With her eponymous EP due out May 27, Moorea Masa will celebrate its release on May 31 at Mississippi Studios. Until then, enjoy the video for the title track. Photos by Jason Quigley
Moorea Masa has been in her studio space at the Falcon Art Community in North Portland for just over a month and she’s been spending a lot of time there lately—meeting fellow artists, assembling musicians for her upcoming EP release of Oh Mother on Sunday, May 31 at Mississippi Studios, and putting the wraps on a very beautiful, very personal, very Oregon video for the title track. All of this is to honor the passing of a dear friend’s mother, and motherly figure to Masa, Marcia Jean Barrentine.
From backing Ural Thomas and The Decemberists, the soul-folk singer strikes out on her own for the first time with a new EP of time-honored material. Photos by Tor Clausen
It’s a windy night as I climb the porch to a pale yellow house, the color of first daffodils in spring—a spring that’s come early to Portland. Moorea Masa greets me warmly and invites me into her kitchen for tea as she finishes cooking a meal for herself. A smallish cat named Hafiz, a nod to the Sufi mystic and poet, paces around, mewling for the food dish to be filled. In between bites and the wayward, headbutting affections of Hafiz, Masa tells me tales of her family, her musical travels, her new soul-folk EP, Oh Mother, and how a soul singer comes to be named after a beautiful, heart-shaped island in French Polynesia called Mo’ore’a, which means “yellow lizard” in Tahitian.
Masa’s Italian father and German-born mother both worked on a cruise ship in their youth. “My grandmother asked them, ‘Well, what was your favorite island?’” It was the one they met on—the island of Mo’ore’a—that became the name they gave their child.
Joined by Storm Large, Erika Moen and friends on her ‘The Art of Asking’ book tour, Palmer’s stop at the Wonder Ballroom featured heartfelt book readings, musical performances and humorous, insightful and delicious discussion. Photos by Chelsea Gaya
The wildly decorated people stood in the bleak cold, queued up in what could have been a fancy beggars breadline and looking as if the circus or the Comic Con had just let out for the night… but the show was just about to start.
The warm and eclectic crowd, smelling of musk, fur, incense and leather, pushed their way into the Wonder Ballroom on November 19—a gorgeous herd of afghan covered gypsies, finger-gloved and lip-pierced, wrapped in kimonos, wearing peacock feather fascinators. They were darkly clad, tribal-tattooed, bustiered, crow-black coiffed and mohawked. Some wore layers of tablecloth hiked up for skirts, some sported jackets fit for a white linen dinner. One girl, a bony bride in a skeleton sweatjacket, paraded past with a mass of cotton candy magenta-colored hair crowned by a headband of black flowers with a flowing, spidery veil. They came in pageboy and bowler hats armed with ukuleles. They were circus beauties and sideshow outcasts, a fanciful, freakish canvas of carnival color, and they were all here to see the woman who they were imitating in their costumed incarnations of her many looks. Miss Amanda Fucking Palmer.
2 geese in perfect duo
over the bridge together
back from winter.
A false Spring,
a lovely start.
A woman’s pair of beige dance shoes
hangs from the powerline
outside the theatre.
She always wanted to be
a tightrope walker.
We often throw ourselves higher,
sooner than we think we’re able to go.
Ostara, in her haste,
drops a white-washed paintbrush
on the robin blue eggshell sky
leaving a smatter of
pulled apart cotton cloud.
The birds still wait to be warmed
To fly or to burrow?
Cannot take the sky
before I know how
to go to ground.
A strange circular rainbow appears
behind a triangular treeline.
Not yet. Still, more rain.
I take a wrong turn into a dead end street
and the Ouroboros symbol appears
on a glassblowers garage studio door
at the end of the alley,
and it’s no longer the wrong way
it’s the right symbol,
I turn around again
bite my own tail,
face the sun
waiting, turning from the dark
for two to agree
and become one.
I sat waiting for my lunch to be ready. Closing my eyes, the sun warming me, honing in on nearby conversations.
“It was just awful!”
“Do you want to meet later?”
“We have to get back soon.”
“What are you hungry for?”
And then, “Think of a Chinese word you’d like to see written.”
Two young women, students conducting a written language experiment, held a small, dry-erase board and the woman in the steel-grey wool skirt looked sheepishly to the man-in-tow standing next to her, scanning his face for a word, for approval.
“Tomato,” she smiled and shrugged.
“What an uninteresting word,” I thought to myself. Clearly, hunger and condiments dominated her thoughts to choose such an oddly simple thing.
The student began to draw the two characters, then handed the board to steel-grey skirt and asked her to draw it, to copy the lines in her own hand.
“Like this?” She fumbled through and the student asked to take a picture of steel-grey skirt holding up the sign, which she obliged after being assured it wouldn’t end up on the web or Facebook.
Steel-grey skirt and man-in-tow collected their lunches and wandered off back to their meetings and spreadsheets and before the students could walk away, I volunteered, “I have a word I’d like to see.”
“Great! What’s the word?”
“Oh—I’ll have to look that one up, it might be kind of difficult, the Chinese don’t really have an expression for that. Well, depending on the context I guess.”
“I suppose weakness is not a good emotional or political stance,” I mused.
She typed it into her phone where there must’ve been a pinyin and symbology translator of sorts and she mumbled, “Ah, hmm, that’s really pretty.”
She sketched out what looked like two number 5s, curved, bent and spooning, little animals with two quick hatchmarks in the coils and crooks, something warm in their bellies perhaps. The second symbol, like a little house on stick legs, or a bird laying in a field of short reeds or soft, matted grass, or a boat on uneven waves jutting a mast with no sail attached.
She handed me the board and it was my turn to draw.
“Very good!” She encouraged. “You could do calligraphy.”
And I suddenly thought of my high school art class, how I attended my prom for free because I volunteered to hand write every student’s name in my graduating class and their respective date’s name on folded white cardstock for all the seating arrangements at the dinner tables. How I painstakingly wrote every letter with a copper pen tip, sinking the nib into a bottle of crow-black ink, scratching out letters and then with a glue gun, affixing a black bow-tied ribbon and burgundy rose in the corner of every one.
