Wednesday, November 18, 2009

everything is connection, learning is always

Randy Lagana's And Then There Was String

Sometimes change comes slowly. Continents shift. Glaciers grind. Sometimes change comes with a jerk. Faults jump. Rock or mud or snow tumbles. When all is said and done, the landscape is different. But it is still the landscape.

I am going to tell you how this past weekend went, but first...

I have a little exercise for you, if you care to partake. Click on the video below (way below) of guitarist Erik Mongrain playing his song "Fates" from the album of the same name (a most wonderful album - I remember waiting for it to be released a couple of years ago so I could get it - you can listen to more of his work at his website). Then click on the picture above and just look at it while listening to the song. Write something if you feel so moved. Then come back here. Or don't bother and just keep reading.

When I look at this painting, I see the rocks, the butterfly (chaos!), the strings, the mango and the hickory nut (at least that's what the green thing looks like to me). I see balance. But it's precarious. I see earth, sky, life. I see connection. This piece of Randy's is a new one to me. I'd asked him for his "most surreal" piece to illustrate a blog post that is - as I'm writing this - unwritten. I know what I want to write about, but I have no plan. Well, I had a plan last night when I was trying very unsuccessfully to write it. Hours spent with just bits and pieces spewed. So this morning I decided to try something different. I put this picture up and listened to Erik's CD and started writing. I chose the song "Fates" to link to below because that was what was playing when I got to that point in my writing. Weird.

Last Friday night, author Stephen Elliott came here to this part of the world to read from his latest book. It did not go at all as I would have liked it to go. Yes, I was the one  thinking it was a disaster. I don't like conflict. I hate it in fact. Sends me back to a place that is not a good one to even visit. I used to live there. I don't anymore. At least not much. My husband mentioned that it seemed as if I just melted away while all the ruckus was going on. Melted might not be the right word. More like what happens when you put a styrofoam peanut in a microwave. It shrinks and shrivels.

Earlier in the day, I'd gone through  The Journey in New York City. It is an art installation of seven shipping containers, interiors each designed by a different artist, exploring the journey of one young woman trafficked into the sex industry. My reasons for wanting to experience this work are many-fold. As erotica writers we want to portray sex in a positive way - because that is the way we believe that it should be. But in this world, it is not always so. I personally don't know what the kind of life shown in these containers is like, but I kept remembering a friend I'd visited once. She had been a prostitute. It had not been a glamorous life. She drove me around her town and showed me the places she'd known - a tour guide of sorts. It was one of the more surreal nights of my life. Here's a stanza from a poem I wrote about that experience - wrote it years ago - and still it's unpublished despite sending it out over and over again. It's a good poem - one with truth in it. At least I think it is. But sometimes I don't know how good a judge I am of my own work. I'm still learning about writing.

Tonight you do the reverse division.
Figure the numbers;
nights on the streets times number of tricks.
Slam head-on into the immensity of it all.

I'd read about The Journey - this work of art, quite awhile back, but just recently saw it mentioned on Violet Blue's blog here, and knew I had to go. I am so grateful she posted that it would be in NYC or I might have missed it. The installation is not at all pleasant. But I let myself experience each "passage." The second container, dark and noisy - you just close your eyes and listen - was the one that got to me. It was not easy. In fact it was damn hard. I was not alone, but I forced myself to not hang on to my companion. I let myself go to places I've not gone in awhile.

Some of us are damaged children. We hide the scars. Or wear them for all the world to see. Or something in between. We doubt ourselves. Refuse to believe others when they try to tell us there is something good about us. Some of us write. I started writing when I was young. But I stopped. I listened to the loud voices telling me that writing was not something worthwhile, and not to the ones whispering this is good. It took me many years to get back to my "river." Stephen Elliott, in Why I Write, speaks of this river. I knew exactly what he was talking about when I read that.

Between each container, you pass into a between place, through those large black hanging strips that you see on loading docks. A place to catch your breath. You stand on the pavement, back in the city momentarily. Then you push your way through into another space. Maybe one made to be a room, dirty with smells that make you want to retch, but you don't. Or maybe a gallery of surreal snapshots, the photographer himself standing in for the prostitute, following their instructions. Stand like this. Turn this way. One of the shipping containers is a black hole. At least that's what it seemed like to me. Walking towards a oval shape of such light-eating nature, I had to put my hand out for fear of bumping my head. But there was no "there" there, and I stood completely surrounded by nothingness. That was the experience for me. At the end of the last container, when you're almost done, there is a narrative piece about how this young woman is doing. I can't remember the words, but I can remember starting to feel panicky, because for the first time I was touching the hem of my own trauma again. I'd done the long work to move past it years ago. But it never completely leaves. Lately I've been in a place where those days seemed a washed out memory. Did I go through that? What exactly is it that I remember?

When we emerged back into the busy midday streets, I was shaky. We wandered over to Washington Square Park where I talked and my friend listened and I hoped it wouldn't start raining. It was the first of many times over the weekend that I would cry in public. We walked through the streets on our way to Grand Central Station where we were to meet Stephen. I'd met him before, I knew what he looked like. There were too many people there and I couldn't focus on faces. We talked on our cell phones and found each other. Finally we were on the train.

We got to my house and ate tacos my husband had cooked. They tasted wonderful. I was worried. It was raining and that maybe would keep people away. It did. Friends did show up. There was a part of me that was surprised at that. The bookstore lady - who had snarled into my life a couple of days before - came back to snarl some more. I didn't want to be bitten, so I retreated like a beaten bitch with her tail between her legs. Maybe I would have done something different if I'd been somewhere other than in my scared little girl place. But maybe not. And what's done is done. Something shifted and now the landscape is changed.

The next morning, I drove through rain and fog, while Stephen sat in my back seat, typing on his computer. At one point I mentioned that I'd hardly spoken with him the whole time. He said he'd noticed that. My friend was in the front seat. We talked. He talked to Stephen. We all sat quiet. I dropped Stephen off at his next stop, a cute little town full of places for weekending New Yorkers. It was hard for me to say goodbye to him. I felt like I'd missed something. Something crucial.

And so here I am, trying to express feelings that can't really be put into words.
I think of a quote from Andre Breton - "All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name."
I think of when I was thirteen and wanted to be a writer. There was a lanky, stringy-haired boy, he looked like a young Neil Young, and he wrote haiku about the end of the world while I wrote about sun shining through trees. I liked him. He liked me. I was attracted to him. I was scared of him. One day he put his arm around my shoulders and I jumped. He never tried again.
I gave up writing. But it never gave up on me. Now I'm back, but have no idea where I'm going.
Like Stephen, I write to communicate, but I need to be able to communicate my truth, and I've been afraid to, because fear kept me safe. If I no longer fear... If I look at the truth...
It hurts to see the truth. To look past my ugliness and see something good.
And then to let other people see us as we really are.
It's usually not a pretty sight. But maybe the most beautiful of sights.

Here's the music.


Emerald said...

"trying to express feelings that can't really be put into words"

That may be, but I felt it.

"And then to let other people see us as we really are. It's usually not a pretty sight. But maybe the most beautiful of sights."


Beautiful, Robin (just like you). Thank you for sharing this.

Scarlett Greyson said...


Precarious. What lengths we go to to maintain balance in our life. should we have to work so hard? What if the string slips from the rock? Dropping the mango, tipping everything out of the unnatural state.

Why the effort to keep everything just so, when it's obvious the position is forced.

What my mind saw, looking at the painting and listening. Of course, my mind's in a turmoil today, so there should be little surprise to my interpretation.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Robin...I've more to add to this, but work is calling me away - I've been working on my comment for hours now!

Anonymous said...

I won't forget the reverse division thing, ever.

Donna said...

Wow, Robin, what a powerful post. I'm a bit at a loss for words myself, but this moved me, made me think and made me feel. That's the difference between writing as art and writing as fun or entertainment in my book.

Much to ponder here on our journey...

I just can't help but wonder, though, why are bookstore owners/employees so hostile to writers? Shouldn't we all be friends? Aren't we in this together?

Kam said...

Very affecting desctiption of Journey - I'm glad that I was there with you. It's funny reading about Stephen's visit, I had a much more positive feeling about the whole experience - his visit ended really well, I thought.

Erobintica said...

Emerald, thank you.

Scarlet - yes, what if the string slips from the rock?

Secretia - thanks for reading.

Donna - thank you - I struggled over this post for a couple of days. Both you and Em said it made you feel (as I'm sure it did the others) - and though to me that's good - but I still don't know how I did it. Maybe that's something I'll never figure out how - and maybe that's a good thing - then it can't be misused.

Kam, you figured it out! :-) I'm glad you were there with me. And I'm glad you had a different experience of Stephen's visit. My experience was so tangled up with everything else - I think that's why I had such a hard time writing this post. I had to pull parts out and look at them separate. I'd actually not intended to write so much about The Journey, but when I started writing that is what came out. It was a shade on everything else. And as I get a little more distance, I can see more of the positive.

Mar said...

That's a powerful post. Well done.