Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Church of the Desert 

Sacred Sand

I have attended a number of churches in my lifetime. The first experiences happened during my tender, formative years so, naturally, they are imprinted upon my brain forever, amen. They all happened at a Southern Baptist church in very Southern Baptist South Carolina. To be fair, there were Holiness churches in our neighborhood too. My mother wouldn't let me visit one of those because, she said, those folk were primitive and spoke in 'tongues'. I think it was because the women didn't wear cosmetics but I didn't dare say that because this kind of remark could put her right in the mood to twist my unerringly straight hair into exceedingly tight coils and pin them to my scalp with an “x” of “bobby” pins. Some of the pins were missing the little gobbet of plastic on the ends. A special little hell for special little girls...

I left my childhood church somewhat interestingly. I was fifteen, had taken tests and skipped a couple of grades (3 and 11) and had just started work on my higher education at the local college. I was keenly feeling the salty burn between the raw freedom of college and the itchy rash of my glaring 'minor' status. I was looking for a way to ease into rebellion when it waltzed right in and curtsied.

There was to be a special Wednesday night prayer meeting.

The deacons (somebody help me come
up with a good anagram for this term) who were the 'ruling body' of the church, and my father (who was not allowed to be a deacon because he was married to my mother who had been married before), who was instead the church trustee (they liked the guy) had decided to try to resolve a congregational issue by applying Democracy. The issue had nearly divided the congregation in half. Tempers were getting hot. The offering plates were getting light. Democracy was the last resort.

The congregation in attendance this Wednesday night would vote, by silent ballot, on this world-shattering issue; whether or not the women in the church would be allowed to wear 'slacks' to Wednesday night services. The astounding thing is that this was the seventies. You have to understand that almost universally, the Deep South had decided to ignore the sixties and seventies and proceed cautiously to the eighties in 1996. It wasn't that hard. There was no Internet. There was no cable. I left in 1997 so can't say when they are now.

When the floor opened for comments I approached the 'casual pulpit' on the floor below the dais that held the important one. I walked up wearing my favorite 'hippie' drawstring skirt and said my piece, which included the words "throw-backs", "moronic", "narrow-minded" and "exclusive.” When I was done, I walked from behind the podium amid gasps of horror in my favorite frayed, faded straight legged Levis and flip flops, having left my skirt on the floor behind the pulpit. I very clearly remember walking to the doors in the back, fighting the urge to run, in an absence of sound that could only be called a sonic vacuum. The massive double doors of my previous life swung closed behind me with an unceremonial hiss.
Other details have escaped me because, two weeks before that service, I had visited the Church of Mary Jane.
Now I was ready to join and did. Needless to say, many of the details are lost, having not occurred in my tender formative years and having been gathered during an altar-ed sorry state. But one thing I do remember is thinking a lot about what I believed in.
Later I attended the Episcopal Church. That year was largely unremarkable, except that it’s where I became interested in learning about religions in general, and
found that a pastor could conceivably accept me as a human being even if I didn’t buy into the program. Thank you, Reverend Paul.

Looking back, I’ve come to better understand some of the similarities and differences in the churches of my experience.
For instance, in the typical SBC, the pews were wooden, and treated with
polish specially formulated to stick to the legs of children and amplify Satan-induced farts.
In the EC, the pews were darker wood with padded kneeling benches (Southern Baptists are loathed to bend their knees in public) and padded seats. The Episcopalians seemed to believe farts were gas-induced and generally didn’t hate their children.
The pews of the church of MJ were generally lawn chairs, but during prayer the pews were earth and the pulpit the sky. Farts were neither revered nor condemned. Our children existed far in our futures, with names like Butterfly Rainbow, Karma Nirvana and Krispy Kreme.

The organist was generally Rick Wakeman and played like a god.

At the SB church the men who smoked hung around outside by the shrubbery prior to the service, avoid glares of their wives. The organist of the SB church was generally a kind-hearted volunteer who played her own arrangements of favorites from the Hymnal like, "What a Friend we have in Jesus" or if she were the young alternate organist, a carefully camouflaged arrangement of 'Hey Jude".
The Episcopal Church organist was generally paid and played Bach. Or, if he were the young alternate, played a carefully camouflaged rendition of a Gershwin tune. At the Episcopal Church the men and women smoked openly at covered-dish dinners. (Hence my mother’s comment that if I were going to attend the EC, I may as well not bother.) At the church of MJ, the smoking was part of the service, which consisted of the shared smoking, deep discussions of various topics, silent contemplation of the sky, with a post-service pizza.

