San Francisco, California USA
I'm just going to begin and make it free-flowing, try not to over-think and over-edit, as is my tendency. It all began in Maine and the first few years are really foggy. I remember vaguely being held on my father's lap while he and mom were fighting, Dad repeating over and over "your mother's crazy, your mother's crazy....". This was probably true at the time, as it is now... but this still does not account for his behavior prior to their divorce. They divorced when I was three or so. The details are too ugly to get into now... something to do with accusations of child molestation made by my mother against my father. She truly is insane, and although I suppose I will never know for sure, I believe 99.9999% that my Dad is innocent on this charge. Just one of many paranoid and self-centered attempts by mom to get her way and beat down "the enemy." Etc.
I don't remember much from early youth. I remember drawing on a piece of insulating paper that was stapled to an opening for a fireplace in my father's house. There was no real fireplace there, just this opening to the chimney and roof... it was snowing outside, so he had stapled this beautiful shiny white paper to the hole in the wall in attempt to insulate the house. I was drawing on it with one of his infamous mechanical pencils that he used to draw electrical plans for Navy destroyer ships. I was drawing with these lethal .03mm pencils little people with hearts for bodies, complete with faces and hands and feet. They all had oversized bows on their heads. In the process I was poking holes in the insulating paper, and remember being yelled at upon being discovered. My bow-headed heart people were irresistible though, and after the initial shock my father was more encouraging of my self-expression.
I was into animals. Stuffed or real... the only stipulation was that everything had to be female. Mom, who had been raped as a child, had instilled in me from early on a deep mistrust of men. All of my toys were girls, all of my pets had to be FEMALE. When I found out my parakeet was potentially male I cried.
Maine was strange, it often seems like a bad dream in retrospect. I lived alone with my mother, in a small, asbestos-sided house near the ocean. This was the house that she grew up in. We had moved in and displaced my grandmother to a trailer somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Mom was always unhappy, always yelling and complaining that somebody had done her wrong. We fought a lot. I was so rude to her, I hated her, perhaps I still do. I remember getting sick and wanting to go to school regardless (in part to escape her, in part because I was a nerd), and her threatening me with a wooden spoon. Such a vivid image, this woman with sagging tits in a nightgown, standing at the foot of the stairs, brandishing a huge spoon and telling me to "stay the fuck in bed." On the other hand, I know that deep down she is a sweet woman with a good heart who has lived a very difficult life. She does love her children, she's strong, and she often creates beautiful, uncanny imagery during her stream of consciousness babble. Yet this babble is equally her downfall. In fact, most of the problems stem from her lack of internal monologue- she will literally say whatever crosses her mind regardless of setting. I suppose spending time with her is never boring, at least...
I often went to the beach with tomboy friends, I took a lot of pictures, I was accident prone and got hurt a lot. When Dad came to visit we would invariably do math problems and then eat dinner at one of the two restaurants in the nearest town to my home that somewhat resembled "civilization" (the best place in town was El Taco Tico, but unfortunately it was burned to the ground by some taco-hating maniac). On April Fool's day of first grade, school was cancelled mid-way through the day due to a horrible snow storm. When the bus dropped me off at my regular stop, I crossed the road as I did everyday. Due to poor road conditions, the driver had decided to reverse the bus instead of driving to the end of our street and turning around on a side road. I must have slipped in the snow and ice, and fallen under the bus. I remember seeing tires role over my legs. The next thing I remember was laying helpless in front of the bus, in shock, telling myself that I had to scream really loudly or nobody would know or see me. So.... I screamed, the bus driver climbed down, crying- the most terrifying, pirate-like, missing a finger, hard-faced man- crying... picked me up and carried me to a neighbors home. I arrived at the hospital. I was terrified that I would have to have an operation, or that I would be paralyzed. Horrible thoughts. By some fucking miracle I had NO broken bones. The authorities didn't believe my story, and decided that I had slipped and gotten stuck between the rear wheel of the bus and the mudflap.... I know that this was not the case, because I remember vividly falling and then ending up in front of the bus screaming. I'm not really a spiritual person, but this was a miracle. I don't know why I wasn't killed. It's strange to think about this memory after so long.
I worked too hard in school. Ever since I was young, I have worked far too hard. Dad's words always echo in my head "Keep up the good work!" okok. I'll keep it up, I will. I was terrified of becoming like my mother, so friendless and alone and hostile and ignorant. I needed to do well so I could get the fuck away from her as soon as possible. I was always surrounded by the most kind and beautiful and supportive female friends in school, but was always petrified of my male classmates. Often the boys made fun of me because I was a complete nerd in glasses, scrawny and awkward. I felt so so ugly when I was little. The boys called me "rat." I cried often because of them... but at least I was able to go on wonderful adventures with the women in my life. We would go swimming in an abandoned granite quarry near my home... Inga and I would get into the most mischief... we tried to build a raft out of driftwood and sail to an island in April (freezing cold water, perhaps still some ice in the ocean), we jumped off her swingset onto her trampoline while sitting in folding lawn chairs. Of course, I was the one whose lawn chair collapsed at the moment of impact... but it was great. All in good fun. We went "fishing" with saltine crackers as bait, and got stuck in quicksand-like mud on the way. I lost her yellow galoshes. She is such a beautiful woman and she doesn't know. I feel like I've completely abandoned her and all of my other friends from early childhood. There have been so many phases of my life, and so many important people... its hard to keep up with them all.
