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.
“How does this store stay in business? Who goes in there?” Kenny asked as we drove by one of the many giant faux-rusted, big-windowed shop filled with giant Buddhas made of stone that seem to thrive in L.A.
“Oh, everyone has a big Buddha in their house. That’s the first thing people do when they make a buck in this town is get a big Buddha. It’s a rite of passage,”’ I said.
Of course I pulled this out of my ass, kind of. I mean, it comes from somewhere. I’ve seen photos of homes here in L.A. where there are big stone and metal Buddhas silently guarding living rooms and gardens. One time I went to a viewing for an apartment I didn’t realize I could no-way afford and there was a HUGE Buddha in the main room next to the window. I think it was the Buddha itself that sent out some kind of subliminal signal that somehow, not only accessed my bank account and memories of being raised in a trailer park, but also turned me around and sent me firmly on my way out the door.
A few days later after our conversation about Buddhas and shops, Kenny and I attended a house party. The house was very nice.
We entered the house on our own after a good knock and no response. We heard festive chatter within. Upon entering we were greeted by others who were also guests and they were standing by (you guessed it) a giant Buddha made of stone. Once we walked inside we found painted portraits of that same Buddha. There was a beautiful green garden canopied by rows of twinkle lights and big-leaved plants and in the center was a big square stone with tiny, white, fire-holding pebbles resting upon it. We sat with the other guests, on cushioned cement slabs, around it. Kenny and I faced the Buddha that seemed to be watching us from inside with his iris-and-pupil-free eyes through the fire.
“See,” I said.
Kenny nodded his head and said, “Why don’t you paint Buddhas?”
“Why don’t I paint Buddhas? ...I wouldn’t mind painting Buddhas, actually. I like Buddhas.” That’s what went through my head and it made me feel excited and that excitement made me feel uncomfortable.
When I was young I was told by many people who didn't know me well, but knew I had creative inclinations, to paint lighthouses, sea otters and that tree in Pebble Beach, because we lived by such things and we also lived by the shops that sold paintings and tiny versions of such things. This used to make me mad. I didn’t feel compelled to paint something as simple as what people liked in their houses. My art explores what I don’t understand. My art is a mystery to me that I feel compelled to share. My art should lead humanity to new perceptions in regard to existential matters!
So then, why was I suddenly feeling enthusiastic about the idea of painting Buddhas? -The current equivalent of what lighthouses, sea otters and that tree in Pebble Beach once were to me.
In addition to that, a few weeks before, when my friend asked me to make a portrait of his dog, I said that I would and actually enjoyed the thought of imagining how I would depict him. I derived pleasure from considering the challenge of what I could do to make his portrait my own.
Back when I was younger, when lighthouses made me angry, a woman at a craft show offered me money to paint a portrait her Dachshund and I very nearly socked her in the nose for asking. I felt that she should understand from my work on display that I was not there to paint her dog or anyone’s dog. I was there to explore and to make philosophical discoveries that happened to make its way out of my psyche via paintings of demons and aliens that happened to look a lot like adorable Muppets. My ego was way hurt.
A friend at work (whom I consider to be cerebral) and I were talking and she asked me to teach her how to draw animals so that she could turn out some bucks by painting people’s pets and that’s when I found myself telling her about my new plan to paint Buddhas and that’s when I got it. It clicked. I understood the change. At least I think I understood the change. I either understand it, or I’ve lived without much money for so long that I’m finally setting my ego aside for the sake of possibly (probably not) earning a better living.
But, setting my ego aside (har har) let’s pretend I have undergone an actual catharsis.
Buddhas and dogs aside, I had been thinking, a lot, recently about my subject choices. I’ve been painting lizards and pro wrestlers.
Actually, it was one of the high school students I’ve taught that helped me realize something that perhaps had been brewing in my head for years since I left the tourist town I came from.
As my students work on their projects, I sit across from them at a big table but I will often paint, just to keep myself busy while I give them some space. It keeps the conversation flowing and allows them to work while I observe without being too overbearing. It’s more like a working art studio that way. (I teach one-to-one.)
The student I’m crediting with bringing me to the start of this new frame-of-mind noticed that my “doodles,” as I called them, looked a lot like lizard scales. He suggested that I make use of those scales and draw a snake or a reptile. It was a revelation!
Perhaps it’s because he was a teenager, as opposed to something I saw as an authority figure telling me what to paint- Perhaps it’s because he saw what I was doing naturally and suggested something the world could relate to, to place that work within.
There is more though. Time and (dare I say) education.
