Join the fray as we explore my current preoccupation -- the place of painting in this historical moment.
15 MARCH, 9:53 AM
No ones said it to me yet, but "beware the Ides"
Im preparing for a talk on the biological father that Im giving tomorrow and having a really hard time concentrating on what I want to say. Im not sure if this is an indication that I simply want to free associate when I talk or that Im genuinely blocked.
I can simply work from the same notes as the Interfaith Dinner after all that event went pretty well. This time I actually have slides!!
I know that my preoccupations with the work are about revelation and the relationship my work has with nature. I know that I can tie these to historical movements within the arts. I think I might simply be lamenting the hope that preparing for this talk would hand me a paper that would pout the "artist statement in the can!" I guess I just have to take good notes after the talk because Im not going to write a whole talk between now and tomorrow morning. Heres to hoping that I can still lecture from the hip!
This is all over wrought bravado, though, I know exactly where the work stands and can talk about that for hours. The pedagogical question revolves around engaging the class. Im a good seminar leader, but I have a nagging feeling that I should use my work to open up a discussion on the history off painting. Its hard to consider how one might do that when, in fact, I have no sense of the students are. Alas, it wont be the first time that Ive done this. Performance anxiety is a good thing, though, it forces one to be prepared for contingencies.
On another note, I am completely charmed by Pete Yorn. I cant stop listening to the CD
14 MARCH, 7:37 AM
This from my friend Carl in NYC.... Click the image for a full-size view.
12 MARCH, 8:01AM Another long lapse between entries... The "daily" has come out of the blog. I have been taking notes, however, and someday soon I'll blow the blog out of the water with ideas!
For now, you'll have to be content with some new paintings...
7 MARCH, 11:07 PM
I've been having a hard time of it the past couple of days, but the trouble seems to be passing. I have noticed that I do my best painting in the first two hours that I'm up each morning. So, it's clear. i just need to paint for two hours each morning before work.... As if it were that easy.
Anyway, it'll be Friday in a few short minutes. That's got to count for something.
5 MARCH, 7:33 AM I've been a bad blogger recently, but it's not because I haven't been thinking or working (he says). It's mostly because I've been distracted by my hopes and dreams. Indeed, Jonathan Cainer's substitute, Bernard Fitzwalter, justifies this position in today's horoscope:
Tuesday, 5th March 2002 CAPRICORN
The difference between the life you've got and the life you'd like is less than you think. Your usual excuse is that you've never had the time, the opportunity or the money, but the real reason is that you've never dared try. All that can change now, if you want it to; fiery Mars is in the part of the chart which puts pleasure first and duty last, and that makes it easy for you to step over that invisible line of good behaviour which you've always so carefully observed, and to see what happens. Living your dreams is much better than just watching from outside.
Live the dream, Capricorns!
1 MARCH, 6:01 AM
Last nights presentation to the Interfaith dinner group was a lot of fun. I think the most compelling part of the presentation was not the context that I tried to sketch outthe so-called "artist statement" but rather the work itself. The biological father work struck an especially high key. I was gratified that two people stopped me at the end to share their adoption stories and that another was interested in having me present the work in another context.
So, what did I learn by presenting the work? Most directly I think I am learning about how to compartmentalize the work. I didnt again, mention the queer dimensions off the work. Im not sure why, but there was something about the diversity of the crowd that drawing that line didnt seem appropriate. Indeed, talking about family, relationship and paternity seemed like confusing and compelling enough information. I dont think, too, that Ive thought through the intellectual dimensions of the homoerotic elements of the work which reminds me that I must. Perhaps, I need to do some writing on this soon? Regardless, the notes from my talk are on-line.
So, its the one-year anniversary of the last break-in at my house. Its hard to believe that so recently I was cleaned out. Any enterprising thieves reading this should be warned, I have much tighter security now! Why is it that some people can be such assholes? And why is it that our society does such stupid things like killing welfare that makes house theft an attractive economic possibility?
28 FEBRUARY, 7:36 AM I'm working on a discussion for this evening on the process of discovery and revelation in art and spiritual life. I'm not sure I am the person to do this, and I am not sure why I'm always finding myself doing things that feel like being out on a limb. Certainly, this is something worth pondering
Writing my notes about this has me re-thinking my "artist statement" and that's probably a good thing. I'm sure my notes will make their way to the site soon enough. I'm sure I'll be figiting with them all day and have new revelations (ha ha) after I engage the ideas in a conversation this evening. Trust tthe friggin' process, people!
This leads me to make a plug for the discussion group -- which seems to be picking up some steam. Perhaps, it's time for you to post?
27 FEBRUARY, 6:41 AM
Yesterday, we had the first real taste of spring --- mid-fifties, boys playing whiffle ball and wearing shorts, hormones running You get the picture. I decided to take a walk to try to conceptualize a talk Im giving on Thursday evening.
As I was considering the process of discovery and revelation in my studio practice, I was startled to consider this idea: I work harder and more than I am expected to. It could be that Im a Capricorn and astrologically I am incapable of easing up. As a point of evidence, lets look at Jonathan Cainers Zodiac Forecast for today:
"CAPRICORN: The Sun's sharp angle to Saturn is beginning to undermine your confidence. You feel as if you keep making mistakes and this is rendering you vulnerable to criticism. Where normally, you might feel inclined to ignore the barbed comments of ill-informed individuals with an axe to grind, you are starting to take them seriously. Perhaps your performance does leave a little something to be desired? Perhaps. And perhaps pigs fly, too. Be less anxious and wear some earplugs today. Certain people's opinions are simply not worth listening to."
Now, thats a powerfully mixed-message!
It could also be that Im a freak whos over-compensating for some perceived fault in my being. Oddly, I think this is closer to the truth. For a long time I thought it was because Im queer and that I over compensate to protect myself from homophobia, discrimination, etc. As Ive gotten deeper into the biological father project, I am considering that the deeper reason for "over-compensation" is a fear of abandonment. In short, Im not sure Ive ever dealt with the feeling inherent in being given away by my biological mother. The result is that I try to please people in an unrealistic and frenetic manner.
Time to grow up.
27 FEBRUARY, 6:06 AM
I'm fond of saying that my first boyfriend is a pornographer. He has a new book. Although I've just ordered it, and have not yet read it, it looks like he's making a step away from Blueboy -- which is not unqualified!
Regardless of the smut-level, Bravo, Ken!
26 FEBRUARY, 6:36 PM I've been suffering from insomnia, so the days have been pretty crappy lately.... I'll try to be a better corresponent / blogger this week.
20 FEBRUARY, 5:51 AM One of my preoccupations is the place / role / relevance of painting (indeed, all traditional studio arts) in the wild world of art-after-modernism. I invite you to join me in an exploration of this question on a new discussion board that Iíve established.
18 FEBRUARY, 4:22 AM I seem to have turned my sleep cycle around. Perhaps, itís the copious amount of caffeine that I ingested yesterday. Or, maybe, just maybe, itís the energy jump from kicking the smokes. Regardless, itís not even 4:30 AM and Iím at my computer, blog-surfing and waiting for both the sunrise and Today Show.
Although itís not due for a week, Iím tempted to wrap-up my packet this morning. Whatís the good of having time if you canít use it to your advantageÖ
17 FEBRUARY, 5:48 AM
Going through some random email from the last week or so (been kinda distracted) and I came across these "gems." Usually, I wouldnít post someoneís email, but since Iím getting a lot of these solicitations I thought it might be useful to make a point.
This is not sexy:
"Saw your personal ad and thought it might be fun to get together for some fun! I am into oral (giving and receiving) and am told I am very good! Also like to give and receive warm oil body massage all over until aroused and finish off orally! After a warm soapy shower, starting all over again! Will be in RI on Thursday. Am free in the morning anytime and in the afternoon after 2:00 pm! Can not host, hope you can!"
Neither is this:
"I went through your web page recently. Nice to find a person like you. I am 30 years, sexy and masculine who is looking for a man like you to have great sex. I am sure you you will like me. Please reply me immediately, we can start fucking job right away."
Email like this is "funny," but not "sexy"Ö. Címon, guys, if you want in my pants, at least TRY to win my heart!
16 FEBRUARY, 8:25 AM I realized as I was waking up that itís only a month until I can start working in my garden. The old wisdom in these parts is that you can plant peas on St. Patrickís Day Ė which in my world means the pansies can be bedded. This is cause for considerable joy.
Lately, the blog has been the depository for outrageous stories and itís lost itís "newsy" flare. Today, I take back the blog to document the various developments in my life. Donít be alarmed. Iíll edit.
I spent the day in the studio yesterday. I didnít, in the end, get a lot done, but I did get to see a few people with whom Iíd lost contact. I have houseguests Ė new ones (literally, on the heels of departing Caleb) Ė who punctuated the day and various trips to the art supply store / coffee runs allowed me to run into two other folks. Padric even dropped by to see the studio. It was great to catch up with him.
Scott G. was the enigmatic run-in. Heís a doll, but always seems slightly distant. Iím not sure whether heís afraid of me, shy, or doesnít really want to talk with me. Sigh. I guess, since we didnít break up "well," itís kinda hard. I donít have hard feelings, thoughÖand itís been, like, a million years! Heís still a doll.
Today I go back to the studio, which is necessary. I need to paint today Ė for me and for the fact that a gallery curator is making a walk-though on Wednesday. We must look our best if weíre to get into the business of showing the damn work! HeheheÖ
Now, if I could only trick my Valentine into dropping his plans and running away with meÖ. No, wait! I have to be in the studioÖ.
12 FEBRUARY, 9:02 AM Sometimes, no news is good news. If you've been wondering about the dirth of blog entries, fear not. It's not that I've been hit by a truck, trapped in a spiral of depression or sulking with nothing to say. Indeed, it's quite the opposite. Too bad I'm not going to publish the details, eh?
If you think I owe it to ya, you can go read this:
8 FEBRUARY, 7:15 AM I spent the evening looking at Lucien Freud and now I feel better about the prospect of spending the day in the studio. I do know what I want to achieve in the biological father, but, for all my speed as a painter, achieving my goals is a hard prospect. I think I need to mediate "speed" with discipline. Thank God that Mercury is finally out of retrograde!
The funny thing is that anyone whoís just reading this is in the dark. Iíve posted very little of the current body of workÖ.
7 FEBRUARY, 6:26 PM Iím having a crisis of faith about my ability as a painter. I just spent thirty minutes in my studio, puttering about, ostensibly getting ready to paint. I havenít been in the studio for about a month and looking around I donít even know where to begin. More devastating, I donít know if I can.
I donít think this is the usual existential crap that we all go through when we encounter the creative process. In fact, I think I can pin point the source of my angst. A couple of weeks ago I got a note from a friend whom asked the question thatís been percolating in my little head for some time. The question is about my use of photographs as a tool in drawing.
This is an old topic and I donít really want to re-cap the David Hockney "thing" of late, so I wonít. Do a meta-search if you really care. In this case, the question, as I construct it (and this is important because my friend didnít construct it this way) is whether my use of photographs as reference makes me a fraud or, perhaps less loaded, diminishes my paintings.
I think Iím at a fragile place in my development as a painter. I donít really know what Iím doing in the realm of the figurative and still struggle to establish it as my idiom. The fact that Iím not working from life, that Iím not bringing my images to completion and that I have this insistent question gnawing at me is pretty debilitating.
The way through this, I know as a teacher, is to forge ahead, to try new things, and to experiment without a clear sense of purpose. But Iím tired of that crap and I just want to have some sense of control and mastery over what Iím doing. The sad fact is that I have no idea what the over-arching themes of my work might be and Iím cranky as shit about it.
6 FEBRUARY, 8:29 PM Iíve been thinking a lot about the Superbowl.
So that you understand the context, let me just say that Iím not a big football fan. In fact, Sundayís game was the first time I have ever watched a football game from start to finish. The fact is that I was invited to a party to watch the Superbowl by a cute guy. So I thought Iíd check out what all the fuss was about.
Like most people I was wowed by the drama of the game. It had it all: a dull first half in which the favored team was on the skids; a surprise comeback by the aforementioned favored team; and, finally, a dramatic, last second triumph by the underdog. If you wrote this as the script to a film, youíd be laughed out of the theater.
Which has me thinking.
We want to think the Superbowl is a test of wills, a challenge between the best athletes we have to put forward. But, what if itís just professional wrestling. Can we imagine that the Superbowl is patriotic theater constructed to support our current war effort?
It has all the elements of a morality play. I fear that whether itís real or not, we will believe that righteousness comes from victory. Moreover, if victory comes from a sense of victim-hood or out of a sense of rising out of an embattled position, we might just get to maintain our seat at the right hand of god.
5 FEBRUARY, 6:55 PM Introduction to the Biological Father
Coming out as "adopted" is akin to coming out as "gay." In both cases, those who donít share your identity find the information to be simultaneously titillating and socially awkward. Most people, in order to conceal their discomfort, reflexively offer predictable and patronizing cliches to establish their sympathy for your plight. If they donít offer this sort of pap, it means that they are conservatives, and then the fun really begins. Iíve started to believe that Freud was right and that we only learn meaningful things by looking at the places where normative structures break down. Sure (I already hear the naysayers) you can learn something from positive role models, but hot damn, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, beats dissecting a tantalizing pathology. Which is why I believe that the not-adopted find adoptees so fascinating.
