My Guernica

Six months into the Trump administration and my studio is filled with scathing, politically astute, paradigm shifting artistic challenges to the status quo.

Broadly impactful yet cleverly nuanced reactions poised to elicit maximum allegiance and minimal effort from my Facebook identified target audience of like minded allies.
Objects and Instagramable images that will serve as the rallying cry and civic anthem for these troubled times.
My clarion call to tear down the ineffectual and build the inclusive.
A sacrifice of the metaphoric for the blatancy of rally cry, emblem and historical bookmark.
An act of resistance!

This is not true.
This is a lie.

The studio remains swaddled in a tarp of insular reflection, recycled taxonomies and privileged security.
A constant editing of that one familiar tome.
Another toothless stanza appended to my chronic poem.
Steel, wood, fabric and paint.
Surrealism comes easily to a life secure in its own reality.
I hold my husband tight and although I feel the fear through his black skin, my white hands fall to my sides, silent in response.
Comfortable in their complacency.
Blind to the reality of his narrative, selfishly immersed in the clever nuances of mine.

This is true.
This is my life.

Paralyzed in the fear that being strong for others somehow diminishes my cloistered and curated sense of self. The comfort that comes from being able to move through the world untouched, unthreatened, and unaware while still being gifted the rewards my white skin allows.
The clean, manicured hands of one who can be selective as to when those palms become dirty, or if they’ll ever curl into fists of theatrical rage.

What color speaks to social injustice?
What forms can act as counterweight to an imbalance?
What gesture can raise fists and block truncheons in the streets?

Election Day

We went to bed on election night and held each other through tears.
The following morning I felt stomach knotting fear as Eric stepped out into Trump’s America.
Sitting at home nervously twisting my engagement ring, I realized that the chance for that marriage to become a reality now carries an expiration date.

I arrive at school and it’s like stepping into a wake.
Mourning.
All of the beautiful, undefinable, freaky, feral and fearless students are now afraid.
Is there a place for them in Trump’s America?
Faculty, staff and administration had rallied to put together free food, areas to express feelings and even engage in shared primal screams.
Our “Your creative voices and ability to express yourself is now more critical than ever!” pleas and affirmations fell on faces I haven’t seen so stunned, worried and afraid since 9/11.
The grief was thick.

And today, news footage showing protests across this divided nation has me feeling guilty as I stay at home painting our kitchen cabinets.
Are my ActUP and Queer Nation comrades astrally shaking their heads in disappointment?
Why am I not out there?!
Have I gone soft?
And then I begin to realize that this too is an act of resistance.
An act of defiance.
To build our home.
To feather our nest.
To create a loving sanctuary.
To chase our version of the American dream through this current nightmare.

Embracing the exquisite “otherness” of our relationship gives me strength.
It even gives me hope.
So I pledge this to Trump’s America-

I will be an ally and protector of all who are threatened.
I will stand up for the injustices I witness.
I will bash back.
I will walk with compassion and empathy.
I will love harder and with more visibility.
And…we will continue to have the feared and imagined sex that makes the reddest of states recoil in horror!

We must stay strong.

Joke

A man walks into a bar..
A man walks into a bar with a limp…
A man walks into a bar with a limp carnation…
A man walks into a bar with a limp carnation in his lapel…
A man walks into a bar with a limp carnation in his lapel and sighs.

Comet

I’m 48 years old, alive and fairly healthy.
A statement of mundane facts.

As a younger man in Chicago I buried lovers, nursed friends, marched in the streets and skated the razor edge of risk, desire and disease.

I acted up
Fought back
Fought AIDS

I embraced my brothers in arms and screeched with my sisters in heels as we all formed and fabricated our fabulous selves.
Time appeared short and the arcs of our lives shot high and bright.
Some burst into opulent constellations that burn forever in a recollection of the night sky. Others peacefully dimmed and left this world alone, scared and forgotten.

And here I sit, stunned that I’ve been granted a middle age, stumbling with one foot still mired in the sticky penumbra of grief, guilt and gratitude.
Surprised at the continuing promise of tomorrow yet ashamed of how my yesterdays may have been wasted.

Luck has a wicked sense of humor.

I did not die young on the barricades of activism and leave a beautiful corpse.
I’m left here grasping at the glittered comet’s tail of those who burned so hot, fierce and fast.
The countless and uncounted beautiful who scorched a path through the darkness.