The best image I have of Maine is of my grandfather at sea. He was a stoic man who built wooden sailboats for his living. A true New Englander, I suppose I disgrace him now with my leftist, elitist San Franciscan ways. He was dying of cancer, and I remember him leaving and not returning for several days. He had taken the last sailboat he had built and started to sail towards the Boston light. He had been born on the Boston light, and he had wanted to die there, or to die at sea. My grandmother, my entire family did not understand his wishes, and had him hauled home by the Coast Guard. He died in a hospital within days of his retrieval. It is a most beautiful image.... He was a noble soul, although I remember so little of him. He played the tuba and had false teeth. He was bald, and spoke little. He was beautiful in his youth (I have a photograph of him newly enlisted in the navy at 22 or so), he was my brothers icon. I have a photograph of the two of us. I am drawing with the pencils he used to mark where to cut planks of wood for his boats. He is laughing, toothless. I wish I could have known him more.
I met my first mentor in Maine, and I am lucky to have known him. I remember breaking down and crying in front of him. I told him that I didn't know myself, and I wanted to. I had written about the problem in my journal, naively stating that I didn't want to continue living as an undefined person, and that I needed to "find myself." Immediately. And then proceed from there, from the point of self-actualization. Ha. It's such an amusing thought now, little did I know that I was embarking on a life-long journey. Thank you Don for humoring me, for giving me all of the books and support...
After I finished eighth grade in Maine, I fled to a bizarre, elite, patriarchic east-coast boarding school. I was there on almost full scholarship, so my economic/ social background was really different than most of my peers. I remember the first days I spent there were horrifying. I was terrified of my peers, who were clearly more wealthy, more "refined," more social and, as I thought at first, smarter and more prepared for the academics of the school than I. I remember crying in the bathrooms, wanted to return home to the safety of my small rural neighborhood, to the ocean, to my close friends. Although I soon realized that my effort and motivation allowed me to excel in my classes at school (and placed me clearly in the category of "nerd"), my freshman year of high school was traumatic. I felt ugly and alone, I had few close friends, and I spent all of my time working or crying (or listening to Ani Difranco while crying). I was terrible at the required interscholastic sports (field hockey, anyone?), which furthered my isolation from my jockey peers. I was extremely intimidated by the upperclassmen, who used their status to exploit and undermine younger students- in the true spirit of east-coast patriarchy. It wasn't all bad though. At least I got a great education and didn't have to live at home. The place did toughen me up a lot also.... I'm not sure if this is good or bad...
I suppose for me the grass has always been greener elsewhere. In my sophomore year of high school I decided on a whim to apply to a year abroad program in Rennes, France. I got in to the program with a gigantic scholarship, so I left the states the summer before my junior year. It was in France where I met some of my closest friends in the United States (who were fellow exchange students). I remember meeting some of the students who would be living in the same town as me in the airport at Boston, and I was instantly intimidated. I wondered why I had decided to embark on such a insane, spontaneous journey. Upon arrival in Rennes, I was introduced to my host family, the LeBollochs. I had only completed two years of high school French... I had no idea how to communicate. I hardly knew how to say "hello." The family took me to their home, fed me a gallette jambon (ham pancake), which made me violently ill (I had been vegetarian for 4 years, but had wanted to accommodate the family... this didn't last too long...). I fell asleep thinking "where am I?? What have I done??"
It was in France that I first encountered an elite social group that welcomed me, which was both reassuring and repulsive. I was so sick of being an ostracized, overworked nerd, I became happily yet fearfully reckless. My host brother was an art student who grew beautiful pot plants in our backyard, so I was always surrounded with happily drugged artists (both French and American). Renan (host brother) was instantly attractive to me, as were many of my artistic/ drug-crazed American peers. My journals, from France onward took on a definite "unrequited love" sort of theme (or, if not concerned with unrequited love, at least always somehow analytic of the romantic relationships in my life). In France I think I was in love with everybody I met. I had many beautiful, bizarre evenings of too much pot, too much wine, debates on communism and attempted translations of Dylan's lyrics. I remember joyously puking in the sink after an excess of red wine/ tequila/ beer/ rips from a homemade bong. I remember wandering through Paris, visiting the Pompidou and Jim Morrison's grave, handing out cigarettes to every bum that asked, taking unidentifiable street drugs in a Parisian gay dance club called "Hell" and the hideously-beautifully sad and raining day in Paris that followed (I wandered the streets with no coat, looking for bread as it poured rain, as my friends stayed in our dismal hotel room, sick and pissing in abnormal colors....). At one point, I was almost arrested in Paris for helping a bum roll his joint in the courtyard of the Pompidou museum. The guitar-toting, poetry-spouting, self-centered yet godly madman had asked my to hold his half-finished spliff. I obeyed because I found him fascinating, and the police appeared and asked for my passport. Luckily I escaped by using the 'I don't understand, I don't speak French... what is happening?" excuse. I was terrified at the time, but in retrospect the whole fiasco seems so romantic and alluring.
