The Year Before #pandemic2020

24th Street

A year before shit hit the fan, and we were told to stay home, shelter in place, because a deadly virus was loose in the world, my life was all right. Not great. But all right. All right enough. Just enough.

I went to poetry readings. Read my work, heard others read. I could forget about my slumlord for a while. That fucking rat-faced weasel. Now I’m home all the time. And this shithole  depresses me. It’s gotten worse.

It’s time to leave San Francisco. I was looking for someplace else to live. But the pandemic forced me to put that on hold. When the dust settles, I’ll get back to that. I need to get out this place. I don’t feel safe.

I will miss sharing space with the poets and writers I’ve met here in The City.

I was scheduled to read at an event a year ago this month, last April, but I got sick. I  had a bad cold. A big dog of a cold. I was sniffling, coughing, had a horrible headache, and felt fatigued. I emailed Amanda (fake name), who curated the reading, and told her I couldn’t make the reading. I had planned on reading six poems, two were new ones I wrote specifically for the reading. I asked if she’d read my two new poems. She was initially reluctant, said I have a very distinct style, and she didn’t want to misread my work. I told her there were no curse words, in case that’s what worried her. (Last February, the last open mic I read at, when Cash (fake name) introduced me as the next reader, they said, “If you’ve been here before, you know what’s coming.” I seem to have a rep.) Amanda said to email the poems and she’d take a look at them, see if she felt she could “do them justice.” The theme of the reading was teachers and activists. I wrote a poem called Substitute Teacher and one called Grasshopper. She said she liked them, and she would read them. I was really grateful. It was an alternative participation. My poems were there, even if I wasn’t. To me, it’s the work that matters.

Then in June, I learned Amanda invited folks to come have a farewell drink with her at The Blind Cat. She had resigned her community college teaching job, and was headed back to San Diego. It was a FB post. I’m not on FB, but someone sent me a text with an image of the post. I had to be there. I had to say good-bye.

Most the people who showed were poets and writers. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I asked Amanda what made her want to be a poet. She said she got interested when she went to college, but also because of Jim Morrison (of The Doors). I said, “No shit? Jim Morrison was one of my inspirations!” Emily Dickinson, then Jim Morrison. After that, Patti Smith. (But I’ve lost interest in her. To go from “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” to shaking the Pope’s hand, looking up at him in awe–makes me feel she isn’t who/what I thought she was; or she changed into something/someone I cannot abide. And her book, Devotion, I think is a piece of shit. In it she says hubris was her reason for writing. WTF? Hubris? That really put me off.)

Amanda, Oscar (fake name), a poet I met long ago, Andrea (fake name) a journalist I met that night, and I were the last four at the “party.” Amanda and I were talking and howling. (Um, laughing. Loudly. Not actually howling. In case that isn’t clear.) We came to realize we had more in common than we ever knew. Finally, Andrea said, “We need to  make an exquisite corpse.”

“What’s an exquisite corpse,” I asked. Andrea said it was an exercise the surrealist painters invented. They would each draw a piece of a body. A collaborative creation. She said she would write a line, pass the sheet to the next person, who would write the next line, and that person would fold over the first line, so the next person could see only the previous line, and contribute their line. She tore out a piece of paper from a notebook she carried in her bag. (Of course. She’s a journalist. Always ready.) Andrea wrote a line, then passed the sheet to Amanda. She wrote a line, folded over Andrea’s line, and passed the sheet to me. I wrote a line, folded over Amanda’s line, and passed it to Oscar. The paper went around the table several times, until we got to the bottom of the page. Then Amanda read the collaborative poem. We were pretty pleased with the end result. The four of us were there till about 12:30. I got home at 1:00 a.m.

The next morning I emailed Amanda and told her I had a great time, and felt inspired. I was working on a poem, and when I finished it, I would send it to her. Two weeks later, I emailed it to her. I told her I looked forward to seeing her again, that this was NOT the end. The poem is called Riding the Storm. It’s filled with allusions to Jim Morrison/Doors. She liked it and posted it on FB. She wanted Amanda and Oscar to see it. Then she posted a tribute song to me by the Doors. “Even though she’s not on bookface,” she said. (Someone sent me a text with the image of the post, so I’d know about it.) She posted Riders on the Storm, one of her fave Doors songs.

