The other night I had a strange dream, which I summarized and sent off to my friend, a Lakota Indian who happens to be rather good at analyzing dreams. He didn't interpret it, but asked me a series of questions that allowed me to unmask the dream's lesson, which was a pretty good one.
In the dream, there is a crow. This crow (whom I'll just refer to as Crow) starts a game of pulling young chicks out of nests, dropping them down to earth, then mauling them before biting their head's off. Crow seems to enjoy this gruesome bloodsport, and after a while the local bird community suffers a great loss in its next generation.
I see Crow's game and am upset by it. He pulls down a young Robin chick, who is crying. He hasn't completely finished with a little finch chick, who is pretty much dead, so the Robin is hopping about in distress while Crow works on biting the finch's head off. I crouch down and pick up the Robin and carry it back to its tree and worried parents.
I walk back to Crow and I scold him. I tell him that this game is terrible and destructive. Crow cocks his head and looks at me and I can tell he doesn't agree with me. Finished with the finch, he flies back to the Robin's nest to retrieve the little chick.
I then wind up spending my time in wait, trying to catch him in the act and rescue the little chicks he steals. This is time consuming, and since Crow is wise on me, he devises little counter actions of his own. It becomes exhaustive on my part, and I realize I can't spend all my days spying on Crow.
Since Crow is clearly unphased by his actions and consequences, and my counter to save the chicks isn't always successful, the only other option to end the game is to convince Crow to play another one. While the dream ended here, it made me realize that in life, you're going to come across situations that you find unjust, broken, dysfunctional, destructive. Your kneejerk response is to point out how wrong this is, or how wrong these people are. Often, you are met with opposition, anger, or simply nothing at all. Now you are at war. You fight the injustice, and sometimes you're successful, sometimes you're not, but it becomes a consuming battle.
Crow is traditionally a very wise trickster. Trying to outwit Crow is a fruitless challenge. Going to war with Crow can also warrant results that are not in your favor. And really, locked in this situation, no one is happy.
Taking the time to understand that the game he is playing, then devising a new game that satisfies those motives, will ultimately end the game. If Crow is convinced that there is something better to do with his time than steal chicks, he'll move on. He may never understand the vulgarity of his actions, he may never pay the price of killing little chicks for sport, but if the results stop the terrible injustice and bring about peace, its worth the effort.
In this current day, the dream of Crow is a potent one, its strong medicine. It tells me that I need to explore other options in solving problems, and to do so, I need to better understand the motivations of those around me. If I want the world to be a healthier place, I have to work to find solutions that entice others enough to end their current dysfunctional ways. This is the hardest path to walk, but the most rewarding.
"St Thecla and the Deer" is slowly (I and emphasize "slow" here) coming along. I had electricians tearing apart the lower half of my house, including my home studio. My painting studio at Mainframe/Krab Jab Studio was an oven, due to the intense greenhouse August we're experiencing in Seattle. Plus, I was working long days preparing for what is now my last curatorial show.
As I've stated in an earlier blog post, I realized she's gotta go through veils of glazes to get where I want her, particularly with her skin tone. I actually went into the studio to work on that, along with adding her damask blue patterning on her dress. However, I really wanted to add blackberry brambles into the horizon line, and textured the grass, which I hadn't really touched in a while. I also felt that the deer needed more work, I hadn't done anything to it since I first painted it. I didn't get too far; after about three hours, the temperature in the studio soared up into the high 80s and a nice heat headache began to bloom. I started making rookie mistakes, and to boot, I've lost most of my good brushes ("misplaced" is probably more accurate) so I'm using spares, along with a makeshift mahl stick. All this is a recipe for potential disaster.
I probably have about 5 more glazes to apply to the painting ("glazes" are thin, transparent layers of paint that basically tint the surface of a painting). I want to do a little more definition work to Thecla herself, and soften up her hands. Her hair actually flows down her dress but I will add that after I add the damask blue pattern in. I have a few more weeks to work on her before she's finished and ready to varnish, frame, and ship out to France. I'm fairly confident I can get her to where I want, but boy did I learn my lesson on cutting corners in my process!
My dad took me to one of those gourmet cheese stores when I was four. I think he was looking for a cheese platter gift for his parents; I'm not really sure why we were there, actually. I loved places like that; they always smelled good, but most importantly, they often had racks and cases full of chocolate and candy.
While he was being assisted by the shopkeep, I ran free about the store. I had a bloodhound nose for the candy section and in less than three blinks I was standing in front of a large, long rustic shelf with bins full of all kinds of candy and chocolate things: malt balls, caramels, peppermints, toffy, chocolate wrapped in amusing animal shapes. Just the smell of it sent me into a sort of sugar high. I'm sure a dribble of spit probably dripped down my chin, eyes dilated, face flushed, the whole nine yards. I was probably temporarily insane.