Also in Paris I met the most striking Italian guitarist who was visiting France on vacation... it was doomed, epic, tragic love at first sight. We only had a weekend together.... I won't elaborate to the level of pornography, but my experience with him was one of the stereotypical "fantastic dreams of European affairs/ Italian men" genre. It was... a good weekend... to say the least.
One of my favorite American peers (/lover/confidant/enemy etcetc) in France decided that he would travel to Amsterdam and return with as many mushrooms as he could carry in a rewired radio. He was enticed by the image of sauntering onto the train back to Paris, listening to his radio that was still functional yet full of illegal imports. I'm not sure how he pulled it off, but he returned with piles of mushrooms.... which yielded to us the most beautiful images, happy tears, revelations, and days in the sun. We also took aforementioned drugs with us on a 2-week long journey to Corsica (dramatic sunny beach/ snowy mountain island controlled by France to the immediate south of France), rented a small motorcycle-type-vehicle and explored the (partly snow-covered) mountains of the island for days with nothing but a blanket, a roll of trash bags, a block of cheese and a bag of peanuts. I was, at the time, deeply in love with the friend I traveled with, but he was no longer interested. Ah, unrequited love. In retrospect, the unrequited love doesn't bother me, I'm happy that I experienced such strange, juvenile sadness/ obsession. Our journey was reckless and beautiful... I can't believe we made it home.
I'm not exactly sure how we got away with so much abroad... perhaps because we were young and innocent, perhaps because we were foreign and thus somehow immune to regional laws... At any rate, the return home was devastating. I cried because the freeways in New England were huge, wide, frigid, full of trash. I was doomed to a final year in my pit of a boarding school. I can't remember much from that year, except that somehow I had returned from France and was less-ostracized. Perhaps I had simply gained confidence while abroad. I remember feeling truly/ consistently attractive for the first time upon my return home (even in France, I often felt unattractive....). It was as if I had left and returned a completely different person... I suppose that I had.
Somehow that never-ending year came to an end. I had been the resident advisor in what had basically become the lesbian dorm on campus. Being so deeply involved with a community that felt so distant from the rest of the school mentality helped me to remain sane. Still, I'm sure I spent most of my senior year sleeping or working, avoiding my peers and participating in campus life as little as possible. I gained admission and a fuck-ton of financial aid from my first choice college (Reed College in Portland, Oregon), so as soon as I had graduated with honors from the elite hole St. Marks, I moved west.
My brother, who is 12 years older than I, and who is my only family member who I truly love and respect, had been living and working in Silicon Valley for several years. Upon graduation from high school, I moved into his small apartment in Menlo Park, California to spent my summer vacation. He had been recently divorced, and was experimenting within the San Francisco party/ dance scene. He had developed a love of breakbeats and experimental electronic music, had somehow acquired an excessive amount of pure MDMA, and really only wanted to be free and party the summer away. In the daytime he worked his 9-5 computer job (that he excelled at... regardless of how he spent his leisure time), I painted absurd acrylic paintings, got weirdly obsessed with cross-country running, and worked a horrible, underpaid job for Greenpeace ( walking the streets, basically demanding money from anyone who would listen to my speech on conservation, feeling guilty and predatory and getting harassed by freaky old men daily).
On the weekends... [I still get shivers thinking about the madness].... we would go to underground dance parties and absolutely freak out on music and drugs and people. The parties were often outside, on remote beaches or in the woods- in stunningly beautiful places- the stars would always come out. The music and the crowd was not of the annoying psy-trance/glow-stick raver variety... but rather a bit older, a bit more experimental.... One evening a friend introduced me to Philip, who I found to be the most beautiful, well-spoken, idealistic, motivated and genuine person on earth (no, not because of the drugs... although I remember distinctly licking extra mdma off his hands 10 minutes after meeting him.... oh my...). This all sounds so embarrassingly absurd and stereotypical. The rave scene is so stigmatized, and for good reason... much of it is so fake, and much of the music infuriatingly repetitive. It also feels strange to recount all of this because my brain shivers at the thought of the drugs... they really have no place in my life anymore, and the time when I was experimenting and growing through their use seems so far away. Regardless, this was truly the "summer of love." I fell absolutely head over heels in love with Philip. I was more in love than I had ever been, beginning the first night I met him. He was brilliant, he was motivated to change the world, he was incredibly idealistic and happy and intuitive, he was charming, his face reminded me of the moon, he was even vegan like I was at the time... we could finish each others sentences. I had never felt so loved and understood. When I was with him we were both so at peace and felt so sure of our purpose on earth. It was fucking epic and beautiful and absolutely doomed. Philip was 32 years old, and was married to a woman who I found incredibly self-centered and exploitative and rude and scary and possessive (but I suppose this is in part because of my role in her life....).