Amanda returned in October, for LitCrawl. Oscar curated the reading, Amanda was one of the featured readers. She did a collaborative thing, inviting me, Oscar, and a poet with cerebral palsy she had met at a reading to participate. She had written a poem inspired by the one I wrote her, one inspired by the poet with the palsy (I don’t know him, and don’t recall his name, but I recall he was good looking, really cool, radiated inner beauty, and wrote beautifully!), and Oscar had written a poem inspired by one Amanda wrote. So we all read our particular poem, and Amanda, of course, read the corresponding poem. I enjoyed that reading very much. It’s the last time I saw Amanda, but we text each other now and again.

Here’s the poem I wrote for her:

Riding the Storm

“Oh, great creator of being, grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives.” — Jim Morrison

I ride the storm alone
“like a dog without a bone”
like a blind cat.

No realm of bliss this
but an endless night
as some are born.

We four
kicked it
at the favored
corner dive bar
on 24th Street.

Throwing back beers
the two of us
like drunken sailors
filled the air
with boisterous
laughter.

Pen and paper
passed around the table.
We all
like a bohemian bunch
one by one
crunch words
to piece together
an exquisite corpse.

It rose to our delight
on remarkable feet.

I’m a Romantic.
Romantics take the hard road,
the road not travelled
by the rational.

It’s a hefty price,
but fuck it.

The beauty
I on occasion encounter
is worth it.

I’ll dance on fire
till the music’s over,

ride the storm
like a goddamn boss
until the end.           =====© 2019

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Life in the Time of the “Cabrona” Virus

It’s a bitch. This cabrona virus, the coronavirus, covid-19. I read one article that said the virus came from fish. I read another article that said it comes from bats. And then I read that pangolins might be involved.

Pangolins? What the hell is a pangolin?

Oh. Some scaly mammal that feeds on ants and termites, found in Africa and Asia. It’s an ugly critter. I think. They roll up like big ol’ roly poly bugs. Got long curvy claws. They’re apparently an endangered animal, illegally hunted and poached. “Demand is especially high in China and Vietnam where pangolin parts are used in medicine and served as a culinary delicacy,” I read in an article in The Christian Science Monitor, July 2014. An article in the NYT, just a few days ago, says these critters may NOT be linked to this new cabrona virus. This virus that’s killing people around the world.

And then there are the murmurs of bio-warfare gone wrong. But a Dr. interviewed on the news (don’t recall, PBS or BBC – the only news I watch anymore) disputed that idea. He said there is no evidence that it’s an engineered virus. “It comes from nature,” he said.

I don’t know what to believe. But it doesn’t matter. What is true is that there is a deadly virus loose in the world, and it’s wreaking havoc. People losing their lives. People losing income. Small businesses going kaput. But of course, banks still expect their moola: A waiter in Italy who got laid off when the restaurant closed said,

“I have a wife and two children and we’re living off our savings. But I don’t know how long they (sic) will last. I asked my bank to postpone payment instalments (sic)– they said no. This situation is bringing us to our knees.”

That was in The Guardian, on April 1, 2020, an article about how people in Italy have quit singing on their balconies, and are starting to freak. Not about the virus, but about ending up totally bust. Broke. Poverty-stricken.

We’re living in a new reality. And there is still so much mystery.

At the beginning of March, I felt ambivalent about going to the monthly poetry reading at the bookstore a few blocks from where I live. It was their seventh year anniversary, and it was going to be all open mic by community poets. Last year, a lot of poets and poetry lovers showed. Poets from here in The City, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, even Sacramento. I’d been looking forward to this reading. But part of me was feeling maybe I shouldn’t go, because I’d been reading and hearing the news about this virus. And I had even wondered what the hell did it take to call it a pandemic, because it sure seemed like one to me. Then, boom! The World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic. The day before the reading. The reading was still on, since The City hadn’t taken much action on the health issue yet, other than to limit gatherings to fifty. Shit, the mayor had been encouraging people to go out to dinner, because restaurants were losing business. She said just keep a safe distance, and make sure the crowd was under fifty. Only a week earlier, Pelosi had been in Chinatown encouraging people to go there, because they started losing business. Personally, I thought it was BAD ADVICE! From both broads!

