I do not think I have any words for the void today, or any voice to push them forward—any except these, and these can be told to my lap.
It is hard to be a writer. It is very hard to be a writer in a post-literate world. I do not mean to say that no one reads anymore, only that no one reads anymore. I do not mean to say that no one reads anymore. I know they do. They just don’t read me, is all—that is what I mean to say. And really, who can blame them? I am asking of readers something they can never give. It is twofold, what I am asking. I am asking first that they find me, they find the cave where I am hiding all my words (I will really keep them hidden this time!), but I do not tell them where this cave is, I have placed it on the map, but I have given it no name. The second thing I am asking is that, rather than ducking and dodging all the bats in this cave, they make sense of them instead, they see them as orderly and rational, like a convention of prelates. You see I am doing it now, in real time (what to me is real time, what to you is not, and never will be because you will never see this), I am asking you to make sense of some very obscure metaphors. How they relate to reading is really anybody’s guess, except mine, because I understand what I am saying. But I am too obscure! It is true that I have always been an obscure writer, and that is why, well, that is why I am banished from the kingdom of writers with readerships. It is well that it is so. I am comfortable in my obscurity, it has always been this way and ever shall be. In truth, it is a sort of self-banishment. I put together words with ease; that I make them fly erratically is a choice I have made about what kind of writer I wish to be. I wish to be this sort. You do not need to read me for me to love what I do, although I will tell you that a heavy loneliness sits upon it, but that, too, has always been and ever shall be. I will tell you this, too, in order to further illustrate the degree to which I am not only comfortable in my obscurity but engineer it as well. In my former website, I had an entire “blog”—dear god I hate this word!—that was hidden in my menu bar. I gave it no title whatsoever, not even the practically see-through “Untitled”; it would have taken a pinpoint accident to find it. I like obscurity.
Do you know how some people can put on cloaks of invisibility, if they are lucky enough to possess one? Or how there are seeds that people can swallow that will make them—temporarily!—appear to vanish? There are potions, of course, that do this too, but they are very closely guarded and the ingredients are harder to come by than they used to be—it has even been argued by some that the crucial elements have disappeared from the earth altogether, and not temporarily. In this case the disappearance isn’t magic, it’s tragedy, brought on by man’s egregious custodianship of the planet and, by extension, her satellites. (We have the archaic Greeks to thank for that, they who suppressed the goddess and in so doing paved the way for the goddessless religions and the near-total dominance of the worship of an all-powerful father god—the Great Imbalance that has led to rampant wildfires and angry seas and dying trees and punishing skies, et cetera, et cetera.) Well, it turns out, you don’t need cloaks or seeds or rare ingredients of any kind! All you have to do is name a thing “Untitled,” and it will be invisible to everyone! They just won’t see it. Try it! Go into a crowded coffee shop and announce yourself as Untitled, and watch as the spoons continue to spin in their cups (I do not mean by this that they are drunk, I mean they are doing their job), the waitresses will mark their pads with words for food, the bell over the door will ring, then ring again, and the long, low murmur of conversation will never cease. You will stand there, as Untitled, and not a single eye will come to rest on you because you simply won’t be seen. Or try this:
I did not face the mountain god yesterday, I did not ask anything of him. I will have to do that today. You must read backwards in order to read forwards, but I won’t go into any crazy stuff with you today. Yesterday I wrote maniacally and it put me off my own writing. I must remain on level ground today, I feel the fragility that comes from having strung too many crazy words together. I do not mean that I did that here, although I did—but this is the designated place for it! This is my cave where I hide all my crazy words and no one will be harmed or bothered by them, no one knows where this cave is, it doesn’t even have a name! Steady, girl. Today I will start a new painting, and I will continue work on what I began yesterday as the third and final piece of a larger project I’m working on, and then I will be finished with that project, and I will be both happy and sad to be finished with it. Large projects are good in that they carry us forward day to day, we know what train we’ll be boarding and at what time and we know the stations along the way. But eventually one gets tired of seeing the same succession of stations day after day, and then one wants to exit the train altogether. That is what I will be doing soon enough when I finish this project. Finishing will be attended by satisfaction and grief—I almost said “joy,” but where is the joy in leaving a thing one loved doing? Only satisfaction, but not joy, but there is no overvaluing satisfaction. The problem with writing these paragraphs is that it doesn’t always satisfy—it only whets my appetite for writing, which is why they are often so long and circuitous (to use a gentle word in my fragile state—batshit crazy would be the less gentle choice). I recognize it—yesterday I recognized it as a manic compulsion, a sort of graphophilia, and it frightened me a little bit. Were I the sort of graphophiliac who wrote by hand hundreds upon hundreds of tiny words up, down and across the page of a post-it note, that would be, it seemed to me yesterday, the correct expression of what I was doing. It is not, of course, what I was doing. I was just writing. But my writing spilled out of the cave—I let it out of the cave!—and there I was, in the light of day, flapping my batwings every which way, spinning up cyclones of dust that people have allergic reactions to. See?! There I go again! But in my defense, let me also say that I am not batty—I just like to write. I was born with this—yes—compulsion to record every last thing that flits on batwings through my mind. Is that so bad? The words make sense, you just have to tumble your brain a little bit to understand them sometimes, but they always make sense. It is only that I must remember this: I am a troglodyte writer. It is just how it is. The words must keep to the cave.