From the three, I gleaned many truths, but my favorite was taught only in the church of MJ and it is this:
You are not where you live, what you wear, your dress size, or your skin color.
are what you think. You are what you say. You are what you do.
These three things have consequences, for which you are solely responsible.

The church of MJ was the only one that insisted that the state of the world was up to us and that we could change things. Boy, were we ever young.

There were more churches, though shorter-lived after the first three. They included "A Course in Miracles" (loved the text hated the people), the Church of Life Experience (hated the people), The Church of Me (hated the people), The Church of Antidepressants (hated the numbness), The Church of Art (works better as a philosophy) Just a brush with the Church of the Subgenius (Jesus-on-a-stick whatabunchofslackerbullshit but killer quotes) and the winner, No Church At All.
I have maintained academic interest in all.

Just lately I've felt a new twinge. The Church of the Desert has called me. Twice I've felt a subcutaneous tug. The desert has its own language, is generous with its inspiration and asks little in return.
But I'm safe. I'll explore it, but I will not join. I know too much to buy into any program; no matter how comfy a blanket it might offer to wrap me in.

Still, I can visit, once in a while, just to see what’s new.


Monday, March 28, 2005

I didn't write about Easter. I said pretty much everything I wanted to say on the subject on Valentines' Day. But I saw this guy on the highway Friday and had decided if I were pressed to do an Easter post, he would be it. 

It's windy as Hell tonight. Someone told me that this area was the second most windy place in the country. I don't know that this is true, or even what the most windy place in the country is. I suppose a night like this, when palm debris, pool toys, the occasional lawn furniture and once, the Wicked Witch of the West fly past the office window, I might consider doing a web search to see if I could find out. Maybe later. For now, Orion is fussy and I must go cuddle for a bit. So I'll leave you with thanks for your comments. If I'm inspiring some of you to be creative I feel good about it. And I'll show you my highly cherished Batman Begins movie poster someone dear snagged for me. The movie had better be good, because I'm liking the way this looks over our reading corner. The angel sketches are by the very talented Ron Brown.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Neil [Gaiman] sometimes travels to SoCal by train. Sometimes he phones to tell me he's passing through the windmills, or just did. 

I thought you might like to see them too, so I stopped yesterday and took a few photos. 

I take them for granted, usually. I see some of them nearly every morning. Now I try to see them in a different light. 

The photos aren't great. I was getting pretty blown about. Most of the rejects are photos of my hair whipping around in front of the camera. 

Standing out here I remember that this place has its own life. It can be really inspiring.

Next week I plan to go back with my tripod. I'd like to try to give you some sense of what I get when I'm out there. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Threes are massing

I'm standing in my kitchen, talking to Ravyn over my shoulder. Not dreary, but me, at my kitchen window and Ravyn, perched at the table behind me.
It happens again. I see the threes. They've gathered in here for a month or so, quietly massing on the window sill, the countertops, the refrigerator and even outside on the patio table.
They are spirited here by the creature in my head who wants them. It is a subtle little beast, who creates threes by addition and subtraction--Three bottles collected here, but I broke the forth canister accidentally

I don't think about numbers outside of mathematics, normally. I don't think about numerology or astrology because, well, I just haven't gotten to those yet.
Recently I came across a copy of Ramsey Campbell's Eleven that has a thread of something I think is numerology. I see references to "meanings" of numbers and have a number (pun intended, sorry) of collectors who always request specific numbers for numbered editions and prints.

This is the third time (I'm not kidding) I've discovered flocks of threes. Each time before, I shoo'd them away. I went searching and disbanded others as I found them.
I'm not talking about arrangements of art on the walls or furniture groupings. Those are natural elements of design (which is another subject entirely.)
I'm talking about random groups of things that could be found in any other number. In this case they are:
Three bottles waiting for recycle
Three tins (of five) from Orion's party
Three steel ball magnets on the fridge (used the forth yesterday for the studio fridge)
Three rooting pencil cacti
Three tea cups (of seven)
Three potted herbs
Three narrow vases (I moved one last week)
Three canisters---minus one broken
And that's just the kitchen.
There are more, including threes of towels, paperclips, reading glasses, printer cartridges, bottled water, apples and yes, candy wrappers.

Third time's the charm?