Over the course of the summer I fell more and more in love with Philip. In retrospect I see him as incredibly manipulative and exploitative and selfish. In my naivety of 18 years, I trusted him deeply, I thought that this feeling of true love could never hurt anyone (like his wife), that he and his wife and I could somehow work everything out. I was convinced that we could all live happily, that the amount of love that one person had was only meant to increase, that the amount of love that people could create was unlimited, and that marriage was an outdated and limiting institution.... Etc. I still maintain these ideals about love and marriage- I felt this way even before Philip.... But I don't know what I was thinking!! How could I have been so na•ve!!?? I should have seen through him, seen that he was unhappily married, been suspicious of anyone who would seduce a woman 12 years younger than he behind his wife's back. Someone who was so sneaky was clearly not living up to the ideals that to me justified our relationship. I was blinded by love and by ideals.... When Philip's wife began to call me and question me, I was honest with her about what had been happening between Philip and I. I told her everything, I tried my best to explain, to be supportive of her, I apologized for not approaching her before letting my relationship with Philip escalate. I felt so in love with him that I thought that we could somehow work it out... I can't believe I let myself fall for him. His wife acted upset... but less because of Philip's straying from her, more because she felt powerful in her role as a victim, she felt justified in her contempt for him. To me it seemed that she loved being angry at him, being the victim in the situation, having the upper hand in the relationship because of his affair. She loved the drama more than she loved him... Regardless, I felt like a horrible person, I cried for days and days and weeks, months. I couldn't believe how badly I had hurt another person, how incredibly I had transgressed such a sacred bond. Over the next few months, as I started school at Reed, I tried to be supportive of both Philip and his wife. Although I really just wanted to be left out of their marriage issues, and was clearly being scapegoated for their problems, I often found myself responding from emails from the two, playing the role of the intermediary and the marriage councilor. It seemed that whenever the two of them had a problem arise in their seriously fucked-up relationship, I would get an email from Philip's wife threatening and degrading me. This of course, added to my shame and sadness over the whole thing. I wanted to help them both, I wanted them both to be happy and everything to be ok. Finally I stopped communicating, stopped reading their letters, and tried to forget about Philip (who, despite all I still loved!) and all of the trouble I felt I had caused. It was an overall TOTALLY FUCKED UP SITUATION.
In retrospect, I see more clearly through Philip's faŤade. It is really hard for me to accept that I was seduced and used by this incredibly manipulative person, especially when I felt so deeply in love with him. Yet, I do feel that I have gotten closure to the whole ordeal. I feel that I grew a lot through the experience, and that Philip was my first true love- I wouldn't have known what it is to be loved, or what I wanted in a relationship without him. That sounds fundamentally flawed, because apparently he didn't love me at all... but, at least on my end of the relationship, all that I experienced with him (before it turned into a gigantic, degrading mess) lead to a more full understanding of love. Ugh. Maybe it was just the drugs. Oh my. What we sacrifice to grow....
Wow. That all sounded terrible and crazy and heavy and sad. I suppose it was. Rethinking all of this was intense...
Reed fucking college. What can I say about this place. Portland, Oregon was the geographic location of my first college, but I didn't see much of the Rose City because I was absolutely trapped in an academic ivory tower.... It felt more like an intellectual prison than an oasis. I went to Reed, after experiencing and growing emotionally so much over the summer, expecting to find a mature community of like-minded and intelligent people. I felt that perhaps I could finally find a community that I could connect with (beyond the temporary community of drugged-out European hippies in love in France). I began school at Reed feeling so incredibly open to the world, and so in love with everyone (yes, even despite the Philip fiasco- I really had learned about love because of him....). I remember running around Reed campus, hugging everyone I met. Everyone. I was so happy to be in a community of intellectuals, I felt that I could finally start doing concrete and beneficial work in the world. I thought I would major in international relations, so that I could work with global politics and save the world etcetc. I remember my first IR class, everyone was such a stuck-up snob, everyone was just talking to hear themselves talk, the conversation was incredibly disjointed, the strong egos in the class took over, the professor sat smugly in the corner, contributing little, appearing to be overwhelmed with glee that she held a phD and was teaching at Reed (meaning she didn't have to do much except maintain intellectual authority of some sort- not over the students, just over the general populous).