Today is a day in which I must start everything from nothing. I am faced with multiple blank canvases (I finished two major pieces yesterday—talk about bad timing! (I am sorry, but it is not possible to tell you why I say “multiple,” but believe me when I tell you it is true))—not to mention the blank “page,” which is no longer blank, and that is a good illustration of how these things go. A thing is blank, and then one simply begins to put one’s marks on it. I think it is much simpler to do this with the page than with the canvas. I do not need to know or envision, however dimly, what the end result will be when I am working with words on the page, when I am beginning to work with words on the page, when I set down the first few words in my run up to my very rapid finger movements sometimes running almost forward of my very rapid thoughts. This may explain why not even a mother could love my writing—actually, I am my writing’s mother, and I love it, so that is untrue, so I will rephrase it: This may explain why no one other than myself reads what I write, but that is how it goes anyway. Words create the things they will be by coming together and being a congress of words. That congress will state what it is when it is fully convened and organized. This is sort of true of painting too, but with painting, one really does need to have some vague idea of what one’s driving for when one begins. I cannot make marks on the canvas until I’ve decided what I will be painting. I cannot make these marks if I am going to be painting that thing; I have to make the rudimentary marks that form or suggest the thing I’ll be painting, even if what I dimly envision does not emerge as I had envisioned it—some semblance of the initial form will stay in place and be the painting in the end. That is why it is much easier for me to sit down to the blank page than it is to stand before the blank canvas. There is also the physical presence of the page versus the canvas. The canvas is a daunting mountain god! The page is a minnow in a pond full of them. I love minnows, I love the page; I am scared of the mountain god! But that is what I have to face today, I have to make my approach to my inscrutable, faceless mountain god and make my pleas to him that he grant me favor. I am usually there for a while, for several days sometimes, pathetic in my need, humble in my uncertainty that I will once again be granted favor, and arrogant enough to think that I deserve to be. I say “he” instead of “she” when referencing this god, because it is a mountain god, and mountain gods are masculine and stand apart in stony, sun-starved masculinity, while she is all around me as the darkness I am hidden in or the light that cleanses me, as she sees fit, but she is never anywhere but all around me, there is no approaching her, ever. I will tell you a secret now, as your reward for reading this (secrets are safe when you are telling them to no one!): It is her story I am always telling you; she is the subject, she is the object, she is the verb, she is vowel and consonant both, beginning, middle and end, she is white and red and black, and she takes many shapes. It is well that I have written this, for I have more knowledge now than I did at the beginning, and that is because my congress of words is complete.
Never for a moment did I have sadness in my heart. The painting, with its depths of sadness, could not be otherwise. It is indeed inevitable. Because of the nature of the format of this writing, I understand that the forgoing sentences are fairly close to nonsensical. They have no precedent, only antecedents, but the antecedents are as yet unknown to you, yet necessary for the understanding of what you are reading. We are reading in reverse, and that is terrible for sense-making! Now, when you scroll down to read this paragraph’s precedent that reads as an antecedent, you will already know the outcome! This format absolutely murders storytelling in the aggregate. I can tell you little stories; I cannot tell you long stories. Which works out well for both of us. I was never able to tell long stories, the longest stories I could tell were two-hour(ish) stories told on stages, or 20-page poems. And I know that you are no one because no one reads my writing, and so it works out for you as well, because no one likes to read little stories, they prefer longer ones. This paragraph is an example of the wild propagation of words when they are not properly husbanded. I may as well tell you, since the wind is up and the seeds are flying every which way anyway, that I do not know if husband is verb to husbandry. I will also tell you something I have told you before (but we know how that goes), and that is this: I tried for years to write novels, I wanted so much to write novels, but I was not a novelist. It took me years to figure that one out. The good news is, I also through those years wrote poetry, and poetry is the skin of my eyes.