I was like a crack whore - I had to have a hit, right there, right now. I shoved my little hand into the malt ball bin, which actually had a little scoop attached by a piece of twine, but fuck that. My hands were tiny and I was only able to fish out about three of them, and right before I shoved them into my maw, I could hear my dad from the other side of the store yell out, as if psychically tethered to my dopamine riddled mind, "Kid, behave yourself. I'm almost done, don't touch anything!" I froze. Shit. He knows.
I slowly, painfully put the malt balls back into the bin. Dammit, I thought (well, I probably thought something more like "gosh", but it felt like a dammit). I knew he wasn't going to let me get anything, and I can't leave this place without a heavenly taste of ambrosia that sat in front of me, taunting me. I scanned the shelves. To the right of me, parked conveniently waist-high, was a bin full of chocolate coins in gold mesh bags, the kind Jewish families dole out on Hanukkah. I side stepped myself on over, and stared at this golden heap of Yum for a moment.
I noticed that there were coins that had escaped their mesh bags and loosely settled about the bin. I grabbed one and examined it, flipped it over in my hand, inhaled its milk chocolate fragrance. I looked left, then right. The coast was clear. With little claw nails I tore into the foil and shoved that thing in my mouth, and oh my god, it was delicious. The foil hadn't even hit the floor by the time I grabbed another orphaned coin, and another, and another. The bromine sent me on a trip and for a moment I was gone, transported into another universe, Stanely Kubrick styled.
I felt a firm hand on my shoulder, then another hand grab my sticky little fist. I hadn't noticed my dad and the shopkeep coming down the aisle, didn't even hear him say, "Jules, what the hell are you doing?" I think he said it twice, I'm not sure, but suddenly I had two adults leaning into me, grabbing my little arms, peeling the remaining coins from my hand. Caught with the proverbial pants down, I knew I needed to think fast to get out of this jam.
"Jules, you're stealing, you can't eat chocolate unless you pay for it," my dad said. He turned to the woman who worked at the store, a pleasant enough looking girl with long blond hair. "I'm really sorry, she normally doesn't do this kind of thing."
The girl nodded sympathetically and looked at me and sweetly said, "Do you know what stealing is?"
Look, I'm four, but I'm not stupid. Of course I know you gotta pay for it. But I'm was four, I had no job, no money, and no self control. I also had a big imagination, and was fully aware that if I didn't pull myself out of this, I could go to jail. Or worse, they'd put my dad in jail, which would get me off the hook but I'm half Jewish and half Irish Catholic, and the genetic guilt alone would crush me, let alone being the family pariah, forced to sit at family dinners with my crazy cousin Gary, the other family pariah, at a little card table in the corner of the room, trapped within the billowing haze of his booze vapors and conspiracy theories forever more.
Four year olds under pressure can be unbelievably brilliant. They are fully aware that most adults think they're idiotic, even innocent. I was no exception; I had a shot at playing the innocent card, albeit once, so I had to make it good, I had to make it stick. So I batted my big dark eyes at the shopkeep, pouted my chocolate stained lips, and said, in my tiny squeaky voice: "I thought that they were free because they weren't in the bags, and no one is going to buy coins not in the bags, so it was okay, right?"
Cue the "aaaawwwww" from the studio audience, folks.
"No honey, they're not free, but you didn't know. Now you know," she laughed and patted my head. My dad laughed too and his vice grip softened.
She turned to my dad. "It's okay, sir, don't worry about it, no harm done. I'll get a napkin to wipe her face."
My dad thanked her, then leaned into me. "Do you understand now, that was stealing? You can't take what's not yours, even if it looks free. Did you learn something here today?"
I nodded. Oh yes, yes I did.
Thus began my childhood life of crime.
I swear to God this is a true story.
So in the 80s it was rather commonplace to send teenagers to psychiatric wards. Depressed, anxious kids were skirted off to places with inconsequential names like Willow Lodge or Fairfax, where they were dosed up with cocktails of antidepressants and valium and an abundance of talk therapy before being released to their nervous parents living on the dream that somehow their kid would be, you know, normal again. Or at least a little bit quieter.
I'll cut to the chase: I lost my virginity to a teenage ninja I met at a nuthouse.
At sixteen I was sent to Fairfax in Seattle. I was a depressed New Wave girl with swastikas cut into her arms, and that was a sure ticket to the psych ward in those days. Unfortunately Fairfax was the hottest place in town for wayward teens, and they did not have a bed available for me. The next best thing was the University of Washington's psychiatric wards. These were actually meant for adults but they would occasionally take the overflow of teens, so I wound up on their first floor, which was the least violent of the two wards. Less stabbings and random choke outs, so it was kid friendly.
I could write a whole novel about my stay at the UW, which was for three weeks, but I'll focus instead on how I hooked up, literally, with the other teen staying a few rooms down from me. Sean was 15 and got hit in the head, I can't remember how, and I guess his personality changed. He was fighting in school and having blackouts, but mostly, he truly believed he was a ninja. Other than that, he was a typical blond American teenage boy. Which means, of course, he was pumped full of hormones, and being cooped up in a psych ward with another teenage girl, well, heck, why not steal off for a makeout session between group therapies?
