It really is the most wonderful time of the year. I thought I was getting a chocolate truffle and coffee migraine but it was just a tinseled star flashing on a timer under my eastern elbow. New years eve. I put on the smaller parka and walked down town in lieu of listening to how badly we all are going to turn out one more time from my mother. Here’s how we converse at times:
me: Jee, do you just sit there and imagine the worst?
me: Christian kindness.
she: You just have to throw that in.
I try to have my mother’s nashville-fed faith in Jaysus but I been long stuck on the notion that jesus was god slumming in mortality for street credibility, the Lord himself a sort of feckless trust fund hippy. I’m not really used to acrimonious banter as a staple of domestic life, the comfort of home, but it’s common I’m learning in my peripatetic widowhood, not just the stuff of ultimately sour Fay Weldon novels about bitter heterosexuals. Nice to be home here I must say in Baptist country where you don’t have to be inclusive. Wind up worshiping an herb or something. A stick in the yard. Bucket of rocks.
Time moves quickly here, shoveling snow. I got really nice light jogging shoes for Christmas and I’m hoping I have the wits to start that again in the evenings. Take the dog with me. Shoot him n bury him deep in the pines. There’s a beautiful pine forest with a road runs along the river. I remember when the trees were planted in rows. Good place to lose a dog. We’ll see. I’ll take pictures.
About two in the morning here, quiet, warm. I’m trying to tempt Katy to sit on my knee at the kitchen table. Sounds like a bad Irish poem. Manx rather. She traveled well, discovered fast food drive by windows. The apartment’s a jumble but she’s back in the water bed and warring with the dog.
Little grand nephew… grand nephew… I hadn’t seen yet was over to open some gifts this morning. Funny looking little rig. Very calm and plain featured and content. The plain features crumple into sweet eccentricity with a smile. And the great pleasure when he’s picked up my name and calls it out when the game boy pauses and he realizes there’s company.
David phoned today, had stepped out of face-book right into the studio, but I wasn’t there. Looked at paintings he hadn’t seen. That’d make a nice little short story. So I took the weird beast for a walk and I looked at the Christmas lights and shops and houses and I saw my favorite checkout lady at the quick check. Same as it ever was.
I love how every far flung matchmaking club membership you ever let lapse sends you out a cheery hello and list of suitable fuck bunnies or solitaire stud diamonds in the rough on New years eve. It’s like, yeah he’ll be home.
Anyway, downtown I trod through the ceaseless snow. Stood in a lineup and kind of recognized people who kind of recognized me. That lovely moment when you’re really glad your pajama drawstring isn’t hanging out of the fly of your jeans. I bought my self a package of rolling papers and thus armed for new years, I took the long way home under street-lit snow, then the back streets, dark and deserted.
Katy’s bored in the Grandma’s old place but she’s warmer than she was by only wood fire. She went digging into Bert’s stuff last night, some sweaters and papers. Animals are more interesting than people generally.
I tossed some now certainly defunct technology. Soon as the last forced breath of this godforsaken (and I mean that) holiday is over, I’ll go through canvasses here I could finish and hang in this next show.
felt like a busy day here though I didn’t get much done. Busy soon, busy soon.
Visited my niece and her kids up the street, climbed up the hill and down to main street, bought brushes, cat food, one very good cup of coffee, home to light chores, a visit from Cleve and Trish, a workout to punish myself for watching tv the while, a long walk with the dog, and now, the clear wireless signals of the northern night.
I do like being here. What would seem a cultural vacuum to most is a relief to me. I grew awfully tired of artistic types. I had some clumsy times extricating myself from old relationships, but I don’t mind, and feel clearheaded now when I set about to paint. People kept getting between me and the canvas. And then it would come to fisticuffs. That doesn’t happen so much here. Here nobody cares. Isolation suits me.
Let me tell you about the joys of this place
I look a lot like my father. Sometimes I see that in the eyes of the people who knew him here. He was a bit of a renegade. He was pugilistic on a bender. I’m not so handsome but I lean my back against a bar, my ass against a ledge like he’d do, and I have his laugh if not his smile. I am observed by his peers. The old guy downstairs is a bit of a drinker and he likes to tell me stories about my dad. Nobody’s sure how crazy or how canny this old guy is but he drifts in and out of common parlance and sometimes I can see it cross his eyes, a bit of a filter fall into place like, and I know he’s not talking about my dad, he’s talking to him. and he gets mad as hell when I won’t stay and have another goddam drink.
“Ya dirty cocksucker you haven’t been the same since you took up with that bitch from down the hill….” he curses.
My Dad once killed a bear with an axe. He stepped into her den like an idiot in the spring and she came up at him. He had to do it. He was so embarrassed when it got in the papers, my mother said. That much is true. There’s a lot of storytelling in a little place like this, even with the advent of television. It runs in the family.
I am a social animal though I spend a lot of time almost as a hermit. I’m always up for a little rich exchange, but I am fairly self-amusing. This is a good thing to be in the beautiful middle of nowhere, everything.
