Posts Tagged ‘art’

Confession Mondays: Ego is an illusion

July 12, 2010

Last night I dreamt that I was imprisoned in a dying world whose only news stories recounted tales of impending doom.  When I woke up I thought, wait a second; something sounds familiar!?  I was still angry with L for her doomsday post. I held her accountable for the way I reacted to it. Should I have? I’m not sure.

Quick background: A Facebook friend of mine posted an article from a not-so-reputable online magazine stating that the world would blow up in six months. I had just woken up, decided to click the link, read the article and I was henceforth depressed for hours, until D calmed me down by putting things into perspective. But I was truly pissed off that anyone would post such a miserable, gratuitous article, especially after it made them so depressed. Why do that? You’re in pain and suffering and so wish it upon others?

The egocentrism of the world is that people believe they can express themselves any way they want. They claim their “voice” and whatever else comes out of them is art. Part of the process of self discovery and sharing. And while that’s true for the young (“Wow! Look that at that big turd I just dropped in the toilet!”), adults should be able to decipher the difference between crap and true creation. The deeper, more penetrating aspect of art is not the art for art’s sake, but the influence it has on others and the consequences it causes.

Some forms of RAP music, horror films, gratuitous violence in movies, violent porn, glamorizing serial killers, etc. These things don’t just expose the ugly side of life so as to incite change or to educate for the purpose of better understanding. These things are self-serving, degenerate expressions of the human psyche whose creators do not take into consideration how their art may negatively affect others.

I’m all for “finding” your voice and creating all forms of art–good, bad, hard to look at etc. But I believe people need to respect the fact that Voice is a powerful tool capable of influence. One voice has the power to give joy or take it away. Finding your voice and expressing yourself for expression’s sake is one thing. Reigning in that voice, taking responsibility for it and knowing how to use it is a far greater talent.

So I told L yesterday two things:

Share joy not misery. The propagation of “doomsday” literature is rather pointless. I can understand when people post ugly, depressing news about stuff we have control over and can change. Scary news that serves as a wake up call to take action. But the stuff we don’t have control over? Why bother posting it? The only purpose it serves is to depress, scare and hurt others, especially those more easily influenced by their emotions.

She didn’t appreciate that. She responded with:

I am…sorry for being so frank – but within certain OBVIOUS limitations, (things which we agree not to share and discuss as a society, for the protection of others) I am striving to find my own voice and will be the one who controls what I say and what I don’t.

To which I replied:

We all have enormous power when it comes to influencing others by what we choose to post. It is a challenge to you and others…if you had a choice to make people laugh today or feel miserable, which would you choose? We are not just floating bodies, disconnected from each other, able to do and say as we please without it affecting others. Sure you can say anything you want! Freedom of speech. But we are all connected. Your actions affect us all.

Bottom line? If something depresses you, and there’s literally NO POINT in its message why pass that depressing news on and in turn be the creator of depression in others?

Am I completely off the mark here? The ego is an illusion. We are all connected. Why can’t people see that when a river dries up in Africa, a sunset dies in Florida?

I want my name back

June 25, 2010

I can share. Especially when it comes to my last name. In high school I sat next to a girl named Kristie Shields and though we had nothing in common (She was a hood, I was a punk. She had crackly, over-dyed reddish hair and crooked teeth; I had poofy 80’s hair; I’d just gotten my braces off ), I still thought it was kind of fun that we had identical last names. Same with Brooke Shields. She was a big star when I was a kid and it was a regular omission of mine to admit we were not related. In fact, my cousin played a similar trick on me of the variety that I’d play on others. He said he sat next to Brooke Shields while taking the entrance exam to Princeton as they were the same age, going into college the same year. Y’know, we sat alphabetically? I believed him. And to this day, I still don’t know if it really happened.

Really, reality, sharing last names: I had the privilege to meet David Shields, author of Reality Hunger, at Thursday’s Writers Conference. L picked him up at the train station and he slept the whole way over, and so our hopes seemed dashed that he’d make a decent presentation of himself during his creative non-fiction workshop. Since this conference started, we students huddle expectantly at the door of the classroom, amazingly high on hopes of being dazzled, blown away, awed, stupefied. We want our money’s worth. We want to be changed, altered, refined, refashioned. We want what the Buddhists want—we want to be in the presence of someone’s supernatural insight that might lead us to a Noble Truth. And when you have one bad experience like we did with Apple, [possibly more about this in a second draft] you start doubting the powers that be. You start doubting the possibility that you have enough money to buy something like that. That maybe, your needs are too wide and too vast to put a price tag on, and that you’re probably not going to get thrown that glimpse of nirvana.