I went to college between the time I was at that craft show and wanted to sock that Dachshund-loving-lady in the nose and the time I found myself excited by the idea of depicting subjects that people buy because it captures something they feel they own or symbolizes some kind of spiritual space they want to inhabit.
Specifically though, things changed a lot during my undergraduate studies after I took a creative writing class about animals.
Our professor, someone I consider to be a brilliant woman, wanted us to understand that it didn’t matter what a writer wrote if they wrote about it from a place of authenticity. She taught me, through examples and through making us practice our own writing, that there is always more to it. The true artist is translated through the work, no matter the subject.
I think my ego received a great deal of comfort after reading novels that focused on horses, or fish or cows and simultaneously clocked me right in the gut with very human feelings and made me think about my very personal human experiences. She even showed us a quirky documentary film about the life of a type of mole and one about worms that told tales most conscious humans could relate to. I was in tears.
All that being said, here I am writing in my personal blog, as a human, and sharing it with the Internet in order to sort out something I am claiming to have mastered. -Letting everyone and myself know that I’m not letting go of what’s really important to me as an artist if I paint a Buddha, or a lizard or a dog, or even a lighthouse. I'm ridiculous.
There is something else, that until now, I failed to consider.
Developing a body of work over the years has given me so much. Constantly making and writing and drawing and most importantly, sharing, has allowed me to collect reactions to my work. It’s allowed me to decide what sort of responses I’m comfortable with and what I’d like to change. It’s caused me to accept and make friends with (sort of) with my own personal creative language. When I was younger I didn’t have the experience and so perhaps I had to protect and defend something I felt but had no proof of. Letting others purchase and make a painting or sculpture their own is sometimes a very important factor in creative growth. (Sometimes -being a key word. As I wrote that last sentence I thought about Henry Darger and others like him.)
My work is often creepy. That’s what people say. I don’t set out to make something creepy, and I have a lot more to learn, but I’m glad that I authentically translate what I see into something that can make some people feel uncomfortable. For better or worse, I have that and I’ve nurtured my process. I still set out to create something I think is beautiful, but I’m aware that it will most likely be seen as being creepy, or unique in some way. Experience has led me to this place of comfort where I know that if I paint a Buddha, it will most likely be a creepy Buddha. It will be my Buddha.
This is a question I was asked in college, during a critique. My work consisted of about eleven pieces that were made out of layered film on cardboard and recycled plastic bags acted as a sort of frame. I created record-sized canvases out of these materials to paint upon, and the content which I created with pencil and paint had to do with cats and neural connections.
Why cardboard? Why did I feel an intuitive connection between recycling materials, cats and the plasticity of the brain?
Before that I used old food product boxes to draw and paint images of models from magazines upon. I added my own hair after a haircut and coated it all with two-part epoxy resin.
I called the round cat pieces, “Many Sluts” and I called the other body of work, “Pretties on Products”.
I’ve probably been exploring my identity as a woman and as a woman born without much money; wondering what sort of currency I’m allowed to have. As a birthright? Anyway, I have had some money in my life and Pretties on Products was bad because the message was too obvious. Pretty women on products, blonde hair... I even added mirrors to the bit. Cheesy, I admit, but I'm looking at it now in the context of the use of recycled materials.
The use of recycled parts is important to me. It always has been. The idea of making something out of what is thrown out is something I’ve fantasized about since the beginning of my thoughts. I guess I saw a lot of that as a child, and it wasn’t wrapped up in the package of a Martha Stewart show like it is now. Old things were made shiny with varnish and used as furniture. My family’s stereo console/living room central focus was always a wall made up of cinder blocks and boards holding a fancy Harmon Kardon stereo system and an entire set of Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedias and one blue dictionary. The coffee table was an old giant spool taken off of a utility truck and of course, varnished. In the mix of that was a creepy, framed, giant drawing of eyes my dad made by looking at an image (of Cheryl Ladd) from a 1970’s TV guide. My mom cut out images from magazines and wheat pasted collages on everything. She used every old tea kettle or cooking pot as a planter. Plants were always around. My clothes were handmade or from garage sales and most things were kept and adjusted as I grew older and bigger. She only used an antique Singer sewing machine. They could have bought a newer one, but this was important to my parents. I remember this. I remember people being impressed by my mom’s style and by my style and observing how we were perceived by others in our community because of it. I’m not saying things were great because of this, or idealizing it, I’m simply finding myself in this history.
As a teenager I moved away from these "roots" and found my way into the world of appreciators and collectors and buyers of things that are brand new, or at least neatly packaged and therefore valuable to everyone else. I like that world and tried to be that before I could actually grasp what I do as a writer and artist and maker; before I earned the right to be that. I’ve been around money and like I said before, I’ve even had some of it.