The orderlies kept an eagle eye on patients, so it was really hard for Sean and I to get any further than a 30 second feel up or a kiss or two. He wasn't really my type - beyond, you know, being a ninja - but he seemed like a nice kid and he was cute. I wasn't his type either, but he liked New Wave music and I seemed kind of like an exotic bird to him, complete with floppy bangs over the eye and side of my head shaved. But mostly I was female and not as crazy as the other females in the psych ward. So there you go.
He got out before I did, but we decided to keep in touch, which translated to us carving out actual private time together to get rid of that annoying pesky thing called virginity. I was going to be released to my aunt and uncle, who were acting as my foster kinship family. He lived out in Des Moines, somewhere "out there" south of Seattle, so organizing dates together was a little tricky. After I first got out, he bussed up into Seattle to meet me in the University District and we strolled around and not much action occurred. We decided it would be more advantageous that I come down to Des Moines, to his house. His parents generally did not know how to deal with a ninja son, so they left him to his own devices in his room, which translated to blissful privacy.
This is where things get weird.
We agree I come down on his birthday - he was turning 16. I get to his house, which is banal and suburban. I meet his family: Mom is nervous and overly helpful, Dad is older and quiet, his brother has an Asian wife that speaks no English, and his brother is a discharged Marine. His mom made dinner for Sean's birthday, so his whole family is there, and me. We all eat, I'm asked the normal polite questions people ask of new girlfriends, with the exception that no one talk about the psych ward.
Then Sean announces he and I are going up to his room, please don't come up anyone. We are going to lose "it" now. My jaw dropped, and I turned beet red, but no one says a word, they keep at the eating motions, never missing a beat. His mom leans over, picks up his plate and just calmly says, "okay dear, we're going to be in the living room watching TV. You two can join us later if you want."
Sean grabs my arm (I'm still holding a fork) and leads me away from the table. The family is still eating, like nothing is happening. He leads me up to his room and closes the door. The room has posters of ninjas literally wallpapering every inch of wall space. The ceiling is painted black. He has several numchucks hanging off one of the walls, and he excitedly takes one of them down and shows it to me. Then he starts doing some kind of numchuck routine, whipping it around, behind his back, over the shoulder, etc. He got over excited and tried some kind of new move, some kind of flip around the elbow. The edge of one of the chucks clocks me right over the eye and I fell over backwards on his bed. "Shit, you okay?" he asked. Then "Please don't tell my mom."
He puts the numchucks away and pulls out his throwing star collection, and explains the lethality of each one. Then he starts tossing them all over the room. Yeah, safer than the chucks, just fling those suckers everywhere. I instinctively cover my head and duck, wincing with every thwop of a star embedding into something.
He ran out of stars to throw, and plopped down beside me on his bed, thinks for a second, then ran over to his record player. "You'll love this," he said. He puts on Dead or Alive's "Youthquake", drops the needle on "You Spin Me Round", then flings himself on the bed. He then proceeds to strip all of his clothes off. Mind you, I'm still fully dressed and nursing my forehead. I'm also having second thoughts about this whole transaction.
Sixteen year old girls do not like being virgins. I hated the term and all the connotations that went with it. It was something to be shed, like a snakeskin. And in my head, I wasn't really looking for perfection on the scenario, I just didn't want to answer that constant, stupid question boys asked all the time. So sure, being in this room with this ninja boy, a headache, and Dead or Alive -- I HATED Dead or Alive -- on the turntable was not particularly ideal. I looked over at this naked, grinning idiot through the curtain of bangs, and I think I sighed heavily. Sean grabbed at the collar of my vintage dress, and the button popped off and rolled under the bed. Great, now my awesome new dress is fucked up too, I thought. He didn't seem to notice my irritation, he probably didn't care much. He gave me a kiss, that softened me a little bit, but I was really weighing out my options at that point. Things were not going well. "This is the best birthday," he whispered. Um...really?
Yeah, I caved.
It was terrible teenage sex. It probably lasted about 10 minutes but felt like an eternity in Dante's Hell. Fumbly, really poor timing of movement, plus there was that hymen breakage that I'm telling you was like twenty hangnails tearing off all at once. Riffing off the squeaks of muffled agony, Sean finally wrapped it up in what was probably his own little boy-to-man opus, dug around his junk for a moment to procure his little deflated condom, and presented it to me. Good God, yuck, I said. He studied it for a second, like a scientist peers at a beaker he's holding up to his nose with pinky finger out, and he smiles at the latex sack of swimmers like one watches an aquarium of guppies. Grabbing his pants off the floor, he motioned for me to sit still. Before I could say anything, he opened his bedroom door, condom still in hand, and at the top of the stairs that faced the living room, announced loudly "I just had sex, Mom and Dad! Look!".
"Good for you, son," I heard his dad yell back.
"Do you two want any cake?" I heard his mom say.