But it does come. It appears in one-liners that we scrawl like maniacs into our notebooks, that read badly after the fact, because in the moment, in the context, it makes perfect sense. “Monotony can be insightful” (Stephen Dunn); “What could be sadder than a clown without a context” (Stephen Dunn); “The essay is….untrammeled access to a person’s conscience” (David Shields); “An essay is not always an exercise in ego…The self has to jump the tracks out of the self…and become bigger than the self. Complacent, self-assured people don’t make good essayist” (David Shields); “The job of an essayist is to have doubt” (David Shields); “You strike me as someone who has a compost heap” (Alexis Apfelbaum).

In the lobby of the library, when L brought him in she introduced him as David Shields, and I said, not so clumsily, but I could have done better, Yes, yes, I’ve been coming across your work all month: Tin House, Creative Non-Fiction, blah, blah, blah. And of course, I mentioned his name and mine. My name is also Shields, I said, almost with a wink like, you and me, we have a connection (I didn’t say that last bit, I thought it). But he turned, sleepily, possibly still trying to wake up from his nap from 30th Street Station, and said, “That’s not my name.”

Not your name? Forgive me for thinking that. But it’s on all your books.

[Insert here story of my name, then go on to discuss fiction and my relationship to it; ramble on about PBQ and “Reality Fiction” and my nearly 20-year belief that the I—the first person is the vehicle for all stories told. Eventually get back to DS and why Shields isn’t his name].

The story is so much more than this awkward moment of me feeling a little irked that someone would take my name and use it– on his books, no less– when clearly he has his own. He’s damn right to suggest that we are hungry for reality when so much of the world and the people in it are phony. Not to say that he… Well, the story isn’t about the vehicle so much as the message. It tells how I go from incensed to exultant in the span of a couple hours.

And it tells that his class presentation, after all, was replete with all the tingly insights and truths I had hoped for. It tells of the moment when I was changed too; when he addressed the audience during his reading, and quoted Kafka’s belief that fiction “should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us” and then INVALIDATED it by reminding us that there is far too much fiction in the world today and what we desperately seek is REALITY. The story goes on to say how my eyes welled up (that’s what happens when you believe in someone’s argument and have a connection to someone, in spite of their name). And a little moment of Cha-ching pleasantly fell upon me. I got my money’s worth. I had my religious experience. And I decided, then and there, I was switching to non-fiction.

But I’ve run out of time and can’t tell that story right now. I’ll have to log back in to tell it. But Shakespeare was right. “What’s in a name?” I’ll get over David Shields’ appropriation of Shields, but I’ve joined his movement. I’m a fan. Reality Hunger is one of the best books of 2010. I might even be inspired to change my name.

Slush

June 8, 2010

One of the projects that came out of my first year of grad school was participating in the design of the MFA’s print anthology, “Slush,” for which I designed the cover.  I wanted to share the cover artwork with you and give credit to a great artist who donated his work for free. I meant to blog about him back in April, but…

Anyway, Michael Tino is an artist and designer out of San Fransisco and Las Vegas. And below is the artwork he so graciously donated. I strongly suggest googling him or visiting his website.

"settle"

The magazine itself has work by Leslie Rapperlie, Malik Abdul-Jabbaar, Barry Graham of Dogzplot, Alexis Apfelbaum, Jonathan Deane, Matthew Charles, Daniel Wallace and more.

Summer of trees

September 11, 2009

This bizarre thing was written in response to a writing project we had to do in Lauren Grodstein’s Fiction class. It’s a sestina and if you know anything about sestinas, they’re pretty difficult to do. If you don’t know anything about them, here is a little definition below. I’m not sure I did it exactly right, but whatev. It’s done. Feedback is appreciated.

A sestina (also, sextina, sestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to asretrogradatio cruciata (“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in quadratic hexameter or another decasyllabic meter. -taken from Wikipedia

I.

All my summers are filled with trees.

Here in Philadelphia.

But through broken glass and black mosaics and ragged, cold metal…

From a ground floor window, of a basement, hot and wet with humidity and stagnation he still knocks on the wall.

He knocks hard, repetitively, like the monotonous hammering of ceramic rubble from when I was a kid.

He knocks persistently, to let me know it’s time to see that dark place once again and set aside my dreaming.

II.

I run to lock the door but he has a key, and so I put to rest the dreams I’m dreaming.

Through the window stretches a limb from an Elm tree.

And I reach through the bars and out into the open and I climb the branches like an eternal kid.

I bend my knees and stretch my arms high and twist my spine up and around each branch in the beautiful, clean, city sky of Philadelphia.

And there I rest and wait, perched with closed eyes, leaning on the outer wall.

