Where the Paint Don’t Dry

An abstract painting
looked at my kid
and said, “I could do that.”

The conscious mind is trained by nature to seize upon the world and make sense of it. Alas, poor conscious mind!

An Abstract Expressionist spun her palette on a lazy Susan in the dark, like the chamber of a revolver in a game of Russian roulette. It spins and slows to a halt and she begins work. She jabs at the hapless canvas in knowing ignorance of the colors and deliberate non-concern for the emerging abstract forms. The close air sustains the poisonous cadmium vapors and smell of linseed oil. The blackness of the studio like pitch, a dead end in an abandoned coal mine. She executes the work in total darkness.

The painting completed, unseen even by its creator, is quickly sealed in a steel box welded shut. Whisked away to a deep sea fishing charter, it is motored out to sea and hoisted overboard, deposited in the Atlantic by an uncredited boat captain. It makes an ominous sploosh in the salty waves, which is recorded in digital audio for the exhibition, and disappears into the murky depths, bye bye. Fare well, unseen painting! Godspeed!

Take this image for no one’s eye
And stick it where the paint don’t dry

On opening night of the exhibition, the sploosh recording is looped in a darkened, empty room. The guests are asked to stop sipping their wine for a moment and imagine what the painting looks like. An explosion of faux-abstract imagery mushrooms up from the collective unconscious, a glorious, swirling mess of non-objective visions mixing with the ambient sounds of cleared throats and cocktail chatter. The critics bubble over with enthusiastic reviews. The conundrum of the unknown as a medium of expression: the mind is the commodity! It helps to be in the know on these matters, one supposes.

Time passes. Things are forgotten. Fare well, time! Godspeed, forgotten things!

At the retrospective decades later, a well trained docent at the MOMA will explain it all to a bedazzled couple from Topeka while the subtle energy waves from the artist’s original thoughts continue to propagate out into the blackness of outer space, bye bye. Fare well, original thoughts! Godspeed, conceptual art!

-:-

This bit originally appeared here September 3, 2016

A Medical History

The last 24 hours: six a.m. eating breakfast I bite my tongue really hard on the side and it hurts quite a bit. I finish breakfast contemplating mindfulness in general and mindful eating in particular – I am thinking about mindfulness, mind you, not actually being mindful.

There is a pain in my jaw from the day before that can’t decide if it is a toothache or a headache. My memory of it calls forth the actual sensation – don’t think about it! My tongue hurts for the next eight hours. At lunch I eat some junk food and feel full of stomach and depleted of spirit – my tongue seems acutely aware of the nearby gnashing teeth, fresh is its memory from this morning and it is still sore.

After lunch I develop a thick feeling in my throat and it is awkward to swallow – I ignore it and do my job all afternoon, preparing some items for a shipment with a nagging irritability lurking around my work area.

Early evening I have no appetite. I watch some of the film called Babel and when Cate Blanchett is struck by the bullet, which has a complicated history, I think about how many causes lay hidden in the scenery of our plodding days, unbeknownst to us. I visualize myself as the Medicine Buddha for a moment and become a light-filled mandala hosting every living being, human in form, Buddha in essence, from the past, present and future, and everything functions as medicine, even poison. Back to the movie. Everyone in the film is either making bad decisions or dealing with their consequences – this goes for the one watching the film too.

I have no known allergies to any medications. Check. My maternal grandmother had diabetes. Check. My deductible on prescription medicine is outrageous and I relive a bad memory in which I accused, in an unpleasant phone call many years ago, an insurance rep of malfeasance after receiving a letter saying my policy would not cover a condition which they had determined I was susceptible to: I stopped short of calling the man a heartless grifter, however, in a follow-up email I did suggest to him that he seek an honorable line of work before it was too late – deathbed regrets are not a treatable condition.

At around nine p.m. I head to bed, my bodily condition seeming like a profound irrelevancy. My aches, pains, worries and anxieties, complaints in general, are like a ship full of waving vacationers leaving the harbor, setting sail on the ocean at large in a vessel lighter than water, heavier than air, and stocked with delightful amenities.

As I drift off to sleep I wonder briefly what the weather will be tomorrow.

All Hallowed

A black cat arches
its bristled silhouette
against a sour green moon
in a newspaper ad
for mattresses.

September thumbed its nose at one keen summer and abruptly closed that happy book. We turned out each day after school to a gradually shifting light and a sense of turning. October’s grid of even and odd days played out like a roll of tickets and we slashed out the calendar squares one by one. Now it looms. It’s Halloween.

