I tried reblogging it again - didn’t publish the whole thing the first time around. THANKS for following!!
A fellow nerd friend came over Friday night and we had one of those hours long, meandering conversations that used to happen all the time really late at night sitting in the hallway of my college dorm trying to figure out everything in the world while avoiding studying for mid-terms or writing a 15-page paper. I miss what seemed like an endless amount of time to have those kinds of conversations and I miss that everyone around me was a sponge for knowledge and wanted to understand how the world worked and they experimented and tried to figure out who they were and what they believed and why.
Nerdy friend and I talked about the connection between science and art, the dark side of empathy, and how scary and crucial it is to fuck shit up in your life every once in a while when everything seems to be smoothly humming along but you feel like you might die from the monotony and from knowing what to expect every single day of your life and you start to realize you’ll never evolve if you don’t set your hair on fire.
We also talked about how we are all stardust and that we are all connected to each other by the same basic elements that formed the universe. Reminded me of this video:
Every Saturday morning, I go to hot yoga class led by Derek who kicks my ass. He gives specific instructions on how to perform and intensify each pose.
“Lower your butt five more inches.”
“Twist until you can see the back wall.”
“And now for our 9th wheel, up!”
Sweat streams down my arms and legs like a small waterfall onto the thin towel atop the yoga mat that can no longer absorb any additional moisture. Sweat pools between the mats and mingles with my neighbor’s salty drippings. Sweat creates a thick, musty steam in a room crowded with Lululemon and perky ponytails. You can’t be too squeamish when you do hot yoga with Derek.
I used to poo poo yoga until I found Derek. The physical rigor of his class keeps me coming back every week. But what really blows me away are all the things he seems to be saying about yoga, but are really about how to live and seem always directed specifically at me, like this recent gem:
“You can’t evolve unless you make yourself uncomfortable. Walk through the fire and see what happens.”
On the first day of spring last week, my friend Sara sent me this:
Inspired by Chahārshanbe-Sūri, the Persian Fire Jumping Festival - “The celebration usually starts in the evening, with people making bonfires in the streets and jumping over them singing zardi-ye man az toh, sorkhi-ye toh az man. The literal translation is, my yellow is yours, your red is mine. Loosely translated, this means you want the fire to take your paleness, sickness, and problems and in turn give you redness, warmth and energy.”
She learned about this Iranian tradition from a co-worker while riding in the elevator to work. We decided we needed to jump over a fire that very night. I posted our plan on Facebook and an oddball group of people assembled on my terrace to jump over a bonfire we’d built of candles. We each silently thought of something negative we wanted to leave behind and something positive we wanted to jump toward and we held sparklers in our hands and leaped toward renewal.
A meteor streaked through the night sky two nights later:
And the most beautiful thing I have ever seen is a billion stars in the dark desert sky, hundreds of miles away from the nearest man-made lights that pollute the sky. I felt small and at the same time I felt that all the possibilities of my life were contained within the stars.
…many people feel small but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. It is a level of connectivity. It is really what you want from life, you want to feel connected, you want feel relevant, wanna feel you like you are a participant…
According to this infographic, we are in the midst of one of two periods during the year when a relationship is most likely to break up! For those not currently in relationships, this information bodes well as there will be more inventory coming to market soon!
Though the advent of spring this year has been chilly, this season usually means we start emerging from our winter doldrums and maybe feeling a little restless having been cooped up for months curled up by a roaring fire whilst sporting fuzzy slippers and sipping steaming hot chocolate topped with marshmallows and laced with a touch of whiskey. We shed the lumpy layers of shapeless woolen winter wear and reduce the extra bits of chub that formed around our waists when the days were short and cold and we eliminate any excess baggage, freeing ourselves for fresh new possibilities.
