Fear of Annihilation

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I laid down my big guns, untethered the stays

Retired artillery, ordered blasts of my waves

Fire and movement, the clearance of walls

Surrendered grenades, decoding your calls

Abandoned sound tactics, a dangerous lull

Uncocked my shooters, the sharpest of all

Demanded the mind plows, defenses enthralled

Closed open season, detonated resolve

Of faithful grenades, secret landmines a cull

You watched from your tower, this push and that pull

Confirmed my construction, unheard and unseen

Certain destruction, annihilation of me

A gentle eruption, extinction at play

This mutual seduction has blown me away

I’M OK THANKS, HERE IS ART AND A SELFIE TO PROVE IT

 
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It’s a breezy, 80-something-degrees and today’s sky is earnest-true-blue with bouncy-not-too-close-not-too-spread-out-clouds

I force my computer to snap a reluctant selfie to confirm that I have not been annihilated but, rather, safely living out the last of my master-planned-dreams-defered-disappointment-of-a-community-days

In recovery from a rough night, I’m too preoccupied to appreciate this enviable atmosphere, checking my phone every ten minutes for a text / DM / email / call from the Universe that might push my life, or mood, back into the light. I am certain that no sounder plan has ever been devised

(Before you judge, you should know that I already received a text from a concerned friend inquiring about my mental health and offering to chat / hang / teach me a fancy morning tea ritual)

(Also, just hung up from a promising call with a diligent lender helping me secure a mortgage by precariously stacking my life savings and retirement accounts like a fragile deck of cards in a windy tunnel)

There appears to be hope in this profane approach to life after all yet, in between avoiding work and manifesting a sign from the Universe, I Google things like “can stress make you dry heave?” and “stages of grief” to see if this pit in my stomach is from a mouth full of dental aligners or something more serious

Maybe both?

I notice an ad where I can take a quick and easy quiz to see if I suffer from “complicated grief” but I resist the urge because I’m too proud and LM (low maintenance) for this kind of advanced suffering

The internet says there are FIVE stages of grief. They are universal but not experienced in any particular order. You may not even hit them all up on your way around and around and around

So, if you also find yourself stuck in a personal purgatory, this not-new-to-me-seemingly-science-based-non-sense can be or not be for you too:

 

 

Stage 1 : Denial

A double-decker stage that blanketed this past February and the months of March / early April like a dense fog

With the assistance of hindsight, it occurs me that denial might very well be our collective natural setting, no?

Because contrary to what the news reports, being on this planet is all just so good good and, like, how can any of us afford to feel anything but gratitude when we’re living these full, shiny lives, amiright?

Still, I obligingly put an “X” in the Stage 1 box as I can no longer deny my fateful prom date with denial, wearing its heavy corsage like a badge of honor as I shuffle about, groping in the dark for a phantom partner. Oh beautiful denial, you’ll force us to follow your lead then step on our toes but we’ll probably still make out with you on the bleachers because hormones and Rom Coms and reckless optimism, etc etc


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Stage 2: Anger

A bitter horse pill that remains lodged in my bone-dry throat. I used to say “I am uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am being uncomfortable” but now I think what I really meant by that was “I am uncomfortable with how uncomfortable I am being angry”

A useless, unproductive emotion, I’ve always felt better served to sublimate that -ish into something loftier and more generous

But, fuck it

Fleeting moments of fury are starting to seep through the cracks and, you know what? My hair and biceps have never felt better so hat tip to whatever angry witchcraft is at work here and there and everywhere in my life

Don’t operate large machinery during this phase or hurt any animals / small children, but like try it on for size, I dare you


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Stage 3: Bargaining

Or as I like to call it, the “If Only” stage

I don’t have lucid memories of what bargaining looked like for me as I’m pretty sure it was attached to some fairly regrettable text messages during a prolonged period of insomnia. Downright mortifying for my bruised and battered ego but, also, fuck that too

YOLO and LOL and my bad

That said, in my professional grieving opinion, I recommend you avoid bargaining altogether because it’s the ugly crying of all these stages and, let’s be frank, nobody wants that


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Stage 4: Depression

The internet reports that depression comes in two flavors. Apparently, the second is more subtle and more private, a “quiet preparation to separate and bid farewell”

This is my definition of depression: not knowing WTF and waiting to know WTF…

The internet also says, “Sometimes all we really need is a hug”

I have no talent for soaking in ambiguity until my fingers grow pruny. I’m a newly fragile little spoon lacking a respectable big spoon but I’m also so much more than that, ya feel me?

