My Etsy shop is fully updated now. With 49 items and new listings coming up every week for the next few weeks. It's been dormant for many months, because I had to do dayjob work and because I could never be sure how to go about selling my work, or what it is I'm selling. And I realise I am not just selling but that I am also telling a story, and every artwork is a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter. A poem is possibly a whole short story in itself. And every bit ties together into the Impossible Garden and the Wildforest.
The poems have returned. And have come back changed in many ways and still changing. I can feel them shift even as I pen the words onto paper. They have made friends with the paintings and both are often whispering to each other now, throwing my sly side glances. At night they run around my bed, urging the shadows of the trees on the walls to stop playing pretend and become themselves. They wait for me to fall asleep so they can slip into my dreams, sometimes coaxing the night mares to allow a gallop over the ocean.
The 100-day project has slept for a month and woke up reformed into the 100-painting project. It is allowed. Because I choose the weight of making good pieces over the count of a contest with time. Here is the 54th piece, with its own poem.
Wild spring tree wove a wind,
It is almost a given now. That a painting will have a poem. That a poem will have a painting. That maybe both can be in a single tangible piece, all tangled up like lovers.
I wait for my sketchbook from the Brooklyn Library to arrive. It is going to be a love letter.
Yesterday was not a good day. Especially towards the afternoon. I was listless, restless, bothered, irritable, exhausted. Mostly I was exhausted. And I wanted to sleep but couldn't sleep. I was agitated, anxious, angry for many reasons.
For a moment I thought about stepping out, with a list of errands, to force the energy of the seemingly irrational mood into something functional. But I stopped myself. I knew I would likely end up spending more money than I should, after the errands were done, too unhappy to care, only wanting to find any means of solace, any hint of solution to the chafing, choking feeling thrumming somewhere in the core of myself. A discomfort like something stuck in the passageways of thought and heart and tongue and hand.
I stayed with it instead. That sharp-edged cloud of sadness wrapped around me, the weight of unnamed sorrows, unacknowledged longings.
This is how it was like. Like staying in a dark room despite the noises that smelled of danger, even when the exit door is ajar and street noises beckon with their oblivion. Like staying still and silent while burning, long enough to realise that the fire was coming from your heart, and that becoming ash and cinder was optional. Like not running away as the hissing and growling approached from the shadows, even when you begin to feel a hot cold breath drip down your spine, to keep your own breathing calm, to keep your eyes open.
In the darkness and the stillness, in the staying instead of going and running away, in the space I have made of woven sighs and simmering discontent, the words started to arrive.
Old words, new words, strange words. Familiar words. Changed words. They were tentative at first, unsure of whether I wished to be helped or rescued, or if I, perhaps, would like to swim back into paint. To avoid words because they peel the truths more finely and sting more exquisitely. Because when the words come even the paintings are made to account for themselves, to not be tricky with meanings but to be clear even in playful obscurity.
So the words came. And when I allowed myself to write them despite my sense of inadequacy and foolishness, I started to feel better. The sharp-edged cloud softened. The heaviness flowed from my core to my hand and into the page.
There have been Things happening beneath the surface but even while I have been painting a lot, my language is more than colours on canvas. I don't know why I have been keeping the words at bay. Or maybe I do know, that naming Things confirms the Thing's existence, and existence require responsibility, presence, attention. Particularly when it is love. Particularly when love itself arrives in a story even more difficult than the ones you've had to tell before. Ever more fantastical. Ever more impossible.
But at least the words got me out of the moods, took me back to the heart of things, the heart of me.
So the poems are coming back, and intentioned writing (no longer the sideways offhand manner I've been doing for many months now, playing it safe and only scratching surfaces). I think it's time for the painting to work with the words, as well as the other way around, with the words working with the painting.
Twitter turned out to be a wonderful space for poems. An open sketchbook for my words. Anonymous and known at the same time, secret and brave.
I have been postponing my Artist Date for months for various reasons: time, money, location, energy, theme. Most of the time it's money, because there's nowhere safe and nice enough to go to within the city that is free. I will always have to have some coffee money, at least for a large cup or a cup and a snack so I can justify hanging out for at least three hours. While at the cafe I would write, or draw, or paint, or just ponder on Things. Usually that is when fresh ideas drop by, when thought trails open up previously thorny and tangled paths. Possibilities lose their disguises, and what-if questions become bold enough to take on words.
