This post is in response to all the wonderful people I haven't been able to keep up with this past year. I really do adore you. Here's what my world consists of these days, and why your mother was right when she told you to never, ever marry an artist:
Yes, I know time is a construct. It's something we can all agree on... until we can't. Death proves the existence of time, and we eventually learn that it doesn't matter if time is a construct or not. It is incontrovertibly how we process existence, and it is thus, for us, as real as the things that really are real.
My homeless friends living on the street face a dilemma I simply cannot relate to. Theirs is the problem of having too much time. For my adult life, my issue has been the opposite. It's beyond being unable to remember the last time I was bored; I have trouble recalling when I last relaxed. I don't know when I last came home, pulled a book off the shelf, and stared out the window with a bliss untarnished by the rumblings of impending obligation.
I dreamt of graduating from school because I couldn't wait to have control over my own schedule. I waited twenty-odd years for the moment to come, and now, nearly a decade after walking out the University's art school doors for the last time, that control– that freedom– remains elusive, or at least feels like it does. Of course, all of us has all the time in the world (we just choose how we fill it up, as the saying goes); I've been careful to protect mine, but I've loaded it such that there's no room to breathe. I always feel like I'm getting close to breaking free, but I never get there. It feels like a prison, all the harder to escape because it is a claustrophobia not of space but of time. No matter which direction I reach, I can't find what I'm looking for, and it's my own passions that are in the way. Do you know what I mean?
You might say I have two full-time jobs. The first eight hours of the day I spend on art.
9 A.M. to 5 P.M.:
Every day I attempt to progress at least incrementally on all of the following:
- Film editing. Reviewing takes. Pulling selects. Experimenting with scene constructions. Revising. Consulting with colleagues. Backing up hard drives. Studying concepts from older films. Film theory. Getting pasty (and pastier).
- Photography. Scanning negatives. Archiving. Getting rolls processed and developed. Preparing for shows (two are underway; one, a permanent installation of pieces I'll never see in the residential floors of the Good Arts Building; the other, a solo show for Georgetown's October 13th Art Attack, a major undertaking with a twist– details await). Shooting, choosing, and making prints; deciding upon presentation and procuring materials for framing (usually a trip to three places: the lumber store, the hardware store, and the acrylic store) and executing on those decisions.
- This blog: reviewing notes and drafts. Writing and thinking, writing and reflecting, considering, stepping away... rinse and repeat. Staring at the screen for forty-five minutes, working on the last paragraph, searching for how best to translate my thoughts to words, what it is I really wish to say. Working on drafts for future posts. Alternating longer stories with shorter ones, contrasting themes and tone. Using Facebook Developer to scrape and post the stories; coordinating with The Urbanist, the wonderful policy and urban planning site where my stories are also posted. Mark Twain said that all art is trying to be music; I'm trying to do that with the least musical medium of them all, the finite ones and zeros of written language.
- Korean. I'm on level 8 at City U now. This week it's the suffix that indicates the act of experiencing something (-은 적이 있어요; generally expressed with a verb), and another suffix (-어 본 적이 있어요) indicating the act of attempting to experience something. The latter is usually used to indicate positive or neutral experiences (have you tried going to Korea; have you attempted the act of eating Indian food), whereas the former, lacking the implication of willful attempt, can be used to describe negative experiences as well (I experienced the act of getting my TV stolen, rather than, I've tried out the experience of getting my TV stolen). We also learned 33 new words and phrases this week (I have a stomachache; the cost of living in Iowa is cheap) in addition, and completed a homework and did a reading assignment.
- There's also a major surprise that myself and several co-conspirators are working on that I can't wait to share with you, and which is far too big to mention as an aside in this humble post; look for an announcement shortly! It involves an enormous amount of focus in reviewing, reorganizing, presentation and more. I think you're going to love it, honestly. But– as it should be– it's a lot of work. I like to get things right. (When this is done, there'll be time for more blog posts. When the film is done, even more. If the Korean class cycle concludes, even more! Apologies for intermittent posting of late. Know that I'm always working on something for you!)
Don't get me wrong. I love all of it. I surround myself with the best artists I know, and then struggle to keep up. I'm aware there are worse life problems, believe me; I see them up close nightly. I'm thankful for these incredible opportunities. But that doesn't stop them from being exhausting. I love each so much that I can't cut anything out. The problem isn't that I hate what I'm doing; it's that I love everything I'm doing.
Somehow, amongst all this, are the chores we all do, like
- Scrubbing kitchen counters (I have a tendency to start doing this in the middle of the night, before bed, for reasons beyond me).
- Going for groceries– an activity I find oddly therapeutic, because it reminds me of childhood.
- Washing my car– another activity I find oddly therapeutic, especially when done late at night.