It starts young. As children, the subject of adoption is right up there with sex and drugs. Itís probably because kids have an intuitive understanding that adoption is an outcome of forbidden sex and often interwoven with recreational substance use. Itís a natural for whiling away those tedious playground hours. As a matter of fact, I learned about being adopted by making fun of the neighborís adopted children. Apparently, my motherís deep commitment to secrecy about adoption couldnít abide the possibility that my sister and I might make the neighborís lives living Hell through a constant whispering campaign. Adults often view adoption in another way, albeit one that is equally pernicious. Adoption means someoneís infertile, the sex isnít working or perhaps the recreational drug use has fried some essential systems. Indeed, one can almost hear the whispers, "letís hope the home study is thorough." The other point of view, which we might call the conservative point of view, is defined by the urge to deny adoption as a psychologically loaded process. For example, the other day, in the course of everyday conversation, I told someone that I am adopted. The reaction was predictable. "You know, I have a friend with an adopted child whoís the same age as my son and parenting is just parenting. After the birth thereís no difference between adopted parenting andÖ.parenting."
Why the awkward stumbling around the adjectives that defines not-adopted parenting? Can it be that our impulse is toward the word "real?" Or is it that we just donít have a language for biological parenting? Itís like the language around "straight" people. Itís so unsatisfying. It tells us nothing about heterosexuals. "Gay" at least implies that the sex might be fun Ė which might explain why so many straight people are threatened by queer folk. "Adopted" immediately conveys something about a person and defines the terms of their parental contract. Yet, we havenít found it necessary to define or label biologically conceived, delivered, and raised children. The entitlement of biological families is too deeply engrained to consider that there might be options to its normative location within our society.
Unlike straight people, the not-adopted arenít threatened by the adopted. Indeed, some notĖadopted children spend a good part of their adolescence fantasizing that they are adopted. If a mistake is made, if a not-adopted person is asked if they are adopted itís not considered an insult or something about which they need be concerned. At worst, itís a reference to their mismatched eye or hair color and that probably just means that Mom had a thing for the mailman. Whereís the shame in that? Indeed, the not-adopted only fear the social awkwardness of talking about adoption with adoptees.
The adopted are probably to blame for this phenomenon. So many of us have made such a public deal about "searching" for our biological parents that itís only natural that thereís a perception that all of us are obsessed with biological patrimony. As an adult I canít mention that Iím adopted without someone asking (itís always within the first minute or so) whether Iíve "done the search." This has been especially true since Iíve started to interrogate the idea of adoption through father and son self-portraits.
I wonít be coy and deny that I havenít thought about searching for my biological parents. As an adopted adolescent the alienation one feels from parents doesnít inspire just fantasy about biological disconnection, you have ammunition. Every time they say "no," you can believe, really believe, that your biological parents would allow you to drive across country with your stoner friend who just got his license Ė on the sixth attempt. After all, my biological parents didnít get to be the royal family of some unheard of, yet economically vital European state Ė say Monaco, Luxembourg, England Ė by avoiding reasonable risks!
The last time I considered undertaking the search I was in therapy trying to develop a strategy for coming out to my parents. Thatís code for saying that I was trying to sort through all the shit that had transpired with my parents over the previous 26 years. It pains me to admit this, but I started to talk about searching for my biological parents with the same ardor I had as a teenager. Being smart and probably bored, one day my therapist said, "I donít mean this to be a judgmental question, but I have to ask it. What makes you think having two sets of parents will resolve anything youíve been talking about?"
We all experience jarring moments of insight. They allow us to re-align our understanding and to proceed in a new way. Suddenly I had the working knowledge that I didnít need more parents, I needed fewer. As I donít have homicidal tendencies, my quest has had to take an unpredictable path. For me, this has meant constructing an operative, fictional autobiography of my biological genealogy. At a certain point, in this quest, I decided to start to explore the nature of my adoption at the source. Since my parents are reluctant to talk about anything that might establish or recognize the relationship between us, I grabbed the opportunity to talk with my sister about it in one of the rare moments weíve actually talked to each other as adults.
I do know a few things about my biological parents. I know that they were "students" when I was born, that they are, perhaps, Scottish, English, German or Irish. My parents are sketchy on this point Ė they didnít commit such details to memory, as they never thought these facts would be important. Apparently, the social workers of the 1960ís believed that oneís ethnicity, if generally aligned with the adoptive parents, would switch to that of the adoptive family. Northern Europeans, in this line of thinking, all look alike. Finally, Iím told that the biological parents gave me up for adoption because they "loved" me. More about this last point later.
I reasoned that if I was able to gather some intelligence about my adoption that my sister might have some, too. Indeed, I was able to gather a few bits about her adoption, so I reasoned she might have a few more clues about mine. What I didnít consider in this plan is that my sister hadnít really talked with my parents since she was twelve-years-old and that my information had been leveraged in my early twenties.
From the start, our conversation was troubling. In my quest to better understand my origins I had made a commitment to myself that I would avoid no possibility and that I would not judge myself by the possible nature of my conception. Therefore I was perplexed when my sister seemed distressed at the idea that her biological mother might have been a prostitute. I thought to myself, "Cool. Now that would be a story to tell at cocktail parties!" When I gently conveyed my sense of interest in this line of reasoning, my sister started crying. I hadnít anticipated that the moral nature of oneís biological parents might be inferred to have bearing on my virtue. Iíve been told since that this oversight was insensitive.
In retrospect I shouldnít have been so surprised by my sisterís puritanical line of reasoning. This became clear to me one day when my mother and I were walking on the beach. We were talking about her distress over the nature and tenor of her relationship with my sister. My sister had a troubling adolescence and her early adulthood wasnít quite up to my motherís standards either. This breach in family life had been a favorite preoccupation of conversation for about 12 years and was probably the leading factor that kept me from ever moving back to my parents house once I went to college. Sometimes in family drama you are an active participant, sometimes you are an observer, sometimes you straddle the line. Iíve always been a straddler Ė mostly because Iíve never been satisfied with whatís on either side of the line. As a straddler, you are a semi-observer and can sometimes see things that are oblivious to those mired in the distress off either side. Knowing this was an obvious point in the breach between my parents and my sister, but curious as to my motherís possible reactions, I asked, "Do you think it has something to do with her being adopted?"
There was a pause in the conversation as my mother considered this. I thought, in my overly-psychologically-influenced head, "Yes, Iíve gotten through to her. Weíre making progress." I donít know how I do this, but sometimes in a split second I can create an entire conversation in my head. I can construct a line of reasoning, establish a premise for each conversant, walk through possible permutations, and establish a new consensus between the parties. Itís this genial outcome that generally gives me the first clue that the logic Iím constructing is deeply flawed. Most confrontations, if they donít come to blows, end with a grudging agreement to disagree. Consensus is rare. Even rarer is the idea that people can genuinely influence other peopleís opinions. Which is why I shouldnít have even fantasized that my mother might be affected by the boldness of my question and I shouldnít have been surprised when she relied, "You know, you may be right. Maybe itís just bad blood."
I have never been particularly good at pulling back, using objectivity, or thinking about what might be the best course of action when confronted by something that pisses me off. Some people think me to be a good negotiator, levelheaded, diplomatic, but they have never seen me angry. My mother has seen me angry, she knows what makes me angry, so she shouldnít have been surprised by my response when, after a startled pause, I said, "So, does that mean you are ready to disavow your influence on my accomplishments? After all, theyíre only by virtue of my good blood."
Iím not sure whether my mother thinks me arrogant or just a prick, but moments like this have given her ample reason to assume either position. Yet, I think the whole matter of adoption, at its best, invites people into a consideration of the very nature of human relationships and that if youíre not ready to engage the hideous difficulty of your relationship to other people you should opt out of this particular game. Parenting isnít neutral and when you chose to become a parent Ė as all adoptive parents do Ė one has to consider the affect that children will have on your life. One canít have children to have their lives affirmed; children by their nature are challenging, children change lives.
It would be easy to infer from all this that I feel some injury on the part of the institution of adoption. The truth is that I donít and that I am grateful to have been adopted by the parents that I have. I do feel that my parents have been injured by the institution of adoption and I have some considerable anger about that. Instead of being brought into whatís possibly a transcendental process, they were sold a bill of goods. They were trapped within a discourse thatís sole virtue is putting the not-adopted at ease. They were told that adoptive and biological parenting is the same. They were told that they should keep the fact of adoption secret. Their fears about their own fertility were confirmed by this discourse and in being told they were no different from biological parents they were able to infer the judgment that is implied in the very distinction.
For me, adoption has become something of a curiosity. Iím curious about my biology Ė especially in the ways that everyone makes such a big deal about it. The biological father isnít about me whining that I donít know my biological parents. Indeed, itís meant to be an entry point into considering the relationships between biological families and, by extension, a meditation about relationships (deep, intimate, meaningful relationships) that we can form outside the realm of biology. In truth, itís an attack on the notion of families and the damage that tribal units render on this world. Families are not unqualified. Weíre to believe that securing the family unit is the savor of our declining society. Indeed, I think the unraveling of families is an instinctual move. I think we are looking for meaningful relationships and trying to unshackle ourselves from the bounds of the biological family. Perhaps when that kind of choice is available, biological families will have to consider their intentionally. They will have to understand that biology isnít entitlement. Image discourse on race, gender and sexual orientation that starts from that frame. The inevitability of ethnic and nationalist conflict would be challenged too --, as would our self-satisfaction with culture. After all, what does it mean to be a 3d generation Irish-American when youíve grown up in a CT suburb and never been to the island? Does claiming that identity mean anything other than appropriation?
So, the biological father is about considering our relationship to biological identity and the discourse that is created by biological determinism. Itís this idea/question that really fascinates me. I think the power of painting to provoke, to change things comes from this subjectivity. It defies the nature of "research and engages individuals in the process off constructing meaning. It may have language and discourse of its own, but it might also be able to defy those boundaries better than other languages. It might yet defy the idea of expertise and inspire people to step out of their fear of being inadequate, not smart enough, powerless. It might inspire people to engage with the world.
Finally, having never met anyone to whom Iím biologically related Iím fascinated by the idea that a human soul can look into anotherís face and see themselves reflected back.
5 FEBRUARY, 6:28 AM Iíve gotten into the habit of working in the morning. I find that I can write lucidly when I first wake up Ė at least a lot more lucidly than when I get home from work at night. So, I write until about 10, when I start my regular workday. It works well in that few people want to see me at the office before ten and a lot like to see me after five.
Letís see is the muse will be good to me this morning as I embark on trying to unravel the biological father project in words. Hopefully, something will be posted, too. Also, donít forget to check the "tobacco wars"...good news.
3 FEBRUARY, 11:39 AM In an effort to quit smoking I have declared a
3 FEBRUARY, 6:53 AM "Iíve prayed to God everyday that youíll change," my motherís voice cracked over the phone.
This was jarring. I thought I had left my parents in a "good" place, a scant five days earlier, after what I thought was a "successful" coming out. This God-talk seemed out-of-the-blue and, frankly, disconcerting. At best, my family had been country club Congregationalists and I, in my own way, had rejected even this social-climbing-through-religion at a young age.
My critique of organized religion had developed through years of childhood observation and research. I was more troubled by my parentís off-the-cuff theology than I was by the "Jesus Christ Superstar" pedagogy that passed as religious instruction. It was the seventies and I couldnít really expect more from the wannabe hippie, Jesus-freak Sunday School teachers who had recently found themselves "with child," married, and re-ensconced in the suburbs. Sure, it was disappointing that the answers to questions the Universe were, at best, scripted by Andrew Lloyd Weber, however, it was my parentís uneven attendance in church, and their concomitant rationale for shoddy church-going, that got my wheels turning.
One day I decided to ask why it was that we were dragged, I mean, that we attended church only in the fall and winter. Why was it that we Ė and, seemingly, every other family in the congregation -- didnít go in the spring and summer? My mother, in what I believe was a good-faith effort to appease any fears regarding Godís wrath, answered "God knows we have other things to do when the weatherís good." This was troubling; but the weather was good and I much preferred Sunday mornings that involved going to the beach to Sunday mornings that involved sitting still in uncomfortable pews. I kept further theological questions to myself until they required me to actually consider my commitment to the whole church-as-social-obligation phenomenon.
Typically, Western religions all throw some bone to the notion of the age of reason. Most religions, as far as I can see, do everything they can to tie-down baby souls as early as possible Ė baptisms and circumcisions come immediately to mind -- yet, perhaps due to conscience or a fear that God will see through the shallowness of most childrenís devotion to the cause, thereís the second phase of recruitment that comes when youíre twelve or thirteen. In my parentís church itís called confirmation.
Iíd already sat through several generations of confirmations as a child Ė big affairs with the young inductees being compelled to stand in front of the church and swear allegiance to Jesus -- and I had used the opportunity of my sisterís confirmation to gather further data. Apparently, preparation for confirmation consists of bringing all the thirteen-year-olds together on Thursday evenings, gathering them in a room and re-playing the "Jesus Christ Superstar" records. The minister then answers any questions and the kids nod knowingly. Afterwards, the minister goes to his office and the kids smoke dope before dutiful, Christian parents arrive to drive them home. While the arrangement had its appeal, I was concerned. In retrospect, I wish I could have confirmed my parentís belief that I didnít want to go to confirmation because I had something better to do or that I didnít want to miss something on television. The honest truth is that I didnít have anything better to do.
Well, thatís not entirely true. This confirmation nonsense allowed me the perfect opportunity to engage in one of my favorite activities Ė antagonizing my sister. She had hated confirmation Ė with its weekly meetings and the complicity it caused her to feel with our parents. She hadnít been able to find a way out, and if nothing but to spite her, I would not go to confirmation.
Even thatís not completely the answer, though. It was the complicity that confirmation enabled between parents and children that bothered me. It was like a legal or financial transaction Ė the passing of the country club membership or a low-numbered liscence plate Ė between one generation and the next. Why was it that no one seemed to be talking about real theological questions? I truly was disturbed by the idea of "accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior." Who is this Jesus guy, anyway? The Gospel according to of Andrew Lloyd Weber seemed to imply that he was nothing but a good song and dance man who gets a raw deal in the second-to-last act but transcends everything as the curtain falls. The sacrifice Ė all the dying on the cross stuff Ė gets expunged in oneís imagination by the simple fact that he rises on the third day and sits at the right hand of God. Thatís a pretty good deal Ė for eternity! How does this save me? How does that help me understand my place in the Universe? How will this prepare me for my place in a top-rated American college?