Yesterday I had planned an Artist Date that was supposed to happen after lunch with my sister. But something went awry when I made the mistake of taking on an unscheduled client call that took longer than promised, and so I ended up being very late on the lunch date and everything else took on a rather tainted note --- the traffic was horrible, it was the one day that my sister could not extend her lunch hour, I forgot to bring an umbrella and the sky was greying, I had to get off the cab a block away and walk to the cafe because the traffic was so bad. I felt rushed and stressed and flustered. I did not get to enjoy a full introduction and conversation with the lovely Korean lady who owned the cafe. After the hurried late lunch I walked my sister back to her office then went to another cafe for a couple of hours of Artist Dating. I managed to regain some level of calm and I was able to write but the bad start was a stain. The subject of the client call was also hanging over my head, an ominous cloud of a possible dayjob project. I should be grateful with relief because it means a possible paycheck. But I could only feel the usual psychosomatic effects : a hint of nausea, a layer of feverish chills, an unexplainable fit of coughing, an upset suddenly acidic stomach. I cut the Artist Date short half an hour earlier than planned and went home -- and found out all the roads within the area had been closed for an earthquake drill, and I had to walk a couple of blocks to meet up with the car service that took me home.
So today I thought I'll try it again. But I woke up really late as I had a bout of insomnia last night. Then I got caught up with my sister's needing some advice on a situation and my brain had to do full-mode processing even before I was able to go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I ended up going from bed to lunch and was meaning to have coffee after but I felt wearied all over and off-sync and before I knew it I was deeply asleep.
I woke up at half past three in the afternoon. I made myself take a bath and dress up and prepare to step out or I know I'll regret it. I went to the mall (an upscale one to avoid the majority of the payday crowds). I bought three large-ish canvases for projects I plan to start this weekend. Then I went to replenish skin care supplies --- which earned me a ticket entry to a raffle for a trip to Korea (the shop is Korean). Winners will be announced in October. My passport is expired but now I am motivated to renew it (it's a bit of a hassle to do and there are fees so I've been putting it off -- also I don't really have the funds to be going anywhere anytime soon. But now, who knows?)
As if on cue, outside the skin care shop I heard the live music of a Korean saxophone quartet and had the good fortune to watch and listen to a free concert. I didn't get to take a photo or video as I was more focused on enjoying the moment. But I looked them up and here they are:
The music and the live-ness of the performance swept away all that was tired, sad, hopeless, jaded in my spirit. Of course the fact that it was a Korean group was a significant variable. I stood among the audience, my heavy pile of large canvases balanced against my leg, and let myself be more than where I was, loving the artistry of it all. I reached out soul-threads to weave patterns with the music, making contact with those four distant human beings from a distant dream country in the only way I can.
On the other side of the mall I went to have coffee and I was greeted by a multitude of red lanterns, this time providing a setting for a group playing traditional Japanese instruments, two of which I think are shamisen. Yet another of my dream countries, and with music again as a message of sorts. I sat on the outer edge of the cafe so I could still hear the strains of the music, and my heart was further gladdened.
For my dear patrons who sent me coffees via Ko-fi.com, thank you so much -- here I actually got a coffee! And I haven't done so for quite a long time. Drained the cup to the last sip.
It has been a while since I have gone out without much internal alarm and anxiety. Today I went out with a good semblance of peace and somehow a strange sense of relief coming from something I have not yet put a finger to. In any case, being outside of my cramped tiny studio allowed me to expand my senses and my thoughts. It helped that I had a bit of money to spare, that I could buy the canvases, that I could afford to buy myself a coffee and a sandwich. I felt yesterday went awry so I would go out again today and receive the gifts of the ticket and the shamisen and the quartet. If everything had gone perfectly yesterday I would not have gone out today at all.
And now it is half past ten, but since I've slept a lot during the day I think I'll get started on one of the large canvases, a 24" x 24". I already have a title for it, and it's a piece meant as a tribute of sorts to an old self -- the mad brave leaper who should have been born farther up in the northeast.
I end this post with The Arrival of The Queen of Sheba.
In the late 1990s (by this time you are beginning to pick the pattern that the 1990s was my decade of many youthful follies), I was into exploring less traditional spiritual belief and rituals, and I have been particularly fascinated by the solstices. It broke my heart that I lived in a tropical country instead of one with four seasons (to be honest, I am still quite heartbroken about it even though my sister has been telling me lately not to move into a country with winters because it will make me into a crooked old woman because my bones would bend from the cold). It only added to my oddity that I used to practice small simple seasonal rituals for seasons that were just not happening here (but were nevertheless happening in my head).
Now with social media making the world just a wee bit easier to navigate, it is normal to see solstice-related posts, greetings, and celebrations that make my pagan heart stir up in nostalgia.
