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This month was so full, I nearly forgot your second helping of what’s inside my head.
Today’s 2-Minute Tale
The moon is a Gerhard Richter painting tonight. My favorite artist, Richter was as likely to paint a photorealistic candle teasing real warmth as a splotchy canvas of vivid blobs. But it was his “photo paintings” that affected me profoundly. For these, he created precision realistic oil paintings of personal snapshots or magazine images before dragging a dry brush through the still-wet work, blurring the image and giving them the feeling of being blown away even as you look at them. Even as a teenager, I felt it: everything was disintegrating. Will this disappear if I stop looking? Richter helped me realize art is most powerful when depicting something momentary and fragile, a beautiful but fraying world being dragged away. A song, a painting, a poem, or a photo can hold disintegration, capturing it in place. Art is where we install the impermanent.
Many years later, Richter’s choices revealed something else to me: Just because you are capable of absolute precision doesn’t mean perfection is always the most powerful option.
Like with bodies.
I find myself looking quizzically at the vessels that contain people, including my own. Even as a child, I would catch myself reflected in a store window and suddenly find my body as arbitrary as a utility bucket. And why are my parents in those containers? I would shrink within the walls of my flesh, looking up into the light from the bottom of a deep well … but I was, too, the water and the stonework, the moss and the depth …
Why is my goldfish in this bowl?
Frida Kahlo used to think of herself as the strangest person in the world, but knew “there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do.” I imagine - to my somewhat disappointment - that I am not as weird as I’d like to believe, and that “vessel syndrome” I like to attribute to my unique strangeness probably has a common term.*
You see, we actually LIKE strangeness quite a bit. Symmetrical faces look wrong. We are temporarily wowed by beauty, but it takes strangeness to cultivate an idée fixe that dominates the mind. It’s not Richter’s meticulous candles that preoccupy me. It’s his Woman Descending the Staircase. It’s a barista that used to work at my local coffeeshop.
Caffeine-deprived morning Heather found the barista's melodic, bubbly voice a gentle entry into the day, but the place on her body from which that voice emanated was something else altogether. A vicious cicatrix encircled her throat nearly its full circumference. Raised and more than an inch wide, whatever left this clearly almost killed her a long time ago. And now here she was. Making coffee for people every day. Flair on her work apron. Like ya do.
I stole glances. Too brutal to be the work of surgery. A car accident? Or … did an attacker nearly decapitate her? Was it the mark of a failed attempt of her own? Where is the fine line between sideshow ogling and appreciation for what the body can overcome, fascination for how experiences drape themselves upon our mannequins?
It would have been inappropriate to ask, so I can’t tell you. All I can say is that her “imperfect,” surviving body was the kind of art that inspires an idée fixe as perfection never can. I will remember her long after I’ve forgotten the unmarred canvases of so many vessels, barely tethered to their insides by comparison.
(*I looked it up and “derealization” isn’t right. Nor is “dissociation.” “Depersonalisation” gets closer. But it’s not astral projection. And my experience is never a traumatic one, just a moment of strange clarity as I described. Huh … maybe I actually AM weird! Hurrah!)
* * *
Many of the teenagers’ songs I spent last month arranging deal with the triumph of bodies marked by hate or illness. After performing them live at the Chords of Courage Awards earlier this month, ilyAIMY is getting ready to record studio versions for another fundraising compilation. In the meantime, here’s a super behind-the-scenes moment, my earliest demo working out 8th graders Abhiram Tammana and Nikitha Tokala’s winning song about Jane Marczewski (aka Nightbirde). Some of you might remember she auditioned for America's Got Talent with an original song, detailing her battle with breast cancer.
Especially before Women’s History Month is over, let me remind myself (along with all of you) that you are art. A surviving body. An idea made more interesting and real with every mark … as if we are being sewn to ourselves over time. I don’t always believe this - it takes unlearning and practice. Just like the promise I made years ago (and will honor next week) to uplift and perform with more women. Like the promise I make to myself now: that there is more art for me to make - to become - yet.
Keeping my promises:
April 1 - Black Ankle Vineyards (Mt. Airy, MD)
April 6 - Cult Classic Brewing (Stevensville, MD)
Yes, I'm the weirdo who made this girl-power poster! Tickets are almost sold out!
April 13 - ilyAIMY at Earp's Ordinary (Fairfax, VA)
Write me. Add me to your mailing list. Come to a show. Let's compare scars.
BACK ISSUES (full of free stuff!):
#1: New Year, Free Tune, Quick Tale
#2 The Dream, A Fairy Tale, A Love Song
#3 The Wife, The Mistress, The Music
#4 The Roses, The Drugs, The Mixtape
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