Saturday, December 31, 2011

"So I only read --"

What a crazy mix of emotions at the close of this crazy year.

Trying to ride the wave, I am overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with gratitude that -- in spite of everything, much has been spared; it could always be "worse." Whatever that means. It is a wary sort of thanks, a cautious one. I see in so many ways that there is good, that there is light, that there is so much light around me. The gratitude is also selfish, greedy. Justified. Perhaps dangerous in this sense, I don't know.

There is a burning lust for change. For perhaps to be is.

And there is an acute awareness -- a pain -- that I cannot suck the poison from another's arm, although I may see it plainly. I want it to be gone, better. Everything can always be better.

Perhaps more than ever I feel counterpoised to my self. A passive onlooker who would prefer to go unnoticed, letting it all just unfold clumsily away. I feel very small, estranged. And husk-like. And calm.

The next time I write it will be a new year. Again, whatever that means.

I'll leave you with someone else's words, as even the words that I am writing now do not feel as though they belong to me.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I feel like I walk in the company of other artists, some dead, some alive. I want to tell you some stories about the company I keep.

I recently had this conversation with a friend -- that I really feel like my "artistic parents," are Marina Abramovic and Richard Serra. This is not because I have chosen them, but, more like actual parents, my artistic parents are the ones I just somehow ended up with. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and I feel compelled to react to them, live up to them, rebel against them, piss them off, let them drive me totally up the wall and, incomprehensibly, love them anyway.

My chosen artistic parents would be R. Crumb and Patti Smith. Hands down. But they're like the big kids at school, who are kind to me even though I'm considerably younger than much-much-much too shy to even make eye contact. They'll smile and do nice things for me. They'll help build my confidence. They'll look out for me in the halls. They'll show me a really cool new cassette tape or album, or book, and whatever it is, I'll have it memorized in a few hours. I'll unconditionally adore them. And even if we lose touch, I'll feel the loss of them very acutely, should it happen.

Then there's Bouguereau. My erudite uncle who died of old age when I was a high school sophomore. He taught me about the value of craft, finesse and beauty. Taught me that I wanted very badly to make beautiful things, but that the finesse part would have to come over time. Mary Engelbreit. My goofy, overweight aunt, who stuffed me silly with thumbprint cookies as a child, and taught me that you could be sweet and witty, and that Prismacolor pencils and markers were so absolutely the shit.

Modigliani: my first love. Clumsy, irrational, obsessive, my first real physical experience--tentative, overwhelming. Moments of tenderness that can't be repeated. Slight, unintentional manipulation. And although I've moved on, I'll always love him.

Kiki Smith, the cool girl in my freshman class in college that I half-hated, half-admired. Wishing I could be flaky and carefree and that I could let my hair grow long, and goof off and get all of the boys, but then remembering who my parents were ... and that part of me actually understood the value of a little structure.

Kevin Huizenga, whopping college crush. Probably a T.A. in a philosophy course, tragically engaged. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, indelibly cool college professor who could walk that high-line between paralyzing trendiness and limpid sincerity. I might house sit for him. Water his plants, talk to them, look through his sock drawers, sip his Yerba Mate. He'd always have candy, so I'd know he was a good egg.

Jean Toomer, the guy I met on a bus, with whom I had the most amazing conversation, and skipped my stop so I could hear him out. Marilynne Robinson, a neighbor who would occasionally accept me for tea on a Sunday afternoon. The lights would be off and we'd look out at her yard, and not say a word. I'd stir, and she'd reach for my hand.

Oh ... there are just so many ... how can I even begin to end? I don't have to. This is my history, my company. I walk with them, and they vibrate and flow around me, through me.

Friday, December 9, 2011


I'm an "actually" person.

I work my way into the lives of others, sometimes briefly, sometimes not. And (and this is not meant to be self-effacing or anything, but I think it's true) and I do a lot for the others.

It's like -- at least this is how I've been imagining it lately -- the world is like this antique shop or a really old house with all of this crap in it, piled up to the ceiling. There's furniture, and lamps, and some things are bigger than others. And then there are people kind of vibrating in between these things, but they don't see that there are things around them -- preventing them from moving freely, or ready to topple over onto their heads. And I see! I see, oh, if I moved that vase, or that lamp, or that divan, or that chair, then it would be better, it would be easier for you. So then I do, and I'll move it, and then the people will just keep on vibrating and moving around, and they might move a little more easily and a little more freely, and this makes me happy.

I know that there are others like me. I am friends with some people like this. People who, when you're with them, it just feels natural, easy. It's because they put themselves in front of the lamp that's about to topple onto your head, while you're moving the ottoman that they're about to trip over.

And then there are the others, who go on vibrating and moving around, because that's what they know best to do. And, that's all good! I wish we could all be that way, just, blithely bopping around, free from worry that there are these things all around us that may slow us down. It's groovy.

I know that they can't always see all that I do. But, it's always kind of funny. I don't think of what I'm doing as being totally invisible.

So here's the thing. It's always like this: I'm moving and lifting, and delicately preventing things from tipping and toppling. And then I have to go away, or move on, or be absent for a little while. And -- somehow -- it's in my absence that people realize. They say, "You were actually really nice to me when I was living in Pittsburgh," or "You actually helped us a lot this Spring." Sometimes it's also personality stuff. "You're actually pretty funny!" and "I actually really enjoyed our morning conversations." Professors in college, "You don't say much, but when you do, it's actually well-considered and very much to the point." Then there's all of this stuff about my physical appearance: "You're actually quite pretty!" and even more shockingly "You're actually really tall!" How can my six feet go unremarked?