As a general rule, I employ Stage 1 tactics to reboot myself back into action as onward and upward we go go GO!

In summation: Don’t overthink it — or think at all — and you’ll do fine


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Stage 5: Acceptance

This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm

Wait, what? That doesn’t sound amazing

This is not a “period of happiness” yet “distinguished from depression…” What’s a soul to do?

Personally, I write it out. I start and stop, and start and stop, and start again. I leave behind weird evidence of this crooked journey replete with unruly thoughts, lacking pretense or a filter, so that I might look back someday to avoid free falling into an avoidable pattern

Sure, it’s rarely coherent but resistance is, as they say, futile

 

 

Of course, none of this is even remotely helpful as my Fear of Annihilation continues to grow so I return to my steadfast laptop

Now I Google “Ambiguous Loss,” a term I heard relationship therapist, Esther Perel use on a podcast called “The Erotic Is an Antidote to Death” (far less salacious than I’d hoped)

My current #womancrush, Esther’s work is changing our discourse about coupledom. Eroticism is more than just a description of sexuality

She believes it’s an essential ingredient to life and how we connect to ALIVENESS / VIBRANCY / VITALITY / RENEWAL

Spiritual. Mystical. Life.

And just like that I am a soft kid in a hard candy store, distracted by sexy sounding words that seduce with a sugary promise

So I Google “eroticism” to see what the Universe has in store for me

Because YOLO and LOL

and my bad


THE END

 
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“Beginning is magical. So is finishing.
We can embrace both.”

— Seth Godin, “On Finishing Well ”

 

 

These days I’m covered in a soft underbelly. Wearing my insides on the outside. Swept up by changes that roll me like an infinite tidal wave. Humility a young muscle I’m only now learning to flex.

Zan and I were supposed to last forever and now we are done.

For some time this single fact has threatened to swallow up the entirety of our story. Wasn’t it only months ago that I was offering self-appointed “love guru” advice to a friend and now I’m reassuring bank tellers that “our split is amicable” as I close our joint accounts?

But I’m dangerously too dehydrated to continue crying about it so I’ve decided to do what I’ve learned to do — write it out.

We had a solid beginning, to be sure, the stuff rom-coms are made of. “We met when I hired him,” I loved to joke, “and I’m still the boss,” I’d delight in adding.

I remember his first day at work. He nonchalantly hung his Appalachian Trail poster on the wall and shared dreams of a thru-hike and, oh yeah, his plan to live to be 140, bionically if necessary. 

Weird but whatever. As long as he agreed to let me quit first I didn’t care — I never intended to stay in the South and was ever entertaining other offers. It was high time to pursue my personal art career.

He was slow and steady while I ached to escape to bigger things. I was intrigued but undeterred.

We quickly proved to be a good team. We started winning design awards and playing full-contact, beachball soccer in the office. He talked about raging campfires and I shared my favorite “artsy” (read: NSFW) websites. He was, without a doubt, like nothing I had ever seen before: genuinely innocent and uncomplicated. No pretense or games, pure magic. 

And that was my undoing.

Once I surrendered to the inevitable, the years unfolded effortlessly. I eagerly stepped away from my computer and followed him into nature. I trusted him implicitly and we had more fun and sex in public than was certainly legal. 

Eventually we bought houses and built businesses but whenever the scales grew too heavy with work, we would criss-cross the country or jaunt around Europe or retreat to idyllic islands in winter.

But — and you knew there was a but — those early dreams still haunted us.

And though we remained synced for 20 solid years, we continued to hum at different frequencies. He became the “speed bump” in my life while I was a walking to-do list.

So we did our best to navigate the chasm dividing our predispositions. I stepped back from obligations, quit my company and challenged my preoccupation with forever. I adapted my language and swapped “we” for “me,” no longer wanting to speak for the two of us.

I left him to his own devices, to define his own boundaries, so that I might rediscover my own. I dove head first into my preoccupation with commitment and the conundrums we face once personal ambitions trump synchronicity, when miscommunications compound, temptations arise, and dreams diverge. Sound familiar?

Like most big shifts, this came slowly then all at once. But still, it’s taking me a minute to accept that WE. DID. NOT. FAIL. Twenty good years is kind of a big deal.