Valentine’s Day marks the beginning of the breakup season, so fraught for so many with unmet expectations hoisted on us by the greeting-card-roses-growing-chocolate-candy industrial complex. I, however, think Valentine’s Day is really fun! One year when I was twelve or thirteen, I removed all the ornaments from our fake Christmas tree right after the new year and re-decorated it with red, white, and pink hearts I’d cut out from constructions paper. Over the years, I have hosted dinners for friends on Valentine’s Day, and not those sad lonely hearts dinners where everyone either pretends they’re completely OK with being single when they’re really just a little sad and bitter, or they’re just outright grumpy and complain about how it’s not really their fault that they’re single because everyone else is the jerk. No, instead, my Valentine’s Day dinners celebrate friendship and love and being utterly sappy romantic. Because it’s fun, especially when you don’t force yourself to have the kind of fun that others expect of you.
I receive a daily email from Seth Godin, who “writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.” I especially like the changing everything part. Every once in a while, his daily email contains a gem that lodges itself in my brain and I can’t shake it. Like this one:
On feeling small
“To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.” E. M. Forster
The small feeling produced by art comes from dancing with our muse and allowing our inspiration to take us somewhere the resistance would rather avoid. We feel small in the face of magic and connection. Feeling small gives us the guts to create something bigger, bigger than ourselves, the art of human connection and the gift of generosity.
On the other hand, the critic who seeks to beef himself up at our expense diminishes no one but himself.
There have been a few times, particularly after reading a beautiful piece of writing, when I felt very small in the presence of great art and it paralyzed me. I felt like I might as well not bother writing or creating anything ever again if I couldn’t produce things that were as remarkable as the thing I had just read or seen or heard.
Most of the time, though, I have felt utterly inspired by great art, like what Seth said, like after the less than 24 hours I spent in New York City last week in which I experienced a series of emotional and mind-blowing art works that provoked a frenzy of writing on the four hour bus ride back home to DC. I felt a little queasy from the swaying of the bus, but I powered through it, unable to stop the outflow from my brain into my fingers tapping furiously at the keyboard. I felt compelled to create something great, and greater than myself.
When I arrived in New York that afternoon, I went straight over to Luhring Augustine gallery in Chelsea to see the Ragnar Kjartansson installation, a deeply emotional and spellbinding video and music installation that left me feeling simultaneously melancholy and delirious with joy. Two small cannon explosions occurred during the hour long video that delightfully aroused me from this spell. An especially moving lyric from this installation: “There are stars exploding around you and there is nothing, nothing you can do.” Next, I spent over an hour browsing around Printed Matter, a bookstore filled with artist books. I wanted to buy up the whole store. Finally, I attended a talk by one of my art idols Marina Abramović. It is impossible to be bothered by my critics in the face of magic and connection.
My friend Ignacio accused me of being a “collector,” which in the context of the conversation we were having, I interpreted to mean a person who is compelled to acquire things and lots of them. I took it as an insult. I associate collector personalities with people who are messy and disorganized, which does not square with my compulsion for orderliness in the physical environment. I don’t need things to be lined up evenly and color-coordinated like that movie with Julia Roberts where the husband lines up the cans of food in the cupboards according to size and color. Everything simply needs to be in its right place. Even things that are out of my sight, such as the stuff in my basement storage space, must be accounted for and every object must be deemed essential.
I weakly defended myself to Ignacio by retorting that I collected only books and art, which are perfectly and respectably acceptable things to collect. I contended the following evidence for why I should not be classified as a collector: I have been brutally ridding myself of possessions, objects, stuff that I have deemed non-essential. I obsessively look around my apartment and everywhere I see things that I don’t need or want any longer. I get a huge sense of satisfaction from filling up a bag with things I don’t use and clothes I don’t wear and then giving them away.
Turns out, I’ve been collecting things all my life and I’ve also been getting rid of things all my life, constantly paring down to the essentials wherever possible, while simultaneously accumulating new things. The thrill of acquisition plays a huge role in this struggle.
In the spirit of making random lists (thanks Paulette!), here’s a list of things I collect:
- Art. Soon after I moved into my place, I realized I had an art storage problem. I had less wall space than in my previous home so art was soon stacked awkwardly against the walls in my bedroom and under the bed. Though I tried to impose an art-buying moratorium on myself, I could not hold back and continued to add new works to my collection despite the lack of wall space and the dearth of adequate storage. I didn’t want to incur the cost of offsite art storage. I also wanted easy access to my art so that I could rotate it on my walls whenever I wanted something else to look at. The solution: I hired some guys to remove the bathtub from my second bathroom and replaced that space with art storage racks. Those racks filled up fast, though, and I will need to somehow find additional storage and soon.