I don’t want to be known as a quirky “trash” artist. Something you see on a blog post and think, “...how clever that person is to have thought of that!” I don’t want to be that crazy artist who eventually buys a shack in the desert and creates a magical landscape of brightly colored and spinning bits of garbage that hipsters visit on road trips and post photos of on their blogs, because I am someone you would expect to do such a thing. I admire and am inspired by many of these people who go full-throttle and do things their own way, but fear of that kind of stereotyping (which would be easy to do with a "wacky" gal like me) is why I never became a Yoga teacher and probably why I eventually went to college to receive a Master’s degree in fine art. I'm fully aware the my ego is holding the reigns here.
Even though I’m trying to figure out the whys of it, I’m very comfortable with the aesthetic I’ve developed after all these years. I truly like my body of work and how it has communicated with the world. It’s doing mostly what I want it to do but I need it to do more.
Some of my favorite work was done on cardboard and I only have a couple photographs scattered on hard drives from this collection. They were drawings I did very quickly of lizards one summer during a break in art school. The photos were in a book on lizards that I checked out of the library. I was visiting my parents and my mom, at the time, was using cardboard to paint on and make collages out of. She says her art is simply her own personal hobby and so she uses cardboard because she doesn’t want to spend money on materials. In any case, she also had white tempera paint and after I drew the lizards I decided to paint certain parts of them.
I saw them as sketches but I thought they were elegant and lovely. I watered down a bit of the paint and so some areas of the lizards were more defined by the white. Some parts were ghostly. The cardboard looked forgotten but the drawings were cared for. I liked this contrast. But why lizards?
When I brought them back to my art studio, one of my teachers said she liked them a lot. She asked me, “Why cardboard?” She and other teachers and my peers said that I needed to have an answer to that question, other than, “I didn’t want to spend money on supplies,” because on a conceptual level, the material spoke just as loudly as my subjects. I also said that I chose cardboard because I liked the way it looked but they either knew better, or they simply refused that kind of answer. Now that I’m a teacher, I would also refuse that answer from my students. Is that okay? -Especially considering that I am writing this today, still trying to come up with a theory on my creative impulses. I mean really, why animals on cardboard?
I have some new ideas
My friend and I would talk about the “remix” a lot, a few years ago. She’s an artist too and she gets me. She was trying to help me mine a formal explanation, and I think I adopted a few through these talks.
-It’s a postmodern world and all that. No work is new work... commenting on our product obsessed consumerist existence. Warhol, celebrities, art found inside of product endorsements. Life as branding. Sports players and sports logos. All that and the family I was born into and later on the family that took me in who buys and collects things made by makers and creative people like me. Later on, my exposure to money when I was too young for it and believing that the purchases I made could define me and impress others... I guess that’s good and true. All of those things have been there.
Remember in Disney’s Cinderella when the animals make her dress? I loved that. I loved, loved, loved the idea that a beautiful dress could be made out of thrown-away parts. Forget about the prince and the pumpkin and the ball, I was stuck on the talking animals and the dress made the same way my clothes were often made.
Like I said, my mother repurposed clothes. She made new things out of old things in order to make things last. I don’t think I did that until I was in college, and by then I was thirty-two years old. I did it when I needed clothes that could express my level of my personal creativity on a budget of nothing. I started with t-shirts. I made a dress out of three of them. I went from there, creating so many pieces that I had work in our school’s annual fashion show by the time I was a senior. Someone back then called my collection, “Frankensteined,” and I like that.
Fashion is now part of my creative repertoire and I am bringing the same elements into this area. The “found” object, and I’m still trying to sort through and define my conceptual world with it.
It has to do with being poor and being rich. It has to do with wastefulness. It has to do with exploring creativity and resourcefulness. It has to do with my way of valuing my developed personal identity. But lizards and cats? (I'm currently painting lizards, but on a large scale and on canvas.) I still don’t get why I choose those subjects other than the fact that lizards have beautiful scales and I love to study natural form. Lizards are serious and still and attentive. I can’t tell what they are thinking and I also admire their stillness. Their poses are often elegant and graceful. There is the whole thing about the reptilian mind too, which I learned about after I focused my attention on these creatures. -The part of ourselves that acts instinctively; but that idea is in contrast to the sense of stillness and seeming self-control and mystic poise I derive from an image of a lizard. I like their alienness, their dinosaur-ish-ness, their monsterness–
And then there are the cats. There is the “crazy cat lady” I have often joked that I would someday become. As well as that, cats are independent and mean and super cozy and loving at the same time. Cats are viewed as feminine, cats have nine lives and they are all over the Internet. That one’s not so hard. A lot of people are focusing on cats right now.
