It’s really hard to know what to do. Speak up. Step up. Stay quiet. Be a ghost. Perhaps that’s me. Perhaps that’s arrogant. There’s a story with bees and a bear. There’s a story of anger awaiting redemption. There’s Lourdes – her name is salvation. There’s the story where it’s sunny outside and the grass is green and the trees provide shade and maybe that’s where to go. Nature. Not torture.
Ghosts are not real, but so much literature abounds with ghosts, and Native Americans had the Ghost Dance, and some indigenous people thought the first white people they saw were ghosts of gods. So when I called my exhibition “ghosting,” I somehow thought everyone would understand. Julia did. Manuel did. Michael did not and soon a whole host of people on Twitter thought making fun of my exhibition was the thing to do. People on Twitter are ghosts. I do not know them and they exist, for me, only in a non-corporeal form. Ghosts. But that is not my exhibit. It was not about them.
No one takes pictures of art anymore, not as slides. Everything is on a website. I had to have Julia help me, she knows this language, this http or java or sea-plus-plus and I wonder where the names come from and wham, there you go, I’ve completed a drawing about obscure languages. They are not human, these languages. No one speaks them, no one converses in java. Already I am planning my next exhibit. It will be called “this does not exist.”
I drive downtown and through and out the east side and past warehouses and party supply stores and building after building without names and a peculiar bright orange café and an old church that looks like a silo. It is Saturday late in the afternoon and there are no other cars. I make a U-turn and go back, pull to the curb and park. The silo is white, dirty white, with a grey roof that is missing shingles. It is stark and geometrical like a drawing, not a real building. I cross the street and it remains two-dimensional. I put my hand on it and it feels rough and smooth, the texture of an old drawing pad I have at home. It ripples when I touch it. A backdrop? Can I go behind it? Is curiosity always a good thing? When I was twelve a teacher told me to shut up because I kept asking questions and when I said that I was curious about everything he said that was impossible, nobody is curious about everything. I kept my questions in a journal after that and I had thousands that all disappeared one day when my parents’ house burned down. The questions are now floating in the air, ashes that drift over the neighborhood and continue asking what, why, where, how? But we left that neighborhood and my questions are alone there, wondering – the big question – where did she go? And I worry because I am the ‘she’ and I am the overarching intelligence that gave life to those questions and now they are without their creator. I am a failed god.
Running my hand along the backdrop, drawing-paper silo, I walk. I want to circumambulate the silo but it stops and I peel the corner of the paperback and step into a brown space. At first it is dark and quiet and then I take a few more steps and I am in the church. The two-dimensional church with two-dimensional people who are flat and drawn. They are drawn well, by a good artist with a good hand, but they are still illustrations, not real people, and it is only when I raise my hand to wave to them that I realize my hand is flat. An illustration. I too am two-dimensional. Someone has drawn me and I sidle through two-dimensional space toward the front of the church, I walk an aisle that is flat but that I can traverse and I go to the altar where a flat illustrated priest is smiling at me and moving his flat hand in some sort of benediction. There is no sound although he moves his mouth and a flat lady moves her hands over the keys of a flat organ but there is no sound. Behind them is a Christ and overhead is a sign, drawn in crayon and markers: The Church of the Lady of Lourdes. Panic rises in my flat paper body, feeling like a ripple of air fluttering through me. I have to get out. Can I get out? Turning around, in an odd, folded paper way, I look for the exit. The faces of people in the pews start to change and I am looking at a church full of Picasso people, with eyes a-tilt. Am I turning cubist? Can I cry if my eyes are both on the left side of my face? I move and, like an origami figure, I fold and bend and in that way inch toward what I think is the exit. Each origami bend hurts but the better the bend, the farther I move. A door appears, and my paper doll hand pushes at it.
I am standing outside the silo with my drawing pad and I am frantically trying to draw everything I can remember and trying not to ask all my questions but they come anyway and I write them at the edge of my drawings. Was that real? Did that just happen? Have I gone crazy? Was that a psychotic break? Do all artists imagine their way into their drawings? Can I escape Lourdes or do I run to her instead?
Manuel came to the opening of ‘ghosting’ with Julia. This shocked me because I did not know they knew each other. I asked, and of course – they connected on Facebook, on my page. Julia drifted from Manuel to look at my work, while Manuel began assessing it from the middle of the room, describing my drawings to me as if I had no idea what these things were. I can sometimes hate Manuel. But I listened politely and then noticed other people listening and then grew concerned that Manuel’s words would become the definitive take on my show and thus I stopped listening to him and started imagining all the things that could go wrong. Julia took my elbow and took me away leaving Manuel regaling his audience with precise details about my largest drawing.
This, said Julia. She pointed to “nearby, a mermaid is ringing a bell.” Then to “the princess listens to a cello playing the song of the stars.” “Are you in love again?” asks Julia. “Because last time you were in love, your words became romantic and fairy tale and sweet.” I denied being in love because if I told her what had happened three months before when I started that drawing, I would get a Julia lecture. Right then and there, in the middle of my opening. I refrained. I would receive her lecture at a later date.