"No," answered Sean, "Because now its Ninja Time"
He came back into the bedroom, shut the door and went to his closet and closed himself in. After a moment, he emerged all in black, in an impressively detailed ninja costume, including the black socks and sandals, head covering and bandana over his mouth. In his right hand, he held a very sharp and real looking katana. In his left hand, the floppy condom.
The record player restarted itself, and as "Spin Me Round" flayed the air around me, Sean leaped onto his dresser and began stabbing the air in earnest. From there, he dropped down to the ground, rolled, and hopped back up in front of me, whoosh whoosh went the katana blade, narrowly missing my nose. He leaped onto the bed, whoosh whoosh. I wondered how many imaginary adversaries were dying in that room, but more importantly, when was he going to disposed of that disgusting goddamn condom.
At that moment, I heard a distinct rapping coming from his bedroom window. I looked over, and in my horror, I saw three teenage boys, tapping at the glass, apparently hanging off a branch of the large tree growing beside the house. All three are dressed exactly like Sean.
"Sweet, its my crew!" says Sean, and pulls the window open and the three boys crawl in. Now I have four pimply, teenage fucking ninjas standing in front of me.
"She's pretty," says one.
"She's not naked," says another.
"Did you guys do it yet?" says the third.
"You guys are late, dudes," says Sean, giving them all hi-fives (he finally set the condom down).
"Are you fucking kidding me?" I yelled. And yes, I was fully clothed, minus one missing button. By this point I was off the bed, and I'm sure my face was a nice shiny shade of fury. All four of them were giggling like morons. In the background, Pete Burns is belting out "I need your loooooovvvvve". ...
Then suddenly, like four startled cats, they all start to ninja in some kind of weird ballet of whooshes and hops. It was like I wasn't even there anymore. I looked about the room in disbelief, not so much horrified as I was mystified, like I had visited some lost tribe on the Amazon and a strange never-seen-by-white-man ritual struck up on a foreign timeline.
Without a word, I turned and walked out of the room, down the stairs and into the living room, where Sean's parents sat watching TV, laugh track booming. His mom looked up at me and smiled.
"Are you having a good time?" she asked me.
"I want to call my aunt. I want to go home." I think that was the last thing I said that evening. I sat in the kitchen, silently, alone, until my aunt arrived to pick me up. Not a word did I say when my aunt rang the doorbell, just a silent, swift exit. I could hear through the ceiling the continued thumps and bumps of four teenage ninjas triumphantly executing their dance of fecundity, no doubt with a dirty old dick balloon in the left hand. I never saw Sean again.
For years, I told no one this story. I finally relayed it during an interview for a documentary film called Lost. The filmmaker laughed so hard during filming, she had an asthma attack and accidentally knocked over the camera. That's gold, she said. Pure gold.
As I'm working on this painting called "Saint Thecla and the Deer", I've bumped up to a chronic problem with the figure, namely, how to handle her skin tone. She's in shadow, and the reality of shadow is that its not black. There's a myriad of tone and color in a shadow, including reflective light, and I'm kind of flying blind a bit with this painting because the photo was shot indoors with a lot of ambient lighting. I finally had to convert the reference photo to grayscale to keep myself from getting confused with what I'm trying to do vs what I'm seeing in the photo. I'm using a Waterhouse painting for the palette reference at the moment.
The reality of the situation is that the painting needs to build up in glazes, which are transparent layers of paint, mostly medium based vs paint based, so the particles of pigment are suspended in the medium. This allows light to pass through and bounce back, giving paintings a luminosity, as well as allow the eye to "mix" the colors. Its also incredibly time consuming.
I naturally like to glaze, and often my paintings will have 8 or more layers of glazes on them. Its a slow process and I'm a slow painter, so when I am hitting a deadline, I start to panic a little, which was the case with this painting. I tried to cut corners and paint the figure opaquely, but I'm kind of a shitty impasto painter and it was coming out very garish. I had to wipe down hours of work more than once on this. A few days ago I had to resolve to just suck it up and build up the glaze layers, so I've applied a few of them, a glaze a day, to the figure of Thecla. I've been slowly warming up the shadows. I jumped the gun with the blush on her face but I'm glazing over that with some yellows and pinks later this week. I actually went over the whole figure with a greenish gray, just to bring the values back down so I can rebuild, so she's still a little grayish.
The only thing that's close to finished is the birch trees behind her. That has been glazed a few times and I'm happy with them. Don't they look happy, like they're saying "hooray!"? I didn't intend that, but it works. I'll be adding some brambles on the horizon, deepening the grass (and add some flowers) and of course keep working on Thecla and her deer. I've got about a month to work all this out -- her dress is complete fabrication, I'm adding a blue damask floral design to it based on a Fortuny dress, but ultimately its fantasy, all made up. Made-up folded, patterned fabric is no easy task, lemme tell ya.