One of the saddest mistakes a painter makes (this painter makes) is to overwork a passage that is already good, that is already finished and will not be improved by continued work. I have made that mistake, I made it yesterday, and it brings sadness to my heart to look on it. Today I will have to fix that mistake, but I cannot expunge it. Nothing in painting ever gets expunged. Things get buried and blurred, but nothing ever goes away. That is the remarkable thing about paintings, they bear their life, they carry the full history of themselves within themselves, which is what we as humans do too (and what writing does not do). I am comprised of a lot of mistakes! They are all within me, as are the things I got right along the way. These histories will only go away when my body perishes—and even then, perhaps not, perhaps not! When a painting is finished, it appears to be the thing it is meant to be. A successful painting will appear inevitable. But peel away the surface, and you will find how rickety the idea of inevitability really is, it is hung on flimsy scaffolding! Underneath a painting's inevitable-seeming surface are structures going every which way, thrown together incompatibly, a riotous criss-crossing of ill-conceived brushstrokes and extemporaneous passages of paint. Painting is trickery and painters are tricksters. Today I will take a pot of paint, I do not know whether this pot will contain red paint or black paint or blue paint or green paint—I will know it when my hand reaches for it—I do not know the specifics of what I will do, but I will take a pot of paint, I will take a brush, I do not know how big, and I will put that brush into the pot of paint, and I will make some instinct-driven, blind, broad strokes that will, if all goes well, turn my overworking into an inevitable penultimate phase of an inevitable result, and in this way, I will trick you into thinking I knew all along what I was doing and that never for a moment did I have sadness in my heart.
How many things, as humans, do we do on a daily basis that we know to be futile—on average? (I don't expect us to consider every living human being.) I would ask you how many things you do that you know to be futile, but I can't because you don't exist. It would be a futile enterprise to try to speak to you, and yet, and yet! here I sit, doing it. I do not know how many activities, on average, our species engages in with the certain knowledge of their inherent and inescapable futility, but here is a short list of things I suspect many people consider futile but do anyway: prayer. There, that is my short list. I mean no disrespect to the gods people pray to, but my guess is, most people talk to their god or gods and don't feel any turning of any great ears listening, they do not feel the throb of any heart other than their own in response to their soliloquy, they do not feel any presence other than the presence of themselves inside an empty space that only grows with every whispered plea and invocation and with every humble song. That is my guess. I think the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of the gods for this—they could listen if they wanted to. And if they're listening, and don't let us know they're listening? Well, shit. At any rate, I made the list short because the list is long. I did not know when I began this paragraph that there were many and many things we do as humans that we either know to be or at least suspect are futile, but I learned in thinking about it that this is probably exactly the case. So the fact that every day I write to you, who does not exist, well, it does not mean I have some outsized quirk that falls under the heading of "Pathetic," it just makes me someone who swims in the very clotted and likely fetid ocean of humanity, doing things without any hope of their having any consequence or meaning whatsoever. It is the sea of Just Because.