She took my picture holding up the board with “vulnerable” written twice and asked, “Why are you so interested in this word?”
I considered the tomato. Heart-shaped, red, plump, viscous inside, thin-skinned, vulnerable and thought perhaps, it wasn’t such a bad word after all and I said, “I think objects are fine, but I am more curious about concepts, especially emotional ones that are difficult to describe with one word. Like love or home or wonder.” I thought about how big ideas cannot, should not easily be boiled down, compartmentalized, or compressed into a single word or worse, an acronym. Americans are really fond of acronyms and especially mnemonics, trying to make big ideas memorable, and easier to digest, when really, what must be done is some digging, some spelunking, some serious unpacking followed by a gentle examination of all the parts.
I thought of other languages where speakers might have cultural differences and difficulties expressing emotion. For instance, one way of responding to the everyday greeting of “How are you?” in Russian is to say ” I am not unwell.” As if, already expressing in the negative was a way of conveying strength. Things could be worse. I’m not dead yet. My friend told a story where in high school, a Russian exchange student staying at his home was being chastised for taking her host family’s young son out to play in his school clothes on a rainy day. His mother wasn’t at all happy that they had returned so filthy, caked in mud and muck, but the Russian girl sweetly explained to the mother, “he is not unwashable.”
What does it mean to be vulnerable? To be “accessible, assailable, defenseless, exposed, liable, naked, on the line, on the spot, out on a limb, ready, sensitive, sitting duck, sucker, susceptible, tender, thin-skinned, unguarded, unprotected, unsafe, weak, wide open, open to attack.” Why is there no strength in vulnerability when it takes all the courage in the world to allow yourself to let something, some ideas, someone in? To yield with grace to the often terrifying, ever-shifting locus of love, of home, and of wonder.
All three of these ideas have changed greatly for me in the last several years. Losing a beloved pet to cancer, losing a home by being priced out of the neighborhood, losing a job and a marriage; and all of these losses and changes at nearly the same time. It was like witnessing all the love and home and wonder I nurtured suddenly evaporate out from under me. There was a serious unpacking. There was a gentle examination of all my parts. Especially the ones that went missing, where I identified myself.
I thought of many loves lost in my youth, how some of the most tender pieces of me were carried off by wild wolf boys and buried like edible treasure to devour later. How sometimes there were wounds I ignored and over and over I had to revisit the same old traps that closed upon them to extract myself very carefully so as to not lose more pieces still. Sure, I came out licking my wounds, scathed and dirty. But I emerged whole.
Turns out, I am not unwahsable. I am not unwell. I am still hungry and I am getting reacquainted with wonder. I have redefined home. I still don’t fully understand the nature of love, but I am very much an eager student and believer of it in all of its necessary function and beautiful, new forms.
February is and in my case WAS such a short, sometimes brutal month. Then you have March, which does the ins and outs of wild predator to tame sweater maker. But in the short month of February i packed in a lot of healing, writing & music readying myself for the tempest of March.
Qi To The Kingdom . . . Or, i Am A Tiny Pin Cushion
i began seeing an acupuncturist to well, to unfuck my qi. Being a stickler for detail, i’ve kept a calendar since my surgery detailing and tracking my symptoms, moods, foods, internal movements, etc. i’ve been drawing a gradation of faces from frowny to flat to a simple upturned bow to smilies with big dotted eyes and a row of piano key teeth. i doodle and color my calendar with markers, moods, faces, any sign of discomfort and yes, even when i poo to be consistent with patterns. i do this NOT to become the obsessive spaz, holding onto illness like a war medal, but to determine severity & frequency to see if i am improving or moving towards healing. And if not – to do something very proactive about it.
My acupuncturist is a very kind man who went over my extremely detailed laundry list of complaints and undesirable changes in my body. We talked for over an hour before he even put a needle in me. Hardly any practitioner of any healing art, takes the time and energy to do this; there simply is no time to listen or touch or get all the detailed information that forges the craft of a good diagnostician. This is especially true in Western Medicine. Which is why i chose the modern miracle of Western Medicine for surgery and the centuries old Eastern Philosophies for healing.
“Wow, this is great,” he said, scanning my list of dates and list of maladies, “No one does this. It’s really organized.Very helpful.”
He went over the whole page with me.
Once we figured on a plan of how acupuncture and Chinese medicine could help me, i felt a sense of calm purpose, and he began tapping hair-thin needles into my legs, wrists, shoulders, neck, ears, all along my abdomen near the floating ribs and liver, a few near my stomach, even some threaded underneath the scar tissue on my stomach to soften and flatten.
Then he took what looked like a big black crayon, a half-smoked cigar, or a pointed smudge stick. It was moxa, heated Mugwort which he applied near the needle tips to send heat into the acupuncture points. It felt pretty wonderful actually. My stiff, knotted trapezius muscles softened, nausea vanished, headache faded and my stomach and bowels were still and calm. This last visit, i told him i had a creaky knee, he touched around, squeezed lightly and asked if i had been using my quads to do some lifting and bending the day before. It was true as i recalled all those half squats in yoga and he stuck one in for that. i also expressed difficulty falling asleep, and damn it i LOVE me some sleep, so he tapped a little silver needle right into the top of my head to clear the airwaves. Then he put a crinkled mylar blanket over me: light as air, silver as Mercury and i lay there, a little Fembot, conserving heat and energy under my quasi-futuristic Austin Powers blankie.
i feel like things are definitely improving inside. Much calmer and less symptomatic. yoga’s been great, food is becoming my friend again, acupuncture seems to be helping and i’m taking a Chinese herb called Shu Gan Wan (liver soothe) to stop my liver from being so pissed about my gallbladder being gone. They are miniature versions of Whoppers chocolate malted milk balls, but they taste like curry. The most interesting visual diagnoses delivered upon me: liver invading spleen and liver invading stomach. Not a bad way to think about it really. The way the Chinese see it accurately describes the miniature battle that’s been raging in my guts since surgery. In the 2 days following treatment, i’ve sometimes felt an internal struggle for domination, like there are knots being untied, like i’ve been damp and bit drowned inside and then i come out the other end and it’s all Snow White & bluebirds. i have more energy, i get ravenous and my outlook improves.
i’ve added a Calcium, Magnesium & Vitamin D supplement combo (what a horse pill), A Vitamin B complex & Spirulina. Rather than those amber bottles clogging up the cabinet, i now rattle vitamin supplements onto a little red dish in and effort to boost my immune system and well-being. i would say i’m at about 75%. i guess i’m just looking for time and worry to pass and toss me the other quarter.