- Experiences. Doesn’t take up any space at all! I’ve collected a few outsize experiences that changed my life: Heartline, Dealing, or By Request. These art projects had a huge impact on me, but ultimately it has been the daily experiences that have truly enriched my life.
- Books. Overflowing book shelves and stacks that are growing into teetering towers on the floor and various other surfaces. Many books remain unread but I can’t stop buying them. I refuse to buy a Kindle or other such nonsense device.
- Dresses. I am still a total girl about dresses. Closets bulge despite regular purges. Have instituted the do-I-feel-fantastic-in-this-dress rule, which works most of the time. A few sentimental items continue to plague me.
- Music. Takes up digital space only. However, I find myself listening to the same playlists over and over again. Feeling need to delete non-essential music as a matter of principle.
- Passport stamps. Also doesn’t take up physical space. However, years ago, I used to buy kitschy souvenirs and mementos during my travels that littered my shelves and various other surfaces around the house. I’d buy things like miniature wooden clogs emblazoned with a hand-painted windmill from Holland, a tiny Eiffel Tower purchased at the foot of the original, and a ceramic pooping male figure from the Christmas market in Barcelona about which I got varying answers as to why they were placed within every single crèche scene during the holidays. I can’t find the wooden clogs, but the other two objets are subtly displayed on a book shelf in the hallway leading to my bedroom. I also collected and display with greater prominence an intricately carved metal bowl from northern Thailand, hand-painted ceramic masks and bowls from Venezuela, a blown glass light sculpture from a junk shop in New Orleans, and a hand-made book from Burma.
- Postcards. Doesn’t take up much space and the collection is more about the delight from receiving a postcard in the mail than actually looking at it again later or displaying it.
- People. I decluttered a few people in the past year, but that is all for another blog post.
- Kitchen items. I used to cook quite a bit so I own a relatively large collection of kitchenware including a garlic press, lemon squeezer, and melon baller. When I bragged about these possessions to an acquaintance, he pointed out that all these things sounded like sex. I own enough dishes to comfortably accommodate a dinner party of 30, a sturdy KitchenAid mixer, and a set of fancy knives given to me by a chef. The knives stayed in the boxes they came in for over a year until I felt like I deserved the extravagant gift after he’d forgiven me for my bad behavior. But that is also for another blog post.
I went to NYC yesterday to hear Marina Abramović speak. I felt like a giddy super fan arriving early at the small auditorium so I could sit right in front of the stage hoping to make meaningful eye contact with her as she peered down at my eager face, and then writing down nearly every single magical word she uttered and nodding vigorously in agreement with every one of her declarations, and then waiting around afterward straining to catch sight of her and maybe even speak to her, though I probably would have been flustered and said idiotic things like, “I’m a huge fan! [giggle, giggle, nervous laughter] We met once and it changed my life. [creepy stare, mortification] I’m going to see a volcano and waterfalls and write this summer! [breaks out in cold sweat, waves awkwardly, flees].” Marina and I never made eye contact and she must have exited through a secret back door after the talk, but I felt exhilarated and even giddier than before as I walked into the night with my friends as we bubbled over with ideas and self-reflections that she’d inspired.
I wish I could spend time with Marina and tell her about all the ways in which I feel a connection with her. I bawled my eyes out watching the movie “The Artist Is Present” because I saw so many parallels between our lives, except that she is older and wiser and I only dream that my life will turn out as wonderful as hers and that I will become anything near the person that she is. During the talk, I had that feeling you get when you think you are alone in the world though you’re surrounded by people and no one really understands anything about you and then this person appears and seems to understand everything about you and seems to be speaking directly to you.
Though Marina’s talk last night was about art, specifically her art, it was really about life and living. She lives her art. She is the art. She is a tool in the making of her art. Living and art are inextricably intertwined for her and that is what I aspire to.
Marina says, “Art is like breathing. If you have the urge to create, then you are an artist. You must put your private life on hold in order to create.”