Jesusí dutiful son bit Ė following your fatherís orders even if it means great pain Ė wasnít for me, either, and, when the time came, I made it clear that confirmation was not on my thirteen-year-old horizon. My parentís disagreed. To their credit, they spent a long time talking with me about my reservations, but every time I thought that my point was being heard, that my parents might be reasonable people, my mother felt it necessary to punctuate the conversation with, "Then itís settled, youíll go to confirmation."
Iím told this isnít unique to me, but I like to think that itís a special, personal trait that I get cranky when people back me in a corner. I get especially surely when some one with power over me seems to be listening but has no real intention of considering my point of view. Indeed, as an adult Iíve come to learn that this is something called "abuse of power." It irks me. Iím scrappy, though, and very patient. These are not traits that my mother ever particularly liked in me and it was on this occasion that her fears that I was going to be a handful were confirmed. After some pause I consented to going to confirmation classes. They werenít, after all with out their charms. Musical theater can be delightful and I was rather eager to learn more about getting high. How hard could 2 hours a week really be? However, I added a condition. It formed on the tip of my tongue as I was speaking and, without the ability to "edit" and witth the need to end the negotiation in a dominant position, I thought it useful to add it to the conversation. I would go to confirmation CLASSES if at the end of them both my parents and I would have a private conference with the minister and discuss my concerns about taking the oath.
It was a good "deal," it allowed my parents the moral re-assurance that they were attending to my religious education and it allowed me to seriously investigate my reservations about God. I thought it a compromise that would attend to everyoneís needs. Indeed, the silence in the room, the looks exchanged between my parents seemed to confirm my intuition that I had resolved the crisis. The arrangement was even guaranteed to further antagonize my sister. I had at least four months to point out and speak at length about my deep concerns regarding the shape, form, and content of our parentís (and her) religious devotion. I could taunt her with the possibility that still I would not be confirmed. Indeed, this arrangement allowed me months to inflame my sister, while a clean win at this stage would have been forgotten in, perhaps, a weekís time.
We took a break from negotiations. I smugly retreated to my room, grabbed a stack of comic books and settled in. "This is good," I thought, "I need to remember this, this Ďeveryone-winsí strategy." I was certain it might come in handy again. Before I could imprint itís logic on my rapidly developing adolescent brain, my father called me downstairs.
My father has always enjoyed arguing with me. I think he thinks our disagreements have always been debates and, although heís slow moving from his dug-in-the-heals positions, I truly believe that he thinks weíre working toward understanding when we "discuss" important issues concerning religion, politics, and anything I hold to be important or interesting in life. This day, I think he re-entered negotiations in good faith as he repeated back to me the agreement weíd come so close to crafting. Having learned that adults often pulled fast ones with rhetorical tricks, I, too, repeated our proposed arrangement to insure irrevocable agreement.
"Ok, so, Iíll go to confirmation classes, learn everything they have to tell me and then weíll go see the minister and talk about it, right?" Without pause, my mother calmly added, "And then youíll get confirmed."
Negotiations are a difficult thing. Theyíre a game of balance and require each negotiator to have a genuine commitment to and stake in the shape of the final outcome. Up until this point, my motherís commitment to the nnegotiation had seemed tenuous, at best, but now my fear was confirmed. She was unconcerned with reason, she was unconcerned with my trepidation about religion, to her, confirmation was not a matter for questioning it was something to be accepted. It was something that was expected of her and had little to do with me. My confirmation, simply put, was a term of her membership in the club.
When negotiations arenít undertaken in good faith they lead to a different game, brinkmanship, and my mother had now taken this precarious step toward the abyss. Matching my motherís calm, I repeated, "Ok, so, Iíll go to confirmation classes, learn everything they have to tell me and then weíll go see the minister and talk about it, right?" And without pause, my mother repeated, "And then youíll get confirmed." I paused, I looked around the room, my father was frowning, my mother stood resolute. When I opened my mouth somehow the words came out. "OK, Iíll go to the confirmation service," pause, "and when the minister asks me if I Ďaccept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior," I will say ĎNoí in front of God and everyone."
We never discussed confirmation again.
Which is why my motherís claim of "prayer" seemed so alien. It had been fifteen years since my parents and I had last discussed religion and I wasnít used to the absolute corner that religious language creates. Do you disavow the belief? Do you thank the person for caring enough about you to remember you to God? Do you simply listen and not respond? The context of my motherís statement of prayer also made any response especially charged. Because she was praying that my sexual orientation would change, she was cutting especially close to disavowing an essential part of my identity that I had recently come to particularly enjoy. It also seemed unfair. I had taken great care in preparing come out to them. Two years of therapy, innumerable wrenching conversations with friends and lovers, and extensive reading all led me to the day that I uttered the words, "Yes, Iím gay." I even brought them a book to help them "cope, grieve, and learn."
Coming out to your parents is an act of liberation. Itís not about being accepted by them, itís about accepting yourself and learning that you can affirm your unique place in the world. It also teaches you that all the hand wringing and self-loathing in which you engaged before you came out to your parents is a fucking waste of time. Before coming out, a lot of queer people are angry at the world for its lack of understanding and tolerance. Why canít the world accept me for who I am! Where is the justice in the world! You delude yourself into thinking that coming out to your parents, to the people you live with, work with, go to school with will bring some greater sense of justice or fairness to your life. You believe that coming out will actually matter. After you come out, you realize that it only matters to you and that the world continues to be unjust, mean and hateful. Itís the ultimate reason to come out early. If you think about it, thereís never going to be a better, fairer world in which to come out, so, itís a waste of perfectly good energy worrying about being treated fairly. Itís energy that can be used for having sex. Good sex. Young, eager sex.
Which is precisely what I did the night before I came out to my parents. I reasoned that even though I had to drive two hours to have lunch with them, I could make an early night of it, go out, dance for a while and be asleep by 1 AM. It would leave me plenty of time to sleep, to gather energy for the coming day. I also reasoned that a deep dose of queer culture would fortify me, reassure me that my identity was worth affirming. So, I made my way to a bar called "Generation X."
GenX, as we called it, was not much more than a glorified suburban rumpus room. It was in a abasement, remodeled badly, and itís most redeeming physical feature was the large tropical fish tank built into the wall behind the pool table. It reminded me of childhood sleepovers in converted basements -- it was dark, damp, had a distinct smell, and somehow encouraged boys to touch each otherís private parts.
I had gone to GenX with a sense of purpose and clear resolve. I was there to dance, to let off steam and to drink heavily. It was a night about resolve and my coming out was to be a serious political act. My queerness was constructed on a firm foundation of theory; it wasnít based on my sexual yearnings. Then, next to me on the dance floor, I saw a boy.
My taste in men runs along certain, predictable lines. There are the men I long for and there are the men I have relationships with. Men in each category have a distinct place in my heart and are important to me. The men with whom I have relationships are handsome, passionate, and responsible. In short, theyíre good at cocktail parties and pay their own bills. Among my little yearnings, though, I have an inalienable attraction to punk boys. Dancing next to me was just such a guy.
He looked tough yet vulnerable. He was part boy and part man. He had a silly haircut (always attractive) with the sides cut short and the top was long and pulled into a ridiculous ponytail that trailed down the bback of his head and stopped just short of his shoulders. He danced with a lot of energy and angry and it was precisely this anger that attracted me to him. His anger was the anger of one who had not come out to his parents.
I donít remember meeting him or when I learned his name. I do remember dancing with him, asking if he needed a ride home, going out for food, going back to his grungy third floor walk up, drinking home brew and awkwardly talking until he made a move. Given my earlier resolve about being prepared for the impending conversation with my parents, the idea of having sex with this guy had seemed improbable at best. Men like this rarely find me attractive in the first place and I learned long ago to tuck away my desire for them. Why I was still there after dancing, driving, eating, drinking and awkwardly talking is beyond me, but there I was.
At 5:30 AM, sweaty and sleepy, I remembered that I had to be on the road by nine. I got up and started to leave. He convinced me, groggy, to sleep with him for a few hours. I agreed and slept fitfully until 8:30 when I, again, started to make my way out of the house. He bolted up, "Shit! You have to drive me back to my car." I wasnít aware that he had a car. At least, I recall asking him if he wanted a ride, which might be different than asking if he "needed" a ride. "Do you think they towed it? Shit, shit, shit, I canít afford it if they towed it!" I drove him to his car, exchanged numbers and, having lost precious time, made my way home to merely change my tee-shirt.
For years, on the way to my parentís house, there had been a progression of signs, spray-painted on two consecutive highway overpasses. These signs seemed to be made with the expressed desire to taunt me. The first asked, "Whatís gonna set you free?" It never failed to trap me in a cycle of self-loathing. I knew perfectly well, or at least could clearly hear my therapistís voice telling me, that coming out to my parents would add to my sense of freedom. Why did the Interstate seem so intent on harassing me? Adding salt to the wound, the answer, about a mile down the road, didnít offer useful strategy. Indeed, enigmatically, it only said, "How about cookies and a nice glass of milk?" I have no idea if the signs were painted by the same person or if comfort food leads to any sort of freedom, but on this day I chose to hold onto the resonance of the first and to avert my eyes to the second.
If nothing else, the signs had become a ritualistic part of visits to my parents. Such visits are like a three paragraph essay; they have a predictable introduction, substantiating middle, and conclusion. Given my intentions, I thought that doing something to break this cycle might strike the right note. It would foreshadow my intentions to re-orient their understanding of my orientation and, therefore, soften the blow. Not thinking very clearly, I suggested that we go for a walk after lunch.
My parents are intrepid walkers and they decided to show me their regular route. Itís about five miles and, after about a block, I found myself wondering how seventy-year-olds could do this on a daily basis. Then the folly of my strategy became clear. I was winded and they had home-team advantage. Adding to this, I knew they sensed something was up. How could they not? Iíd never before scheduled time to have lunch with them on anything other than a holiday or birthday, yet, here I was. To avoid my intentions, they engaged their best strategy.
Somewhere along the way they had realized that conversation and interaction with me never resulted in anything that they liked, might be happy about, or, even preferred. Rather than attempt to engage me in a conversation that might re-frame my point of view, they had decided that they would simply give me no opportunity to bring up any details of my life. So, having a clue that I had something to say, they became especially chirpy. They showed me where the trees had been especially colorful the previous fall, where theyíd seen a fox a few weekís earlier, where they could hear but not see the red winged blackbird. In short, they told me about everything that had ever happened to them on their daily walk. This made breaking-into the conversation difficult. Not only did they have endless anecdotes from their ten years of daily walks Ė content and interest wasnít a criterion Ė they had, somewhere along the way, become Jedi masters at dominating conversation. Not only was there no pause to insert the phrase "Your sonís a pansy," but the simple everydayness of their observations made them seem particularly human and vulnerable. I was trapped. Their ultimate "parenting" strategy, seemingly, was to inspire pity in me.
Eventually, we got back to their house and, in their effort to re-assert the predictability of our visits, sat down in the living room. I sat in my regular seat and my parents in the same seats they occupied when we negotiated about confirmation. "Oh, here we go," I thought, "Itís the same old thing." I was suddenly thirteen. It was at that moment that I consigned myself to the inevitable. I was going to chicken out.
I hemmed and hawed about nothing. Then I noticed something. I hadnít the time before leaving to take a shower and the sweat worked up from the walk was now causing the smells of the previous night to waft from my torso. I started to get hard. Senses are funny things. They remind us without intention and are able to help us construct meaning. Theyíre sort of like a Greek chorus Ė providing context that we chose to ignore. The sense of smell is especially potent. It ties together memory and context; itís completely about desire and repulsion. For me, the smell of male phermones is unlike anything else. It can make me do things I would never rationally do and, in this instance, it proved that the jizimís lingering power could inspire me to tramp on my parentsí hearts.
Itís not like I actually connected the smell off cum with the outcome of the conversation. I didnít harbor the delusion that somehow if I told my parents that I was a fruit loop that I would suddenly get some head. It was more like this. In that moment I realized that the statement I was making wasnít political. It wasnít about a new relationship with my parents. It wasnít about people accepting me. It was about sex. It was about the fact that I have sex with me. It was about creating more emotional space in my life to pursue sex with me.
My parents were oblivious to my train of thought and had again steered the conversation to some neutral topic, but when I finally sensed that I could make a break, I made my move and asked them why they thought I didnít have a girlfriend. My father had a couple of theories; most revolved around a broken heart or my ineptitude in wooing my ex-girlfriend -- who I hadnít seen in five years. He assured me that if I bucked up she might still take me back. Somehow it didnít matter to him that she was perfectly happy with another guy and living across thee continent. My mother was cagier, asking a few questions back to me. Finally, she said, are you trying to tell us that youíre gay?
Oddly, the rest isnít very important. We exchanged some history. I assured them that I was "safe." With a resignation that it was too late to do anything, they anemically assured me that if Iíd told them sooner theyíd have gotten me to therapy. I explained that Iíd been to therapy and that we talked about them and not about being gay. I gave them the book. We said the obligatory "I love yous." I drove home assured that I had had underestimated them.
Then, five days later, I called to check-in and the discourse turned to God.
Today, our relationship isnít very different from the time before I came out. While I hoped that coming out might change our relationship, I learned that all it did was make them wish even more that I were straight. They knew I was gay before I told them and I think they wish I hadnít spoken the words. I think they think that it would be easier for them if they didnít have to worry about the unknown dimensions of my life that make them fearful. The burden would then be on me Ė putting up with the stray question about being single. I wouldnít have to end every conversation with my father with the admonishment that I "need to take care of myself." My mother wouldnít have to interject into every conversation in which I mention a manís name the phrase "enough said." I wish I could reassure them, but they donít like to talk about it and, at the age of thirty-six, I have no wish to re-enter negotiations.
