Trigger Warning: If reading about death is a trigger, you may not want to read this.
I had to dress my dad's dead body. Is that something people do? Is it strange for me to even mention it? Considering the way my head works; the way my internal dialog is usually met with societal expectations- it's either something everyone does or my doing it is weird.
It can't be that weird because I didn't do it by choice. The Hospice nurse called me into my dad's room to help her do so. First she asked me to grab a diaper- something he refused to wear. Other than that disposable garment, my mom chose the outfit that would be his last; A soft, from years of wearing and washing, button-up shirt and a pair of jeans that had a zipper sewn into the side-bottom of the left leg (I think it was the left leg). Also, his belt.
He hadn't worn his prosthetic leg in at least a week, after things went really bad. Not that things weren't "really bad" for a long, long time. Things went really, really, really bad at the end, I guess.
My mom left the room while the nurse and I pulled his jeans up over his feet, past his knees and over the diaper. She called me to the living room and asked me to ask the nurse to check again if he was actually dead, so I did. She asked the nurse if it was normal for a dead body to be warm in certain parts. The nurse said that it was.
He was so heavy. So hard to move around. I learned about how heavy he was in October, when he was first "admitted" into Hospice care at home, after a spell where he forgot his circumstance. Early in the morning, before the sun rose, he somehow hopped on one leg to the bathroom next to his room and nearly fell. He hollered something awful, which woke me up. I tried to hold him and ease him into his wheelchair, but the best I could do was to help him to the floor, where he ended up sitting. He had peed himself in the process. (That's the reason he made his way to the bathroom.) We had to call the fire department. Something called "lift assist" where firemen come and carefully lift people who need lifting. He was nearly a skeleton but he was wasn't capable, at that point, to help out at all and therefore far too heavy for me to do anything but carefully ease him onto the floor.
I didn't mind dressing him, or rather, "his body." After all that my mom had to witness and endure toward the end and after so many years as his caregiver, I was glad to be able to do this for her and for the wishes I knew he had- regarding her emotional well being.
That day, the day he was dying, was so strange. (How could it not be?) I had arrived the evening before, on Saturday. I was not planning on driving up that soon. It was a week earlier than I had planned but the "planets" that were orbiting my work and financial life, as well as my dad's quickly failing health, all suddenly aligned. I knew without a doubt that it was time to go.
When I arrived I found my dad suffering through what I later learned is called "terminal agitation." He was refusing all food and fighting my mom's attempts at giving him his medicine. What was most upsetting, however, were his constant efforts to get up and out of bed. he could only "half-way" do this- and if he did manage to get up, he'd inevitably fall and hurt himself or get stuck on the floor, in some uncomfortable position. This led my mom to call the nurses to help on several occasions. They told her he was tensing up (part of the terminal agitation), and this tension made it difficult for anyone to scoot him back into bed. His stubborn nature, however, was something my mom and I were very familiar with. It made sense that his instinctive bahavior would lead him to react to impending death in this way
When I arrived, I did what I could to help my mom with him and he saw me. Just his eyes.
She administered the Morphine and Lorazepam, but not as high of a dose the nurses were instructing her to give him because he didn't want any of it, and my mom wanted to honor his wishes, at least to a certain extent. This, however, was allowing him to experience more agitation and during the night, he made some terrible sounds. Finally my mom listened to the nurses (and me) and increased his dosages. That Sunday morning was when we began his hourly regimen of comfort meds, including a newer, stronger one. I can't remember its name.
Earlier though, on that Saturday evening after I had arrived, my mom suggested I take myself out to eat, as she knew it would be a rough night, so I went to a nearby Chinese restaurant and a woman with her adult son made a scene. She was trying to get a refund for some soup she had the night before, that she claimed was drugged. The staff refused to give her anything back. The waitress apologized to each of the patrons individually, after the demanding woman had left, and assured us that her food was not poisoned. The radio in the restaurant was set on a Christian station that played a sermon and static, intermittently. The lighting was fluorescent and it allowed me to notice things like stains on their silk flower decorations. There was a party of local drunk people in an area to my right, separated by a half-wall. They didn't notice the lady making the scene. After I drank my half-sake and ate my rice and bowl of hot and sour soup (indeed not poisoned) I opened my fortune cookie. It read, "Always a valley before a hill." What the hell does that mean? Is that good? Is the valley the hard part? Wouldn't it be exhausting to climb out of a valley only to find a hill lying ahead? Wisdom. The fortune and the "ambiance" that night felt like a clear cosmic joke -perfectly aligned to the entirety of life at that moment. If I wasn't scared, I'd have laughed out loud.
Saturday night was when I finally realized my mom was having a hard time facing the inevitability and very real occasion of my dad's death. She suddenly wanted to put him somewhere, in some kind of home where he could receive the help she believed she could no longer give him. She said she was too old and frail to deal with his worsened state.
On Sunday the nurses came and helped my mom accept the reality as it was, by telling her in a clear manner, that the transport to another location would be moot, if not harmful- in regard to my dad's wishes to be at home. I say "be" at home as opposed to "die" at home because the conversation, once he returned from his last hospital visit (exactly two months from his death-date) was about his continued life- how we could help him get around and do the things he liked to do. I mean, there were some moments of clarity where he spoke to me about the finality of financial matters and what he wished for our future without him and my mother's sense of comfort. He also spoke to my mom at the hospital about his fear of dying. He made it clear that he was afraid, that he didn't want to die. Other than that, he wanted to keep plugging along with ways to continue his life, regardless of his condition. After all, the doctors told him he'd have ten years to live back in 1995.
My dad beat a lot of the odds. He did so while heavily medicated and limited on activity and movement, but he defied a lot of odds.
That Sunday morning though, his body was done defying, denying and working. Early that morning, one of the nurses came and sat with my mom and I. He had come a few times before, during the Hospice experience, and chatted with my dad about their mutual interest in radio controlled airplanes.
Just before he arrived, my mom had administered enough of the comfort medicines to my dad so that he fell into a sound sleep. She didn't like the new, stronger medicine she had to add to the mix, because he threw up a bit while asleep, at one point, which we soon found out was most likely a symptom of his dying, not the medicine. She couldn't accept that though. Later in the day I called the nurses in frustration and they told me I had to force my mother to give him all of his meds or else the agitation would worsen. Or else he would die within his feeling of agitation and panic. I did not want him to die that way.
That morning we vented a lot and asked the nurse who liked radio controlled planes if he could help situate my dad in his hospital-style bed. He was very kind and he listened well. Upon walking into the bedroom, he paused. He mumbled something. I was behind him. When I asked him to repeat what he said, he responded, "His way of breathing tells me that he's..." he leaned in closer to me "he's transitioning now."
My reaction was to go to the living room and tell my mom the news; that it was now occurring. She didn't believe me. She said she had heard the same thing many times before, over the years and recently.
The nurse moved my dad into the position he would die in, later that night. He placed pillows at his sides and raised the bed frame by his head. He raised his legs. He looked comfortable. My dad stayed asleep through the position shift. That was when I first noticed his breathing was a timed pull and click, over and over again. This was the sign of transition.
I thought about a dying chihuahua I once sat with. Many years ago. The only living thing whose death I'd ever been present for. He did the same thing as I held him on my lap. His breath became a pull and a click. His consciousness seemed to leave a while before that.
We don't know if my dad lost consciousness because of the condition, or the drugs caused him to get to that point. The nurses told us it was the condition, that he'd have gotten there with or without the drugs, just with less "comfort."
I don't think my dad made peace with death, not while he was conscious, anyway. My hope is that there was some kind of magic that occurred on that Sunday, where perhaps, the parts of him that exist in some kind of "hovering" and wiser and omnipresent or liminal realm, above fear and above worrying human consciousness took over.
There was one point, after I found out that he was going, when I was helping my mom administer his comfort beds (given in the mouth, using syringes) that I swear I saw the movement of something like particles, above him. There was natural light in the room, but not the kind of light beams that hold dust particles. It was different. This may have happened before or after he let out a pained moan. His last.
He moaned in the late afternoon but he died closer to 8:30pm. That's what I decided on, as his death time, but it happened some time between 8:15 and 8:30, as we had just administered one of his doses and another needed to be given at 8:30.