We dress out in style, not costume, and hit the pavement, the night before us rising in imagination. We meet up at our usual haunt and set out. The evening is drained of its color and clouds hang like wilted lilies at the edge a tree-clawed horizon, still glowing in the daylight’s wake. Mist is creeping below our knees. Flashlight beams vivisect the malign shadows. But the senses cannot claim what unknown dimensions might intersect with the ordinary on a night when saints and ghouls mingle together.

An election of angry spirits descended upon the hordes of feral children. Eyes open wide, the youngsters saw nothing amiss. They felt the strangeness of a life-eclipsing moment, no more palpable than a sense of being watched. It went unnoticed in the excitement of the holiday. Soul-snatchers unseen drew the essences right out through their tiny pink nostrils, and their animated costumes continued as before, lurch forward from house to house, shouting for sugar treats at the neighbor’s stoop with the echoes of little voices they no longer quite possessed.

We don’t see it happening like that. We are counting candies, sneaking cigarettes and breathing free, wandering the neighborhood with a sense of power over destiny. We have mischief in mind. Trick-or-treat is a make-believe protection racket and every kid knows it. Nice place you got here. Shame if your landscaping got TPed. All this youthful energy and potential, radiating on the hailing frequency of the vampiric, hungry spirits. A dead chill arrives on a gust, like a summons, and we disappear into the cavities between street lamps, wild spirits revolting all around us. We can’t see them. These ghosts, they would burn down this sleepy borough if they could even grip, yet strike a match. But their rebellious fits are as unknown to us as heartbreak.

On the night called All Hallowed the living do perversely antagonize the dead. A police cruiser slows, shines its beam on some trick-or-treaters by the side of the road. Their reflective costumes and glo-sticks shimmer at the burning edge of youth. He sees who they are, there is recognition but he sniffs, like a wraith, to be sure. The officer was himself robbed of spirit as a little punk, on this very lane. His memory of it a latency sunk like stone into forgotten water. He operates on instinct now, pulled out of nowhere. Pulled out of the darkness.

We meander down the last alleys there would ever be, fleeing the warm safety that has driven us, by the length of its boredom, right out of childhood and straight into a kind of nightmare we could not have hoped to guess. We laugh and chatter and eat treats. The glow of our cigarettes, like sprites or faerie traces, inscribe with movement cryptic runes in the darkness. The subtle chill of a watchful gaze seems to tingle upon our necks, we are so ready to be spooked.

Unearthing Sky

Under a spooning dome of swollen sky, they gather in swirling kettles. They never know where to look until a vision taunts them. They hesitate. The light of the sky waiting for its own green signal. Then they shine. How do they know to be so quiet?

The red things reflect the reds. The rest of the spectrum disappears into all the red things. Now everything is bathed in light. Rainbows crammed into the suitcases of every wave, every particle. The neurotic, misty light searches everywhere, looking for shadows to expose. It is constant. Seeing makes it confess to this persecution of the dark.

If it could only shine inside one, for a while, then we could see them too. The shadows. We could see within them. What on earth could be found in such a place? Light thinks it’s the only thing that matters. But without it we could not see fit to argue. Are we shadows, then?

Exquisite

A refinement of the tastes is a projection of superiority orchestrated by the ego. Its cost/benefit boils down to a reduction in opportunities to experience sensory pleasure of the many things beneath one’s high standards vs the enhanced enjoyment of pride.

This axiom is countered by the argument that quality is an actual phenomenon, that some things really are better than others. But qualities are themselves projections of the mind, which in human beings tends to be dominated by the ego.

[slops a dab of gruel into a crude bowl]

Now eat your breakfast and quit complaining.

Blue Tooth

Beto O’Rourke for Senate

Please pardon this aside into US politics, but down here in Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) is losing a lot of ground to the inspiring and progressive challenger, Beto O’Rourke (D) who, by golly, might just take his seat. Great article on this at Politico.

Address to an Infant in a Stranger’s Baby Carriage

(My latest piece to be submitted to, and rejected by, McSweeney’s. Live long, and keep writing.)

Our connection seems faint, an imperceptible nod from a passerby at some un-appointed hour. Does it not? What is this, do I know you?

Yet, here we are breathing the same air. You’re a lot like me, I bet. Stubborn and given to brash episodes of furious ingratitude, consumed by a facile self-obsession, a rancorous preoccupation with feeding and napping and all of it punctuated with a factory-like production of pant soiling emergencies. Don’t I know it. Continue reading “Address to an Infant in a Stranger’s Baby Carriage”