When I was visiting my mom last month, we found a “calling card file” that belonged to my dad. It was a little more than half-way full of business cards my dad had collected in the last several years before his death. I took it for C, who seems to collect business cards effortlessly only to throw them all out as soon as the stack threatens to become unwieldy. At home I asked C whether he had use for such a thing, and when he said he did, I said, “Well, I’ll take the cards out before I give it to you.”
This evening, as I finally took the cards out, I travelled back in time. I went back to when my dad was still alive to collect business cards and shake hands. I started at the end. The last couple rows were a hodgepodge of occupations, most likely signifying friends or clients he wanted to keep in touch with. The cards from recovery centers that I found when I flipped the now-empty sheet forward gave me a shock that felt electric. I felt my jaw clench as I wriggled them free. Then there were specialists, which gave way to centers that I assume the doctors before them had recommended. And I remembered the way he looked in reverse from the last time I saw him to the first time I saw him after he’d been diagnosed. I remembered my different hairstyles, and how they felt against my face.
The business cards went back further still, until I recognized the names as neighbors, friends, and people who came to his memorial. I had pried them out, but they all left the impression of being there.
Day 4 of the tattoo was pure discomfort. The Aquaphor felt heavy and made my clothes stick to my back. Everything about the way I carried myself changed in my attempts to keep from aggravating my skin. Not only was the tattoo itself an open wound, but the area around it continued to become inflamed. I had done my best to follow the aftercare instructions faithfully, only to feel as if my best was short of good enough. The tattoo felt less like ink laid into skin, and more like razors placed lovingly in a pattern and left protruding. The pain itself was negligible, but the question of how to support my healing tormented me. I had stayed the course because I had not known what to expect, even though C had been researching on my behalf and had concluded that I ought to switch to lotion at least part-time. Once again, I was choosing to follow solid yet general advice rather than shift to meet the demands of my corporeal reality. I defaulted to that old reliance on purposeful ignorance of my inconvenient needs.
I think that our bodies carry moral/ethical regulating systems, as well as the physical ones that keep us alive. In fact, I believe that the system that tells us of physical danger (e.g., Thats’s too hot! or Don’t approach that wary-looking dog!) is the same system that tells us of moral danger in the form of feelings of unease. In this way, the body and the soul are one and the same, despite our best efforts to separate them. Obviously this belief is nothing new, especially in so-named “Eastern” cultures, as well as a smattering of indigenous cultures we of the “West” continue to attempt to eradicate through physical/cultural evisceration. Even so, my individual acceptance–my slow unlearning of this false bifurcation–is new. I falter, and each time I do, it feels sysiphean. But it’s not. It’s progress, in all its messy, demanding glory, and I am honored to be so wrapped up in it.
(Impressions on skin.)
~End of (P)art 4~
Day 3 of this experience was my last day of rest before the next work week began. To keep from covering up my healing back, I’d spent most of the weekend with a light chill. The warmth of the hot water collecting in the tub was as delicious as it was fleeting.
The skin around the tattoo was intensely itchy and sensitive. However, I’ve been getting mild stress-induced rashes for the past decade and a half, so it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. Once again, I was in awe of what my body could withstand. Moreover, a visceral connection was beginning to form between knowing that my body would be repairing itself and understanding what that work feels like. It was confirmation that all these years, I had been underselling my strength, my resiliency, my worth.
Of course, propaganda has always had its place in art and society. Conditions most conducive to the creation of art require a donor, and by their nature, donors require a level of control. The art in a society reflects the values of the wealthy by its mere existence–that it was plucked from the studio or streets and placed in a position of prominence–is the most base level of control. In more pervasive ways, art that is given high visibility is also assigned importance by the viewers and recreated until one can’t even go into Target to buy a new toilet brush without seeing a printed canvas emblazoned with Audrey Hepburn’s face and done up in bright Pop Art colors. To one extent, this is just life. Art is good for the spirit. Beauty is an important aspect of life. To another extent, this homogenization of art and culture is dangerous. Homogenization dulls the senses and makes an enemy of the unusual. Without the unusual, tipping points aren’t reached. Challenges to movements and thought patterns become interpersonal squabbles over who can get the most at any given time. But even if it seems like it, art doesn’t die. It just goes underground so it can begin to repair.
(Artist & Muse)
~End of (P)art 3~
(all plasma & ink & in need of a gentle yet thorough wash)
The first full day of my first tattoo had me thinking about intimacy and the boundaries between public and private. Walking out of the parlor the night before, I felt as if I had cartoon dots drifting above my head and bursting–as if the excitement and wooziness I was feeling was visible.
After a night’s rest, my strength had returned and I felt ready to confront the realities of aftercare. However, sitting in the bathtub, my own vulnerability began to overwhelm me.