The best world to live in as a painter is the world of obsession. Maybe I should capitalize that and make it a real world, that way I can get to it—today. Obsession. Actually, I don't know why I keep dismissing the project I'm currently obsessed with, as though I weren't obsessed, as though I were living in the fallow far-flung pole of no-obsession. I am obsessed! But it is not work at the easel, which is the real work of the painter, what is done at the easel or, as is also the case, the wall and/or the floor. Of course, I know that isn't true, strictly speaking, but paintings are what painters make, so also, it is true, even when it is not true because painters can do lots of work that is real work even if it isn't at the easel. I am making paintings I'm obsessed with, only they aren't paintings in the traditional sense, so I dismiss them as less than, even though they might possibly be greater than anything I've done before—certainly, they are greater than in size. But I am sure that what I'm saying makes no sense. Without specifics, nothing makes sense. It is a (specific) quirk of my writing that I could write a fairly long document without once stating anything truly specific, which might explain why no one reads what I write. A dog is barking. Now another dog is barking in response. Now they are both quiet. It was a short conversation. This is a self-abnegating paragraph, and for that I am sorry. My topic cancelled itself out by realizing, as it was unfolding, that it was a false premise. This is all my fault. I was not forward-looking, and I am too dismissive of the work I am putting into the project I am working on, which is a true and ongoing obsession, because it is so much like play and so captivating, it can't possibly count as Real Work (which is done at the easel). Please forgive me for leading you nowhere. This was not me in my aspect of trickster (the paragraph would read much cleverer then), it was me in my aspect of dull thinker. In my defense, I will tell you one more thing, and that is that I have to begin a new painting today (separate and apart from the project I am working on that has my blood singing its red song), and I have no idea, absolutely no idea what to paint. That's why I began this paragraph as I did, because I wish I knew, I wish I knew what to paint. Sometimes I know, sometimes I know at least the next five paintings I am going to make, that is the painter's enchantment!
I am not one of those painters who makes an elaborate drawing on the canvas and then just basically colors it in. I have many thoughts on that process, and none of them especially favorable. But people get good results from this sort of approach to painting, I do not deny that. I just personally don't find it very interesting. Even if I did, I couldn't do it; I'm not a drawer, drawing is the most labored of my labors, I really, quite frankly, hate it. I envy and admire those who are good at it, but I don't strive to match them in their skills because I would never attain their degree of proficiency. I'm competitive, but I know what arenas to compete in and where not to compete. For instance, you will never see me on a basketball court or over a stove flipping mirepoix. I can draw well enough after practice that is like trigonometry homework, but only well enough, never anything beyond that. It's serviceable, and that's all I need. I am not an illustrator, I'm a painter. The process is what consumes me, not necessarily picture-making, although that is always the result. My approach is this, it is to take a central figure of one form or another, and then to slather on a bunch of paint and then to slather on a bunch of other paint, I work directly from the jar, I work to build a painting up, using layer upon layer of paint, knowing I will break it down—it is a conscious and deliberate days-long enterprise (again with the word) in futility. I say futility because I know I ultimately will destroy what I have worked for days to build. And yet it is not futile, too, for this part of the process creates the storms on which my paintings (never) rest. It becomes the painting's history, its prologue, its foundation, its traumatic childhood. This work eventually gets buried, but it's always there, giving the painting its emotional ballast and, in some cases, force. Once I have taken a painting to a place where if not everything, then many things are wrong with it, it then becomes my mortal enemy, and then I set out to destroy this enemy before it destroys me. That is how I approach painting. There is a lot of misery in my approach, but there is triumph too, for as I say, I am quite competitive. It is a war I do not like to lose, and hard-fought battles are the most satisfying ones to win.
Writing is the saddest enterprise. I use that word a lot, enterprise. But who besides me would know? Who would know that I don't write about car diagnostics? Or that I don't shape my text like swans or amphorae? Who would know that my writing is heavy with a subtext I make undetectable? It is the curtain, buoyant in the window, lifted by the invisible hand of the wind. Poor writing! I weep for you.
I know there's a romance associated with being a painter, but let me tell you something about the other part of it. Sometimes it is like brick laying. I don't mean sometimes so much as most of the time. Most of the time it is a lot like brick laying, or mason work, or any number of jobs that involve the sequence-oriented work of building something. Step by boring step. And that's to say nothing of the work that goes into preparing canvasses, et cetera. I'm telling you this because I started a new painting a couple days ago, and yesterday, as I was at the easel applying a necessary layer of paint to it, I thought to myself—well, I don't remember what I thought, but the idea was, Boy, this is boring, and it's the greater portion of what I do, and with every painting, I know I have to do it, and I do it anyway. I eagerly set out as though it were the most exciting thing I'll ever do, lay this brick upon this brick upon this brick upon this brick upon this brick. It will be days before I get to the romantic part, the part of wild-armed flourishes and deliberate fuck-ups that are meant to kill the lesser painting in the blind hope that a greater one exists in the reparation of those fuck-ups—sometimes wholesale expunging of giant passages, anything to reach a better painting than a mediocre one. There is romance in this part because it's untamed and intuitive, because it is quite literally at times a dance, because it brings misery and elation, each chasing the other in turn, and because it requires fearlessness and the willingness to destroy even as one creates. It's even more romantic (to the outsider) if you have to grab onto a bottle in order to endure it. I do not. In fact, I can't imagine facing the demon of painting without my full clear faculties. We are not warriors when we are drunk! Painting is war! Except when it's not, when it's brick-laying, which is most of the time.
