Thursday, April 28, 2011
(Not Your Usual Saint)..All artwork in this post is by Stelios Faitakis.
Stelios Faitakis’ works show influences of Byzantine iconography, Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, Gustav Klimt’s swirling golden designs, and the Mexican muralists of Diego Rivera’s time: The working class, muscular and giant in their presence, take on the ominous power of grey factories, military planes, masked policemen, and many-headed (human-headed!) hydras against a shimmering golden backdrop. They are often haloed. The world is stacked, layer upon layer, and there are wood-block waves and flames and ghostly heads. Everything swirls together to create a painting or a mural that is completely “Faitakis.”
Above, on the ground we have destruction: a tsunami (notice the bodies and planks in the water), a monster led by human minds with a forking, satellite-tail, and a dark, polluting factory. There is no dry land; there is no safe footing. But there is a ladder; with some struggle, one can pull oneself out and up and into the soft gold “heavens.” The ugly disaster of physical life is contrasted with the golden eternity of a higher spiritual work.
Faitakis feels that art is part of human growth, and is a method of communication that is best when understood by all viewers. He longs to cover the “ugly” walls of Athens with public works, narratives of the average man overcoming his own monstrosity--and he has begun this daunting task already.
Trees as martyrs?
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Having dropped all prescribed meds, now, my thinking is crystal-clear. The sense of emergency is back, eating my food, ruining perfectly healthy conversations.
But I’m not losing sight.
The only thing I might regret, I’m thinking, is having flushed all my Adderall. This is while I’m scrubbing someone’s day-old sprayed diarrhea off the toilet bowl of my local chain bookstore in my best skirt. That was not the extended release formula, that eases you into a calm wakefulness until bedtime. That was old-style flavor, the pill that makes you giddy and grits your teeth, makes you ok to put off things you really wanted to do because you know you can do them later, you’re never going to sleep again. At least, initially.
I’m wondering why it is the closing crew thought this would be easier to take care of in the morning. I’m wondering if the lady that missed the bull’s eye, was she thinking maybe she’d catch cooties from the public toilet if she leaned down to wipe up her own shit? But really, mainly what I’m thinking is, I’ve got to get out of here.
Looking down into the toilet, the other thing it’s reminding me of, other than my job in general, is those pills. In the headiness of my grand statement about The Way I’m Going to Live My Life, I failed to consider what I could make on the streets with them.
As opposed to, say, $7 an hour.
I’m thinking about going back to that doctor, paying for the office visit as, say, an investment.
And seeing as I don’t have any health insurance to stop me, I’m thinking how many doctors could I visit before it stops being profitable.
I’m thinking all this and the manager pokes her head in, and with her ex-grade-school teacher pretend-friendly voice, she singsongs: “How clean are you trying to get it in there? You’re almost missing the morning meeting!”
Not the one about the frequent-buyer discount cards?
My best skirt, it’s got a wet spot on it now that’s seeping through to my skin. I’m not sure where it came from.
“You haven’t even wiped down the sink area yet,” she’s saying, and I can hear her breath coming out in little grunts as she stoops to pick up stray paper towels.
I’m still weighing the meeting versus the crusty diarrhea when I remember all the Paxil and Prozac and Celexa piled up in my cabinets.
These doctors, they’re like little prostitutes. That first impression, it’s all they need. They just match it up to whatever the sales rep told them, and bam, the fifteen minute session’s over and your pocket’s empty. It’s all about that first meeting, because after that, you’re too numb to complain. Some of these drugs, they’ll tell you in the research, they might even increase the instance of suicide. All of a sudden, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal after all, pulling that trigger.
People get so lost in life. Like all of us here at the bookstore. In school or suddenly finished with school, we’ve discovered we like to read and we’ve discovered we need an income, and here’s this no-brainer: work in a bookstore. It’s low-key, buys you a little time to start your own novel or work on your paintings, or figure out how you’re going to find a real wage but without selling your soul, and on top of everything, you can hang around with people who like books, you can read books, you can discuss books with customers, recommend your favorites, Your Life and Books. So you start your job and you find out it’s like shelving at WalMart, it’s like dusting at WalMart, it’s like cleaning the toilets at WalMart. Your boss used to be the boss at WalMart. No one wants you chatting on the clock when you could be looking busy, it needs to be clear to everyone who’s a customer and who’s a friend of yours that came in to say hello, and there is certainly not ever a time when you might be leaned up against the help-desk waiting to help someone, and reading a book.