Ugh. None of this makes any sense of my putting them on recycled bits and pieces so I’m just going to drop it and move on to something else.
For the past three years I’ve been in love with a remixer. Kenny remixes and makes sounds. He makes them fun to dance to. It comes naturally to him. In conversation he layers words and noises with what he hears in our day-to-day lives. Those moments are often funny and it’s meant to make me laugh but through this lighthearted practice and when he makes a song out of “parts” I am recognizing my own process of making in another form. -Doing something with what’s out there. It’s totally acceptable in music and I never hear anyone asking him what he was thinking about conceptually when he chose to mix one part of a gospel song with a man recorded selling beer at a street fair with an easy-listening hit from the 80’s. Is it because he makes stuff that people can dance to?
It’s not like he has it any easier though, which comforts me but then maybe he just doesn’t allow that question to enter into it? Maybe it’s there, but he just doesn’t allow himself to care and instead puts his work out there, allows it to live on its own and then moves onto the next one.
Can I blame this narcissistic exploration on my M.F.A.? Am I a narcissist?
I want my lizards and my cats and my monsters and my clothes (and my writing) to matter in the world of everything that matters; to be of value and I have trouble simply letting it all find its own way, I want to be in control of the how and why and what the work reveals about me and my life, and the fact of the matter is that it’s not entirely up to me. I guess that's natural and it’s okay to not have an answer that everyone else probably has (like Georgia O’Keefe’s "vagina flowers"). That’s what I’m terrified of, that everyone sees what I don’t and I’m drawing my vagina over and over again and believing that they’re flowers.
I suppose I'd be okay with that if my work were valued financially. Even I feel like my work has to be sold at a low cost because the perception is that it's a ton of fun, but it's not a hobby. It's very tricky to live in this expensive town because it's good for my life as an artist, and have a full-time job that takes up most of my time and yet barely pays enough for me to live in the tiniest space with no real art studio. So it comes back to money. Maybe I use discarded materials because my experience has shown me that I don't get back what I put in? I am frustrated.
Cardboard and cats, lizards and cheap paint, human hair and varnish, discarded clothes and thread– monsters and aliens, goats and flowers and a book about the Boogieman and another one about an unmet man. A poem about butter. A shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Carefully organized and evolving websites, disturbing art performances and bad Youtube videos. Puppets, teaching, crocheting and now octopi sculptures... I thought that by the end of this I’d have sorted it all out but I’m more confused than ever because to me it’s all connected and I can’t figure out how to translate that gut feeling to everyone else.
I don’t want to have to be the one to do it and I don’t think I have to so I'll keep plugging along. I’m stopping with that. Thank you for reading.
I'm sitting at a car dealership in Van Nuys. It's March and this March is mine.
I feel like I'm on vacation. Palm trees sway and the wind is blowing. In the distance I see hills. Not a cloud in the sky. It's warm but I'm in the shade so it’s alright. I’d even say it’s nice.
The car dealership men make me feel so gross but I'm away from them now.
The car’s getting an oil change.
I work in The Valley, further north of where I sit now, and I'm usually not out-and-about and especially not at a car dealership at three pm on a weekday. It feels good. It feels like L.A., like that Sheryl crow song. The one where she talks about drinking a beer on Tuesday but without the beer.
That fantasy I used to have about this town. The fantasy that went away with the day-to-day of a nine-to-five and those two years I lived without a car.
I have a car now though, hence the oil change, and it makes me feel kind of romantic about Los Angeles again. (Sometimes.)
This town is all I seem to write about.
The air of what Los Angeles or Hollywood is or how I’ve perceived it. How it now exhausts me. Or maybe it always exhausted me and my mind was in such a way that I just couldn’t figure out why I was so tired and over-done.
I’m tired now, and I'm not a part of it, this town, not the way I imagine the world sees it, but I am a part of it. More so than I ever was when I first moved here, twelve years ago. I’m here as a worker and a servant to those whose faces, bodies and pocketbooks fit the bill. The Youth, and those who worship them no matter how silly it is to worship The Youth. I’m an aging drone and a ghost with no material power, but I bet everyone who’s not completely deluded feels that way no matter what they do or where they live or what age they are. At least sometimes.
My sweetheart, Kenny, the one I now share life with, produces and remixes and plays music for people to dance to.
We are both creative people, but we use different mediums to communicate. (Is communicating what we’re doing?)
