Wednesday, April 6, 2016
I used to whistle "The Ballad of the Wind Fish" from The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening while at work in an art museum. The gallery I worked was large enough to fit a Buddhist temple. An openness that carried and sharpened my whistle. High ceilings. No windows. Few visitors. Only statues that stared wherever I stood and me, whistling to soundtrack the emptiness, soothe the ghosts, glimpse the future. Minutes elongated on that job. I watched the old get older. The paint was dry and had been for centuries. A statue's face was cracked. Time is a vandal. One day I fell asleep walking the marble floor and ran into a fabric covered wall. I could have paced there forever. I walked miles but nowhere. Circled a square room. At best, a dream. A game where the puzzle of the place held an open secret: nothing I make with my own hands will ever end up there. A block away, the art school I attended. One of my former professors caught me working the museum temple and told me something that sounded like the truth, though I still don't know. He said museums are where art goes to die. Still, he sat in the temple for almost an hour and stared into a statue's eyes.
Saying I wasn't prepared for life after graduation isn't true, even if the only preparation I paid any attention was, "Get lucky." Artists came in to talk about the path to success. Less a path and more a lottery. "We got lucky." Four years at school trying (and sometimes not trying) to be the best, but what it's always crumbled down to is this: "Just be the best in front of me right now."
In LA this past weekend my friend drove me up La Brea after dark and told me I've changed a lot since we were in school. "You were kind of a kid, then," she said, which is to imply now I'm not. I'll accept it, but the truth is I'm still making fun of bad dreams.
The darkest nightmare to me is a shipwreck. I snorkeled once in clear waters and could see the entire wing of an airplane 20 feet below me. On the same trip I watched my father climb a rusted out shipwreck and jump off the bow into the same water I'd just seen a barracuda. What possesses us?
My new book, The Three Woes, is out at conferences and festivals right now. You can pre-order it online here: http://threewoes.sporkpress.com/. I read selections from it last Thursday at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA. A small dog barked when I finished, and that's good enough praise for me. I wonder if a dog has ever barked at a painting?
I stood in another museum last Friday. A guard came up and asked me to please carry my backpack at my side like a bag of groceries. The same thing I used to say to strangers at the museum I worked. I would have stayed all day and stared at the walls and never seen anything close to the work I make now. My boyfriend claims there's nothing original anymore, that every fire we light is just the same fire over and over again. Well, he's wrong.
I didn't light those other fires. I lit this one.