Lit. class, it leads you to think certain things about life. The workplace quickly puts an end to all that. So it’s no real task to understand that plenty of people, not just those of us who grew up in the foster system, are cramming themselves into a ball on that couch with a broken facial expression and a broken method of self-expression, waiting for someone to explain to them why they failed The Test, after studying so hard. And then they’re handed some pills, pills which clear up nothing.
After all the different doctors, all with the same solution-style for any problem, I’ve got a good half a year’s supply of apathy and cobwebs for your head in my cabinet.
My boss, she’s making huffy, stamping noises while she squeaks cleaner liquid around the mirror. God forbid these people be forced to behold their beauty through a few smudges, it’d be almost like zits.
My boss, she doesn’t just toss the used paper towels into the trash can, she smacks the little flippy lid around so I can hear it rock and know she’s angry.
I’m thinking, you probably can’t get much for Celexa and Prozac and Paxil on the streets these days, seeing as the companies are so eager to pass them out. But that’s not to say they don’t have their uses.
I’ve taken my little name tag off now, and I’m scraping at a stubborn spot, and she says, “Whenever you’re done doing whatever it is you’re doing, you can come to the meeting.”
I continue scraping at the shit stain. What do these people eat? I don’t hear any slammy noises, so my guess is she’s waiting for me right there, and I don’t have to peek around the corner to know she’s got her arms folded across her chest and a squeezed-up smile on her face like your teacher’s when you’re fucking up a presentation in front of Important People.
The problem with my boss is, she could really use some Prozac. At this stage, with her anxiety levels, she might need a cocktail of some sort, two nice, calming, anti-unhappy pills. Maybe three.
She’s just so unhappy.
Finally, I just start unraveling the toilet paper. Fuck this place. I stuff as much as I can into the toilet and lift my foot up to flush. As I walk out of the stall, I don’t wash my hands. I grab hers, instead, and open the door. “Let’s get to that meeting,” I say.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Part One is HERE.
When you start your life out like I did, waiting for mom and dad to come home until the police come and it’s already been dark outside long enough for you to pee on yourself twice wrapped up inside the curtains holding your breath in case someone else is in the house with you, when you start out there, waiting, peeing again as strange men finally break open the front door and start flipping on all the lights, calling your name even though you’ve never heard their voices before, well, the relationships you’re going to build after that are heavily affected.
By the time your second mommy doesn’t come home, well, you’re sort of building a pattern, and then you might say all your relationships are the same. They’re all with DFACS psychologists and psychiatrists. Social workers. Teachers who go the extra mile. They all want to talk to you about what happened, meaning they want to be your friend. You bump around to different schools and different homes and different shrinks and you begin to think that that’s what a friend is, the guy who sits down with you and says, “Let’s start from the beginning.”
Because the people who don’t talk to you like that, regular everyday people, well, you can’t help but notice that if they look at you at all, it’s to check their reflection out in your glasses.
And then came Johnny. Johnny looked at my purple and black eye folding over on itself and just never asked “What happened?”
Because, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it?
I mean, they have the folder right there in front of them, right?
And the prescription pad’s already out, they already know what they’re going to prescribe you, but they, like everyone else, they think that that’s the question that sets them apart from the crowd, the one that shows they care:
“Do you want to talk about what happened?”
And Johnny, he wasn’t checking his nose in my glasses, either. He looked straight at me, but I never had to formulate any stupid goddamned sentences to express my feelings about the burglars who turned out to be cops who kidnapped me and never let me see my mom and dad again.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
“Into the Woods,” by Alexander Korzer-Robinson
“As we remember the books from our own past, certain fragments remain with us while others fade away over time – phrases and passages, mental images we created, the way the stories made us feel and the thoughts they inspired. In our memory we create a new narrative out of those fragments, sometimes moving far away from the original content. This is, in fact, the same way we remember our life – an ever changing narrative formed out of fragments. This mostly subconscious process of value judgments and coincidence is what interests me as an artist and as a psychologist.”