I have been feeling this way about my writing lately. Nothing else in the rest of my life seems as important as the act of writing and expressing myself through writing. The act of writing has released some powerful things from inside me.
“I never regret not having children. Many women are great mothers. Not me. Women have the energy to create and they can use that either to reproduce or to make art. They can’t do both. I put all my energy into the work. Men can do both because they do not have the ability to create life.”
I think whatever choice you make is the right choice for you and no one else. In this case, I happen to agree with Marina for myself.
“Pain is an essential element of making art. Happiness is not creative. What can you do with happiness? Nothing! Happy people make happy art, but it doesn’t change the world.”
I draw on the pain I have experienced in my life for my writings. To some extent, it’s cathartic for me, but I hope that it is also instructive to others.
“When my life is in complete harmony, I can’t deal with it. I can take happiness only in small doses.”
I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always prepared for the next catastrophe. In some ways, I look forward to the catastrophes as fodder for writing and for learning more about life and about myself and my capacity as a human.
“You can’t change yourself from reading about or seeing someone else’s experience. You must experiment and have your own adventures. Art changed my life. I could never do things in life that I do in art. I set a higher bar for myself in art. I was not the same person at the end of Artist Is Present. The work changed me.”
Every time I have been embedded in an art experience, such as Heartline, Dealing, or By Request, I have been made a better person by it. I did not sit back and passively view the art like you might do when visiting an art gallery or museum. I was in it, not as artist, but as active participant. It deepened my understanding of human relationships and of the world.
“You have to be a soldier. Commitment is rule number one. Give everything you have. Then let it go.”
When I committed 30 straight days to writing earlier this year, I learned that it took extreme commitment to get the kind of results that I could be proud of. Marina’s examples makes me believe I can commit even more, with even greater results.
“There is danger in being too successful too early. It’s very important what success does to you as a human being. Success came slowly for me so I am not spoiled by it.”
I am a late bloomer in life. I am humbled by the successes I have enjoyed and never take them for granted. I know that success is fleeting and you must enjoy them, but that you always have to be thinking ahead to the next evolution of yourself, and you can never rest on your past laurels. There is always someone else out there who is preparing to take your place unless you are constantly improving and innovating.
“In the moments when you think you have no more good ideas, when you are in the black hole, you should not do anything to get out. You should go deeper into the black hole. See what it is all about. The laws of nature will lift you out. Where there is dark, there will be light. Don’t take medications that make you feel nothing.”
Go deeper and feel everything.
I wrote quite a bit today on the bus to nyc but didn’t get a chance to edit at all so holding it for posting tomorrow. Rest assured that I did not fall down on my writing commitment today.
I had been thinking about going away for six or eight weeks this summer after I finish a huge project in June. I prefer someplace outside the U.S. where I can still have some mental and social stimulation, but where I’ll be completely cut off from the distractions of my regular life that keep me from writing. I’m starting to understand why artists and writers go on retreats and residencies. They need to get away from everyone and everything that distracts them from the arduous task of writing. They need to stare off into space and mull over ideas, contemplate and examine them from dozens of different angles until just the right approach becomes clear. Back in early January when I started the 30-day writing project, I shoved most everything in my regular life aside and only wrote and thought about writing and barely kept my business afloat. I socialized less, too, and felt only the slightest glimmer of FOMO, a perennial disease with which I grapple on a daily basis. I mostly caught up on everything that got put on the back burner over the past couple months and that process resulted in some pretty mediocre writing. I’ve signed up for a week-long residency in July. Now working on how to get away for a few more weeks after that.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Summer afternoons, café life, and my toes in the sand.
What is your current state of mind?
What is your greatest fear?
To be ignored.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My muffin top.
On what occasion do you lie?
When I am lazy.
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t speak Vietnamese.
Which living person do you most despise?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Every time I have looked at the stars far away from city lights.
Who are your favorite writers?
Faulkner, Graham Greene, Styron, Thomas Hardy, Bruce Chatwin, Pablo Neruda, A.A. Milne, ….
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would want to be brutally honest 100% of the time.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Leaving law practice.
What is your most treasured possession?
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to sing and dance.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
What is it that you most dislike?
Lies and pretensions.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?
“Wake up and fight.”