There is always a tendency in people to think painting isn’t working, but a form of play, because they would only do it themselves for fun, and so they figure an artist’s house is a playhouse.
And now that you can’t smoke a cigarette in any public place a studio can look very cozy on a winter afternoon. There hasn’t been that traffic, but I can see it beginning, so I’ve had a fair bit of rearrangement to do. Making it comfortable here and quite uncomfortable there. I’m cursed with a sense of humor, so people don’t think I’m serious, and also cursed with such useless good manners that I’m so totally flabbergasted by rudeness that I am rendered defenseless.
Bert could always be stern and writerly, and people do realize you have to be thinking in order to write, so he was a good defense for me.
I kept wolves from his door too. We knew our needs. We were each largely self amusing.
I thought i was more self amusing than I am, I fear.
At any rate, I’m tapping away into my little machine here in my painting room and it looks like a little surgical unit but far from sterile, and I have my new teeth in and they feel bionic and rather like mason jar lids. The old coot downstairs is fighting the Korean war directly under my grandmother’s carpet and if I shot with my father’s rifle directly through the bulls eye of that old hooked rug I would put an end to a lot of trouble. And give him a little taste of actual warfare cause I know damned well he never saw battle. But he does shovel.
A ditch flower, a woman braiding her hair as she walks to work along the back street in the glare at the end of summer. that will come again.
This solitude is too hard come by.
My tendency to exaggerate is understood with familial tolerance here.
Everybody takes everything I say with a grain of salt, rightly.
A Few New Parts
The radio sings “Look at us, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.”
The machine is functioning well again after a long period of instability. It habituates the new imperatives, abilities and oversights of an upgraded operating system, shaky modern architecture. It keeps insisting it’s much more stable now, this new operating system. The machine is louder than ever, still quite ferocious. At shutdown, it sounds like a distant Roman candle. It has a few new parts.
I get little messages every so often, telling me I need an update, that I am out of date. A house of cards needs order, balance. It takes up a fair bit of time and can soon seem to be a waste of it. All my pretty folders are at hand, cursor point, in place. Practical ritual backs each folder up in a recent version of itself against loss and gain.
A young man often sings the following words on the radio…“I’ll go to astronaut school. I’ll learn how to be an astronaut and I’ll fly through outer space.“ I don’t know who sings; there isn’t a credit list on my radio station. I listen to somebody’s choice, whose taste I admire. Someone else does the research. I’d pictured a large dark bungalow in better Philadelphia with trees close to the house, and picture windows out to a long and private shaded lawn. Some isolate won a lottery, and bought this comfortable anonymous place. He loved music, a lonely down beat beauty. And broadcast his taste as many people do, anonymous, generous, self absorbed. Sooner or later he’d figure out what to do with his life, focus on something. The music would be gone. I’d picture him sitting in a big easy boy chair well back from the picture window looking out to where a cat is crossing the lawn with its shadow dragging behind it, stealthier looking than the cat itself. He’d be lonely.
He’d know what he didn’t like for sure, and he’d know that what he loved was unlikely, impracticable, onerous. He’d see people at work – he kept the job for something to do and because there were things he wanted to see through – but there was nobody close and he sometimes tried to picture somebody who’d appreciate his secret taste for droopy ambient music but he never could quite.
My friend David’s face always occurs to me when I hear the astronaut song, the singer delivers in a facetious manner, a little spooky. I see David clearly, singing the astronaut song.
It goes “Even if one of us gets taken away by aliens in a space ship…I’ll always be with you; you’ll always be with me…. Cause I’ll go to astronaut school…” I don’t know who is singing, I don’t know the name of the song, but the singing boy, his toughness, and his affectations move me. I see David too throwing himself happily into painting. When he’d approach a drawing surface, he always looked like he was being tossed toward it. Like you’d toss a pup to its lunch when it was so excited it wouldn’t notice dinner. Just tonight I did a little research myself and found that the music is coming from China. Now I don’t know what to picture. Some tasteful claque in black turtle necks, sometimes worn under suits. A line into diplomatic pouches, a taste for vodka martinis. If these are freedom fighters, it’s damned svelte tuneage they listen to. Now that the system is stable, I can commit words and pictures to it safely. I can run my tools with the luxury of my Beijing play-list. That’s what I can do all night now the system is stable. It feels less like that moment when the tower of cards is all balanced and you want to draw someone’s attention to it without their bringing it all down by an indelicate approach. Lord knows I’ve never been one for the indelicate approach.
a chord of paint tubes in a pile, their use to be resumed.
there’s a little response lag, the palm pilot text appears a few second after I type, scrolls sluggishly behind the thoughts, the itinerant and resident voices and the fingertips.
The little black keyboard unfolded like a starling’s sturdy and intricate wing on the studio table.
Katy had a bad day, a tall cactus tree fell on her and pinned her to that ugly carpet.