Although as he cuts he leaves the images in the place they would have been found in the book, he creates a new relationship between those images by directly linking them, removing the many pages of text and images in-between, by putting a spotlight on them, by bringing them out of the author’s context and into the sculptor’s, and then into the viewer’s. The images, stripped of the text and the order of relation that the original author had given them (unless you consider the Original Author to have been the Creator of the Universe), are given a new relational order by the sculptor that means something to him but will easily stir completely different associations from any viewer, based on books they have read—because of the format--, as well as on their own experiences.
I am, of course, a sucker for old castles that instantly take my mind to tales of haunted families and grimly obsessed, fearfully driven scientists...
And the above image made me think of the discovery of the New World, right off, even though the man pointing forward and coming out of the dense foliage is, upon closer scrutiny, dressed like an old Roman. The “old ways” are small, beneath him; he heads fearlessly over them, a giant...
“Suspended Lion,” by Alexander Korzer-Robinson
There are so many different perspectives in the above image: the giant lion, heading downwards, the buildings facing one way, the book facing another, and then the topographical view, the map, offering yet another—this one brought me back to all the thoughts of physics and the many, many worlds all occupying the same space at the same time...the idea that we pick and choose what we see, what we even notice, what we *live*...
And this one? What does it make you think of?
Friday, April 8, 2011
You’d think all kinds of dates would stick in your memory. Like the day your parents died, for instance. But I didn’t know how to read a calendar then, and besides, it took me a while to get just what, exactly, was going on.
After that, every day’s so fucked up, just none of them stand out.
Except January 8. January 8, Johnny told me he’d been accepted to hotshot school for math geniuses. Johnny could kill some math. He never bothered to study, but you could see it. Everything he did was perfect, like it would fit in an equation.
Like one time, because I was failing math, Johnny whipped around my book and stared at it for a few seconds, and he started pulling it all out of a hat, like a rabbit. Johnny talked, and I could see math, like colored handkerchiefs, all knotted together. I asked him where he learned all that and he said it was just all up there in his head. He said, “It’s up there in yours, too, you just ignore it.”
Anyway, I remember it was January 8 he told me he was leaving, because January 7 was the day he almost kissed me. His thumb was underneath my chin and my heart let go of all my blood at once. Tingling it all out to the edge of my skin and my knees disappeared, but it had to happen, right? I mean, after all this time?
But it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, and the next day, he was so excited, he spun me in the air. He said I brought him good luck.
This hotshot school, it was on the wrong side of the country. I didn’t feel like good luck.
Johnny, then he started acting like he was my big brother. He got this look on his face and he said, “You’ve got to get serious.” He said, “The only way out of this place is flying.” He said, “You’ve gotta stop fucking around.”
We were in the mall, and everybody else’s life was still going on around us. Their smiling jaws were still flapping as if their stupid little town wasn’t in the process of losing its only asset.
He put his finger under my chin again, but all he did was say, “Don’t disappoint me.”
On an earlier January 7th, the one that came the year I caught up with my age group in reading but not in math— not, my teacher pointed out, because I didn’t understand, but because I was sloppy--, my first foster mother explained to me that she was going to adopt me. “This means,” she said, “that daddy and I will be your daddy and mommy forever.”
This would mean something to me later, but at the moment, I just tried to make my expressions match hers, so she’d know I was listening.
That January 8th, my new forever mommy didn’t come home and daddy wouldn’t take his face out of his hands, and as I was watching him, a trickle of pee ran down my leg and then the policemen took me back to the station with them.
You might think all these coincidences are impossible, but you’d be wrong. All the world’s religions developed from the desire to please whatever force out there was capable of such symmetry, such perfectly ordered chaos, such endless possibilities in devastation.
