Lifespan of a Mask

How long will we need these masks? What will they become – the standard contents of purses and backpacks, a selection kept on hooks by the front door to grab in haste or routine as we briskly attend our days? All this indulgence in personalization – choosing prints, the softness of the fabric, elastic or ties – will it seem absurd, embarrassing once history etches the final toll?

When masks drop away and the veil of fear is lifted from the everyday, what world will we emerge to, blinking and soft-skinned? Will we prove able to claw out from inside ourselves, scratching away the cocoons we wove so carefully from strands of new self-knowledge?

Already I have to clear the cobwebs, push myself to exit the apartment; it takes some convincing. Once over the threshold I remember the world, its heat and infinite atmosphere unspooling above me and I want never to go back inside. But arriving at the threshold means stumbling over a tangle of considerations: so many choices, outcomes snarled together; each requiring thought. Over-thought. Think again. Contingency. Supplies. A packed bag. Every day a Go Bag.

Consider the architecture that connects you to me: filaments, sticky and fine, reaching from my body to yours, to his and theirs, until we’re suspended in a net of words and deeds and shared experience, ricocheting through time like a spider riding an air hockey puck – it leaves a thread but is far too quick to track with the eye. We’re mounted in a constellation, a web made of time and assumption, with fibers that stretch, retract, break open in spots like hosiery.

Sometimes we need it to break: snip the cord to a familiar face, let it fade from view, and watch an entire life drift beyond reach. What if I unfriended you, deleted you from all my devices? Would it erase the past, destroy the web with spiteful childish hands, unconcerned that what’s gone might never be restored?

Right now we all want to blow things up. The fireworks tell us that. From rooftops and open streets, covert bands of my neighbors launch nightly displays of glitter and spark from contraband tubes of paper and gunpowder. Paper from the chopping and mashing of trees; gunpowder from potassium nitrate distilled from crystals formed of bat guano which is mainly fruit; sulfur from the hot center of the earth; and charcoal, a gritty fossil. Mingled together, it’s a bonfire of a bonfire. Burning what is already burnt. To purify? To destroy the structures that bind us but no longer serve? We’ve been stripped of so many familiar channels that kept us connected and found we can survive anyway. Why not incinerate what we don’t need? Pile it between us; turn it to ash.

The Fabric of Us

I am writing. I keep writing. But only in bits. Snippets. Short spurts.

I read over what I’ve written. I exhale. Is this something? Is it anything? How would I know?

My hands are busy, my body always active, anxious, and my mind? Adrift, staring up at the sky on a raft far from land. Sounds, images, scents, sift up:

A sigh – our radiator stirring like a great beast in its sleep: first a wheezing inhale then the repetitive clang announcing heat.

Constant sirens – soft then strong, insistent. Receding to the back of consciousness, but still present. My ears track their progress on a Doppler arc – is it our block? No, not tonight; sleep. Or try to.

The daily ritual of Vitamin C on our tongues – a sacrament, a talisman against infection, a comfort.

The endless ritual of washing – masks, hands, everything that comes through the door. Fascinating how vulnerable the print on food packaging is to rubbing alcohol. Ink staining the palms of my hands.

Rubbing alcohol – once the childhood smell of fear (a shot!), now the smell of safety, reassurance.

The first thing I notice about anyone on the street is whether or not they’re wearing a mask. For many in the West, a mask has not quite shifted from the look of threat (what are you hiding?) to the look of protection. Jokes about bank heists.

Avoidance, physical distance, as a mark of courtesy, deference, care.

Every day an exhausting tunnel of work. The guilt of having work.

In the city we are suffocatingly close to our neighbors but somehow more visible to each other now, our daily routines exposed through windows because we’re Always Home. I’m wearing shorts, a tank with no bra, and the curtains are open. Normally I would shy from the frame, but these days I think “Let in the light. Let them see.” We are all seeing more of each other, though our faces are masked. Also less, as struggles are kept from the phone camera lens and anguish vows to be silent, stoic.

Sitting in front of my laptop I can’t help but think of a cockpit. I plug in, all wires and earbuds. I curl into the cramped space to pilot around a world that feels entirely virtual. The physical world drops away. The virtual is where the ‘real’, the in-person happens – it’s the only place we connect without barriers, protocols. It’s escape, touch where there is no touching, emotion, sharing, checking on each other. We have dance parties here and it feels like we’re dancing together. We’re in the same room because there is the same music and we can play – share moves and expressions – and in this landscape of distant islands, that feels like a miracle: There you are! Here I am! It’s signal flares and messages in bottles; it’s Griffin & Sabine; it’s letters by carrier pigeon; it’s smoke signals; it’s semaphores; it’s Morse Code. Let’s return to the old forms, old before any of us were born: the ticker tape, the telegraph, the phone. Let’s have a parade where we all send messages at once and they cascade down around us like waterfalls of code: 0s and 1s blinking on and off, black and white like the opening to The Matrix. Maybe this is looking behind the veil, seeing what’s (in here) instead of out there, finding out what we’re made of, what our relationships are made of: Poly-cotton? Viscose? Taffeta, Darling? A 1970’s flammable blend?