Desire arrives today and suspicion chaperones that first kiss.
My body recoils at being wanted.

I may not deserve this.
The work wasn’t done.
Did I shout loud enough?

If I surrender completely who will hold the abstinent guard over my dead lovers.
Who is left that knows the steps for my chaste widow’s walk?

They shake their ethereal heads and clasp tender hands in amusement,
“Love, David, that will mean we truly won”.

September 2012

Long shadows cut through the path as an errant chill strikes my face
A dreamed speed in sharp profile
Hints of wood smoke and recollection echo in my head as I crest the next hill
Peripheral light teases with rolling hues
The slow burn of a heart pulled from slumber rises in my chest
Such light
Such heat
Let breath enter and ease my hesitant hand’s reach

 

OK Cupid…do your magic

So a certain feeling of perma- bachelorhood has driven me to the digital arms of OK Cupid. After months of dallying with a variety of “social” apps, I decided to step into an arena that claims to be less hook-up and more date-centric…..although in my community it seems that boundary is wafer thin.

Grindr, Scruff and other assorted gay apps provide an endless roulette wheel of refreshable thumbnails of men trying to look approachable, sexy, intelligent, caring, creative, considerate and carefree and only a mere .87 miles away. My Hollywood Squares iPhone screen shuffles and stacks these micro portraits like an urgent, erect game of Tetris and hours pass as I engage in a 2012 version of “Mystery Date”.

I continue to make the mistake of trying to stretch the exchanges beyond the expected monosyllabic pleads and promises of ecstatic satisfaction only to be met with silence or at worse…the dreaded “block”. This is a button you can use if someone is stalking, bothering or “creeping” and it effectively erases you and your text history, pics and prods from this digital ether.

Me- “so, how long have you been in Portland?”
Scruffster- “2 mins.”
Me- “are you enjoying it, seeing things?”
“so much to do here and the coast is beautiful!”
“did you know the exterior scenes for The Shining were shot at The Timberline Lodge?”
“micro-brews, pickling, charcuterie, bike?”
Scruffster- “yup”
Me- “I’m an artist and educator who loves cats, Pinot noir and sunsets!”
“What do you do?”
Scruffster- “swallow”

And so it goes, the odd dance of carnal lust and social exchange all prompted by a postage stamp sized photo and a few well edited, descriptive blurbs that supposedly encapsulate my next potential suitor.

The portrait pictures themselves can often be the first amalgam of red flags, caution cues and telling details. Freshly out of the shower headless torsos carefully cropped at the pubic line are usually just looking for “friends” if their “partner” agrees. Big, bearded, grinning bears posed against waterfalls and woods wouldn’t mind a good Reuben and cuddle and the borderline underage twink “bois/boyz” are just looking to “have fun and party”.

Photos shot in bathroom mirrors have the duel charm of providing both an indication of hair, face and skin product usage from the potions displayed on the sink edge and the subject’s housekeeping prowess. Speckled, smeared or older distorted mirrors often give the reflected body the unintentional look of pox, deformation or excessive acne.

Edit boys, edit.

I obsessively labor over my photo making sure to adjust the canned ham pink tone my skin defaults too and deftly applying the single chin Photoshop filter. Shooting from slightly above and turning my head just so lengthens and thins my face. My background coyly captures a piece of my art or if I’m feeling extra butch it’ll be in my studio with the tools of the trade peeking over the shoulder of my fetishizable coveralls. I lead not with my lunatic grin but one that’s both “hey, I’m a swell approachable guy” and containing a touch of come hither.
My descriptive text tries to be clever and witty without being obtuse or just plain weird and is completely honest… minus 5-10 pounds on the weight line.

Scruff has a function that shows you who has viewed your profile and when.
It reminds me of the Valentine’s Day exchanges of my elementary school days where popularity was revealed by how many valentines were stuffed into your decorated box.
(note to self, change “stuffed into your decorated box”)

Another feature shows you how far away your visitor/viewer is, from >250 feet (OMG) to 7,476 miles (” hi Australian Ethan!”) and provides and interesting local social map of my people’s movement (think Goodall tracking the great apes). Three miles away on a Sunday afternoon is the beer bust at the Eagle, 527 feet away from my art studio is Steam.

But enough of Scruff.
I’ve pressed my shirt, rebuttoned my pants and have now entered the world of OK Cupid.

And….
I was completely paralyzed when it came to writing my expanded profile descriptions.
This was to be my salvation from chronic singleness, my golden door to coupledom, a blossoming of romance, titillation and love…….and I couldn’t pull up the first biographical word to save my life!
My dear friend Christopher, a writer, stepped in and saved the day. We scrolled and strolled through a variety of existing profiles and realized it’s best to land somewhere between the abbreviated, fresh from the penitentiary curtness and the excessive therapeutic monologues that left you with a shudder of fright.

“My therapist highly recommends this as a venue to exorcise the demons acquired from the repetitive abuse I suffered as a child and as a way to empower myself into making correct, healthy choices in spite of my crippling inability to make connections, express affection or appropriately control my sexual urges. Coffee?”

Over a sweaty, palpitating, anxious meal he knocked out the base verbiage and over the next few days I added personal tweaks and eccentricities being careful to not damage the foundation. I had answered a slew of questions to focus and hopefully increase my compatibility percentage and was offering up my availability to a select slice of the masses. A few well chosen pics that both show me engaged in my performance work (might as well put it up front) and some headshots and I was ready to go live.

Submit.

Dammit!
It’s been 27 minutes and I haven’t fallen in love.
Bag was already packed for the romantic getaway and the online order form for the monogrammed “his and his” towels was bookmarked.
What went wrong……text too vanilla? Pics too clear? Too old? Too heavy?
I finally exhaled and realized that this may indeed take awhile to start up…a few days for the new ripples on the pond from the freshly dropped stone to bump up against others.

Of course there was some overlap from Scruff and the inconsistencies and contradictions were hilarious.”Hungry sub bottom needing it now” magically transformed into “shy sweetheart new to the scene looking for lasting love and spiritual connection.”
The pictures of them cuddling their hounds, weeding their gardens and swaddling fresh orphans contrasted sharply with the more turgid attributes that were dropped onto my screen, solicited or not.

And then a few bites!
A viewing, rating and text had me agreeing to meet a gentleman at a local boozery to see if there was a spark.
Now I’m not a small man (“husky” according to Sears) but I’m pretty upfront about it and have a few pics that show my entire self.
I’ve dated big guys and find them sexy.
Looking back (in hindsight) at this first Cupid connect’s photos I see that they are cropped at the chin and the head is tilted slyly back (a slimming trick I referred to earlier..) so I should not have been so surprised to see the bar go dark as my suitor’s massive frame eclipsed the light from the entry door.
Ok,…he’s big….I’m big….don’t be such an ass,… remember you’re expanding your boundaries and putting it out there…

A cocktail, some snacks, conversation and…there’s nothing.
Time stopped as I suffered through his inane chatter and recounting of past romantic failures and missteps all with a tone of affected disinterest and a “can’t really be bothered” performed cool. I caught my eye wandering to the bartender….wait, isn’t that GreezyFist69 from Scruff? His trip to the bathroom had me in fact peeking at Scruff to see if some other opportunity had “woofed” its way into my future.
I should explain.
There is a button on Scruff that allows you to show interest without even using pesky language or engaged discourse. Pushed, and it sends a primal “woof” to your interest and truly exemplifies the app’s base, rutting intentions.
So we wrapped up the evening and after refusing a rather insistent offer to throw my bike in his jeep for a ride home, I had survived my first OK Cupid outing.

There are odd courting rituals on both Scruff and OK Cupid that take a bit to learn, understand and apply.
When (if ever) do you offer up a more suggestive photo?
This one is tricky.
“Can I see more of you?” becomes a test, a riddle, a barometer of sexual ease and prudish hesitancy. A too early skin drop can end the dance but teasing and being too hesitant traps the exchange in a chaste, pen-pal status. Photos of me on the coast enjoying that landscape have been countered with an almost unrecognizable fleshy tangle of tabs, slots, portals and spires.