Snowflakes, snowdrifts, avalanches. The perfectly patterned fur of a tiger. A volcano.
Our fear of the number 13 stems from our re-creation as a patriarchal society. 13 was good luck for the pagan goddesses. For witches. But good luck for them meant bad luck to those that came after. The number represented an order of things beneficial to the wrong party.
Seven was how many fingers I held up when I met my first new mommy. Seven was the day on the calendar she pointed to when she said, “By this time next month, it’ll be official.”
Even now, when I go to the grocery store, which isn’t often, I buy the seventh box or bag or can of whatever item on the shelf. If I ride the bus, I only sit if the seventh seat is open, that’s the first one on the driver’s side after the three vertical seats. For a long time, if I had to say something, I said it seven times, and I dug in my heels for most of the way through a second year of 7th grade, making no progress, a defense which finally caught the attention of DFACS employees who, upon investigating, found me needing three fingers and an elbow re-broken and set straight, freeing me at last from that cursed house.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Tango in a Box, Part 7/8
So the next time I go to see Johnny in prison, Sir’s not there, but he asks, first thing, did I find out about the anatomy classes.
I tell him it takes a long goddamned time to get to anatomy class.
That’s followed by this wretched silence, and I’m racking my brain to see if I have any memories of swearing at him like that, but I don’t find any.
I cram my hands between my knees and watch them, all twisted up. It’s still quiet, I mean, between us, so I start smudging my right toe with my left toe.
Johnny says, “Sit up for chrissakes.”
My right hand is so far under my legs, it’s pulling my right shoulder across in front of me. I yank both hands up and they go straight to tuck my hair behind my ears and my ass slides down the seat until I’m almost like him.
The problem is, Sir wants organs. Not for him, for other people, like when you donate your organs. Only he’s not planning to donate.
You can see that Sir missed out on some basic biology courses. What’s going on in Johnny’s head, I don’t know.
The bodies you cut up in anatomy, well, they’ve been dead a while.
So Johnny explains to me, from his usual slouch, feet planted about hip-width apart, his ass at the edge of the seat closest to me, his hands resting on his thighs, he says, “Yeah, but someone’s gotta know how to take the organs out.”
Am I awake? My mouth wants to say something awful, you can tell by the way it flaps, by the way my brain has to perform an emergency shutdown to prevent word formation.
Regret, hope, they’re still a few steps ahead here.
And I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, but what I hear come out of my mouth in the end is, “There’s an easier way.”
I’m thinking of foster mommy number three and her perfectly manicured nails and high cheekbones. Before I met her, her hairdresser had burnt the skin off the right side of her face, and the skin transplant that followed was the opening of a new vision of perfection. The drug companies, they’re greedy for meninges, those little membranes around the brain and spinal cord, just right for the medications used in those skin transplants. Next came the eye tucks, courtesy of the muscle membranes of some butchered corpse’s thighs.
Vital organs are so picky about when they’re taken from the body. A chunk of thigh will wait on you for a good bit of time before refusing to help out. The image of me, slicing some corpse’s thigh and digging out the muscles, is making me forget where I am.
Of course, I have my own plan for all this, and it’s got nothing to do with anatomy. And, like I said, nothing to do with lawyers. Physics, that’s where we’re going to find our solution.
Think of everything being made up of little atoms. In humans, the atoms that make us up keep changing out. Every seven years, they're completely changed out, you're not just replacing parts, you've got a whole new car. The atoms that are in me now could later be part of you, or part of the table we’re sitting at.
Really, if you follow the panpsychic implications of all this--and that's physics panpsychic, nothing to do with Madame Belaire--, you're in a constant dynamic with all the conscious particles around you, particles residing in both animate and inanimate objects.
Technically, Johnny should be able to convince the walls to just let him pass.
I just haven't figured out the logistics yet.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Johnny brings him out for the first time not too long after my 34D bra played witness to his lawyer’s ego. There’s not actually a visitor for Sir, but, like I said, he’s been there a long time, so he gets to come out anyway.