As I type this I look out the office window. There are three crows in the tree past the fence.

I stand up to look at them and, with a great deal of flapping, they are gone.

Okay. I'm onto you three. Now what?

Do you think, now that I'm aware of them, they'll go away?


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Take Two

Pete asked me, unexpectedly, about my father. We were driving through the mountains to Long Beach to pick up Ravyn. I watched the hills rolling past the window. It helped me think, like walking at night does, or, when it’s too hot or too cold to walk outside, wandering the deserted aisles of the grocery store, wondering why they stay open until midnight when it seems that no one but me seems to come in after they dim the lights at ten. I was a million miles away from the memories of my father, but the mention immediately conjoured the unchanging mental collage that is my dad.
It seems to me that our view of each person we know is a montage of all the experiences we’ve had with them. It changes constantly, until the person dies and there are no more experiences. Then it is fixed, though in time, the picture softens around the edges and the colors shift a bit.
What I remembered at this particular instance was my mother’s voice asking my father why he had to do everything like he was putting out a fire. He did too. He approached everything that way, fast and furious.
Had I ever thought about why he might be like this?
No. Not really. And certainly not with the clarity gained from hills rolling past and cool air on my face.
He wanted to be a house painter. He told me once, that this was his version of heaven. He really loved painting. Houses. He wanted to buy a truck and supplies and start a house painting business. Instead he worked at the same job for over thirty years.
He tried really hard, but could never save enough money or find enough time to do it.
I watched him for years, fighting fires, and not getting to where he was running.
Mother’s struggles were more noticeable, spectacular at times. In contrast, his were nearly invisible. Taken for granted like the oboe in orchestra. Only appreciated in the thinness of its absence.
I hadn’t considered his stuggles, or their influence.

I hadn’t stepped back far enough to take in the whole picture. I've missed something obvious.
So I haven’t figured out yet, exactly why I push so hard. I don’t sense any fire. But I promised myself I’d get some sleep. So that’s what I’m going to do, right now.

Photos tomorrow, and something weird in threes…

Friday, March 18, 2005

I took the camera with me today. Thought you might like a couple of images. I don't know if a harsh environment in and of itself inspires art, but it does carry a certain energy that seems to work for me. 

Not too bad, for the moment. If you wonder what a bad moment looks like, just imagine a blank white page. 

From the car window. At school, kids are taught to squat and cover their faces with their shirts. By third grade, it's a reflex.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Dunes of Vista Chino

Overnight, the road to Orion's daycare has been transformed. One westbound lane is gone, the other is partially buried under pseudopods of sand, some reaching into the eastbound side. The wind is still blowing. It's like driving through a fine, dry blizzard. Bulldozers will scoop up the dunes and dump them back onto the desert floor. The plows will scrape up the rest and we humans in our little machines will buzz through, running our individual errands. We chug happily along, knowing we've managed to maintain the slowly expanding border between the the area we've dug up and paved over and irrigated and changed to our liking, and the ancient living desert. The mountains haven't even acknowledged our existence.
The desert can be a brutal environment. Lots of things here have very short lives. Plants, animals, landscapes, even rocks, relatively speaking, can be overtaken. Practically anything man-made gets eaten up by the heat and the wind. We're constantly digging ourselves out, replacing windshields and windows, throwing away plastics that have become brittle, wood that's warped, fabrics thinned and faded. The roads crack under the weight of the winter's water. The pieces shrink away from each other in the sun. The sand creeps over all.
A couple of hours away, in LA, people are squabbling about how celebrities are getting better seats at the fashion shows than fashion editors and buyers.
And right here on Vista Chino, which was partially eaten by the desert during the night, I'm digging in my purse with one hand, fretting over whether I remembered Orion's sunscreen and wondering which list of have-tos I should tackle before I can get back to the studio and make some art that might help me make some sort of sense of all this crap.
So the desert keeps pushing back and we have to work constantly just to stay here. I don't know why yet, but I think I'm beginning to get a hint of it . I think for me, maybe it's the extreme give and take of the place. And, actually, being in an environment not quite right for humans is not a bad thing. It lends a certain perspective.
I finally get back to the studio to work on the Neil Gaiman sculpture. I've started at the bottom, with the frog Neil stepped on and the pipes the frog is sitting on and around. I've started to add some new textures and a few new puppets and other elements from my newer work.
It's sort of weird, tampering with a piece like that. Changing it when it's been so long just as it is.
The wind rattles at the doors.
George Lucas did it with Star Wars. I minded that he changed the gunfight between Solo and the bounty hunter. I thought Solo's character should stay as it was, shoot-first, so to speak.
I look at the sculpture I made for Neil. The purist in me says to leave it well enough alone. The artist says it's a living thing, let it grow. Cover over the old textures with something new.

