Wednesday, May 10, 2017

15 Sentences RE: Forever

I was challenged to write three 5 sentence stories....what's more fun to be brief about than your whole life?

I am a party girl in act one. I come by it honestly as I am born into a world full of hard drinking, fast talking, self absorbed socialites. Growing up in their shadow teaches me that interesting people with big ideas always need people like me to support them while they do their work.  “Just use your cocktail party wit to find a decent guy to escape this mess”, I tell myself. Then go along with whatever he says, because you won't be young and pretty forever.

In act two, I am a housewife. I mean, we're not legally married, but we cook and clean and buy furniture and pay bills together and have sex every Sunday on clean sheets after we both take a shower. It is safe and comfortable and seemingly forever, until one day safe and comfortable becomes a mundane state of emergency and our brains fill with smoke as we scramble for the exits. Forever is wonderful in theory, but in practice it can be elusive as fuck. As is coming up with a new plan when you've been following someone else's lead for most of your adult life.

The party girl returns in act three, as getting wasted seems like the default way to kill time until that new plan emerges. But this time, the hangover involves depression, loneliness, and self loathing that really was there all along during act one, but Chekov's gun loaded with despair was infinitely more romantic through my younger vision. The only thing that keeps me from pulling the trigger is my desire to chronicle the experience to the point of regularly scrawling words on my hands so I will not forget them. The act of honoring and transcribing my thought bubbles teaches me I can get high on my own ideas anytime I choose, opening myself up to a vibrant world I could never access with liquor. Saved by the fact that creativity can fill in the most gray and desperate of landscapes with color, my third act shows the most promise as I vow to stay forever stoned on my imagination.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Love Letter to the Audience

“Every work of art is one half of a secret handshake, a challenge that seeks the password, a heliograph flashed from a tower window, an act of hopeless optimism in the service of bottomless longing. Every great record or novel or comic book convenes the first meeting of a fan club whose membership stands forever at one but which maintains chapters in every city—in every cranium—in the world. Art, like fandom, asserts the possibility of fellowship in a world built entirely from the materials of solitude. The novelist, the cartoonist, the songwriter, knows that the gesture is doomed from the beginning but makes it anyway, flashes his or her bit of mirror, not on the chance that the signal will be seen or understood but as if such a chance existed.”

This is the opening passage to Michael Chabon’s essay “The Loser’s Club”, one of the first pieces of literature that enabled me to recognize that my relationship with art revolves around my search for connection.

I grew up relying on art in all forms: books, movies, but primarily music to soothe me. To be my parent, my friend, my advisor, my confidante, my security blanket. Some look to art for amusement, for escape, for entertainment. I have always looked at it as my gasoline, my life force, a necessary crutch for when I cannot walk on my own.

My first musical connection came from listening to the Beatles, particularly their later, darker stuff. I played my “White Album” on white vinyl until the cover disintegrated from being pawed by my greasy 11 year old hands. That was followed by Stevie Wonder’s “Songs In the Key of Life, Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”, Led Zeppelin's “Physical Graffiti”. These were my first lessons on love, on loss, on loneliness, with flashes of belonging.

As I grew older I surrounded myself with artists, aligning myself with those who I considered to be superior to me as they were creators. Seeing myself only through the lens of being the guitar player’s girlfriend, the writer’s significant other, or the “fan” caused me to devalue the connection between the art and the audience. I resigned myself to forever being on lesser side of the equation, to being merely the receiver of the gift.

When I began writing and performing, I saw the fluidity between the creator and the spectators. Writing is such a solitary activity, often causing me to feel immensely isolated. I was compelled to create my own accounts of love, loss, and loneliness, but it was in the reveal of those materials that I experienced a similar reaction as when I would hear a song that resonated with me, when I was exposed to a piece of art that made me feel understood. In the case of telling a story to an audience or publishing something like this blog, I feel a drive to do so to reach out to those who also feel alone. There is little difference to me experiencing it from the other side of the transaction. Even when I receive feedback that is negative or confusing from others, I respect and appreciate that they took the time to try to understand my point of view. All I ask is to be considered, to be heard; that the art opens the door to a possible connection.

My curiosity surrounding the relationship between art and its audience was recently reignited by watching HBO’s “Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)", a documentary about the 2015 terrorist attack on Paris’ Bataclan theater. Jesse Hughes, the lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal, who is a compelling mix of Palm Desert rock scenester and tent revival preacher said in reference to their audience, “I don’t look at it like they are our fans. I look at it like we’re all rock and rollers here, I’m just the monkey that shakes his dick for you while you dance.” It struck me that he saw the space between the performer and the audience as highly permeable, rooted in a belief that the monkey would be nothing without those who dance. I truly get that.