There is no denying it. I drive again south and east to this art gallery and that one and I look at the work of other artists and I compare and compare. Mine are markers and pencil on paper and they paint and collage and construct. I am a child compared to them. I am amazed my work was in a gallery and that the same gallery wants another show from me. How does this happen? And if I work on it, will Lourdes reappear? Does redemption work that way? Or will Julia come to my studio and hold my face in her hands and sigh deeply? I discover an artist I like at a boxy cement gallery that is so cold and inhospitable I wonder if I should even walk in the door. But this work – the artist is a man and there is so much color and love and sex and glee in every single piece. Every one of them is a foot square and filled with such emotion that I cry. And take out my phone and look at Lourdes contact info and wonder if I should press the number that will connect me to her. I close my phone. I circle the room again and again, losing myself in this man’s paintings. Maybe I should fall in love with this man; maybe that would be a better idea. I wonder who he is. At the desk, I look over his resume. He is fifty years old. He lives on Orcas Island up in Washington. He is not going to be the man of my dreams. I must love his paintings and not him. In my car, I feel the pressure in my chest. It is my heart filling up just so it can break. I should call Lourdes. I should drive to her studio. I should tell her the truth. I should just go home.
When I was eight years old, the world was pure magic. I read stories of fairies and orcs and elves and lions and children who traveled by tesseract and I had to draw them. In my lost drawing pads – floating in ash like my journals – were sketches of every character in every book. I could not read a book all the way through but had to stop each time I met a new character and draw him or her or it and then I could continue. A third grade teacher encouraged me. My earliest art show was when she hung up all my drawings for the book she read aloud to the class, and for a short time, I was a celebrity among my peers. A fourth grade teacher pointed out that students should create these characters inside their own heads and that I took away the imagination of others by showing my drawings.
Here is part of the review of ‘ghosting:’ “Her very large drawings pull you in to read the fine print. There is much of this fine print in each piece although it seems interchangeable. The work both illuminates and invites the viewer to decipher; each one is unknowable while insisting that it can be understood. Her work seems to be about place but that place fluctuates and the viewer is left with an unsettled feeling of loss.”
No one can describe falling in love and I won’t but I did in my drawings and my pitiful little sentences. Mermaids and princesses and cellos. At least I didn’t succumb to unicorns and rainbows. But I did include jacaranda trees and chocolate croissants and a patio umbrella and a church in New Mexico. I thought for sure the gallery would be appalled when I brought these drawings in. Kick me out for being too romantic. But they loved the drawings and decided to put my work in the larger of their two rooms and suddenly I was an exhibiting artist and no one except one person knew that I was in love, but a lot of people were in love with my drawings. The gallery sold them all and it pained me to let my love-song drawings escape. Especially after the love was over. I did not have Lourdes and I did not have the drawings and one of those was my own fault and no one else’s.
The radio plays a forgotten song and instead of driving over the asphalt patches and potholes of 12th street, I am for a moment transported to Highway 1 at Big Sur and the green mountain on one side and the blue air and grey pacific on the other and how it felt like I was flying and Lourdes and this song soared with me. But the time has come. I am giddy from my show, and I am already deep into my next show and while I know “this does not exist” is both my show and my life, I know it is time. I park outside the gates and walk into the colony, weave my way through the warren of walkways and studios until I am standing outside her door. When I know is when she opens it, if she opens it, that 6 weeks, 3 days and about 4 hours without seeing her will come to an end.
If she were in that 2D church, I would draw her. I would be the one. I would do justice to her raven black hair that falls straight down her back. The exact caramel color of her skin from Mexico and her pale green eyes from Ireland. The lips that curl into a half smile that makes me wonder what stupid thing I just said. At that moment, with the door open, her hand on the doorjamb, her eyes wide, the scent of vanilla, an unspoken question – I know that I will draw exactly this moment and although there will be many words scattered across the paper, there will be this: my heart in a thousand pieces.
The bear and the bees. The bees attack the bear and many die in the attack, and one bee goes for the mouth and is swallowed and stings as he falls through the bear. Dying and stinging. The bear in pain runs away and the bees, the beehive, the queen are saved. Their world needed that bee and someone has to be that bee. I am enamored of this story but I am not that bee and it pains me that I cannot save the world, fix the country, offer equality to all by my work or my sacrifice or my words or my deeds. This is what I cry into Lourdes embrace after I have gasped in awe at her brilliant paintings. There are raised fists and challenging faces and mothers cradling dead children, and all of these determined people are arrayed across eight-foot canvases. I ask if she can forgive me and she asks for what. For my anemic fairy tale art, for my hesitant and fearful life, for my awe at her paintings and for walking away six weeks ago.