Anyway, I have several glazes to go on this but I think its the only way I can safely traverse these waters to get where I want to go. I've tried the "other ways" and floundered. One of these days I'll improved with a more opaque, impasto approach, but I'm terribly out of practice, seeing as I've only put out three paintings in the last year that are full blown oils.
But its coming along!
No, as a whole, has a bad rap. We learned of its mighty power at age two, and ever since then we as a society have been taught that No is naughty, arrogant, self-serving, oppositional, wrong. Only People with Power Over Us are allowed to use the word No (like, for example, Mom and Dad).
I think growing up with this viewpoint has screwed up what Yes is all about. Yes is likeable, friendly, pleasing. Yes means More, right? So we are inclined to say Yes to as many things as possible, because it makes us more Loved, Valued, Honored by friends, family, peers, and of course, People with Power Over Us. Somehow, saying Yes will give us many rewards, open doors, make us happy.
I say Yes a lot. A LOT. You need a favor? Sure! Wanna borrow something? Of course! Need some help? You bet! Its true, for a hot second you are saving someones bacon, and that feels really nice... until you realize, oh crap, there's a payment for every Yes: Time. Energy. Commitment. Work. Attention. That adds up substantially over time, and then suddenly you have no time, no energy, poor commitment, you're spread thin, you're distracted. You burn out. And often, the kneejerk Yes you spat out, when really reviewed in hindsight, well, its more of a Maybe. We say Yes to a lot of Maybe situations, or rather, situations we haven't really had a moment to run through thoughtful consideration, or truly in our heart of hearts we just don't wanna do but feel obligated for some reason.
I've been reading Greg McKeown's "Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less" and he has a whole chapter devoted to the art of saying No, and what No really means. Contrary to our personal belief (which, remember, was established back in our second year of life), No is really about the true value of Yes. No is about determining what is of value to you, your time, your energy, your commitment. No is about creating space in your world to develop who you really are and what you need to do to get where you want to go in life. No is about doing your best work, living your best life. People who say No regularly are not, on the whole, oppositional, but rather they actually value Yes. They use it when they actually mean it, when things are lining up, the time is right, the energy is there, the passion and commitment are at ready. People who understand the real power of No don't hit others with it like a two year old, but are very good at setting true expectations, are often honest, and in return, they may momentarily disappoint others, but often they garner respect in a way that us Yes People do not. Additionally, for most of these people, Maybe is just a very shy No; if something is a maybe, its really a "meh"-be, and therefore is lumped into the No category as well.
People who understand the Art of No are actually incredibly passionate, checked-in, driven, and fulfilled. Nay, successful! They are focused on what really works for them, how they can be of best service to mankind. As someone who says Yes to everything, I'm so intrigued by this, this secret other world. I actually hate, hate being agreeable all the time - its people pleasing that leaves me drained, and more and more off my own course, which half the time I don't even know what that is anymore. No one really respects my Yes, anyway. They expect it, but not respect it. And because I say Yes to everything, obviously some of the Yes's fall by the wayside, which in turn makes me a flake. So yay, now I'm unreliable to boot. No one cares if you're spread thin, said Yes to too many people or projects, or are tired -- if you flake on their Yes, by God, you have some serious explaining to do. Of all the Yes's, why their Yes?
You avoid all of this with No.
I said No the other day to a "favor" casually tossed at me. It felt weird to say No, but it was a time and energy commitment request on the same day I had another commitment that meant far more to me, and had more riding on it. Often I'll try to accommodate, but this time I actually politely said no, it wasn't possible. I could hear the disappointment in the other person's voice, but truly, it lasted all of 5 seconds -- 5 seconds -- before they said "I hear ya, darn, okay, too bad" then the subject changed to something else. And suddenly, I was free of guilt, over commitment, frustration, and anxiety, all because of that little No. I walked away from the conversation in a far better place than had I said Yes.
I'm still by far a No newbie. I still have to actively stop myself from responding immediately to requests, and give pause as I review what the request really entails with commitment. I am still not used to untangling myself from an identity of "helpful" as "valuable", and redefining what is actually valuable to myself. My poor health has really forced my hand with this lifestyle change, but in the bigger picture, its a far healthier, more honest way of living and I wish I had considered learning the Art of No years ago. But now is as good a time as any, right?
So this summer my frame shop, Mainframe, is hosting a photography show by Paul Hernandez entitled "Star Gazing". Its a collection of photographs, many never published, of Seattle bands of the late 80s/early 90s, including the grunge greats such as Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains, as well as Green Apple Quickstep and even an awesome early shot of Duff McKagan. Most of the images are in black and white and either shot in the studio, or in places like The Vogue or Central Tavern. Some are shot out in the urban decay of Seattle (under trestles, abandoned buildings, crumbling edifices of the south side). There are a lot, I mean a LOT, of photos of Alice in Chains, but it makes sense since Paul befriended the band and fraternized with them in and out of the professional shoots. Because of that, he managed to catch a lot of "inside the moment" shots, when the guys let their guard down, sometimes smiling when they shouldn't, exhaling the pressure of the day, just being dumb kids on the cusp of Whatever.