Am I just so enmeshed with the background, so still that their vibrating selves can't see me until I'm gone? It's just funny. I am pretty aware of my presence, and I feel like for those who know me, my presence, or non-presence is pretty palpable. But it seems like for the gross majority of people, they brush me off, and make some automatic assumptions about me, which then, only when I am absent, are disproved. Actually embodies this notion that there was a sort of revelation involved -- that they had not thought something to be the case, where actually it was. I am thinking of this because I am tired of being an actually girl. I want people to look at me and know that I am (not actually) am a great person. And not have to wait until I'm gone to call me up and inform me that they actually hadn't even noticed me before. Informing me seems like a form of rude altruism, as though they wondered if I actually knew who I was, or what I was doing in the first place. Gee, thanks. I had no idea that I was smart, tall, and kind to others. I was just kind of mindlessly bopping around, when there you were to stage this grand awakening.

For the record: I am very aware, and waiting for the rest of the world to wake up. And I'm not actually, I am.

I can wait.

I am patient.

But wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to? I understand that it's just how things are right now. So rather than thinking of how it could be were circumstances different, I'll just wait.

I'm happy to, just, see where the wind takes me. See how things unfold.

And it's exciting being here, even though there is always a possibility. A sky-blue cat perched on my shoulder.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Grandfather, the Prophet: An Introduction

This is the second attempt at an entry about my father's father. I decided after a year of delaying and stewing on the subject that it didn't have to be just one post. Thus the beauty of having a nice old-fashioned blog like I do. So. This will be an introduction.

Last August I took a trip to Bangor, Maine to do something that nobody in my family had done before: visit my father's father. I called a couple weeks in advance, having not spoken in years, and asked whether it would be alright. I was interested in learning more about his faith, I told him, which was true.

The drive up was pretty epic. I listened to a Roches compilation CD about forty times in a row, listened to about a million Radio Lab episodes. It was the longest drive I'd ever taken anywhere, alone or with somebody. In brief: I had a lot of time to think.

About thirty years before, my grandfather had made the same drive (shorter, actually; he didn't have to come from Southwest Pennsylvania!). But he was running. Running from a family and a life that he had built, that he had destroyed. Father to seven children and one foster child in suburban New Jersey, he was also a successful OB/GYN with a private practice, ready to retire at forty-five years old. Although stories differ on timing, one thing led to another and he started sleeping with a local woman, who he described to me as a "grown-up child" when they'd met.

According to him, it was through her that he found faith. Started witnessing miracles. Again, timing differs depending on who I talk to, but the miracles started appearing around the same time that he was being dragged through some serious legal mud by my grandmother. The collapse of their marriage was then and would remain the major event of her life, and she would not be had. They took their divorce trial to the supreme court of New Jersey, ultimately changing state custody laws (I checked and it's still on the state's Divorce Law website). This, of course, cost them what would today be millions of dollars in legal expenses, and it nearly ruined them both. It certainly prevented them from becoming very rich.

He ultimately moved when his house, one night, burned to the ground. According to him, he called upon God for a sign. He was depressed, financially wounded. His family had largely turned away from him. So he prayed. That night, an electric surge ran through the house--over 200,000 volts of electricity--and every light bulb in every socket burst, and every electrical outlet in the house started streaming sparks. He and his new wife Diane fled from the house, and across a dewy lawn strewn with live electrical wires that had fallen.

He had witnessed the miracle of his life, and took it as a sign. Diane and he had been discussing the possibility of their moving to their summer home on a lake in Maine. In no time, they were headed up there with Diane's two kids, and they never came back.

The years that followed were full of pain and confusion for the whole family. He and Diane squandered his remaining money, and according to him, his accountant made away with the rest in a scheme of some sort. Some of my father's brothers were very young, as young as five years old, and it was confusing for them. My grandmother established her own practice and started working again. He refused to attend my father and mother's wedding on account of the fact that they failed to invite Diane's children (a major event in my parent's relationship with him). The rest of the details aren't particularly clear -- I'm assuming it's because everybody is telling self-truths. Eventually he started treating, they became missionaries and traveled the world preaching to poor people in faraway places.

And then, God again spoke to him. And -- he learned that he had the potential to heal with his hands, with his mind. There is a passage in the Bible about this -- about how it is possible. And he became a Prophet of God.

This, it seems, is his truth, and I'm really ok with that. As I drove up, I was not thinking, like I had about my other grandfather -- the alcoholic, philandering, truck-company owner -- that I had to be prepared to not like him. A big part of me felt some sort of affinity to his calling. I feel like my creative calling is somewhat supernatural. I'm not sure where it comes from, but it's like -- this energy that I can access if I give it the space to just flow through me. I assumed that he, like me, used his reputedly awesome intellectual capacity (after all, he was a doctor, had attended Georgetown, had made numerous contributions to his field prior to his shift) to harbor something unexplainable. That I could relate to -- actually wanted to relate to. And also, I have a propensity to be skeptical of my parents and I was rightly convinced that what they had to say about him was sullied by their hurt. And for that I could not blame them. He missed most of the lives of all of his children, the births and subsequent nascent existences of over twenty-five grand children. But then, he had done nothing to me, so I could enter into the picture a cool observer. Old enough to sort of decide for myself. But still young enough that I allowed myself to really hope that I might find something truly extraordinary in Bangor, Maine.

What neither he nor I could have sort of predicted was this. In his life as healer and prophet, he missed most of the lives of all of his children, the births and existences of over twenty-five grand children. For this Purpose. I was the second oldest, a sort-of-woman, articulate, intelligent. The first, though, of anyone to visit. And I didn't mean to become part of his Hurt, but I did. And though I entered his life clean of hurt, with open and flexible intentions, without a need to forgive, I think he started to be assumed into my Sadness.

And so. That's an introduction ... More to come.