1 FEBRUARY 2002, 7:58 AM Rabbit, rabbit.
As a kid I was told that if you say "rabbit, rabbit" as the first words uttered on the first day of the month that you'd have good luck all month. Being a "little" neurotic, I'm nervous for the month if I miss the mark. After all, "rabbit, rabbit" is an awesome power available to us all that acts as a prophylactic against bad luck! The only moral dilemna is, as usual, to be sure not to abuse it. I'm thrilled to report that a remembered this AM.
It turns out that this is derivative of an old folk belief that if WOMEN uttered "rabbit, rabbit" on the first day of the month it would transfer unwanted pregnancy from them to the rabbits (it runs out that this gesture isn't too lucky or available to rabbits). I learned this as a young man when I was still dating women and it still seemed like a good prophylactic. I soon began to realize that such matters weren't so much about "luck." Funny, how a late period can change your world view....
Why do I do it now? I'm not sure. But, I'm not taking any chances, either!
crisis of faith
30 JANUARY, 5:53 AM Iíve been thinking a lot about my "career" as an artist, which, to this point, has been pretty abstract. Iíve pretty much avoided major shows and I donít really have a major body of work. It makes it a little difficult to think of myself as an artist. Even the web site, with all itís "conceptual art" pretensions, doesnít push beyond what others have done (better) elsewhere on the web. Letís admit it, everyone has a blog these days! So, the wheels are turning as I try to conceptualize the next step; try to figure out the next iteration of the site. I seem to have tied my stake to the site for the foreseeable future, so I should probably develop my thought about it in a more coherent, less slapdash way.
Itís supposed to be a thesis, but thatís vague; not to mention boring. If itís only a thesis, I might as well close-up shop. Being a thesis constrains it too much Ė it makes it into a specific, articulated product the purpose of which is to be evaluated and judged. It becomes about performance Ė jumping through hoops Ė and less about intervention and performativity. More disheartening, if it is about a thesis, it canít hope to construct new knowledge; it can only strive to regurgitate what others expect it to be. Itís the trap of graduate school Ė no original ideas.
Originality does seem to be a preoccupation of mine these days. I think itís in reaction to the America flag. Iíve been trying to understand my discomfort with it. Itís not a new feeling. Iíve always had a contentious relationship to it. On the one hand, the stripes and stars are a potent graphic image and Iím a sucker for well-composed photographs of it. My discomfort has only been inflamed by the shameless parade of Americana thatís been trotted out since 9-11.
Donít get me wrong, Iím as intrigued as the next guy with the phenomenon. Itís amazing that millions of people who couldnít have given a ratís ass about our national identity on 9-10 Ė not to mention on election day less than a year earlier Ė are all suddenly "patriots." More amazing is that if you question the flag waving, those most offended by the question are the most vulgar in their uses of the flag. Itís like Southern politicians who pander for votes by supporting a Constitutional amendment against flag burning while keeping silent on the use of the stars and bars on Southern State Capitals. Such amendments never use "flag burning" in their language. Such amendments are based on protecting the flag from desecration. Now, call me conservative, but I kind of think that decals and snap-on flags adorning pick up trucks and mini-vans presses the like between patriotism and desecration.
Desecration means inappropriate use off the flag or the manipulation and destruction of the symbol for political (or other) reasons. This is my favorite irony. The Confederate flag Ė which so ardently hangs above gun racks and Southern State Capitals Ė is the ultimate desecration of the US flag. Itís a manipulation of the symbols of the flag in rebellion against the Federal government. Somehow we miss that under a Constitutional amendment protecting the flag we would be compelled to arrest all the good old boys. This drives my ambivalence about supporting such amendments. It doesnít, though, particularly explain my discomfort about all the current flag waving.
On the highway or the sidewalk you canít avoid noticing that the American flag has made a comeback. It is everywhere and because weíve been trained to understand it as a compelling image it makes you think. No, it doesnít make you think. It engenders a reaction. It makes me uneasy.
Now, I know the counter argument to what Iím about to say is that 9-11 and the shameless display of Americana (I like typing that) have developed a positive sense of national unity. There are the civic life folks who see this as an opportunity to build a stronger sense of national coherence and rebuild our sense of community, but this seems shortsighted to me. Indeed, I interpret the "unity" engendered by the new nationalism as an assault on my subjectivity. Now this may seem like a strange thing to say, but to me the flag says, "Everyoneís an American now." It offers no opportunity, no space to discuss what it means to be an American. It makes us all "American objects."
For me, this is a constant tension Ė the consideration of whether I am a subject or an object. My subjectivity is important to me and I bridle against any incursions that attempt to pull me into collectivity without consent. Itís not as compelling as "no taxation without representation," but I think it is my American revolutionary creed Ė "no collectivity with out consent." I think itís a particularly American value, too. Itís surprising to me how those who flag wave the most vigorously miss this point. Indeed, how the most powerful "Amercian" trends have to do with objectifying us all. I could develop this as a screed against corporations and the decreasing role of the individual in world affairs, but Iím reminded that this started as a reflection on my web site and my future as an artist.
My practice as an artist intersects my subjectivity and pushes against being objectified. Itís why the idea of developing this site as a thesis seems less and less compelling. Indeed, the whole idea of a thesis (or, as Goddard requires, a "portfolio") seems pretty hopeless. Not only does it limit audience, but any intervention would have limited effect. So, even thought I havenít developed distinct bodies of work on the site (yet) I realize that the real weakness of the site is its pre-occupation with Goddard College.
I think the Goddard fixation has two points of origin. The first is the reality that, if I want the degree, I have to produce a portfolio. The second, and more compelling, is my rage at the dissonance and contradiction I experience within the MFA-IA program. An example is that one canít engage a residency without being haruanged with anti-Modernist cant Ė especially the tension between process and product. Yet, the portfolio is the ultimate Modernist product and there isnít a particularly interesting interpretation of how the process of the portfolio might proceed. One wonders whether this is an oversight or if the Emperor truly has new clothes?
I am realizing that my rage about these inconsistencies is holding me back as an artist. I need to move beyond Goddard. Although I still have two semesters to complete Iím done with the program. I have to let go. I can clock time, use it to my advantage and look to the next horizon. In many ways this is connected to the ennui that I feel toward my professional life, too.
Iím finding it hard to embrace these institutions because they seem intent on containing passion. I realize that much of my rage Ė the futility of which leads to ennui -- is linked to my own expectations. I realize that I am the architect of my own limitations. I have set the horizon to close to my current location and find myself in the position of managing institutions and processes. Iím apprehensive about being a manager because, although Iím good enough at it, it sucks out my soul.
I always seem to be writing about my impatience. It makes me feel like an asshole to commit these sort of words to the web. Iím reminded that I have an enviable life (can we ever envy our own lives?). I admit it. I have lots of privileges. Somehow, the privileges that I have donít seem enough. When I peel away the skin off privileges and look below, what I find is that I am governed by a slew of internalized limitations. Iíve traded my freedom for a set of privileges and this scares the living daylights out of me. The limitations that govern me are a pernicious system of thought that defines a perceived sense of success Ė which, upon reflection, may not result in success that equates happiness. Indeed, the most frightening outcome of this -- dare I say it? -- self-colonization is that it prohibits imagination.
Maybe this is why I keep thinking that I should go live in the woods. Itís the farthest location to my urban life. Yet, withdrawal from society wouldnít quiet the insistent voices about which Iím writing. These voices live in my head. The only possibility that I have is to be reflective about the voices, interrogate them and re-learn the powers off imagination.
Thereís another dimension to this, too. I like my urban life, I like my friends and the sense of connect that the city offers. If I might go out on a limb, too, I like the power that my life affords me. I need to consider whether my trade off Ė between privilege and freedom Ė is tied directly to my flirtation with power. Itís difficult to admit -- it makes me wonder whether the nationalistic pull toward objectification isnít simply some version of my own flirtation -- and I wonder whether my desire for power isnít simply the chief architect of my discontent.
This smells dangerously like an artist's statement...much to ponder.
28 JANUARY, 7:52 PM Iíve been distracted by clutter lately. When Iíve mentioned it to people visiting my office they think Iím crazy Ė pointing out that my office isnít very cluttered. I think this is a relative concept, though. For me, the clutter is the obligations that inhabit my office. I know the phone has voice mail, the computer email and that the stack from my mailbox is full of letters and phone messages. Itís this sense that my life is so full of obligations that I can never clear the decks. It makes focusing and committing to fulfilling individual projects almost impossible. Iíve cleared my calendar for the morning and I want to use the time to get through as much of it as possible.
My life has become so saturated and Iím starting to realize that this isnít the way that I want to live. I want time. I want space and I want the opportunity to enjoy what Iíve worked to achieve. It seems logical, but it also seems impossible. It seems that access has created a certain kind of obligation. If one can be reached we have an expectation that they are obligated to respond to us. People also seem to have a limited sense of whatís important.
This seems like a bitch-fest and itís not what I mean. I also donít mean that I dislike all the contact that I have with people. I think itís more that I want a better grip on the use of time. Iíve written about this before. It seems that this idea is an insistent voice.
The problem is that all this distraction isnít allowing me to do anything particularly well Ė or to the standard that I know I can set. It might also be that Iím impatient. The things that Iím doing arenít the things that I want to do Ė theyíre all in service to anotherís goals. I know that I am building a body of work and that each thing I do is in service to achieving my larger goals, but at the same time Iím hungry right now. I know that I want a change. I want something different in my life. I also know itís close. I can feel it.
27 JANUARY, 10:40 AM I had a date last night and although I had home field advantage I was still nervous. Iím not really sure why that is; after all I hadnít even met the guy. Itís not like I was totally invested in making it work. Itís just that dates make me nervous which isnít a completely irrational point of view. After all dates have a predictable continuum of outcomes. On one hand, you might meet the love of your life. At the continuumís extreme lives the serious stalker.
Rationally, we should have some fear of the stalker, but somehow I do not. Perhaps itís a delusion, but Iím pretty scary myself and I generally believe that I can give as good as I get. Failing that, I have no qualms about securing restraining orders. Itís the other end of the spectrum that scares the living daylights out of me. Which is why, whenever I meet someone I think I might like, I seem to think that telling stories about my family is acceptable conversation.
Itís a defense mechanism, really. It allows me to believe that (the inevitable) rejection is attributable to my family (I wouldnít date me with the possibility of "holidays" on the horizon!) and not to my lack of social graces, good looks or conversational depth. In short, my family, after years of actively constructing my neuroses, is now conveniently used to insulate me from the painful consequences of being a freak. And, stories about my family can be amusing.
Itís not so much that my family is intentionally amusing or even really aware of it. Indeed, whatís most amusing is that gaps in awareness and communication between us. For example, my sister and I didnít talk to each other for ten years when I received a phone call from her. It was fatherís day and she called to ask, "Do you know where Dad is?" I replied, "Yes." The ensuing silence implied that, although not eager, I might consider answering another question before replacing the receiver in its cradle.
Now, I should have known better because itís just this kind of subtle rhetorical game that my therapist taught me is a "trigger," and itís just such a trigger that caused the ten-year breach. It happened when I was 15 on a late summerís evening as I was waiting for my friend John to pick me up for a concert. My sister was going to the same concert Ė which I cringe to admit was the US tour in support of the release of Chicago 15 -- but the previous summer she had been in a car accident and spent most of the last 12 months in traction and physical therapy. Although she had a driverís license, she was now, like me, beholden on the driving sympathies of her friends. She was also waiting for a ride, but used the time to eat an al fresco dinner as I waited in the breezeway.
I had used the opportunity of my sisterís hospitalization to undergo a puberty-inspired growth spurt and to sharpen my resolve that I would no longer put up with her shit. As crutches mediated the possibility of having the snot beaten out of me, I was engaged in a game of actively testing my sisterís limits. The problem is that my sisterís limits are a moving target and this particular evening they were gunning for me.
Johnís family wasnít particularly large, but it had a certain element of disorganization. I generally found it glamorous and a little enviable. Whereas my mother was always on top of every detail of my adolescent life, John and his three siblings always seemed to be two or three steps out of synch with his parentís intentions. This often made him late. This night I had already been waiting for 20 minutes for him to pick me up. So, when my sister asked the question, "When are you leaving," my testy response was, "Whenever John gets here!" Iím not sure whether this statement was a last straw or if, indeed, it was a consequence of my sisterís complete lack of rational capacity, but my response generated an unexpected opportunity. It was at this moment that she offered to disown me.
There are moments when youíre offered a choice. You can apologize for something youíve never done or you can accept the consequences of sticking to your ground. As a surly 15-year-old, the choice was clear and, seemingly, resolved by Johnís car pulling into the driveway. Indeed, no choice had to be made; I could just walk out the door. As I exerted pressure on the door handle, my sister shouted, "If you donít apologize right now, it will be like I never had a brother." I turned, looked at her, notices a tiny bit of foam at the edge of her mouth, and, finding it was the only response I could think of, whispered, "Fuck you."
Like animals sizing each other up, my sister and I circled each other a few times during the evening. She has a fierce glare that she had used to melt my most joyous childhood moments. Itís an amazing thing that a single look can communicate a personís complete disdain for everything you find fun, interesting, and life affirming. Itís the look that, ironically enough, kept me in the closet for an extra seven years. However, this night I wasnít giving in. This night I was two inches taller than she, stronger, and, barring the use of physical violence, which, given her use of crutches, wouldnít curry favor to me in any quarter, I could still run. So, I glared back and walked away.