The act of labeling cannot be separated from the tattoo. In this instance, the piece reflects something of a strategic un/covering. Sure, I wanted to make a statement, but here was a hidden dimension. Sitting in the tub and feeling the rush of water envelop me, I recalled Mary Cassatt. It was only by way of further extension, by acknowledging that my discomfort was unnecessary and controlling, that I was able to accept the care being offered. At that moment, the idea for this series crystalized.
~End (P)art 2~
Looking at the life I have chosen, it has become clear that the price of the stability I’ve sought is the ever-looming threat of the eradication of art in my day-to-day. This is not new–art is devalued, misunderstood, and perverted by a society that seeks compliance above all else.
The paltry act of recognition I have to offer–as both a lifeline to myself and as a hopeful missive aimed towards the contribution to a soothing salve for those who feel the abject unease of a society so rife with inequity–is to cram as much art as I can into the edges and breaks of my current existence. It is my hope to constantly overflow with art.
This undeniable truth, put most succinctly by Keith Haring, is what I offer you in this unfolding series:
“Art is for everybody.”
On August 5, 2016, I walked into Pierced Hearts Tattoo Parlor in Seattle, WA for a much anticipated appointment to get my first ever tattoo with CharlieGrrl.
Being incredibly anxious, I’d scoured the internet and pumped Tiana at VintyHippage for advice and expectations. I was worried that unable to take the pain, I’d betray myself as a soft, bourgeois office worker (all words that can be used to accurately describe me, btw) to no only one, but several artists I respect. Like usual, my worry was unnecessary, but what can you do when you know it’s just your mind trying to tell you that it cares?
~End of (P)art 1~
I’ve been working a lot on myself lately, trying to trace and tackle the roots of my anxiety and prune the log-like branches of my oversized guilt. So, here’s me, loving my limitations through reaching out, speaking truth, and making something (even if it’s just words on a screen).
The Washington state Democratic caucus is this morning, and as much as I’d prefer a Party Candidate Sanders, I’m not going. Even if I wasn’t having the worst menstrual symptoms I’ve had in years, things out there are getting heated in a way that make my already lukewarm investment in electoral politics turn into a cold, wet anxiety. The thought of putting on a public face, getting myself downtown, and standing in a crowd fully connects the circuitry that switches on the heat-lamp-like ray of a tension headache that spreads from my jaw to temple as it slowly warms.
I have always had a difficult time connecting to society. A lack of early boundaries bloomed into an incomprehension of them. I too easily loose my sense of self in large crowds, which have almost always made me feel infinitely alone. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand what other people get out of crowds, but it’s not from a lack of trying. My best guess is that other people either don’t loose their sense of self, or they do but then enjoy being filled by the group that surrounds them. If you have any insights, I’d appreciate if you would take the time to share them.
My experience of feminism has basically been my experience of Christianity–I am in complete agreement with what I identify as the core values, but cannot seem to get along with other followers. As feminism imagines, I want to believe in a world in which all women lift up other women, but my own experience with most white women (not unlike my experience with many Christians) has been that the gulf separating our realities is too vast for me to bridge alone.
I’m thinking back to that time I befriended a white, punk rock chick. In the short time I knew her, I sat with her while she cried about two difference breakups. In public. I considered her a friend until she told me the story about how “all the Asians stole all the boys” when her high school merged with another nearby school. Even if I could have manifested the words out of my shock to respond to such problematic nonsense, it was not on me to tell her how racist she was being. It’s not my responsibility to kindly educate those around me on the way that tropes of the dragon lady/lotus blossom have real world ramifications for the health and well-being of young women. Nor is it my job to explain how assigning allure and perceived popularity through no fault of the objectified person’s own but rather by the fact that she simply exists in the same world as cultural representations of hypersexualization linked with subservience help maintain and recreate an environment of exploitative, cultural tourism.
Or, I could recall the time the female head of the Honors Department called on me in a seminar and asked me alone (the only female student of color) if I had read the article I chose to report on. And how when I called her out on it in her office, she dismissed me by saying that a male student in her earlier seminar hadn’t done his reading. When I pressed the issue, she told me she was sorry if that’s the way I’d taken it and then proceeded to tell me how I was not using the seminar adequately.
And of course, most recently, the white, self-identified liberal co-worker who asked me if I felt powerless after she barraged me with a series of defensive and aggressive statements that she tried to disguise as a conversation on politics. As if that was within her right. As if she already knew me.
There are more stories, because there are always more stories. My identity is multi-faceted in a way that seems to make it easy for me to lift up other women, but makes it difficult to relate to and trust the other self-identified feminists I meet. All of the women mentioned above either identified as feminist or made their careers on the back of the Women’s Rights Movement. I yearn to be more involved in the movement that has meant so much to me, but find it difficult to work up the energy to feed something I have to constantly assert a space in which is supposed to be empowering.
So, take this for what it is: me, putting out a call for shared experiences, for people who are interested in dialogue, for suggestions on how to make the vision of all women lifting up all women happen.