What that should be or mean to us individually, and at our age, after all of these years of plowing away with little compromise to our creative integrity…
(It’s something we have in common.)
And living a holy life. I read a blog post by a mystic who said that we have to live a holy life and I liked that, as long as “holy” means to integrate stillness and care and discipline and whole-hearted gestures (right or wrong) and trees and the weather, and the ocean and moments with coffee writing in laptops and trusting that sometimes being really mad and unsure and confused and messy is purposeful, into my sense of existing.
Being a teacher helps me with that. Teaching art to teenagers has helped me. It does help me. They are sometimes really mad and usually unsure and confused and messy and I can see that their existence serves distinct purposes, whether they ever figure that out for themselves...
I refuse to make that entirely what I do though. I can’t make that entirely who I am. (At least I say that now.)
I teach because of my creative work. Without my own investigations or “communications” that are sifted through my act of making, there would be nothing to give: to The Youth, or anyone else. I teach also because it’s how I share.
Kenny shares his music and makes its way into the world. He performs to a crowd and when he does that he listens and makes adjustments for him. He’s good at it, and people get a lot out of it. I see it happen and I see its value. I don’t know if he ever tries to categorize elements of his work and life the way I'm doing here, or if he has the need to. I don’t know if he has the same questions about living that I do.
I always feel like I’m jumping rope. I’m in the ropes- two of them moving alternately. Inward and outward. Double Dutch, and I’m jumping repeatedly inside of there. I’m working as authentically as I can. I’m sharing. I’m doing my best to hold tight to my own form of mystical harmony and faith while also doing what has to be done in order to pay the bills and I don’t let go of my identity as an artist; the power within me that is the egotist this town is made out of, like the worms that make up the Oogie Boogie Man from Tim Burton’s, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The lie we can convince others of regarding our own power and value. That’s a part of why I’m still here. I guess that’s my holy life. The holy life I’m trying to live in Los Angeles. It’s not pretty or as sparkly and magical as I once needed to believe it would be, and I guess that’s fine for now.
At least I can afford a car.
Time moves so fast and most of the time I'm teaching teenagers. It's March and I just realized that I haven't posted anything about my most recent art show which happened in December.
Every year, for the past three years, my friend Stacy Elaine Dacheux and I show our art together at some kind of unusual space in Los Angeles, during the winter holidays. It's not only a reason to share our recent artwork, but it's also a reason to bring people together and visit with friends. This past year, Stacy and the multi-talented Kate Purdy organized and hosted the invite-only event. This past year it was more like a marketplace-style party at The Hive House in Echo Park and it featured a few other artists, crafters, bakers, fortune-tellers and performers.
My sweetheart, Kenny, helped me at the event. He's a producer of House music and a DJ. It was his idea three years ago, for Stacy and I to show work at his holiday event held at a nightclub called King King on Hollywood Boulevard.
I made this crazy hanging fish sculpture and it hung from a tree at the event. I teach kids art on a one-to-one basis during the week and when they're busy on their projects I'll watch them work and sometimes keep my hands busy painting or crocheting pieces like this. This way I can peek at their progress and advise them without them feeling like I'm intruding.
This is Stacy and Allan (Stacy's husband)'s dog called Steve. He was an elf.
Anna from The Dog Show USA sold some handcrafted wares. Her fiancé David was there to help out. He has a band and looks just like a young Glen Frey.
This is a pose-able creature I made. A few of my students, collectively, inspired my making-methods on this one.
There were lovely live performances.
Another one of my creatures.
I'm still good friends with my high school prom date, Sam. We've been friends since we met as kids in 1986 and we both now live in Los Angeles. Here we're sitting on Santa's lap and Santa is Allan McLeod, Stacy's husband. Allan writes and acts in Hollywood. Sam is a VP, Private Client Advisor for a big fancy bank and he bought some of my artwork!
I thought the idea of a holiday bazaar-style art show felt appropriate for this body of work where crafting elements and crocheting were integrated into my paintings and creatures. I also gave away a poem I wrote that seemed to me to fit into the world of all of this artwork. It's all some kind of collection dealing with a liminal world making its way into our material world. I wrote it while making these things. It's called, I've Been A Lamp. I also made a creepy puppet and performed the poem in a Youtube video posted here on this page, below the poem.
Thanks for reading my blog!
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Cat Woman from Tim Burton's Batman Returns
I must have watched this film five times in the theater. I watched it countless times after that on VHS and later on DVD. I simply loved her transformation. I recognized and connected with it on an emotional level that I felt but couldn't fully embrace. After all, it's a character who turns into a superhero.
