February 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
I’ve been making jewelry for Valentine’s Day, playing with my pearls and glass and polished stones, feeling dragonish. I started a jewelry blog a while ago and haven’t kept it up, but I’m going to start writing more. So for those of you who are interested, here’s the page. Remember, buying handmade goods in this era of industry befouling the earth is an act of great virtue, for which you will be rewarded in the next life, if having beautiful necklaces and earrings isn’t enough for you. I’m no good at raising pastured chickens or making artisanal cheese, although my fruitcakes are pretty amazing. In any case, check it out (or don’t, see if I care).
We’ve been living a frugal life, eschewing the gaudy luxuries of dining out, theater and music (with some exceptions) and that’s been fine. Now I’m taking it to the next level, determined to use every scrap of food I buy, turning leftovers, soft onions and old cabbage-ends into brilliant meals. It helps that I’m reading and writing about this for work: globally, we waste nearly 50% of food produced. I’ve dreamed about this the last two nights, though I won’t discount the possibility that my unconscious has found a handy new metaphor for its fear that I am wasting my life. Nevertheless, scouring the fridge and eating what I may not be in the mood for doesn’t feel like deprivation, but a challenge.
But I buy crystallized ginger and chocolate bars and ice cream, so I’m not quite living like Russian poets under Stalin. (I know it wasn’t just poets, but they’re the ones whose lives I’ve read about.) I eat better than medieval royalty, and so do you, unless you dine at Krispy Kreme.
I’m also going to splurge on the Outsider Art Fair this weekend, because I want to and in celebration of my brother Jimmy’s birthday: he’d be 62 today, if he’d made it past 14.
He was a very good artist, as well as completely charming and lovable. I miss him all the time.
The poem that got Osip Mandelstam sent to Siberia, referred to as
The Stalin Epigram
Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.
But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,
the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,
the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.
Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.
One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.
He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.
He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.
Translation by W.S. Merwin
December 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
I used to make fruitcakes for Christmas gifts. Scoff if you like, but they were delicious. I miss having the space to do that, to allow six or eight cakes to bathe in generous spirits for a month, while the ground turned purple and dimmer and crackly and Charles walked around wearing a blanket to conserve heat. Now, I make jewelry, and oddly enough it takes up even more room (though it doesn’t tempt me to add rum to my tea in mid-afternoon). Of course, I make jewelry to sell, which is why it takes up so much room.
I mostly sell over the Internet. I prefer selling in person, because the quality of the work is much more evident, and I can talk to the customer. But on the other hand, I like surprising people (I get effusive emails). I’m shipping overseas today, which means standing in line at the post office, because no matter how often I do it, I can’t ever get the customs forms right.
The post office ladies are very kind. They’re swift too, though there aren’t enough of them, which is why the powers that be removed the clock from the post office wall. Every time I go, I learn from their firm, efficient friendliness. One has an unfailing cheerfulness, brisk hands and a depth of calm like an African lake (she’s Korean), and I envy her family, though it may be that she’s so calm because she has no family; one has a sardonic eye and a crackle of irritation that make me cringe when I’ve been especially stupid, and feel an equivalent relief a moment later, when her crooked smile forgives me; and the quiet one lets her boredom show in such a way that her off-duty pleasures become almost visible, reminding me of my off-duty pleasures.
I like all three ladies, and after so many years, think of the three as if they were aspects of one. When occasionally there’s a man working, and he’s never as fast and rarely as friendly, I feel impelled to protest (of course I say nothing). This is a woman’s job, to stand and receive all those confused about customs, about whether to spend $20 overnight postage to get grandmother’s card to London by her birthday (I say nothing about that either), whether insurance is worth it and which stamps are prettier. Not that I’d mind if men could do the job. But they can’t. They haven’t yet. Not as well. Not in 20 years.
The Three Ladies
I dreamt. I saw three ladies in a tree,
and the one that I saw most clearly
showed her favors unto me,
and I saw her leg above the knee!
But when the time for love was come,
and of readiness I had made myself,
upon my head and shoulders
dropped the other two like an unquiet dew.
What were these two but the one?
I saw in their faces, I heard in their words,
wonder of wonders! it was the undoing of me
they came down to see!
Sister, they said to her who upon my lap
sat complacent, expectant:
he is dead in his head, and we
have errands, have errands…
Oh song of wistful night! Light shows
where it stops nobody knows, and two
are one, and three, to me, and to look
is not to read the book.
The Triumph of Death, or The 3 Fates. Flemish tapestry (probably Brussels, ca. 1510-1520). Victoria and Albert Museum, London
November 18, 2009 § 1 Comment
Lost in jewelry making. My sister is having a party for me at her house, and I don’t have enough stock so I am making earrings and bracelets day and night, while the cats climb on the windowsill to watch, and complain at my focus, and I barely get outside, and the rest of the world dissolves like smoke.
A river of beads an inch deep in my cardboard box riverbed (the crutches came in this box; it’s just the right size) with clasps, earring parts and crimp beads lost in the bright clutter; the tools half hidden the cats chewing on string and jewelry wire. I’m feeling alternately stressed at my self-imposed quotas and lost in the endlessness of it, making one thing after another like the junked-out deity we unspooled from those millions of years ago.
