In 2016 the Boston arm of my company moved office buildings, going from Copley Square down to the Financial District. I am told that the building in Copley wanted a million dollars a month in rent. That seems like an exorbitant sum, but considering what some of my friends pay for small Boston apartments in not!Back Bay, I can believe that some building management company somewhere believes that’s a fair asking price.
Because of this move, departments across the building were cleaning out old research materials that had been sitting for years, sometimes decades, just waiting to be used again as the world changed, moving on to favor digital asset discovery and leaving them behind. The art department started filling tables with old books about places and people and nature and clip art, and I, like the pack rat I am, started slowly ferrying loads of them home on the T, as many as my backpack could carry. I wasn’t sure what I was going to use them for, but I knew they were full of beauty that could be reclaimed and re-contextualized, or simply appreciated. Though, if I’m being honest, my appreciation has always included at least a little destruction.
I do not consider myself a visual artist and honestly, I’m not sure if I should aspire to be one. I have no art training. I have no sense of how color should work. I have the barest understanding of space and form. Even still, I sometimes itch to make visual art. To tell stories with something other than my belabored words. Sometimes the words simply won’t out and I’m left flailing, reaching for anything I can to try to capture the overpowering feeling that has its hold on me. In the summer of 2016, thanks to the office move, I finally had something to reach for.
What you’ll find below the cut is a selection of collages I made in 2016 and 2017 along with short descriptions of what I was reeling from when I made them. They were initially posted elsewhere as they were created, but I wanted to collect them here as well, so they could live next to my other creations. I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to be using this blog, but I figure if nothing else, giving a complete picture of what I create and what I want to create is a good place to start. I hope you enjoy these anxieties, fears, and my futile attempts to puzzle my way to a home that never existed, but that I keep trying to build nonetheless.
After All Our Pretty Songs, May 2016
All Our Pretty Songs is an urban fantasy novel written by Sarah McCarry. It’s a retelling of a myth, but it’s also a living, breathing work of its own beauty. The story concerns the narrator, who is never named, and the people she loves who have been touched by a magic and desire that she struggles to save them from. It’s set in an eerie, lush, and magic-tinged version of the Pacific North West that has just as much grunge rock in its bones and myth. I love this book. I love the sense of longing and determination it leaves me with when I read it. And most of all I love the narrator, who literally went to hell and back to save the best friend that she loves.
I’m not the kind of girl they’re looking for in hell. I’m not pretty; I don’t play instruments; half the time I can barely draw. But I’m the girl they’ll never forget, because I’m the girl who’ll win.
This is a book I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to shake, and it was the first thing that made me need to sit down and express this love another way.
Trees In Your Eyes, Stars In Your Heart, May 2016
I mostly started reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle because my friends wouldn’t stop telling me to. The first book was fine. It has some incredibly lovely prose and has to do a lot of lifting to build the magic the world needs for you to understand as native to it, but it moves quickly and fleshes out the characters and leaves you wanting more. The second book ripped me open and sewed me up again and I have yet to fully recover. As a result of this injury I became obsessed with the world and the characters in a way I haven’t been in quite a while. I read the third book. I reread all three books a couple of times. I waited impatiently for the fourth and when it finally came out I read through the pain that we all knew was coming and then had to sit with it a good long while.
This collage is a result of that sitting and mulling over the main female character. In the fourth book she’s given some incredible news about herself. It’s the sort of news I would have welcomed about myself when I was her age.
“All of the tir e e’lintes are full of potential, always moving, always restless, always looking for possibilities to reach out and be somewhere else, be something else. This tree, that tree, that forest, that forest. But more than anything, we love the stars.” He cast his eyes up, as if he could see them during the day. “If only we could reach them, maybe we could be them. Any one of them could be our skin-house.”
It’s not odd for young girls to want to be taken away, to be told they’re magic and useful and strong. It’s perhaps odd for me to still want this at 35, but well, I’m working on it.
I Don’t Know That I’d Care If It Happened Again, June 2016
In the summer of 2016 I was listening to episodes of This American Life at night to try and calm myself into sleep. This backfired spectacularly the night I listened to episode 581: Anatomy of Doubt. This episode is the story of two rape cases, one where the woman isn’t believed and one where the woman is, and how the latter resulted in the capture of the man who harmed both women. In the episode there’s pretty extensive description of the facts and interview with everyone involved, but the thing that sent me into a shaking rage at one thirty in the morning didn’t have to do with the rapist or the victims, but with the mother figure that first victim went to for help. The mother figure who didn’t believe a terrified and hurting woman because she wasn’t performing her terror well enough.
There’s something about how she said it that just made me question whether or not she’d actually been raped. It was the tone of her voice. There was just no emotion. It was like she was telling me that she’d made a sandwich. I just made myself a chicken sandwich.
