I was sitting in my garden this morning–apricots full of earwigs falling–reading Yoko Ono’s book “Acorn.” I’m finding it an unbelievable balm to my mental jumpiness.
Now I want to try one of her pieces–Cleaning Piece III.
Try to say nothing negative about anybody.
a) for three days
b) for forty-five days
c) for three months
See what happens to your life.
OK–I’m just doing the first. Care to join me? I’m going to start Sunday July 22 and run Sunday-Tuesday. Then, I’m going to write about it on Wednesday or Thursday, and then post on the blog.
If you want to join me–send me a note at email@example.com.
Please write up your experience and send it to me a day or two after the piece ends. I’ll add to the blog! I’m excited to try this.
Now That My Friend is Dead
Now that my friend is dead, she couldn’t care less
that I’m wearing her red satin skirt,
treading on her Afghani rug,
lounging in her embroidered Chinese robe.
She isn’t concerned with life on earth
in the slightest—our dreams and schemes,
secret sex, bravery, mass murders.
What is consciousness then?
“I can’t explain it,” she says, eager to get away
(vaporize, or whatever spirits do). “Words have no
meaning here”—her final bequeathal.
How I Learned About Evil
There are things I like to write about—sex, death, love—and things I’ve had trouble writing about—being ill, my father’s gangster family. And then there are things I haven’t written about properly at all. I’ve made stabs, little forays, attempts. All have failed.
These things are connected, I realized, when once more I tried to address them. They all happened in the 1970’s. They all happened to other people—I was a bystander. They have overlapping casts of characters. And at the heart are some secrets of mine. Or, if not exactly secrets, things I have trouble…writing about.
Actually, they are about sex, death, and love. And evil.
Now, I live in a household when 50% of the people (my husband Rich) do not believe in capital E Evil. I probably mostly believe in the Jewish concept of the “evil inclination” as opposed to the good. I don’t think of evil as a personified force walking the earth (a traditional enough pursuit for the devil, though).
And when I say “evil” I see it through the lens of my own experience and society. I see it as racism, fascism, and violence. And I am willing to try and touch on one of these difficult to write about topics.
When I was twenty years old, someone I was close to lost her extended family in one night of the “dirty war” in South America. I’m not ready to elaborate and have the privacy of others to consider. Let me just say that decades later when I walked into SITE Santa Fe’s show on The Disappeared and saw the flag of Chile made out of human femurs, I blacked out.
As a result of the murders of the family by fascists I also witnessed the single greatest heroic act I have ever been close to. An individual, essentially unsupported by law or government, went into terrifying hostile territory to save some children who had miraculously survived.
As I begin to write about this, here and in my notebook, I see that I veer into fiction. A few details change. The narrative becomes more coherent and less messy—essentially less like life. I always experience this process, but here but seems more necessary. I’m not going to write a novel, but neither is this straight out confession.
I was raised to see the world as a terrible place. My father could mention Hiroshima and Auschwitz before breakfast. In many ways, I had to leave the east coast and go to California to learn that the world was also beautiful. In my family, the beauty was a secret, kept apart. I suspect that we were the reverse of others, who kept evil the secret.
This leads me to our current day. I may be easily upset, but I am not easily shocked. I could try and ignore my father’s obsession with the past, but I could not ignore what I had experienced, even if it was indirect. Actually I am grateful that I have spent my adult life trying to accept, explore, and understand both sides of our reality. This is not the time to stop.
We went to Great Village on Nova Scotia in search of Elizabeth Bishop.
This was her home through part of her childhood. Early dislocation–or maybe a natural tendency–made her a poet obsessed with and inspired by place.
It was very moving to be there. But I also credit the visit with a desire to search for her once again in the pages of her books.
I bought, second-hand, not wanting to waste
The Complete Poems
of Elizabeth Bishop
that someone named Emily
had already marked up
in green ink
for English 310—Section 1.
I don’t think Emily
has chosen these poems herself,
they seem assigned, and she
although obviously a careful student,
Her comments further obscure:
“The negotiation between what is real
and what is real”
I used to underline too, when I was young. I even used to date lines when I finally “understood” them. It’s touching now to look back on my own obsessions.
Very glad the house has been preserved ad that the hamlet is aware of its literary heritage.
About a year ago, the creative duo of Maternal Mitochondria applied for a small grant we did not get. Nothing unusual there. We thought we were right in their catchment area according to the call, but when we reviewed what they funded we could easily see—it just wasn’t us. Plus it was very competitive. That said, this is a usual enough occurrence. We apply to a lot of things, and often get rejected as well as getting accepted a fair amount.
So, what is of interest here?
I reviewed our proposal, which was for three projects. None of them seemed very pricey so I started to wonder if we could do them without the grant. And it seems like we can—and will.
The first was to do an all ages workshop of suminagashi and poetry and install a geocache walk in a public space. Well, we’re set up to do just that with the support of the Railyard Park in Santa Fe in August.
The second project was to do a geocache path of our own art and poetry. This project has really taken off, and is going to be a permanent site off Route 14. Our resource here, instead of the grant, is my son-in-law Tim Brown who is designing nine amazing spirit houses out of scrap metal. These will be containers for changing shows, but they are sculptural works of art all by themselves.
The third project was to geocache works of individual women artists which they’d installed near their studios/houses. We’d asked for small honorariums for this. This project hasn’t happened yet, although a variant will be a pop-up show curated at the Santa Fe Poetry Garden in the fall. But thinking about it now, it seems like it would be easy enough to get artists to participate without honorariums—or just to find another donor for this modest budget.
Of course a grant is good for visibility. However, I have learned over the years that hoping to be validated from the outside isn’t a position of strength. As artists, we don’t want to have to first please others in authority before we can create. We need to just go for it. However, this is much more doable if we are working in community, in collaboration, on teams, and with our friends, family, and neighbors. Money is a great resource, but when it is scarce there are substitutes.
So we’ll keep applying for things. And keep making art.