The place struck me as mostly about ego, less about action. I was living in a dorm of freshmen, the majority of which had never lived away from home. This community was shocking. People seemed so young. They were really concerned with establishing some vague sort of community, creating "friendships" with people that seemed incredibly void of meaning out of fear and intimidation/ out of the feeling of aloneness that comes from being in a new place. Somehow, by sifting through all of the big stifling egos and scared little freshmen, I established several of my most important and meaningful friendships at Reed. A friend who I had met in France was in the entering freshman class with me, and through the course of the year we grew incredibly close. I set a really high standard for my work at Reed, as the academics were often astonishingly good. I worked most of the time, I was stressed out by my immense workload (and was constantly reassured by upperclassmen that it would get SO SO SO much worse, to the point of insanity). People around me were depressed, they looked underfed and pale- like zombies because of their work load, their rapidly diminishing passion for life. People lived in the library, and died, it seemed, in the library. I was not socially fulfilled, I was lonely, I was rather depressed by the community and confused about my purpose. Somewhere along the way my major changed from international relations to art history. I was happy with the change, as it was more in line with my passion, but still incredibly frustrated by the egocentric, white, western, isolated, cruel and destructive energy of the student body. I felt alone, confused, yet somehow maintained a feeling of love for the people around me.... I was ever optimistic... I was creating fulfilling work in the first art class that I had ever taken.... I was seriously considering transferring to greener pastures....
And then there was Chris. The first time I met him I was searching for hangers in a large grocery store before Reed orientation... I think Chris was shopping for pens. My brother noticed his 'fro of curly hair and joked with me "See that kid. I bet he goes to Reed. Don't date him." I ran up to Chris to see if this was the case, and indeed, he was a Reedie. He was embarrassed that he fit the stereotype so well. I gave him a hug, as was my style of greeting at the time. I found him to be beautiful, rather intimidatingly so...
The next time I encountered Chris was several months into school. Although I had seen him sporadically around campus, he had always seemed aloof and spaced-out, rather in his own world. He was sitting alone at a party... he seemed so isolated amidst a bizarre swirl of imagery and activity. The room that the party was held in had been decked out in really stereotypical "psychedelic" objects- aka sparkly lights, weird plastic toys, glowsticks and blacklights and the whole trite 9 yards of trying-to-be-trippy bullshit. Apparently everyone at the party had taken some sort of psychedelic drug (or at least had been sold some substance that was supposed to be psychedelic but was probably nothing at all... the placebo affect is powerful...), and most of the people present were laying on the floor, trying really hard to feel anything out of the ordinary. It was a really bizarre and ugly and amusing scene. I walked over to Chris and asked what he was on. He told me he had dropped acid but it wasn't good at all.... I asked if I could join him, and he happily said "of course, but only if we can leave." We ended up passing a really wonderful, serendipitous sort of evening. We left the party and wandered around outside, looking at trees, sitting on the infamous Reed couch swing in the cold, eventually finding some musicians with synthesizers performing spacey, cacophonous experimental electronic music. We had this strange, almost sibling-like openness of communication, as if we had known each other forever. Also, he was brilliant, impressively intuitive, understood where I was coming from, shared his own experience in a lucid and poetic way. I was floored... but also skeptical... he seemed too good to be true. After what had happened with Philip and before meeting Chris, I made sure to keep the upper hand in my relationships with men. I needed to be in control, I needed to completely non-committal and free in all romantic relationships.... Chris was terrifying because he was my intellectual and emotional equal, and because I knew that I couldn't maintain a casual relationship with him... that I didn't want a casual relationship with him.
Falling in love with him was like a dream. Our communication was so incredibly open, straight-forward and deep from the beginning. We went camping on the Oregon coast, biking around the city, had absurd and beautiful adventures around town, took exceedingly long showers together to avoid our work and the harsh intellectuals that surrounded us. We were both unhappy at Reed, so in many ways we used our relationship to escape and isolate ourselves from the community around us. We plotted to transfer to the University of Hawai'i, where Chris wanted to work on an aquaculture degree ( in attempt to save the world with renewable sources of food etc), and I thought I could pursue a more experimental, non-western art history degree. Chris' family lived in Hawai'i, and he longed to return to the sun and surf... we both wanted to get out of the academic prison, and experience a more real-world, diverse and non-western community/ curriculum. By the end of the year I was incredibly jaded and depressed. I hated Reed and the community. I began violently destroying art that I had been working on... I remember punching holes in a canvas that I had been painting with a screwdriver... I began to hate people, felt stifled and misunderstood. I was worried about moving to Hawaii, leaving all that I knew behind, leaving also the self-assuring security of a well-known school for a big nameless University. This is what I wanted though- to be free of the elite, white, self-selecting boundaries of my well-known college.
I moved to Hawai'i during the summer after my freshman year at Reed. I remember how strange it was- everything from the people to the culture to the landscape was so beautifully foreign. I remember eating a mango upon my arrival, sitting in Chris' absurd purple leBaron convertible, staring at the mountains and then the ocean, feeling as if I was in a dream. Life in Hawaii was unlike anything I had expected or experienced. Even though I had traveled a fair bit, I had never experienced what it was like to be an ethnic minority, and I had never lived in a culture that was so influenced by it's natural surroundings and that was so incredibly laid-back. I passed the summer in Chris' family home, sleeping at the beach, writing furiously in my journal, trying to regain my optimism after losing it at Reed. Although my life was really good, I still felt that I had changed a lot during my year at Reed, that I had closed myself off from the world and had become rather sulky and tortured. I remember distinctly sitting at the beach (reading Sartre's Nausea, which surely did NOT remedy my mood) and feeling so distant from the people around me, feeling like life was futile and meaningless... the sun was shining but I felt so alone and broody, like I was unable to escape my mind and enjoy the world around me.
One of the most vivid weeks during my summer in Hawaii I spent alone in Chris' family home. The family had left me to house-sit for the week while they attended a family reunion in California. Because I was terrified to drive on the narrow and winding roads in Hawaii, I spent the entire week isolated near the beach with the family's wolf-like dog Moki. As soon as the family left, I rearranged the house to create a giant work space. I had space for painting, space for sewing, space for cooking.... Basically I spent the entire week making things- painting, sewing, building stuff, baking bread- and having long adventures to the beach with the dog. Moki was the best companion because he was so wild and exuberant. We would wake up around sunrise and run to the beach, jump into the perfect crystal blue water, play with sticks and waterlogged coconuts that we found laying around, lay in the sand, talk and play frisbee with the bums who lived on the beach and who were just waking up for the day. I think I could live forever happily alone in a hut on the beach with a big wild dog... I feel sort of guilty about enjoying being alone in nature so much... perhaps I don't belong in civilization- have I already given up on the world?
Another vivid memory of Hawaii was visiting friends on the Big Island for two weeks. The Big Island was so much more wild and rugged than Oahu. Much of the landscape was "ah-ah," hardened lava that had cooled to form a desert of jagged rocky peaks. We camped around with a group of 10 constantly-stoned stereotypical surfer dudes that Chris had grown up with. I remember that it was impossible to motivate the group to do anything, and our good friend Keng (who had organized the whole trip) was usually at wits end trying to make people help cook or set up camp. The group was absolutely ridiculous. The first thing anyone would say in the morning was "Duuuude. Spark a bowl." They were united by their love of partying, barbeque, surf, skate and spear-fishing (which involves holding one's breath underwater for several minutes, diving, hunting fish, and shooting them with a freakishly powerful spear gun- Chris is a master of this activity....). It's hard to summarize the journey. It was about exploring the epic landscape of the island, laughing at the smoked-out surfers, wondering what my purpose for existence was, scavenging for avocados and passion fruits and giant papayas, [crafting bongs out of aforementioned giant papayas,] watching nightly a gruesome display of barbequing, wandering around an inactive volcano on acid, jumping off giant cliffs into the ocean, turning brown, getting laid, feeling wild.... Etc.
School in Hawaii was beyond belief. I knew that I couldn't expect the same rigor that I had experienced at Reed, but the classes were shockingly juvenile. It was painful. In a grad-level art history course I was taking, the professor frequently used the world "darling" as a descriptor (note to aspiring art historians- you know you've hit rock bottom when this happens...). Hawaii was truly not the place to go to school, live in a city, or attempt to lead a productive live in any way. Most of the students (sometimes myself included) would roll into class, sandy and strait from the beach, often stoned, always preoccupied and uninterested. I remember taking a painting class with the most crazy old woman professor, painting color wheels for eternities, sitting through critiques of people's work about sea turtles and big waves. I was very lonely in Hawaii because the culture was simply not my style. Being in a culture of people who seemed to be wasting away, happily wilting in the sun, playing and doing nothing made me feel more anxious than ever. I suppose I felt obligated to "chill out" while I was living in the islands, but this pressure to "relax" and the feeling of accomplishing nothing made me feel crazy. I had a hard time relating to my peers beyond superficial niceties, and my rent was outrageous. I began to feel that if I stayed in Hawaii I would ruin my relationship with Chris. I had realized that the island life was not my style (not for more than a vacation)... one day I realized that I had to move, and two weeks later I moved out of my apartment and caught a flight back to Portland, Oregon.
