Friday, February 13, 2004

Shadow Stepping

One step after another, boys and girls. And baby steps at that.

Huge, large, King Kong steps scare the hell out of me. They make me think that my legs are just too damn short, I am too damn small. That I have to run to keep up, that I just CAN'T keep up.

What good is it living in your dreams for the future, anyway? Can people do that? Can they say, "I want to write a novel and have it published and be fabulously reviewed and sell lots of copies, and I want to have a gallery show and be fabulously reviewed and sell lots of paintings, and I want to fall in love with a guy who is fabulously in love with me and make lots of babies," and then just live their lives in this brilliant sunshine? Is that possible? Or is that just some Hollywood thing, like in the movies where they montage all the difficult parts-- like actually writing or painting or finding the right guy? Damn Hollywood for making us think life is like a novel with all the drudgery edited out.

Silly girl should take silly-girl steps, just one after the other. Baby steps get you far, you know.

Love where you are. Love the muscles in your legs that pull and push your body foward. Love your wide Flintstone feet that keep you stable. Love your hair blowing into your face. Love your eyes that keep seeing what's off down that road, that you're trying to get to even though you can't see how to get there. Love your heart beat that keeps the machine pumping. Love the fear that gets it racing.

Tough one, there. Love the fear. Love the darkness. Love the shadow that you are casting as you walk into the light. The brighter that light, the deeper and darker the shadow.

Oh, yes, I am ambitious, and I have come from a dark place. Sometimes, walking through those shadows is easier than walking through the light. I knew I had to stay positive and strong if I was going to be able to make it through. I knew I had to be my own light. I'm so used to it, so used to looking for the light that I have forgotten how to find the value in my own shadow.

What is my own shadow? I need to embrace it, it's a part of me, and I know I need it if I want to be a successful artist, if I want to create successful art.

I think my shadow self might be the lonely girl-- not the hipster, or the rockstar, although she's part of me, also, too long ignored-- the lonely girl who sits at home in the dark on friday nights, writing in her journal and painting and listening to Kate Bush or Ella Fitzgerald. The wallflower who brought books to parties and watched everyone around her as they performed. My shadow self might be the same girl who grew up in madness and poverty, but found strength in imagination, dreaming, stories, and silence.

She's not cool, my shadow girl, but I like her, and you know what? For all her silence and geekiness and lonely moon-eyes, she has gotten me farther and deeper than any big King Kong monster.

Maybe in her own way, she is as big as a King Kong. As strong. Maybe she had her own way of getting down that road, an underground way, one I haven't explored for a very long time.

I think maybe it's time.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

My Worries Can Take Their Cookies and Go Sit in the Corner

I feel a little like I'm running around crazy today. Here's my first day off of the restaurant in five days, and I have to interview and artist in her gallery, meet up with a friend to trade tarot readings, stop in at work to get something to eat, and then off to the computer center to write my article and send it to the editor.

Only now do I get to write in my blog, and I'm gettiing restless with all the things I have not done, the people I have not called, the situations I have not taken care of. (the writing I have not written. the art I have not arted. (rhymes with farted.))

It's hard to take a breath. So I will do that now.

Yeah, no. Still tense.

But I have to admit, today was pretty good, regardless. (The computer center is almost empty and it's wierding me out though. I've been here too long. (got to get me a laptop.))

I really enjoyed going to this exhibit and talking to the artist. It made me realize that I am prepared for this career in art. I've often felt like I don't know enough about anything. I know a little about a lot of things, but haven't really felt like an expert in many things people think are important.

Talking to the artist, though, I was able to draw on my generalist knowledge and get a whole huge lot out of it. The woman said she felt like she should have had a pad and paper to write down what I was saying. About HER work.

Sometimes it really doesn't take very much to feel like you are being validated.

Having that conversation with her made me feel like I belonged here, in wonderland, continuing my wondering, and walking down this path.

I have to remember not to get sidetracked though by daily worries, and daily fears, and daily insecurities.

The worries and fears and insecurities can contribute, I suppose, it's hard to get them to shut up, but after that, they need to take their cookie and go sit in the corner. They've had their say.

It's my turn to live my life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The Things We Do to Keep the Flame Burning

One caveat: Wonderland is not all fun and games. There is danger here, too.

Right now, I am in danger of losing my soul, of being wrapped up and tied into a knotty little bow.

How? Why? Oh, dear lord, no, how could this happen?

It's the insidious little problem of the "Day Job."

For me, that means my job waiting tables and bartending. For someone else, it could be a job in the public schools, or at a cafe, or in a computer company, or The Gap, or on Wall Street-- it really doesn't matter how important or how slight the job is, that job can suck all the juice out of you.

It's one of the reasons I make the joke, "I quit teaching to be a waiter-- I mean-- 'writer'."

Be a writer, be a painter, I said to myself. And I set out on the task. But living here in NYC, in Williamsburg, that means I have a doozy of a monthly rent to pay. Seeing that I am not independently wealthy, nor supported by parents nor partner nor patron-- well, I gots ta work for that rent.