In the afternoon Vista Chino is clear. But when I get to the street where Orion's daycare is, I have to park a block over and walk from the car. It's closed off with cones and markers.
The city, it seems, is repaving it.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Why I never get blocked...maybe.

I’ve (so far) never experienced artist’s block, writer’s block, or any other type of block, even while slogging through depression. I think it’s because I don’t stop working just because I run out of inspiration. Inspiration can be found. Ideas can be found. Work goes on. Inspiration can be lost. Ideas can be lost. Work goes on.
On and off, for all my life (so far) I’ve had periods of dark vision. I don’t consider this a blessing or a curse. It’s just how my brain works and my brain works this way because my chromosomes got lined up just so by chance or by hook or crook of fate.
I’ll go with chance, for now, but I begin to suspect some sort of pattern----which isn’t to say design. But nearly so. Anyway, yes, some of the sculptures I’ve done have come in flashes of…insanity.
That said, it’s not always like that. Every piece of work I make doesn’t come with a fanfare of angelic trumpets. Some of them sort of discover themselves as they’re being made. The only way I could block myself is to stop working. Sometimes illness or circumstances stop it for me.

Sometimes, when that happens, it’s not a good thing. Too much stuff gathers in my head.
So, generally, I keep working.
I don’t always feel inspired.
I work anyway. If I don’t have a specific idea that is setting me on fire, I just decide to make something ‘nice’. It can be a figurative thing---like a simple nude figure, or a design thing---like a shape or a movement.
Or it can be an essay on a subject plucked from the collection of post-its and slivers of paper taped or magneted or otherwise stuck all over the studio refrigerator.
It’s a good idea to keep plenty of post-its and pens and slivers of paper handy for inspired moments. A blank refrigerator can be handy too. You can refer back to it in tough times and keep stuff cold in it too.

When I feel most uninspired, I drag my sorry ass to the studio, or to the computer and I start working and, without fail, I get into it and a twist or play on words or metaphor emerges and grows into an idea. Music helps. And coffee. ( Yes, caffeine is a drug. If something works, use it. Just know that everything has a price and other people besides you matter.)

Use the force, Luke. Ok. That's corny. But, really, sometimes you just have to let go and let give.
Once in a while you have to stop driving and just see what happens. Not by standing there and staring at the blank page, but by typing something, drawing some lines or punching at a lump of clay.
A lot of writers and artists believe that we can train our brains to be ‘on’ by working at the same time every day. That makes sense. Why not? Everything else we learn works that way. But I believe that the act of working, whether it’s twisting some wire for armature or typing simply what we’re feeling at the moment, stimulates the creative process, no matter what time, and that exercising creativity makes it stronger.

At the very worst, by kneading some clay or sketching, we’re doing something productive instead of something from the long list of things we could be doing (which includes chocolate and HBO and Ebay) that are great to celebrate with but not to be substituted for working. ( or we should be beaten like a bad-bad donkey)

Anyway. Here were a couple of thoughts on how things work. I’d be interested in hearing yours.

I’ve missed you guys. Hope you missed me too. I’m tired of cold tablets and tissue and my bathrobe. If you’ve had this crud too, hope you’re on the mend.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Crawling Back to It...

Hello all,
I've been down with what seems the worst cold ever---at least now, while I'm in it. I begin to believe I will never feel good again which leads me to think I might be over it soon----because it usually happens this way.
I havn't touched the Neil sculpture or much else in days. Have had many thoughts but not the impetus to type them. Only to sleep with the science channel on...Dream Nyquil induced dreams and wonder about odd things.
Even my cat has given up, deeming me too sad even to lounge on.

But, I am not dead and will be back soon, possibly tomorrow, with photos of the roller coaster cars that arrived yesterday for new wheels. Then back to the Neil sculpture and maybe an idea or two. I did speak with Dagmara Matuszak and will be posting about her and her creative process in the next week or so. That should be interesting.


a lisa who is nearly here

Saturday, March 05, 2005

At the heart of the matter, I think. Yes, each mind is a universe. Lots of room in there. Things get hidden, way in back. They may be out of sight, but are still connected to everything else in there, still doing their stuff...