I was having a glass of red wine and reading Joan Didion's The White Album: Essays, on my phone. The one about the L.A. freeways, when I heard my mom's snore. She fell asleep on the couch. It was then I noticed my dad's loud clicking sound seemed to have stopped, but I wasn't sure if it actually did or if her snoring was covering it up. I figured as well, that maybe his breath simply became more relaxed- that he had evolved into a new stage of transition. Part of me hoped too, that all of this suffering was over. Finally over.
There was a feeling of peace in the mobile home that I hadn't felt before, or ever, so I decided to let things be.
I was ready for a long night, for staying awake, so eventually I decided to walk carefully and quietly to my dad's bedroom and check up on him. I was considering administering his medicine myself, although I was afraid he would wake up and be terribly disturbed. He only trusted my mom.
I found my dad in the same position he had been in all day, but his head was lowered to the right. His chest was still. No click, no pull, no heaving. He was gone.
I thought about the fact that my mom had fallen asleep, of all times, while he died. In-between a span of only fifteen minutes, even though the nurse confirmed that he was "transitioning" since early in the morning.
I thought about how I decided to not rush to check on him when I felt the air of calm and peace. I thought that their spirits may have connected during that time. That somehow her unconscious self may have reached his or vice-versa, and he left that way, in peace.
I tip-toed back to the couch and squatted down beside my mom. I touched her arm gently and I said, "I don't want you to get freaked out but..." of course this freaked her out and she lept up in a panic. I said, "I could be wrong, but I think he's not here anymore." She put her shoes on (she always wears shoes inside) and together we walked to his room. She touched his head and, just like every other time she checked in on him that day, her tears fell onto him. She looked over at me and asked, "Is he dead?" I said, "I think so." She kissed him and put her hands on his. I sat at the end of the bed and put my hand on his foot, the one he still had left, and we cried for a little while.
Eventually I realized that we needed to call a Hospice nurse, and that's what I did. Before she arrived my mom asked me if we should dress him and I didn't know whether we were supposed to. When the nurse arrived, after I helped her dress my dad, after she had called the morturary on our behalf and notified her office and observed me disposing of his medicines, it was just my mom and I with my dad lying flat on his bed and dressed, and covered in his favorite blanket, in his room where he died.
My mom and I took turns walking back up to see him, his body now just a body. She continued to mention his warm body parts, so I reminded her what the nurse said, that it was normal for that to occur.
The morturary took a while to get to us, but we didn't mind having him stay with us. I didn't mind. I thought it was important. I wanted him to stay for a while in this "space" that was without suffering. Finally. My mom was worried about his skin changing color, of him changing. She didn't want to see him like that, so I eventually called the mortuary to make sure they were on their way and they came within minutes after I hung up.
His physical body left quietly. They used the back door, right next to his room. It was just a woman and a young man. The young man was wearing a formal burgundy and black suit. He looked like he might have left a school dance, or maybe this was something he wore as a uniform for this task. His way of showing respect.
In any case, they put him in the back of a Suburban. No police, no ambulance, no firetrucks, no lights. No one in the mobile home park even noticed. I was very glad for that.
Change of energy.
This is the hard stuff. Not as hard as dying or suffering but hard for me to admit to, in the face of grief.
The energy has changed a bit (just a bit), in this place. His space, and I have a need to be with this.
I said my goodbye to him in a way I believe to be honorable. I learned to accept the best love he could give. I forgave and I had compassion and I developed boundaries. I tried to be a vessel for good energy throughout the year of his transition.
When we found out his time was limited a little over a year ago, back when I was in L.A., I was terrified. I hadn't a clue as to what the right thing to do, was. I listened to everyone who told me that I was going to "lose it" when he died. But the transition was slow. I suppose I'm thankful I had time to digest what what happening and perhaps that time gave me emotional fortitude to handle other unexpected life-hurtles I ended up needing to make my way through and over.
That weekend, a little over a year ago, when my dad had his strokes and we learned there were no more surgeries or procedures that could be done in order to save him, I meditated in nature and tried to transfer pain and suffering in myself, in my mother and in him. The equivalent of prayer, or actual prayer, for everything to transpire with as much beauty and spiritual purpose as possible. Less fear, less anger. For all involved. To keep myself who I am, through it all. Remembering that I left a toxic environment that I believed to be the root of my making choices and relationships that put me in bad positions of power.
So, when my dad's body left, I entered his room and waved my arms and hands around. I tried to move the air. I stayed in the room alone and shook my hands. I turned, slowly, in circles and felt a bit weird about it but it's what my intuition told me to do.
His suffering was done. His energy was in the process of leaving. I had the opportunity, in my mind, to act as a kind of "midwife" to this. To try and ease it to a better place. Not with anger, but with a sense of relief and release.
It's been three weeks of ritual for me. Reclaiming, with tenderness, this place that was so toxic for so long. Cleaning the walls, the floors. Picking up wild beach sage and bringing it into the space. I asked my mom if she would put one of her plants in his room as a symbol of life and she agreed. Now I'm in the same room, typing this.
In respect to the energy shift- I've been waiting my whole life to do this.
I'm not wrong when I say he was so angry for so long. He held such grudges. My parents couldn't bring themselves to be the parents they needed to be. They weren't socialized. Self-centered. They didn't communicate with each other or my brother and I in a way that created a wholeness; to actualize a space of forgiveness and love. They loved in their own ways. I was often the in-between fiber to something I absolutely had to get away from. But now, for this, I'm back.
I'm here for the landscape. The trees, the beach, the ocean, my memories. The great deal of compassion I feel for my mom's sense of loss and guilt- her age and physical condition (she's several years older than my dad). I'm here for the salt air that makes me feel peace the way I never have in L.A.. The birds, the space around people, vehicles and buildings. The dampness, the cold. The old people, the walks, the fucking sea otters and jellyfish.
I'm here to be empowered through a process of letting go with as much love as I can muster up. I may not be grieving or fighting through old, messed up attachment issues I've developed the way I might be expected to, but I'm not out of control, and I'm not losing myself (yet). I'm coming to terms with change and creating another new life. I'm excited about new work and new views that come with something this big, while rendering myself as being tangled, carefully, into old roots that have been waiting.
Today I completed an online review of my recent vehicle lease-exchange transaction. Since it took a bit of time for me to compose, I felt it deserved to reach a wider audience. Feel free to use the text below as a template for any of your own service/transaction survey forms.
I would like to make it clear that any disappointment revealed on this survey questionnaire, relative to my experience of leasing a vehicle at your dealership, has to do with the system of negotiating the cost of doing such things, as it is, not the people, who are workers doing their job (as it is described to them) and trying to earn a good living. In that regard they did well. ______ ___________ has been, specifically, most helpful to me with my questions, following the lease transaction. In regard to my life and personal feelings (which I know, really doesn't matter to this survey-system), I am spending more money per month than I could and should, because everyone did their job of making sure it was a drawn-out and confusing (but very, very friendly) experience, and like most relatively decent human beings who try and look critically upon their own sense of greed; I detest the process of financial negotiations. Of course, this is what services like yours bank on. Despite my salesman, ____'_ sincere concern for my level of hydration (being revealed by way of offering me access to as much bottled water as I wished to consume) and being served a very delicious cookie that I'm told was brought in by your friendly receptionist, I am left feeling manipulated and I am most definitely caught further up in the current of financial obligation while continuing to live paycheck-to-paycheck. Please don't think my feeling like a pawn in a corrupt system where a corporation grows richer and more powerful by charging working people a lot of money for a new vehicle that they need in order to safely transport themselves to and from work everyday equates to a bad review. I expected this experience and my expectations were met.
I’ve been trying to get this latest newsletter out of my system. It’s been difficult. It's really not a newsletter, until you get to the very end. I'm trying to make sense of life stuff and I'm also feeling like being a bit private while also wanting to share, so here is the best I can do right now. I appreciate your interest.
I remember once, when I was twenty years old. I was reading and writing a lot. Diaries, novels, philosophers... I was deep in thought about life and experience and how "hard times" can be perceived as something more than “hard times.” They are fuel for creation. Data. Reasons to write and make art. -The kind of things twenty-year-olds think of.
One night, around that time, I had just watched the remake of 1984 and boy did it made me cry. As the credits rolled I wrote in my journal, alone in my bedroom, alone in the trailer my family lived in. That night I wrote and even said out loud in-between sobs, “Bring it on!” I was referring to all of life I seemed to have been holding off, or holding back, out of fear.
I felt this request of mine, that night, like a religious experience. -I truly did and that’s when everything changed.