I got a room mate, I did, so at least I didn't have quite so much rent to pay, but all my other schemes and scams fell apart. But I had so much experience waiting tables-- I've been doing it since 92-- I thought it would be no biggie to start up again in the restaurant industry. Easy. Cake. No sweat. And it wouldn't take my creative and intellectual energy the way a "real job" would.

Maybe I am coming to realize there is no such thing as a job that is not "real." You put in your hours. You put in your energy. You come away with some cash. (hopefully.) But the more of that time and energy you invest in that job, the more invested you become in that job. The problems and politics may be petty and stupid, but they are gonna be there every day. And that takes a toll.

I work ten hour shifts. Lately, I've been working five days a week. I feel like a frickin' lawyer or something. My energy IS going into this restaurant that means nothing to me, because I'm there, and I and my life are important to me.

For instance, there are people who are weasley and rodent-like, but they just may have a little bit of power over me. And they work that power. But I am too old, and too experienced, and too smart, goddammit, to allow petty people to disrespect me. (I've been trying really hard not to rant, so allow me this small tirade.)

So here I am, fighting for respect at a job that is only supposed to be about bringing home the rent. Bam! Soul suckage!

It's so easy, perilously easy, to forget the point of it all and get wrapped up in the daily trudge and struggle. This day job stuff is a means to an end. I allow them to schedule me so much because I need to find a way to buy a laptop, so that I can get my novel done, and someday get a website, and put my art book online and digitize my portfolio, and all sorts of things. I need this job (although, remember, this is not the only job it could be,) to keep my art going, to keep my life going. To keep my journey going. I'm taking a risk that I won't always need to keep a day job like this. Not like THIS, anyway.

My job is my job.

My real work is my art.

Remember that.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

And another thing...

Working at a bar, I hear all sorts of conversations. It's one of the reasons I wanted to bartend. The stories you hear, the things you witness, the characters-- no, not characters, the people with human problems and interests, and personalities, it's very, very interesting.

And being at the bar I am, it's almost as if I am at Williamsburg central. People pop in from all over, some people who have lived here all their lives, (and let me tell you, their stories are intense,) some people who heard about the neighborhood in one of those lifestyle magazines and thought they would be hip and cool if they came and sat in a bar and talked about what is hip and cool and what is not. (Nobody should be allowed to dictate what is hip and cool. And people who do? Well, really-- not that cool.) People have real conversations about art and music and stories and politics and society and love. (Not ALL the time. Sometimes they have regular conversations, too.) Sometimes I get to participate. Sometimes I just get to eavesdrop a little as I am making margaritas or martinis. I enjoy it. Usually. Sometimes, it just drags. It feels like wasted time.

Like last night. It just went on forever, and I had a back ache, and I was just so tired and bored. I don't really know why. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. I think it was just me that was feeling so down. If I had been in another place in my life, I would have thought that my life was not satisfying, but I'm enjoying the uncertainty, the adventure of my life. So I recognize it was just one of those days, (probably hormone induced,) that is no fun.

It slowed down really early and I stood around, doing nothing, and then, right before closing, all these people came into the bar-- the WORST situation-- wanting to drink long into the night, even after I call last call. Yuck. So I stand around, trying to get my cleaning done, trying to close, and listening to their drunken conversations.

Like the one where the guy said that he was probably a very talented writer, and he could put together some great stories, but he really just wasn't into sitting infront of the computer everyday. That was his problem. He didn't want to actually BE a writer. He didn't want to write, he just wanted to have written.

Honest to god, that's the hardest part of being a writer. It's actually working at it. It's hard for me. Scary, frustrating, confrontational-- anything that counts as difficult, that's what writing is. No, no, that's not right. Once I start writing, it's not always difficult, sometimes it flows like a rushing faucet. What is hard-- the hardest part-- is putting my ass in that chair infront of my computer (especially now that it's acting up and I have to go to the computer center.) There are just so many things that get in the way of writing, of doing art, of being an artist, but I if I want to write, that is the one inescapable truth-- I HAVE TO WRITE.

Then I realized I have something to add to my last entry of


#9. DO IT. Just fricking do it. If you want to be a painter, you have to paint, or you're not. If you want to be a musician, but you're just too busy to sit in front of your guitar, or piano or harp-- then you are not a musician. If you want to be an actor, and you are not in a play, or auditioning, or getting together a monologue or taking a class, then you aren't an actor. And for godsake, if you want to be a writer and you're not writing, you're not a writer, you're a wanna be writer-- and holy cow, that's a frustrating place to be. Maybe you don't want to BE an artist. Maybe you love art or music or books or whatever, but you don't want to put in the effort-- that's fine. Enjoy other people's stuff. Play around with your drums whenever you feel the urge. Write in your journal, or your short story when the thought takes you. Be happy. Have fun, but if you want to BE an artist, get ready for a ride, because it isn't always fun. It can be a lot of work. And painful, too, but so worth it.