Selena Kyle is timid at work. She does what she’s told. She's a cat lady, which is something I had, at my young age of twenty, resigned myself to becoming and kind of have become, except without the cats and I'm not single. It's a joke to me, but it's probably the kind of joke that's more of a defense mechanism.
I could completely relate to the way Selena called herself a "corn dog" after making a suggestion to her boss, Max Shreck; the way she reacted to her phone messages before and after she died and was subsequently resurrected; the pleasure and rage she revealed as she packed her stuffed animals into her active garbage disposal; the way she transformed, not just into Catwoman but into a new version of Selena Kyle.
The main point is that after she transforms, she has a mission greater than her day-to-day life and certainly greater than her job, even though her role at work changes due to her cat-induced increase in chutzpah. Being a secretary, er, I mean, executive assistant, no longer holds meaning, because it never did.
Mostly though, it was the line at the end, when she rejects Bruce Wayne that I held onto. Everything about them seemed to be aligned, but she states that although she’d love to live with him, if she did, she couldn't live with herself. That resonated because she had a purpose greater than being happy in love. It seemed impossible to even think about myself making a choice like that with my overwhelming feeling of loneliness that arrived with hormones that were fed on the fairy tales I was raised on; in the examples of housewives and marriage that surrounded me in life and on television as a child born at the start of the 1970’s. I really loved that she could not bare to accept this kind of life but I also wanted her to give in and be in love forever. I think I responded to that character because I desperately needed time and space to be alone, to sort out my identity as a human being the way that Selena Kyle did. It took me years to find and own Selena’s style of courage and confidence, but I did. I eventually did.
Parker Posey's Mary from Party Girl
She was perfect. I was in my early twenties. In one scene she even wore a top I had found on the clearance rack at Contempo Casuals. Just like me she didn’t know who she was supposed to be but in the meantime she dressed up and she went out.
I thrived within the early days of rave culture, but I did so in my own way, from a bit of a distance, dipping in from time-to-time, mostly at small but really great events that took place in and around Monterey and Santa Cruz. Today I try and tell the EDM and EDC-loving teens I teach about what the music and fashion was like then and how the club kids influenced it all. Mary, Parker Posey’s character in Party Girl, looked the way I looked. I had copied young women I saw at local events and in nightclubs in San Francisco and in magazines from around the world. She carried herself, through her fashion sense, with an air of strength and confidence that I admired and that I somehow recognized within me.
It was Parker Posey's performance that did it for me, not simply the character. Fox tried to make a TV show out of Party Girl a year later starring Christine Taylor as Mary (Marsha from the Brady Bunch movies), and it was just terrible. She was presented as a big blonde dummy making kissy faces at the camera and Parker Posey was not that at all.
There was a “fierce” way of being that I was learning from those early days of party culture. Most of the kids on the dance floor were high on ecstasy and they were exhibiting a posture that was new to me. Posing for themselves while looking at themselves in reflective surfaces while twirling all over the room, spreading cosmic messages of our being aligned with everything at that very moment -as one. Mary did this in her day-to-day while working at the library, while selling clothes to the local vintage store, while fucking everything up, while walking toward the falafel man she would eventually fall for. She seemed to constantly be walking down a fashion show runway, because why can’t life be like that? Why can't life be a big freaky show that I'm the star of?
I responded to this way of being in the moment, the world, and of being fully in her own skin while being existentially unsure and young and scared and thrift-store fancy.
Catherine Keener as Maxine Lund from Being John Malkovich
It was her indifference, her I "don’t give a shit-ness" that drew me in and just as with Parker Posey, I feel as though Catherine Keener, as an actress, had a lot more to do with this than Michelle Pfeiffer, as an actress, did for my connection to her Catwoman. Catwoman is a mess and although she made a decision I admired, I don't feel as thought she will ever truly "get it together." I might ask Maxine or Mary to take care of my plants while I went on vacation, but I wouldn't even think of trusting Catwoman.
She’s such an odd character, Maxine. She seems to, at first, put everyone on the same level, which is lower than where she stands. Even when she’s crouching around the 7 ½ floor.
Maxine obviously doesn't have everything together, but she gets down to business. She let greed get the best of her, sure, but in the end she had to follow her heart. I also liked her monochromatic outfits. When I first watched the movie I was nearly thirty and looking toward a more mature way of being. I wanted to look the part, not that I did, but I wanted to.
After I turned thirty everything changed and I think I stopped deriving such direct inspiration from characters, fictional or otherwise, although I definitely went through a time of being terribly inspired by how well Björk sticks to exactly who she is. She reminds me of my constant inspiration as a woman and as a person, which is the toddler female.