And so here we are, quite literally, back to our beginning. Next Spring Zan sets out for a long, long walk while I, in turn, have reoriented my life back to art. 

And while many couples lament that marriage has hollowed them into unrecognizable shells of their former selves, I am proud to say that we emerge from this union — a bit battered from disappointment, to be sure — but better still for having held one another so long and so hard.

There are days when the idea of trusting another human seems fundamentally hazardous, or when I’d do unspeakable things for a lover’s warm embrace, but I take comfort in the belief that I will be and do and know better the next time. Until then there are marks to be made, mountains to climb and buckets of popcorn to eat like my life depended on it because somehow, in the thick of this rebirth, I’m starting to think it actually might.

To Zan, thank you for enduring a life with me that was often more public than you would have liked and more intense than you would have chosen. Yes, I was the kind of woman that turned your favorite dessert into a business venture. Chocolate as love letter, the irony is not lost on me. Sorry not sorry. I will learn to celebrate your magical, new beginnings and your equally beautiful endings from afar.

To friends and family who noted the machinations of my heart before I did — you felt the intensity of my time away and embraced tricky conversations — thank you for mitigating my mania and for sharing your stories. Thank you for supporting my work, for telling me how it touches you and that it helps you find your own path. I am grateful AF for the new collaborations you offer me, for a transition to a new CLT home so that I might make some noise in (what feels like) a new city and retreat quietly to the desert each winter.

This is for you.

I know that these posts have a life of their own so while I’m not trying to tell you to do anything or be anything or leave anything, I hope it challenges you to lean in a little harder to your life and those you adore and endure.

And when it’s time, to finish what you’ve started.

And to begin. Again.

WINDOW SEAT

 
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We were floating toward the lights of a white-hot city when I noticed that the springy lady to my left, the one with the happy hair and the window seat, was bleeding.

The blood pooled beneath a homemade bandage and began to drip to her ankle bone and, though I can never remember what that bone is called, I’ll never forget my alarm.

Does she need help? Does she need me? Does she need me to help?

I’m ashamed to admit that my first impulse was to ignore her. In my defense, I just wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt, to believe that she was a woman of consequence and agency and that she didn’t need to be diminished by my concern.

And then, in an instant, I knew that this was not our story so I gently turned my head to the side and asked if she was okay.

She was, she said, though she was hurt and bleeding more than was fair and she had never bled on a plane before and was growing concerned but she had a plan for when she landed and she would be okay and thank you for seeing me and thank you for asking and thank you and thank you and thank you...

One month later I was floating away from the lights of a white-hot city when a happy lady with springy hair sitting in the window seat began to bleed.

The wetness pulled beneath her eyes and began to drip onto the delicate bone of her ankle and, though I may never remember what that godforsaken bone is called, I’ll never forget my alarm.

Do you need help? Do you need me? Do you need me to help?

My first impulse was to ignore her, to give her the benefit of the doubt, to believe that she was a woman of consequence and that she needn’t be diminished.

And then I knew that this was only a story so I gently turned my head to the side and asked if she was okay.

She was, she said, though she was hurt and bleeding more than was fair and she had never bled from her eyes on a plane before and was growing concerned but she had a plan for when she landed and she would be okay and thank you for seeing me and thank you for asking and thank you and thank you and thank you...

THE STARING MEN

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My shuttle bus driver was one-of-a-kind, cherry-on-top this morning


What airline was I using because he didn’t want me to be confused or get lost and he had the power to care for me and make sure that I would get to where I was going safely but how was my time in Phoenix and how long was I was here and what I had done and did it feel good?


He pressed me to talk to the man on my left who responded “I don’t think that’s possible” when I shyly said that I preferred not to ruin his focus on a productive morning while the guy to his left leaned forward four times to look at me and smile and find a way to insert himself into my conversation


And then, in a heartbeat, we pulled up to the curb and the doors opened and I stepped outside then I stepped inside and then suddenly the world was only me and them — the staring men


They were all there and they were everywhere

They where the men who perked up from their newspaper and looked down their nose to appreciate the shape my body made as I passed them by


They were the security guard at the entrance to Gates 1-11 who surveyed me as I approached, synchronized his head with my passing and who lingered too long on my departure 


They were the men who whispered a silent prayer for me to step into their line so they might slip the pass from my fingers, saying nothing worth saying in hopes to maybe just maybe elicit a smile, the imprint of my mouth tucked into their memory like a ticket in their pocket that they’ll pull out later and make love to alone in the dark


