It’s seven a.m. and I’m looking for someone to whom I’ll gift my pizza.
Only in Venice do mornings at the beach present a smooth beige plane sparingly strewn with tattered tents, temporary lean-tos and dirty piles of sheets with toes that wiggle tortuously alive like the creaking bones of the shoreline seagulls.
The guitar man sets up, ready to serenade guests of the blue awning café for spare change and refuses an oversized filbert from the leather-skinned boy sharing his bench. “I appreciate the offer but nuts are not my cup of tea.” “Mine neither,” says the bum, “but this is one of those desperate times cases.”
A Native American woman with a citrus lemon buzz cut peels a tangerine by the trashcan and the puka shells around her neck sparkle like rocks of salt sending prisms of light towards all who view her.
The sun over the boardwalk apartments is stark white and blaring down over the shoulders of the surfers readying their boards on the balconies and out over the sea of freaks sighing one communal breath.
“Hey momma,” yells a twenty year old homeless kid, walking funny in a hangover haze, to a little old lady on the grass whose hair is gray and crusty like straw – the kind that would fall off like a lizard tail with one gentle tug.
Lots of good mornings, a hello sweetheart, a hey there sexy and a happy day sunshine fall on my ears in various gradations of Doppler Effect goodness helping prepare me for sea siren status – a role I will perform later at a downtown L.A. warehouse.
An ex-vet plays his saxophone on the sand: Livin his life one day at a time, he’s showing himself a real good time.
I blink my eyes and the sky turns into glitter. I blink again and I find the man to whom I will gift my pizza.
He’s on the sidewalk by the coffee shop looking like a famous African American movie star but at eighty, knees up to prop his dictionary as he underlines words frantically with yellow highlighter nodding his head to the beat of insanity’s long-winded dance. I bend down and place the tin foil wrapped triangle of food next to his black knapsack and his toothy smile reminds me of Christmas – shattering my heart and following me home around every corner.
Being injured forces a freezing not customary to my bones. A chunk of flesh missing, a gash of time hijacked for silent revelation and profound introductions to sun play on curtains.
A female punk rock singer friend asks me if I think the people who, after moving fifty miles an hour alongside her, suddenly ignore her fervent and intelligent email correspondence have somehow googled her and are now completely afraid of further exchange. I tell her I have wondered the same thing recently about people who think of me less than favorably. Ironically, we are both relieved to have this modern day weeding system in place – saves time, especially since we are now in our forties.
Speaking of that, the neighbor is out at midnight picking feces of dogs off her sidewalk and tells me that it’s prime time in my life for all the backtalk to stop. That stuff in the brain that goes on around pleasing everybody – it simply can now be switched off. So, I mentally flick it.
I am moving soon so I eat pate and apricots in my undressed bed like the women in Gray Gardens just for the hell of it.
Being injured allows one to feel earthquakes in three-dimensional fragility times seven and we’ve averaged one every other day through the course of my mandated bed rest.
I’m a fervent believer that world stress might decrease exponentially if people made a point to stroll along the ocean each morning.
A psychologist mentor of mine writes: if you know a writer, you should know that as their friend, you’re going to show up in their stories. I will consider this statement an instant disclaimer to all the humans in my life.
The sound of helicopters, specifically those circling around your specific residence to hunt any number of erroneous beings, is a staple to the daily Venice Beach residential soundtrack.
Bourbon and Diet Dr. Pepper with my little brother is an amazing pain reliever.
Being injured reminds you to feel rather than focusing on the treadmill of do. First comes hurt. It dulls to ache. Healing is beckoned with a tickle. A visual scar becomes your only reminder. Until the next time you evolve the unique map of your body.
My world used to be big and large and contained hardly enough space for me. Today it is honed like a smartly sharp pinpoint where specks dance from things only accessed by deep looking. Like when wood is rent by bench saw to reveal the marvelous last supper of termites within. Material bleached white by the intrusion of predators – the shock noticeable on the skin carrying fantastic new whorls. Disease to one begets the evolution that occurs from dis-ease to another. What was once a fence post now delivers a pattern to an artist – a juxtaposition of young and golden thriving beauty next to a ransacked body – poignant and flayed for new truthful undertakings and a second life as something strikingly beautiful.
In the very early 2000s while I was struggling with my own identity as an artist I met a man who deeply touched my soul. My struggles were based on the fact that most of my work up until that point had been directly autobiographical – a process that was largely cathartic but that had propelled me to a new place of healing where I no longer needed to so deeply examine my individual experience. In this healing space, I became largely haunted by the disconnection of human beings from each other in the world, separated by divergent politics and ideologies with no readily accessible platform for conscious dialogue and debate with each other under the auspices of leadership, administration and the media. I was longing for emotional connection with my peers in other countries, convinced that the majority of them felt the same.
I met Ayad Alkadhi through a gallery we both showed our work at and learned he was originally from Iraq. His paintings at the time were large textural articulations with Arabic markings revealing an ancient poetic past that the artist still longed for beneath his home country’s explosive contemporary identity. We bonded over our common hunger for expression and I spent a few enjoyable afternoons in his small apartment that doubled as a studio while we discussed our global dynamics over bran muffins and tea.
Over the course of the next decade, I watched with glee as his career exploded and took him back to New York City where he remains today, perpetually evolving his creative process. He continues to create amazingly poignant work in a world where the constant flux of political, economic and social change continues to inspire his profoundly personal yet universal paintings.