I have decided to do my ruminating here instead of in my blue, what some call green, chair. My ruminations have to do with the following conundrum: What to paint? Always with the what-to-paint! It never ends! There are two categories of not knowing what to paint. The first and most serious category is having no idea what to paint because ideas are not even tumbleweeds in your mind, they are the places those tumbleweeds have vacated. The second category is a slightly better category, though sometimes no less paralyzing, and that is when the ideas get bottlenecked. In those times, it is not much of a problem coming up with something to paint, except when bottlenecked ideas really do get stuck in the bottle's neck. There are times when there are so many ideas, choosing becomes impossible. That is not my problem this morning. A little while ago, I used the word conundrum. I don't like that word! It seems like a cheap, zirconium kind of word to me, it is mutton dressed as lamb, a fraud of a word, strutting with its assonant syllables while being a poor substitute for better words. I feel the same way about perseverate. Actually, I feel a much stronger disdain for perseverate. So strong is that disdain, I doubt I will use it even once in my entire life—today's appearance of it doesn't count, I am only referring to it, I'm not using it. This word is like an oily con man who preys on ingenues. But I am not doing my job here! What should I paint? (I'm no big fan of rumination either. I think I have a sort of prejudice against the vowel u; this may originate with my middle name, which I love for its family significance but dislike for its sound.) Look, I have a story pressing urgently in on me. I cannot tell this story in the confines of the panels my recent paintings consist of, it needs the freedom of broad wild strokes. It needs space. It is a figurative not an abstract story. This figurative story needs a figure to tell it, it needs scaffolding on which to hang everything I want to tell, and I am certain that this scaffolding is the female figure, it usually is. But she is not holding a match she can't unlight; she is not post-sex, wearing Zeus's swan crown because she has gained her power over the great god by the very thing he took from her; she is not holding her heart in her hands; she is not baring the red places of her wounds; but if she is not doing these things, what, then, is she doing? But if I make another female figure, won't it be the one that is greater than or equal to Too Many? Shouldn't I reinvent painting today?
Here is an untitled subject: the things I never was, nor ever will be, they are two vocations I would have liked to have practiced had I not been what I am, which is a deeply solitary thing-that-I-now-am and thing-that-I-was. The first fantasy vocation corresponds to the thing that I was (in the first half of my life), which was a poet, and the second to the thing that I am (in the second half) (those measurements are entirely accurate), which is a painter. I wanted very much in my former life as a poet to be a parish priest. My job would have had to have been in the English countryside, I was an Anglican, for this to have worked for me, I did not want to be a parish priest in, say, Ohio. I wanted my church to be made of stone dating back to the middle ages, maybe even with a foundation dating back to Roman times. Maybe the church was on the site of an ancient henge! Of course the bones of our ancestors went down very very very deep, and they were my ancestors too, none of this across-the-ocean who-knows-where-they-are shit. My house would have had low ceilings and little rooms, and it was just a little walk from house to church, I could have carried my coffee with me in the morning as I traipsed across the dewy grass. (I was never clear exactly what gender I was in this fantasy.) Poetry is a holy and sacred undertaking. It is twin to Godliness (the job), despite the vulgarity and base earthiness of its practitioners. Poets are priests of sorts. It was natural that I would want to be a parish priest! I would write sermons, they would be poetic, I would preach them, people would listen! I could counsel the troubled! I'd have polite teas in the afternoons with my parishioners! I would make sense of death for them! All the many rituals would be in service to the same thing I was already in service to, with my private rituals: the ineffable, the eternal, the music of the spheres, the story of life and life everlasting. I would also, incidentally, slyly reintroduce the Goddess to their worship, thereby doing my very small part to help heal the world, for without her, we will surely die in terrible