I didn’t go the reading. That was the second week of March. Then on the third week of the month, The City told us to stay home. (I heard it said it was supposed to be a coordinated effort by Bay Area mayors, and ours jumped the gun, as if it were her own idea. Yeah. As if…) A week later, the Gov. told the whole state to stay home.

Coffee cake comfort food,

A week after the initial shelter in place order, I went out for groceries. I felt like I was braving the land of The Walking Dead. The coronavirus being the “walker” posing a danger to my life. Shelves were emptier than the streets, though there were def fewer folks out there. Some kept distance, but some fools didn’t seem to get it through their thick skulls to do that, as if the rest of us were irrationally panicked. A few people wore masks. Some homemade. Two weeks later, more people are wearing masks. More of them homemade.

It was early February when I began to feel very uneasy about this virus. I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Baking makes me feel good. Eating baked goodies makes me feel good. (Not without guilt. But when my guilt said, you’re gonna gain weight!” I said, “I don’t care! I don’t care!”) Baking is good for the soul. It’s good for mental health. Did you know that?

Homemade brownies.

Anyway, when the shelter in order came, I made a coffee cake, with slices of apples underneath the struesel topping. Last night I made brownies. Aw, man, they were so good! The best I’ve EVER made. Chocolatey, moist, chewy. Perfect! Pure poetry!

I want to bake bread too. I’m out of yeast, but I put it on order. (We are having groceries delivered, but there’s no guarantee we will get everything we ordered. Or that our order will be delivered. It’s a sign of the times.) I walked to a local mom and pop the other day. They didn’t have flour, shortening, vanilla extract, or oatmeal–some of the items I had on my list. The gal at the counter was wearing a plastic

Good morning, sunshine. Isabel says, “Hello.”

shield over her face.

I try to stay in the moment. I’m concerned, and cautious, but I’m not panicked. It is what it is. It will go the way it has to. I’d been working on some poems, but right now I can’t seem to get back into that. Instead, I bake. I read. I watch movies. I play with my dog. I post on IG.

Women’s literature.

“I think I’ll reread The Last Man, by Mary Shelley. I imagine her rolling over in her grave, and saying to her critics, “How you like me now, bitch!”

 

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Shit

After her bath. Apprehensive ears up.

Been too long since I’ve posted. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue with this. But, here I am.

I live frugally. It’s a tough journey, this life of mine.

I need to move. I’m even willing to leave San Francisco. There are better reasons to stay, and good reasons not to. I need a place for my little Isabel, who has a personality disorder. Her vet said it might be severe trauma, or genetic, or both. “You know how some people are? They just don’t function well? They can’t. There’s something wrong with them,” she said. “Isabel is like that.”

That makes me love her more. Dogs like her get put to sleep. I think she deserves to be loved. She isn’t easy. But she can be so charming.

I carry her in a sling, a dog purse,

Carrying Isabel in her sling.

because she is too afraid to go for a walk. If I see another dog, I cross the street, or I turn around, so she won’t make eye contact. She challenges. It’s fear-aggression. And also possessiveness. She’s guarding me. Ha. Barely 10 lbs. Right, little one. You’re gonna kick ass to protect me. Uh huh. Her aggression is no joke, and her fear is heartbreaking. She’s a special little thing. I love her so much.

I’ve been researching Kathy Acker. I wrote a poem about seeing her once, named it after her novel, Great Expectations. She was known to “plagiarize,” pirate, appropriate, deconstruct and reconstruct literary texts. She was a Punk writer. When I first read GE, an assigned reading in a graduate class, I didn’t particularly care for it. We read a novel a week, so there wasn’t much of an in-depth lecture/discussion. Kind of a “speed dating” thing. I didn’t know anything about her, and she isn’t an easy read, so it got past me.