I was offering myself up. In that moment I became aware of the illusion of comfort and safety and I knew that I needed to dive into new experiences. I was terrified, but I gave in. Too much was at stake if I didn’t. I’m talking about my usefulness as an artist and my time as a thinking, feeling and caring human being.
Like that beautiful scene in Rocky Horror Picture Show where Frank-N-Furter sings, “Be it, don’t dream it…” It was time.
What followed were the beginnings of my independent life, and a lot of it was weird. So weird, and not truly independent but it was fuel. It was data. I got a lot wrong and I got a lot right. I was still very afraid and I didn't know how to share as an artist and as a person. Eventually things got even weirder and eventually, wondrous. I "took the red pill," as they say. That’s when I stopped being afraid.
In time I learned how to organize that wonder. I realized that I could be quite useful; that I could and should use my abilities and interests in order to help others. I learned there are many different ways to do so. I also learned how to settle myself and I sorted out my own belief system/spiritual life that I now rely deeply upon.
Eventually, I dipped my toes back into the world I was born into, when I lived in that trailer; before that fateful night in front of my VCR. After all that I had been through, it was an adventure to do what people and memes now call “adulting." I've only really been doing it for like, five years now.
So for the past five years I've been tangling myself up in the web that makes people believe they are living well if they work on their credit score and keep up with advancements in technology and decorate their house like a Pottery Barn showroom (well, I’ve not gone that far, thank god, but I’m trying to make a point). What I'm trying to say is that I've been back in The Matrix.
I now make my payments on time. I commute to work with all the others like me. I've made peace with my being a drone; useful to a greater system. I value my work life but the good news is that I'm most certainly still a weirdo.
I’ve done things to keep myself uncomfortable, in order to keep myself from settling in, so that I can feel as much like a tourist within it. I'm not suffering, to say the least. I'm talking about things like living in the middle of Hollywood when I no longer care for the Hollywood lifestyle and using public transportation when I have a car–
The irony is that my way of keeping myself uncomfortable has led me to being deep within the world of service to our system and deep within the world of my ego. I am choosing to perceive my existence in this way. I have lost my wonder and the knowledge that there is a system of order out there that feeds off of this occurring makes me very sad.
(My recent feelings are pretty much all laid out in David Foster Wallace's well-known speech, This is Water.)
It became very clear recently that I had fallen into the illusion of comfort, rest and safety so I did it again. I said, “Too much is at stake, again. I’m ready. Bring it on.” And it worked. Life brought it on. Like a switch. It’s so odd.
I’m a quarter of a century older, this time around, so I surrendered with a bit of terror because I have experienced life and I know more about suffering. I'm aware now that "bring it on" affects and involves others. That being said, my life experience is something I can rely on. I can handle it.
Two examples of photos from my life, posted online.
One of my students ran up to me the other day. He had found/been looking at photos I’ve posted over the years on social media; art events I’ve been a part of, trips I’ve been on, projects I've worked on, readings I've given, etc... and he said, “Wow, you've lived an adventurous life. I had no idea!” I responded defensively, “Yes, and I’m still living one!”
The fact that he viewed my past as adventurous (as opposed to my present) may have to do with his preconceived notion of what it means to be a teacher, however it is also likely that he saw me as the person I have been lately, while I've been "comfortable."
As a teacher I may be delusional but I want my students to be as free as possible from that comfortable web; that system that has the capacity to force us into submission and keep us there, so I'm glad he was exposed to my "adventurous" life because I'm an example of adulthood. (That last part just made me laugh out loud.) I want them to be free and I also want them to not fear the construct we can’t help but dip our toes into as we make our way around this giant floating ball in space.
Speaking of planetary revolutions, it's a new year for me. It's also a new moon. I believe it's a time for asking for what we want to bring into our lives and so I wrote all of this as a way to do so. With Samhain it's a time to ask for help from our ancestors, from nature. The end of summer. Winter begins.
PS Here’s an actual update. I have a painting (a portrait) in a show opening on November 10th in downtown Los Angeles (see image to the left for details). Also, I’ve lowered the price of my e-book, The Boogie Book. It now costs only $1.99 and I read the book live and it's now on YouTube. Other than that I’ve been very busy teaching art and writing to teenagers. Thanks very much for reading.
Oh beautiful August, you are nearly done. School is about to start and the beautiful children will soon latch themselves onto my brain (whether they want to or not) and I will once again become something not unlike a pod-person living in the Matrix -with access to wine.
It's been a good summer so far. The best one I've had in a long time. After five years of working through the summer, I finally took the entire month of August off, and like Peter Gibbons said in the film, Office Space, "It was everything I thought it could be." And it's not over yet! It's not over yet, it's not over yet, it's not over yet...
To start it off, Kenny and I took a little road trip where we sat on a balcony and stared at boats in a dock. He DeeJayed, we ate ice cream on cones, shopped at outlet malls and frolicked in a park and on the streets of San Diego. Since then I've been painting, doing yoga on a regular basis (for the first time in forever) and editing some writing. I cut my hair, ordered bifocals and bought some new shoes. I realize though, that I'm not going to have enough time to pull off all of what I planned for this month, but that's okay. (I'm still hoping to draw and post a "summer-summary" style WHAT I DID LAST MONTH before September.)
The most important thing is that my brain has been my own for the past few weeks and I've been thinking a lot about art, consumerism, currency, Los Angeles, power, crafting, histories, etc... things I'd love to write about, but it's too much. It's all swirling, boring stuff I always think about that is better explored by way of my new visual art project (that has to do with shoes, of course).
As a human being, the social/internet-addicted animal that I am, I feel the need to share something, while at the same time being a blissful hermit, so I'm choosing to post one of my graduation speeches today. It addresses the thing that will soon consume my life (being a teacher). In it I write about coming to terms with that part of myself, but make no mistake, without my own independent work and practice, I am not able to teach.
One of my favorite things about my day job is the fact that the kids choose teachers to speak on their behalf at their graduation ceremonies. I wrote/read three speeches this past May, and was thankful and honored to be asked by those students, whom I worked so closely with over the years. I'm always grateful to be selected. It's the one time of the year I not only have an important reason to spend time on creative writing, but I also get to read my writing to an audience, which is something I love doing. I'm posting one here that was written for a student who graduated from middle school and is about to enter high school. I chose to post this one because it received some laughs from the audience. The other two were for graduating seniors and therefore a bit "heavier." I want to make it clear that I value all three of them (speeches and students).
P.S. I make references to RuPaul because the kid is obsessed with the show, Dragrace.
*Names have been replaced by underscores to protect the "innocent."
[directed to audience]
Hello Everyone, I’m Linda and I’ve been one of ______’s art teachers here at ______ _______ ______ ______.
[directed to student]
I have one thing to say... Just kidding I have a lot of things to say, now get ready for me to start talking about you like you're not sitting right here.
[directed once again to audience]
______ makes me crazy.
______ has that thing that artists need in order to be a true artist, and that is to have, within oneself, not only a big heart, but the heart of a troublemaker and I use that term with love.
As an art teacher, it is my job to try and help kids learn how to harness and use what I call, "the inner beast" (side note, my spell-checker changed that to "inner beans").
It's from this place where creative risks are taken and where innovation is born. And ______ is filled with inner beans.
That being said, I relate to ______ and though you will not catch me admitting this outside of this ceremony; I adore him. He's good kid with a big energy who likes to have fun. And he works hard! I've seen it! In the homework cafe with _____ working patiently with him while other kids are creating irresistible distractions like plotting to add clothing dye from our tie dye kit to the plug-in air freshener liquid (that actually happened).
Whether he becomes one or not, ______ is an artist. I know this because everyone marvels at his work and he comes into my class with his sleeves rolled and at the same time he figuratively and literally bangs his head against my table, stating that his artwork deserves to be burned and that he would never, ever want to be an artist. Of course only an artist says these things.
[directed to student]
Whatever it is that you end up doing in life, ______, just know that after receiving my masters degree in fine art, I traveled to a woodland mountaintop and fell to my knees and said, "please Goddess, let me never become a middle school art teacher, if anything, let me teach college students and get paid sabbaticals on floating islands where I write books about the relationship between my love of Godzilla and fine art," and Goddess responded. She said, "Linda Lay, anyone who says 'goddess' and chooses her clothes based on whether or not it reminds her of wallpaper from the seventies is a middle school art teacher whether she likes it or not." And here I am. You can't deny who you are.
