Saturday, August 29, 2020

Abandoned Ship

I was up earlier than usual for a Saturday-- took a jog uptown and saw my Boxer training by the Meer-- it's been months and we were happy to see one another-- enough to exchange smiles... his a kind of stiff grin through his mouthguard.  I love that he trains alone with the guard in.  He's serious. No mask.  No one is going to step into his 6-foot ring.  

By the public bathrooms a large man singing through a cheap karaoke kit-microphone... Stuck on You... of all things.  Last week it was Ain't No Sunshine.  He was bad.  Not Michael Jackson bad... just bad.  As I passed, like an announcer he cheered me on, through the little speaker-- yeah, Baby Girl, you do it...  Even I had to laugh... no one called me that even when I was a toddler.  I'm certainly no one's baby. 

Most of my life I have chosen the 'high road' in bad situations.  I have opted out of payment, given to charity, refused to argue when greed was the protagonist on the table, gone home with my pride a thin coating against the weather and the haters.  You and yo' damn principles, Tyrone scolded me when I refused to trade food stamps for cash.  I'll buy him lunch, but don't want his benefits.  

Me and my damn principles.  I feel like it's Act III of this Corona play; we're all in it, scriptless, rolling around like blind pinballs waiting to hit some bell or whistle-- illness, death-- job loss, eviction.  We're hunkered down here, some of us.  I've never abandoned the ship of my city before, but my building is less than half-occupied at the moment, and day by day I read Facebook announcements of emigres, deserters. What am I proving here?  I feel like a smoker on my last pack... what next?  

Uptown seems calmer than downtown; no moving trucks here, not much action on the street before dark.  People jogging, shopping... walking dogs, setting up for street barbecues and picnics-- but little anger... more like a what's next attitude and the hangover from 5 months of diminished life. We've become lazy-- flabby, unproductive.  We accept shitty television and whatever sports we can get.  We overpay for cable and internet-- it's become our new expensive bedmate. We argue less at checkout.  We drink alone and accept curfews.  

I've been getting a ton of art-related email.  Virtual exhibition tours, panels-- opinions, critiques, advice.  The 5 or 7 or 10 curators who have shaped the art market.  Over and over.  The social relevance of new art...  etc.  What does it take these days to be an art curator?  When I went to school we had to distinguish forgeries from authentic signatures-- fakes from actual.  We had to know.  Art meant something; there was a history and formal principles to be analyzed.  Like a history of classical music.  And contemporary.  Of course now that 'markets' are more important than art, all bets are off.  People are anesthetized and too lazy to look; they take the opinion of 'experts' like a medicine.  They buy what they are told.  They sell. These things don't wear well; back into the cycle.  

The way things are framed in this life seems to be important.  This is advertising-- presentation; wardrobe, make-up.  I have been shocked in my lifetime seeing celebrities totally 'naked'.  Unrecognizable.  The framing is essential.  I have seen paintings-- works of art-- sloppy and frayed, sometimes finger and foot-printed from an old studio floor... then transformed like funky ducklings into graceful wall-swans, surrounded by mounting trickery like celestial cloud-rendering. Ready for luxury customers.  

I started to think today-- how the unexpected afternoon sunshine transformed the Meer. There was even an unscripted rainbow-- or at least half a rainbow.  The water had just enough current to make a kind of quiet surf-music.  While I am pretty well-versed in naming painters and identifying artwork, I still haven't learned to recognize trees.  Nature doesn't really speak to me the way I know roads and cornerstones-- rooftop profiles and water-towers against skyscrapers... I have befriended lampposts and painted messages... they resonate in my human heart the way bookspines, cigarette packs-- have meaning.  Photographed faces in a row-- vinyl album covers-- stamp books and bootlaces-- cassettes in repurposed wine crates.  The way things hurt, when you are young... the way girls fell in love with one another at a certain age... you knew-- this face-- was going to be your best.  

Trash piles outside the projects are the same as ever... old TVs, discarded furniture, broken airconditioners-- strollers... but downtown, they are filling with things... with cast-offs and cartons of memory.  My people are deserting me.  Not for the first time I have the sense of a sinking ship... but I can find few reasons to hang in.  Maybe the 'principled' of us are on the diseased cruise ship of New York.  After the fear, the distrust, the social distancing and unrest-- the demonstrations and demands... the sorrow... Death has become at least one of the starring roles in this new play. Suicide, I have come to believe, is in all of our DNA... it is part of the human condition and the unique privilege we have.  Maybe the concept of suicide has yet to invade the collective soul of an urban animal.  Maybe we are on some verge.  

I've been thinking about the ocean-- watching hurricanes rage and recede, massive wave formations.  I've been listening, again, to Procol Harum's A Salty Dog... it's a kind of metaphor for grief, this album. It's beautiful and I miss this kind of songwriting-- these albums of our heart that seem memorialized in vinyl. My old copy is quite worn.  It asks me who will inventory my life when it is over? Who will curate, present and frame?  I'm not sure how this play ends; by then the ship may have sunk, and my moot and principled life will surely not be deemed seaworthy.  I hope someone somewhere will still treasure the lyrics of Keith Reid, or whomever...they resonate with even more truth in these times... Let him who fears his heart alone/Stand up and make a speech...

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Blogger Unknown said...

Beautifully written thank you

August 30, 2020 at 7:51 AM  
Blogger Bo Reilly said...

"Honor is like an island, rugged and without a beach; once we have left it, we can never return."

Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux

September 6, 2020 at 5:02 AM  
Blogger Bo Reilly said...

I think it was Warhol who said, "All art is a hustle."

Maybe, but when I go to the RISD Museum of Modern Art (Providence) and find Robert Motherwell's 'Ochre Still Life, with Blue Stripe, 1966' I feel pretty good standing there.

A few steps into the next room and I can find a bright red Olivetti valentine portable typewriter:
"For use in any place except in an office, so as not to remind anyone of the monotonous working hours, but rather to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country, or to provide a highly-colored object on a table in a studio apartment. An anti-machine machine..."

Maybe I should view the valentine as industrial art, but I'm not sure it makes a difference. I'm glad both pieces exist, and happy for the lift.

September 6, 2020 at 5:25 AM  

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