I saw her in a book store in San Francisco, in 1995. Not reading, just as a consumer. My son and I went to Modern Times Bookstore, on Valencia. (He lived around the corner from it, I lived in Berkeley.) We were looking at books displayed on a table, and there was a woman there too, standing on the other side of it. I was gushing about getting into a poetry workshop with Quincy Troupe. She looked up, and eavesdropped. Blatantly. Stood there staring at me. I presume she thought me lame. I won’t argue that estimation. After we left, or maybe she left, I don’t remember, my son says, “You know who that was?”

“No. Who was it?”

“That was Kathy Acker.”

“What! That was Kathy Acker?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, my God! Wow!” I said, like a lame bitch. “I didn’t really like her writing,” I said. “I didn’t get it,” I admitted.

Geezus. Kathy Acker. We passed right by each other. Her skirt brushed against my pant leg. And I’m gushing about QT. She must’ve thought, “You dumb bitch. Don’t you know who I am?”

Her hair wasn’t cropped, nor was she dressed provocatively, like her picture on the book that was sitting on my shelf. When I got home, I went to the bookshelf, got my copy of GE, looked at her image on the cover. Yup. That was the face. At the book store, she was dressed in a bright mustard yellow skirt, and a color-coordinated print blouse. Her blond hair about to her earlobes, the front pulled back, gathered on top of her head. Her clothes were bright and crisp, like new. She looked like an ordinary middle-class woman. Actually, she had an air of privilege, you know, like upper class. I didn’t know back then that she was born into wealth, but had rejected that society.

Kathy Acker. Stared at me. At me! Listened. Like a snoop. That look. It stayed with me. She had no idea. She left me something. That moment. It’s mine. I got gawked at by Kathy Acker.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer a year later. She died in 1997.

She left SF, but returned just before she died. (I had moved to Oakland, then relocated to an innocuous shit town, near Sacramento, because of a shit job I took, but it was union, and it paid well, working for a shit corporation. I’m not sorry they recently filed for bankruptcy.) Back in SF, Acker checked “into a decrepit hotel in the Tenderloin.” Someone once said to me, “You know what they say about the Tenderloin, don’t you?”

“No. What do they say?”

“It ain’t so tender.”

It’s a rough area. Drug addicts, drunks, people with cognitive issues (you know, severe mental illness). From there, Acker went to a hospital in Mexico, where she died.

I don’t live in the Tenderloin. But I may as well. My fuckhead landlord isn’t a slumlord, cuz he ain’t rich. “He’s ghetto,” my son says. Meaning, he’s ignorant. He’s still like a slumlord. Instead of finding someone to fix the lock on the door to the basement/laundry room (cuz he doesn’t know how), he got a wire coat hanger, extended it, wrapped it around the doorknob, and hooked

the curved end to a water pipe. “There. That’ll work,” he said proudly. That’s a ghetto fix. There are two units. I live in the lower unit. He lives in the upper unit.

Hole around drain pipe under my bathroom sink.

Gay or straight, a man is a man is a man. And a man don’t want no bitch telling him what. Fuckhead is gay. His BF, Jughead, is a volatile jackass, who harasses my fearful Isabel, rattling his keys at our front door, blowing a whistle, using a fucking air horn, shit like that. She rushes the door barking and growling fiercely when he passes by. She hates him, because she fears him, because he harasses her. I try to stop her, calm her, but her brain is full focus on it, so if she ever learns to remain calm, it will be a long time from now. I’m doing the best I can with her. I once heard Jughead growl at her, “Shut up!” And Fuckhead laughed. I hope one day they get their just deserts.

Fuckhead denied there were rats. Then the rat shit started piling up in the basement. He said it was mice. (As if that were better.) He denied there were leaking pipes. Then water

Water leak. Above my bed. Killed my mattress.

poured from recessed lights above my bed, and killed my mattress. It  stunk to holy hell, cuz it mixed with the rat piss and rat shit. When the plumber cut a piece of the ceiling out, piles of rat shit poured onto the floor. Fuckhead shrugged, snickered, and said, “Heh, mice.” The plumber goes, “Oh, no. That’s not mice. That’s rats!” I refused to pay rent that month. I had to get a new mattress.

Carpenter ants are doing damage, but Fuckhead refuses to hear me, to investigate, to acknowledge it.