If you observe a four to five to six year-old girl, you will often see a tiny creature who puts on her favorite dress or boots or hat or crown, etc... Sometimes what she wears is frilly, sometimes not. Most of the time that sort of thing is taken care of by someone else anyway. What matters most is that she wants to play. She wants to do what she wants to do and does it no matter what. That’s probably always been the essence of my inspiration; what I've responded to in all of these characters.
By the time I reached my late thirties I became slightly and briefly interested in the way Sharon Stone’s Ginger McKenna in Martin Scorcese's film, Casino, worked the room (before she went nuts for her drugs and James Woods and her jewels), but really, she doesn’t impress me that much. I’m no longer impressed by people who are able to handle social situations well because I’ve learned to do that, I suppose, and just like Ginger, many people who are able to do that are just awful, terrible people who don't have much else going on. Still, I mentioned her to my friend Stacy, who suggested I write about these characters that have inspired me, so I feel as though I had explain why she doesn’t make the official list.
Now that I've (just slightly) passed the age of forty, I wonder if I’m finally comfortable in my skin? I wonder if I’m writing this because I'm noticing phases of being (in regard to being a relatively privileged human who has time to think of such things) that everyone goes through? I’d like to think that at some point I’ve absorbed all that I needed from all that has inspired me and that I’ve been living for a while now as an embodiment of all that I want to be, combined with all that I have always been.
Every morning is like leaving the party everyone wanted to be at and regrets the next day. The party I don’t want to go to, but wasn’t invited to anyway.
Young women clutching their elbows, shoulders slightly hunched. It’s usually chilly out and if our eyes meet it’s just our eyes. It’s too early for hello. If they were to say anything I feel as though it would be, “These heels were a bad idea,” and “I should have brought a jacket.” The young white men I see look serious and they walk, briskly. Sometimes they’re passed out on the sofas that are always left on the sidewalk, boxer shorts revealed, as their new pants have been attached mid-thigh since they got dressed the night before; their hair still stiff and spiked and coated in molding clay.
I live right, smack in the middle of Hollywood and nearly every morning, I'm up and out of the house with the sunrise.
I walk speedily onto the Walk of Fame in order to reach the nearest underground train stop because I teach art and creative writing to teenagers in The Valley; the same Valley I first heard about while living on the Monterey Bay, about a day’s drive north of Los Angeles, where I lived as a teenager.
When I was a teenager, I saw Moon Unit Zappa perform her and her dad's song called Valley Girl on a show called Solid Gold. The song was part of the soundtrack to a movie about teenagers who lived in an area near Hollywood. I liked it but I had a hard time understanding her performance at the time, as it felt like art, and I didn’t yet know what performance art was, and although I could recognize his name and face, I was unfamiliar with her dad’s experimental work.
Between movies like Valley Girl, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the TV show, Square Pegs, pop culture was teaching me about the teenager who was glib, cynical, had more money than I did and hung out at the mall. She used a particular form of slang one could learn from the official Valley Girl handbook (sold at everyone’s local mall) if they weren’t from the San Fernando Valley, but really, you had to be from The Valley in order to not sound like a joke.
Now I teach a new generation of teens raised within that “cultural” landscape. I think that’s kind of funny.
Hollywood is the place where famous people live together. That's how I had always seen it, and I guess that’s how it is. I was about six years old when the TV characters, Laverne and Shirley decided to leave Milwaukee for California, and by California they meant Hollywood. They weren’t actresses, they worked in a beer factory, but they were going to make their dreams come true. It was in their theme song, so goodbye Milwaukee! I announced to my mother that I too wanted to move to California in order to make my dreams come true and was surprised to learn that we were already there. As a matter of fact, I was born there. It didn’t seem right at all.
Still, TV felt closer to my personal desires for a life, and by then I had learned that famous people get what they want, so Hollywood was going to make my dreams comes true. Hollywood would be the great leveler. I was raised within the perceptions that come from having no extra money and therefore opportunities were a luxury given to others. I was determined, however, to make a good life, a creative life, one that included art (which I was told I was good at), adventure and fun.
My parents dropped out of school at a very young age and maybe that’s why they didn’t allow me to embrace the academic opportunities that were presented to me, stating that because we didn’t have money, I was doomed for the same sort of life they chose. -It was a hard road out, but I wasn’t having any of that. Hollywood became a fairy godmother. That’s how I’m trying to make sense of it, anyway.