The telegraph machine taps out: What. Are. We. Made. Of.

We may not want to know but we’re going to find out.

Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn NY

Found (in) space

Space is precious: the expanses of breath around us and between us, the places we hold sacred, the space we take up and that others afford us. Among defined physical spaces – a room, a church, a clearing – the ones we treat with the most hushed reverence are either endowed with a specific, bold purpose or exist free from any expectation. Creative spaces are both – they’re intended explicitly for making things happen: collisions, new growth, reflection, refinement, but also need to be approached without too many obligations. Without that formula? Nothing happens.

When I’m navigating the daily responsibilities of my life – dodging, pivoting, prioritizing – any space I can carve out for creative work feels like a tiny miracle. If I am awarded a space to be creative, I am grateful. Whether there for a week or an hour, I make myself at home. I move into it. I move in it. I take ownership. I make it sacred, make it safe, but give myself permission to expand into every inch, to squeeze out the time spent there until its last second. In other words, I get comfortable. Then I work.

I always take a picture or two, to capture the feeling of possibility and keep it with me as a reminder when I’m stuck. Taken as a set, these images ground me, bring me joy, award me a sense of legitimacy when I’m seized by doubt: “Where the hell is this going?”, “Where did it begin?”, “I don’t even remember why I started this.”

When in doubt, I retrace my steps. The pictures help.

These are a few of my favorite work spaces from recent (and not so recent) years. Steeped in stillness or pummeled by ambient noise, squinting at shadows or flashes of bright sun, I wrote play scripts, essays, poetry, and volumes upon volumes of speculative, expository blather. The physical spaces held me and underpinned every word with layers of dust, piles of leaves, curious artifacts, and the inevitable thrum of humanity nearby, whether on the other side of a wall or a wide, wild field.

The spaces range from industrial rooms with little light and the least ergonomic seat-to-writing-table setups imaginable, to expansive outdoor spaces with luxurious vistas and unexpected dogs. However a work space may appear in pictures, it is never nondescript and always precious, because for the time I am there it is mine, and I never quite feel I deserve it.

Something to work on.

Backstage piano-as-writing-desk.
Visceral shush of dry Fall leaves.
So. Many. Magical. Objects.
Two stories up, I could dangle my legs out the barn door.
The view came with a pack of guard dogs that I could hear barking from the 34th floor.
Speaking of dogs, these ones came out of nowhere and demanded FETCH.
A perfect nook must be Instagramm’d.

Transfiguration

On this day for the last twenty or so years I have lit my mother a birthday candle at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Today the spires were looking especially beautiful – glowing against the morning sky.

My mother was raised Catholic in an era when Mass was still conducted in Latin. A veteran of years of regimented religious schooling, she harbored a deep skepticism of faith that often lurched into malevolence after (her words) “being beaten by too many nuns”. This morning I wondered what she would think of my strange annual pilgrimage, and I tried to remember why I started doing it – why this ritual? Why here? Especially considering I was raised without the context of any religion: no baptism, no commandments, no catechism. The answer is simple, and sits apart from any doctrine. In the first years following her death, I was a ghost: ambulatory and ostensibly functional, but lost to myself. My daily commute from Jackson Heights to the South Bronx took me through Rockefeller Center, where I pit-stopped at the 53rd Street Library to work on lesson plans. One morning, this ghost was drawn into St. Patrick’s, where the smells of musty wood and incense patted the pew and invited me to sit. Lighting my mother a candle felt proper and right in a way that only cellular memory can explain. I had never done it before, but I had heard family members on her side talk of doing so my entire life: for the dead, the infirm, the hopeful.

My mother was staunch in her disavowal of Catholicism, having absorbed more than her share of its cruelty and hypocrisy, but she was a lover of beauty and a hunter of quiet. In the echoey hush of Saint Patrick’s, I sit with her and imagine where I would take her for her birthday, what we would talk about. I become a bit that ghost who glided through the cathedral’s doors twenty-odd years ago, restless and adrift. My mother, once flesh but who, for so many blank, bitter, unforgiving years has seemed more and more a ghost, existing somewhere apart, beyond my reach or the company of my heart, returns to me. She pats the pew and I sit and reflect and remember how lucky I am.