ways, you can see how it is happening already. (For this reason, I would sometimes be accused of being a secret Papist. My argument would be: "I'm no Papist, but I might be a Marist.") Onto Job Two! Now I am a painter, I do not write poems anymore, it is not that I am against writing poetry, it is that poetry, strictly speaking, has left me, while painting has jammed its way into my life and merged with me in such a way that we are now indistinguishable from one another. I no longer dream of being a parish priest, beautiful as that dream was. Now my fantasy job is being a scientist in a lab. You can see how this is very much like being a painter, for painting is all about experimentation, using various materials and tools in various ways, in search of hoped-for or anticipated results that don't always come, while happy accidents will sometimes (most times) lead to even greater and more surprising results. I could go every day to a lab, in pursuit of an end I can't yet fully characterize! I could be driven by my curiosity, obsessed with finding what I can't yet find! I could live the life of the chase! I would get my coffee every morning in the lab itself. I would have people I worked with in the lab, we would all be obsessed and joined by our obsession, swimming every day in the waters of the ineffable, taking measure of the music of the spheres! And yet, it would be quiet, solitary work as well, a methodical and careful kind of work that sometimes had me silent all day long. But it would not be the lonely life of the painter, it would be a kind of guild, a guild of experimental scientists in pursuit of the glory of answers!
I lived in East Hampton, New York, for two consecutive winters once upon a time. In the summers, I would go to a place called Minisink Hills, in Pennsylvania, and live in a cabin there (of clay and wattles not made). This was in the time between living in NYC and moving to Los Angeles. This place, this cabin, was an old blacksmith's shop in the woods, it wasn't winterized, you could see the outside from the inside, both through the abundant casement windows, things of sheer beauty, and through the walls themselves that were made of wood that did not always fit perfectly together. When you saw the outside through the wood walls themselves and not through the windows, it was starry. I have long called this place my soul's home, that was the place I lived in that I loved most of all the many places I have lived. (You have to really say the second clause of that sentence slowly for it to make sense.) (The place I loved second best was a 1920s cottage in Echo Park, in Los Angeles, and I loved that place second best because it mimicked a cabin in the woods whilst being situated high on a hill in the city I love, this was in the time before developers, with their bottomless greed, came in and sacked the old Los Angeles and also in the time when it still rained.) When I went to bed at night, when I lived in the old blacksmith's shop in the woods in eastern Pennsylvania, I would have to throw my covers all the way back to check for spiders, I did not want to sleep with them, even though I knew that I slept next to them. Even bats got in sometimes! I would lie in bed at night and listen to the life of the nighttime woods, I could hear the animals talking to each other, and I could hear how the trees spoke too. There are not words to describe the language of trees, I cannot even describe how it is I knew I could hear it. I cannot hear it anymore, I do not have the great good fortune to live in the woods. Now I live in a concrete box, but back then, I did not. Sometimes the full moon would call me out to the woods at night, and I would answer her. That was also where I saw art history in the skies, mainly Fragonard; and that was where I watched, in the woods around me, the pageantry of what I read, namely, Graves and Herodotus. I was a young woman heavy with the everythingness of life and death, I was pregnant with the world in which the living and the dead commingle, and that world was pregnant with me. It was an eroticism that extended far beyond my body. When I lived in East Hampton in the wintertime, I would oftentimes go to bed wearing my clothes so that when I woke up in the morning, I could reach my writing faster, I would not have to take the time to dress! I no longer sleep in my clothes for time-saving reasons, there is time enough to get to my work in the morning. However, I do often find myself at 3:30 a.m. pulling back my covers to reach it sooner than, say, far-off six o'clock. Now I am a different creature than I was then, when I was young, but I am no less in love with what I do.
