Lessons from a past life.

Screen Shot 2016-02-24 at 9.58.23 PMI was a druid in a past life. I wore a big cloak that covered my face, but not in a threatening, Sith lord-kinda way. Rather, it shielded me. My black hood was a protective, ceremonial garment. I held a flame, a candle or a lamp, a little shard of fire that I carried with me, leading the worshippers over a mossy green expanse of hillside, toward something, something that spoke to death without words or sound.

Or so I’ve heard.

Recently, I visited a spiritual healer for the very first time. I was waiting the pharmacist to refill my prescriptions at CVS. I had just added a new medication to my cocktail of brain-changing pills, and she told me that it was going to take longer than usual. So to kill time, I walked next door to the local crystal-and-tarot-card New Agey snake-oil-or-not purveyor. I browsed the bookshelves and snapped Instagram-ready pictures of the three-foot-tall “Amethyst Cathedral.” I picked up some incense, sage, and Palo Santo sticks. (My house smells like dogs. It’s fine, but you know, sometimes people come over and whatever.) In the back of the store, two women in long dresses sat in a pair of armchairs, facing each other and talking in that tone that I’ve always mentally called the “therapist voice.” A poster above the counter advertised “Spiritual Healing, Energy Readings, and Reiki.”

Reiki has always seemed like a pointless exercise for me. Like, touch me, or don’t, you know? So I chose the other lady. (I also asked them about their rates. The spiritual healer was willing to do a 15-minute session, and that’s how long my medication was going to take. The Reiki lady required a half-hour commitment, which just felt like a lot.)

She walked with me to a room in the back of the store, a little cupboard-like nook with two chairs, a small table, and a floor lamp that cast a soft, yellow glow onto the India-printed curtain that served as a door. (Say what you will about healers, psychics, mystics, and the like, but they know how to properly light a room.) We sat down, and she began her reading.

She talked for 15 minutes straight, so I think I got my money’s worth. And, you know, I don’t really believe everything she said. I don’t know whether Maeve, the Celtic queen whose name means “intoxicated woman” is really my spiritual guide and I doubt that there is an angelic presence around me that appears as a ball of “clear, blue light.” It would be wonderful if I had a guardian angel, but that ship has very clearly sailed. I don’t know if I will have children or not (she says I will have three, twins and a single child). I don’t know if I was anything other this current iteration of me, I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation. I don’t even know if I like the idea.

But also… I don’t not believe.

And honestly, it felt weirdly good to sit there with her. Really weirdly good. Her focus was so intense. It’s not often that we spend such an extended amount of time directing all our faculties toward another person. And she seemed to do this with her whole body, her entire self was pushed toward me in an unsettling way. She stared at the space around my body, examining the air. She sniffled occasionally, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to smell my secrets out. At one point, she reached across the table and held my hand. Hers were gentle, soft and dry, her grip felt like sinking my hand into a vat of flour, encompassing and forgiving. I know, logically, that I probably just paid someone to say nice things to me for 15 minutes, but I think that’s okay. I’ve spent money on far worse things. I left feeling satisfied, full and light, like I had just slurped down a plate of oysters. It was treat-yo’-self-behavior. A self-indulgent way to spend a portion of my workday.

But still. I don’t believe but I do hope. I hope she’s right. A world without even the possibility of magic isn’t one I want to live in.

Image: Painting by Martine Emdur 

Food for thought: Lee Price paints oral cravings.

Lee Price Eating CerealFood is something I think about all the time. As I’m eating lunch, I’m silently planning what I will have for dinner. I know many people don’t operate this way; my obsession is born from two things: a history of disordered eating and a real compulsion to savor everyday joys. I know, that’s a lot of contradiction. But I think it’s true. As much as food has given me grief in the past, it’s also something I adore. It’s the easiest, fastest way to gift yourself with a moment of happiness, a burst of pleasure. Out of all our cravings—and I know you crave more than just food because everyone does—it’s the most harmless to indulge (except earworms, but that’s a craving of another aural/oral sort).

lee price happy mealAnd yet. Food is still so fraught, and that’s especially true for women. Hyper-realistic painter Lee Price digs her heels in and confronts the complex rat-king tangle of emotions that is nourishment in her recent series of self-portraits. “The areal view evokes the feeling of an out of body experience: the subject is watching herself engage in a compulsive behavior but is unable to stop. There is an absurdity to this act of compulsion. At the same time it is an attempt to find real nourishment,” she explains. There’s something at once both comforting and disturbing about these pictures. They feel brave. And yet. To call them brave seems strange. It’s just an artist eating food in a bathtub, right? It’s just a woman chowing down, right? But like, is it ever? (No.)

lee price is bossI won’t go into a big feminist rant here because I’m sleepy and that’s not really what I do on my blog anyway. But I will say this: I love her work. I love food. I hate food. I can’t imagine a world in which I would ever let someone photograph me eating in a bathtub. But Price did that to create her uncannily seductive paintings and that’s freaking badass.

lee price bonsSee more.

Two nice things: Celeste Keller painting & Mary Oliver poem.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 10.17.29 PMMysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity,
while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

– Mary Oliver

I am tired and sick, so nothing more to say today, except this: Mary Oliver is the most comforting and uplifting poet. Besides Yeats, who I adore, she might be my favorite.

Painting by Celeste Keller, who does lovely portraits. 

Moki, teach me how to disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.22.37 PMI just spent an hour tracking down the origins of this piece. I first saw the eerily calm, untitled image floating around on Pinterest. It’s by Berlin-based artist Moki, and oh man am I glad I figured that out. Because Moki is amazing. This waterfall sleeper is from the series “How to Disappear,” a name that feels like it was plucked from somewhere inside my ribcage. Her work is amazing—soft, textured, dreamlike. She’s also chosen to remain anonymous, painting under the simple nickname Moki, keeping her real identity hidden. Disappear? She’s already invisible. Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.25.27 PM On her website, she has several other projects, like “Turquoise” and “Caves” and even a series on treehouses. All her work seems to touch on similar themes and swim in that weird place of magical realism. (I know in art it’s called surrealism… but the tone of these images seem closer to a page from a novel—they lack the flatness that so many surrealist images have. They are so layered and human. They tell stories. Damn, even that rock looks human.)  Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.54 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.41 PMScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 10.26.21 PMSo lovely. See more here.

Ian Davey’s flights of fancy.

feather-painting5-550x480Artist Ian Davey paints exquisite and delicate scenes of nature on an unusual canvas: swan feathers. Naturally, much of his work depicts birds, alongside other kinds of flora and fauna. Naturally, I’m impressed.

I actually just wrote “I’m obsessed,” but that’s not true, is it? No, I’m impressed and awed and a little in love with the work others do, but looking at Davey’s impossibly detailed, impossibly delicate pieces, I’m reminded of what true, genuine, nearly obsessive passion looks like. He must love what he does. There must be something sweet and quiet about creating each piece. It’s probably like how I feel when I leave the room and it’s just my characters playing on a page (not me anymore, not a writer working, toiling away with a lock of hair in my mouth and a furrow growing between my eyes as I stare, stare at the words). It must feel something like that.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to artists who do this kind of dexterous, focused work. Like Jenine Shereos or John Stortz. It’s easier to spot with visual artists, but there are writers who work the same way. Some writers paint with huge brushes and gesture wildly. Their characters tend to barrel into my mind, knocking down defenses and inserting their speech patterns on top of my own. But then there are writers who sneak up on you. It might take longer to swallow those first chapters, but once I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole, I tend to stay there for a long, long time.

Carly Waito has me craving rocks.

Screen shot 2013-06-23 at 11.14.53 PM
Some kids, my teacher friends have told me, feel the need to put everything in their mouths. “I don’t get it! Why would you eat that?” they say, wondering about glue, crayons, chalk, and other, more sinister science-experiment materials. I act like I’m confused, too, but I get it. I was one of those kids, who needed to lick objects, to smell and taste each thing. I was a kid who ate chalk and dirt and took rocks from the beach, smoothed by the sea and flavored with salt, and hid them in my mouth like candies.

Is this gross? Maybe, but I remember a fair number of paste-eating kids from my childhood. I think most of us grew out of it, but for whatever reason, I still want to lick these paintings by Carly Waito.

Screen shot 2013-06-23 at 11.14.40 PM

Yes, they are paintings! I know, they look just like photographs. It takes some serious skill to render geodes and rocks in such exquisite detail. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to hyper-realistic painters. My dad is a big fan of James Aponovich, and so several years ago, he bought me a poster. It’s a still life, and it’s very realistic, two things I don’t always go for, and yet somehow it has survived my schizophrenic apartment hopping and remained on my walls. More and more, I find myself appreciating artists who give their work that weird lickable, slick quality. Even as they approach perfection, even as they verge into photographic likeness, there is always a certain element that keeps it from being quite perfect. Is that cruel to say? I hope Waito isn’t striving for perfection. I rather like what she’s doing now.

Honestly, I love Naomi Okubo.

LovelyHonesty is a tricky thing. I think everyone, in some way or another, struggles with the truth. Some people lie, both to themselves and others, acting as through the truth is a disease they can avoid with enough mental hygiene. I tend to flow in the opposite direction; I can be guilty of sharing too much, giving too many pieces of myself. You’re probably thinking maybe that’s why I have a blog. That might be true.

Naomi Okubo not only creates beautiful things, but she also paints with honesty. The contemporary Japanese artist creates images that remind me so much of the scroll painting tradition (and since I’m terribly, incurably American, they also remind me of the “Oriental” inspired works of Mary Cassatt). But while her images are undeniably gorgeous, I’m almost more interested in her artist’s statement. And that never happens. lovely2She writes: Continue reading