And that leaning guy from the bus that would find a seat close to me at our gate, but not too close because he knows enough not to look desperate, and eagerly come to my rescue when I removed my earbuds to ask a neighbor if our flight was boarding 


“It’s not and you’re okay,” he said and then asked where I was sitting to see if it was his lucky day (it wasn’t) then sadly said “don’t worry, go back to your music” and trust him and watch him and follow him onto the plane


That same leaning guy who’d search for my eyes as he cued for boarding to wave me toward him then laugh to pretend it was a casual, innuendo-free gesture so that there would be nothing to report but so that we might share one more moment because somehow he needed a little piece of me to make returning home to his wife more bearable


And the men on the plane, the first class men who have the most to offer and always stare the longest with the least inhibition because of what they would like to do and what they have the power to do and what they have been given the power to do


So many men, in so many rows, on my way to seat 28A


Like the ones with the headphones and black sweatshirts that burned a hole into the right side of my face as I made an artless shape with my mouth because I suddenly didn’t know what to do with my lips that would appear both pleasant and neutral 


The staring men, they were all there and they were everywhere and there was me and there was my walk down the aisle, splitting them in two

And I was a woman who’s spent a lifetime looking at men looking at women, a woman who knows her value not because I was so beautiful but because I knew that I was good and honest and kind and capable and that it made me far more powerful and potent than simply being a beautiful woman


I was a woman with a lifetime of these staring men and the expanding knowledge that it won’t last forever, I know, and so I meet their sidelong gaze head on, sometimes in defiance but also, in a way, with gratitude 

But the good and honest truth is that I would trade a lifetime of these men for the solid, eternal eyes of one good man, for a lover who had the desire to look and never look away

For a lover who asks me what I had done and did it feel good? A lover who says “I don't think that’s possible” when I tell him I don’t want to ruin his focus on a productive morning. A lover who leans forward to look at me and smile, who perks up to get a better view as I approach, who synchronizes with my passing and who lingers on my departure. To come to my rescue. To let me back to my music. Who tells me to trust him and watch him and follow him


For a lover who whispers a silent prayer to maybe just maybe elicit a smile then take me home to make love over and over


And because that lover is so beautiful, and because that lover is the only man I want but also the one man that wouldn’t be on that plane, I offered my own invocation to please let the man in 28B be gay because I was split in two, as always, wanting to be near the shape of a man with an affinity for woman


“Oh, I’m sorry” he said because he was gay and simply because I waited an extra half second in the aisle with my heavy bag


“I’m sorry,” he said because he knew what it was to be a woman trapped inside a man trapped inside a man’s world


“I’m sorry,” he said because he knew what it was to be a woman watching men watch women

THE BEAUTY OF SEDUCTION

 
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My work explores the potential for Mutually. Assured. Seduction.

I’ve flipped this sentence over in my mind so many times it feels like the pins and needles of a limb that’s fallen asleep — dull yet tingly under the weight of its distracted owner.

The phrase came one day lying on the floor after a hard workout. Since then, I’ve whispered it to myself as I lie awake at night. I’ve said it aloud, with purpose and velocity, to no one in particular. I’ve inspected it’s rhythm and resonance to feel how I feel as the words float out of my face’s lips and into the air.

I don’t exactly know where it came from but I’ve become so attached to the words that I can no longer feel their boundaries. Where do I begin, where do they end? I want to know.

Of this, I am certain: I am obsessed with seduction — as an idea, an act, an object, a promise, a threat, and a game.

Somewhere along the way, I began to recognize that my time in the studio (and my life?) can be reduced, quite plainly, to an exercise in seduction. And while it’s not exclusive to creatives, I’m sure it’s a common tie that binds making anything at all. I’m getting to something, scouring scientific papers trying to work it out:

The “art of pleasure” requires a careful plan of behavior, which has communicative relevance, and simultaneously must be able to elicit an emotional response. If it can provoke not only an interest, but also attraction, then it can create or increase a feeling of desire or need.

To seduce, to attract, to be led along, quite simply, “somewhere else.” Heart over mind and conversely, or, better still, passion bound with knowing one another… Sensual involvement.

And of it’s inherent reciprocal nature …if the seductive game is to be effective then it must involve a degree of flexibility that of being able to harmonize and synchronize with the partner. Every move must be carried out and evaluated according to the partner’s response.