I poured over the images, all made the "old fashioned" way in a darkroom from these things called Negatives, many of them pocked by time and needing retouching by hand, which Paul has done lovingly. These guys were all a couple years older than me -- Duff and I even attended the same high school -- and like most of us kids in Seattle, I was both super pumped and a little alarmed at how quickly they all skyrocketed into fame in such a compressed amount of time. I hardly turned 21 before the tavern shows were a thing of the past, and now all these bands played arenas and Lollapalooza and being a five foot nothing girl, it was impossible to see anything in a big show. Plus, I was in art school and couldn't afford more than a $5 cover charge, so I figured, fuckit, I'll just buy the damned CDs, watch the damned videos on MtV, and build my own empire. Which I did, by the way.
And these guys were my soundtrack.
I have plenty of Seattle musician friends, ex-girlfriend friends, I-used-to-hang-out-with-Jeff-in-1987 friends, so I have gotten a few stories about This Guy or That Chick. I've even hung out with a few of these rock stars - my face blindness is so bad, I've spent time with a couple rock stars and didn't realize it until much later on, which is kind of a mixed blessing for all involved (Sean Kinney needs to thank his Gods for the hour we spent talking about art, me being totally clueless as to who I was talking to, even when he mentioned his name very sheepishly and I just blankly stared at him like "ok, so what?", even though my little brain was like, wait, whoa, wait, noooo, really? It was such a great art conversation, I didn't want to blow the mood). Seattle is a tiny Big Town - if you grew up here, you can't help but know someone who knows someone. And people love to talk.
Paul, however, is kind of different to talk to. He's a different duck, to start with. He still dresses the part of a grunge guy, 30 years later, only his hair is silver, but still unflappably long. When he talks, his whole body moves, like a willow tree in the wind. His head bobs up and down, as if he's taking everything in at all angles; his conversations are not for the lazy. Its like Butoh with words.
He's very soulful, and can easily switch from a comment about crappy traffic to computations on the meaning of life, and you sense that whatever is on his mind will not be censored. I have learned that about photographers: they really do shoot from the hip. They understand the pregnancy and gestation of the moment, and there's nothing to waste, especially time and bullshit, of which they seem to tolerate very little of. They are both patient and anxious. Paul is very much on that razor's edge, a monk on the verge of losing his shit. But he never does.
When Paul showed me his photographs, he emitted both excitement and sorrow. I swear, if you see the photos reflected in his eyes, they wouldn't be static black and white images but moving pictures, living memories of a bygone time. The stories he tells tumble out hodgepodge and I can't keep them straight: did he get kicked in the head at a Pearl Jam show or Alice in Chains show? Was it Stone Gossard he cried with over the death of Andrew Wood? Whose idea was it to shoot pics at the old train trestle with which band again? I know I'm listening, but the stories, they tumble, and anyway I'm overly distracted with the photos before me and my own memories and the feels that wash over some stagnant part of my old lady brain, and, and, and... God, they all look so YOUNG.
Paul is a wizard. It doesn't matter what he says at this point. His magical camera apparatus caught reflective light bouncing off these mortal figures, these musical gods, my hometown heroes, and his magical brain picked the very second, the perfect second, to snap these photos and capture their souls and deliver them to my table at my frame shop. Paul keeps talking, and it doesn't matter. He could tell me he was Eddie Vedder's Siamese Twin and they did a vaudeville act together until they were separated in 1984, and it doesn't matter. The truth sits in front of me on photo paper, and also behind my optic nerves, the shooting stars in my own mind. Its not about him. Its not even about these musicians. Truth is, its all about me. How all of this shaped me. That's why the bands are so important, why we so badly want to "know" these people. When they die, I die too. Its why its seems to hurt so bad. I didn't have to know Layne Staley personally to be able to connect to whatever soulful energetic cable he was tethered to, through his music and voice. I took that energy and glomed it to my own during my painting sessions, and voila, I made game art and paintings and gave those to the world and now some kid out there plays Magic the Gathering with a little bit of Layne in there. And that kid will take that and make his own art or music or stories or whatever, and pass that along. See, its a beautiful thing, right?
Paul does matter, of course. His photos humanize these young men, remind us of how bright and honest and full of life they were, how we all were like that once. When we all *wanted* to be rock stars. That's what Star Gazing is really about; its not a death cult, or a rehash-the-past, or even a cash-in-on-nostalgia. I mean, it *could* be, but it isn't. Its mostly about us. Me. You. Paul. Seattle.
When the show opens in August, we've decided not to release a catalog, printed or online. Some of the images are too raw and controversial to publish right now - in fact, Paul has to get the blessing of the Staley family for one of them, it may get pulled altogether. But mostly, the photos need to be seen in person, as a group, in Seattle. I hope if you're in the Seattle area and you read this, you take a quick trip to Georgetown to visit this retrospective while its up.