Usual Suspects – Netflix – Matrix – Conflicts
i’m still unemployed, but trying to occupy myself. If i didn’t have yoga or the occasional social outing with Joe and his work mates, plus Tiffany & Chelsea, i’d be a house mouse for sure. Of course, this may change when Spring comes into full bloom and i expect it to. i can see happy little yellow & purple crocus poking through in the backyard, so there’s a spot of sunshine yet . . .
i fire off about 4 resumes every other day. Then i hear stories about how an ad for a front desk position at a local yoga studio garnered, not 6, not 60, but SIX HUNDRED applicants and i get to thinking, unless my email arrives blinking or on fire, there’s no way i’m getting noticed. i applied for a local position at a Chiropractic office, found my best business casual with a little Portland funk and showed up in person to the office where i found myself on day one of two amidst a light cattle call. 5 women were already standing in a room like Star Search & American Idol contestants, beauty pageant finalists, the weakest link, a lineup.
And it was the usual suspects. The over-bleached & frosted tan woman with alligator handbag face (too may hours poolside) drinkingCoors Light, guilty of wearing fluorescent cotton jumpers, coral lipstick and hair scrunchies, probably just relocated from the Carolinas or Florida. The dumpy girl in business casual, pock-marked, unremarkable, practically invisible, hunched back from self-deprecation, flinching & shying from imaginary social punches, shifty, downcast eyes and shuffling feet looking for a nice quiet office to answer phones in, listen to soft music, eat bologna and American cheese sandwiches in and hide. The Sweetie-pie mouse girl, flat brown hair, doe-eyed, squared off chiclet-smile, high-pitch, pedamorphic voice both docile and simmering. The other two women were variations on a theme. Background noise. i was just waiting for the talent portion so i could showcase my baton twirling.
The rotund, possibly former high school football coach now Chiropractor with soft, spiky, salt-and-pepper would-be-Mike-Ditka hair shuffled through our resumes like quiz sheets. Doctor Ditka then asked each of us if we had undergone any chiropractic work and for what ailment. Turns out i was the only candidate who hadn’t been cracked and i couldn’t tell if this fact was a help or hindrance to my cause. No previous body work and one couldn’t truly expect to explain the process or how it feels. Previous work and you may just be looking for some free medical care.
Then the assistant spoke up. She was Doctor Ditka’s little frau, and i caught her checking out my legs in black tights and eying my skirt up and down. She made a lot of eye contact with me but probably because i was taught it was polite to look speakers in the eye. Even when they’re addressing a group.
She went over the finer points of duties and representation at the job, stock still and legs straddled with a clip board held in one hand and wedged into her belly like she was about to call off a cheerleading squad roster, or note how slow your last lap was, or go body surfing. Except, this was winter and she wore burnt-caramel suede & beige fur boots, tight blue-black jeans belted off with a strap of leather i imagined she could unbuckle and snake through her belt loops to beat you quickly with. It was all topped with a grey angora sweater. A snuggly little snit, a real fuzzy blowhard, probably a former stoner, rock chick & bully known to sit on the smaller, smarter girl’s chest at school and bloody her nose for her.
i quickly assessed who was in charge of this operation and it wasn’t Doctor Ditka or the nice older woman smiling at the front desk. After receiving frau’s full up & down measure, i also knew that job was not going to be mine.
People aren’t going out much, home entertainment and movie watching is up, and this is true of me as well, so i applied at Netflix for shits and giggles. They called within hours and scheduled a phone interview. Apparently Netflix is a rarity in corporate customer service. They decided to employ human voices, eliminated e-mail-based customer service inquiries, chose not to outsource or go offshore, and set up their big call center in Hillsboro, Oregon “because it thought that Oregonians would present a friendlier voice to its customers.”
So, i had a nice chat with a woman who conducted a phone interview, went over some of those basic, “tell me about how cool, calm, successful and how much of a suck-up, pretty little cog, team player you are.” And then she asked two strange questions. “Would you like to be considered for a second interview?” Oh, no thanks Judy, i’d like to stay in my pajamas all day and ask my poor working husband to bring me bon-bons and tampons since i’m not a financial contribution to the household, but this has been a real hoot, thanks for asking. And,”Would you like to work in a call center?” Oh, yeah, i mean, i dream of sitting in a desk with open cubicles in a sea of heads wearing headsets jacked into the hive mind, assimilated like the fucking Borg, pausing just enough to slurp down a salty, stryofoam, pseudo nutrition container called Cup O’ Noodles and get right back to it at any time in the 24 hr span you’re open. Who needs a circadian rhythm, right?
But i answered safely, and quite honestly. “i’m highly efficient and i think i am fully capable of working in a call center.” Translation: “i am made of sturdy human material able to withstand the inquiries of irate morons and confused grandmothers and techless luddites. i am able to hack the necessary mundanity and the flexibility to talk to anyone from any walk of life even if all they want to do is talk. i am a meat popsicle. And yes, i will do it for $12 an hour.”
i wasn’t going to lie about it. What we want and what we are able to do, are often quite different. i want for things i am unable to do and i am able to do things i don’t want.
All of the above line of inquiry is mostly about touting one’s own work ethic, But i wish i had known about Chelsea’s latest answer to the interview question, “What do you consider your weakness.”
She simply rolled her eyes, tossed her head softly, sighed and helplessly replied, “Chocolate.”
Foolish Words, Bird Song & Shiek Music
Joe, Chelsea & i went to see Christopher Moore as he stopped in on Powell’s Books in Beaverton, touring in support of his new book, Fool. He didn’t read excerpts, but DID regale us with funny stories as any good jester would.
i waited for a little over two hours to say hello and have him sign my book, while i fumbled through half stories of the times his writing kept us entertained on road trips.
“Hi, we’ve met,” he said.
“Well, i comment on your blog.”