When youíre a 15-year-old boy you break curfew. Itís expected. My father expected it and devised a system to keep him oblivious of it. Because my parents didnít trust my sister with house keys Ė it had something to do with a keg party she threw when she was 15 and her use of keys to lock the dog and my 12-year-old ass in the den throughout the event Ė my father came up with the note system. There was a note in the kitchen with both of our names on it. The first person home would cross their name off the list, signaling the second person to lock the door. When I arrived home the house was locked. The system had been sabotaged.
My sisterís never been as resourceful as me and Iím sure it never occurred to her that I had contingencies. Breaking into the house was no problem and I actually found it amusing. It wasnít until I got to the kitchen and found that sheíd not crossed her name off the list at all. Sheíd thrown the note away. The stakes of the game had changed.
My response, admittedly, wasnít in the service of resolving our conflict. Throughout my childhood I had developed the skills of mediation and was the one who smoothed over the tense relations that pestered our domestic arrangement. My sisterís long hospitalization had made me less sanguine about this role. Her absence had removed the tension in the house and the summer she was "away" was actually pretty easy. Clearly, I theorized, she was the root of the problem and new steps had to be taken to contain her. In short, I escalated the crisis. The details of the escalation arenít important (or pretty), whatís important is that they resulted in finding myself on the phone ten years later talking to a sister I barely knew.
Of course there had been gossip. My parents, unlike me, werenít happy at all that my sister and I had cut each other off. I suspect that they, go figure, construed our estrangement as a pesky detail that they had to explain to friends and that might result in whispers behind their back. No one wants to consider that the actions of their children might be construed as "bad parenting." The result was that most visits with my parents inevitably wound around to some, seemingly interminable, conversation about my sister. The funny thing is that my parents didnít know anything about my sister.
When we were kids my sister would brag that she was moving out of the house the minute she was eighteen. She wasnít going to hang around into her twenties the way the neighborís kids had. No sir, she was getting out as soon as she could. I hadnít really thought about what Iíd be doing at eighteen and the irony is that I was the one to move out at eighteen never, as it turned out, to live there again. This incensed my sister who, as it turns out, didnít leave until she was twenty-four. She moved out when my parents were on vacation, left a note with a phone number. When asked where or with whom she lived, my parents were vague. Theyíd never actually been invited to her apartment nor had they met "Sue," the woman no one had heard of before my sister moved in with her. These "facts" were the full extent of our knowledge of my sisterís life.
I remembered all of this in the ten seconds of silence when my sister called looking for our father. I remembered the idea that I might be "triggering" something with the silence and jumped in with, "Do you want his number?" "Yeah," my sister replied, "Are they on Cape Cod?" "Yup," I said. And we were silent again. Sensing an opportunity, I said, "So what are you up to?"
Itís at this point I learned that she and "Sue" had just moved from an apartment in the city to a ranch house in the suburbs. I was intrigued, yet, somehow wasnít stalwart enough to articulate the phrase, "So, youíre a dyke?" Instead, I offered that the particular suburb they chose was probably nicer than the one we grew up with. She agreed and we hung up.
When my parents arrived, and the conversation inevitably turned to my sister, it was me who initiated the conversation. Had she called? So, she moved into a new house? What do you think of that? Itís at this point that my grandmother interjected.
My grandmother was a sharp ticket. She knew how to work a room and she knew how to manipulate a conversation in a way that no one knew she was even aware the conversation was taking place. Excitedly, she asked me, "Did I tell you my exciting news!" "No," I replied smiling. "Danny-boy had puppies!" she sparkled back to me. I knew I was in for something good.
Danny-boy was her tenantís dog, an Irish sheepdog, that, to this moment, I was sure was a boy. So, I asked.
"Oh no," she said, "it was the funniest thing. I was in the kitchen baking when I looked out the window. When they bought Danny, they also bought a girl dog for Wendyís father. The two of them were playing in the yard. Then, Danny started hurting her."
"Hurting?" Can this possibly be going where I think it is? I smiled and glanced at my parents who are not smiling. I look back at my grandmother.
"So, I went down to break them up, but Pat stopped me and told me what was happening. I had never seen anything like it in my life."
The silence in the room was a knowing silence. My parents and I had, indeed, put together that my grandmother was telling us a story about copulating dogs. I was delighted. My parents were slack-jawed. Yet, this story was unexpected, told via indirection, and clearly with the intention of delighting me while disorienting my parents. My grandmother knew something; she smelled that I knew something, too. I swallowed, preparing to take the next step in complicit tango that we had started, when my mother broke in.
"Mom, I grew up on a farm. We saw things like that all the time."
"Shirley, I had never seen anything like that in my life," my grandmother countered sternly, gathering every bit of propriety she could muster.
"Mom, donít you remember when the cow had a calf, the horseÖ" my mother countered. I could see in her eyes that she was invoking some association technique she probably read about in Readerís Digest. She was testing for Alzheimerís.
"Shirl, I never saw anything like that in my life."
"What about the cats and dogs," my mother offered, rapidly conjuring a barnyard bordello, in her effort to get her mother to admit that she was familiar with animal husbandry.
"Shirley, I have never seen any thing like this in my life." Pause, breath, "And, besides, I donít know what two women would do together any way."
Now, be honest, if this was the conversation, would you go on a second date?
but, they took me to lunch!
26 JANUARY, 2:37 PM In ninety minutes Iím returning to a career conference at the University at which Iím the moderator of panel discussions on jobs in the not-for-profit world. Events like this are part of the territory of being the director of the Swearer Center and I generally enjoy them Ė todayís no exception. Itís funny, though, talking with large groups of scared graduating students who have no idea where theyíll be, what theyíll be doing or whether all the work theyíve done to graduate from a top ranked school will matter in a few short months. It makes ya think.
So, I had to tell my sorry story of finding (and keeping) my job. Iíve been gainfully employed with the SC for the past oh-so-fleeting fourteen years and its director for almost ten. Itís a great job, a real calling and I wouldnít trade the experience for anything. Indeed, itís a great gift to have found work around which I feel great passion. So, itís surprising, when I tell my story, that the punch line is that I didnít want the job.
As I was graduating from RISD, I, too, was a scared little guy wondering who would feed me, who would clothe me and where would I sleep once the gravy train of higher education reached the graduation station. With few prospects and little skill in the areas of "networking" or "portfolio presentation" the idea that I might actually generate wealth through my skill as a painter and draftsman seemed unlikely. Although clueless, I wasnít a slacker and I quickly figured out that the higher education chuck wagon had at last a connecting train, so I made preparations to get my transfer ticket to graduate school.
During the final two years of school I had started to so a lot of community-based work. I did this mostly for two reasons. First, I was generally passionate about addressing social problems and committed to the idea that each of us has a moral obligation to step outside of ourselves and contribute to the world in which we live. Second, I had to get away from school because the students and faculty were making me crazy, what with their black turtlenecks and Euro-fashion ways. In my journeys through Providence I was introduced to the fine folks at the Center for Public Service (late renamed the Swearer Center) and they were nice to me. They understood me. They listened. They took me to lunch.
One day, late in second semester senior year, as my friends and I were beginning to become truly insane (fights, gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair, throwing of crockery), I got a call from one of my friends at the Center. She told me she was leaving her position (for graduate school) and was calling me, on the advice of the director, to invite me to apply for the job. I was intrigued.
Now, there were some, arguably, sane people in my life with whom I talked this over. I was pretty committed to going to graduate school, getting out of Providence (it was the pre-Renaissance "walkable" city) and getting on with my life (hey, I still had to find the time to come out of the fuckiní closet!). But my mentors convinced me that I should apply Ė if only for the experience. So I sent along my letter and resume (which, as I recall, still had a reference to my glamorous summer job as "snacky" Ė the intrepid side kick of Captain Snack. Yes, I was the guy who fried burgers and scooped ice cream at the local "country club").
A few weeks later I got a message that the Center had called to set up an interview. This is what potential employers donít understand. The intervening weeks between applying and "the call" are weeks filled with self doubt Ė"theyíll never call" Ė which moves to self loathing Ė "of course theyíll never call, what was I thinking, I went out of my league" Ė to, finally, deep anger over the stupidity of the potential employer for not seeing your genius. I was firmly in the terminal "stage" of this cycle and even more deeply committed to the verdant fields I had imagined graduate school to be. I didnít return the call.
They called back. I was surly. The interview really didnít fit my schedule, could we meet on the weekend? Yes (damn).
Emotions aside, I was incredibly humbled by this experience and unable to say, "Iím going to graduate school so I donít think I can interview." Theyíd been so nice to me Ė remember all those lunches? Ė and I didnít know how not to go to the interview. So, one Sunday afternoon I trucked myself over to Brown and had an interview.
Now, hereís what I still donít understand, the interview changed everything. Iím not sure whether itís my competitive instincts or it was the clearing away of some obstacle that allowed me to hear my calling. Either way, once I started free-associating in the interview (I hadnít done any preparation, I didnít want the job) and constructing theory about the importance of connecting university study with real world work, I really wanted the job and I pushed hard to convince them that they wanted me.
A few weeks later, again, convinced that I hadnít gotten the job, I called them to thank them and to let them know I was moving out of town the next day (graduation). They offered me the job. I accepted Ė with the mutual agreement that it was a one-year, maybe two, appointment.
Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.
25 JANUARY, 11:23 AM Iíve been meaning to write about this for the last ten days, but havenít quite had the time or intellectual space to get it together. Todayís the day!
I got my faculty response to my G-3 report. Thereís nothing to bitch about (which, after all, often seems the purpose of my blog!) because itís really supportive and thoughtful. Yet, there are clues in it that Iím having some time deciphering. I could just write the writer and ask for elucidation, but whereís the fun in that? Iíd rather ruminate and try to theorize my own through the puzzle.
We start with this cryptic insight, "We noted in your reflections on your painting practice, some provocative tension between product and process, and we encourage you to pursue this edge in your learning." Iím especially, of course, taken with the words "provocative" and "edge." Yeah baby, Iím edgy! Itís funny though, I have no idea what it means. Can it be the faculty see through the essential truth of my painting practice Ė that I love the act of discovery and the physicality of painting but that I never actually finish any work? Itís true, I have hundreds of paintings that are "in process" and only about a dozen that are complete! I really donít have any inclination to show my work Ė although Iím realizing that I need to if I want to establish myself as an artist.
Itís an interesting thought. The process of making is wonderful, but the act of declamation, the finality of an installation seems so limiting. It seems that itís about containing the ideas in the cube of a gallery. Iíd much rather have my paintings integrated into daily life Ė on someoneís living room wall, leaning on the side of a wall somewhere. Thereís something really sexy about the idea of encounter Ė about the spontaneity of finding or running into an idea. Itís a little like cruising. You donít go out to find a particular person, itís the possibility of discovering someone and their view on the world that makes me go out. Iíd like to find a way to integrate my paintings into such a process of encounter. Heaven forbid that they become dead objects in a museum Ė stripped of the possibility of becoming something more.
Perhaps this is why I donít like to finish paintings? Perhaps, itís that while they are still in process there is the possibility that they can still become more than what they are. The metaphor seems potent and obvious. Iím scarred to death of become "finished" or growing stale and for that inevitable moment when my intellectual life comes to a standstill. I donít ever want to be that guy about whom people say, "he was really smart in his prime, but heís not had a new idea in years."
Itís funny how this connects to a recent correspondence Iíve had with the ex boyfriend. He mailed me on my birthday and we exchanged some news. I told him of my various states of ill-ease about the direction of my life and work, I tried to open up to him (which I could never do when we were together) about my own insecurities and ennui. He replied, "youíve reached 36, canít you be satisfied with anything" (or something close to that). Sigh. No, I canít. I donít want to be, I donít want to be satisfied, I donít want to finish my goddamn paintings!
That is pretty edgy.
The G-3 reply goes on to say, "We are confident you will use your remaining time in the program to push hard at the edges of your learning, to explore more deeply the challenges of audience, and to add your articulate voice to the larger conversation about the role of painting in this historical moment." Themís some fighting words! Iíll get to it this afternoon. Seriously, though, itís an amazing challenge and a weighty proposition to consider. Incredibly flattering, too, to consider that someone(s) might think I have the wherewithal to undertake such an investigation. Iím not sure that Iím that smart.
The idea that painting after modernism (and arguably after post-modernism) might yet be conceived is incredibly exciting. I wonder, sometimes, whether Iím too much of a modernist to take on this proposition. For all my bravado about not wanting my work to be contained in the gallery/museum, I have the same internal voice as the modernists. I want to be acclaimed, I want my work to be appreciated. More than that, though I want my work to speak to an audience.
I donít fetishize my paintings as precious objects, though. Indeed, most curators who I know would cringe if they knew the rotten care I take with them as objects. I easily throw them in the back of the truck and haul them wherever I need to. Sometimes they warp, etc and I think, "well, if I have to show this one someday I can cradle it and work out the warp." Itís always about the utility of the object to tell a story. Does this make me an illustrator? Heavens, in art school that was a dirty word (even thought my degree is a BFA in illustration). Itís just too (in the modernist vernacular, pre-rehabilitation) Norman Rockwell. Funny, though, that I want my work to be the entry point of personal imagination. The biological father isnít about me whining that I donít know my biological parents. Indeed, itís meant to be an entry point into considering the relationships between biological families and, by extension, a mediation about relationships (deep, intimate, meaningful relationships) that we can form outside the realm of biology. In truth, itís an attack on the notion of families and the damage that tribal units render on this world. Families are not unqualified. Weíre to believe that securing the family unit is the savor off our declining society. Indeed, I think the unraveling of families is an instinctual move. I think we are looking for meaningful relationships and trying to unshackle ourselves from the bounds of the biological family. Perhaps when that kind of choice is available, biological families will have to consider their intentionality. They will have to understand that biology isnít entitlement. Image discourse on race, gender and sexual orientation that starts from that frame. The inevitablity of ethnic and nationalist conflict would be challenged too -- as would our self-satisfaction with culture. After all, what does it mean to be a 3d generation Irish-American when youíve grown up in a CT suburb and never been to the island? Does claiming that identity mean anything other than appropriation?