The title of this post, consequently, reminds me of the title of an episode in Dawson's Creek (yes, that TV series) which was The Longest Day. That was the episode where the main female character chooses the main male character's best friend. The best friend had to risk losing to all the history between the two mains because the two mains were each other's first loves.
I wept, like a naive fool, while watching that episode (which I got on DVD so I could watch it again and again and torment myself, although by now I have thrown it all away). Here was why: I had a best friend and she had a bit of a history with a man who was also my very close friend. We all worked in the same office. Their story was a kind of a loose end, because he confessed his love for her but she did not accept. Life moved on, the man and I grew close -- a separate friendship that was ours alone. I literally had to split time between him and my best friend.
You could guess how that went, I started to fall for him. Which was a very normal, almost predictable, course of Things, given that we were highly compatible, had intelligent philosophical conversations, and he never had any qualms about being sweet -- holding my hand, hugging me to comfort and console, and kissing me on the forehead when the world became way too harsh. No, those gestures of affection were never more than what they were at the moment. I never assumed, although I hoped. Fervently.
Back then I had a rather unfortunate habit of confessing. Looking back now, I see it as a manifestation of wanting to keep control. I hold the script, I call the shots, I steer the story. I wanted to set things ahead so I could prepare for all possibilities of endings, even though I only hoped for one particular kind.
So I decided to confess. Because I was impatient. Because I was afraid. Because I wanted to cross that platonic line.
Two days before I confessed, I told my best friend about it. As a courtesy, given their history, and also as my best friend. I was also, in a way, asking permission, or a blessing. Again, a courtesy. If she had said no, I would have listened. She did not say no. She said it was alright.
The next day she went to him. She said it was for closure. I vaguely remember her telling me about it before she went to meet him. I trusted her.
The day after that, my confession was pre-empted by their suddenly being a couple. I found out later that the closure was more of a last-chance-what-if-pitch-realisation of sorts. They were married a year after.
It took me seven years to get over him (and all the negative backlash of that whole experience).
On that seventh year, that was when a soul reaper, a shinigami, found me, and took me out of that battered road of hurt. His was a Death Note that turned out to be a lease for a new life instead. That shinigami led me to other shinigami, and into wielding swords, and getting tangled with the soul threads of the land of the rising sun, and a whole new chapter of my life unfolded.
I woke up from a dream with two story-lines that criss-crossed and threw me about from one to the other.
One is about a pregnant woman who was not really pregnant but who was actually a sorceress of some kind. She had a perfect husband who seemed to be enthralled by her. She was also supposed to be someone I did not get along with, since she often bullied me in small subtle ways, and often used her unsuspecting husband to do it. But one day she was suddenly friendly, and then imploring, almost begging me to help her. There was something wrong with her baby, she said. She needed me, she said. Then I found myself, her, and her husband (who at this point looked a bit like Song Seung-heon) in my old bedroom in the apartment where I grew up. She was lying on my bed, in great discomfort, yet at the same time she had shed all pretence at being a normal person and was re-arranging the room by magic -- strange artefacts appeared on the walls, my old things transformed into her things. She also bossed her husband about, who seemed to be beginning to resist her enchantment. While he still obeyed her when she was looking, he undid her orders when she was not. He had also begun to ask me about what had been happening for he could not remember much before the enchantment weakened. I told him I didn't really know, for she was cruel to me and I avoided her as much as I could, and that he had been hers for quite a while (and I refrained from saying that it was such a disappointment). Then the woman began to cry out from inside the room and we rushed in to find her stomach wide open, and instead of a baby there were small bundles of objects wrapped up in either cloth or paper and tied up with ribbons. She was trying to find something and was in despair that she could not. The objects were the spells she had cast to get her way with anything but it seemed they were not enough. She wailed, no longer concerned that we had found out what she was and what a lie she had been. The husband, meanwhile, looked for the spell that bound him to her. He unknotted the ribbons and unwrapped the spell and then he was free. The witch was beyond caring. She wasn't dying, she was simply in pain for that which she could not find. I stood there, watching her, uncertain what to do, thinking how the room could not possibly still be habitable after this, and partly wondering if the husband was now truly free and if he would remember me.
