A Laborious Mosaic

 

“She was very aware that it was temporary. She was not defensive about it; she was offensive about it. She would say that it was an attribute. Everything was for the process–a moment in time, not meant to last.” Arthur C. Danto about Eva Hesse

I have been accused of being a perpetual boyfriend-chaser.

I have also been labeled a love addict.

Tis too true — I love falling in love, being in love, feeling love. Although, I must admit that I do not truly know what it is to be a participant in mutual, building, sustainable love. I love helping people and I love loving others. I love feeling them need me; I love attention.

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That being said, I choose the wrong partners almost every single time. OK: every single time so far. I choose partners who are selfish, who cannot really love another person. I choose partners who are emotionally unavailable. I choose partners who are artistic and aloof. I choose partners who are needy and manipulative. I choose partners who see me as someone, as one someone, and I change into that person. I am a chameleon for men. I have written here earlier that I am the Queen of Running, and that I can adapt to almost every situation. Maybe my spirit animal should be the chameleon, or one of those amazing walking sticks that look like leaves, or a black panther or the moth that has cobra heads on its wings. I have changed for whomever comes across my path and shows interest in me. I am natural nurturer, and if someone lets me take care of them, I will. I will care and nurture and support until I am left, hollow and exhausted, usually about two years later.

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The exception to the two year rule was my husband, who I was with for almost seven years. We made it those seven years for various reasons. We split because we had never learned to communicate, could not disagree in a productive way, he had no motivation to really be a partner to me, he depended almost entirely on his parents who were always going to be more important than me or us. We had become roommates, friends, not lovers. Our life had become routine, so routine. Our life was managed by me, nurtured by me, maintained by a series of expected movements and dependable, predictable routines cultivated over the years. I worked the stable job, I managed the money, I organized our life: I was the one that held it all together. We could have kept that life going for a little while longer, maybe another two years, but the progression of life was not there: we had stagnated. There is a saying about relationships that they are like sharks: they have to keep swimming or they die. Ours was a sleeping shark, drifting downward into the depths. I simply cut off its fins and forced it to sink faster when I asked, after months of painful deliberation, that we separate.

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The other exceptional thing about my ex-husband is that he was easy-going and meek. He was artistic and creative, but not passionate. He didn’t possess the animation, the mad energy, the lust for life, that many other lovers have possessed. He didn’t spin in mental and rhetorical circles, or live in a house that was crumbling and had no refrigerator. He didn’t have long hair and love to go backpacking up the sides of mountains with no map, he didn’t write me poetry and weep in my arms, he didn’t ride bicycles until 7 in the morning and come home drunk and angry at something inside himself. He didn’t live in a foreign country in a beautiful house, separated  from what he really wanted but with enumerable possessions, and he didn’t pretend to be someone he was not by dulling himself with alcohol or drugs, spinning records on weeknights, using philosophy as a tool for avoiding people and experiences, but he was, in the end, like all the others, a liar.

When my friend asked my other friend if I was a perpetual boy-chaser, she was referring to my seemingly endless pursuit of the passionate man, the man whose madcap dash through life is something akin to a drug for me: something that I will seek and find, even unconsciously. Put me in a city of millions or an island of a few thousand, and I will still find this man. I find him everywhere, even when I am not looking. This spirit of chaos, this spirit of degradation, of manipulation, of skewed love, of lust, of power, of personal disaster will be rooted out, as if there is a magnet or a hidden sign emblazoned on my spirit, heart, or soul…..here I am, it says.

