheated on her husband a few months after our talk and he is still unaware. so much for my ideal partner. perhaps it is all a twisted little fantasy we women hang our hopes on when in reality we are just wasting away waiting in vain...? or what if their relationship allowed for exploring an infatuation or two? he wouldn't be disrespected and maybe their relationship really would be ideal.

The truth is i can't really imagine myself pleasantly cohabitating with anyone. each and every time i have lived with someone i feel forced to change. we fall into roles. we fight. so much compromise. so little time alone. if i were a bonobo i would surely be that surly little one off hiding in a tree. my ideal living situation with my ideal partner would be two houses side-by-side like frida and diego had set up.

a couple of years ago i read the funeral party by ludmila ulitskava and in it there was a minor relationship that i felt drawn to. the man who is dying is briefly held by a friend who he also had an affection sexual relationship with over the years and throughout his marriage.

i also noted the relationship between blomkvist and erica berger in the girl with the dragon tattoo. they were close friends and over the years (with full permission from erica's husband) they still got together and had sex every once in awhile. it sounded so beautiful!

i tried to create a similar type of relationship with an infatuation i had with someone in a different city. i imagined we would just see each other when our paths crossed, would care for one another, would communicate regularly and continue to have other primary attachments. only problem was i realized that it was only an infatuation and not rooted in any real affection because we lived in different places and never actually got to know one another so that didn't work out so well. but i was extremely drawn to this set up.

i came away from this experience recognizing a difference between infatuation, feeling affectionate and tender towards someone and falling in love. falling in love, real love, happens very rarely and it should be protected and nurtured but i don't know if being monogamous is really the best way to protect love. if you are really in love then an infatuation with another is a passing and two people in love don't need to be terrified of an infatuation really taking anything away from their love. in fact, the experience may just make you realize how much in love you really are! nor is having sex with someone from your past you feel affection towards a threat to two people in love because it has already been determined that it is affection/tenderness and not love. plus, i believe that any woman or man who tries to usurp a loving relationship and is successful at it is just going to get the same in return. not because of karmic retribution or any such nonsense but more because if it is easy to draw a person away from a loving relationship perhaps they are not capable of really loving someone and for one to think that you are different is narcissistic.

i guess what i am getting at is that i think my ideal setup in life is to have deep affections with people and still be able to get it on with them when it strikes the both of us. because maybe sex is just a natural extension of affection. and, if i should ever meet my ideal i would want to build a home (side by side) with him and continue sharing my affection with other men in my life that i have grown to care for.

i can think of five men from my past that every time i see them i reminiscence about the intimacy we once shared and certainly wouldn't mind sharing a couple of days with them. and maybe i am not a horrible person for feeling this way. that it is natural. i don't want to take them from their partner. i just want that connection between us to still exist.

thinking of my current situation with a man i dated for a couple of months i feel a similar draw. the sex was mind blowing but we both knew before we even started that we weren't meant to be that long term couple that walks off into the sunset together. and it ended because he was in search of his wife, the mother of his children and i was not her. and i stopped having sex with him after the split not because i wanted to stop but because i was afraid of getting hurt. because if we continued to have sex and then he found his wife not only would i be out a sex partner but most likely i would be out a friendship as well. and i found it preferable to be out a sex partner (even a very, very good one) than both a sex partner and a friend. because how many girlfriends are eager for their new boyfriends to hang out with their ex-girlfriend whom they were having sex with just before she got together with him?

but imagine if we were bonobos and it was just a natural extension to continue those affections with past partners even while mating with new partners. there would not be any jealousy on the part of a new partner or fear of losing that connection by the old partner.

although i must qualify that statement. i think that when i meet someone new that i am really into i don't have any desire to continue having sex with my old lovers but this only lasts for a year at best and i believe it is the period of time one needs to develop a deep affection for that new person. perhaps bonobos don't have this need to temporarily cut out old lovers because they already have well developed affections for one another. they grow up together, forage together, eat together. the bonobos copulate with those they feel real affection for. they share ALL resources.

there might even be a tremendous amount of affection shared between the females. when i met my best friend she was sleeping with the man who later became my boyfriend. he cheated on me with her. yup, i found her panties in our bed. but, there ain't a woman in the world i feel closer to. my ex-husband has had a new girlfriend for a year now and over this time (admittedly both relationships had a rough start) we have gotten to know one another. i find myself liking her immensely. i want her to be happy and i am happy she is happy with my ex-husband. we go out together and talk for hours about our lives. i think him a lucky man to have her in his life.

i don't have sex with her boyfriend (my ex-husband) because we are not bonobos and in our society we just don't know how it would pan out. plus, what we all have together right now is amazing and to muck it up would be stupid. but i do wonder if it would be all that horrible for her if he did have sex with me every once in a blue moon. and i wonder if it would be heart breaking for me if the love of my life (should my ideal ever find me) should lie in bed with his old girlfriend, hold her affectionately, stare deeply into her eyes and have sex. if i knew it made him happy? if i knew i could do the same and not be thought of negatively? if i knew it wouldn't hurt our relations? if i liked her? jealously comes from feeling threatened with loss. what if there was no possibility of loss?

is this just weird? to want continued sexual affection over the years from those you once felt close to? and to also want new sexual partners because god, isn't that the best feeling in the world? i find it bizarre how people in our society break up. once two people who felt incredibly close figure out it isn't going to work as a long term thing they sever that tie with a cleaver and delete one another from their lives. how horribly painful. how unnatural.

but i have only been single for a year now so perhaps i am glorifying this set up in my head.