“Right, well, good to meet you in person.”
He actually recognized me, i think, and probably through pictures but maybe he says that to all his MySpace / Facebook buddies. So i dropped him a quick public thank you:
‘thank you SO much for coming out to Portland (Beaverton) and staying so long to sign books and chat with everyone.
i was terribly flattered you remembered me from photos here and said i’d looked familiar. (probably from blog comments). i’ll be riding that cloud all week . . .
i really enjoyed your stories (“sorry”). i also really enjoyed meeting you in person since, like a good friend, you’ve made me laugh at so many times in my life.
i probably should’ve said that, but you know, the mind goes blank in the “awkward moment” that accompanies book signing as you put it.
also, i probably should’ve offered to take you out & feed you, since they had you shackled to a podium then a table so long, but didn’t want to imply an undue familiarity. just sayin’.
next time . . .thanks again!‘
He was kind enough to write me a quick personal message back, which, as i informed him, made my millennium. i wonder if he’ll read this . . .
That same Saturday, Joe & i went with friends, Janet, Adam & Hillary out for a nice little dinner at Thai Peacock at then to see Andrew Bird at the Roseland Theater. i will not bore you with my full-blown review because, as anyone who knows anything about me, i am a HUGE fangirl of Mr. Bird and can gush at great length. Suffice it to say, it was one of the warmest, most intimate, tightly performed and emotionally charged shows of his i’ve ever seen.
Five days later, i’m sitting quietly at home reading my email when a blast comes through from the Aladdin Theater for FREE tickets to see, Duncan Sheik. Do you all remember him? Sudden unexpected pop heartthrob who put out “Barely Breathing” then apparently went on to compose, quite successfully, for film & Broadway musicals. Somewhere in that road he found Buddhism, explored his pop-roots and electronica and went from blue-eyed crybaby crooner to what appeared on stage to be softshoe hobo, railroad vagabond. Complete with floppy hat. No offense, but i like my pop-candy to be a little more polished. Even so, he was soothing enough and perfectly entertaining, particularly when joined onstage and accompanied in harmony by pianist/vocalist Holly Brook, a spritely, red-headed songstress with an easy voice who perked my ears with “Mama Who Bore Me.” i thought she sounded like those pitch-perfect singers on Broadway and indeed, the song is from Sheik’s Spring Awakening and was sonically delivered as such.
He seemed humourously self-aware onstage, in that sort of clumsy, rushed and fearful of rejection way that makes you check your fly and crumple your hat or roll a piece of paper into a straw. He began every introduction with, “Ok, so . . .” then while fiddling with one of 5 guitars, explained the song’s meaning and context as it applied to storylines in one of two Broadway plays he wrote music for. Then he’d crack a small joke or two, launch in, finish and begin again, “Ok, so . . .” Here and there he sprinkled in familiar pop tracks and love songs.
It struck me while i was awash in the soft repeating flow, that certain artists have a “sound” and so, i found myself trying to figure out the landscape of his music, the places i went to, the things i imagined. That sound for any given artist can be mathematically complex, assaulting, heart-beating, ass-wiggling, spirit soaring, a warm bath or just plain vanilla. Music to vacuum by. But it occurred to me that Duncan Shiek’s music, nearly the whole of it, sounds like a day at the beach, and not all the sunny, splashy, sandcastles & coconut lotion bit. But the white noise of the ocean, the call of circling birds, the cool that moves in around 6pm after a long day of swimming and sunbathing, the blue sky gone grey and overcast, the part of the day where you are tired and melancholy and have to pack up the blankets, shake out towels, rinse your flip-flops in the surf and walk back half a mile to the car with sand on and in unpleasant crevices. And you didn’t even get to stay and watch the sunset with a good bottle of wine, because the kids were whining, because the wind kicked up, because a storm moved in, because your lover/wife/husband is not who you think they are / hope they’d be. That’s what it sounds like.
But boy, the people were into it. And probably vacuumed up sand to it regularly or settled in with a pint of Vanilla. You know, after the beach.
To his credit, Duncan Shiek is a fine & thoughtful songwriter, he’s just not as deeply provoking as some. Gold star finish though – he ended his encore set with a most righteous cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” Finally, something real.
Welcome to the world of big monsters in pants and big possibilities!
If my SPAM is any indication of my shortcomings then i definitely have a small penis and should do something about that if i ever intend to satisfy ANY woman. i should also invest in discount Viagra & Cialis to keep my new size erect and in check. And if i really want to impress, i need “a status symbol of today” because “an expensive watch makes a huge difference socially and at the office.” Because, people look upon an expensive watch with “feelings of envy, wealth, and wanting.” But why would i want to spend all that money i don’t have? i should invest in a replica watch. Big and expensive to match my new “enormous manfullness in my pants.”
Even my SPAM is trying to tell me i’m an inadequate man in the working and dating world, which i guess is fine, seeing as how i’m an unemployed, married woman. They’ve got me all wrong. But i save the real gems for a laugh:
“You’ll be able to invade so deep into woman, she’ll scream and shout like crazy.”
“She will stay by your side as you have that bulgy pride.”
“No matter how you are dressed everybody will see that you are blessed.”
From Writing Under The Influence to Creatively Sober
i encourage anyone who fancies a good scribble, wants to write, practices writing or contemplates the writing / creative life seriously to watch it. It actually made me cry.
As a background, Joe & i listened to Eat, Love, Pray while we trekked across the country to from Springfield, VA to Portland, OR and though i found most of it moving but some of it rife with her own personal drama and insecurities, this speech of hers was much more coherent and truly inspiring. i liked the idea of something passing through you, urging to be captured and caught by the tail, then wrestled to the paper, else it chooses to move on and select someone else to come through.
And well . . . i have to agree with her and her stories of other creative types. i have muses, sure enough. Guides. Voices. Faeries. Things that keep me up at nite or prod me on in the middle of the day, with something loud and clear to say. Often in the shower, sometimes i hear it right in my head or chest, a booming, filling voice. Sometimes it is in my own voice. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s ok – i’m no stranger to odd voices and old muses. it is my Greek Chorus, my accompanying soundtrack, the movie voice over. The Blathering Other.
