Slick (Self-Portrait) (1977). Barkley Hendricks.

I arrived at college as a sheltered, shy, nerdy suburban girl. I  had never kissed a boy or a girl; I had never drank alcohol; I knew next to nothing about the world. I may as well been 12 years old. I liked to draw and paint and wanted to be an artist but really didn’t know what that meant — other than my parents had forbidden this calling.

Soon after arriving, I was introduced to my advisor, Barkley Hendricks. Back then a student never called an instructor by their first name. He was Mr. Hendricks to his face, and Hendricks behind his back. This is how we referred to all our instructors — by last name only.

Hendricks was very imposing to me. He seemed very sophisticated. To my 18-year-old mind, he was already old. It’s funny to think now that he was only in his 34 when I met him, and that he had gotten his position at my college right out of graduate school. He reviewed my drawings, which I was very proud of, and said I had potential. I know now that I had good skills but no real sense creativity or expression. Back then I was disappointed that he wasn’t more impressed with my work. Everyone had always complimented my art and it was the first time someone was not gushing over it. He wasn’t unkind, but the exchanged intimidated the hell out of me.

Still, I wanted to learn from him. When I saw his art, it blew me away. I wanted to paint liked he painted. His huge, beautiful painting of people — I’d never seen anything like them.

Once about ten years ago, I was in a bookstore and saw a book on the shelf with his name on it, The Birth of Cool. It was kind of amazing to see it and think well, that man is finally getting his due.

A little over a week ago, my friend C. was at the Yale art museum and sent me a photo she took of one of his paintings there. I wrote her back, I’d know that style anywhere. It still impressed me, and I felt a nostalgia for the time when I thought I could live a life like Hendricks: the life of an artist.  A few days later I found out that he had suddenly passed away, and I was stunned.

There’s so many things I didn’t realize when I was a freshman. Mainly, that it was highly unusual to have a Black artist as my advisor in this cozy little New England college. The fact that he had already made a name for himself was even more unusual, but it was only in recent years that I really thought about these things.

I also didn’t realize for years what a huge influence he was on my art. His human-scale figures inspired me to do the same. A lot of my early post-college work is really one big homage to him, but I was unconscious about it for a long time.

It pains me now that I never circled back and thanked him for what he gave me, which was so much: believing that I could live a life as artist (even if I didn’t end up doing that), believing I could make art that would give me the thrill that his art did, believing that I should make the art I wanted to make and not concern myself with fashion or trends.

I strongly believe his presence as an artist will only grow over time.

Even though I will never be able to say it to him in this life, I still want to say: Mr. Hendricks, thank you.

anna and isadore

Anna and Isadore, 1986.

I was wallowing in a swamp of loneliness, horniness and despair when E, apparently having had enough of my nonsense, strongly recommended that I start dating. I thought, dear god – no. The horror… the horror.  I thought I was done with all that forever. But if you’re alone and you don’t want to be, that’s what you do.

Since I last dated in the mesozoic era (hey, those were good times before mammals!) they now have new dating apps that are designed to make you even more scattered, bewildered and insane than earlier processes.

The first one I tried rhymes which cinder, like in Cinderella. But there ain’t going to be no Prince Charming coming from this thing. It’s known as a hookup app, although some say it is also for dating but I don’t buy it. Who would date someone based on a couple photos and a sentence? Still, I approached it as a dating app because I’m a moron who works at cross-purposes with myself.

So, if you don’t know, how it works is you look at someone’s photo and decide on the spot  “yes” or “no” — could you fuck them or not? I guess you’re supposed to pretend that the question is more refined than that. I was trying to find the “maybe” when I accidentally “super liked” some guy. He immediately texted me and I, not being a boar, did not let on that I had “liked” him by accident. But after a few exchanges he was offering to cook me dinner and we all know what that means. Dinner spelled S-E-X. So I stopped answering him because I wasn’t actually attracted to him (again, based on a couple of photos).

Then I liked someone on purpose, and he turned out to be a fairly real, funny guy. I got on the phone with him and then arranged a date with him. I thought, well, I gotta start somewhere. The date wasn’t stellar, but at least I had taken the plunge.

