There are days when nothing makes much sense. I pick up my phone, sit down to work, dialing, speaking, dialing, and feeling most of the time like a buzzing housefly, a swooping mosquito, a chattering chipmunk. I calmly ask all those creatures to wait in the wings and let me work. Sometime close to noon, I take a brief break, put a pillow behind my aching back, close my eyes, listen to the rain.
I have always found the sound of rain soothing and satisfying, comfortably green, but today it feels shredded and inconsistently grey. More work to do. I pick up the phone, dial, speak, listen, repeat. Mid-afternoon, drained by the drabness of the work, I put on my hat and go down to the bay. Earnest-the-wonder-dog and I walk in the rain.
We’re not singing, but humming old nursery rhymes, watching sea birds swoop and sway.
No Strings, One Clarinet, a Bass Drum, and a Piccolo
It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.
He stumped his head, went to bed, slept too long,
and all went wrong. Now he can’t get up at all.
He’s way too tall, his feet are stuck between the ribs
of his bed, his hands limp flour sacks, his skin
stretched loose like an old grey goose, his eyes
bunched tight, a barbed wire fence, slack jawed
against his nose, a balloon about to pop,
and he can’t hear a thing. When he looks,
the room’s on fire, his life a lie, and death
is make-believe, everything in-between
spun sugar or worse -- treacle made
to look like butter cream. What to do
but shrug and hum: It’s raining,
it’s pouring, the old man
is snoring. He’s jumped
to red, forgot the dead
and anything else is
Art need not be corralled. It doesn't need to stand still. It can still kick up its heels, carouse in the midst of chaos. Follow ArtIsMobilUs
around town, discover the extent of infinity
, and -- why not -- revise your notions about the 'stability' of art.
Infinite Lion Cobra : Ezra Li Eismont : ArtIsMobilUs : Bay Area, 2012
This 8' x 24' painting is mounted on the side of a bus that happily drives around town. Oh, what a wondrous world it would be if we all were to paint our cars and trucks with such imaginative vision.
Life would be so fine.
On those days when I just feel like walking briskly non-stop without indulging in the distractions of sea winds and ducks slip-slap-slapping their feet against waves as they attempt water take off without traction, I go to Emeryville where the sidewalks are long, very nearly always empty, and reach all the way to infinity. There's nobody talking and nobody walks along the sturdy nearly 1/2 mile-long fence separating the magical kingdom of Pixar from the rather more mundane outside world of concrete and gravel. Nobody but me, that is, me and Mr. Earnest, the wonder dog.
At this time of year, it is still possible to peer through the black iron bars into the inner sanctum, and I do. Those bars are too wide for my hands to grasp without stretching uncomfortably, but I can lean against their immobility and almost taste the lush green lawns within, imagine being barefoot in all that grass, walking next to star creatures and six-foot caterpillars. A lovely dream, a distant impossibility, close but as far from my world as are translucent glaciers under an arctic sun.
Soon, however, the thorny canes bound to those massive bars will be in full green growth, budding and stretching and concealing. The secret Kingdom of Pixar will once again disappear. New canes thick with buds will swell through the bars and burst into pink bloom. The street will be flushed with roses, the air perfumed . . . and that blue sky, resting now so sensibly on that sturdy triangle of black steel, will suddenly and inexplicably be propped up by a most outrageous froth of hot pink.
I can't wait.
Different types who wear a day
coat pants with stripes and cutaway
. . . putting on the Ritz.
Garden days have arrived. I simply can’t help myself. As the moon creeps ever closer, as dark becomes more luminous, as morning comes sooner and daylight hours more numerous, I find myself wanting to tend the earth, to help my garden grow and bloom. I crave beauty.
This morning, I woke after strange dreams, thinking I needed to plant a lemon tree – and did,
almost before the day really began. I showered, had a cup of tea, but then left the house before eating. It was too early for the nursery to be open for business so Earnest and I went down to the shore and walked along the beach, amazed by that the waters had pulled even further from shore than I thought possible. Soon it was evident that the tide was as far out as it would go. Standing there, I could see that the waters were returning. I could hear the tide coming in.
The water was moving at such a speed across the sands that it made a brittle yet lacy sound, almost as if hundreds of fairy folk were running their fingers carefully and delicately over the rims of hundreds of tiny crystal glasses, some half-full of water, some with less water than that, some with more. As long as their fingers moved swiftly and lightly along the rim of the glass, a weeping music ran out to the stars. That swiftly disappearing music wrapped me. It anchored my feet to the rocky shore, and then the sun settling onto the ripples of the incoming tide lifted me until I felt as of I were thin-stretched and buoyant, a soap bubble on the wind, a marsh-reed on a star-sea. A very real feeling, maybe even an important feeling, but impossible to describe credibly or usefully.
I soon turned from that swiftly moving tide and drove to Encinal Nursery where I knew they had in stock a number of healthy Meyer lemon trees. Out of the sky, away from the shimmer, and back to the earth. As I drove past lines of cars, through clogs of traffic, I thought again of tides and the hearing of tides, tides that come in swiftly without warning, tides that we cannot describe.