Clearly, I'm not writing a page-turner here. Not even a page-scroller. Funny how as readers we've returned to scrolling rather than turning. Civilization is in decline, this is just one example of that. When I was writing "On Painting" I had a unifying theme, it was painting, and this gave the series of paragraphs I was writing a degree of cohesion that these new ones don't have. If there's any unifying theme here, it's untitled, and that leaves me with a world-sized field of things to write about. I am someone who does well with parameters and less well without them. If I could actually find a title for this thing, then maybe I would know why I was writing it, apart from the reason of simply wanting and needing to write. Which brings me to another problem (you don't know this yet, but I have a pocket full of them), which is that I'm pretty sure I've written everything there is to write already. If I don't write about contemporaneous things, I'm sure to repeat myself (which bores me) (with a nod to the Poet). As I walk, I write. When I'm not writing this, I'm writing something else. When I'm not writing, I'm painting. And let me be clear about that, when I'm not writing or painting, I'm waiting around to write or paint (mostly paint; writing is confined to the shorter hours of the early mornings and evenings), I'm biding my time, filling in the boring hours or resting my body which does not bear up as well as it used to under my labors, not that I labor all that hard, there are many and many and many and many minutes in which I am only looking. (The painter's curse.) The problem is—I have pulled another out of my pocket, this is an apron pocket, I think, a worker's large pocket—I don't especially have any interest right now in writing about painting. For one thing, I'm not intellectually engaged at the moment with the why's and how's of it. I'm just painting. (There is a gorgeous flaming-salmon sunrise this morning! Have you ever noticed how, if you look at certain skies, you can see into the past, both your personal past and the historical one? It is a form of time travel.) By "just painting" I mean that I am not painting with any sense of purpose, I am not obsessed with this or that aspect of the job, be it storytelling or technique or approach (that said, I am in an "approach" phase, where my main concern is how to approach painting, it's just that I don't really care and so my approach is lackluster). But if I'm not going to write about painting, what then? Despite the fact that I have spent the greater portion of my life spilling my guts, either onto the page or onto the canvas, I'm a very private woman, and I cannot tell you the really interesting, page-scrolling stuff—I cannot do that! So it leaves me with this, this thing that has no more cohesion than if I had brought a bunch of words together, tossed them in the air, and said to you, "There! Read them where they lay!"
Here are the things I hear presently, it is 6:45 a.m.: a barking dog—arf arf arf arf arf arf arf (kind of flutily); a helicopter, probably in a sharp tilt and tight circle over the 5; a gaggle of city birds doing their morning happy thing (ridiculous, considering their environment); the freeways' general roar(s); cars driving by on the other side of the building; the garage gate buzzing open; the periodic high whine of a transformer (?); sounds like waves, but I'm not near the ocean; a loud cricket; the gate crashing closed; the broom and dustbin of someone cleaning; my refrigerator; (it is the juxtaposition of those last two items that caused me to employ semicolons instead of commas, because I wanted to set off "cleaning, my refrigerator" a little more forcefully—no one ever cleans my refrigerator, not even with a comma in between!); an airplane; the Goldline gliding in from the Chinatown stop; a crow cawing (a sound I love, it makes me think of autumn); someone's phone ringing; the squeaky brakes of a large truck, and now the pointless beeping of its backing up. I've asked the question before, but I'll ask it again: When did we, as a species, become incapable of seeing gigantic animals (in this case, trucks) moving toward us, even if they're doing so backwards? We can see the big things coming! We can detect the motions of lumbering monsters, both with our eyes—miraculous, these eyes!—and ears (miraculous, these ears!), we don't need alarms to see them! The reason I am not writing something more interesting is because I did not marinate in my thoughts this morning, I got right to it, I woke up late, and I did not give myself time to ease my way into the life of the mind (such as it is), rather, I launched into pure reportage instead. By pure reportage, I do not mean pure reportage. I mean cataloging—the newt's tail of the poet's work. I am sorry if I have bored you. If it's any consolation, I have bored myself as well.
At some earlier date that is not this date, I felt an urgency to talk about—write about, I am not talking, I am writing—mark-making. I wonder what I would have said? I do not feel that urgency today, and so there are no words pursuant to mark-making pressing up in my throat toward my tongue. It has just become apparent to me, as I examined the accuracy of the preceding description of the trajectory of words, that when I write, I whisper the words as I write them, I do not know if I knew that I did this before now, but now I know that I do this. In this case, in the whispering case, the words don't always leave the tongue, there is no great propulsive force that pushes them out (although all P's get pushed out, it seems), and then I am left with a mouthful of words, none of which begin with P. If I did want to talk about mark-making, I would tell you that— But I do not want to, I have nothing cogent to say about it on this date. I don't even know what "mark-making" means, I could not tell you anything meaningful about the difference between figurative and abstract mark-making, although anything that can be said about mark-making will be addressed from the standpoint of that dichotomy, when and if I ever feel that urgency again. I should not say "if," of course I will!, it is a fascinating topic when one is fascinated by it. Today, I will practice mark-making, but only dumbly, I will not know why I am doing it—well, I do know why I do it, I'm a painter, that's why—I mean to say, there will not be any intellect behind the podium telling me about the significance of what I am doing, of what my mark-making means in light of the fact that I am working on a painting that is trying its level best to avoid figuration (but has already failed). Are you still with me—really?