Our Heroes, Ourselves

“This will be the making of you.” That’s what I said to myself the day I got laid off. I repeated it over and over, quietly, in rhythm with my steps as I walked away from the meeting in which I was abruptly cut loose after 10 years. I put one foot in front of the other as I shook with anger, fear, and adrenaline. In the weeks that followed, the phrase kept coming back to me, streaming across my thoughts like sky-writing, until it became a mantra. When I said it out loud, always under my breath, I felt my nostrils flare slightly, my jaw set into a determined posture, my gaze become steady and sure. I had nothing to lose. The worst had happened, and all that was left was to sift through its ruins and rebuild myself in the image of whatever was buried underneath, waiting.

I didn’t know it was waiting. Before I was laid off, I didn’t know that I had been enduring a version of the “boiling frog” syndrome, in which my work environment became more demanding and less hospitable with every passing day. Dreading my morning commute was the norm, followed by long days spent feeling like a failure despite my efforts to work both hard and smart. Little did I know that none of that mattered, as a plan had been in place for months to eliminate my position, and in the process erase any trace of my contributions and goodwill, without so much as a conversation, a request for my input, or a warning. In the end, it was not about me; it was about them – those who engineered my departure – and they had made it clear they did not value my accomplishments any more than my humanity.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that period in my life lately, because there’s something eerily similar to the way I’ve felt since the election: shocked, vulnerable, and angry. Though I’ve certainly moved beyond the initial paralysis into engagement and resistance, an undercurrent of powerlessness remains. It surges to the surface every time our new President flouts protocol or sidesteps the checks and balances that are supposed to ensure that governing our country is at least a collaborative effort, if not always an equitable one.

For the record, I know that we are not powerless. I see evidence of our collective influence every time a predictable outcome proves suddenly unpredictable, an elected official stands firm in the face of intimidation, or a firestorm of hatred flares for those who refuse to apologize for being their full selves. I know we are not powerless, but our humanity – the humanity of those the Administration abhors – is dismissed, ignored, and actively suppressed at every turn. And most days I feel nothing but disheartened for the future. I fully realize this is a burden that People of Color, American Muslims, and LGBTQ folks have carried – and continue to carry – with grace and resolve. As a woman I have also felt it, in ways both subtle and jaw-droppingly overt, but never before have I feared for the safety of so many who I consider my community. I am struggling to find a way to walk through the world with my sense of wonder and joy intact. I am looking for the right armor, for a sword made of gleaming words or razor-edged ideas that fits in my palm and cuts through the seemingly endless onslaught of malevolence that rains sideways at us every. damn. day.

In this struggle I’m returning to image-making. I used to be a passionate amateur painter, with boxes of oils, watercolors, and pastels to prove it, but I hadn’t picked up a brush in probably twelve years until the week before the Women’s March. My travel plans were locked; my bag was stuffed with cold-weather layers and supplies; only then did I consider what I wanted my sign to say. What I wanted to say. At first, I drew a blank – confounded by the vast significance of the event as well as the universe of possibilities for how precisely to capture my rage and alienation. I mean, where to begin, amirite ladies?? I googled for images of protest signs and slogans; I brainstormed punny versions of popular phrases; I considered symbols that represented strength, resilience, and power. I eventually landed on a simple statement paired with well-worn iconography that seemed to reflect where I was at: not particularly clever or Instagram-worthy, but mine.

It wasn’t until I got to the March in DC that I realized that the search for a slogan, for an image that resonated, had actually been more valuable than the ‘aha’ moment when I chose one, because it had reintroduced me to our history. Standing in a tide of marchers, all of us buzzing with hope and fire, I saw the faces of our heroes pasted boldly on signs and bobbing above the crowd: Shirley Chisolm, Rosa Parks, Dolores Huerta, Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, and – yes, more than once, Princess Leia. It may seem laughable, insulting even, to include her in that list of Feminist icons, but fictional heroes can be just as powerful in lending courage and self-determination to the work of resistance. When we feel hopeless, we borrow their optimism. When we feel vulnerable, we channel their steel. When we feel beaten, we rely on their strength to help us rise. We wear talismans, or mimic the way they dress because it helps us believe that we too might be more than just blips on the relentless heartbeat of history. We need our heroes, whether living, ancestral, or fictional. They walk beside us, among us, as we march. They lean over to whisper in our ears:

“This will be the making of you.”

We Are Here.

I saw you on the subway this morning, eyes shining, a shy smile playing at the corners of your mouth, walking with a joyful swagger, a defiant bounce that spoke volumes. I saw you on my way out of the local high school where I voted, civic duty done, with relief and anxiety written on your face. I saw you in my social media feeds early in the day: grinning widely in your suffragette white or dark pant suit, as I scrolled cloudy-eyed before fully grasping that today – TODAY – is here. That no matter the outcome, today we are voting to put a woman in the White House.