Then, when the voice(s) go dead on the line, i write stuff like THIS too, just to address the situation . . . So even when i’m not wrtiting, i’m writing about it. very reflexive if for nothing else but the mere exercise.
What i’ve learned is that, for me, it IS an exercise, it’s a voice (or several) that like any good relationship, need cultivation and conversation to keep them active and accessible and “flowing.” As in “real life,” there are some friends for whom, if you don’t call for awhile, get offended.
But the bigger question about torturing oneself with the expectation of follow-up, or creative force, or the fears of “can i produce if i am NOT miserable?” And “do i have anything to say if i am not suffering?” Or “do i have to descend into madness in order to arrive at genius?”
Recently i was asked this:
Is it true, that hard times make you even more creative, allowing you to produce great art?
Perhaps there was a time in my life when it was somewhat true, but now it’s more about transcendence. that’s where our ‘art’ or trade or practice of the thing we do best comes in . . . and i’ve talked about this at great length before.
In essence i have learned not to abuse my “art,” not to squander talent into personal transformation through miserable expression. Suffering is apparent, pain is necessary, yes – but it is NOT the desired or correct state, purpose or constant in this life. And if it is – you’re doing it ALL WRONG.
i think getting to the other side of bad times bravely, however you document it in your art, is the goal. But making sure you have something to say or paint or photograph or film when life is blissful, is just as important.
i can remember a time where i’d plunk down in front of the computer, get to writing or editing photos (or Christ almighty, compose email) and kill a bottle of wine by myself, no problem and with little effect. i did this mostly because it was there, partly because it was business (i sampled wine from distributors for restaurant purchase) and lastly because it was wet and slightly more interesting than water (which i kept stacked in bottles within crates. Hydrate while you drink, people.)
Now, lately when i bring a drink to my face, i can almost feel my liver raise up and bitch slap it out of my hand. The smell of beer, fresh or stale in a room, on the breath in my face, or on clothing makes me sick. Apparently, my liquor license went out the door in my bellybutton along with my gallbladder. This is coming to you from a woman who in most pictures i am smiling, with a wine glass thrust forward in the frame as if to toast to anyone looking on and willing to share. These days, i’m afraid wine will turn my guts into a pit of roiling acid and deliver a mean hangover. So i guess i just wait, until things calm down and my liver and i come to an understanding.
And when it comes to sharing & understanding, for me, it’s often those random letters and email messages from old friends, new friends and complete strangers that i find myself sitting down to flex and exercise my writing muscles. Often, i cut and paste bits from email correspondences into the blog and vice versa, so don’t be upset if something we might’ve shared in supposed privacy ends up in some public form. i hope that doesn’t cheapen the exchange. i like to remember people and things they’ve made me consider and think deeply about. Sometimes it happens when i write them.
In some ways, i suppose i repeat myself, but i do this because, i “said” it once already, just the way i wanted to, and i don’t want to repeat myself. Redundantly unclever, i know. Didn’t you get the memo? It’s the primary reason for having a blog, it’s better than having you dig into my email, my word documents, my sketch pads in my car door and desk drawer or rifle through the stacks of dream journals at my nitestand. i mean, that’s where i go to collect my thoughts and try to reassemble them later.
Stories For Boys . . .
So, on the topic of later assembly, i dug up an old document from an upper-level creative writing course i took years ago. It’s about 70 pages loosely forming some sort of memoir. It’s not strictly linear, like you’d imagine, “i was born, this stuff happened, my mama, my pop, my sister and the hamster and the dog and the cat and the cute boy and the asshole best friend.” There are some elements of that, to be sure, but mostly i seem to mention the various people, mostly men whose friendships and entanglements pushed my personality forward and helped define me and what i do or do not want out of any configuration of friendship or relationship.
Now, that said, this is not a Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias joint, a wide-sweeping “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” type proclamation, nor is it a tell-all rockstar biography. More like, what it was to grow up and make sense of the self. i’ll admit, probably owing to the time in my education and life, it smacks a of little feminism, trying on clothes, trying on lovers, divorce, mommy & daddy issues. But i think it’s a pretty fun & revealing romp, things even i’d forgotten about, so i’ll probably just intersperse them like chapters in between actual, current blogs at random, as i re-work them and under the title “Stories for Boys: (#).” They’ll be easier to tag, bag and search for.
As you might’ve guessed, i don’t change the names to protect the innocent, either. After all, we were just children then, honey. Trying to figure it all out.
When we emerged steaming from the void,
It was easy to stay warm.
Now we huddle in swarthy clothing
And wait for Summer to remind us
We used to practice acrobatics
in the fluidity of the womb.
I pressed for memory and a new voice came
This new one, she said “yes,
this is the next part,”
But how could you possibly put
a finger on it?
How could you expect to tickle the walls;
to put your hands
through the screen of the red room
and touch the outside
~ Andrea E. Janda
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A couple days ago, the EPoX ex5 barebones case mini-tower (dubbed “mini-me” not by me but the company), the computer i bought piece by piece in 2003 from processor to video card, memory sticks to media, hard drive all assembled, tweaked, pimped, proxied, overclocked, backed up, maintained and restored meticulously, pruned and flourished like my own digital garden, loved and lavished with all the finest software and crammed with all my art, writing, photos, email – an online lifetime of memories – died.
there i was, happily reading email when a snap, crackle, pop came from the direction of my desktop, the monitor powered down, the speakers snapped out a piercing blip and the cooling fans went silent. i went down the list and thought: ok, don’t panic, what just blew up? heat sink fan on the processor or power source? but all fans were running when i restarted and the power source seemed fine, it turned back on. but it shut itself down again shortly after. upon another reboot, i HEARD XP start but didn’t SEE it on the screen. the monitor? nope, that still works. So i reboot once again and the display on the front of the computer which usually shows a bright blue screen with icons for memory, storage, CPU activity and temperature plus a few other nice diagnostics displayed nothing but a blue screen and a little barrel telling me, “hey sister, i see the hard drive, but that’s about it.” So no monitoring, no icon of any part of the system. Which led me to believe the nervous system was shot – the motherboard.