Next door, the woman is extending her kitchen. In The City, a lot of houses are up against each

Neighbor’s reno construction crew sliced ceiling in my bathroom.

other. When her reno crew removed a part of her building, right up against this one, they sliced the ceiling in my bathroom. The other holes were already there. Removing her wall, revealed the shoddy construction job of my bathroom. Because now the outside light shines through, three different places around the plumbing.

Morning light through clear packaging tape.

Fuckhead painted the house last year. He’s a very surface kind of asshole. That includes his personality. Total facade. To look at the house, you’d never guess rats nest in the walls.

I covered the peekaboo holes in my bathroom with packaging tape, cuz it’s all I had. It’s depressing. But it makes a great image on the shower wall. The morning light filters through the the folds of the clear tape. I don’t know how long it will be before Fuckhead gets around to covering the holes. He’ll probably use duct tape, Gorilla Tape. And if it rains in my bathroom, I really don’t give a shit. Let it. I don’t care anymore.

I’m looking for a new place. An affordable apartment. So are hundreds, maybe thousands, really, of other people, in one of the most expensive cities in the country. And I have my special case Isabel. Here, there’s a backyard, it’s a shithole backyard, but a backyard; and yes, I do bag and dispose of her doodie. Without a backyard for her to do her business, because the world frightens her, I don’t know how it’s going to work out if I live in an apartment, not a flat, and I have to take her outside onto a fucking city sidewalk, where she’s terrified. Will she adjust? After how long? How much will she suffer from stress and anxiety? She’s housebroken, but will she regress? Shit. What a dilemma.

I dream, futilely, of a small house for us, with a backyard, or a condo or apartment with a patio, where my beloved, fearful, nervous, charming Isabel can do her business, feeling safe and not stressed and frightened by the world. That would be worth leaving San Francisco.

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Is it All it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Accept the fact that everything that makes up your world is there because you attracted it with your own thoughts. Realize that you can control your thoughts and emotions.

Vertical crack in the wall near a corner by a door.

Image by Estela.

Three YouTube “stars” touted the statement I quoted above. They fell to their deaths last summer. Swimming near a waterfall. Where they weren’t supposed to be.  Because it was dangerous. But they didn’t care. They were living it up. “Living the life.”

Um, well, I guess they attracted their demise.

In November, I learned that Eileen Myles was coming to San Francisco for an “Artist’s Talk.” At the Nourse Theater. On Hayes Street. I learned about it the evening before the event, when Myles posted it on her Instagram. I said, Shit! I have to go see her! I have to!

In the morning, I bought a ticket, and in the evening I went to the Nourse Theater to see Eileen Myles. I had a front row seat. On the right side section (facing the stage). I sat in the first seat, next to the inside aisle. Afterward, I bought her book of poems, Evolution. Stood in line to have her sign it. It was positively surreal for me. There she was: Eileen Myles. In person. In front of me.

When Myles was a young, New York poet, Gingsberg attended her reading. Her first poetry book launch, if I remember correctly. He was there. Gingsberg. Allen Gingsberg. She’s always been, it seems to me, in the right place at the right time. Robert Mapplethorpe photographed her. That portrait is on the cover of her novel, Chelsea Girls. (At least, the 2015 edition, which I read.) I mean, a 24 year old chick from Boston moves to New York in 1974 to be a poet, and crosses paths with a famous poet and a famous photographer. Now she is famous. Well, celebrity poet famous. (I only learned of her in February 2018. Which means her fame continues to expand.) Actually, Gingsberg and Mapplethorpe were more famous in their day. That is to say, known in/by the mainstream, at times making the evening news. I guess Myles is mostly known by poets, writers (established or not), creative writing and English teachers/professors, Hollyweird celebs, and, I suppose, lesbians interested in lesbian literature/poetry. I had seen her name on lit sites, but I never looked her up. Until I saw an article about her in The Guardian. That peaked my interest. Now, I’m a fan. Jane-come-late Estela.

She went through tough times, starting out, had some “wild” times (booze, drugs, sex), and worked hard to get to where she’s at. I guess all her thoughts and emotions got her there, where ever she was, and where she is now.