Heartened by the relative ease of this brief and mostly painless encounter, I posed a profile on a app which rhymes with the title of this post. We’ll call this app “Stupid” for short.  In one week on Stupid I got 140 or so likes, which is just ridiculous. I mean, how am I supposed to manage that? Not one of the guys looked hot to me. I had to look at their photos, and look at them, and look at them some more, and try to convince myself that maybe I could be attracted to them if they had the right personality.

The good/bad thing about Stupid is that they have literally 1000 questions for you to answer on all kinds of topics: politics, sex, social mores, ethics. The questions sound like they were all written by 25-year-olds, because their are things like “Do you always consult your parents for advice?” (1/2 the people my age would need to hold a seance to do this) or “Do you want to have kids?” (yes, so did the Virgin Mary. Wait, that’s not what I meant). There’s also that weird social engineering thing. What I mean is, they tell you the % of answers in common you have with a person. You’re much more likely to look at someone with 95% than 70%, so the app engineers who you will interact with.

I’ve been thinking I should ask my own questions, such as:

In any case, I went on a date with a 90-percenter. He was very sweet but also quite the hippie. I liked that he wore a ton of jewelry but it was hard not to laugh when he  talked about his sadness over Harbin Hot Springs burning down. The next  day he sent me a note via Stupid saying he had a nice time but there was no spark. Then he immediately closed his account. Yes, I caused the man to flee from Stupid. I wish I would do this same.

I recently took a solo trip down the California Coast and back. On this trip I opted to try staying in youth hostels for the first time, specifically those being part of Hosteling International. I had no idea how I’d feel sleeping in a dorm-style room in a bunk bed, but I figured, what the heck.

There’s a degree of loneliness that affects me when I travel alone, which is why I haven’t done it very much. The idea of coming to a place filled with people at the end of the day seemed like a good idea. This turned out to be an accurate guess. Even though I barely interacted with the other hostel guests, it was cozy to sleep in a room with others. I always opted for the top bunk, because I figured if I’m going to sleep in a kid-like situation, I may as well go for it.

The last night I stayed in a hostel that was divided into small cabins, as they sometimes are. When I first entered my cabin, there was no one there. After a while, a man showed up. He was dressed in rain gear even though it hadn’t rained in days. He lay down on the couch and sighed heavily for a long time. Being alone in the building with him made me uncomfortable, but I went ahead and made my dinner and kind of ignored him. Then a couple showed up, they seemed retired. The wife was very friendly and introduced herself and her companion. I retired to the living room to read.

They ate their dinner, at which time the couch potato got up and went to the kitchen and got into a very animated conversation with them. His conversation had a liberal sprinkling of conspiracy theories. After a while the couple went to their room, and the c.p. went back to laying on the couch and staring at the ceiling.

Then another man showed up. He wandered into the living room and said to me, “Where’s the TV?” I thought he was joking so I said “Oh darn!” but then I realized he was serious. He went to the kitchen, ate his dinner, and then joined c.p. and me in the living room.

At this point they both began to talk about themselves and I realized that both these men were unemployed and perhaps homeless. They had enough money to live in youth hostels but seemed to be drifting. For a while I engaged with them but then I went back to reading my book and just listened.

They were both very disgruntled with their lives and the state of the Bay Area, where they had both come from. They both seemed vaguely racist. C.p. was especially ranty and seemed to believe he knew everything. He mentioned that “Asian money” was what was ruining the economy, as the Chinese were buying up housing in the Bay Area by paying cash over the asking price, thereby also driving up the housing prices. TV guy mentioned he had gone to some tech conference in Silicon Valley, even though he was a car salesman. He complained how he couldn’t understand anything at the conference (why did he expect to?) and that he was the only white man there (he didn’t seem to care there were no women).

At one point, TV guy referred to me as “this young lady” and I wanted to punch him. I was about 20 years older than him.

I thought, how many guys are there like these two? Falling in between the cracks, floating around with no particular idea of what to do with themselves, seeing the world as conspiring against them? Did these guys vote Republican? And let me tell you, I’m up to here with know-it-all, bitter white guys.