One more restart, and then from somewhere inside the silver shoebox, the dull, distant siren of some internal alarm that sounded like an ambulance in a soup can. i thought, “maybe any one controller, capacitor, even the BIOS might be toast, but more than likely, the motherboard is zapped so – no nervous system (motherboard) means the brains (the processor) can’t fire up and control the rest of the body and the video card (the optic nerve) can’t give me any graphics, but the saving grace, the heart of the operation where all the memories are stored, the hard drive is healthy and intact. i know this . . . because the little barrel icon was there, and i could hear the healthy spin of the disc inside.
So i did some homework, read reviews, watched videos to look at the guts of the computers, went to retail stores to touch them and see how they were built, looked at some sexy systems ranging from sleek laptops to crazy alienware, i even considered building one again but the testing and tuning, time and energy that goes into getting a system up and running just weren’t in my favor. i decided though i like the portability of laptops, i just prefer a full-size desktop at home base. i enjoy my workspace as a creative altar.
Joe brought me home a very old Dell tower from his work to borrow in the meantime of ordering, and as soon as i had it on the floor, i got out my tools and swapped my HDD in. the transplant was a success! in minutes time and two restarts to load up the new brains and nervous system i was running my tailored desktop again, albeit slow as balls on this old dog of a machine. Pentium III 996 MHz and a mere 256 MB of RAM. euughhh! My HDD is all, “WTF, mate?!?!”
i even looked at the Dell XPS and after configuring several systems from several makers from standard retail HP and Sony and all the geek models & makers in between, after getting several ideas in several outrageous figures and quotes ranging up into $1800+, i settled on a Dell Inspiron 530. i tricked it out the best i could imagine with upgraded processor, memory, audio & graphics cards, media hub and other fancies and kept it at $1400. i even checked the benchmarks and it performs better than some systems priced at $500 more. i won’t nerd out and bore anyone with the specific hard specs, unless you ask. it should run blazing fast around my old mini-me. poor little silver friend.
so tonite i will, after work, spend a good amount of time migrating my music, words, photos, email and settings from my old HDD and backup drives. My only concern? Windows Vista. i’ve read it’s buggy. i’ve read it’s chatty. i’ve read it takes about a months worth of tweaking it to settle down and behave the way you like. but i’m ready to explore and tame it. i don’t negotiate with terrorists. anyone have any horror / success stories or advice for me on that front?
ah, but before i go . . . i should mention the cool thing about having to borrow this old computer. it has a 3.5″ floppy drive and a (wait for it) zip250 on it. and why is that good? well, i have this old pile of floppys and zips that had old pictures and writing on it i had forgotten about. stuff i was sure i might never see again after a previous HDD failure, a few computers back. it was an exciting, revealing, amusing trip down digital memory lane. and i encourage everyone to write and save it, even if you don’t think you have a gift for it. even if you don’t think you’ll be published. even if it’s just observations on your own personal drama du jour. it’s informative and enlightening and imperative to “see” old documented thoughts and mindset for emotional growth. to see how the voice inside has changed. if nothing else, it serves as a marker, sign posts for how far you’ve come, or how much further you must go if you intend on doing something more.
i suppose it’s the time of year, as poring over old memories is reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas. and having a husband like Joe to love and take care of me and make new memories with me, our first year as a married couple is my greatest gift. well, that and the new computer he just bought me. he emphatically expressed, “no more things beginning with the letter “C” are allowed to break in this house.” It began with the Cat in January when Odin had a few expensive bouts with the vet. Then my Car in April, prompting a new Volkswagen Rabbit purchase. And now, my Computer, which i believe, completes the three in the “C” cycle. We’ll just stay home for Christmas to be safe. No travel ensures no problems.
but yes – the impending holidays are a mixed Santa’s bag of goodies, a sloppy harvest cornucopia of good and bad memories for most. a collection of the joys (and occasional discomfort) of families. so i will leave you with an old piece of writing of mine. a description of a photograph from my childhood with links to the cultural reference for clarity . . .
“We’re standing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house. It is a room where I spent many formative hours as a child. Behind us is a circle of dark brown cabinets, swirled with the brushstrokes of the original stain, all of which have knobs with a bright orange flower in the center. The dishwasher with its large rectangular buttons sits unused. It’s broken and the dishes dry behind us in a mustard yellow Rubbermaid rack. The counter is crowded with blenders and coffee makers and other appliances, years before the notion of space saving installation. A terribly sad remnant that passes for a radio sits to the left of the stove top and a neighboring roll-top breadbox. It’s placed here where it gets the best reception it can hope for near all the metal and with the help of a bent up blue coat hanger. Blue grass music and talk radio is usually coming out of this nostalgic contraption.
The oven has a large door, big enough to cook two small children and boasts a window to watch cookies and Shrinky Dinks with the light on. My grandmother had the same cooktop and range from my mother’s youth up until I was nearly 14. The same was true about the refrigerator. For years I imagined my grandmother as the Hungarian witch, able to keep appliances running until they didn’t match the décor. Some of the only things to come out of the refrigerator are endless bologna sandwiches with Plochman’s mustard and a never-ending surplus of milk, applesauce, and popsicles.
Behind my mother is one of my favorite cabinets. It looks small from the outside, but once you open it, a round three-tiered lazy susan spins around with spices and baking ingredients. A deep and endless door to magical cuisine. A Narnia portal with my grandmother as the White Witch. i would spin and spin this until glass bottles clicked and metal tin boxes tapped out code until they all crashed together like unwilling passengers on a tilt-a-whirl and toppled like bowling pins signaling my grandmother to come running with the spatula armed and prepared to swat us with it. it is the largest, most fearsome piece of plastic i know; mightier than the paddle, the switch, the belt strap or the back hand combined. It’s called the “pancake turner” and in a German-Hungarian household, it is gainfully employed in the morning with buttermilk pancakes, potato pancakes in the evening and ass-whupping any time it’s called upon.
My mother and father are standing together in the center of the photo. My sister is waist high and under the arm of my father, his hand pressing her against his hip, and I am on the opposite side, my mother’s hand around the little knob of my shoulder.