She’s also a photographer. Exhibits her work. I very much like her photos. She has a good eye. It’s a poetic eye. Unlike Patti Smith. IMO, P.S’s photos are shit. But being famous, she can exhibit. I just read Smith’s Devotion: Why I write. I hate it. IMO, it sucks. It’s horrible. Once upon a time, Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not Patti’s. She was an American artist, and she had no guilt. The rebel I idolized. She seems 180 degrees from that now. Even the title, Devotion, strikes me as so fucking pious. Sanctimonious. Ugh! My obsession with her has disintegrated. My admiration pulverized. Not to mention, her connection to Robert Mapplethorpe. He was a genius photographer. No doubt. But he was also a narcissistic jerk. (My opinion after watching a Mapplethorpe documentary.) That is the man she loved/loves? (First romantically, then Platonically.) IDK. It just bothers me.

After becoming aware of Eileen Myles, I’m like, shit, Eileen Myles is a better poet role model than Emily Dickinson. Except, Myles and I are the same age. So, you know, it’s too effing late. To begin, I mean. I just have to keep going, but I have to get out of my room, so-to-speak. More often, anyway. But, I gotta say, Dickinson is the superior poet. The Queen. The Empress. Sits next to Shakespeare. In Poet’s Heaven.

Myles wanted to be famous. I never dreamed about being a “celebrity poet.” Never crossed my mind. BUT, I have dreamed of my poetry living beyond me. Dreamed of my verse being alive. You know?

I read at Lit Crawl and Lit Quake last year. I’d say my thoughts and emotions got me there. Cuz I’ve thought about it and desired it for several years. I guess the stars finally aligned.

Thoughts and emotions have something to do with what you attract into your life. I guess. But there’s also luck. Surely. Was watching Micheal Bublé being interviewed on tv recently. He said he attributed his success to luck. The interviewer thinks he’s being modest, reminds him he’s “got a set of pipes.” He says, “Yeah, but so do all those American Idol singers.”

Yeah. It is. It’s luck. I hope luck kisses me. I’m putting my thoughts and emotions into that. Just in case. You know?

♥                           ♥                                 ♥                            ♥

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Art is a Gamble

Easel at the window of blue building.

Easel at the window on 24th Street, Mission District, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Estela.

Art is a gamble. Maybe you have talent, maybe even genius, but maybe no one sees it. I mean, look at Emily Dickinson. “Ya got sup’m,” Higginson said, “but’cha ain’t ret yet.” Well, words to that effect.

Or, you might be delusional. Ever watch those talent shows on tv? (I watch SYTYCD and RuPaul’s Drag Race.) When folks audition, some of them believe they have talent, when they clearly don’t have a lick. Or it isn’t up to par. When the judges tell them no dice, they’re bewildered, crushed. Some walk off cursing, claim the judges don’t know what ef they’re talking about.

Then there’s market forces. In Inferno, by Eileen Myles, regarding poetry readings, she writes, “There are many kinds of fakery, and some are successful.”

I re-watched Cutie and the Boxer. (It’s still on Netflix.) Pollack splashed paint on a canvas. Ushio Shinohara paints by punching a canvas with boxing gloves. In the documentary, Ushio is 80, and finacially just getting by, with his wife, also an artist. I think it’s a moving story, not only about Ushio, but his wife, Noriko. These are artists in the purest sense of the word. They live for art, and nothing else. It’s an idealistic way to live. Common sense should tell you that it’s risky, if not foolish. Especially, I think, if you’re avant-garde.

The market forces went against Ushio. And Noriko, as woman–wife and mother–had an added disadvantage, having to take care of her family. I don’t know what follows after this film, but I hope it helped gain them some financial relief, and more recognition for their work. (Their son is also an artist. There’s a lot to say about this family of artists, and their dysfunctions. But that’s a different subject.)

Toward the end of the film, Ushio says:

“Art is a demon. A demon that drags you along. It’s not something you stop, even if you should. Maybe you go insane… You throw yourself away to be an artist.”

Once you are a celebrity, anything goes. So, it seems to me. As much as I’m a fan of Eileen Myles, if I wrote like she does, I’d be told I couldn’t write. I think she’s a little messy. And her grammar is sometimes off. But that’s her style, I guess.