This isn’t who I thought I’d meet when I signed up to go to a youth hostel. They started to discuss tech in a paranoid way, not understanding a goddamn thing about it. I’m sure it occurred to neither that there was a tech person in the room, i.e., me, because they had very rigid ideas of who was tech and what tech was.  I didn’t want to listen to their griping anymore so I said, “Please excuse me, I’m going to go to bed.” At which point TV guy said, “Oh sorry to bore you”. Not in a hostile way, in a sad way. And I thought, you aren’t boring me, you’re repulsing me. Good Night.

My room had four bunk beds and I was the only one in it. I slept on the top bunk anyway. After a good nights rest, I rose early and went home. Home to Oakland, my world of diversity, artistry, tolerance, feminism and yes, tech.

Lately when I wake up in the morning I feel sad, like a baby. I remember being in my crib and waking up from naps, crying for no reason. I remember when T. was 2 or so, he’d wake up from his nap crying, too. You wake up, there’s no one there, and you feel sad. It’s a step up from waking up anxious or in a panic about my mortality, which is how I was waking up many mornings for quite a while.

I’m alone a lot. A lone … what? Not ranger, that’s what my Dad calls himself. Or he used to. I’m not sure what lone thing I am, but being alone always turns my thoughts towards my own insignificance. I think about how I’m not young anymore and that I will pass through this life and not leave my mark. No offspring, art no one cares about — this is my legacy. It’s no different than the legacy of my rabbit, or my ficus tree.

Is that why I feel sad when I wake up?

I need to be a lot stronger — mentally, physically. I need to get to the person I used to be, in some sense. Confident, a bit cocky even.

Today I accidentally ended up by the railroad yards near the refinery in Richmond. There’s something about the sight of trains — long freight trains, with cars of different shapes and purposes and logos emblazoned on their sides. There’s something about them that makes me long for something I can’t define. When I was 23 I drove cross country alone and took many photographs of freight trains running parallel to the freeway. Who was I at 23? A naïf, a dreamer, wandering about the country with no idea what I wanted other than to be an artist. Here I am, many years later, and I never became an artist. I make art, but I go to work like everyone else.

Last night I wandered through the crowds of the Art Murmur. I always think I’ll see someone I know and I never do. No one sees me. I’m a shadow, a figure in someone else’ dream.

Today I went to the Art Center to see my drawing hanging in the show, among a hundred or so artworks. It’s not a great piece, just something I created to be in the show. It’s easy to miss.

I come home and think, how long will I live in this house? Will I grow old here? Will I be like my neighbor Claire across the street? She was old, she died, and I knew nothing about her other than she praised the gardening I did in my front yard. She had a stern demeanor but she only said nice things to me. Then she was gone. She kept an immaculate house, it sold quickly, and now someone else lives there. It’s like Claire never lived there. Will that be me?

This rain, nourishing and debilitating at the same time.

#ghostship

Filed Under nerd nerge | 1 Comment 

I’m haunted by Ghost Ship. Weird, isn’t it, that it had that name? It really became it’s namesake.

At night, between sleep and dreams, I think I was in the fire. Then I realize I am not dead, I wasn’t in the fire, I wasn’t even ever in the building.

This tragedy has very much affected me on a personal level. All those artists — I didn’t know them. I could have known them. I could have been them. They were beautiful, they were creative, and they were trying to find a way to be in a world that doesn’t value who they are and what they brought to all of us. They didn’t think about safety codes because, but who would? They lived in a beautiful space, and artists have been living in warehouses for decades.

I look at their pictures and miss them, even though I didn’t know them. Their names and faces are becoming familiar to me.

In the past, I drove by the Ghost Ship and thought how I would like to go in and find out what it was about, but never stopped.

Everything I do seems insufficient. Yesterday I went there. I couldn’t get closer than a block away, it’s all cordoned off. K. went with me and I brought a sign and flowers that I left at the memorial. I had a surreal moment when I saw people photographing what I wrote.

I read other peoples notes. The ones that really got me said, “I kept calling you and you didn’t answer.” I feel so sad, so endlessly sad for all the victims and their loved ones, and helpless in face of the tragedy and sorrow.

This is the note I left:

“Every artist creates
a world that has never
been seen before.

Here we lost many worlds –
an entire galaxy –
and are left with
a million broken hearts.