I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who say and show me they love me unconditionally all the time so my stories revolve less about loneliness these days. In my writings about connection now there is an implied belonging, a sense of feeling I live inside the circle more than ever before. I finally fully appreciate that nothing I create will be understood by everyone. I'm satisfied that the more authentic I am, less people will connect with me and that is as it should be. I am only attracting people who belong with me, those who deserve to walk beside me now.

For those of you who say you are not creative, know that I see what you bring to the table. Perhaps you don't recognize it, but I urge you to pay closer attention. Feel that there is art in every exchange if you put your energy into it.  In the way you dress, in the way you walk, in the words you choose, in the company you keep. I would contend that no activity is soulless if you attempt to do it with your own sense of style, knowing it is your chance to flash your mirror for those who are meant to see it.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Business of Love

Inspired by attending the "Louder Than A Bomb" finals the other night featuring the best of Chicago's teen slam poets, I submit this to you as an experiment in storytelling style and form. Their fearlessness reminded me that sharing your innermost self with the world without apology can be powerful. 

You ask why we cannot be together. You will never understand it is because you are a bank and I am a candy store.

The candy comes in all colors and shapes and sizes. Treats that are tart and sour and sweet. Some that crunch, some that are gooey, some that are velvety smooth.

But I am not always a candy store. 

Some days I am a library, where the written word is my gospel. I’m only of interest to a select few: the very young, the very old, the frugal, the luddites, the outliers. But there is a discernible buzz that cuts through the library’s silence, the humming of reverence from those who choose to read. 

Some days I am a gas station, with people coming in and out to get what they need to move on. Some days I am a neighborhood bar, clamoring with the sounds of the jukebox and people telling stories with their hands. Smelling of sweat and whiskey, echoing with people enjoying each other’s company with the occasional interruption of making sure a lonely soul who’s had too many gets home safely.

You are a bank and you have always been a bank. I am comfortable at the bank because the bank is necessary and predictable. The bank opens at precisely 9 am and closes at 5 pm. I know what to expect from the bank; my paper numbers will be effortlessly transformed into currency. I trust the bank will take the dizzying array of digits involved in identifying my various accounts and credit and debit them correctly to keep my resources flowing. I feel a rush as the pert young teller counts back the bills to me with a sunny voice. She ensures the stack of paper presidents are all faced the same direction. I respect that the bank represents structure and responsibility; I can earn interest and I can borrow and I can save. I look to the bank to be my backbone, to keep me grounded and safe and secure.

You’ve been around so many other banks all of your life that it did not occur to you there were other options besides being a bank. You seem content with me not being a bank at first, in fact you seemed to find me to be a refreshing change. But you grew weary of seeing how many places I could be, and you became confused by the fact that I was something different every time you came to visit. This made you uneasy, it made question your decision to become a bank.

I suggest that although you are most certainly a bank, you can still change and grow. You could be open on Saturdays, perhaps. You could add on a drive through ATM. You could paint the walls or put in carpeting or play something other than classical music.  No, no, no, you tell me. You've always been a bank precisely this way, and it's always been fine. 

I understand your trepidation. I know because I failed at being so many places: a daycare center, a secretarial service, a modeling agency, a health club, a place of worship, a therapy practice, a marriage chapel. I tried to build each one, only to see them crumble and turn to dust. Our constructions are often met with opposition, or worse yet, with indifference. I saw you come alive with the sparks of possibility, only to see them extinguished by your fear.

Still I continue to diversify. Some days I am a nursing home, tending to the infirm. Some days I am an airport, with people hustling back and forth with determination and chaotic energy. Other days I am a yoga studio, warm and quiet, full of ohms and namastes.

I tried to be a bank for many years as I felt that’s what the world wanted me to be. Everyone told me to be a bank as it was safe and reliable. After decades of trying, I became a hospital. Full of disease and unrest, practicing triage to attend to the most serious problems first, with the smell of failure and antiseptic always heavy in the air.

You loved that I was not a bank until you didn’t. I wasn't required to be a bank with you, but you wanted someone from that same predictable, steady category, like a grocery store or a car dealership. You were threatened by all my variety, all of my choices. I loved being a candy store above all else, and it seems you feasted on my confections until you became ill. 

That’s when I became the corner store half a block from your work that you visit every morning, the one where the lady behind the counter smiles and has your coffee ready for you when you get to the register. She knows you like it with one cream and two sugars, just so. 

Until one Monday when you come to find that she is not there. She is sleeping late, relieved she does not have to concern herself with anyone's coffee but her own. She is not there because the store is not there. You do not understand how or why on this particular Monday you find the store shuttered; gone without warning or explanation. That is how abruptly I became a memory.

I now spend my days searching for those who can be an architecture firm full of creative plans for building the future, a music store ringing with joyful noise, a comedy club where magicians transform their pain into laughter. I must believe that people who can embrace all that I am on any given day will continue to find me and that they are willing to make an investment in the business of love.