R. Crumb, the comic illustrator/artist, says of Warhol:

“He had a clever little schtick, but again, highly overrated, as far as I’m concerned…One of his lame-ass silk screen prints goes for more money than some original renaissance art.”

I feel the same way about Basquiat. One of his paintings sold for over 8 mil, a couple or so years ago. He was in the right place at the right time. I’ve heard it questioned: Was he exploited, or did he exploit? IMO, it was both. From everything I’ve read, saw in the documentary, and  the biopic, he never said he wanted to be a great artist; he said he wanted to be famous. He succeeded at that. Wasn’t even 28 when he bit.

Market forces. And opinion. And, of course, luck.

Van Gogh didn’t sell more than a painting or two in his lifetime. He used to give his work away. Which infuriated his brother, who supported him, gave him money for his art supplies. Van Gogh painted because it’s all he really could do. He failed at everything else. He didn’t fit into the “real world.” He was a misfit. As was Dickinson.

I agree with Ushio Shinohara: art is a demon. You can’t let it go. Even when you know you should. Just get a job, man. But maybe you don’t fit in the “real world.” For whatever reason. So, art is also a saving grace. As it was for Dickinson. As it was for Van Gogh. Sometimes it’s all you got. Personally, I’m not sure what I think of Ushio’s art. That’s a whole other matter.

“Being an artist,” Hubert Selby said, “doesn’t take much, just everything you got.”

Art is a gamble. But if you feel it, you gotta do it. Do it. Do it. It’s a beautiful life, even when it’s rough.

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Poverty

I was eighteen. Watched a tv report on President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The only image

Frida Kahlo cardboard cutout in front of gift shop.

Frida Kahlo cardboard cutout in front of gift shop, or whatever that is. Kind of New Agey stuff in there too.

that sticks in my mind is of a rural white woman with small children. Three or four. A social worker asked what would the children have for lunch. “Gravy,” the mother said, spooned a white substance into bowls for her children. What was for dinner, the social worker asked. “Gravy,” the woman said. And what was breakfast?

Stupid questions. Or else rhetorical. Just get it on record. Some people didn’t/don’t have three meals a day. When hunger becomes too intense, they scrounge. “Let’s see. Flour. Salt. Lard. I’ll make gravy.” With water, not milk. Shit. If they’re lucky to have flour, or anything else. In ’68, this woman had a roof over her head. A raggedy one, but a roof.

Johnson was concerned about hunger in America. In those years, the president wanted to make it possible for economically disadvantaged high school graduates to go to college. There were grant programs. I guess loans too. But plenty of grants. (I didn’t go to college till much later.)

Then came Reagan. And it’s been downhill ever since. Even the Dems are like Repubs. I’ve never seen so many homeless people. Ever. Except in pictures of the Great Depression. It’s as if the Depression returned, and gelled.

In the fifties, minimum wage was a livable wage. A very modest living, but a living. But now, minimum wage is merely survival. Not livable, but survival. You might live in an SRO, a whole family, in a hotel converted into a single room occupancy. A whole family! Or maybe live in a car, or a tent. Or a camp under an overpass. So I gather, from what I read. Even adjunct professors, like the one in San Jose, who was interviewed for an article on poverty, who lives in a car with her disabled husband. Can’t afford rent.

College costs more than ever. And they hire adjuncts. Part-timers. They have no benefits. Poverty wages. Chancellors are paid in the millions. The tenured and full-timers look down their noses at adjuncts. Those positions used to be grad student assignments. I remember when grad students went on strike, in the early 90’s, at Berkeley, demanding benefits, better pay, better treatment. I saw J, a post-grad I knew, waving his fist in the air, and shouting, “Yeah!” as cars passing by honked in support. He was job seeking last I spoke to him. Years ago. I presume he’s a tenured English professor somewhere now. He was brilliant and handsome. I had a secret crush on him.

They should cap maximum wage. Geezus, rich is rich. The uber rich will still have more money the average Joe Blow, let alone minimum wagers. But, no, they want it all. What sort of heartless shit is that? Well, yeah. Heartless. Arrogant. Greedy. Corrupted. Soulless.

