“We have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world, and we have to do it all the time.”
– angela davis
Primarily made with Sharpies, Notes to Self is a body of text-based abstract art. This work was a way for me to take apart the meaning of language using the most basic materials, and examine words and phrases that have impacted me in primarily negative ways, and ultimately, to let their power dissolve. The fallibility of language is the seed from which this series grew over the course of two years following an incredibly difficult separation; how meaning shifts and softens over time, how experience and evolving perspective shape what we hear and how we internalize information, and how we act on that information.
The choice to draw the word “cunt” (the first drawing below) was an attempt to examine a heavy dose of internalized anger and resentment associated with the past. It was never a word I used as an insult, but at times it was a word that certainly embodied my feelings, and those were not enjoyable feelings to have. So I spent time chewing on those feelings, the circumstances surrounding them, and the word itself, via the drawing. cunt (and the entire body of work) is self-reflective and in hindsight even celebratory: art making as a therapeutic process and time invested in the making of an object of art as essential for my own well-being. Thought over time poured out on paper.
The work is also concerned with both the power of beauty to obscure truth and the power with which people imbue language. The word “cunt” is offensive to many, especially here in the states, yet it’s used elsewhere nonchalantly. Why do we allow it to be so powerful, and why do we fear language, inert symbols that only we give meaning to? In an intelligent society, people should feel free to avail themselves of the entire language, not ignorantly, but with understanding and appreciation for context, for history. By allowing language to be institutionally altered for political correctness, we give up our freedom to evaluate and debate.
Each intertwining curve of the design is built from the four letters, c, u, n, and t; in a floral script, the letters were initially nested inside each other, then reflected, rotated, and multiplied, obscuring the ugliness of the word itself while also creating something beautiful, harmonious, and balanced. This sense of harmony also reflects an important arrival point for me through the completion of the work, opening my eyes to necessary and significant change in both my thinking and my daily life.
Regardless of what comes before, or of what comes after, we might eventually find ourselves adrift on a sweet wave of calm. In the bitumen there may be fossilized bones and grist, snapshots of a life past, from which the oil of anger is released and becomes nothing more than a distortion in the water, resolved under the weight of the moment.
And there will be other moments when you need to run your fingers through that silt and feel its texture to remember coarse frictions and smooth skins, all the detritus and particulate matter of narrative.
There were things I told myself I would accomplish and stories I told myself to reconcile those accomplishments. Each story had a hole in it, though, and the number of things that fell through those holes over the years was astonishing. Losing so much made it easier to roll with the punches, I suppose.
It’s almost as if the only options are the two that you might see fit to provide in any given moment, which backs me into a corner because rarely are there only two options, and even more rarely are the two presented accurate. Let’s not pretend we have answers. Let’s imagine our world will end and seek out equanimity in the face of collapse. Let us know that we are not in fact bound to each other, that we are floating entities in space, tethered only when captured, but otherwise jellyfish undulating through the consciousness of what we recognize as our lives, tentacles sometimes connecting with others, brushing a thigh, caressing a cheek, squeezing a familiar form but always adrift; sometimes shocking with poison potency.
Over time comes the calm that replaces rage, the acceptance that keeps hands from trembling and eyes from narrowing to red high beams. We make our own beds and we lie in them, honestly or not, the sheets we’ve sown there to either leave indentations on our skins or cover us with comfort.
We start with just one line, one tether, one withheld piece of ourselves, one lie.
After time the cage becomes apparent, visible, even if its bars feel familiar and warm. Institutionalization has its comforts. And comfort creates a sense of security.
Security is fucking difficult to reject.
Let’s never pretend not to hurt, let’s never assume anything is black and white, the complexities of any given moment too varied to examine from a singular place of pain. Let’s just be and let each other as well, and fuck the drama that unfurls from our own damaged senses of self, our weakened states of grace, our inappropriate lashings out. But never deny anger. Let it rip forth when it must, if only to vent its potency and provide some respite in the storm.
And we must embrace the uncertainty, know it is always there lurking even in comfort, in what we feel is forever. Things degrade, dissipate. Passions shift, perspectives alter. This is not an affront to any of us, just a fact of nature, of growth, of the slow short time each of us has been given to do or not whatever we choose. No choice is an affront either, just a personal stamp on the seconds we claim, beyond rhetoric and kindness, beyond affinity and temperament. Take nothing personally other than what you give yourself. Nothing else is our damn business.
Not that I’m some fucking Buddha. I’ve broken my hands on walls of drunken anger and loathing for the self and otherwise. Both hands. Picked ceramic shards of bone from bloody wounds because I was too stubborn to seek help or take it when it stood there before me, kindly and patiently. I cast no net of blame, and I clean my own blood from the floors and walls. I’ve always been fastidious, even while broken.
For years – everyday at 5pm – I received the same reminder, a message I was barely able to act on; a daily anvil of guilt I dropped upon myself. My own anvil, though, one for which no one else may take responsibility. How many times do we subject ourselves to unnecessary torture, and to what end? Guilt crushes the ability to live freely, eradicates the desire to breath open air. It just pushes you into the muck, this cancerous sludge at the bottom of the wandering soul. Clean that shit out.
Truth and fact are residues of two entirely different modes of being, and neither need preside over us. Nothing is clear. Nothing is forever. There is now and its antecedents are but the breath you took just now, and just now.
And history is an ocean.
Language breaks apart, its meaning crumbling in our hands, changing what we think we know of ourselves and our world; any single statement interpreted in myriad ways, a constant telephone game of miscommunication and twisted messages. It used to piss me off, but then I became quiet and began to read the internal words, which, while still fallible, are far less misleading. At least, on my good days. Each word is a finger pointing in the dark, each utterance exacerbating a false direction. Not like we can all take vows of external silence, though, and wage our little constant wars in the name of clarity.
We can just hang here, though. And remember that we’re all a bit off, all a bit in the dark, all in need of fine tuning.
Or we succumb to the effortless perpetual noise, the chaos of cleaving to a manmade rule of comportment, uniformity, acquiescence, trying to fit ourselves into shapes predetermined by the people we love and who love us, losing sight of our edges and our form. Eventually from the scrawl, however, comes a shape unfamiliar, which is our truest and most real picture of ourselves.
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