So, the biological father is about considering our relationship to biological identity and the discourse that is created by biological determinism. There, Iíve said it.
Having said it, it seems more like a book than a set of paintings. Itís not research, itís opinion. Itís this idea/question, and itís subjectivity, that really fascinates me. I think the power of painting to provoke, to change things comes from this subjectivity. It defies the nature of "research and engages individuals in the process off constructing meaning. It may have language and discourse of its own, but it might also be able to defy those boundaries better than other languages. It might yet defy the idea of expertise and inspire people to step out of their fear of being inadequate, not smart enough, powerless. It might inspire people to engage with the world.
This, of course raises the shibboleth of audience, which is a demon that I try to avoid whenever I can. This rant probably reveals a lot of my fascination with the internet -- especially as a painter. Audience is only slightly in my control (although this is a dodge) and the iterative quality of tthe medium allows me to duck and weave around the issue of completion. On the web, everything's in-process! God, I love playing here!
So this is my first shot at theorizing about the role of painting in this historical moment. Let me know what yíall think. The theory wonít come together without some provocative poking from the world.
23 JANUARY, 5:36 PM I teach a class called the Self and Society (the syllabus is under the "risd" link). Today I was outlining a thread of American thought and talking a lot about the American Transcendentalists. I made a reference to Margaret Fuller, but couldnít remember her name. I was overtaken with a wave of sadness. How could I forget the name of one of the most potent women in 19th century America?
I was also overcome with a memory.
Three winters ago, Bill and I spent the new year in a cottage on the Atlantic coast of Long Island. Some friends came out from the City on New Years Eve to celebrate and we all got a little drunk -- some more than others. At midnight we went to the beach to look over the Atlantic.
This particular beach holds a lot of meaning for me. The summer before we spent the summer here and it was the summer that a jet exploded a few miles off the coast. For weeks we were warned away from the beach and told that all manner of "remains" might wash ashore. Coupled with the tragedy of the event was the horror of encounter with the flotsom.
That night those fears and their accompanying sadness focused my drunken haze. They also reminded me of the journey that Henry David Thoreau (dispatched by Ralph Waldo Emerson) took to this landscape to search for Margaret Fullerís manuscript, washed ashore here when the ship she, her lover and their son ran aground and sunk just a few hundred yards from shore. A companion had no similar memories to focus her drunken haze and she staggered, fell and asked for my help walking back to the house.
As a held her I realized that her capacity was lower than I assumed and she asked that I talk to her to keep her awake as we made our way toward the dunes. I started to tell her the story of Margaret Fullers last days.
Fuller was one of the Transcendentalist circle, a distinction for many reasons, but more so, in her case, because of her gender. In 19th century intellectual life women were not embraced by the academy nor did they have options in the public sphere. For all their progressive ideas, even the Transcendentalists accepted her with trepidation. Emerson embraced her for her intellect and encouraged her. Horace Greeley, too, in his expansive vision of human rights, embraced Fuller and gave her a position with the Herald Tribune. She became the first woman to be an international correspondent for an American newspaper.
In Italy she became involved with revolutionaries, took one as a lover and had a child out of wedlock (which seems a strange word to type in 2002). She also wrote a book which brought together, she intimated in correspondence with Emerson, her system of thought. Encouraged to return to the states (coupled with the danger her lover faced) she and her young family embarked for New York.
Itís unclear why their ship ran aground, although likely that the captain was trying to out run the tide, make better time and cut too close to the shore of Long Island. Many swam ashore. He lover could not swim and certainly her two-year old son could not either. Weíll never know those last minutes, within view of the shore, Fuller shared with her family or her purposes in not making for shore herself. We can only conjecture that solidarity with belief and value kept her by her familyís side. They all perished as the dawn emerged.
For days, the people of the south fork, long accustomed to scavenging the remains of ships run aground, collected the various effects of passengers and cargo. Thoreau arrived too late. The manuscript was never found. If it came ashore, it probably became kindling for a fire that warmed some intrepid farmer or fishermanís family. The loss of the manuscript doubled the tragedy of Fullerís demise. We lost not only her presence, but also her voice.
19 JANUARY, 10:57 PM So, what happened to Fletcher Christian?
I watched "The Bounty" tonight and was captivated by the mystery of freedom and the tension between the human spirit and systems of thought. How is it that we willingly bind ourselves to ideas, cultures that have nothing but our enslavement in mind? From where do we find the power to break the tethers? And, as with the mystery of Fletcher Christian, are we able to truly free ourselves? Do we secretly return to the site of our enslavement? Or, do we die faceless in the effort to be free?
Sigh. Troubling thoughts imbed this snowy night.
At least Saturday Night Live is on soon.
9:45 PM Itís snowing and even if I wanted to go out there would be little purpose. Itís a night best suited to hunkering down and embracing the warmth of home.
19 JANUARY, 1:47 PM I finally gave in and started to pay Tripod the $5 / mo. to remove the pop up ads. I did it for you.
19JANUARY, 10:48 AM On Thursday evening I went to a "conversation with" Ann Hamilton. She rocks.
Going to the talk reminds me that I live within a rich landscape of intellectual discussion Ė which I should make a greater effort to engage. I really had to drag myself out to see Hamilton because after a day (what a week) of work I was exhausted. Seeing her, though, revived me. I suppose thereís a lesson in this.
While listening to Hamilton, I generated a lot of note. Some are her ideas, some are those of her interlocutor and some are my own musings. No footnotes and no claiming of ideas are intended in this blog. Theyíre reminders of what Iíve taken away from the talk.
When she was asked about her various travels and short stays in different parts of the world, Hamilton placed the question in the context off a no-linear reading of text. That is, she attributed the value of such diverse travel as related to "inspiration coming from unexpected places. "You work from what you know to what you donít know;" and "you often only know what youíre deciding not to do." Finally, she made the point that "if you wait, it will appear." (I think she implied a need to be engaged in your practice while youíre waiting.) "Oneís thinking all the time and all the fragments of thought form the landscape of your experience Ė itís out of this that work emerges."
The common themes that have emerged in her work over the past decade are voice, text and material. Language and landscape define her work. Especially important are figures in the landscape. Embodiment is the way we project our presence in the world Ė the mouth allows us to say and the hand refers to making Ė these two parts of the body are preoccupations in her work. ["Thee mouth is not a thing, it is an empty space."] "Words are all we have and they are not enough." In terms of process, she undertakes and "immersion in reading to create an imaginative landscape in which I work." This imaginative landscape then connects to materials. "How words come to mean matter and make matter."
When asked about craft, she subverted the question to say that for her it means " looking for labor and work." It presupposes the question "what does Ďmakingí mean in 2002." "The literal act of making can be the Ďcraftí of it." "Work is mourning the lack of labor" in our contemporary lives. "Is the longing for making about nostalgia or is it related to touch and embodiment?" Making is a way of extending yourself and making the world part of your body.
An early preoccupation: "Is one of the roles of the artists to animate? What does it mean to animate?"
Another preoccupation: "I could be the subject and object of the work.""
"Itís in the gaps that you find what you need."
"The act off reading leaves no material trace Ė how can reading become the Ďmaterialí of the work?"
With a poet: "We are reading together as a way of Ďwritingí Ė investigating a new form."
Hamilton doesnít work in a studio, per se. ""What is the studio for me? What is Ďdrawingí to me Ė without a relationship to the pencil?" "Going to the flea market and book store is my studio."
"Tables insinuate a social, reciprocal relationship. Tables are the site of labor and association." "A table and chair equal figures in the landscape.
"Moving [in my preoccupations] toward the aural and air brings sparseness to the work.." What is left is the sound. "What is the place of voice in work?" How do we make words tangible? How can words be known through touch? Sound, music, voice canít be contained [as visual media can be]. "Our borders to sound are limited."
"Collaboration is hard because you spend a lot of time trying to understand the meaning of a word that you use in a very different way." [But through collaboration] the conversation allows the work to become new [again] to the artist."
16 JANUARY, 7:38 AM The weather is gray and so is my mood. Itís amazing to me how rapidly I can swing from enthusiasm to malaise.
My RISD class is a bright spot on the landscape, though. It reminds me, perhaps because weíre reading Foucault and Kenneth Gergenís The Saturated Self, that the modern world is overly eager to tie us down with extraordinary amounts off data and demands. If weíre constantly engaged in doing someone elseís work then we never get to our own. Iím struggling right now to figure out how to turn the tide and get more control over the ways that I spend my time. It all seems to be slipping through my fingersÖ. Ah, systems of thought, it doesnít make it easier knowing about them.
The greatest challenge in my class at the moment is how to get my students to move from sophistry to philosophy. I need to make the shift next week. Otherwise weíll spend the term spinning our wheels. Theyíre engaged learners, though, which is refreshing. We just have to get focused. Perhaps, I need to make the distinction for them and offer some possibilities for epistemological thought.
There are some distinct themes that have emerged this week:
How do we locate ourselves as artists within existent systems of thought, but, more importantly, how do artistic movements relate to systems of thought? Is it possible for us to engage these systems to re-invent our locations? I believe that authenticity off voice is based on knowledge of influence Ė that is, how we are able to speak through or resist traditions.
The class reminds me that a preoccupation in my work is the body. I believe that the body scripts systems off thought and the discourses in which we live. I suppose thatís what the daily photo is about Ė acting in and playing with the discourse in which I live my life. I should remind myself that I can play with this in a more direct, rougher way.
Another question regards the ways that we, as artists, both read and write meaning. We enter conversations about meaning all the time and either add to a particular discourse or we push against its assumptions. Like above, I still wonder whether we hold the possibility of defining the discourse or are simply the illustrators of it?
The process of becoming an artist is in part based on coming to understand our location in the world and then speaking from that point of view. The declamation of point of view leads to authenticity and its difference from that in which we are located (that is the new that is created out of our juxtaposition with that which has come from elsewhere) leads to distinctiveness (and perhaps even genius).
The idea of nature Ė its dualistic construction Ė is useful in protecting us from the elements (and being eaten by bears) but is destructive in its erosion of a holistic understanding of self.
Genius occurs when one steps outside the expected, conventional and delights with a new approach / idea or way of seeing the everyday.
Iím not sure why Iím concerned with genius but it is a preoccupation.
From whence comes passion? Why do we feel it for a particular idea and not another? Person?
How do we drive ourselves toward the clues that we need to complete our work? Is it our subconscious pushing our consciousness toward understanding? (Is this idea too contained in psychoanalytic discourse?) Iím really awed in the way answers / teachers emerge just as one is ready to learn.
At least I can walk to work this morning. Maybe exercise will bring new energy.
15 JANUARY, 8:56 AM I'm back and the world is kickin' me in the ass. You take three weeks away from the office and the least you might expect is that the world might take care of itself while you're away. Geez.
So, once again, time is my enemy. I vow to sort it out today and get back on track. More tonight. The good stuff. I promise. I've been taking notes....
12 JANUARY, 3:39 PM We got back from Goddard last night and passed the evening de-briefing, eating good food, and drinking wine -- a very pleasant evening.
Today I am taking it easy, preparing to actually unpack all the information gathered during the past week. On top of that, Iím easing back into being in Providence. Indeed, tonight is a birthday party (for me Ė tomorrow Ė no gifts) and Iím looking forward to seeing folks. How can you complain when people are gathering to offer toasts to your existence?
Itís funny to be back on the web. Although I was making posts and stuff when I was away, I wasnít surfing my usual haunts. Itís funny to see that cyber space moves slowly Ė just like real space. Still, itís reassuring to be back.
More after decompressionÖ.
NOTES ON GODDARD
11 JANUARY, 7:44 AM I crapped out of performance night at about 9 PM last night. Things were fine, but I was not. I think I really needed that 10 hours of sleep. If nthing else, this lingering illness is taching me that I need to find some better balance in attending to my health.
I have to say that I am sad to be leaving Goddard, bitching aside, and not so psyched about returning to the world of Brown, et cetera. The sheer volume of idiotic email waiting in my mail box is staggering. Email has made all of us think we can assuage our responsibility for a mayyer by passing on he information. I don't mean to write that line too broadly -- god knows i pass on my fair share of drivel -- but I do have some questions about access and speed. When people write several times about the same thing because yous haven't responded to their request (when it's not really yur concenr anyway) and you're on holiday from your job, it bugs the shit out of me.
Anyway, I like being a student.
10 JANUARY, 7:49 PM It's the last night of residency and we're about to go to performance night. It's always a fun evening, but I have to admit to fatigue. I'm not sure whether it's lingering illness or malaise of another sort. There's something about gathering for the predictable unpredictablity that's dispiriting. Does that make sense? I suppose it's like saying I'm intimidated by the language. The performers always freak me out a bit because my lack of familiarity makes me feel stupid. It's a good object lesson for me -- I need to learn to modulate my language and to release my work (the stuff I'm good at) in measured doses, too. If nothing else, this residency has taught me how scary I can be to folks who aren't used to my yammering!
It's been a good residency and I could use a few more days -- of the good stuff. I am tired of this place, which in the summer is magical. In the winter, though, one notices the decay and lack of attention to human needs. It's tragic, actually, the ways that this institution is unwilling to look to basic infrastructure. The irony, of course, is that it can't meet it's loftier goals until it does. Indeed, the most shocking thing I've had to consider this residency is the possibility that one of the most interesting and challenging new students might not come back to Goddard because he's so offended by the accomodations. It makes me wonder why, indeed, I've been willing to overlook the problem. I'm not sure whether it's because I'm a trooper, willing to overlook in service to learning, or a coward for not standing up for what's right.