(Show info: "Star Gazing: A Paul Hernandez Retrospective, Seattle Catalogue 1989-1993" opens Friday, August 10th, 7-9 pm with musical guest Tim Bertsch at Mainframe 5628 Airport Way S, Ste 150 Seattle. Runs August 11-October 7, 2018)
I'm currently working on a new painting called "St Thecla and the Deer", expressly created for a show/event in France called Chimeria, which opens October 6th. Most of the artists invited are visionary or fantastical artists, and the theme is Myth. St Thecla is not a mythical person, she was a real person, but her life story has many magical elements to it, creating a sort of Christian myth.
But then... I got hit with a couple of issues. One was the reality of shipping such a large panel to France. The other was time. The amount of time to complete a large scale painting like this did not match up with my measly painting schedule. So I had to edit my idea down, and Thecla was revised to a square panel of about 24 x 23", in portrait form.
I have to admit, I didn't really do my homework on the composition very well. I normally do several thumbnail sketches, and then a full value sketch before working on the actual painting. Instead, I sort of attacked the panel with conte crayons, drawing directly on the panel, which does work in many cases but since its a new way of doing things for me, I wasn't able to make reliable decisions on the composition.
What resulted was me making a lot of changes mid-stream... which sometimes is fun, but slows everything down considerably.
The first change I had to make was the dress color and the general colors of the piece. The idea of a red dress worked in the full figure version, but not in this case. The use of high chroma -- intense colors -- would be claustrophobic in such a tight, portrait composition. I repainted her dress in gold tones but what I'm going to do is add a blue damask pattern on top of the gold, a sort of floral patterning common in Renaissance dress.
The second change I had to make was Thecla's hands. She kind of looked like she was choking out the deer. So I sanded down that area and added a softer composition.
Finally, the birch trees were too thick, too cool in tone. They looked like prison bars. So I sanded those down and made them warmer and thinner. I will add more branches to them once the paint dries, to give a sort of halo effect around her head.
Most painters understand the idea of the underpainting; you're laying down the building blocks of the painting. I work out a lot of my kinks and I like to build up texture in this state, but the details are not set. I like to glaze; I usually do several layers of glazes on my paintings, building up luminosity. At this state, things are pretty flat and bleh. Details are missing. Highlights are missing. Things don't really come together until way later in the game, which is why I am not very comfortable showing my work at unfinished states.
I know its not the easiest, cleanest way to work, and normally I would not have cut some of the corners I did on this piece due to time constraints. However, I kind of like the nature of the hunt, finding the painting, you know? I'll keep y'all posted on the progress of this piece as I hammer away at it, but I guarantee its going to look quite a bit different the next time I post an update.
The other day I was reading an online post from a friend of mine in which she explained how chronic anxiety boxed her in. I could definitely relate, as did several of her online friends. However, in reading this, I wondered "Do mentally healthy people actually exist?". I noticed that I had a distinct lack of people in my life who claimed to be healthy and happy, or at least healthy.
I looked up "symptoms of mental health" online. It was actually a little difficult to find; I had to wade through a ton of articles on how to ACHIEVE mental health, but none from someone actually claiming to be healthy. I did find a couple of entries defining how a mentally healthy person functions in our society, which was a start. For example, here is a Wikipedia definition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_health.
I think there is a difference between being mentally healthy and having a happy life. You can certainly have both, but a mentally healthy person also deals with the trials and tribulations the rest of us have to deal with. Because they make healthier choices than the rest of us, they probably have better outcomes, but life isn't always fair or kind. So I was curious: how does a mentally healthy person THINK? How is it different than me, and can I train myself to reroute those neurotransmitters to think more like a healthy person?
Since again, I have a lack of mentally-ill-free people in my life (at least, according to their therapists), I don't have a whole lot of role models to work with. However, I'm imaginative and observant, so at the very least I can speculate how a healthy person traverses through daily activities. Thus, my new self project began: Think Like a Healthy Person.
For the last week, I've been stopping myself throughout the day to ask myself: how would a healthy person handle this? The answer is often: not how I handle it, that's for sure. However, the solutions I come up with aren't too difficult to employ. Here's an example: I'll get a bill, and my gut drops (it always drops when I get a bill). I'll ask myself: Okay, how would a healthy person address this bill? Because my normal response is to throw it in a pile to forget about it, but I'll still have it stew in my brain, building up anxiety. I would imagine a healthy person would do one of two things: check the due date and if they can't pay it right away, schedule it with a reminder, then move on. If they can pay it right away, they pay it, then move on. In other words: Address the issue, then move on. So the last few bills, I both paid and/or scheduled. The result? Clearly less anxiety. Oddly, I was surprised at how hard it was to take care of the bills right away, at least mentally. I fought it with the resistance of a two year old. Damn, I mused, I am really stubborn.