- Doing dishes while listening to music– another activity I find oddly therapeutic... actually, all menial tasks done alone that don't involve immersive, intensive creative consideration while under deadline... I find oddly (and okay, delightfully) therapeutic. Such as:
- Brushing my teeth, often for longer than normal.
- Compulsively sweeping the kitchen floor.
- Rearranging the– but wait! There's a show to hang! A graphic designer to call! An audio engineer to get back to!
Then I go to Metro-Land.
5 P.M. to 1 A.M.:
You can understand why I find driving buses relaxing. For eight hours, I only have to think about bus stuff. How fabulous. Who needs a therapist, when you can just putt-putt along to the rhythms of the road, practicing patience and listening to other people? The perspective, distraction, reorientation... all invaluable. It forces me to pay attention to my physical health, reminds me how much more there is than my little quibbles, and allows me to touch the glorious and irreplaceable feeling of reaching other people– reaching them without an agenda, and among all walks of life.
Art made by an artist who does not also live life is not interesting. Driving the bus forces me out of artmaking and back to where it all matters.
Then I rush home and sleep, because I guess we're supposed to, before waking up to do it all over again.
1 A.M. to... 1:05 A.M.??
I haven't mentioned any space in the day where I might engage in some of my favorite activities: reading and watching films. When there's a break between Korean classes, reading becomes possible. Most recently was Tom Hardy's 1874 Far From the Madding Crowd. It's quite good. Example excerpt:
Her philosophy was her conduct, and she seldom thought practisable was she did not practise. She was the stuff of which great men's mothers are made. She was indespensable to high generation, hated at tea parties, feared in shops, and loved at crises.
What is unique about the "I" hides itself exactly in what is unimaginable about a person. All we are able to imagine is what makes everyone like everyone else, what people have in common. The individual "I" is what differs from the common stock, that is, what cannot be guessed at or calculated.
Then there's the matter of finding time to watch films. It's important. Not enough young filmmakers know the canon, and when the oldest movie you've seen is Pulp Fiction, it shows in your work. Plus, I love the medium. So potent, watching someone else's dream....
Most recently rewatched at home: Michael Mann's Heat (1995), a somber epic of interiority and self-awareness, and a favorite. Playtime (1974), Jacques Tati's near-silent comedy of modern motion; Antonioni's La Notte (1961), in which I particularly noted the hard lighting and intriguing staging of figures in space; and Bergman's Persona (1966), wherein I reflected on the effect of being shown the final monologue twice from two different angles.
Most recently at the cinema: Eighth Grade, as bruising, intimate, personal and anxious as the grade itself. Magnificent. Blindspotting– not as engaging, tonally consistent or artistically daring as the other American independent film by a first-time director about black life in Oakland currently in theatres(!), Sorry to Bother You, but still worthwhile with its two hugely likable leads, several great dialogue exchanges and a strong third act. I have a soft spot for films about friendships; they're less common than you think.
Other Actual Humans
Speaking of friends. I generally don't get time to read or watch films. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is barely 300 pages, and I've been "reading" it for over two months. What about the humans I love even more than my beloved passengers? When there's a show to hang, another show to prep, a secret project to perfect, Korean to practice, a film to complete?
As a child I had a habit of starting projects– an illustrated bird book, a painting series– and abandoning them. I've since learned that artists who accomplish a lot of projects– the same ones you see giving speeches at parties and clowning at socials– spend most of their time sitting in rooms working their buns off. Now I finish my projects. But at what cost?
Most of us love most what we cannot find; for me it is peace. Calm. I can almost touch it, it is so close. But it is not here. I really do love my friends, my family. I want to say yes to your every invite: to lunch, to films, to picnics, dinners, parties, plays, performances, hikes, walks, dates. An afternoon with friends; the beach at night. Of course I want to do those things, and with you.
But there is an urgency that drives me. Various philosophical schools postulate that the motivating factor for all human action is loneliness; love; death. For me it is time. The urgent and pressing lack of it.
Milan Kundera wrote, in his book Immortality, that humans desire to assert their existence on earth in a way that will outlast them. The primal and psychological urge to defy time. Many people do that by having children. I do it by making art. It is not a desire for me. It is a need. I turned twenty-five and something clicked inside me; I turned thirty, and it clicked again. It was only a whisper, but I hear it every day:
There is not a lot of time.
My active life is half over. I've got work to do. I believe human connection is the most important treasure, and it may not seem like I value my friendships as much as I say; but I'm working on figuring it all out, learning how to balance what I feel urgency toward, and what is truly important. I'm thankful for every second of it. I will get there one day. The cacophonic fallacy of accomplishment will have died down, and you and I will be leaning back in our chairs– in a cafe, at home, at the base, under a tree, under an umbrella– and in the delicate silence between words we'll pause, and smile, gently. We will know its name without having to say it.