My father’s arm is draped over my mother like the back of a big armchair, his hand dangles and points to my head like an accusation. “You’re a smart little college-educated bitch, just like your mother.” Around his wrist is a thick leather strap, like the strongman at the circus, but not black. Instead it is the color of honey, with a large watch face in the center. It is the only picture, not taken professionally and posed uncomfortably at Olan Mills Studio where we are all arranged together. We are all wearing shirts in variations of blue and gray like a November Sky. We are all wearing blue jeans from stone to sky blue.
the head is a crown
a trap with teeth when open,
abound when clamped,
asleep and all these tendrils
of light and ferns
bring inner life
as the outer one burns . . .
Sometimes, it’s impossible to escape your own mind. constant flow of worries and random tasks and preoccupation, consternation, mental masturbation trying to make yourself feel good by arranging, stretching, reordering and so, if you’re like me, you must take it and remove it from the psychic plane, untie the lines, and move it to the physical plane . . . DO something to make it quiet in there with meditative motions. binding. release.
i’ve been spending a lot of nice time with Megan – afternoon lunches, wine drinking, music listening, all of this in preparation for her wedding. we’ve been attending hot hot hot Hot Yoga classes at a nice studio. This is where they heat the room from 90-103 degrees, you wear next to nothing and bend yourself, working slowly into poses in which sweat drips into your eyes from the bridge of your nose, off your fingertips as it rolls down your arms, and you appear to be boffing the invisible. it’s pretty sexy . . . with poses and binding that undo the bindings. release.
One evening, Megan, her friend Violet and i spent a few hours tying chopsticks together with red ribbons: a dragon on one, a phoenix on the other, and the bride and groom’s names on both. These chopsticks were intended as wedding favors for a Chinese Banquet (which i will get to later . . . ) we did this until our fingertips were red-pink like they get when you eat an entire bag of red-dyed pistachio nuts during a Sunday nite movie marathon. (not that i’ve ever done this) This ribbon-affixing job took two bottles of wine to complete . . . i often gauge the difficulty of a job by the number of wine bottles it takes to complete. binding. release.
In between, i brewed a pot of blood orange tea while the three of us sat, steeped, traded stories, broke out the tortilla chips and salsa and somewhere in there, marinated a salmon filet, steamed some spinach and yellow rice all the while, still tying the red ribbons around chopsticks. binding. release.
Megan’s then fiancé, now husband and i went for a late nite walk down to the water after the chopsticks were all tied. It began to rain and he, a gentleman offering his coat asked, “Would you like a hood?”
And me, Red Riding Hood in training quipped, “No thank you, i have hair.” That nite, the three of us sat on a bench by the water and made up one of the most ridiculous parodies sung to the tune of “They can’t take that away from me.” It was a strangely sinister diddy about living in an abusive relationship. And i think now, it was funny, because we laugh at the things we are most afraid of. We cracked ourselves up, though – and really, Michael and Megan are a wonderful couple.
Which leads me to the photos and Megan’s wedding day. It began innocently enough, except for some odd reason, i couldn’t get my car to start, which sent me into a minor panic. We keep a drum of biodiesel on our property which we fill at a station further out as all of our cars are diesel engines and it’s convenient to have and cleaner burning. The morning before the wedding i was running late to work and filled up a container and dumped it into my tank. All i could think was something was wrong with the biodiesel, water in it, too cold of an engine to get it gong. My car was running REALLY sludgy. i called Brooks’ brother at work.
“Hey Jesse, my car is having a hard time starting, cranking really hard and all that. Is something wrong that it won’t tolerate the fuel mix?”
“Oh – did you use the white drum in the garage corner, because that’s cooking oil.”
Jesse then explained he was doing a conversion to an old Mercedes so that installing something to preheat the oil would allow the car to run on it as a regular fuel. i didn’t quite have that luxury and so, just so you know and for fun future reference . . . Mercedes CAN run on fucking WESSON oil.
In any event i had allowed myself plenty of time, got on the road, refilled and evened out the mix and arrived before the bride returned from her hair and nail appointments, so all was good.
The wedding was lovely – FAST, but lovely. The bridal party wore red (my favorite) and all the trees glowed with that same burning . . . The ONLY hitch/drawback was that ever present threat and problem . . . MORE photographers than agreed on. The groom’s mother had asked two friends to shoot some photos for the family and so, there i was jockeying for position and competing with flash banks. It was a bit of a nitemare, but i still think i produced some decent shots. Particularly when we went on a walk and i had more control. And hey – if i didn’t get it all, i’m certain the rest of the family can provide some additional photos.
The wedding was on a Thursday and that Sunday, the Chinese side of Megan’s new family, the inlaws hosted a Chinese Banquet which Brooks and i attended. This was 10 courses of lazy-susaned passed food, some of it very palatable, some of it exotic and texturally offensive, but all of it VERY authentic. It was a nice event.
Megan and i had gone shopping the week before and i had fallen in love with a corset that i bought at her insistence. i finally found one that fit perfectly and when i came out of the dressing room, Megan declared, “i’m not letting you leave without that.” Of course, i realize now that i went shopping with her so she could make me buy things, or so we joked . . .
i’ve been preparing and eating a lot of stir fry lately, chopping fresh vegetables, sometimes adding chicken, but mostly brown and spicy with jasmine rice. call it a kick . . . and also oops i did it again, i cut my hair.
it has some highlights and lowlights ranging in violet, cinnamon, copper, honey and some deep cherry reds. it’s a LOT of fun and feels terrific!
so the purpose of my opening little poem that occurred to me after seeing a pencil sketch (i hope i can find it again so i can share with you the visual inspiration . . .) my thoughts about undoing the bindings and releasing is my latest mantra – the only thing i can do to stay tethered to this world. this and feel connected to my friends and invest time in the people i love. those things and also, make use of the 3-month membership unlimited to the yoga studio that my mother bought me for my upcoming birthday . . .
i will be 33 June 19th, a very nice number. Getting involved in all of these wedding proceedings and pregnancies and births has been nice, to see and feel so much love and investment between people. in some ways too, though i doubt i will ever be married (both for the headache of the preparations and the grim possibility of the need for a clean break should anything go awry) i hate to think like that, but it’s the pragmatist in me that begs to keep my head on straight. i LIKE the idea of marriage, just as i LIKE children, but i don’t think either of those things will be a part of my life.