A long time ago ______ tagged me on Instagram and I saw on his bio that he considered himself as interesting as a baked potato and as much as I appreciate his statement as someone who values a good joke, you are most certainly not a baked potato. You are my favorite vegetable, an artichoke, which is actually a giant flower with a big delicious heart.
[directed to student]
______. I have one thing to say–
Sashay away... from the middle school and into the high school. Have a great summer enjoying your inner beans and I'll see you in September.
NEWSLETTER June 20, 2016
Hello everyone. Happy summer solstice and welcome to my very first newsletter! So far I only have a few people who signed up for an email version of my newsletter, so for now I’m posting this on my website as well.
So what’s news for LINDALAY that's worthy enough to be put in a letter? Well, I’m going to be a part of another crafty art show/event in Glendale soon at a place called, Cure and the Cause, with a bunch of cool and creative L.A. people. I don’t have the info for that just yet but I will soon. I am also, currently, having a CRAZY sale at my online shop, where you can buy original fine art that looks like this monster below. Check it out here!
Here is something that I’m currently working on: Portraits.
Not too long ago I was asked to paint a portrait of Bernie Sanders at an event. I painted it within a day and was surprised to find out how much I enjoyed representational painting. I’ve been helping teenagers paint portraits for the past five years, at my day job, and through this act I am pretty sure I’ve improved. I have a hard time with committing to subjects though (I overthink things) and I want to paint more portraits so I am asking Kenny (husband) to tell me who to paint. I’m going to keep them all the same size, 24x24 inches, and eventually I’ll have a show with them. I’m calling the project, Whoever Kenny Wants Me To Paint. I’ve started my next one, which is Biggie Smalls.
Speaking of portraits, I’ve still got my original Wrestler series to complete. I have a total of fifteen that are in progress. Last summer I managed to create the “canvases” for these guys, made out of masonite and wood, and I’m pleased with the results. Here and there I’ve worked on them, mostly adding a texture medium, because for some reason I have the desire to create texture. They need a lot more work though. The closest thing I have to an art studio is my classroom, and I’ve been putting the kids first, which is you know, what I’m supposed to do, so these guys have not had as much attention as they need but I keep plugging along.
I really like pro-wrestlers as a subject because they’re so flamboyant and tacky. Many adult men seem to almost turn into children when they recognize their favorites (This is my second series of wrestlers. I had a show with them a few years ago.) that I’ve depicted. I also see these wrestlers as a symbol of America. They remind me of terrible snack food packaging. Most of the time it seems people in this field of entertainment are so unhealthy and imbalanced and I feel like that’s a metaphor for life all around us, but then it might just be a metaphor for my life lived in Hollywood.
In addition to all of that I’ve also been working on a series of crocheted and felted Octopus Mother sculptures/art dolls. This one you see above is in progress, and it’s my third. The other two are in loving homes. I’m allowing this process to evolve, and I love the addition of wool-felting techniques that I learned because of a student I had who introduced me to the art form. I just love crochet and fabric in art, and I think I’ve been finding my way toward understanding my attraction to the medium, as an artist. I love the time and effort given to make something cozy, and to me octopus mothers seem like the coziest mothers, which makes no real sense, aside from my learning that they care for their eggs for many, many months and then they die from all of the work. That’s not really coziness, I guess, but it’s an instinctive devotion so… maybe it’s all the “limbs” that I like, or the lack of human-ness. Perhaps I'm subconsciously exploring some sort of existential/maternal thing within myself.
Above Octopus Mama 1 (Blue) Octopus Mama 2 (Grey)
Another project I’ve recently completed and is available for sale at lindalay.com is my Goblin Witch. This is one of three little posable beasts I call "art dolls," that I made after being inspired by a method one of my students used in her sculptures. It’s just one example of how much my experience as a teacher has helped me evolve as an artist. Click here to purchase!
I also have this personal project that I’ve been working on where I take clothes that no longer fit, or are worn out enough to throw out, and I create “yarn” to crochet this rug (see below). It’s an exploration in material, but I’m also interested in becoming less wasteful. I’m much happier when I have a personal connection to my belongings. It means more to me when something useful is also something connected to my effort. I love creative things and fashion and as a maker of “things” and as a teacher of young people who often have access to a lot of things, I think a lot about value and waste. So far this is ongoing, as I can only continue when I discard some fabric. I used to work on this while on the bus, on my way to work, but it’s grown too big and cumbersome. I'll continue to post photos as it progresses. I want it to be pretty large.
And then there’s Mister Nibbles...
Mr. Nibbles is a puppet I made about a year or so ago. It’s from a story I wrote and I was inspired by my writing group to turn this character into a web series about a woman who owns a Wiccan shop and her mystical cat that’s turning into a “caticorn.” At this point the narrative is told from his perspective. I have a blog for him on my blog section where I've posted a Youtube video where Mr. Nibbles “comes out” to his online friends and I have a poem that I had him read during a poetry reading at my school, and people laughed. I want to record that one soon and post it as another entry.
Speaking of magic shops, my most successful “seller” at my lindalay.com shop, so far, has been my chakra balancing Blib Blob necklaces. I’m almost entirely sold out so I found some beautiful new glass beads and I’ve started a brand new batch. The photo above is showing them in progress, sitting on my beloved moss garden. As silly as it might sound, I truly do believe in adding a lot of love and good juju to my handmade art and crafts and the process, for me, is meditative. Each piece is cared for so that energy transfers to the wearer/owner. Click here to purchase one from the “first batch.”
Another personal project (like the rug) I’m proud of is this really great tablet holder I made. There are a ton of Youtube tutorials on how to make them, and I didn’t follow the directions perfectly (because you don’t need to). I used cardboard, a hot glue gun, elastic, velcro and some old cat pajamas for the fabric. It was so easy and it has improved the way I use my tablet drawing app. In addition to that, I can feel safe when I carry the tablet around. I really hated the options for holder/protectors/carriers at the stores, and they were all overpriced, so I made my own and I’m pleased. The only thing I need to do is create a loop or pocket to hold my nifty new drawing stylus. I have this Craft Vlog/Blog and I’m thinking of adding this to the list, but I might not since there are SO MANY examples of how to make these things online. I have to prioritize. Still, if you are interested in making one out of recycled materials, simply google or check Youtube for "DIY tablet cover."
By the way I cannot believe how cool my Autodesk drawing app on my tablet is. For like, four dollars I’m able to do things I used to do with my very first drawing program, Fractal Design, that cost about three hundred dollars in the nineties and now I can draw directly onto the screen. And don’t even get me started on how much more the computer and the drawing tablet cost back then. I just got my stylus for under ten bucks! Technology is nuts! In any case, I’m using it for my WHAT I DID LAST MONTH drawing series.
So, I suppose I’m in the middle of a lot of things.
If you don’t know this about me yet, most of my time during the week is spent as an educator at a for-profit school. Putting together this newsletter is helping me see how teaching is making it hard to focus on one thing at a time. I mean, I have a hard enough time focusing as it is, just being who I am- As frustrating at it is to not be able to devote all of my time to bringing to life all of my own ideas, this year I've been able to understand how much I’ve been learning through the act of teaching. Not only through the daily lessons and experiences of working with teens in a one-to-one setting, but through the drudgery of everyday work. Things like paperwork and prioritizing, although I have been thinking lately that I should be a bit more whimsical with my priorities. In any case, I’ve been practicing certain “life skills” in a way that I hadn’t ever before. Most certainly, this experience has been a test for me, to be able to live authentically and "under the radar" in the mundane world. This June is my fifth year working as an art/creative writing teacher.
As distracting and exhausting as it is, it’s also rewarding, on a personal level, in regard to my human need to feel as though I’m contributing to people and the world in my own little way. For instance, here is a letter written to me by one of my students as a Valentine's Day project that another teacher organized:
I mean, come on! How rewarding is that? Now if only this kind of appreciation would translate to guaranteed health care at work and no longer having to live paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment without a personal studio space and having the time to devote to my art and writing without being so distracted...
I know that I’m going to need to have a break from teaching at some point, or find a way to teach in a way where I’m part of an organization that perceives me as more than a semi-valuable but surely replaceable cog in the profit system when I’m financially able to take that break (if that day ever comes), but I’ve been figuring a lot out, and it's been super-important. My students and my fellow teachers/work peers have given me so very much, in regard to helping me feel as though I’m part of a community and doing important work with my art and creative writing degrees.