These past several days have been like the seasons when I’d spend weeks alone in Wallkill. The whole city is here around me, but I don’t see it. I hear my neighbor in the hall, catch snatches of conversation, nod to the doormen on the way out, watch the flow of people traffic on the streets: it’s all backdrop. I talk on the phone, feed the cats. I miss the old 12th floor gang.
If it were the old days, I’d wander down to Annie’s when I got lonely. Philip would come over or take me to dinner. Now I’m solitary: my friends are all just a little too far away, emotionally, for me to feel part of anything. I keep thinking of whom to see, dinners, coffee dates, and they’re all good: but they don’t add up. That’s my fault: what I’ve unraveled.
This happened slowly, one thing after another. Charles moving out, then being so wrapped up in Philip, the perpetual drama. Hard to believe that’s coming to an end: at least the particular drama we were part of. What will happen next is unclear.
It’s strange when all of a sudden a packet of years closes off and you realize: that’s the past now. What was the present for a long time—changing, moving forward, but still somehow all the same present—is gone: there was a bridge, a bend in the road, a jump, a cut-off.
So here I am in the new time, and solitude feels okay. I’ve gotten used to it. I have a lot of work. I have to make necklaces, bracelets and earrings. And edit a man’s book. And then, soon, I hope, my own again.
Passion for Solitude
by Cesare Pavese
Translated by Geoffrey Brock
December 5, 2008 § Leave a comment
I’ve been working madly on making jewelry all day, trying to get it on my ebay site in time to send out a newsletter and perhaps make enough money to pay the fees for my ebay site. Making the jewelry is deeply satisfying, scanning it and photoshopping it is fun; looking it on ebay and seeing what they do to my photos is not fun. I have to work on ways to make the best use of their pitiful platform, being too overwhelmed to attempt my own. I should also put everything on sale, slash prices, 50% off, but how can I do that when I hardly charge more than the cost of making the stuff? I am a bad businesswoman. I love my materials. I take my time. My image of myself is always as a eccentric-gypsy-crazy witch woman in a cave or hut, making art or medicines or magic without heed for the world until the world comes to me and then, since nothing cost anything to begin with, I can sell it for whatever I want. I blame the stories I read as a child. I remember takes of labor–the wheat from the chaff, etc, all those tasks that involved the kindness of elves—the cold miserable years of Psyche’s quest to find Eros after she spilled candle wax on his delicious nakedness because doing it in the dark wasn’t fun and her sisters said he was a monster: fairytales and legends are full of travail. But living in the woods, or an island, or in a cave upon, basically, nothing, what the earth would give freely, was what resonated with me. One might say this was because this was how I already lived, in a house. I was just adding some solitude, injecting autonomy into the easeful days of childhood. But I think artists do live like this, even if only for a few hours at a time.
I am purely happy when I make things, and then the social whirl is is too carnal, like a rib roast of beef salivating on its china platter when you only want a few autumn vegetables with a sprinkling of fresh thyme and a piece of whole wheat bread. If I had no engagements for the next two weeks, I would be disconsolate; having them, I feel pressured. They are stealing me from my leopardskin jasper, my venetian glass, the fantasy novel that will make me solvent.
I went to a party at St. John the Divine last night; the reopening. It was quite beautiful—the huge vaulted space, the tapestries, the crowds—and I saw a few friends, met Jonathan whom Philip has often spoken of. Saw my brilliantly talented painter friend Camilla. Then went home with Philip and he heated me up some frozen tamales from Trader Joe’s and we made love until we got too tired. That middle aged thing—the fucking is nice, but we can finish it tomorrow, right? It was nice to feel excited, your body against mine, tenderness; orgasm is no longer required. Not that it ever was for me, but I’m used to male lust. To feel it changing int osomething–dare I say–softer, is disconcerting but rather pleasant. As long as it’s not because I’m not losing my charm, which of course I must be, but perhaps very slowly
15 years ago I stopped having sex with Charles because, a) it had been deteriorating for a long time, and b) he told me I was too fat; I looked like a ‘giant green hamburger.’ (The green was the tee shirt.) That led to many years of misery culminating in Internet wanderings and Philip: the erotic frenzy of the turn of the century. Now Charles is visiting his old flame–the first time he’s seeing her that I know about ahead of time, and it makes me feel so amazingly calm. Happy for him of course, relieved of my own guilt, but also just calm as if the world is back in order. I don’t know quite how to explain it. I don’t want to think about what they’re doing, feel none of the prurient, anguished left-outness I still often feel vis-a-vis Philip and Christine, but am still glad that there is a story there, real emotion and event happening—just nothing that’s my business
Meanwhile my sister’s boss dropped dead of a heart atttack while running on a treadmill. I’ve always thought they were dangerous. I used to hope GWB would drop dead on one. This man, my sister’s boss, never sounded very nice, and I never met him to care one way or another, but still it is unnerving how death just snatches us. I would like to write more about the underworld before I die and am disappointed to not find one.