I do not like it when I am in the position I am currently in, when the universe hurls its messages like incoming spears, one after another, you cannot evade them, you cannot pretend you are not receiving them, even when you do not wish to receive them, even when you do not like the messages! To actively choose to ignore the messages would be to choose to be stuck, to choose atrophy over growth, and yet one does not want to do what the universe is signaling it is necessary to do! That is a hard position to be in! I am in it. Every signal from the universe, and they are coming in fast, tells me it is time to move, but moving in Los Angeles in these times is very difficult to do, there are not many places to move to, and those numbers of places significantly decrease when one's needs include studio space, and when one is old enough that one cannot just live in any space. In the old days, in Los Angeles, it was not like this, but these are not the old days anymore, they are the new days when housing is scarce and unaffordable. It is not because I have some whim to move that I am in this position—I have a whim not to move. I do not want to move! But what to do about all these spears piercing my body, stabbing the messages into me, soaking them in my blood, what about those? If I ignore them (and, really, how can I?), is that not an insult to the gods who sometimes take their trouble to tell us things? The gods do not like to be insulted! And I do not think they are nice enough to actually put the place I should move to in my path, although I won't say they're not nice enough, because maybe they are, and I would not want to insult them in that way either. I am scrupulous in trying to do the right thing, but I am also childish in trying to get out of having to do it. These two instincts turn me into something of a scarecrow, or a woman felled by spears but still breathing, her eyes in wide rapport with the skies.
Sometimes, it is very rare, but sometimes none of it matters. Painting, my future as a painter, my place in the lineage of painters, even my present, vis-a-vis painting, even that. It just doesn't matter, and I don't care. I am indifferent even to the idea of my entire body of work rising in flames upon my death in a great bonfire of temporality and, yes, vanity. (Just please don't burn the one great book I had in me.) In these rare times when none of this matters, when my ambition submits to my indifference without a fight, what I care about is what lies behind me, the choices I have made, the myriad misinformed ways I shaped my life that led to where I am today. In these times, I look back and see that I chose badly. When faced with Choice A, I chose badly. When faced with Choice B, I chose badly, and so on and so on, until we reach today when I don't know how to choose, or what to choose, when I am paralyzed with not knowing how to choose because I have no history of self-strengthening choice-making, only a history of self-abnegation mixed with hedonism (in days of yore) and an outsized love of impermanence and fear of commitment. Yes, it is true, I shaped a life that was wholly in service to my art (holy in service, it was my belief!)—first writing, now this...this god-forsaken painting business. But that is what I am talking about! In these times, when the only life I have shaped for myself and my lack of interest in that life collide—but that is not exactly accurate. It would be more accurate to say what I have already said, that when the very shape of my life, what was formed through an extravagant series of shitty choices appears as something that requires changing, before my spirit completely collapses—unrevivably!—when that happens and I am paralyzed to make a move, I see that I remain an unfit custodian of my own life, and then my indifference deepens to despair. (In defense of myself, I must tell you that I am no longer self-abnegating. I just can't move, is all.) It would be nice to think that it was always, from day one, out of my hands, that we are not as self-determined as our delusions tell us we are and the bad choices I am talking about were never ones I made but were ordained (in service to my destiny!), but I was born and raised a Protestant, and the belief in self-determination is the very fabric of that faith, so I cannot, unfortunately, take comfort in that (probable) fallacy. Incidentally, the one great book I had in me was titled If I Had to Choose—a shitty title, but so were the choices that were the subject of that book. And yet I had to make them, otherwise I would not have had that book to write! And so the serpent eats itself. I wish this paragraph would too, but here it is. Let me be more clear: I need to move and don't know how to. I suppose I could have just said that in the beginning, but I like this lot of voluptuous flesh, and now I have given this paragraph something to dine on.