Speaking of taking a break, I’m going to be cat-sitting for my friend who lives right on the beach, in a couple of days. During that time I’m planning on making my novel, The Unmet Man, a thing that lives on my website. I took years to work on it. It was my graduate writing project. For a long, long time it was my most important project. I started it in 2003. It’s fictionalized biographical stuff and in my head it just isn’t supposed to live as a traditional book. I was so personally linked to it that it's taken years and years for me to sort out the formal aspects of art and writing from the therapeutic aspect of the process. I've hated and loved it, over and over again and I think I’m at a place where I can finally trust my gut and make it the project I’ve always envisioned it to be, and it will be available for free, on lindalay.com and theunmetman.com. We’ll see what happens. It might just end up being that first novel that needed to get done but wasn't really good enough to become anything. Either way, I’m really looking forward to spending time with the ocean and the lovely old cat you see sitting on one of my crocheted blankets, in the photo above.
The last thing that is news is that you can still purchase my rhyming e-book called THE BOOGIE BOOK at Amazon.com for only 2.99! It’s beautifully written and illustrated and helps kids, young and old, to not fear the unknown. You can even purchase your own hand-crocheted fingerpuppet to create an exciting story time experience by clicking HERE!
Thank you very much for reading my newsletter!
Two Sundays ago I went to something called Monsterpalooza. I heard about it because the film director and monster lover, Guillermo del Toro, tweeted on Saturday that he attended. I did two seconds worth of research and found that it was a three day event and I still had a chance of attending and tickets were available. I was so excited and let me tell you, it's been awhile since I was this excited about an event.
There was to be a panel on Godzilla featuring the original Godzilla actor, Haruo Nakajima, and the original Godzilla creature sculptor and fabricator, Keizo Murase. There was going to be another panel on puppets in film and television.
This sealed the deal for me so I apologized to my writers group for missing yet another Sunday meeting and bought my ticket.
I decided to drive there and it wasn’t until after I arrived that I realized I could have taken the L.A. Metro Gold Line to the Pasadena convention center where it was held. I was too excited to do the research I normally do. (I like taking the train.)
As soon as I entered the parking lot I saw others like me. Monster lovers. Specifically monster lovers. Not anime, not comic book characters, not superheroes. -Just monsters.
I can't directly put my finger on this feeling I had of being exactly in the right place; a place where I was surrounded by people who also shared my enthusiasm for Godzilla and demons and aliens from outer space.
I went alone and this turned out to be good because I was able to explore at my own pace. I was able to observe in my own way. I like being alone, especially when I’m exploring.
The hustle doesn’t discriminate.
This was the first time I went to a thing where cult celebrities sit at a table and sell their autograph and this was a great lesson for me.
My way of being an artist often has me sitting at tables waiting for people to buy my work. In addition to that I help my husband by working the door at his events. I sit and take money and have to listen to people complain or give their opinions about the cost of entry or how they think nightclubs ought to be run. During these times and during my day job of teaching young people I have to feign interest in things I have absolutely no interest in. Like most humans, I spend a lot of time feigning interest in things I have no interest in. It’s humbling for me as an artist that's done as much work as I have and I had been feeling rather low about it all.
But here were these people we make assumptions about (that they live at least some sort of charmed life), waiting patiently and with grace for people to come up to them and give them a mere thirty bucks. There weren’t throngs of people waiting in line for autographs. I walked by several times to find familiar movie/television actors sitting alone, staring at their phones and looking up occasionally with a smile to possibly lure someone to their table.
Vincent Price’s daughter, Victoria Price, was there. She seemed really cool and had a good way of interacting with people who shared stories of their love of her father. It must be weird and hard to live the life of someone valued for the sake of someone else; whether that be a beloved parent linked to pop culture or a character they played as an actor.
I'm a fan.
I had no intention of purchasing an autograph at first, I don’t like autographs, but I soon decided that I needed to commemorate the fact that I was in the same room with the man who was Godzilla, my gender-neutral hero since I was about four years old, and he was very old. (Born in 1929!) When would I have this opportunity again in this funny little life of mine? I chose a color photo of Haruo Nakajima he had for sale, one where he was laughing and appearing to be entering or exiting his Godzilla costume, which he then signed. I also purchased a protective cover. My phone was taken away from me and I was told to pose for a photo while he shook my hand.
I’m so thankful (recently) for Guillermo del Toro, (historically) for Goya and for all of the many artists over time who also loved to depict monsters. I’m thankful for my art history classes for showing me that my proclivity for depicting and observing these sometimes goofy and seemingly unsophisticated art subjects has a rich and valuable history.
That being said, I have trouble associating myself with monsters and art because of the often terrible work that is done. Monsterpalooza showcased some terrible art. What’s worse is that the stuff that was selling most were reproductions of monsters found in pop culture.
Deviant Art is filled with art like this. Many teens I teach are obsessed with recreating images of monsters people know and they grow addicted to the praise they receive NOT for the work being original but for how well they recreated the familiar subject.
I don’t like that at all, but I understand it. Especially when it comes to young artists. I get it. It can be a stage of learning.
The cool thing is that monsters can allow us to be original. A monster is distinctly outside of what’s normal. With monsters, an artist has liscence to go nuts and I wish I saw more of that within the world of “monster nerds.”
I always credited TV for my interest. -Monster movies of the 50’s and 60’s that were on TV in the early seventies, during the day when I sat in front of it. Sesame Street started a year before I was born. My dad has always been a horror movie fan. Probably all of these things turned me into the monster fan that I am but who knows? I always felt like more of a monster than a human, or maybe I just would rather have been one. Monsters always seemed better than humans.
A long time ago someone told me I was abducted by aliens as a child and another person, not so long ago, said that I'm actually from another planet. I haven't been able to prove either theory but I take them both as compliments.
I had such a nice time that Sunday. I wished there were even more booths than there were to display more monster art, makeup tricks and memorabilia. I look forward to attending again, next year.
As I get older my experiences that are truly and honestly one hundred percent “fun” are usually moments that take place during increments of an hour or so at a time. Human adulthood is a whole lot of hard work and super boring stuff and filled with non-monster loving people defining what is and isn’t valuable or important and I think I’ve grown way too used to it. I think this is why I found myself needing to write about my time at Monsterpalooza, in order to try and aggressively embrace and accept the fact that for whatever reason, I always was and always will be a monster lover.
The following is an imagined conversation between myself and the fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld. From this point forward he shall be referred to as “Pretend Karl.” The real Karl Lagerfeld had nothing to do with this, and this interview is complete nonsense based entirely upon my outdated and uninformed perceptions of the man.
PK: Hi Linda Lay.
LL: Hi Pretend Karl. This is so exciting for me. I've admired your work for a long time.
PK: Really? How long?
LL: Well ever since 1990, after George Michael released his song, Freedom 90 and the video that featured all those famous supermodels. That led me to reading fashion magazines and watching Style With Elsa Klensch on TV every Saturday morning.
PK: You discovered my fashion from magazines and that television program?
LL: Yes, and George Michael. You know how back then the magazines featured these wonderful spreads of each collection?
PK: Of course I do, I’ve been a fashion designer for longer than you’ve been alive.
LL: Exactly. I used to love the August issues that featured the fall collections. The clothes back then were so brightly colored and glamourous. I guess they say that’s what happens when the economy is bad; fashion gets glamorous because we want to pretend we are doing better. In any case the models were such stars back then and they walked with such confidence, which was something I needed in my life. They really were role-models for me. Not when they spoke though, just the way they carried themselves. I hated when they spoke because their ideas and voices didn't match the image I saw (or perceived) on the runways and fashion-spreads. I remember you being quoted as saying those women were like silent film stars and I think that was true.
PK: Yes, I said that, but what does that have to do with my fashion?
LL: Well the way you handled Chanel, at the time, really impressed me. I did a research project on Coco Chanel in high school, before watching Style or that George Michael video, so I was familiar with her fashion and aesthetic. The way you took something so distinct from our culture and honored it by staying true to her legacy while making the line your own was incredible to me. I am still very impressed.
Also you had a lot of gold chain stuff at the time and I loved it. Combining the traditional Chanel purse strap with these chains- like, “glamorous biker.” It was so chic.
PK: You yearned for glamour?
LL: Well I yearned for more than what was offered me by my family and our financial position, but what I found in you was an artist I admired. You were/are prolific and super-solid in your presentation. You made me understand how fashion could be perceived as fine art and I valued that, because we need clothes and when you’re poor spending more on clothes sometimes makes sense. A painting doesn’t. You were being useful and I guess that suited my world more than fine art did, which is a shame.