Friday, March 04, 2005

Jesters now and then

I had an unexpected drive to LA today. If you ever want to reconnect yourself with humanity, spend three hours stuck in five lanes of traffic in a thunderstorm. If you ever want to distance yourself from humanity, spend three hours stuck in five lanes of traffic in a thunderstorm. Miraculously it works either way.

I came home exhausted to find things upside down here and am in a dark mood. I think everyone is hiding from me. I don’t actually blame them. Nothing water and sleep won’t cure. In the meantime, I’ve decided tomorrow to start resurfacing the base of the Neil sculpture with jigsaw pieces and other elements of new work. Don’t panic, it will work. I’ll show you. I’ll do my best to get some photos up tomorrow night.

I won’t get around to answering questions tonight, but I’d already written most of the account of where the jesters came from, so will add that. I actually did write about it in Strange Attraction. It was just too weird for anything else. But five more years have passed, and the distance has allowed me to come up with serviceable theories, reasonable explanations the Lisa can live with, mostly. I’m going with fever dreams.

Anyway, here’s the straightforward version:
I found out about the jesters when my father died, though it didn’t begin there. I’d been sculpting for several years. Though I hadn’t even dreamed of the carnival pieces, I had started a small business called Jester Imagination (just her imagination), from the top floor of the towering old house we had in Georgia. My sister, who is thirteen years older, and I were cleaning Dad’s house in South Carolina getting it ready to close. We were packing up his clothes and dishes between tears and laughing and pots of coffee, when we came across a dusty train case full of old photographs.
Naturally we sat down on the floor and started digging through them. There were sepias of dour looking people in sensible clothes. There were birthday cakes and kids on new bikes and ugly prom dresses. I came across a small bundle of black and white pictures rolled in a rubber band. They were all of me, as a child, sitting on my bed surrounded by cards and fuzzy cats on pillows, teddy bears, chocolates and coloring books. I was thin and my pajamas hung on my shoulders and my hair was stringy. I looked like a ghost.
In one photo, I had a puppet on my hand, with a painted white harlequin face and pointed hat.
I uncurled the photos as best I could and handed them to my sister.
“What’s this? Do you remember these?” I asked her.
She stared at them for a moment and said in the tiniest voice, “I do.”
Then she told me a story about an awful night when I was six, when my bronchitis had become pneumonia and she and my mother slept on chairs by my bed. She told me the jester puppet came from the hospital. Volunteer ladies sewed them for the kids on the ward. I wouldn’t let go of mine, even when my fever went so high they decided to put me into an ice bath. She remembered that the staff cut off my pajamas with scissors around the IV’s and the puppet.
She remembered that I held the puppet to my face and didn’t let it go, no matter what happened. And, apparently things happened.
It was a very long night, she told me. She remembered mostly, the screaming.
I told her I thought, maybe, I remembered the scissors.
We didn’t talk about it again.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A few years ago, I was talking with an artist (I'll ask him before I name him). We were looking through his portfolio together and I asked him to tell me about the significance of the curled ladder that appeared over and over in his paintings.
He stared at me for a moment and said, "What ladder?"
"That one," I pointed, "and that one, that one, and....this one."
He was stunned.
I felt really badly, as though I'd complimented someone on their mismatched eye color only to find out they'd never noticed it before.
He thanked me and reassured me he was happy to realize it. But he was flipping through his portfolio, page after page, more and more slowly. Even during our goodbye. I felt really badly, and even worse, for finding it all funny, which quietly, I did.
I haven't seen him since, though I hear he's still doing well. He is very talented.
Tomorrow I shall look him up and try to find out what indifferent angels and curved ladders may have in common.

I worked on Neil's sculpture, but inside, not much to see. Though I did make some tentative arrangements to make a movie of it to post. Tomorrow I'll answer comments and questions.
I photographed these, because they are leaving me tomorrow morning. I started thinking, which is sometimes not a good idea for me but seems to happen quite often. I looked over at the Neil sculpture and wondered about the angel, and all the other angels that have appeared in my work over the years, mostly uninvited. I don't particular care for angels, don't particularly believe in them, yet they keep showing up and I'm not sure why.
Jesters, yes. But I know where those come from, which is another story entirely.
I'll tell it to you, if you want to hear it.