I rest through it all—the darkness, (he is right) and the sharp pain of coarse rope, fist and metal.

III.

He takes my wrists and twists them up with rope, he pulls my hair into his fist and lifts my dress, and soon I feel the click of metal.

I am untouched; dreaming

I try to tell myself, there was no knock on the wall—

No; these walls are soft and padded with real windows and a real view of trees.

I can see clear across the tops of sycamores, elms, maples, oaks; every tree in all of Philadelphia…

Gathered at the pretty feet of this here kid.

IV.

Oh, but when I was a kid.

I lived in a house of a sculptor and an artist who worked with mosaic tiles and metal.

It was right off Broad Street in Philadelphia.

I spent most of my days in a concrete yard, dreaming.

And looking up into a sky filled with the soft leaves of a hundred trees.

The only things that kept me safe, in those days, from my father, were my mother’s screams and a wall.

V.

My room was in the far corner of the basement next to my father’s workshop; he and I separated only by this wall.

And when he had too much to drink he’d knock and scream, hey, kid!

And breeze in with his artist’s tools, like wind through the trees—

Almost invisible; except for wood and glass and scraps of twisted metal

He had fashioned these things into daggers and pointed toys that he had thought up in one of his many dreams.

And he would visit me during hot summer nights, just like all the tourists visited Philadelphia.

VI.

The basement was cool in summer; summers were hot in Philadelphia.

And he would lock the door and push me against the wall.

And in the very beginning, I did not move or think or dream.

Heck, I was just a kid.

And when he’d jab me with the object, whatever it was, always cold like metal

I only stared out my window and imagined trees.

VII.

And then, one night my mother screamed, she’s just a kid!

And searched the floor of my father’s shop for her own piece of metal.

And as I lie slumped in a corner, too late, still staring at the trees

Newly dreaming of climbing high and safe into the trees—

My mother ran across his heart and head a jagged piece of metal

And scratched out both his eyes and said, this is for the kid.

I am stalling

June 24, 2009

I am not working on my teaching syllabus. I am not going to the gym. I am not sticking to my diet. I am not maintaining the cleanliness and organization of my house. I am stalling. I am obsessed with Morocco. And I am enviably free to do just this. Nothing. It’s the bleakness and the rain. This past month has left me feeling rather uninspired. And so, Morocco is really the only thing truly drawing me into a world of sunshine, dry earth and color. A place where there is never a cloud in the sky during the mirage-hot month of August and the only thing on my mind is scenery and where to find toilet paper in a bivouac. Anyway…I am posting old drawing I made somewhere back between 1992 and 1995. More proof of my procrastination and my continued life of leisure.

B, the drop dead gorgeous alcoholic drug rep

November 13, 2008

…and other squalid derivatives of human character.


T, the love addicted, fiftysomething-year-old, married diner waitress who chases after taken-men.

H, the sex addicted insecure financial advisor who’s screaming on the inside for love and recognition.

I, (leave her out of this)

S, the self-loathing, well-educated, pithy talker who has the creative intelligence of a master craftsman, but looks like a homeless person.

C, the narcissistic closet-homo sycophant whose loneliness is too dismal for me to comprehend. 

O, the barbiturate popper.

U, who thinks she knows everything bullshit and her egocentric, parasitic life. Stay away from her. 

L, the eccentric 83-year-old, hunch-backed old lady who lives in squalor and smells like cat piss.

D, the dead-beat anti-social porn addict who wastes his life away sitting in front of a computer, rubbing one off to pictures of amateur submissives. 

B, cradled in the belly of innocence…you make no sense.

E, you sociopathic narcissistic manic-depressive alcoholic pill popping gambler & sex addicted fuck. Fuck you. 

Y, the emotionally detached, peter-panish soft-hearted bad guy misanthrope.

O, the trailer-park trash gold-digging whore

U, the bottomless pit

A Girl’s Life (excerpt)

November 9, 2008

The below is a brief excerpt from the screenplay “A Girl’s Life,” a film about a girl’s coming of age as told by the girl through a rather shameful string of lovers and various bizarre events of her childhood that seem to lead no where but despair.

The film takes the audience through her whole life, from age five when she is approached walking home from school one afternoon by a loan shark who pins a note to her jacket that says, “We know where you live,” all the way to her late forties, through an ugly divorce, the death of her father and a slew of random events that change her life.  

The overall theme of the film is the girl’s tragic and irreverent inability to make peace with her father (an alcoholic bank robber) and to recognize the fact that she is a love addict– As she lives through it, suffers with it and learns what it is– she ultimately outgrows her old, deleterious beliefs about love, sex and men to become, for lack of a better term, real. 