And i leave this last part to the women who read this . . . do you feel strange or awkward or pressured or sad, or more succinctly like a failure if you don’t find yourself engaged, married and or in the midst of planning a family?
And if you’re someone like me who understands that neither marriage nor children are guarantees that will bind you forever and lovingly to a mate, then – what is the alternative? What types of occupations or commitments or arrangements in your relationship makes you feel like you are safe in this world; that you will be with someone who loves you and reciprocates your loves, needs and desires? What makes you feel like you are doing fine and have no need to keep up with the staus quo?
how do you escape the trappings in your head and make your outer (public) life match the inner (private) life so that your parents will hush and your friends won’t ascribe you to the land of failed or incomplete womanhood?
me – i cut my hair, i go for catharsis, i steep til it’s hot, i change my image, my vision, i mutate my indecision, i sweat out the ills and forego the pills and stretch myself into new positions, walk in the rain, try different fuel sources, tie things with ribbons, put on the corset, cling tight to my friends and love . . .
“Fiction is based on reality unless you’re a fairy-tale artist . . .
you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere.
You have to know the material you’re writing about before you alter it.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson
“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench,
a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free,
and good men die like dogs.
There’s also a negative side.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
~ Hunter S. Thompson
He described himself as “an elderly dope fiend living out in the wilderness,” and Hunter S. Thompson, inventor of gonzo journalism, the journalist of the Me decade with his whacked-out and occasionally self-indulgent prose, brilliant, wicked swizzle stick in the shit martini that is our over-sanitized, focus-group-tested, squelched news, media and political coverage – well, he shot himself in his Aspen home.
Not everyone is built for this world . . . especially those who ride it like a rodeo bull. Poor, brave darlings that they are, bordering on reality and escaping it as often as chemically possible.
i purge my own (un)reason through writing, through exercising my voice(s). it’s one of the few things that keeps me tethered to this life and helps me to dissect and reflect on it all. it’s not history until it’s documented, it’s not understood until it’s reflected in the eyes of others, it’s not any good until it resounds in someone else’s psyche as it expands your own.
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“My problem is my feet are too big and I can’t find the shoes that I want, shoes that are sleek and thin and make a pronounced statement of ‘I have access to important documents’ and ‘I have catering on a 24 hour basis’. I want to communicate these things with a shoe, which is impossible with my size, I can’t find the shoes that fit. And I can’t find shoes that make the statement that ‘I am a temple’, that ‘I am a grotto’, that ‘I am a botanical park of many leaves, flowers and trees which essential oils are derived from as well’, if you’re into that sort of thing. You need to make statements, whether you’re trying to be a cemetery of life, whether you’re trying to be a chaperone-slash- assailant, whether you’re trying to be a security guard-slash-masseuse. There’s different things you need to communicate with your footwear and it’s difficult when the width of your foot is greater than the length. Which in a way is kind of the way life is sometimes. Sometimes life is wider than it is long. And you just can’t fit in anywhere.”
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Music takes up a HUGE portion of my life. i am ever looking for the soundtrack to my existence, or at least a temporary explanation. And then there’s the consideration of mood. i’m looking for what fits.
some of the things i am currently cycling into the sound check, checking out, or waiting to arrive:
Who’s Got Trouble – Shivaree
Wikked Lil’ Grrls – Esthero
Guero – Beck
Speak For Yourself – Imogen Heap
A Girl Called Eddy – A Girl Called Eddy
The Beekeeper – Tori Amos
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“I don’t have any allegiance to an organized religion; I have an allegiance to the gifts that I find for myself in those religions… I’d rather be non-denominational, except for music. I prefer to learn everything through music. If you want divinity, the music in every human being and their love for music is pretty much it. It’s the big indication of their spirituality and their ability to love and make love, or feel pain or joy, and really manifest it, really be real. But I don’t believe in a big guy with a beard on a throne, telling us that we’re bad; I certainly don’t believe in original sin. I believe in the opposite of that: you have an Eden immediately from the time you are born, but as you are conditioned by your caretakers and your surroundings, you may lose that original thing. Your task is to get back to it, to claim responsibility for your own perfection.”
~ Jeff Buckley
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“When i’m posing for a photographer, as with music, it has to be improvisational at a certain point. For it to work you have to allow yourself to dream, to walk into a painting. If you establish an inner dialogue while you’re being photographed it can be a bit more revealing. i might remember a conversation with somebody that takes me to a certain space. i’m not inhabiting a different character – i’m inhabiting myself, although this might be a piece of the self that even i am just meeting for the first time. That’s what i like to see in a photograph. When somebody’s just blankly staring out at you, or seducing the camera in a really obvious way, it just doesn’t have the same resonance.”
~ Tori Amos from Tori Amos: Piece by Piece
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i don’t know if i will ever be the caliber of Dorthea Lange or Diane Arbus or Annie Liebovitz, but as i am constantly inspired by photographers, male and female, new and historical, and all encompassing a wide world of imagery, i will continue to explore my tools, and document my little red chunk of the world :heart:
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“Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”
~ Diane Arbus
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Meanwhile we are all desperately reaching for our trauma, our uniquity, our gift, or own personal freakdom that will allow us to express ourselves fully, to transcend our simplicty, mediocrity, anonymity – to become a vibrant version of ourselves.
And the approach is simple . . . convince yourself you can do it.
There is this trinity of expressive things i love: writing, music, and photography. i told myself i wanted to write; i did it, i was published in minor publications, won a small scholarship and continue to scribble – even my dreams are work for the paper. i told myself i loved music so much i would write it, sing it, play it live. i did. i took the writing, taught myself guitar, recorded several songs with a band on CD, played live and loved it immensely. i still sing and play here and there, but i mostly consume music now. i told myself i really love photography and i want to learn how to do it, learn to see my world differently. i brought joy to friends, family, even strangers who to my wild delight and surprise, actually forked over money for something i captured, and now i am displaying and selling them on the walls at my ‘real’ job. and every day, when i drive, when i walk, when i listen to conversations, when i have tea by myself, when i travel i see the world in little 4×6 boxes that i keep rotating, cropping, expanding.
and i am still learning and convincing myself i can do it.