As I began to live through my twenties, the Internet began developing and I felt a connection between the access this technology gave regular folks like me and the energy of Hollywood; the place where one goes to be “discovered.” I truly believed that I could use both as tools that would help me develop, claim and share my importance, my value in the world and once I was discovered, because I would surely be discovered, I would not have to be a miserable worker who lives without art, adventure and fun.
I’m not an actor, and I’m not a rock star and I don't work in a beer factory. I’m now an introverted Los Angeles-based fine artist and writer who’s been online since 1996 and as far as I can tell I still haven’t been “discovered.” To be honest, I don’t even know what I’d be discovered as. A fancy pop culture blog once took my photo and labeled me as a tailor, which makes some sense as I had made the outfit I was wearing, and a poet magazine, for some reason, described me as an interior decorator. I am an outsider and I have to admit that I enjoy being one.
Right before I made my move to Hollywood, I hadn’t yet gone to art school and didn’t yet understand the history of my craft, or the value of it through time. New York felt exclusive, daunting, even though that’s where it seemed artists were supposed to live. I wasn’t ready for it. Contemporary painters I read about, who lived there, seemed to understand the importance of their work. I wasn’t confident enough to believe in or defend its value. I felt as though Hollywood wouldn’t know the difference.
Turns out it was a safe move, and I learned a lot. There were people in the art world here who began to teach me things, and after one full year, I was led to the Midwest, to school, to learning the importance of my work and those who came before me.
In Kansas City, where I went to school, I missed it. I missed the plasticity, the commodity and I still perceived it as a sort of freedom; a way toward “success.” I felt confirmed that pop stardom was a universal leveler of man kind, that anyone, if they truly believed, could reach “the stars.” Then I moved back to Los Angeles and into a graduate writing program led by a poet who loved Los Angeles but hated Hollywood and I continued to fight for its value in my life; its validity. It was going to give me that freedom I had believed in for so long. It had to. I claimed that the ridiculousness of it could be manipulated and perceived as something valuable. After all, it was what led me to trust my purpose as an artist and writer when no one in my day-to-day life did.
But now I have to admit that he’s right. I’ve been here for a while and I’ve observed a lot and I’ve made peace with what brings me happiness and that happiness most often does not come from anything that this town has to offer.
I also spend nearly every day with young people who are buying into what I bought into for so long, but in a new way. The monster has evolved. Notoriety and fame is close to these Valley kids, and I see that it doesn't really matter what one does in order to get it.
The people these children see, everywhere, receive attention for being terrible, vapid, thoughtless people and I can no longer pretend to see the good or humor in it.
I'm no longer able to ironically worship symbols of gluttony, apathy and greed because I've been faced with the fact that it hooks people into a cycle of delusion, undefined desire, destruction and neurosis, and the worst of it, for me, is when it sinks its teeth into those who started out being in on the joke.
I was recently sharing with someone my feelings of disinterest in regard to friends of mine who are making art and writing about the shittiest pop culture. I said that I was bored and feeling uneasy because for so long I believed in it, and now I'm making judgments. I said that I feel like I’m betraying something. One of them said that it's like being in a sausage factory. A lot of people enjoy a good sausage, but no one wants to eat one inside of a sausage factory, and that's it.
I was raised by people who guided me to form some kind of “keep it real” ideals while feeding me chemicals and preservatives (just like everyone else) and placing me in front of TV commercials, magazines and catalogs, advertising the godliness of stuff. I was told to not follow my dreams but then given access to Hollywood by way of the day-to-day media. The TV told me to “believe” while also telling me that I needed to purchase Oreos and gym memberships.
To survive like roaches or crows or rats; to be strong with the best and worst of what I’m given, and to thrive within the grime has felt like my life’s challenge. But what feels like the realest part of me, beyond what I’ve absorbed and been taught, wants to live with goats and chickens in a forest with tall trees near a brook somewhere. Perhaps I had to hold on to some sense of having a mission in life, and this is the one my conditioning brought me to.
Here in Hollywood I walk around and it feels like a hex. I feel like I’m in the root of the worst of all deals. Like the eye of a storm, I’m inside of it and standing still. At this point I’m just watching.
But there are those moments, and I’m having them, when I realize that I’m here– right smack dab in the middle of the life I spent my youth dreaming of. I’m right here. The Hollywood apartment, the “discovered” creative friends who honor me and what I do, the devotion to art-making, the parties (that I am invited to), the fact that I can wear crazy outfits and deal with anyone in almost any situation, with confidence. I’ve made it to this place, and I send it to her. This feeling. It may not mean as much to me now, but to her it was everything.
My name is Linda Lay and I'm an artist, a writer and a teacher.