Int. Church Basement

June and her father sit beside each other in a group meeting for Alcoholics. About 40 others sit in a circle in tiny chairs. Smoke from cigarettes is thick in the room.

(V.O) Narrator

My grades were always bad. I barely made it out of eighth grade into high school. And I spent a ton of time, by this point, attending AA meetings with my dad who was now a “recovering alcoholic” on the 12-step plan. He and I and a bunch of other seedy looking rehab guys would congregate in the cafeteria basement of the Pinelands church to hear “confessions” of all the miserable things the alcoholics did to everyone else and how they wrecked everyone’s lives. The room always smelled like coffee and stale smoke and men, and everyone was always laughing and telling jokes. My dad, being the narcissist that he was, would stand up and tell everyone how he too, wrecked our lives, and because his stories were so dramatically sensational as compared to everyone else’s bumbling crimes of neglect and the occasional car crash, the group idolized him. He was like, the famous bad guy who told tales of stealing million dollar oil paintings from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, kiting checks, and scamming investors into believing he was going to jump the grand canyon. I sat there beside him, the wreckage, so proud of how many people applauded. I felt like the daughter of a movie-star.

My mother, who went to the Al-Anon meetings down the hall (for the families of alcoholics) used to think it was a bit odd that the ones who caused all the trouble were having more fun than the victims. The victims called themselves co-dependents, and sat in a circle holding hands, reading from books entitled, I’m OK, You’re OK , Co-Dependant No More and Women Who Love Too Much. Women mostly. Telling sad, pathetic stories that included words like, “pain” and “disappointment” and “longing” and “loss.”  Trying to pick up the broken pieces of their lives. It made no sense. It was all too intangible. So I stayed in my dad’s meetings. More boys, more laughs, more donuts. Stories were told there too, but they were concrete. First person. Visual. Action words. I smacked her. I stole the money. I ran out of the house and left her. I crashed the car. I couldn’t stop. No use for metaphor. My mother even agreed that I’d have far more fun over in his meetings.

Cut to

Int- Church hallway

Mother

“No, honey. You go on over there. Our meeting tonight is only focusing on how to break free from a co-dependent relationship without divorcing.

June (smiling)

Thanks, Mom.

(V.O.) Narrator 

I didn’t even know what co-dependent meant. And besides, I loved being with the bad ones. There was just something about a 16-year-old boy sipping coffee out of styrophome cup and telling a room of drunks that he’d do just about anything for a bottle of JD and a George Thorogood song. And besides, Curt Jones had a drinking problem.

Cut to:

Close up shot of a seedy looking 16-year-old kid with a cigarette between his lips and a styrophome cup, looking into camera.

 (V.O.) Narrator (con’t)

Curt Jones. My first. The man of my dreams.

Skinny little, half-Italian Curt Jones with the Members Only black jacket and the parachute pants. [Sigh]. I don’t know if he made me fall in love with Prince first or if Prince made me fall in love with Curt. Either way, they both went together like purple and rain. I was awakened and ready for both. Although, looking back, Prince loved me far more than Curt.

Cut to:

Int- girl’s bedroom

Steamy, low-lit scene of girl making out with framed picture of Prince to “Do Me Baby” playing loudly on her record player.

Stay

August 15, 2008

 

Stay

 

I keep watch under the ceiling. It’s not really a ceiling. It’s all pipes, vents, beams and wiring. And I’m on my back, on the bed looking up at the innards of the ceiling. Ceiling guts. Listening to the water running through the pipes. And when Pop gets up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, he flushes and water comes pouring down real loud through all those pipes, like a river, and there I am. Lying underneath this river, and I can’t move. I’m stuck at the bottom of a septic tank. Watching and listening and scared to death that one of these days, one of those pipes is going to blow, and I’m going be covered in shit.

So I stare up and keep watch.

I live in the basement. It’s one of those finished basements that was never finished. And I’ve been here most of my life—past the time when everyone’s supposed to be out. And five years past the time my younger brother Michael moved out with his woman Anne. And here I am. Still. Watching the pipes and waiting tables on the Pike.

There’s a curtain separating my side of the basement from my brother’s side, where he used to sleep. We called it the “Russian peasant room.” And he’d fall asleep watching CNN or golf and he’d snore and I’d push back the curtain and reach in toward his bed and give him a nudge.

“Shut up,” I’d say, “You’re snoring.” And he’d roll over and keep snoring. And I’d say, screw this shit and wish that someone two-flights up would flush so that it would drown out the sound of his clogged breathing.

And outside the not-so-finished part of the finished basement, there’s the cardboard construction of a row house. Flimsy wallboard. Refrigerator box, really. And the clutter of all the stuff that got left behind when everyone packed up and moved out.