Rest in peace,
my lovely friends,
whom I’ll never meet.”

fat caterpillar

fat caterpillar, 2013

When October rolled around, I started cutting back the stand of fennel in my backyard bit by bit. The bees loved the flowers so I didn’t want to discourage them, but I also didn’t want a dispersion of hundreds of seeds as happened the year before. Everyday I would cut back the umbels that were transitioning from flowers to seeds, always checking to make sure there weren’t any anise swallowtail caterpillars that I was throwing in the compost heap.

After doing this task day after day for weeks, you can’t blame me for not checking too closely for caterpillars when I cut down the last bit of fennel.

The next day, there on the ground, was a caterpillar foraging through the fallen fennel (alliteration not intended). Argh! I thought. What do I do now? For several days I would go out in the neighborhood on a hunt for fennel and bring it back to the caterpillar. On the fourth day, I decided to put it in a jar. I thought as long as I was feeding it, I may as well enjoy the benefits of seeing it turn into a butterfly.

After a few more days, the caterpillar seemed pretty unhappy. It wasn’t moving much. Then it stopped eating. I felt very sad. I had tried to save this little creature, but it seemed it wasn’t meant to be. When I told this to friends, they reassured me that at least I had tried.

After not moving at all for a day, I was sure when I checked on it the following morning that it would just be lying curled up on the bottom of the jar. It was kind of curling up, and looking kind of brown, but it didn’t seem dead.

I happen to be sitting next to the jar when suddenly the caterpillar started moving like crazy. I saw that its skin had crack near its head and a bright green chrysalis was emerging. What the hell! I didn’t realize that the chrysalis emerged from inside the caterpillar. It wiggled and wiggled for about five minutes, and I managed to get it on the blurry video. When it stopped, I though it was just resting because it seemed like it hadn’t completely emerged. But it didn’t moved again.

caterpillar to chrysalis

caterpillar to chrysalis

I had always heard about how caterpillars become butterflies, and I found out several years ago that in that process the caterpillar completely liquifies inside the chrysalis before reforming into a butterfly. I’ve referred to it here. That is all very crazy. Now it’s gotten crazier. This same creature starts out as a caterpillar. Then, inside, it starts becoming the encasement for its future transformation. This literally bust out of its skin. Then it liquifies, reforms as a butterfly, and bust out of the chrysalis.

How does such a thing evolve? I didn’t realize that something that we all know about from an early age was so complicated and bizarre. Can you imagine if at some point, you wiggled out of your skin to be a mummy? It’s so weird. I have to admit, watching the caterpilalr/chrysalis actually made me feel a little  queasy.

Once upon a time, when I was young, I would see things in the external world as signs.  The world spoke to me, I just had watch it and pay attention. Even after I stopped believing this, E. would still say how she saw things as signs. Then she stopped talking about it. If you read the entries for Crows and Hawks Playing, you’ll see that many adults believe that natural events are signs for them personally. I’ve responded, as gently as I could, that its kind of absurd to think that other animals exist solely to convey coded messages to us personally. I mean, that’s really the height of egocentrism.  If you scroll down that page to March 12, you’ll see that I said this:

I think that it’s very easy to see other creatures on the planet as being symbols for our interpretation. I know I have had these feelings and interpreted experiences I have had in this very way — that a certain animal was conveying a symbolic message for me.

But as time has gone by, I have come to think that this type of perception is erroneous. Wild animals exist in a world of their own experience, on their own terms. They don’t act symbols for us, any more than they do for them. It’s somewhat humbling to realize that, to most of the elements of natural world, we as individuals are unimportant, if not completely below their perception.

If we peel away the layers of symbology, interpretation, and magical beliefs that we impose on nature, there’s a world that is amazing, stunning, and unbelievable just the same.

But, ha ha! I saw that caterpillar as a sign. Ironies of ironies!

I know,  I KNOW, that the caterpillar didn’t pop into existence solely to give me a message. Yet when I experienced these bizarre transformation from a creature who seemed to be dying I did actually think, well, there’s hope for me.

I have been slowly and painfully relinquishing my hold on a life that I dearly loved for a while now. I have to keep telling myself that I can never have that life again, but it’s hard to move on because I can’t imagine that I could be that happy again. K has said that this is a narrative I am telling myself. I think it’s more that I lost my narrative. That narrative was: yes, I suffered a lot in my life, but finally I got the happy life I deserved.

Well, so, that isn’t my story. So I don’t know what is.

