31 Aug Wed
Coincidences often have to do with something we are thinking about. On Friday night, I felt like drawing and after I drew a picture, I realized that I had been inspired to do it because I had found an old Sleepyhead single that a friend had asked me for. It was one that I had drawn the cover for, and I only realized the connection after I made a drawing. On Friday, I put a T-shirt on a guy that said “Better to fade away”. When I make art, I often try to put myself into an open space and see what arises. “Better to fade away” is a reference to a Neil Young song wherein he states that it’s better to burn out than to fade away. For some time, I lived a little bit more on the path of burning brightly. In the last few years, I have found value in fading away; in other words, this can mean turning away from conflict, or not letting my ego take the reigns. Instead, I focus on following a path of more acceptance of what is and less resistance to what comes. If people appreciate the work, then I’m pleased, but I think even less about making work to please people than I ever did before.
So, in some sense the T-shirt was simply a statement of values, but then I realized it was also a reference to the character that actress Linda Manz plays in the Dennis Hopper film “Out of the Blue”. Linda Manz died last week and I had just seen a photo of her before sitting down to draw. That film was important to me when I was younger, and our band wrote a song called “CB”, about Manz’s character in the film. Neil Young’s “My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” was the title song for the film. It wasn’t a coincidence as much as it was my unconscious taking the reigns away from my present, thinking, brain. Again, that was my intention, but sometimes it takes some looking back to see why things come up.
There are so many things that we do and say that have unconscious meaning or impulses attached. Some of these behaviors are patterned behaviors, or unconscious repetitions of things that we’ve seen done. For example, I often find myself making a photo because I make the connection to another photo that struck me. I don’t mean to recreate this image, but I see some ghost of it and grab at it. In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I made a series of what I called “letter books”. These were little photo books that I put together and sent to friends in the form of a letter to them. I would get film developed at the stationary store and pull out the prints that interested me. Then I would tape some of these photos into books I made out of folded typing paper. Once the images were in, I would write my friend a kind of stream of consciousness letter, riffing off of things that were going on but also keying off of the images. The words didn’t describe the images but I was conscious of understanding that the words and images would each reflect meaning off the other. This was very personal work that I made as art, but not art that I intended to share at the time. I was, however, conscious of the fact that it may mean a lot more later. After a while, I started to copy the letters and send the copy because I wanted to hold onto them.
Yesterday, I connected with a person on Instagram who was making photo journals with writing. I decided to upload one of these books to share with him (I’ll post it below). This is a letter I sent to my friend Sebastian whom I knew well in high school. This book was made 10 years after we graduated. He and I had stayed in touch and he came with me when I drove across the country to take pictures in malls. This book was about my wedding which he came to. He also helped collect flowers from the Brooklyn Waterfront for the ceremony at the Brooklyn Brewery. Turns out it was mostly Goldenrod which makes a lot of people have allergic reactions. The book is also about how we were having a wedding and prepping to make a movie in Spain at the same time. Sebastian eventually came on the shoot as well. It was a tough shoot and our relationship has taken some time to recover from it.
This book starts with a picture before the wedding that I took from behind a door. I wasn’t supposed to see my fiance til the wedding. The last is one I made after we got married. In between, I used pictures of friends, my parents, and some from the wedding. The words reflect largely on my relationship with my father.
Back to the idea of coincidences: while uploading these images to Instagram, I was also texting with my daughter Holly. Holly and I have only known each other for a year and a half. I was a sperm donor and Holly connected with me while I was in the emergency room with my mom whose heart was beating like a birds, and she was only getting about 80% of normal oxygen intake. She had pneumonia, and when I got the text from my cousin alerting me to Holly’s existence, I was making peace that my mother might not make it through this illness. Holly had connected to my cousin via the Ancestry website. I quickly texted her to let her know I got the message, but that I was tied up. My mom stabilized and I spent the next 4 nights in the ICU with her. On the second night, I talked to Holly for the first time. We met a month later, the day before I turned 50. It was somewhat magical to meet her and I am overjoyed to have her in my life.
Holly is 26, and she was meant to have a big wedding this weekend. CoVid led to that getting cancelled, so she pivoted to having a small ceremony that only close family was attending. I asked if she wanted anything for a present, and she replied that all she wanted was a hand made card. I don’t know if she knows this, but my mom made us these intense hand made birthday cards each year. I have at least 40 of them, and they are like a mini map of what was going on in my life. I thought that was a wild coincidence, but didn’t even think about the fact that I was in the process of going through my own wedding book as I was discussing it with her. As I write this, I also am aware that my mother’s creative efforts had a big impact on my path towards making art. In some sense, these letter books are connected to her birthday cards; they are part of a language of creativity that she taught me from a young age. Some of what she taught me was intentional and some of it was situational. Some of it was unintentional, and these are some of the things that I have to try to work through, by making art like the above book, or this post.
Now, I have to make a letter book for Holly. This is kind of the prologue. Sometimes these books just flow, but this one is going to take a little more time, because it’s important to me that it be done right. I don’t want to put undue pressure on myself, but I also don’t want to rush it. My mom would work for weeks on each of our birthday cards, and she would really sweat over them. The one below was for the year following our wedding. It documents my traumatic experience with a band that I got screwed over by, the completion of our film and getting it into Sundance, the publication of my first photo book and my show at CBGB gallery, and so much more. Each one is a boiled-down connection to my past. She couldn’t really draw so she relied on books that helped her to do it, and she agonized over the details. I’m so glad that this post inspired me to go and get it from the file.
My mom was a bit of a hoarder, and when she passed away last year it was hard to go through the stuff. I have spent some time trying to figure out how to get rid of things, but it’s hard when objects have meaning. I have no intention of getting rid of these cards, and they give me a great deal of inspiration. Sometimes we tend to focus on the ways our parents drive us crazy, or “damaged us”. Writing this has helped me to connect with how much my parents gave me. I wasn’t around for Holly’s childhood, or young adulthood. I’m glad that we can be connected as adults, and that I can still be a part of her life. I guess I’m going to have to pick up my mom’s role and start making everyone cards.