When do you transition off the app to your own text, phone or email?
“So hey, this is me off Scruff/OK Cupid if you’re interested-(503) 8**-19**” can be seen as a pretty serious act of commitment. Be prepared for that invitation to be denied or greedily accepted resulting in day and night text assaults and image/video premiers.
Does AT&T have a “block” feature?
Email names can also provide unintended reveals and enlightenment. When the apparently shy, freshly out young man contacts you through PDXReadyHole@gmail.com it warrants a pause and reconsideration…..or the prompt to send that one photo that makes even yourself blush…

A second OK Cupid outing had the character and quality of a really bad sitcom.
Maybe he was actually homeless?
An invitation to go see the sunset on the Broadway bridge sounded charming, eccentric and sweet. Little did I know that it was going to be a stroll soundtracked by a non-stop, rapid fire monolog/diatribe that ricocheted and pinged more than the most active Pachinko game.
Truly astounding.
If I wasn’t convinced he would be a threat to the institution, I would love to have him come to my performance class and demonstrate endurance, free association, improvisation and character development. Halfway to the bridge I realized I had no real reason to be there because the anecdotes, criticisms, wack job theories and rantings would have just as quickly been dispensed to the curb, the trees, the shadows or clouds. A final “once I gather enough cans to get my bike fixed…we should go for a ride”, had me rushing home to remove him from my queue.

So here I sit.
Multiple profiles bouncing about in the stratosphere hoping to intrigue and entice some Mr Wonderful(s).
Embracing chance, intention, luck, effort and openness as the biggest players in this game and relaxing as the fickle gusts of attraction and seduction whirl about my eager being.
Validation, love, affection and intimacy are as necessary as food and drink and as I continue to hunt and gather I will go forward with humor, lightness, joy…….and perhaps a thinner profile pic.

Road Tripping

My insect spattered windshield perfectly framed the many sights, scenes, reveals and revelations contained within the large heartland loop I just navigated.
Accidental compositions of horizon, tree, outbuilding or land formation slowly morphed and transitioned along to the incidental soundtracks supplied by my iPhone on shuffle as the miles slowly rolled up on my odometer.

Umatilla never looked more melancholy as it did with Nico providing the score.
Phillip Glass’s driving, staccato compositions punctuated the dreamlike speed my Toyota would reach under the truly big skies of Montana.

As day slipped to dusk and then tumbled into night, I watched this shifting landscape warm to the colors of sunset and then cool to the monochrome of night. The oncoming lights of a semi briefly cloaking the natural constellations to reveal those crafted on my windshield from the sacrificed bodies of so many insects. The real danger of an errant elk or deer being mesmerized by my headlights had me seeing phantom creatures on the periphery of vision, poised and ready to dart into my path.

My overly hydrated body could easily recognize the blue of a rest area sign ten miles out and these off road exits provided the chance to stretch, breath, relieve and periodically tap into the free WIFI some stops provided.

My digital leash and lifeline was apparently boundless.

The over sized analog Atlas I bought for the trip provided only a convenient, flat serving surface for my many assorted snacks because my iPhone (the digital Thelma to my Louise) guided me to each site and necessary off ramp.
“Social” apps teased and tempted with the promise of small time affairs, sordid liaisons and the enactment of so many fantasy road trip tropes but remained as fictional and false as a Bierstadt rendering of a boundless, western vista.

Although there was this one man in Rapid City, South Dakota…

My truck quickly became a living extension of myself with the cab filling with snack remnants, water jugs, tourist guides and kicked off shoes as I enjoyed the pleasure of long distance, bare foot driving.
I had converted the capped end of my truck into a rather generous camping cabin with a full sized futon bed, light dappling linen curtains and a generous area for plastic binned storage under the bed frame. If I remembered not to bolt upright at a mysterious sound or panning light, I slept as comfortably as I do at home.
Unfortunately record heat and my delicate hot house orchid constitution (ahem) had me occupying my camping chrysalis only half of the time with the other nights in charming mom and pop hotels, motels and roadside inns.

Bike rides into the Badland terrain and down the winding paths of Rapid City committed my body to the experience and knocked out the kinks and knots a prolonged driving gesture can produce. The secure, bounding, screen like parameters of my windshield disappeared as gravel crunched under wheel and the hot wind buffeted my face.

Multiple states, many miles and magnificent early morning biscuits and gravy.

I hesitate in detailing the specific things I saw because I want to believe they were intended just for me. A gleefully selfish, solo excursion into the landscape of the US.

The various sights seen and roadside attractions explored were simply the composite chapters of an adventure that brought me to deep levels of introspection, surprising bits of wonder and the satisfaction of allowing the road to slowly reveal itself to me.

There is a great reassurance in remembering how malleable, limitless and dimensional one’s own compass rose’s orienting points can and should be.