So yeah, I yearned for art and although my dad drew a lot and my mom sewed and made collages they never took me to museums or galleries so I learned about art, fashion and culture through TV and magazines. Sometimes through movies like Slaves of New York.
PK: Thank you for noticing that I am prolific. Did you want to be fashion designer?
LL: Kind of, I mean it seemed like an option once I discovered fashion, but I went to beauty school.
PK: So you wanted to be a hairdresser?
LL: No, what I wanted was to be a fine artist and I was told that I couldn't become one because it wasn't practical or realistic, but all my roads seemed to point toward being a full-time artist, all roads aside from the one based in reality.
PK: That is funny, “become one,” it’s really not a choice, is it? Did you work as a hairdresser?
LL: Your right, it’s not and no, I dropped out of beauty school. I wasn't very good at being a part of that particular service industry.
PK: So I inspired you as one artist to another.
PK: Did you design clothes?
LL: Well, I sewed. I was taught how to mend at an early age. My mother shopped at garage sales and thrift stores. She used to sew a lot of my clothes from scratch and she'd make adjustments to patterns and change pieces. I was inspired by that. She had a good, instinctive sense of style. Now I design and sew clothes. Mostly I make new things out of old things. I even sell them sometimes.
PK: You learned to be resourceful.
LL: Yes, sort of. I am a maker, a crafter, so that side of me responded to the sewing. When it came to clothes and fashion, I spent many years wanting the terrible clothes that was fashionable by the kids in my home town. I wanted to fit in and I wanted to be happy. People with a lot of clothes seemed happier than I was.
Someone came into my life that acted as a second mother and mentor when I was seventeen and she was/is a business woman who made her own success. She wasn’t born rich. She exposed me to fashion as something avant-garde and something I could possess with or without a big budget. Meeting her was a huge “game changer,” as they say.
PK: So there was more than George Michael, magazines and fashion programs on TV.
LL: Yes. Also, it's Important to mention the affect MTV had. Andy Warhol had a show about his fifteen minutes thing. I think it was called, Andy Warhol's Fifteen Minutes. Also I loved Debbie Harry (who was on at least one episode) ever since I was seven. She was my first role model.
PK: She was very fashionable and was able to make unique looks on a budget.
LL: Yes, but I didn't know that then, at least not on an intellectual level. She impressed me with her confidence as well as her style.
PK: Like the models
LL: Yes, but with a bit more substance. No offense to models but you know, she made music and talked about art. It was good when she talked. She developed her identity and it felt like she truly owned all of it. I guess it was the punk/DIY part of her, or maybe I simply perceived her as being that way because I was a kid.
PK: Do you wish you were a pop star?
LL: That’s a great question. Kind of. I was always drawn to pop music but never instinctively drawn to the art of making music. I’ve always understood that pop stars had an entryway to a creative life and I've always been creative.
PK: I am also a fan of pop music.
LL: Right, I mean, it’s all around us and the pop stars are more than the songs they sing, whether that is good or bad… maybe it's because I grew up in the age of Warhol and advertising and because art was only something I was exposed to via marketing, but I understood how that world held power and I knew I needed to find my own.
PK: Did you find your power?
LL: Depends on how you define power.
PK: How do you define power?
LL: I hold onto a few different definitions, depending on who I'm dealing with and what I need. The older I get the more I am sure that I can't truly answer that question. I have some power. My favorite kind of power is the kind I have when I’m feeling a sense of harmony with nature. I also really like the feeling of power I have when I am presenting something I’ve written publicly; when I see people laughing or interested in what I’m saying or when I can create a sense of joy and enthusiasm to a group of people on a dance floor. When I can make people lose their inhibitions and have fun- that feels like a good power and I know how to access it. Money is also power but it’s a social construct and so I don’t trust my feelings of satisfaction when I feel power from having it. I like money a lot because it can give me a type of freedom, but there have been times when I've had enough to make me relatively comfortable and it didn't give me a feeling of existential completeness or connectivity/harmony. I felt fearful, actually, in regard to managing it. That being said, money no longer scares me because I'm better at handling the way it comes and goes. I certainly feel powerless in this world when I’m out of money though, so it’s weird. It’s totally weird.
PK: Interesting. I have a lot of money.
LL: Yes, you do. And I think it is very interesting, even though I also think it's greedy and bad; the way you can charge thousands of dollars for costume jewelry and people buy it because it’s made in limited quantities and it has your name on it. I am interested in that kind of power though, I won’t lie. That is the same kind of power fine artists whose work is collectible have. That's how I feel when I sell my art, but on a smaller scale. I feel like it’s a kind of alchemy, to turn something regular into something “valuable.” My feelings are complicated, but I admire your ability to do that. I honestly do.
PK: It helps to have a big ego and to truly feel entitled to a ridiculous outlook on life and superficial things. To live life in a semi-sociopathic way.
LL: Yeah, I guess it’s important to “sell it,” right? Hmm... You have to believe it so everyone else does. I think I’m pretty ridiculous but I don’t want to be a sociopath. I really don’t.
PK: Okay, well I said “semi,” anyway I have to go now, I have an appointment to get my hair powdered and then I'm heading to the hand-held fan factory while drinking a lot of Diet Coke.
LL: Okay, have nice day and maybe stop using fur for fashion because skinning animals alive is really super terrible.
PK: Okay bye!
I used to read blogs and more personal Internet stuff, a long time ago. Part of why I maintain my web identity the way I have been, after all of these years, is because of my love for what I found a long time ago.
It was stream-of-conscious writing, and that’s the only kind of writing I did back then. I liked/like the diary and the mirror that the Internet is and can be, even if everyone's delusional and fake.
I still emulate and maintain the kind of digital life I developed then, now mostly by using the popular social media outlets that are really just a portal to funnel data; my identity as revealed by way of other people’s articles on this or that topic. A cat video, a tweet, photo after photo after photo… I've evolved personally and changed as the trends have. (I had little choice.)
I like it? I’m mean, it’s something. I’m participating. It’s relatively satisfying. I’m very busy anyway.
I don’t even think I can be who I once was anymore because my game is different. Can what I do be called a game?
Anyway I don’t want to post tips on hair-straightening or eye-liner application and I don't want to make video clips using or referencing other popular video clips. I guess I call that “the game,” and I’m not interested in it. I really don’t understand how anyone is but then again I like to watch a guinea pig eating a blade of grass on Youtube.
Now I spend my time teaching. No time for devotion to anyone’s blogs or diaries, particularly my own but the kids I teach speak the language of memetics and Internet narcissism. I’m observing and trying to sort it all out in a crone-like-anthropological sort of way. I like some of the jokes that aren’t supposed to be jokes. I’m on board for that.
I really miss letting it all go though and painting like I used to. -Using my hands, for myself, but right now there’s no room or time so I'm investigating and gathering "material" from my surroundings and doing whatever I can with that.
A student asked me the other day why I didn’t paint in the classroom while she painted and I told her that when I paint I have to be selfish and it makes me feel a certain way that I can’t feel in a teaching environment. She laughed and said, “You want to steal all the art supplies?” I laughed and said, “Well, yes, I’d like to, but that’s not what I meant by selfish.” I explained to her that time moves fast when I’m making art and when I’m in that state of being, I wouldn’t want to stop doing my own thing in order to help her or other students out, and my job at school is to help her and the other students out.
Other than teaching I do paperwork. Most of that paperwork is digital. It’s still paperwork. On weekends I rest some and then I do my own paperwork. I pay bills. I crochet when I can. I try and keep up my practice in all mediums and I try and keep my presence online. I do the best I can.
In the morning I drink my coffee and look at writers who have mom-blogs and people seem to love it. I look at reality stars who are taking selfies and selling garbage and that gives me motivation to try and teach children to use their hands and think critically. I do my best to follow the life advice people layer over images using attractive fonts that are shared on my news feed.
When I can muster up some energy I hike around the Hollywood Hills where things are pretty because people who live there get paid so much more than teachers do, but the birds sound prettier up there and it smells like jasmine. Open-air tour vans drive by and I try and regain some of the dumb enthusiasm I once had for this town.