When he talks, he talks to the empty seat in front of him, which is next to me. I spend most of the visit trying to remember to inhale without forgetting to keep track of my bladder. If I didn’t love Johnny, if I hadn’t spent the last several years hating myself for losing him, I would hate him right now. I think he must be punishing me. But he doesn’t even mention the lawyer.
Sir, what he’s interested in is my education. He’s looking at the chair next to me, he’s fascinated by anatomy. I tell him I haven’t gotten there yet.
Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, well, they take a while.
He asks me when I’ll be getting to anatomy. I stare at my fingernails carefully. I try to remember, I had a doctor once who told me, the way to stay in the room when your head really, really is fighting to get out, is to focus really, really hard on part of the other person’s body. I can’t look at him, not even at his fingernails, so I’m trying to substitute, here. Little spikes of hard skin push away from all my nails. Underneath the nails is clean and I wonder if it’s because I ate everything.
“I’m not in med-school yet,” I say, and I’m carefully tasting each word, sure I’m saying it out loud, even though the whole room’s taken on a kind of distant, hollow feeling. “In biology,” I say, “the closest thing is cutting open a frog.”
Sir, he says everyone should study their body carefully, know it well. He says I have a privileged position, getting to see the insides of one up close, to touch them.
“Actually,” I say, “I’m not in that position. I even have a little trouble with it. For instance, I vomited when we cut open the frog. In front of everyone.”
Sir, he wants to know when the next semester starts, the earliest I could be taking this anatomy class, overcoming my fears.
Johnny, he hasn’t said anything. He’s leaned back in his seat with his legs hip-width apart, he’s definitely watching me. I'm thinking I must be dreaming, because nothing is making any sense.
The story on Sir is, his big brother was baby-sitting him and some business complications came to the door. You might think that little Willie, finding himself in the midst of a good-sized crew of agitated cocaine addicts, would be nervous. Maybe fearful. Looking around, he might be trying to find a place to hide, wait things out.
But someone’s girlfriend, powder flaking from her nose, came to the front and pointed a curved red nail in his brother’s face, her lips bunching together every time her mouth closed and her neck bobbing back and forth, tossing little blonde curls around. Little Willie snaked his hand into his brother’s pocket and tugged. The girl’s knee sprayed little chunks of white and red, and her mouth fished open.
You might have guessed by now, Willie’s older brother, he’s not the most together, most organized criminal out there.
The story on Sir is, he had served his time plus six months when he committed his second crime, which was beating his prison counselor’s head into the desk until he was unconscious.
Sir says, “You’ll be fine.”
My mouth opens and I say “In Shah Allah.”
Now Sir looks at me. “What did you say?” he says.
But I’m looking at Johnny, now, and I’m saying, “So I guess you gave up on that math stuff, then.”
And Sir says again, “What did you say?”
And then Johnny says, “Yeah, I guess so.”
Monday, April 4, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
The third time I met Johnny, I was still on my second set of foster parents, and I thought he must have spent the evening with them while I wasn’t looking. He didn’t say anything about my bruises, so I figured I shouldn’t say anything about his and instead I said, “There’s a circus in the theater parking lot.” And: “I’ve never been to the circus.”
He grinned and we were off, and I felt this bubble swelling in me, and when the man did a double flip off the back of his horse and landed perfectly, I was catapulted from my seat, I squeaked.
We cut out of the tent through the side and wandered around and I tried to make my breath fit back in my chest but I couldn’t focus, there were all these lights and sounds and I didn’t want to shut them off.
Behind this one tent, we suddenly found ourselves part of a gaggle of performers. A tall Russian man in tights was walking beside me and I was following a clown whose lady’s teased up bangs reached the top of his thighs. I looked up at Johnny, but he was looking straight ahead like nothing was happening, even as the woman practiced little leaping turns from one side of him to the other, her tutu sparkling pink and silver in the lights. We moved like that, all of us, across the lot until suddenly, it was too much for me, I had to stop, doubled over, leaning on my knees.
And then he helped me up a little hill outside the gates and we just sat and watched from a distance until the lights blinked out for the night.