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Another friend of mine says that it is like I have two minds: one that knows what I should do, and one that tricks me into torturing myself, into the painful place of this type of relationship. I can tell you where it comes from, but it doesn’t really matter, and you can probably guess, anyway. Many of us have these same issues, coming from that man that we grew up with. Suffice it to say, my father suffers cruelly from what David Foster Wallace called The Terrible Master, and I look or act or sound or remind him of someone from his past that recalls the painful terror that echoes through his inner dialogue. Since I was about thirteen, I was a fairly easy target for his frustration, his failure. I listened, I internalized, I began to question if what he said was true. And almost every person I choose as a partner reflects those questions back at me and I end up telling myself the same thing: if I can just stay here a bit longer, then he will get better/happier/more stable/more successful/more loving/more open/more motivated and will be able to show me what I need. I know he will. And of course, he never does because he was unable to, all the way at the beginning.

leopard-camouflage I read a beautiful article today about an artist named Eva Hesse, a woman that previous to today, I had never heard of.

“At this point,” Hesse wrote, “I feel a little guilty when people want to buy it. I think they know but I want to write them a letter and say it’s not going to last. I am not sure what my stand on lasting really is. Part of me feels that it’s superfluous, and if I need to use rubber that is more important. Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.” 

Born in Germany but who lived a short time, part of her short life, here in the United States, Hesse was a 1960s modern artist, a sculptor who sought to navigate through her world and interpret it through her sculptures of industrial materials, anatomical forms, and repetition. She named her pieces with coy names, or ones that reflected scientific discoveries of her age, or her opinions on the direction of the movement she participated within.

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One of the things that I love about being a woman, and especially a woman artist, is our ability to craft work based on our experiences and our lives. All of us, man or woman, has a life whose path is fraught with pain and difficulty, as I said before, Life can be Suffering. (I have amended that Buddhist belief for my own devices.) Woman artists have a unique capacity, I think, to craft and exhibit that pain and make it remain beautiful. Look at Frida Kahlo‘s self portraits, or Georgia O’Keefe‘s flowers, or Eva Hesse‘s sculptures, Annie Leibovitz‘s portrait photography, Yoko Ono‘s drawings and sculptures, and, more simply, the huipils of women in Central America whose embroidery communicated the stories of their culture as the Spanish decimated their people with disease and domination.

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Traditionally, women are seen or expected to take on this role of nurturer as if that means that they are to bend, to be flexible, to be willing to support no matter what. I believe that one of the great gains of feminism is an understanding of how those roles can be both male and female, and that women, too, can be ambitious, business-like, healthily selfish, and strong. I believe that the women’s movement is about choice, and that men, too, can gain from an understanding that feminism helps men break out of their codified existences of cold, emotional distance or “strength” at any cost. Feminism is all-encompassing, if we let it be.

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To get back to my original point, of being the boyfriend chaser, the love addict who seeks the wrong sort of love in place of the real thing, I am seeking to combine the understanding that it is time to find self-love and then real love, it is time to create art out of the understanding and final comprehension of these experiences, to channel the spirit of other woman artists who have broken their patterns and found their inner artist. As one line from one of my favorite poems says: it is time to eat my last meal in my old neighborhood. In many ways, the tiger trap I found myself in lately, was a gift because all I had to do was look up, grab those pieces of bamboo, and begin climbing out.

Climbing out, for me, as a woman artist, as a person whose own experience and own Terrible Master has clouded her judgement for so long, involves speaking to other people, and sharing these experiences. Today I read this article, and found it gut-wrenching, so I am linking to it. Today I spoke at length with a new friend and she opened my eyes in ways that others had not been able. Today I recommitted to being a woman artist and making this journey work, whatever it ends up being, wherever it ends up going. When I get into that boat of my dreams, every morning as I wake up, and make the conscious decision to do this, to really do it, to being the artist that I am, it is about looking these fears and decisions and successes and challenges in the face and moving through them, slowly. It is about taking moments to savour the beauty of everyday experience, like ice-skating alone today down a creek bed. It is about standing up with a straight back and liberating the self from years of patterned behavior. It is about writing, and looking, and creating, and melting metal into new shapes and forms. It is about trusting others, but trusting oneself most of all.

Being a woman is being “of fierce delicacy and passionate fragility,” and of recognizing that those two aspects are not weaknesses, but beautiful pillars to share with the world through art, or writing, or speaking, or however else you choose to communicate.

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successful developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anais Nin

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