I think about money a lot and try to fit myself inside the mindset some people have. Those people who get millions of dollars for working less hours than I do. Feeling that some kind of expectation of it makes it happen. Damning the place in life I was born into and wedge myself within but then feeling very connected to it, as well. Wondering if, deep down, I’m aware that I’d have to exist in some kind of "circle of Hell" type of delusion so I’m actually refusing that kind of life on instinct. Or maybe I’m just comfortable with the delusions I’m used to. I don’t want to be a horrible person. Anyway, poor people can be awful too.
Life is magic. Magic is life.
I was very little when I first heard and saw David Bowie on the television. I was born in 1971 so I entered this world just about the time of Ziggy Stardust.
The first thing I heard my parents say about David Bowie is that he made "doper" music and it was something my Uncle Tom liked because he was a doper. I don't remember what I asked, exactly, but I must have asked something when I saw him on TV or heard the song on the radio. My memory has mostly to do with what they said. -Maybe I simply heard them talking to each other about it. "Space Oddity" was Uncle Tom's favorite song, they said, but they called the song "Major Tom" and they said he thought it was about him. This made them chuckle and shake their heads the way they did when I did something wrong. It all seemed very mysterious.
It was around that time I became aware of Ziggy Stardust being David Bowie but also not David Bowie. I was about four or five years old so I couldn't wrap my head around the duality and I don't think anyone around me could begin to understand it for themselves so my sense of confusion led me to let it go, rather than ask a lot of questions about it, especially since his costume (his platform shoes, in particular) and my parents' association of him and my then-unstable Uncle Tom scared me.
When I was just about twelve, music started to be everything to me and that's when I saw the video for "Ashes to Ashes" (the track/video had been around for a couple of years but it was then that music video shows started to become a "thing"). During my first "encounter" and this one, I hadn't given David Bowie much though at all, and here he was talking about Major Tom again!
"Ashes to ashes, funk to funky / We know Major Tom's a junkie / Strung out in heaven's high / Hitting an all-time low"
The funny thing is that I didn't know yet that the term, "junkie" had to do with drugs. (Maybe he really was singing about Uncle Tom!) Either way, the video had him dressed in an entirely different costume than when I first saw him with red hair, sparkles and platform shoes. He was still weird, but the song was catchy and I didn't perceive him as I then saw "dopers." I was also then aware enough to know that no one, aside from my parents, used the term, "doper" anymore. That being said, the issue of drugs were all up in my face because of the nation and Nancy Reagan's campaign against them, which focused on us kids. I received a certificated signed by Nancy Reagan after pledging to be drug free. (Her signed "N" looked like a big "U" and for a while I thought her real name was, Uancy Reagan.)
At that time the TV was filled with anti-drug commercials showing me what drug addicts looked like and absolutely none of them looked as elaborately dressed as David Bowie. Drug addicts on the TV were people who lost their motivation and ambition and had absolutely no concern for fashion or music. They dressed in grey colors and had dark rings around their eyes. They sat on old, dirty couches. Their hair was tangly.
However disillusioned I was about the world of drugs, I was developing my own opinion of David Bowie, whether or not he was two people in one; whether or not he ever was a doper and/or wrote songs about my troubled uncle.
A year later I was in middle school and music really was everything and I heard his song, "Blue Jean" that did not sound odd or like it came from outer space. It sounded fun and had horns and background vocals. My friends and I acted like we were too cool to like a song that was getting as much airplay as this was. I actually thought it was an ad for blue jeans (there were a LOT of ads for jeans back then) and it was the first time I had considered the strangeness of an artist selling a product. Of course, it wasn't an ad, it was a song, with a music video to go along with it and by this time we all had MTV and it played over and over and over again in our homes.
Soon after that we had the release of "China Girl," "Modern Love" and of course the duet with Freddie Mercury, "Under Pressure" (I'm sure that I'm listing the order of these releases incorrectly). David Bowie was proving to be a hit-maker, even in the eighties. He was in Band-Aid and then Live-Aid, along with many performers that my friends and I deemed to be cool enough to like. Around this time David Bowie dressed in tans suits and acted as a goblin king in a Jim Henson film. I decided he was all right and payed attention to some of his old music in a new way; in my own way.
"gotta make way for the homo superior"
At that time there was also Boy George who, as far as I could tell, was mostly acceptable to everyone and he dressed in ribbons and wore makeup. Of course I understand that must not have been the case, but it was for me and how I chose to experience life, then. That year I dressed up as Boy George for Halloween and people loved it. I started to understand the value in dressing differently than others and each day I realized, more and more, that my parents' world view was limited.
By that time I had come to accept the fact that I was an artist. Not only because I was compelled to draw or paint or make good costumes, but because everyone acknowledged this in me. In my own little world, I was consistently rewarded for being creative and unique.
Now let's fast forward to age twenty-five. I think this photo might be from when I was twenty-three or twenty-four, but it was taken at a beach near where I was living at twenty-five. It reminds me of my next and final David Bowie memory I wish to share.
I was living with a man who had a big house (it was big to me). My "studio" was a bedroom that was on the second floor. It was in the middle of a redwood forest. I remember being in the shag-carpeted studio with a calendar from some pop-culture magazine that displayed quotes from artists, writers and musicians before each month.
There was a quote from David Bowie, and it shot right into me. The funny thing is that I can't even remember what the quote was, exactly. I attempted to find it on the Internet a few times, with no luck. My perception and/or memory of the wording must be wrong.
I had just had my birthday and I began worrying about my identity as an artist, and thereby my identity as a person on this planet. I wasn't really making art or even writing outside of my diary. I wasn't sharing anything I was doing with the world. I didn't know how to, and anyway, I was too scared to try. I hadn't yet gone to art school, because I was intimidated by others who seemed to understand more than I did. To put it simply, I thought I was too dumb and too poor.
The quote on the calendar or magazine, attributed to David Bowie, and how I remember it, had to do with being remembered as a bad artist. It had to do with leaving a legacy based upon his ability as an artist. It had to do with fear and it connected directly to something I had within me that was crippling.
I didn't like what he had said. I didn't want to worry about whether or not I was a good or a bad artist. It was hard enough for me to make art, let alone determine its worth. It connected to a panic I had regarding my reaching a place in life that others would see as, "successful," by the age of twenty-five, irregardless of the fact that I had not even clearly determined what success meant to me, or what truly mattered to me as an art-maker and a writer. Now that I'm older I understand that people often have that concern at twenty-five. I wonder if that calendar published a quote from a twenty-five year old Bowie?
Either way, that quote sat in my head for years. Soon after I read it I died my hair pink and began expressing myself through fashion. I collected brightly colored dresses made of rubber and plastic. I wore platform shoes and wigs. I have never made a connection between this time of my life and David Bowie, but I realize now that I was learning the value of the "outside" as a tool to express the potential and elusive, "inside" of who I was and am. I was beginning to learn the value of creating and acting as a character with a story and an invented world surrounding her or him, like Ziggy Stardust did. Platform shoes no longer scared me.
I think now about my first perceptions of David Bowie and later on learning about his creation of a character– Later on thinking about him in relation to identity and art while watching the film, Velvet Goldmine, and thinking about life-as-art, etc...
When I was thirty-two I went to art school and by then I had a completely different view of my art and its purpose. I had learned about so many artists; artists who care very deeply about their place in the world and people like Henry Darger
who didn't concern themselves with the value of art in regard to the canon of art or music or writing but are still very valuable within those worlds.
Now that David Bowie has left us I feel as though he lived as an artist who wasn't panicked about the value of his work, but perhaps he was. He seemed to live through the 90's and the 2000's as such a chill guy who seemed to be fully engaged in the adventure of being an artist and influential person on this planet, but of course that comes from my own perception, so who knows, right? The truth is I haven't even listened to enough of his music. I haven't experienced his albums in their entirety and now it's something that I will do.
I have two people in my life who have shared with me, stories of their spending a brief amount of time with David Bowie, throughout the years and in different scenarios, and both of these experiences went beyond a simple "I hung out with David Bowie" and into a treasured sort of mind-space. –One of many incredible moments lived, but incredible all the same. Lessons were learned, but perhaps it was because of who he was that every word seemed something like gospel. Like everyone recently, I've been reading people's stories online, from various different media outlets, of people who knew David Bowie or had a conversation with him through a chance meeting and they all seem to express a feeling of spending time with a whole-hearted person.
That quote going around by Simon Pegg recently about the earth being so old and the fact that we have been lucky enough to be here with David Bowie truly nails it and I'm really so thankful that so many people are feeling his existence as something special that they lived alongside of, if that makes any sense. A life as art/ A life is art...