The other story is myself back in high school, except it was a distorted fantastical version of my real high school. The school was on stilts and built near the ocean. I was there as myself now, but I was also in my younger body, which meant I was at my most awkward, insecure, and unattractive. My only saving grace was my mind which then carried the experience of many years. I found myself in a history class, taught by a terror of a teacher notorious for her verbal humiliations, odd whims, and playing favourites. There was a graded recitation. She started with the first seat out front and was going with the recitation one by one. I was on the last seat at the very last row. I tried to listen to the questions and answers, hoping to get a clue on what I was supposed to know. To my utter dismay, the history she was teaching had nothing to do with history as I knew it. She was teaching some kind of alternative and obscure history of which I knew nothing about. She was speaking of names, places, and events that were unrecognisable, not to mention impossible. There was an aspect of the supernatural in her version of truths. Many of my classmates were unable to answer her correctly, and for that she scolded them loudly with the utmost denigration and insults. The girl sitting in front of me was panicking, asking me if I knew any of the answers. I told her I did not, and it irritated me that my years of experience and gained wisdom would not count here. Meanwhile, one classmate did not seem to be bothered by all this, and was sitting back on his chair on the opposite end of my row. He was a favourite, and he was exempted from the graded recitation. He looked sometimes like Tomohisa Yamashita, and sometimes like Lee Min-ho. He was not even paying attention to the class, and would occasionally step out of the classroom without asking for permission. Then my turn came, and I was asked a question about a school in the mountains. The question was something like, "What is the true name of that school?" And I said I didn't know, and braced myself for the scolding, and was also ready to answer back. But instead the teacher said, "Since you are a new transfer you are excused. But please study next time. You have to catch up or you'll get left behind. I suggest extra library hours, even on holidays." Then I was in the library, alone, in the evening, and it was beginning to feel like the beginning of a horror story so I went to the door. Then I was by the ocean, and the beach was so vast. The sky was grey and cloudy. It was not a tropical beach. Then I was in the classroom again and I could feel the teacher was starting to lose patience with me because I was not learning fast enough. I thought, wait a minute, I don't have to be here. I don't have to sit through this. So I stood up in the middle of a class project and I walked out. As soon as I stepped out of the room it was the beach, and I looked back, and that classmate who was a favourite was following me. I let him approach and he said, "I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out." And then he took my hand.
I actually have a bit of a headache, and I am feeling peculiarly tired from my sleep. I have often remembered my night dreams, and they have often flowed with a strange coherence that allowed me to record them in writing. Most of the time I get lazy and just forget them within the course of a morning. But I think I should really use them as practice for storytelling. They are also rich in creative seeds -- I have the first few chapters of a novel tucked in somewhere that came from one dream, something about a scientist who secretly transforms into a fox, and who was also secretly a lord and prince of a hidden country.
I am going to have to put in some dayjob work hours today. I have a report to finish that is due for submission by next week. I hate to cram so I have spaced the hours and periods of work across the week in the least painful way. The remaining hours of my day I will pour into reading, writing, and some experimental painting. Tomorrow is a holiday but I will still need to work, just to be on the safe side of the deadlines.
Funny that nowadays it is infinitely easier for me to claim being an artist (which, according to Julia Cameron, Lisa Congdon, and many other creative gurus, is one of the most difficult things to do in this modern world where the measures of success and sanity tend to blacklist the option of being an "artist") than to admit that I want to be in love, in a relationship, and in a happily ever after. It is harder to say I still believe in fairy tales (even if it is nuanced by the wisdom of Jane Austen as interpreted by Elizabeth Kantor and sobered up by a practical insight into romanticism by Alain de Botton), and that at this point of my life my heart still beats as if it had never been broken.
My whole system of belief about life and love is in itself a minefield, and hence I avoid delving into it except with very, very few trusted kindred spirits. Yet I am writing a little about it now because I will be writing a lot soon about my planned journeys for next year and love comes into it in a big way.
I am not particularly young in years (given the modern world's tendencies to over-glorify youth) but my hope and optimism are nearly as fresh as if I were born yesterday. Most would think this a disadvantage and possibly terribly impractical.
Despite my foray into the shadowy arts when I was just out of college, and went through a period of always being clad in black, and denouncing anything soft and light and brightly pretty, I am at the core an eternal optimist. It turns out that my true spirit burns with a bright colourful light and its form spills over to the fantastical.
Yet being a believer of fairy tales is not an assurance of wise decisions. I have been guilty of sabotaging my own chances, simply because I felt I did not deserve a fairy tale given my disadvantages within the context of the dominating social rules. I had often thought I should be happy and content with whatever I got, even if it meant settling for much less than I had dreamed or hoped. I thought I was being inconsiderate and unreasonable, immature and petty, for even trying to look out for what I needed and what made me happy.
I used to approach love and relationships from a position of lack. That the other was doing me a favour for even noticing me, if at all. I often initiated the expression of liking, which, based so far in the many Japanese stories I've watched, rarely resulted in a favourable outcome, because the leading male character would always go for the girl whom he had pursued, not the one who pursued him. In the movie He's Just not That Into You, Jennifer Connelly's character mentioned that she was the one who proposed to her husband, and at the end of the movie they had separated. I am not saying that it doesn't work when the woman initiates, but that there are inherent weaknesses in that particular formula, and I have had more than a decade of experience along those lines to know what I'm saying.