There’s a well documented problem with rape reporting in this country. Women don’t report for a lot of reasons ranging from the social to the emotional to the physical. I myself said nothing for a long time because I had let my attacker convince me that it was my fault. It took a long time for me to realize that wasn’t the case, but honestly, knowing that thousands of women do report every year and aren’t believed doesn’t give me faith in society’s ability to protect and help victims.
Obviously, wish I hadn’t. But on the other hand, there was all these other things, you know? I mean, the police and the way that Marie was acting. I mean, she on some level needs to take responsibility for that, too. I’m sorry, but that’s true. And–
What do you mean?
She needs to realize at some point, and I think she does now, that– OK, I hate to say this. But you know, I mean– OK, now this is going to sound really bad, like I’m blaming the victim. But some of the way that she was acting was part of the reason why it had the outcome that it did. And I am not the only person that didn’t believe her.
I chewed on this episode for days after the sleepless night when I listened to it. I’m still chewing on it, honestly, but it took me a week or so to realize that I needed to respond in some way and that I was never going to be able to respond in words, so I made this instead. It’s clumsy, and all I can see when I look at it are the ways I screwed it up, but it was also cathartic and helped changed the way I thought about my desire to make things.
A Thing Whose Voice, October 2016
This one came from an itch. I wanted to create something and the words weren’t working. That’s usually when I turn to collage, and lately sometimes paint, but for this one the desire was aimless. I didn’t have anything to say, I just wanted to say something. So I pulled together a picture of how I see myself. It’s a sister piece to this poem I wrote in 2015 after briefly falling in love with a stranger on the bus.
I dress in birds because I think flying must be
the purest form of hope I know of, but I’m calm
and slow, will never manage it, look hardly like
a gliding thing at all compared to the aviary
next to me in her plastic blue bus seat. Hummingbird
hands flitting through long, curled murders of crows,
the knobby knees of stork legs perched up near
a breast that blossoms for her fingers to light there,
collect their sweetness, and then flutter back to
her knees and her hair, or up to wipe at her dark-lined
raven eyes, related to her tendriled crows, but carrying
so much more unkindness with them as they flick around
on her bobbing owl neck. She watches and she notes,
seeks out predator and prey, knows each one of us
for what we are in a way only the forest could. I want
to know which she would make of me, but I cannot ask,
I am not a thing whose voice reaches the clouds.
Duty’s Remorse, November 2016
Fantasy Reality Show, November 2016
Built Upon, November 2016
These don’t need a lot of explanation. The results of the last presidential election hit me hard. I had spent the six months leading up to them being triggered almost daily because of the discussion of sexual assault and abuse that had become daily news fodder. I was angry that I had to now settle in to four more years of this constant background noise of anxiety and fear, and also angry because I know I carry a good amount of privilege through the world and that there will always be people with more fear and more immediate danger. We let these people down. We’re still letting them down.
Vanity Follows Form, December 2016
This one is about becoming. I have spent most of my life trying to figure out how to outrun my body, but those of you who are more emotionally stable will know that that’s an impossible task. But it’s not impossibility I’m addicted to, it’s possibility. What could I be if I could be myself? If I could settle in to this body that I hate and want to be free of? If I could accept what it means to just exist and do your best? I don’t know. I’m working on it and working through it. Part of the way I’m working through it is by writing a novel with a character who also has severe bdd and a need to understand himself that tends to dance away from him whenever he feels he’s close.
“Sensuality, vanity, these are things I want to figure out, but I can never seem to piece them together. They seem so natural draped over some people, draped over you, but they slide right off me the same way my own reflection sometimes slides away from me in the mirror. You must claim a form before you can claim vanity. You must have something to be vain over. Step one eludes me, it’s impossible. So I dress up in these things. I keep them close as totems, use them to cover over the skin I cannot accept as my own. I hope, maybe one day, I’ll grow into them.”
“You don’t have to, you know,” Xiv says. “You don’t have to be anything.”
“I want to,” Peleon says.
I want to too. I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.
The Place Where They Meet, January 2017
Where is my true home? I have yet to find it, but I often search for it in the night sky and in the ocean. Both are important to me, but I think the real magic in both is the place where they meet. How many nights did I sit on the shore and watch the moon rise from the distant, flat horizon? So very many.
Here we have something else entirely: the moon falling back into the ocean, being enveloped by the waves. The light feeds the lace encrusted wave caps as the magic dissolves. On the shore unseen, two girls holding hands and their breaths.
I think that will do for now. I have others, but this seems like the best place to stop, on the shore looking out. What are we looking for? What are we ever looking for? Everything. Nothing. And all of that space in between.