Nothing poetic about it.

I’m all for social democracy. Not socialism. Not communism. But social programs, in a capitalist society. Pure capitalism is as bad as pure socialism. IMO. From what I observe. We need public schools. Public assistance for those in need. (Shit, financial institutions get it. Mega corporations get bail outs with our tax money. That’s Welfare.) Public transportation. Public spaces. Public lands. And a livable wage. Not survival, but livable. As in the fifties. Public schools had cafeterias, where food was prepared daily, not packaged or frozen junk. Frozen pizza? Please. We didn’t buy our school supplies when I was a kid. Schools provided pencils, pen, paper. At least, in grammar school. Through sixth grade, as I recall.

The late sixties, early seventies. The cultural revolutions. There was promise. Even change. I was a fool. I believed. (Well, “we.” I wasn’t the only one.)

I didn’t participate in all that 60’s and 70’s action. I was a married. “Buried” from age sixteen to thirty. (Had to leave a messy home life. Mother. Father. Drama. So much unhealthy drama.)

Divorced at thirty. 1980. It’s a miracle all I did, really. Clueless. On my own. Full of phobias not yet identified. Mid-eighties (my mid-thirties), I transferred to the University. Early oughts, (fifty) I “crashed.” All the psycho-damage. And then the meno-change. Whoo. Rough years, man. Rough years.

And all I wanted, goddmanit, was to be a poet.

Poverty is easier than ever. You can work and still  live in poverty. You can have a middle class life, and then, bam! homeless. How the hell can it be legal to double a person’s rent? DOUBLE! Or kick ’em out so you can rent to higher paying renters!

I have a poetry reading in October. I should’ve been doing this forty-five years ago. But my life didn’t go that way.

This is my life. I’m lucky I don’t live in an SRO, or a tent, or a car, or under an overpass. Shit. At the very least.

Posted in Autobiographical, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing

Social Anxiety

Dark bedroom, early morning light through curtains.

6:09 a.m. Early morning light. Summer soon.

I cracked a fortune cookie, pulled out the little strip of paper, popped a piece of cookie in my mouth, and while I munched on it, read my fortune. (They don’t seem to have fortunes anymore, really. Just an adage, which we might perceive as a cosmic clue. I mean, it’s only meant as entertainment. But, you know…) It read, “All that we are is a result of what we have thought.”

Yes. I know this. I know this. It was a reminder. Because I forget.

Fortune cookie strip says, "All that we are is a result of what we have thought."

Fortune cookie strips I tape along my bedroom doorframe.

I stopped to think what thoughts I have that bring me to this place where I am dissatisfied.

Emily Dickinson had social anxiety. She locked herself in her room. As a kid in sixth grade, I thought that was a beautiful life. Never leaving your room, surrounded by books, reading and writing poetry.

Years later, my high school friend freaked out when I told her that. “That’s crazy,” she shouted.

Well, I wouldn’t use the word “crazy.” Unfortunate, I’d say. Agoraphobia, social anxiety and the unconscious excuses one makes to shut doors to opportunities.

Dickinson wrote poetry like no one else. I wonder, if she didn’t have social anxiety, if she weren’t agoraphobic (which I’m presuming was the case), would she still write like she did? Or would her poetry be different?

A therapist and I once talked about how some people are convinced that they are something they aren’t, and that we can see that, but others don’t. She said they just convince people that they are what they think they are. I’m not talking about pathological liars. Just people who think they are more than what they are, and it serves them well.

Then there are those who think they are less than what they are. And they convince people of that too. Certainly doesn’t serve them well.

Social anxiety. Agoraphobia. Panic attacks. Fear of being seen.

The first step, is to know what you’re working with. Catch the thoughts so you’ll know what they are. Then you can deal with them. Change them.

I’m thinking of writers I have read, or writers I’ve met. They are successful. But, damn it, their writing isn’t really all that.

Well, there’s also luck. Luck hasn’t exactly been friendly to me. But that’s no excuse. I hide behind my fears. That’s why I’m dissatisfied. It’s on me. That’s what the fortune cookie told me. “Change your thoughts, Estela.”

Posted in Art, Autobiographical, Poetry, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , ,