how to be an artist
you are born to parents who don’t know really how to deal with you. they leave the house and you go up to your mother’s make up table and adorn yourself in powders, colors, smears of spectacular hues which convince you that you are, in fact, beautiful. you carefully try to remember where all of the instruments of fantasy were before you boy-handled them. inevitably you forget and return things to the wrong place and your mother, later, noticing the differences, stands alone by the table, stares at the misplaced lipstick and wonders how things got to this point and how will she keep this (yet another) secret from your father.
you beg, lie, cheat or steal your way into some kind of situation where you can be taught SOMETHING by another person/mentor/artist/hapless fuck who has ended up teaching a greedy little know-it-all like you.
you go to a school where the other children vacation on the weekends and summers in homes far away from yours. you become like them but you are not quite like them but you are enough like them to be thought of being like them. you have convinced yourself of this as well and so it goes. you have learned how to learn what clothes to wear, what products to buy, what jokes to make – just how many and in what tone of voice. later you will travel all around the world and as if by instinct, or the smell of the air, you will find a way to consort with others who are like you. you will try and tell yourself that you are having interesting, different “experiences,” but in fact you are repeating the same pattern of aping and personality morphing that you learned when you were very very young.
you are invited to large institutions in minor cities where children walk around in clumps and lines wearing scarves and furry boots. you are handed all manners of metal and plastic, some of which enter into doorknobs and some of which slide through cracks in plastic boxes. doors pop open and close according to the command of the talismans. doors to garages, buildings, rooms, cabinets. everything is about getting IN or keeping something OUT. a stereo waits in neutralized silence before you open the door to it and send power running through its synapses. a chair waits in early morning shadow for you to arrive and to sit on it. everything, it seems, is waiting everywhere for you to arrive and to give it a reason, though you doubt that it’s that simple.
you find yourself in front of large numbers of children at these institutions, barking out orders and making shapes that they, in turn, imitate. every now and then you stop and look at their taut, unworn faces. you explain things and they nod, as if they understand or care but neither is true because how could they really? you secretly want to tell them: get out, go far away from this dumb place or its ossified patterns might make permanent residence in your bloodstream. but you don’t say this. you soldier on with the barking and the shapes.
you look at the boys in these gatherings at these institutions. you look at their slim, agile bodies as if you were looking at a foreign animal in a zoo. where do these boys come from? why are there so many of them? you feel the distance between yourself and them widening. maybe it was always this way. it seems impossible that you were ever this young, that your own body was ever this uncomplicated. you find ways of placing your hands on them (it is part of your job) and they feel strong, warm, with rounded muscles that lengthen or slide smooth over themselves. it’s like you’re touching aliens from another world and you hate them and you hate yourself and you hate them.
you create things – things that have little discernible value other than to you and to a select group of people who have convinced themselves that these worthless things also have value. you create these things mostly so that these people know your name, and so that they repeat it to others when you are not around. you hope that this game of name uttering – much like a phone tree – will continue uninterrupted for as long as you live and then way beyond that. you hope that at some point someone will write the name (your name) down in newspapers and, better, books. you characterize your efforts to yourself as “research,” “exploration,” your “body of work,” but really it’s this name thing that you’re concerned about.
but this thing, yes, this thing of no value. you give it away repeatedly, in front of many people whose eyes follow your actions like a tennis match. you wonder why you give it away. it’s so private really. you give it with all of your heart, the way you felt when you were little and you were home alone and the music was on. you give it away like this but it doesn’t matter. they don’t really want it anyway. it’s so fragile, like a soap bubble. the thing is as momentary and inconsequential as that. all it takes is the vibration of a cell phone or a baby’s cry for it to fall apart. wanting attention for this worthless thing just feels greedy and childish.
you are invited by other people (who, incidentally, like to have their name known as well) to audition this thing that you created to other people, who may or may not end up remembering, liking or saying your name. you are excited but you suspect that maybe this is, as they say, a “mixed blessing.” you travel and find yourself in these gatherings of similarly conflicted souls. you and the other souls walk around in a daze. should you talk to each other? should you actually ask each other questions? maybe it’s dangerous to talk. maybe something will happen to you that you can’t control if you talk. maybe you will give something away that you won’t be able to get back later. maybe it’s better for you just to sit at separate tables and make fleeting glances at each other as if you were cruising on a train.
you travel to these gatherings in enormous sardine cans which, impossibly, fly through clouds, and in which there isn’t enough air and where everyone seems to be screaming or suffocating. while in the sardine can you busy yourself with any number of heretofore unimagined lines of private exploration – can you fart into a cloth covered seat without it being heard or smelled? can you learn the names and latitudinal co-ordinates of all the cities in eastern europe? can you masturbate quickly in a bathroom the size of a coffin and emerge looking as if nothing has happened?
you lie awake at night in beds in foreign countries, hearing the muddy voices of passing revelers on the streets outside your window. you lie naked, gently stroking your penis like it’s a sleeping pet, or the hair of a lover who’s fallen asleep in your lap. you try to remember someone you fucked once. you conjure the image of this person astride your body or astride a new lover’s body. maybe you dream about everyone you ever fucked and you flutter through images of ex-es like a flip book, creating a film of desire and conquest, forever suspended in the time you spent in other people’s bedrooms. you hope for some kind of response or excitement to begin in your crotch. maybe this warmth will expand outwards into the rest of your dispassionate body. maybe it will be a moment of heat in your day, a moment not driven by indecision or doubt.
you wake up confused, depressed, wondering how this day will turn out. you have no plan, no REAL concept of why you have woken up, no real concept of why you should actually DO anything at all. your curiosity for living and creating is only matched by your deeply held belief that none of it matters. in some cases this latter feeling far outweighs the former.
you want lovers, or you think you want lovers. lovers in every port. it sounds like a good idea maybe. lovers in other cities will offer you uncomplicated romantic interactions charged with non stop erotic excitement. but the truth of it is is that most sex leaves you uninspired and most people seem too far away even when they’re inside of you. you fall in love (maybe) sometimes with others whose alleged likeness to you makes you think that there could be hope – a “new life” – far from your actual life, in some charming corner of the world far away from your small, squalid and depressing apartment.
you think to yourself: how terrible, how utterly unfair that this fate has befallen you, when someone so much more deserving, more intelligent, more talented could have ended up with this life. someone who would appreciate it more, read up on the local history, learn a few of the words. no, it has fallen to you, you who are so deeply uncurious about the ideas of others. you, who just wish to sleep and to watch television. you, who walk around the different cities of the world with nary a hint of why things look the way they look. you, who only listen to the polyphony of sensation and judgment ever present in your body and mind. you, who feel that, in a way, any experience is like any other, with only lesser or greater disappointment articulating the difference. you, who only ever wish to know about your own thoughts, your own ideas about the ways things are or should be. you. you shudder to yourself when you realize that this is how you feel. you feel guilty for it, maybe a little bit ashamed. but that shame quickly subsides the next time you go on an extended hay ride through your imagination, enamored of every little idea you manage to concoct.
© Miguel Gutierrez
from Nothing, No thing
premiered in NY at LaMaMa May 23, 2008