Ain't life grand?
9 JANUARY, 4:02 PM I got sick driving back to Goddard. I donít know what it is Ė kind of like the flu, kind of like what I had over Xmas. I suspect that my body never entirely fended off the last attack and given the physical and emotional stress of the past few days Ė not to mention to extraordinarily bad accommodations and food at Goddard Ė that my body was overwhelmed by the infection. I am feeling better now Ė after 16 hours sleep last night and a somewhat low-key day today. Iíll get dinner and then make my way to bed. Only two days left to the residency and Iíd prefer to feel well during them.
I presented the site in peer group today. I think I may have dumped too much on the group. I seem to forget that Iím always working on a lot simultaneously Ė and that explaining its interconnectedness isnít easily done in 10 minutes.. It will be interesting to see whether I get correspondents from GoddardÖ
7 JANUARY, 7:23 AM I suppose everyone feels lonely. Last night, after a graduation party for Faye, I walked friends back to their dorms. As I walked back toward my dorm, in the snow, I was overcome by an existential loneliness. It didnít last long, but it did force me to ask why I keep myself apart from people. Why is it so hard to connect?
Iím supposed to be in Providence right now, preparing for my first class of Winter Session. With the impending snowstorm I was persuaded to hold my ground in VT and to drive down tonight. I can teach the class tomorrow morning and save a friend the trouble of subbing for me. Still, I feel somewhat bad for letting my students down. In the end, I think itís for the best. Tomorrow is a much better day for me to miss at Goddard than this morning and afternoon.
Yesterdayís events again proved to be potent sources of inspiration. In the morning graduation presentations I started to think about the nature of families and the entitlement that so many folks have to the genetic / cultural / biological histories. I realized that the entitlement, the casual claims of owner ship for particular cultural or ethnic legacy angers me, on the one hand, and, on the other, saddens me as a tremendously narrow dead end. It reminds me that to claim identity from such a prescribed and parochial sense off location negates the rich possibility of self-invention. More than that, it brings culture to a deadening crawl. Culture has to be created and re-created constantly to become vibrant. It also dis-empowers folks. It forces them to establish a sense of self out of extremely narrow categories. This seems unnecessarily limiting. All that humans have wrought and thought, it seems to me, is available to learn from. We canít appropriate or colonize that which isnít ours, but we can integrate the wisdom and ideas of others into our own creative process. Donít forget to footnote.
Iíve also been thinking about this idea of empowerment, well, about power in general. I articulated this to Lara last night. For me to listen, at Goddard, because of my location as a privileged white guy is a radical act. For women to listen at Goddard re-inscribes a history of oppression. Yet, when I listen I am also cast as a mysterious person, one who is holding back. There has got to be middle ground. The development of authentic voice is a seminal question for our era.
Another pre-occupation is the realization that I am suspicious of events. I am coming to see that I want my practice as an artist Ė indeed, all of my life practices Ė to be integrated. I donít want what I do, regardless of its power, to be seen as extraordinary. I think the labeling of the extraordinary is compartmentalizing to me and dis-empowering to other. After all, if my sorry ass can do something, chances are anyone can. Indeed, this might be the formulation of my theory of genius Ė with apologies to R. Waldo Emerson.
Finally, I want to remind myself of this clue: can I envision the place in which I was conceived?
7 JANUARY, 12:46 PM I voiced this thought in advising group this morning during a conversation about authenticity of artistsí voice. The biological father might not just be about searching for my father. It might also be about figuring out the genetically related world. Itís an investigation of, a placing myself in the experience of the biological family. I need to find the time to start writing about this.
Iím off to peer groups and then I hit the road for my whirlwind Providence tour. No rest for the weary, but some good reflective time in the car.
5 JANUARY, 9:11 PM We just finished the first advising group meeting and I am gratified to learn of the amazing points of view of my fellow students. If we can find a basis of trust, I think we can have a great group.
Inn my introduction to the group, I spoke of the biological father project and my efforts to explore the genetic connections that I have never experienced Ė the reflected glance, the familiar gesture. Itís funny, a couple of folks read the introduction and reflected it back as if I were exploring paternity in a negative light. Certainly, part of their effort was to make a connection between their preoccupations and mine, but it struck me as odd given the fact that the biological father is, in fact, and idealization of the father/son relationship. It looks at the possibility of what a positive relationship might be. Iíve actually struggled with this. I have the sense that the piece is too ideal Ė that it does not deal realistically with the tensions between sons and fathers. Iíd even consider such concerns to be a block from time to time.
I donít think that I can use my relationship with my adopted father as a point of reference. Itís a real relationship Ė full of ups and downs Ė but it is also a relationship that is devoid of the kinds of reflections Iím seeking. I can always rack differences and conflicts to a lack of biology, an inherent difference of biology. Iíve always wondered whether I could do that if I was looking into some glimpse of my own eyes or reacting to a familiar cock of the eye? Such, I suppose, is the interesting mystery I am trying to unravel. Such is the knowledge that I hope these paintings might reveal.
Another point to this is the fact that these paintings are about self-fatherhood. I know, I know, that sounds incredibly New Age-y. Yet, when I realized Iím the father I also realized that Iím speaking through the paintings to earlier iterations off myself. In some ways I am traveling back in time and reconstructing whom I wanted to be as a boy and young man rather than constructing a father. The paternal voice, if you will, in the paintings is my voice. The glance, gestures and love that the father expresses are the emotions that I suspect I would project toward a son were I ever to procreate. Iím allowing myself to be the developing person that my adopted parents prevented me from being.
This seems an important breakthrough.
5 JANUARY, 1:16 PM Janet reminds me, via email, that residency is "enviable," that it pushes and I am grateful. Thatís a great way to start the day and, it has been a good day thus far. Iím happy to have a couple of free hours between portfolio presentations to transcribe my notes and to process the flood of ideas that are sloshing around in my head. Retreats are privileging and you are right, Janet, that my location at the moment is enviable. I am so fucking lucky to have groups of colleagues who are interested in pushing forward, interested in changing the world.
In one of the presentations this morning, Margaret made an interesting point: "we change when we feel things in our body." It makes me consider the ways in which I feel the things that I make. I hadnít thought too much about the phenomenological dimensions of my painting practice, but this statement as well s some insights from Pam have me thinking about the physical, felt, embodied nature of my studio practice. I do have a felt, sensual relationship to paint and am never happier than when I am making a painting. Oddly, itís come to be a surrogate for sex in some ways Ė allowing me the experience of touch, fluid and sensuality. Thatís probably fucked up, but just wait until you read some of the other stuff I have to report. Regardless of whether this is a twisted analogy, there is a kernel of truth or fertile ground, at least, in the observation. Surrogate may be the wrong word Ė perhaps analog is a better thought.
I should return to the beginning of the morning and deal with some off these notes chronologically. John presented first and he was catalyst for all manner of ideas. I was especially moved y his presentation style and the way that he transcended his physical image and song making to use story as a transmitter of meaning. I started thinking about the various media I use to construct and convey meaning. Certainly this is the primary tool of the paintings Ė to develop ideas, tell stories, invite folks into the construction of meaning with me. This makes me wonder what the relationships are between representation and the construction of meaning. Representation seems so static to me while constructing meaning has the potential of a partner in crime. Itís almost as if representation is singular and construction of meaning implies plural. Of course, we construct meaning alone all the time Ė theorizing, etc Ė but thereís that I know from the oral history work that a transcendental moment can happen when two people collaborate on the construction of meaning.
It may be that Iím comparing apples and oranges in this question and Iím OK admitting that. I am intrigued thought that these two ideas are a preoccupation within my work. I think I am bridling against the idea that representation is simply a tool in a process of constructing meaning. I believe too fiercely that both can be dialogical.
John made a point about the expectation people impose on a graduating student Ė the so-call "what are you going to do now?" question. It made me think that I need to start to develop the structures in which I will make art after Goddard while still at Goddard. The audience now is the program Ė and I am afraid that without that motivation I might not easily make art for my own development. Itís just a note to ponder, not a clear thought.
John made an interesting set of points about the portfolio. First, the organization of the portfolio is something of a negotiation with oneís advisor. Second that "I soon expect not to be the person reflected in this portfolio." Both statements speak to the nature o the site and the ways that I need to exploit the site in the portfolio process. The first line of my portfolio might be, for example, "This is not my portfolio." This line followed by the 3d semester study plan (introduction writing). Follow that text with the statement, "My portfolio is a non-linear, hypertext document. For the ideas to be unpacked, the site requires engagement." This recognition plays to the ephemeral nature of my practice Ė its iterative-ness.
This might get to what Pam was implying at breakfast. She was trying to describe my work in terms of the ephemeral. This is in relationship to the history off painting as object and the modernist use of painting within a commercial system. How does one speak to that tradition, pull it apart and reconstruct painting in new ways. Painting doesnít have to be about the rarified object. It can be approached, engaged and integrated into the everyday. This is the conversation with Jason, et al.
Margaret developed some work she called "musings." They juxtapose poetic images with stark statements. Itís an interesting idea with which to play. Itís related to her practice of walking and taking photographs. I think this would be a good meditative practice for me and might help me develop the "Providence" part of the site. A daily photo off the city?
The final question that rises for me at this moment is "did I come to Goddard to learn to play?"
oh yeah, I'll add this at the end so that only the most attentive of readers will get this oddly revealing and perhaps odd observation. With houseguests, roommates and the various late nights, i haven't had sex or jerked off in over a week. It didn't occur to me until I realized that I was having "guy" feelings. This is strange, but I'm developing a new theory of queer sexuality. I think queer guys understand their fem sidde more because the guy hormones don't have time to accumulate. It's only a theory -- my theory of potency -- and I'll keep up my observations.
4 JANUARY, 9:51 PM I went to a lecture on the questions raised by 9-11 and 7 October. By and large it was a predictable talk followed by the usual polemical Q&A. The one interesting point came in a discussion spurred by the question of appropriate response by a peace and justice movement. The frameworks of the anti-Vietnam movement (which were copped from the civil rights movement) are the dominant response and yet everyone Iíve spoken with finds them to be hollow. I wonder why we havenít developed context appropriate responses to the war --- ways the are particular to our time for entering into the difficult work of making sense of the events around us.
One way to look at this is to blame the mass media for brainwashing us into believing that this is a just intervention. I think thatís way too easy, though. It doesnít explain why the activists havenít been imaginative, after all the activists are often those who formulate the critique of the mass media. Indeed, I think itís a deeper problem of imagination, on the one hand, and, on the other, a symptom of a democratic malaise within the peace and justice movements.
To the first point, I donít think weíve allowed ourselves the space or the opportunity to do imaginative work around appropriate response. Weíve fallen back on the tired tactics because they are known to us and they provide a nostalgic framework in which we can situate our selves. They appeal to the romantic notion that we can (re)connect with the revolution of the sixties. It also brings out the old lefties who take their moment in the sun and refuse to cede power to people who might view the matters differently. The real politic of the peace movement includes power politics too.
The talk did allow me some time for day dreaming and I started to think about the work that I have to do to bring together my study plan for the semester. I develoepd a list of projects and directions that Iíll be pursuing (or hope to pursue). I also develoepd some thoughts abuot who I might like to work with in conversation this winter and spring.
o At dinner I had a thought when I was talking with Jason. We were talking about where and with whom one might have a conversation about painting. I invited him to have the conversation with me on the site. He seemed open and excited about it. I gave him the web address and hopefully heíll still be interested after he reads/views the site.
o Related to a possible conversation with Jason is the development of the correspondence project at NUA. I need to formulate this a bit more and figure out what an invitation might look like. I also need to think about whom I might approach. I received an email from JH tonight and had the wild thought that he might be enticed to play.
o I need to develop the biological father project into the installation that I am beginning to envision. I know that the form of it will come through the process, but until I engage that work, I do need at least a schema through which I can proceed. I know that there is a written dimension and perhaps a performance. It will also probably be an installation. On a positive note, when Janice looks at the snaps of the paintings she proclaimed me a genius Ė now thatís something to try to live up to!
o I have the idea that writing on progressive education and my experience with Goddard might be a framing tool for the thesis. I need to start this writing to figure out if this notion holds water.
o I have the Royce presentation coming up Ė which will allow me the opportunity to develop a full, public presentation of the biological father as a work in progress. It should provide a nice counter point to the talk at Maine.
o Finally, my RISD class will be a rich venue for reflection on teaching and the practicum within it will allow me some opportunity to think differently about portraits and self portraits.
I also need to develop the intellectual framework to tie the disperate parts of my practice togetehr. I have the theoretical background to frame this, but the more interesting possibility is to actually do some threorizing on my own. Clearly, the woork is affected by theories of representation, identity, gender, and sexual orientation. Another way to approach it is via an investigation of process Ė the ideas that I was toying with earlier. Is this site, is the process in which Iím engaged simply about allowing me a venue for establishing a greater sense of self? Again in this realm of process, although it is so very post-modern, Iím interested in the notion of a radical disorientation and the process through which we re-frame knowledge and integrate newly constructed meaning into our identities.
Itís a lot and does not yet incorporate all that Iíve been ruminatingÖ.
4 JANUARY, 5:23 PM Not as productive or as interesting a day today, as the residency kicks off. Indeed, the day is colored by the 50 minutes that I spent waiting in the registration line. Of course, this is compounded by the fact that registration consists of picking up a piece of paper and waiting in line to give it to someone else. Oh yeah, and then you get a sticker to validate your ID. Sigh. Even Goddard has big school inefficiency.