            I’m the last to go. When I go. If I go.

* * *

            It takes exactly sixminutesandsevenseconds to walk to the Pike. Another 22 seconds to open the door of the restaurant, walk past the bar, pick up my apron and head to the back bar to clock in. Clocking in is this: “Hi Ro, I’m here. You got any tables for me?”

            “Section four, front,” says Ro, “But have a coffee. I just sat ‘em.”

            We drink percolated coffee. We pass around the twenty-pack of Virginia Slim Super Slim menthols. Ro and Jeanie and me. Ro and Jeanie stand in front of the mirror by the back-bar, touching up hair, lips; diner-style. Hardcore waitresses. Career waitresses. They never forget the side of tartar. They always remember to bring the steak knife with the Surf & Turf. Their tips always exceed $120 a night. And they never tell the IRS they earn more than fifty-bucks a week. Pros.

            Ro, short for Rhonda, tells stories.

     “When I tell you that old man was in my pants, I mean it.  The sonofabitch chased me around that room every single goddamn day . . . Get this,” she says, “the old shit rents me this room for two-fifty a month, tryin’ to be all sweet an all. So, I ain’t got no place to go and I says yeah, sure. I move my stuff in and it’s, like, real close to where I work so I ain’t got no problem living there. And so I’m there about a month and the Tiffany Lounge burns down – yeah, that’s the one.” She catches me pointing Southward with the tip of my smoke. 

“And so I’m living in this dump and I ain’t got no job.  So I tell this guy that I ain’t got no money, and he says to me, ‘no problem.’ I’m like, cool, maybe he ain’t such an old shit after all. ‘You can stay for nothing,’ he says,  ‘so long as I can use your phone.’ No problem, I say, I can handle that.”

     She coughs. Lights another menthol.  Applies more red to her lips. It’s slow. We have time to talk before the dinner rush. Jeanie says, “Sugar, you never let a man in your business.”

     “Anyway,” Ro says, “he starts coming up to my room and talking on the phone to some guy down in AC. Then he calls Vegas and who knows where the fuck else. And each time he’s asking for cash—telling everyone that he’s broke an’ all. Then, y’know, when he gets off the phone he starts drinking, and looking around in my ‘fridgerator for another beer. And he drinks like a goddamn fish. And then he just ends up sleeping on my fucking floor. Asshole. This was happening every night. Finally I told him to go back to his own place because I wanted to watch TV, or something—anything to get him outta the room. That’s when it starts. ‘I let you stay here for nothin’, bitch, and yer kickin’ me out? Fuck you!’ That’s what he tells me. ‘Fuck you.’” She extends her arm and pops out her middle finger.

     I watch her and I wait. The smoke from our cigarettes swirls around us. Smog over Atco, NJ.  I can’t see anything but us.

     “And then. Oh man. Git this. One night he comes up to me, all messed up, and starts putting his hands in my fuckin’ crotch. I’m like, get the fuck outta here. Ain’t no old man gonna get a hold of my pussy ‘n shit. And with that I packed up and moved out.” She exhales. The host calls her to pick up table 32.  “You gotta survive, y’know. You gotta.”

Three of us pull a swing. We rage through the dinner hour like flame throwers. Passing off hot plates of lit and smoking fajitas, steamed vegetables, lobster tails, baked potatoes, with dollops of sour cream and chives until our eyeliners bleed. The kitchen is 112 degrees. The fans turn slowly. We bitch at the cooks for fucking up orders. They bitch at us for not giving them our asses to grab. “Your ass makes the night move faster” Leon says, with a smile, a giant of a black man whose sweat beads drip from his forehead and christens every dish on it’s way out. Jeanie picks up two more stations at last call.  “Sugar,” she says, passing me with a tray of martinis, “I’m gonna meet the man of my dreams tonight. I can feel it in my skin.” But I know that’s not gonna happen. Not here. Not tonight. Not that skin. Only regulars left now. Only old martini drinkers and make-up wearers, and trash-talkers and pipe watchers. It’s too late.

* * *

I take the dirt path through the weeds, through the backyards, through the stars to get home. It’s two in the morning. Moving. Looking up. Pegasus is high above a half moon. Andromeda falls northeast to Perseus then to Taurus in the East. Everything’s connected.  I close my eyes, pack my bags and leave. I follow the course of Orion only to end up back here the next night. I open my eyes and keep walking. The flat earth rolls me homeward through the stars. To the pipes. Not a very long walk to lie under the flush of a toilet. Not long enough to know it’s time to go.

Word Riot Press

Word Riot Press