Sometimes it’s hard to feel the weight of history. It’s difficult to absorb the breadth and depth, the volume of tears and blood and time that have contributed to the fleeting moment we’re standing in. But this morning I felt it. I got very quiet. I dressed deliberately, with care, as if every item of clothing mattered. The pearls from my Grandmother, the black boots that help me feel strong and fearless, the suit jacket that is foreign to my body but somehow *right* – as if I’m dressing for a job interview, my Mum’s green card nestled in my back pocket. I felt the weight of history today, the lives that were dedicated, laid down for this. This is not legend; those lives were real. They were here.

And now we are here, striding into our polling places unchallenged, taking our children by the hand, eyes meeting over the rim of the voting booth, sharing jokes underpinned with tension. I see you, all of you, and today I am bubbling over with excitement and fear and pride.

I see you. And I’m with you. I’m with us. I’m with her.

im-with-her

Changes One

Turn and face the strange.

Although I can’t claim to be a superfan by any stretch – I’m not the type to memorize track lists or trivia or argue the merits of one album over the other – I loved David Bowie. For his bewitching voice that could brood – sexy, deep, and foreboding – explode with cut-glass urgency, or shimmer in the ear like a secret stage whisper. For his relentless weirdness, which sprang not from a desire to stand out (“weird for weird’s sake”) but from the jumpy mercurial muse that lived in him – the one he never ignored. And for his courage, to be a long-haired bisexual musician in a dress long before it was remotely acceptable or sexy, and without any bad-ass posse to back him up.

A few weeks ago on Patti Smith’s 69th birthday – the same age Bowie turned just a few days before his death – I declared that “Fuck The Clock” was going to be my motto for 2016. It reflects the effort I’m trying to make in my creative work these days (which might be called anti-effort) to stop trying to force a practice, and just…listen. To be patient. To allow my impulses to lead me, both in terms of the desired product or end-goal and in how I get there. Instead of insisting that I spend a certain amount of time per day doing a series of tasks or following a particular process to begin producing something specific, I’m trying instead to make space and just do what interests me. That might be listening to music or watching ridiculous videos or reading a graphic novel or taking a walk. Whatever it is, I trust that it will lead me somewhere useful. Fertile. And ultimately somewhere that’s engaging to an audience.

FTC

It’s not an easy thing to do, this letting go of methodical process, and I can’t say I’m completely comfortable with it in practice. So I keep repeating “fuck the clock”, to remind me that there is no time-frame to produce anything – at least not yet – and by slowing down and listening to my impulses I am bound to arrive somewhere that’s far more nuanced, intriguing, and true – both to me and anyone who witnesses my work – than if I forced a regimented development schedule on myself. I believe this.

For now it’s the thing.

Space→ Trust → Action

Turn and face the strange.

Seasonality!

So I just spent money renewing the domain hosting on this damned site and I feel like I need to POST SOMETHING ALREADY. There are a couple of ideas in the can but while they’re being uh…developed (? my metaphor game isn’t strong), here are some idiotic seasonal photos.

First pie of the season

First sweet potato of the season!

My feelings on seasonally-dyed candy items.

My feelings on seasonally-dyed candy items.

North America’s largest pumpkin. CONGRATULATIONS GUYS YOU DID IT!

News soon. Promise.

Discipline and Discomfort

Still firmly infirm and formidably un-formed, in this NPR interview with Louis C.K. there are two ideas pushing their way to the surface that may define my focus in 2015. I don’t do resolutions as a general rule, but I do reflect. I revisit. I dismantle and re-assemble. All the time.

“I thought, ‘I want to do something that’s compelling and really a good monologue, but the crowd might not be there for it.’ It may not be their thing, so I trained for that monologue. I did a lot of sets in town and I did a lot of clubs where there was no audience really, or places where I knew I would do poorly because I wanted to be sure that the monologue would go well whether the audience likes me or not.”

So smart. That’s true dedication, skill, talent, even. It’s knowing yourself: your abilities, your limitations, your appeal, well enough that you see clearly the gap between where you are and where you want to be, then you span it by working hard and working smart.

“I was in trouble a lot when I was a kid, so I got used to it. Like, when you’re never in trouble, you can never go to places like that. But if you’re in trouble all the time, it’s like, why not? I mean, I know what this feels like. I know I can survive everybody being pissed off at me.”

This has always been difficult for me. I was not in trouble a lot as a kid (I still fucked up but was good at hiding it), so disrupting the status quo, risking disapproval or the possibility that I might not be sufficiently armed to respond to criticism, feels scary, out of my depth. I am no pushover, but left to my own devices I would just as soon sit and watch others tell their stories, speak uncomfortable truths, than tell my own. If I am to feel any kind of satisfaction in my creative accomplishments, that needs to end.