Of course we all know that David Bowie was in fact, for a time, a "doper," but he survived that and was valuable all the way through it. He managed to create and share and create and share, repeatedly. Through my own life experiences, and during this time of living alongside the mutating/evolving/yet-somehow-consistent existence of Bowie, I grew into an artist pondering the dichotomous way of thinking encapsulated in Neil Young's famous line, "It's better to burn out than to fade away." Although others have not only proven this wrong and changed the reality of that line entirely– David Bowie's life and death confirms something intuitive within me regarding life and art that changes the game for me, in a big way, once and for all. I think we're all kind of feeling that.
There are strange things happening and I’m not sure what to make of it. It has to do with the Internet and people who use it. In this case, young people.
I’m overwhelmed, which is nothing new, really.
I make no secret about the fact that I teach teens, which is overwhelming enough, but I teach them art in a one-to-one setting and so they can share their creative interests with me. It’s gratifying to witness how many different ways these young people can express themselves creatively.
Aside from their generation and shifting hormones, there is one thing that threads them all together, and that’s the Internet and the ways they use it. I’m unable to completely grasp their way of being in it, or with it, but in my own capacity, I observe and I listen. I'm sure they'd hate to know that I'm lumping them all together in my (most likely outdated) perception of the word, "teen," but I have good intentions and different kids teach me different things and often change my way of thinking.
For instance I've learned a lot about various popular “Youtubers” that I really cannot tolerate but they are very, very popular. As the adult that I am, I perceive these Youtubers as young people that kids find attractive who play video games and record them while it’s happening and tell jokes that I don't think are funny. I do think it's cool, however, that people can create their own channels and develop a fan base.
And then there is all of the appropriation, and this is at the same time fascinating as well as overwhelming and confusing to me. Some of my more “arty” kids are fascinated with other young people who take songs and animate their own kind of music videos. Not only are they using other people’s music, but they take characters from popular cartoons AND the characters made by others who create blogs or Youtube channels and place them into a newly designed landscape. Sometimes these people collaborate with others who add to the “project,” and then it becomes an even larger stew of borrowed and original sounds and artwork. I see them as visual diaries that are most often expressing your typical teen angst but the work involved can be time consuming and can allow the student to grow formally, as an artist. (The topic of plagiarism comes up a lot in my class and that's a rich and tricky subject for me right now. For instance, I'm posting links to images I simply "grabbed" from the Internet in this blog post–)
In any case, I’m glad to see these kids engaging in art projects that are collaborative and I’m glad that some of these kids are trying out new creative tools because of what they see their peers doing online, but there is the part of me that is unsure if everything is just turning into borrowed crap that mimes and wiggles along to clips of borrowed music.
That being said, I'm constantly having to remind myself to ease up on my "doom and gloom" perceptions of youth.
I mean, I look back at a lot of stuff I was really, really into at thirteen and it’s just awful to me now but good lord I loved it then and wanted to share it with everyone I came into contact with and I did. -But I didn’t have the Internet.
–And the Internet that these kids know! There is so much for me to learn about that I simply don't have the time or mental space to absorb, and when I do learn something new it's often about something so dull or ugly that it's depressing. For instance, a teen just told me about something called the "Dark Internet,” which apparently looks like the Internet I use but it’s really perverse and filled with shops that sell bad things. Like, really bad. I haven’t looked into it, and I really don’t want to so I'm not going to.
My first years on the Internet, in the late nineties/early two-thousands were dark. Things got very dark for me, actually, in regard to coming into contact with abusive predator-types, but I was also very excited about the connectivity and how it allowed for sharing. I finally had a place that was big and unknown to share thoughts and imagery that I instinctively wanted, or perhaps, needed to share. The mystery of who might find something I put out "there" was and is exciting and makes me feel larger than myself. Even if I have to be cautious of the darker side of human behavior in this way, I have decided that for me, it's worth it. I want to be in control of my online identity.
I don’t want to teach teenagers to be afraid or to not share on this web that is meant for pockets of ourselves as well as our collective voices, but I also don’t want them to be lured into dark digital realms where people are cruel, unbalanced and manipulative.
But let’s step away from the Internet for a moment to talk about actual meeting places; the conventions where people aren’t themselves. Let’s talk about Cosplay. It's not my world at all but kids are often making costumes or costume elements in my class for some or another convention where they will dress as a creature they invented (that fits into a collectively agreed upon aesthetic “world”) or they dress as characters from comics or anime or stories and games they admire, thereby shifting away from the computer screen and into a physical world where everyone is cloaked in a sort of anonymity. With my kids it seems to come from a wholesome place. It's often childlike and sweet. The goal, as far as I can tell, is to be recognized as your character and admired by convention-goers and online communities, and in some cases these characters are original. Sometimes these kids receive recognition for the creation of their costumes and creatures and videos displaying their work and visual stories surrounding them and I think that’s really cool. In addition to that, parents seem to always chaperone their children at these events. The anonymity, however, makes me feel at ease. The idea of people making themselves into new creatures, or creatures they wish to be like is kind of cool. I support the idea of making yourself, on the outside, who you wish to become, on the inside. I believe this has the potential to lead to positive change. I guess I'm concerned here, with the predators who take advantage of the innocents that I know are attending these events and posting videos online of their skits and dance routines.
Speaking of predators and innocents, let’s look at the teens who live as and behave in their day-to-day lives as young, playful kids, but when they show me their various profiles and Instagram photos they are posing with "kissy" faces and brooding mugs and wearing clothes that make them appear much older than they are, with captions that I don't understand at all. It worries me but at the same time a lot of them are actually writing, on a daily basis, in blogs about their lives and the world around them and I think that's really cool and valuable.
It’s sort of a new way of engaging with the world, to expose (and even refine) your diary/visual identity, and so many of these kids seem fearless to me and I have to believe that it is good. Kids don’t know it’s new though, because it’s always been there for them.
Jokes. On a daily basis, I observe middle schoolers sharing absurdist “inside jokes” that I secretly think are hilarious because I actually get the references and I’ve studied Dadaism and Semiotics and know a little bit about Memetics but when I question these teens about why these jokes amuse them, they really have no idea and eventually I realize they most often don’t really think they are funny. They simply repeat them because they see it being repeated online and then the fact that they are obnoxious becomes their joke. This is something I used to do in my own, “the world was a smaller place” sort of way, when I was a teen, like telling my mom, "Mom, just get me a Pepsi, please, all I want is a Pepsi!" which is a line from the Suicidal Tendencies song, Institutionalized. So when it’s appropriate, I break elements down and explain to them why something is being referenced in that specific manner, which makes me appear even older and nerdier and more boring to them, but whatever- with my nudging they might eventually start taking a step back and asking questions. I'm a teacher, that's my role.
I can explain some things to them, but really, I have no answers. We’re all in the middle of something and we're coming at it from different generational and experiential angles and I think for me, it’s like not being able to see the forest for the trees or I’m seeing so many trees that I don’t know what the forest is…
And then we have trolls. Trolling. I learned this term about five years ago when a sixth grade student wanted to depict that horrid Internet drawing.
As I mentioned above, I have experienced plenty of trolling and trolls.
I see them occasionally in my adult, day-to-day Internet life and I think it’s revolting because, of course, I’m old enough to understand some of the psychology behind these people displaying cowardice and sociopathic tendencies. It’s rooted in fear and we all know that it can get so ugly. I cringe at what the kids must have to deal with. Perhaps they have thicker skin? I know many who, most certainly, do not.
Perhaps these trolls are growing older and having their own kids that are being deeply bothered by people on the Internet? -Messing with their lives. The children of trolls. Have we reached that point? Are there essays written about that? About people who treated people horribly online only to give birth to their own kids that had something similar happen to them? Part of me wishes for that sort of karma but that’s not fair to the young ones birthed by trolls. Anyway I'm not even sure if trolls actually mate. It makes sense that they're manipulative, mean and cruel because they are failures in the world of human relationships and person-to-person contact.
I hope this is a generation of kids with thicker skin (but not too thick) and at least some understanding of a world that I am simply unable to be a part of. I also hope they become a generation that is useful with their hands as well as their minds. I want kids to want to connect beyond the borders of who they physically are and contribute something to their communities, as opposed to calling people names while hiding behind electronic devices. You know, I want kids to feel connected to something global and good and weird and I want them to sometimes turn their camera app off and have real conversations and experiences with friends and people in person, so that they don't forget how to.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.