Monday, February 09, 2004

How To Be An Artist

1. Be interested in the world around you. We are the world we live in. Our art comes out of it. The people we know and love and hate. The injustices. The sweetness. The puzzles.

2. Be open to the questions that have no answers. It's when we go beyond the easy solutions that we start to interact with things. You can see anything in the world from a million different perspectives, if you think you've got a lock on the one and only truth, you are closing yourself to all the other views.

3. Trust yourself. Do you think you can? Then you can. Do you think you see something? Then, yeah, you do. Believe in your intuition,your gut, your heart, your voice, your vision. Believe in your potential and your mind. Someone out there might gain something from you. Maybe YOU will be the one to gain something from that trust.

4. Experiment. Try new things. A new food. A new way of putting pen to paper. A new combination of chords. Try things that are new to you-- maybe someone else has done something similar somewhere, but, we're not talking about them. We are talking about you, and how YOU are being open to new ways of doing things. There is no wrong or right, there is only what IS. If it's not wrong or right, then you are free to figure out what might be more powerful, or more fun, or maybe what might resonate inside of you.

5. Go deep. Forget about the surface. We look at the surface everyday. It's what's easiest. Beware the easy answers. Try the second or third or fourth answer. Spend some time with the question-- or the image-- or the experience-- or the medium. Give time and energy so whatever it is that is trying to be born may grow.

6. Learn what others have done. Do you want to write poetry? Read it. Are you a painter at heart? Go to museums or galleries or buy a book on art history. Are you a rock star just waiting to be discovered? Listen to cds, watch videos, experience live music. We are artists within a tradition of other artists-- learn what that tradition is. That doesn't mean you have to copy anyone, or fit yourself in to what is already out there, but it helps to get your artistic vocabulary down, it helps you to figure out what you like and don't like, what you might like to explore. Sharing in other people's art also helps to get the juices flowing. Inspiration happens when you are in the conversation.

7. Talk about it-- to whoever will listen. Talk about your ideas, your struggles, your joys, your medium, your performance. Talk about whatever inspires you. Whatever juices you. If no one will listen, write in a journal, find a discussion on line, join a workshop or an organization-- just keep those ideas and words and conversations going.

8. SHARE. Art can be many different media-- but when it comes down to it, any "medium" is a thing that carries your thoughts and ideas and experiences through to another person, so that they may share in your existence. A medium is a conduit. The art isn't important in itself, it is important for what it can convey to another person. It's hard. It's scary. It's confronting, bu there is something about the other's gaze, or listening, that makes art come alive. Someone else interacts with this thing that came out of you. That someone doesn't have to be a gallery owner or a record company, maybe that someone is a loved one, or a teacher, or an anonymous person on a computer somewhere. Let your art go out into the world. You never know what could come back to you.

Is there more? Probably. But notice that I said nothing about going to school for art. I said nothing about MFAs, or publishing, or awards, or taking piano lessons when you were three. Art is not about getting a certificate that says you are an artist. It isn't about someone else saying that you are an artist, it is about declaring it for yourself. It is about a state of being. Being an artist is who you are inside. It is what you do. It is the thought and practice of being creative.

So if you want to be an artist-- do it. Be an artist.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

What Poor Alice Thought

"It was much pleasanter at home," thought poor Alice, "when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit hole-- and yet-- and yet-- it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life! I do wonder what can have happened to me! When I used to read fairy tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one."

When I first came upon the idea of writing this Blog, the idea of "wonderlanding" was really just instinctual. I didn't think about. I knew I was interested in the book, in the idea of "Adventures in Wonderland," but I didn't really think about all the connections. I hadn't really read the book since I was a kid-- it was all just vague memories.

But... hmm... I suppose when we are diving head first down that rabbit hole, we don't really KNOW what is going to happen. It isn't really a choice, although chasing after that white rabbit might have been.

Poor Alice, growing so very large. Shrinking so very small.

I feel just the same sometimes. Sometimes, I'm so large the only thing that can hold me is the wide open sky. Sometimes I feel so small, that I feel lost, or I want to be lost, I just want to hide in a little mouse hole.

Expanding and contracting, trying to fix what's wrong so that we stretch out of shape, because the truth is, there was nothing wrong with us in the first place.

Maybe when I am large, I just need to go with that-- do the things that take height and breadth and width of vision, that take strength and voice and confidence.

And maybe when I am small, it is time to close in a little. To have those small little conversations that are about the essential stuff of life. To curl up in bed and maybe not answer the phone, even, because maybe sometimes, in order to deal with this wonderland, I have to recharge.

Large small large small.

What a crazy cycle. I suppose I could have stayed in the comfy, steady zone of teaching. It was frustrating, but known-- the problems were known, the schedule was known, the next year was pretty much predictable. If I had wanted that, it would have been easy. But just like poor Alice, I have to stand in awe a little of the amazing things that have, that could, that will happen when I let myself open up to them.

A fairy tale, she said. Is this life like a fairy tale?

And I'm not even going to mention those bossy mice and rabbits-- I know who they are, but they have no idea that they are rodents.