Ah. Portland. I discovered a great city just outside the Reed bubble. I moved in to a beautiful and cheap flat with my most adored friend, Emma (who I had met in France). Chris had decided to stay at the U of Hawaii for one more semester, before hopefully moving back to the mainland and attending an art school. At some point during my stay in Hawaii, I had realized that art history was not the field for me. I was sick of rotting away in the library, theorizing about ancient art that had little concrete contemporary relevance. I decided that what I really cared about and loved was making work. Chris and I started applying to art schools on the west coast, in hopes that perhaps we could live together again when the year ended. Portland was cheap, full of good coffee, flowers, biking hippies and tortured Reedies. It was wonderful to see the city from a different vantage point. The job market was insanely competitive, and I ended up taking a shitty yet well-paying job at a drive-through coffee hut. Haha. It's amusing in retrospect, but at the time it was mind-numbing and rather degrading. I had to wake up at 3:30am, bike to work (often there was frost on the ground, the stars were still out), and open the place by 5:00 sharp. I got a view of Portland's blue collar working class, which was definitely not the Portland I had experienced when I was attending Reed. People came to this fucking coffee hut everyday, and got the same. drink. everyday. It was so strange to be such a fixture in people's morning routine... I had worked as a barista before, but in a more intellectual/ social setting... never had I experienced such a feeling of providing people with a fix. I sort of felt that I was a cog in the wheel of capitalist America, that I was providing people with this thing that they didn't need but thought they needed, thus sort of playing a part in keeping them oppressed. The whole thing was depressing and bizarre- it was like the McDonalds of coffee. To top it off, the vacant store sharing the lot with my coffee hut was being renovated into a strip club, and the owners would saunter over daily to offer me a "really good job." At least the place gave me a lot of alone time to contemplate and try to get my mind and priorities strait. I knew that I needed a big change, that I had been feeling socially frustrated and intellectually under-challenged for too long. While reading and writing in my cell one day, I decided that I needed to blow all of my wages on a big, life-changing adventure to make the whole imprisonment worthwhile. My rent in Portland was so cheap that I could afford to save most of my wages... I started bubbling with ideas for an adventure. Chris and I had been dreaming of a trip to southeast Asia, but had never imagined how we could actually pull it off. I was incredibly interested in Indian art and architecture at the time, he was reading a lot of Hindu philosophy. That evening, I called and told him I was going to India for the summer, and if he wanted to come, he should. Luckily he decided to come... I'm not sure if I would have survived that country without him (well, I would have been ok, but more preyed upon I'm sure...).
During my stay in Portland, I did a bit of photography, a few etchings, hiked in the forest, bitched with the hipsters, wrote scrawling journal entries about missing Chris, hating Chris, feeling confused about my purpose, feeling alone, feeling excited about my upcoming trip, feeling anxious, feeling insane etc... etc. I was constantly making food and baking cakes in our toaster oven for my tortured Reed housemates, basically maintaining the household in every way because Emma was so overworked.
While in Portland, I spent a lot of time with my brother's close friend Jason, who is a brilliant conversationalist, a talented composer and photographer, a carpenter, a dreamer, a troubled intellectual, an alcoholic, and I think in love with me (or anyone who is female and will listen). He is one of those perplexing, brilliant, intuitive souls who absolutely hates himself and tries nightly to destroy himself with red wine. I didn't realize the gravity of his self-hatred until just before I left for India. I discovered his alcoholism while coming off the most epic acid trip with Emma. She and I ate some acid on the day that she passed in her last paper for the year. We went walking around a nearby dog park in bright colorful dresses, happy and silly, thinking of talking to dogs and wondering about their personalities... we went wandering through a beachy, forested, wildly blooming area near our house... we were small children laughing at the bigness and strangeness and the grotesque cyclic beauty of nature that engulfed us... we went home, picking flowers, realizing that we were still so fucking high... started talking about men and good and evil and god and purpose and love.... Started crying and drawing and being alive...took a bubble bath.... I began to feel like I had totally lost touch with reality and would never return to sanity, began scrawling madly beautiful thoughts in big handwriting, trying anything to feel less lost in my own epic dreams and more grounded in my body.... I fused with eternal oneness, I cried. Emma ate some yogurt and laughed and thanked me for my intensity (she has always been the one to help me find my roots). She said she needed some earthly male energy, maybe a beer, thought she would drive to Jason's house for a change of pace. We were in love with Pacha, the gigantic, handsome coon hound that lived with J, and we decided that nothing would make us feel more in the world than this big, displaced, human-like dog. We drove across town ( a very sparkly yet very focused drive...), landed at J and housemate Barry's beautifully empty and natural and masculine home. The place was full of rocks and dogs and sticks and drums... and a piano soundboard that could be strummed to create the most other-worldly sounds.... Emma and I realized, after a bit of conversation and a beer, that Jason was so incredibly, violently drunk and angry. I had never seen this side of him, let alone faced it after a wild and beautiful day of deep contemplation. I felt fried out, but really grounded in reality and in clear in my thinking. I felt like I could see through him so clearly, understand his anger. I wanted to reach him on a really pure level and make him see how he was hurting himself. I told him how he was acting, how he was making Emma and I feel. He seemed like a completely different person than the cuddly, earthy J that I loved- he became a child, bitter and lost in his contempt for his past and his father. He requested that we listen to a song that he had composed that day... it was a loop of his voice, the most angry and ugly and cutting song. We couldn't listen. On est parti. It was the most enlightening day... I think I experienced the absolute highest high of human psychological freedom, along with the lowest low of human despair and self-destruction.
Eventually I got admissions offers from all of the art schools I had applied to, which was shocking and exciting and life-affirming. Although Chicago Art Institute was a tempting "name brand" sort of school, I thought the biting cold would do me no good, and I knew that I wanted to live in San Francisco. It has always seemed such a sublime, romantic city... there is an idealism that emanates from this town, through the architecture, through the diverse people here. I wanted to know this place deeply, make it integral to me. Somehow I got a ton of financial aid from SFAI... Chris got in also and decided to attend.... it was like magic, everything worked out perfectly. Emma and I parted ways, she returned home to Seattle, I stopped briefly in the Bay area before catching my flight to Kolkata with only what I could carry in a small backpack. I was off to India for two months, and I was absolutely unprepared for what I would see there.