What are we if we aren’t slow dancing, intensely, with another human?

Even if I am convinced that I’m making art for myself — producing the kinds of things I want to exist in the world — it’s impossible to deny the fact that I’m still making this for you too, whoever you are.

And what turns you on and how can I make you desire and need what I have? And isn’t what I have, in essence, what I am, ultimately, turning myself inside out and putting myself on display as the object of desire? And is what I have to offer intoxicating enough to create a meaningful connection to you without betraying what is real and honest in me?

The realization that the work I create is a mutual exchange with you — that I desire your quickening pulse and a shift in your face as your eyes dilate. That I want the surface of you to come alive, to reverberate, to know that you are receiving my signal. That I need you at all…

A friend recently gave me a book written in celebration of the desert, understanding that I’ve recently developed a torrid fascination with the desert or, more specifically, the idea of myself in the desert. I want to thrive here. I want to shrivel up in the white hot light of here. I want to make the loudest noises here and I want to make no noise at all here. The book is aptly named, “Because It Is So Beautiful” and speaks to the love of place, or topophilia. (Note: I make a part-time job of looking words up and the double meaning of torrid was an accident but then there really are no accidents, are there? See for yourself.)

So now when I ask myself why I am doing any of this, especially when it’s hard to do and there are so many other worthy, worthwhile things that come naturally to me, the answer is and will be, forever and ever, because it is so beautiful.

Because when a certain mark or shape or brush stroke exits my body and lands on a surface and the sight of it makes me weak… When a pool of pigment is so lucid that I can hardly believe the power to orchestrate its arrangement was ever in me at all… That it’s possible that there is beauty sliding around inside of me — that my guts and liver and blood could be so beautiful.

And, what’s more, that even if the marks and shapes and strokes fail to resonate, my white, hot, burning desire for them remains. And the seduction of that, too, is beautiful and that is all and that is everything. In turn, Siri Hustvedt offers “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women:”

“Searching, meeting, seduction, rejection, and retreat evokes ongoing rhythmic narrative of our undying physical need for other human beings, a need that is forever impeded by obstacles, both internal and external... reminiscent of dreams, and by their nature dreams are more emotional than waking life... often erotic and destructive pulse of human desire...”

I temporarily lean on this as a statement for my work — an undying physical need for other human beings, akin to an erotic dream and potentially destructive, that I’m attempting to process through multiple prisms: Manipulation. Order. Control. Progress. Self-Improvement. Desire. Attachment. Work. Survival.

Each of these touchstones is a sidelong glance accompanied by a distinct, but related, body of work. Work that I intend to mount and exhibit at the end of the year, sink or swim. An audacious goal, I am relying on the depth and intensity of a lifetime practice and deference for making to get me there. Focus and grit with a dash of hustle. Combined with a newly discovered connection to materials from the natural world: Just pick up a stone and let your body make a mark with it because it is so beautiful.

And I’m beginning to recognize these impulses for the proverbial ‘carvings on the cave wall’ that they are. That scratching of “I Was Here,” no better or different than running my nails down your back.

Yet, what I could possibly have to say is of far less significance than the fact that I’m right here, right now, standing before you to say it. That I didn’t let the immensity of the wall, or the darkness of the cave, frighten me back into a corner. Instead, I was seduced into the white hot sun, the earth in my hands, to make my mark.

Because I was here.

Because I am here.

And so are you.

And together we are so, so beautiful.

IF WORDS COULD DIE

 
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I had a dream that “synonym” died.

The kind of rolling reverie you have as your body slides toward sleep.

I woke to the thought, “What if words could die?,” feeling the kind of sadness you feel when your dreams reveal the melancholy of your life. 

But synonym didn’t die as much as it fell, or sank, an unfertilized egg dropping from the womb — essential — then useless and no longer welcome. Crestfallen for being only a half-word. The kind of word that knew its limitations. Iterative, derivative, referential…

What if words could die?

Like, what if they hung on just long enough to be necessary and needed but, eventually, everything that was propping them up — and being propped up by them — no longer existed, or mattered, or both.

What if words could die?

Would the shape of them still make a sound if someone was lamenting how much they were missed? Like if someone said, “Remember when people used to say synonym?” though I imagine it would sound much different then because people would be using all sorts of newer, better words to talk to one another.

I wonder if people will still talk to one another?