Being a anise swallowtail caterpillar must be a happy, easy life. You crawl around in the sunshine eating tasty fennel all days long, getting fatter and bigger and feeling good. Then one day you don’t feel so well and you keep eating but it gets hard to move. Your skin starts to bother you. Then there’s something wrong with your mouth and you can’t eat anymore. Then your legs won’t work and you’re just stuck, feeling more and more uncomfortable until – bam! You have the uncontrollable urge to bust out of your skin. And that’s the last thought you have before you lose consciousness.

My story isn’t really parallel to this — especially the lost of consciousness, thankfully — but there’s certainly been many stages of discomfort that seem to be ending only to be a seque to another form of discomfort. And it seem to go on and on and on. I think: never mind happy, will I ever even feel comfortable again? It’s been such a long time.

It’s almost winter. That butterfly could emerge in the dead of winter, when it is so cold and there are so few flowers that it may not survive. Or it may never emerge because the conditions just aren’t right. Or it may wait until spring and be just fine.

So, yes, I am succumbing to a very old cliché and thinking that maybe, just maybe, something really great will come out of me from all this discomfort.  I won’t go on with the metaphor about emerging butterflies because it’s just too corny and hackneyed to say. You know what I’m feeling. I think it’s called hope.

my sukkahFor the eight year or so, I’ve constructed the World’s Tiniest Sukkah. No, not like a dollhouse sukkah, but one that is human sized but really small. It only seats two people.

I love the holiday of Sukkot. I love having this sort-of house that is kind of like a make-believe house. Like a being in a tent, you’re outside and inside simultaneously. It’s a liminal space. It’s also a week-long meditation on impermanence. Life itself is a long meditation on impermanence, which becomes more and more obvious with each passing year, so really at this point in my life it’s just a pointed reminder.

It’s a dwelling space that is only has to last a week, which means it can be very fragile. This year I thought a lot about the word “fragile”. (Thanks to J. for mentioning this word, as I previously had been using “flimsy”.)

I often hear the word “fragile” used interchangeably with “weak”. As in, he’s not doing so well, he’s really fragile. I hear it a lot in reference to old people. I’m sure I’ve used it this way to.

I can’t think of a way to use the word “weak” that isn’t negative. Weakness is a negative concept. I don’t thing fragility is necessarily negative.

I think about flower petals. When I describe them as fragile, I don’t mean they are weak. I mean they are transitory. They aren’t going to last. They’re not meant too. We may try to protect it or sustain it, but we are fighting it’s nature.

In this way, fragile can mean special or even precious. We need to appreciate what is fragile because we may not have it for very long.

pussygrabsback Since the all the brouhaha erupted over a certain presidential candidate and his boasting about sexual assault, I have been following the feminist response very closely. Between @feministfightclub, #pussygrabsback, and Kelly Oxford’s #notokay, there’s a lot happening where women are coming forward to say, yes, I was sexually assaulted. And frighteningly, they were often young girls when it happened.

If you are one of my three regular readers, you know that I had a couple of close calls this year of being precariously close to be assaulted or worse but manage to escape unscathed and untouched. Since then, I have become flinchy about certain things — mostly, walking around at night alone and wearing short skirts at night. It’s shitty that I have to think about this stuff. It’s shitty that I’ve lost a feeling of safety I had, and moreso bravado — something along the lines of “I dare anyone to fuck with me.” I’ve thought that if this is how I feel, as a middle-aged women, from just a few close calls, I can’t imagine how it feels to actually be sexually assaulted. I keep thinking, thank god it never happened to me.

Then I started thinking, if a million women wrote Kelly Oxford to say that they are sexually assaulted, how did I magically escape this happening to me? How was so lucky?

Then I remembered. I wasn’t so lucky. There was no magic. I’d been assaulted.

At first I remembered one time. Then I remembered another. Then I called my best friend E. And while telling her about this, I remember yet another.

All three times I was in public. Once I was walking up Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when a man stuck his hand up my crotch and ran away. Another time a man masturbated against me on a crowded train. The third time, I was asleep on a bus and the man seated next to me threw his coat over my lap. He was creeping his hand up my thigh when I awoke.

All three times, I told no one. Until now.

I believe now that are no women who have not been sexually assaulted — just women who don’t remember.

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