I left wearing ripped jeans and hiking boots, along with a shirt that I had hand sewed for the journey. My backpack was 50% full of first aid- medications of all sorts, bandaids, gauze- we were basically prepared to sew on a finger if need be.... I had a guide book, a water purifier and chlorine drops to kill any water-borne viruses... I thought I was prepared, but nothing could prepare me for what I would see. I think I was shaking for the entire flight. Upon touching down in Kolkata, madness ensued and didn't let up for the next two months. I wandered around the airport, that looked like a bomb shelter, locking and unlocking my backpack, digging around for my passport that was demanded from me by every official I encountered. Somehow I found my way outside, and even in the early morning, the air was heavy with heat and humidity. I got into a cab... the cabs were raised far off the ground to accommodate poor road conditions, and looked like rally cars from 1960s Britain. I was delirious with excitement and confusion and fear as we whizzed through the Kolkata suburbs, weaving at deathly speed through cows, buses, men on bicycles laden with baskets of chickens, women in saris with children on their backs. The buses were painted bright blue, with various colorful good luck symbols painted on their sides, along with strange British phrases like "ta ta for now" painted on the rear bumpers. There we no rules of the road, everything was a blur of color and speed and heat. I got dropped off somewhere in the middle of the city- not at the hotel that I had requested, of course- I was immediately mobbed by "touts" (people who make their living off a commission that they are paid for bringing confused tourists to various hotels and stores). I wandered around the city, dazed, scared, lost, overwhelmed. It was a different world... there was shit everywhere, goats in the road, trash rotting on each corner, vedors of tea (chai), chapatti bread and channa selling their wares on the streets, groups smoking opium and hashish, people showering in the streets, trampled wreaths of orange flowers here and there, ruined offerings to kali, rama and durga. There was a dirty and naked child on each street that would glue herself to your side, doe-eyed, hands out, begging for food or money. There were goat heads for sale, as goat brain was a delicacy... dying people lined up on the sides of alleyways, with a metal bowl near them for money. The temperature rose to around 110 degrees, with stifling humidity and pollution. I finally found my hotel and slept uneasily until 2am, when I awoke to Chris' voice from outside.
I heard Chris yelling my name, and ran out to the lobby to see if he could get in to the hotel. I hadn't seen him for several months, and we both looked melted and insane. The hotel was locked with a steel gate, I turned to search for somebody to let Chris in and stumbled over someone sleeping on the floor of the hotel. After some yelling in Hindi and some commotion, everyone who worked at the hotel was roused (they all slept on the floor of the lobby at night), and Chris was let in. We had the most frantic, sweaty, crazed sex and fell asleep, wondering what madness we had gotten ourselves into and how we would ever survive two months of this place.
As I write from my bed in San Francisco's Mission, I'm still not sure how we did survive.
India can not be fully recounted in under 24 hours. I am still trying to look at the experience in retrospect and figure out what it all meant. There was poverty beyond belief, there was beauty beyond belief. We ended up traveling as far north as possible in the country, to the Tibetan border and through the Himalaya. We got so fucking sick several times (I never thought it was possible to violently shit and vomit at the same time), we fell in love again, we grew to hate each other.... The experience was so intense that I was emotionally crazed the entire time. I doubted my relationship with Chris, I got angry with his idiosyncrasies, I hated myself, I grew so tired... was stunned and amazed by ever-changing world around me. I suppose the most sense I can make of that trip was it gave me incredible perspective, made me tough, beat the shit out of me so that I could see more clearly. I feel finally that I have recovered from the Reed-induced doldrums, that I'm finally back to myself... and I surely appreciate Chris more after all that we have seen together. Now I'm getting into the creative flow, trying to find the work that is most satisfying at SFAI. On part of me feels so self-indulgent for being in a beautiful city, at a great school, in love, making art... I'm not sure if this is really the school that I have been searching for, or if I am just finally in the right mental space to feel motivated and committed to my degree program. I want to love my work, I want to make beautiful and provocative things that fulfill. I want to communicate my vision clearly. I am impatient for everything to happen at once... but all is well. I am so sick of writing about myself. I will include a parting observation about the relevance of drugs. It has become clear to me through writing this that I often refer to my experiences with drugs to summarize emotional themes of my life. Although perhaps from this writing it may seem otherwise, experimentation with drugs has been a very moderate and controlled part of my life. I have never felt that I misuse drugs, but rather that their use has given me clarity and helped me to grow. I find it interesting that my experiences with drugs have become a recurring theme in this brief memoir, but I think this only stands as testament to their past relevance in my life- that is, I am able to summarize an entire emotional theme/ era of my life by discussing , for example, a single acid trip. In thinking about my past, my experiences with drugs are readily available ways of reexamining emotional themes, simply because these experiences were highly-concentrated in terms of emotion and psychology.
If you read all of this, I wonder why and how? Thank you for your energy and time and attention. Enjoy your life.........