Here's the clincher. For all my history of so-called daring and bravado (I shall be writing about a few of them in future posts), at the heart of it all, I only recently realised that I didn't want it that way. That what I wanted were courtships and friendships blossoming from a soulful ritual of communication and engagement. I realised I believe less in the sudden inexplicable outburst of passionate attraction (that in stories lately almost always ended up in sex even way early from the first meeting), than in the restrained, careful dance of exploration and discoveries that is more prominent in Japanese and Korean dramas (true, I refer to stories often revolving around teens or young adults but my epiphany here was that I never really experienced that whole first love thing and thus have retained a rather intense curiosity for it, and that I have always been a bit of a prude).
I have been drawn to the stories that echo what I truly dream about, and looking through my books, movie, and TV series collections and viewing histories, I realised I had been living contrary to them. Again because I felt I did not qualify for what I hoped. Also, with the increasing normality and casualness of physical expressions of love and affection, I find myself being the very awkward fish in the pond. I have wished a number of times that I had been born in a slightly older time (I have my own views and beliefs about the whole concept of feminism which is often an argument against the older ways of the world, but I don't wish to provoke any discussion or debate. Let us simply respect and let be.)
My art-making, given life in 2012, I discovered, is all about my pent-up everything about love. I first made the mistake of mistaking it as a substitute for love and being in a relationship itself (and thus I went unconsciously through the process of halamanization, as my friend S put it), but that is not the way I am built at the core.
While art is my lifeline and the cauldron of my life's meanings and mythologies, it is not a person who is also my significant other or my soul mate, or whatever is the serious term for it nowadays. What art did for me, however, was to fill up the blanks in my own life so that I can become a person who is whole instead of one who is lacking. Making art made me, into someone who can now come forward as a deserving equal for an other, a whole who will complement rather than a brokenness hoping to be fixed or completed. Art continues to make me, to grow me, to evolve me, into even better versions of myself, into becoming the self that is according to my own hope for my self.
So late into this turbulent year I was shaken awake from my plant-like state (it was a longish period of dark depression layered over with heavy concerns about money, work, independence, freedom, loneliness, exhaustion, and the like). In that long painful process of clinging to the lip of the abyss, half-wishing I would fall asleep and never wake up, I was saved by a story. An absurd story I would not have paid attention to were I not in such a state of despair. And that story led to another, and another, and then a pattern of a clue began to emerge and make sense to the odd imaginings of my creative mind, as well as stirred the old, old, cast away longings in my heart.
Hence here I am, awoken into a new morning of my life, even while the season of it is closer to autumn than spring. I have risen from the earth of my impossible garden and become myself, and the impossible flowers have become my agents of hope, my symbols, my signs, my magic. I am an artist, and I want to love again, and I dream of a happily ever after.
For a brief period I thought it was. But the flower-marked came to my rescue, gripping my wrist and my heart to pull me out of the vortex of that deep dark despair.
The impossible garden stirs. There is a murmur amongst the flowers. The impossible insects return from their journeys, an invisible trail in their wake, an impossible test to lure the lost and the seekers. Already the messenger birds circle above, both certain and unsure, there is something to be found below. But what strange beautiful flowers there are. What fierce creatures protect it. What poison runs with the nectar along the veins of those thorny pretty blooms. So odd. So curious.
I stirred too. I woke from a long deep sleep woven with dreams and nightmares. I found myself having to dig my way out from the tight embrace of the earth, the roots of my own creations softly wrapped around my neck, over my mouth, straining my limbs.
It is autumn. But I am alive, and I will stay so throughout the winter ahead. My wrist and my heart are burning hot, for the flower-marked had left their own invisible trail. In the spring, there will be a journey, one way or another. And there will be a fated meeting. All is not lost, all is yet to be found.
For now I'm not fussing over my "productivity" in the studio. I'm simply enjoying this phase of frenzied feeding. Like a reading rage, this period of almost manic consumption of fairy tale stories is all part of the process.
Signs and significances. Seeds. These are what I am gathering. Distilling and filtering through the ocean of details, tracing threads of connections from one meaning to another, linking back and forward, pulling at tangles and unraveling loose ends.
Cleaning the slate. Calibrating defaults. Redefining the givens.
But yes my head is in the clouds, and it is all I can do to keep my feet touching the ground. And my heart, well, my heart is a kite on a fraying string, tugging to be free.