I've been using this to address more complex issues as well, mostly involving interactions with difficult people. I am finding that people are difficult in part because I allow them to be, in my life. I recently had to deal with a guy that I employed to do some work for me, and he's been utterly disappointing. He makes constant excuses that, as a client, I don't really need to hear or WANT to hear. I just want to know when something can be completed, not his sob story. The bottom line: he's just not fulfilling the expectations we initially set up for this job. What would a healthy person do? Let him go. What have I done? Gone in circles with him, arguing over his botched timelines, and given him umpteen chances to fix his mistakes and increasingly grow frustrated with him, and then complain to everyone around me, which initially blows off steam but does nothing to fix the situation.
Honestly, I saw red flags early on but ignored them, essentially overriding my judgement of the situation as to how it could affect me down the line. I made the situation difficult by not addressing the 900 pound gorilla in the room the moment it entered. Yes, it would have been uncomfortable to say, "hey, I don't think this is the right fit, sorry", but the discomfort would have been minuscule compared to the months of haggling we've currently gone through. And I STILL had to let him go.
A lot of the difficult situations I've had the last few years could have been addressed very early on and many of them avoided, but alas, I don't think like a healthy person just yet. But I have noticed, since I've started this personal project, that when I do make changes, I'm relatively satisfied with the results. The loose threads aren't there, tangling up in my brain. I ended the week feeling less drained than normal, less defeated. I complained a little less. I got a lot more tasks completed than I expected to, but with less mental energy charging them up.
So yeah, mentally healthy people may be like mythical unicorns - they may not exist in pure form. I like to believe they're out there, and maybe I'll actually meet one. In the meantime, asking myself what a mentally healthy person would do in a variety of situations really just allows me to stop and examine how I think, and if that thinking is not adding any value to life, try something new. I don't need to be a slave of habit or mental disorders, as long as I have the skill of observation at hand.
Addisons Disease is something I have to address every. Single. Day. Which can be tricky, since its not easy to gauge like diabetes is. I don't have a little cortisol counter that can reliably check my cortisol levels and alert me that I need more steroids in my system. I have to kind of feel it out all day long.
Am I unusually tired? Cranky? Craving salt? Sweating too much? Dizzy? Bloated? Lethargic? Am I slurring? Nauseated? Suddenly getting a headache? Have I had enough water to drink?
Am I shaking? Cold? Hot?
Cortisol is a hormone that gets a bad rap. Its called the "bad stress hormone", but really what it does is counter stress, both physical and mental. Too much of any hormone in your body is bad, that's simple biology. But not at all, or not enough to keep you balanced, that can be deadly. And without cortisol and its sidekick aldosterone, your body can fly off the handle with inflammation, temperature fluxing, mineral balance, blood sugar balance, detoxification... you get the picture.
I take two steroids to replace both cortisol and aldosterone, but the amounts I take are not really reflective of what I really need; its kind of a baseline guess. Some days I clearly need more steroid to counter the stress I'm under (called "stress dosing"). "Stress" is anything: pain, injury, heat, illness and yes, emotional/mental stress. If I'm stress dosing often, then there's definitely a problem (working too much is often the culprit). You don't want to take too much steroids than you really need: it may mimic the natural hormones but its still manmade and has its own issues.
So every day I have to figure out how much stress and activity I can realistically handle. My doctor and I have worked out how much "stressful activity" I can handle a day, which is about 7 hours, and includes everything from driving, regular work, errands, athletic endeavors, cleaning, etc. Some days I wake up and I'm already depleted (bad sleep, illness, chronic pain are big culprits here). Even fun things are stressful to the body, so even when I'm doing something fun, if it takes a lot of energy, I have to watch it.
"Emotional stress" is the hardest to gauge. Getting in an argument, crying, anger, these can wear me out pretty fast. Low levels of chronic emotional stress can wear me down over a period of time, but the wear and tear is very real and I've had more than one episode where I was sent to the hospital for just the teensiest little slight, after months of teensy slights. For Addisonians like me, holding a grudge is a deadly thing.
Too much stress can set off an Addisonian crisis, which is when the body utterly fails in a stress response. Symptoms can be low blood pressure, nausea/diarrhea, low electrolytes, surging body pain, inflammation, unconsciousness, shock and cardiac arrest. Even if you've been drinking water, you can suffer dehydration (minerals being off, excessive sweating). I'm often winding up in the hospital a few times a year in crisis, usually triggered by flu, stomach bug, or overwork. Its a very unpleasant thing to go through.
I have an emergency injection kit I carry, in case I get into a situation (like an accident) where emergency response is not immediate enough. Its meant tide you over long enough until fluids and IV steroids can be administered.
One of my biggest challenges is finding ways of eliminating unnecessary stress. That, for me, is figuring out how to keep my work ethics under control, or keeping toxic relationships out of my life or at arm's length. It also means how to handle life challenges and problems in such a way that it doesn't eat me alive, or I don't stew over things. In this blog, I'll likely write about my adventures in searching for that sweet spot with my health. Finding a good balance with stress, know when something is too much, and how to set up boundaries.