I left the house this morning to escape one of those tides. Spit from dreams, then turning on the radio, I heard nothing except solemn voices remarking war, discussing death, a fierce tide that roared and wallowed like rust, diesel against dusk . . . a relentless uncomfortable tide. I turned the radio off.
The tide of war grinding ceaselessly against the edges of my life is not a sound I enjoy, and so I go to the sea. I stop, I listen, and then, I sink my arms into the earth, dig a hole for a lemon tree.
May it grow and prosper.
Tides turn and so can we.
March has crept in like a lamb.
No lion here. No crunching bones.
No drooling jaws. No fierce storms.
Just fishtails in trees flicking sun
onto bareback winds, twisted flat
across the billows of night, warped
into acres of stars, armloads of bloom.
I don't believe the postman when he says
he saw the lion, greasy with spume,
crouched beneath the underpass
eating lemon grass and honey bees.
Then I hear that tree, a spreading oak,
its branches snapping, rising on winds,
great limbs twisting like dandelion seeds
reinvented as bullets shot with unholy speed
into clouds wound as tight as springs.
Every morning, I wake and flip on the radio, and every morning after a very few minutes I turn it off. I find the brittle language, the constant spew about war, death and destruction exhausting. This morning, my little dog drowsed on the bed and I sat at the kitchen table, eating dry cereal topped with sliced strawberries and almond milk. The radio was on, and a man described drones buzzing the skies of Afghanistan while he and fellow prisoners closed their eyes, knowing they would not hear the missile that killed them. These drones were moving past the speed of sound. Even though I knew that soon there would be a discussion of the great and fabulous imagination of Dr. Seuss, I turned the radio off . . . went and sat on the porch to drink my tea and watch the flowering pear tree, pushing new green leaves against a still blue sky while the tiniest of finches danced from branch to branch.
I know the world is plastered shut with violence. I know that the human need for violence needs to addressed, revealed and never concealed, but I am tired of hearing narratives of violence and violent conversations about a life that could be peaceful and peaceably discussed. Change your language and change the world. Speak about beauty and live beautifully. Speak peace and live peaceably.
I thought about a brief ten minute video I watched recently of 'the artist as a young man'. . . Eskae, an artist I have known all his life – since that night he drew his first breath – on film, speaking 16 years ago about the language of living, the language of art, while he and Crayone painted visual narratives, at the request of its owner, over the entire interior and exterior of a house in Napa before its demolition. Floors, walls, ceilings, bathroom fixtures -- everything touched by joy. The touch is gentle, the lines graceful, the images quirky ironic and potent; the transformation extreme. Politics without violence.
Give it a listen and watch as one artist creates a lively environment of gratitude and rebirth in a structure that will soon be splintered and shoveled off to the landfill, making art for life, for living, even in the face of death.
I may be prejudiced – Eskae, after all, is my son – but I find both this Bright Moments video
and what this young artist
has to say remarkable. Sixteen years have passed, the house is gone, much has happened, but what he says about language and art still resonates today.
Years ago, I worked as an artist in that most marvelous program that Jimmy Carter's administration invented to support all of us struggling and starving artists in NYC. I taught in the New York City Prisons, the Brooklyn House of D and the Tombs, penned illustrations of silent movie stars for a movie mag in Queens, taught mural painting at FDR High Schools in Brooklyn, ran art workshops at the Bronx museum. I had a lively and lovely time, making art while drifting about the city, but discussing that job is not the reason for this post. Decay, and its unseemly lack, is.
In those days I had a friend, married to one of my fellow art workers, who was a remarkable draftsman, an artist extraordinaire with a strange vision of what needed to be preserved. She drew decay. Each Monday morning, she walked down to Chinatown, bought vegetables -- perhaps an eggplant, Bok Choi, a squash or two, a head of lettuce -- and set them out as a still life on her drawing table. Then, she would sharpen her pencils and create oversize glorious drawings inch by inch, day by day, a new drawing everyday for week, recording with her pencil (and her erasure) the collapse of all that fecund vegetable flesh. The first drawing would be of plump sassy vegetables and fruits, the second the same but showing a bit of wear. By the third drawing, the squash might be collapsing, the lettuce withering. She would keep drawing until everything had dried or melted. The drawings were meticulous, beautiful, and alive with an inexplicable magic.
She left this planet some time ago, but every time I open my refrigerator and see my now nearly four-month-old Romaine lettuce, I think of her. Even she would not have the patience required to draw this slow rate of decay. Living things that never age are boring; lacking shrink or fizzle they drift into a disconcerting sameness, alarmingly flat and subdued. My still perky aging lettuce now has a few brown spots along its ribs, and one leaf is slightly brown on top, but for lettuce cut clean from its roots sometime back in early November, it's still disturbingly fresh.
It doesn't feel magical, just unnatural.
I feel the same way about facelifts, boob jobs, tummy tucks, and cherry red lips on sun broken faces.
Romaine lettuce, purchased mid-November, photographed early March
Out of habit, I almost ate a piece that had broken off in the bag, but I stopped my hand before it reached my mouth. Of course, I have no intention of eating it, and, of course, I will leave it in my refrigerator. Next month, I'll snap another photograph.
I wonder if this head of lettuce will make it to June or beyond. It just might.