Iíve been showing my work to folks today and am heartened that folks find the biological father paintings to be compelling. There is always that linger doubt that what one produces in the studio is shit. I do think that Iím onto something, but still concerned that Iím fooling myself
This morning I did some reading and a passage does seem to relate to this sense of ill ease. Itís in David Bayles and Ted Orlandís ART/FEAR: OBSERVATIONS ON THE PERILS (AND REWARDS) OF ART MAKING. "In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive." Iím also intrigued with this vis-ŗ-vis its implications for the site. Iím starting to see that the site is a place where my process is about learning to accept myself. Itís almost completely about process writing and playing with ideas. Sometimes I think that this intimidates folks who read the site Ė at least a few have said that to me. But thatís a misreading of my voice Ė which can be oh so authoritative. Actually, the writing is about playing with ideas, asking questions of myself. Indeed, itís about learning to accept who I am and find that voice, those ideas that are distinct to me. The odd thing is that a journal it is bounded by the need to protect the privacy and integrity of others with whom I interact.
I suppose this boundary is a good one in that without it this might end up like my other journals Ė filled with the minutiae of the everyday, the little sleights that cumulatively seem to define relationships. Since I canít gossip or vent hear I focus the ideas more on myself and what I am trying to learn. This has to be a good bracket for my learning!
I realized today, in explaining my work, that an organizing principle for the thesis needs to be my interest in the practice of alternative models of higher education. I keep remembering that I came to Goddard not so much or this program as for the experience of walking my talk. After years of commitment to alternative, progressive models of education I had to do graduate work in a progressive institution. The good thing is that I found a great program in an interesting institution. Still, I have a critique and an interrogation of Goddard and the ways that it misses its promise! Thatís got to help me think about my own practice as an artist Ė not to mention help me integrate my oppositional way of thinking into my practice.
4 JANUARY, 10:38 AM Last night was the opening party for the MFA-IA program and it was good to see the community start to assemble. Itís heartening to feel some connection to this place and these people. I think I resisted that for a while -- perhaps I still do. I am not great at joining, at being a part of groups. Thereís something that always seems ideological about that Ė like youíre ceding your will to the lowest common denominator of a group. The irony, of course, is that I have no problem leading groups Ė as long as I have significant power to define the common denominator. What can I say? I like to ratchet the bar. Whatís the good of living if you canít push your limits to places you never conceived you might go?
3 JANUARY, 4:14 PM I spent the afternoon in Montpellier, browsing bookstores and eating lunch. II bought a few books Ė funny, isnít it how a day off allows you to see books that youíve passed many times and how a different bookstore will give you access to a different lens on new books. I started reading peter de Bollaís Art Matters and am taken by many of his ideas. He got me thinking about the site and its pretensions for discussion.
Iíd hoped in making this site that it could be a locus for engagement. Specifically, Iíd hoped to engage people who werenít necessarily in the daily business of constructing meaning or looking at art. This of course required that I develop a number of kinds of bait. The bait attracts people to the site, but, alas, the discussions between me an others remain hidden Ė counter acting my hope for transparency in this little project. I shouldnít be so hard on it, though; the site has taught me a lot about my own transparency. I wonder whether I might revisit this idea of the site being a point of engagement? In the spirit of de Bolla, Iím interested in getting below the moment of "ah" the mute silence that defines the aesthetic experience of being moved by art. Perhaps I should be more modest in my intentions? Perhaps, no one has been brought to silence by my site. Indeed, the silence may be a kind of polite embarrassment at the content and presumption of the project?
I might have to think of conversation as a more internal process. There is a conversation on the site. Itís a conversation between my various voices, my various ways of seeing and knowing the world. I do believe that I am (and others are) a community of individuals Ė that we can speak to ourselves. The multiplicity of voices allows us to expand our knowing through an internal discourse. Not unlike having a conversation with others, if we concentrate on listening to the different voices we begin to see the world through different internal perspectives. I think, too often, we simply donít stop to listen to the internal, to take note of the importance of our own perceptions. We are too intent on the thought that others have to be right or that other people have deeper, better perceptions than we do.
I have a theory about his. I think that women and other oppressed groups have been told this for centuries and that as we develop a more inclusive politic we have reduced the voice, the internal sense of self-worth of all people rather than propelling all people to a greater sense of self worth. Itís shame that weíve taken such great aim at white male entitlement, not that it doesnít deserve some serious knocks. I think that by toppling it we have simple allowed it to go into hiding. That power base hasnít been diminished. Instead weíve simple, again, limited access to it.
Wow, thatís a diatribe.
De Bolla has an interesting idea about the aesthetic experience. He theorizes that if one asks the "a painting knows" that one can get between the affective and cognitive description of the work. It allows us to develop a distinct and, therefore, not minimized experience of the aesthetic. Iím fascinated by this idea and think that itíll be of great use in the studio. As I start to look at my own work Ė the biological father, in particular Ė I start to see the values of the question. These paintings "know" something. The surface is a bit pretty at times, but the relationships, the expressions are knowing. Itís an interesting question for me to consider while I craft my next study plan.
Speaking of which, I just read the last study plan Ė which was to be the study plan to end all study plans. I had some trepidation about returning to it because of that arrogance. Apprehension aside, it holds up. Indeed, as I think about my working group presentation I no longer think that I have to write a new piece on the biological father Ė which I want to write regardless. I think that I can read excerpts from the study plan, present the cowboys, the biological father repros and "card" I made that refers folks to the site. If I pose a couple of questions to go along with it, itís sure to kill 30 minutes and inspire some on-going conversation.
It does still leave the question off how I approach the formal "study plan" for the semester. I suppose that I can simply write and addendum and attach it to the "guts" of the existent document. The more difficult issue being what to include in the addendum.
I should probably take some time over the next couple of days to reflect on the site and what I have learned from doing it. Certainly I have learned something of the limits and edges of my willingness to reveal. Iíve learned something of audience Ė at least audience of a particular kind. Iíve also learned something of the process of constructing a living document and the conceptual bases of such "art production." I can honestly stay on this path and not get bored or lack ground to till. Yet, I also know that there are new territories that I want to simultaneously explore. Iíd like to figure out how I can pull the biological father into a cohesive show. Iíd like to understand how one brings cohesion and closure to a body of work.
There are other bodies of work that Iíd like to begin, too. Iíd like to get back to the more explicitly erotic work Ė explore the ways that the erotic and aesthetic intersect. Iíd also like to move toward some other autobiographical work. Iím also really interested in this idea of "correspondence" and how it might both be web based and a body of work in real time.
Perhaps, all this energy, all these ideas are an obstacle, though. I feel like I am entering into a potent and fertile period of creation without the time or resources to see the ideas through. Iíve always had to struggle with the speed at which my mind works Ė bringing it into synch with the rest of my world. This, though, seems ridiculous! I am toying with the idea that my life is about work. This may seem strange, but I have a hunch that I am held up by a notion of conclusion, closure, a finish line. Need, much of my frustration comes from the fact that I often canít see the space where I can take a breather. Perhaps, that idea of a breather is an artificial construction? Maybe I simply need to get in groove with the idea that my mind will continue to develop ideas and that theyíll get done as my conscious and subconscious minds bring them up in the queue? This would be a liberating shift in perception.
Well, I think itís time for me to face the hordes of people who I can hear assembling in the lobby. Itís check in time and although I already have a room, I donít have a working key nor do I trust that this is really my room. Ah, Goddard I wish I could say I loved you for your charming disorganization, but I donít.
So, that went really easily and I have to take back my earlier statement. A RA named Jim has done a great job working out the little problem. Iím checked in, unpacked and now waiting for dinner and the "welcome back" party this evening. Ah, ritual, it really does help one get back into the swing of things! I should feel blessed that I havenít had to endure a day of meetings like the faculty. I actually feel very good about the day and ready to face the residency.
Free-associating a bit about the work, though, Iím wondering what shape and form the conclusion of the biological father might take. There is the voyeuristic route in which I actually initiate the search and document the process of finding or not finding the real father. The other thought is to go back to my original premise and write the intertwining fictional and real autobiographies. The difficulty with that is that I donít have a strong back ground in fiction and the idea that I could actually come up with a compelling narrative is suspect.
(God, I wish I had access to my library. While writing this I have had the impulse at least 6 times to grab a book and look to it for some inspiration. Too bad I can be assured that Goddardís library wonít have what I am looking for and I donít think Iíll easily find Anne Carson in the local bookshops.)
I could write the straight autobiography and intersperse it with "fantasies" about the biological father. That would allow me to use the earlier "When I was eight I was sure my father was SupermanÖ" work. It would ground the new paintings into a schema and allow me to use narrative to deal with the "memory." I could even begin constructing the autobiographical stuff this week.
(I keep making that allusion, donít I? The idea that this week is going to somehow be actually productive? Am I deluding myself with the delight of today Ė a day in which I have actually been able to blissfully, contentedly work? Goddard doesnít allow for work or product. Itís all about process. Somehow, I want to belay that premise and make this a week about productivity.
Iíve just been perusing the workshop list within the residency schedule. It looks to be an interesting and impressive set of offerings. In one of Pamís workshops she puts forth the idea of moving from the personal to the political Ė and poses the question as to whether this is enough; whether such is too small in relation to the power of politics in the world. Itís as if sheís speaking to me. I suppose this is another frame through which I can view the work that Iím doing. It would allow me to think differently, strategically about how I want to aim my message. Thatís an interesting way to think about my work Ė in such overtly political terms. Indeed, I have thought about the biological father paintings as a political work, but I always fall back to the beauty of the image as my driving inclination. The site operates politically, of course, but I donít think Iíve necessarily exploited that dimension of it enough. This is fertile ground for me to consider.
This really does get me back to Pamís agitation about audience. I havenít thought much about my audience for wither the studio or Internet work. I havenít been strategic in developing audience. In self-defense, though, I am still in the building stages of the projects. I havenít completely conceptualized the work and it may take much more time before itís ready of exhibition. Pamís insistence that I show my work is a good one Ė forcing me to consider how my work is viewed. I know I need to do this, but I am not sure whether I have the "product" yet to do it convincingly.
3 JANUARY, 10:38 AM I drove to Goddard yesterday, arriving a day early as I agreed to drive my friend and advisor to campus for a pre-residency faculty conference. Itís nice to be here early, eerily quiet and a little freakish to spend the night alone in the dorm. At best, I got fitful sleep.
Iíve spent the morning getting my syllabus in shape for class next week and now, with more than half the day before me have a choice. I can work on the site, do some work of my own or go out and explore the Vermont countryside. Since I spent the evening in the sleepy city of Montpellier last night, I know thereís not much to explore other than a few bookshops. Iím probably better off getting a leg up on my study plan, doing some reading, et cetera before the masses arrive! Maybe, Iíll just reward myself with a nice lunch somewhere.
Iím feeling excited about the residency and about spending some time thinking about and re-framing my work. That might not be quiet right. I donít think I need to reframe, but I will benefit from the reflection that residency requires and by declaiming what the work is about. I am struggling a bit about the way that I should present. Am I now a digital, Internet performance artist Ė all conceptual and shit Ė or am I a painter who uses the web for reflective practice? Is the web based work really art? Or is it applied philosophy? Indeed, is that the notion of inter-disciplinarity that I should be demonstrating in this program? I know the answer, but Iím not sure whether I want to claim labels, et cetera. The impulse will be to contain, to define my work and I am most excited because the work is just starting to open up.
Itís my fourth residency and when I think back on the previous three Iím reminded that I spent a good deal of my time being pissed off. I donít feel that so much anymore Ė probably a result of the relationships Iíve formed and the acceptance that the "program" isnít going to kick my ass. The program will only allow me to kick my own ass. Thatís a shame, but a powerful lesson for being a practitioner outside of an institution Ė which, with the clock ticking, will be my fate in a short year.
The truth is that I had hoped Goddard would push me to work harder than Iíd ever worked before. I had hoped that Iíd be challenged to push beyond my boundaries. My time at Goddard has allowed me to push myself, but itís been a lonely journey. I donít feel like I have peers here who are sharing their work or open enough to critique to talk about their process in community. Iíd really like someone to show me a different way of working hard than the one I already know. I think that really defines it. I want to learn about new ways off being, working and seeing rather than simply re-hashing the knowledge that Iíve already accumulated. The frustration comes from the fact that my knowledges seem to be revelations to so many and that I often feel thrust into a teaching (or, at least, "knowing" role) when Iím here. Iíd rather be exploring the notion and practice of discovery.
Perhaps that can be my preoccupation while blogging at Goddard!
2 JANUARY 2002, 8:00 AM The holidays are over and the New Year is really commencing. Pretty cool, huh?
Iíve just had an amazing three days with a visiting friend, talking about life and art and process and how we seek truth. What a FUCKING privilege to be able to construct meaning, drink wine and enjoy the company of a brilliant friend!
Goddard starts this week and Iím off today. I always look to residency with some trepidation. Itís generally transformational in some way. The logistics of it all are what really make me crazy, though. Itís just a hassle to get there, settle in, stand in line, etc, etc. Thereís also a deep sense of urgency about everything Ė and no follow through. I have a secret fantasy of locking myself in the library and only making command performances. I could accomplish a lot that way. Weíll see how the week unfoldsÖ.
So, now that the New Year is starting the resolutions are no longer theories. I have to make the suckers come to life. The smoking thing has been a mixed bag. Iíve quite for long stretches, but keep going back as a "social" smoker. The next step is to let go of this. Being at Goddard will be hard. There are so many gaps with nothing to do that smoking helps pass the day. I may suspend my "quitting" until I get back. Ironically, it will be easier to quit in the everyday than in the extraordinary.
The others demand some serious meditation. Indeed, as I think about them, Iím adding another Ė I will work toward being more potent. None of them are absolutes, per se, so I think I can achieve many of the changes that are imbedded within the sentiments.