I must keep a traveler’s bag and wandering spirit always at the ready….

Birthday

I’m 48 today.
I crawl from bed a bit slower but from a sleep still filled with dreams of flight, light and the blush of desire.
Will I wear my trousers rolled?
I laugh hard and often to cut the air, clear my vision and leave sweet notes of folly hanging.

I’m 48 today.
I have a cat.
My thicker shadow mimics my dance and occasionally snags on peaks of regret.
I love my friends too little and my hesitancies too much.

I’m 48 today.
2 X 24
3 X 16
4 X 12
This means nothing.

I’m 48 today.
I’m often alone but remain buoyed by the support and love of those who offer it.
Childlike wonder and childish desire tease my judge and jury into submission.
I enjoy gin and it seems to enjoy me too.

I’m 48 today.
I have a father who is slipping away and a mother who has never been stronger.
My warehouse is full of stilled gestures, pleading expressions and dust.
I will not get a second cat.

I’m 48 today.
And tomorrow I boldly head towards 49.

 

And/Or

It has been sticking in my head and rattling my heart.

“I though you were either an artist OR a teacher not AND…”

That’s it.

Just an innocent, late night comment by an anonymous torso on a hook-up app volley but it seems to have chaffed a nerve and unsettled a comfortable complacency. Looking at my 48th birthday lumbering on the horizon may have also added a certain barb to this exchange.

Where am I?

I love teaching.
The active, engaged moments of discovery and creative resolution I’ve witnessed and have hopefully helped come to fruition are sustaining moments of reward and inspiration. I try to throw myself into that arena as passionately and fully as I do when I step through my studio door. Appended administrative duties and grafted managerial responsibilities aggressively peck at that pure enthusiasm and it’s a spindly balancing act at times to keep the clarity and focus on the students. I do love my job and feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of that amazing community.

But…
As I was rummaging through and culling my past work for my recent Deployment exhibition, I couldn’t help but notice a significant dip in production at the onset of my teaching. I know there are also many, many more contributing factors like a shift in the work (more performative events than gallery intended production), studio shifts/evictions, moves and significant time out of the country (where a lot of work was actually produced…) but the dip was quite pronounced.

Add on another decade of years to the body and a reduction may make sense.

It may.
I’m not quite convinced.

I’ve always been consistently productive during any type of previous employment. When cutting lox, painting houses, slinging drinks, dusting the Field Museum or driving an art truck in Chicago, I always found the time and more importantly the energy to rush to the studio and recapture the most vital part of self. Managing a Capitol Hill apartment complex, maintaining the Seafirst Bank art collection and again driving an art truck in Seattle had me scampering to the studio at the end of the day.

Teaching is something else.

I’ve always shared with friends how great it is because I’m never out of the dialog around art and disciplined production and the developing conceptual dance steps we all need to scribe on the institution floor to assure proper form and critical rigor…

Exhale
Recently, I’m not quite convinced.

The gap is not there between my current employment and my studio production. Depressed “at risk” Nova lox never shadowed my production in Chicago. When the truck was parked in Seattle it didn’t expect to have its emails answered on a Sunday afternoon.

Immersed and possibly either too creatively satisfied or mentally exhausted to aggressively make that break from school and run to the studio and rebuild that vital self temporarily put on hold during my gainful employment, I simply “meh”.
I’m not pushing back but rather feeling the divisions completely merging…it’s all creative practice, right? But how many hours are in the day? And how can they best be metered out?

I’m hearing my friend Christopher muttering under his breath, “First world problems…” so I feel the need to acknowledge the potential irrelevance and arrogant singularity of this post. But wait…it’s my blog!

So…
What am I getting at?

I need to begin to build tighter boundaries and barriers and strengthen some of the necessary divisions between my teaching self and my studio self, my public and my private being. I want to be 100% for my students, colleagues and friends and then be able to click that switch and arrive hungry, volatile and vulnerable at the studio. I want to set priorities through out the day, the week and the year that will help me tame and maintain the multi-headed hydra that is living and creating.

To come to a healthy state of peace with the realization that my life’s markers, rewards, moments of clarity, joy and loss are mine to be shamelessly embraced, celebrated and greedily pursued.

Confidently and with humor I’ll toss all of the balls in the air and hopefully dazzle with my juggling skills.