She went out for a good roam tonight… the river’s high though not a danger, about a hundred yards down from the house and it was all I could hear. There’s a very little greenhouse off the apartment, a nice place to stand, private. Big spruce screening me from the street. Closest house a couple hundred yards away and old fashioned, farmish, with a little cottage full of rapper outfits on farmboy bodies beside it. Which I don’t mind. Curling rink up the road, the hockey rink a little up farther past the sort of racist sculpture of the Indian somebody’s gonna hit yet right in the middle of a three way intersection. Graveyard and a pine acreage down thataway, town up the hill thataway. Across the river the highway, where the lumber trucks run all night. Quiet, not a yuppy in sight.
I went for a walk to get forms to reapply for my passport (first submission lost) and to the credit union which could not unfortunately… and the snow was soft and the town was ugly but friendly. So I walked home and got the dog and took him out in it. He likes to go fast and if he goes slow he gets up on his hind legs to peer into dinnertime windows.
There a bunch of ravens here high in the pines on a hill above the house and they were unusually raucous, and making clearly defined and plotted sound patterns. Call and response. A long time. I’m superstitious about crows. I felt foolish but I felt that something momentous was happening.
Came home. tilted the imac in prayer, opened the window to help matters more practically and managed to download mail. Voila. Crows stopped, just like that.
Good Fortune. demanding harder work and fewer creeps. Life’s short. I get as much exercise and sleep as I can and plug myself full of vitamins. Katy knocked another one of my cactus over today. She just loves doing that. They’ve certainly thrived.
I’m digging out and reworking or finishing old pictures here, got about six and I’ll just grab another six or so in Fallowfield. After this cold snap. There are big paintings I could rush and push to completion, but I want a lot of money for them, they’re longtime work, and I’m holding reserve.
Let’s see. One letter selling viagra and an oussama bin laden wants to be my friend on facebook. Gotta be Nathan. Little does he know I have those one man taliban pictures of me.
And so it goes. I’m getting free high-speed wireless from someplace tonight and listening to Israel cutting back on heating oil to Palestine. They say the victims of abuse sometimes become abusers. I’m glib. Switch to a little east coast project. Baby Mammoth. Billy Paul Williams. The lads in the drug house across the street work out to sometimes sweet melodic, harmonic reggae. Ever since I’ve come up here it’s been classic Canadian winter with reggae coming out across the snow. Up in Maynooth you still expect a car to go by playing Hank Williams like in The Last Picture Show and if you do hear him sing it’d be my mother driving through looking at what’s changed and remains the same. Slowly. Followed by about five suv’s resounding with the thunk of fist on dashboard down that main street’s double yellow line.
I took up a painting that ended a figure sat a certain angle and searched through my files until I found one of David. I remember I used to write him letters from here and call this place Paris Texas and he played along, having seen the movie. Flicked on bbc and there was the Ry Cooder soundtrack playing and an interview with the director who has decided to leave America because it is too provincial, because the daily grace of living is gone. I guess.
I keep watching for you to come through the breach out of Gaza.
Morning. Getting the cat out of bed and putting the coffee to her, listening to the news. Cold again but the light is changing a little… Junior miss takes to the sun-room around noon for a little neighborhood watch but otherwise it’s sea hunt in the water bed twenty four seven. She’s not a lot of inspiration but between naps and frantic dog drags chasing snowplows down the road for fun I find time. I’ve gone into old pictures with oils over the original acrylic, adding figures or pushing what’s there a farther, fudging into the solution of old problems. These were paintings I started three years ago that languished fretting beyond my technical abilities or taste to comfort or cajole to sensual satisfaction and there’s a relief in seeing them come true.
Show-time. I’m kinda sick of it. He said charily, knowing the saboteur in everything. Wondering how to pay for it all.
I’ve found a little quiet tuneage and I’ve set a little painting out to work on to pass the time, a little oak panel about eight inches by eleven, I’m working from a photograph I took of the garage. I’ve reduced it to a few shades of black and white, just enough to give form. Machine thinking.
Small brushes, lipstick textured paint.
I thought it might help me to remember something, to dwell upon the place, and I managed to photograph a part of it unmodernised, what I recall of what it was. I notice I’m using a horizontal brush stroke that gives the effect of passing, just driving past some banal, vaguely spooky roadside architecture. Surrounded close by the lush and wind lifted skirting of Manitoba maple trees. This is an orderly little desk before me. There seems little room indeed for spontaneity, chance. But I got too stoned and I drank to much coffee and was too enraptured with my new purchase, my camera. I wanted to test it in the light of day.
I needed to loosen my legs. And the camera gave me license to look closer, to linger. Like a dog will allow you to walk in landscapes undeveloped, and suspicious, and offer purpose and protection to a stroll. It was Sunday at sunset. The weekend traffic had died down and the air was clear. I could hear little kids in that last frenzied play of the twilight.
I’d skipped a tablet and I was restless, things I had been dulling, minimizing, were suddenly paramount and clarified. I was edgy. I needed exercise. You could tell the Christmas season had ended, you could sense the relief in the air, the palpable relaxation of a community into itself, the relaxation of the forced and lucrative smile for all and sundry.