I was 14 the first time I left a random note in an airplane seat; this time for the elegant forty-year-old blonde who had vacated it for the restroom. I had been eying her the entire ride so far as she was so different than I who had been visiting my father in the humid Midwest and was now returning home to the hot desert for another molasses slow school year that I could not wait to escape from. I wished to be like the blonde – older, free and dressed in the same kind of beige on beige clothes that were made out of linen and hemp and so popular that year. I wrote a simple sentence to her about how classy she was and how much I wished I could be like her someday without any inky clue as to who I, the writer, might be. I didn’t watch as she came back to sit down but I knew she had to have seen it and it gave me a little sense of joy back then to know I had possibly put a smile on someone’s face that day.
This trait of wanting to randomly reach out and touch people has continued throughout my life. It has exponentially increased as my aging has coincided with the technological revolutions of the text message, email missive and Internet social networking machine. It’s so easy to take rich and whimsical communication for granted these days as we flitter on the periphery of dialogue and depth abetted by new tools, which allow us to blurt out one liners at any time in any medium we wish. The pensive musing, poetic note, and hand mailed letter have all but become obsolete – old-fashioned pieces of nostalgia and yellowing lined paper. This coupled with the fact that I am a little perturbed that our memories of each other in person are being supplemented a million pixels a minute by the Facebook photo stream and Instagram hand to hand documentary weapon has inspired me to start a new project.
My daughter bought me a box of postcards a few Christmases back filled with every Vintage book cover ever published by Penguin Books. I discovered them in a dusty box recently and was overjoyed to realize that every one I chose almost automatically reminded me of someone I knew the instant I looked at the title and illustration. So I have embarked upon another project in which I get to surprise others – one in which I draw an image or write a snippet of a poem that represents a memory I have with another person inspired by the particular book cover on the postcard and then I send it to them without signing my name. It doesn’t matter if they never realize who mailed them this card. It doesn’t matter if they even recall the moment I am alluding to with my markings. All that matters is that a piece of them has been jogged from my stony brain’s bank and that my re-introduction of this piece of them to themselves on an otherwise ordinary afternoon will hopefully delight them on their jaunt back inside from the mailbox.
In progress, “Unto” (Kimberly Nichols)
It was a very intense year for me in 2012. Life as I knew it pretty much turned upside down by my own intentional hands. It started out scary but with perseverance turned out blissful; bringing me into the space of my authentic self in ways that I could have never imagined without taking the journey. One thing that froze was my art output but there was a reason for that.
I had changed considerably and I wanted to cut myself off from the impetus of just “making” from the trajectory from which I had come and simply give myself time to simmer in the present and ponder my identity as an artist. Doing this caused me to lose a lot of things such as a bevy of instant fans who loved what I appeared to be more than knowing who I really was; my old persona in my artwork that stemmed from my traumatic childhood and the workings towards figuring out who I was as a woman; and a lot of friends and connections who only really wanted to be around what I represented to them in their mirror projections rather than the gritty, primal person I slowly, over a 12-month period in a new and strange land, was nurtured into becoming.
Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” on loan at the Norton Simon Museum
I also was struggling with the age-old artist’s insecurities of whether or not my work was good enough, something that plagues us all constantly. I started my new project nonetheless, only because it was impossible not to (nothing makes me feel more alive and full of meaning than laying out a row of color tubes and cleaning off the brushes in anticipation of what’s to come upon the blank cardboard), and the other day after visiting the Norton Simon exhibition to see an “on loan” Van Gogh portrait, I had a revelatory experience that has since set me back on my road to just doing the work and turning off the critical brain.
As I looked at the intense master’s brushstrokes and the weirdly blue skin tinges on his brow and the scattered way he viewed everything in his gaze, I realized that he was doing nothing more than laying down colors and shapes and impressions precisely as he saw them, and that is exactly where the magic occurs. When we show the world what we see, in the exact way that we see it, no one else can ever do the same and in that specific fact lay the genius of the art piece. I began to look at each painting in the museum’s great classic hall from the Degas to Lautrec and knew that each of them claimed the same thing. It didn’t matter that Picasso was making weird marks on paper and cubing up faces and torsos into odd juxtapositions because he wasn’t thinking that while he was concocting, he was simply translating his eye sight into his handiwork. I realized, that we as artists, are all just trying desperately to do the same and that instead of being so freaked out that I don’t fit into any mold with my art work, I should instead focus on continuing to represent the visions in my head exactly as they are because in that lies the beauty rather than in the end product.
Channeling Monet (Kimberly Nichols)
I walked up to the glass door that separated me in the Norton Simon’s Sam Francis room and channeled Monet. Instead of looking outside into the grassy gardens and seeing what everyone else saw, I decided to chunk the landscape up into color and landscape, noticed the way the yellow bush boldly threw its reflection across a tiny lake. I realized that seeing is our biggest advantage as artists and that articulating our sight is the only responsibility we carry – the pure thing that occurs once we actually bear evidence is the gold that carries the most weight.
I was able to go home afterwards and strike up the brushes with glee, no longer looking at my own creation as an outsider wondering where in the hell my work fits into the larger aesthetic scheme of things and thrown back into the beautifully raw basics of just wanting to put marks on cardboard and educe the emergence of what it is I was trying to relate from my particular brain outward into the world. And that is all that really matters at the heart of things.
So in this vulnerable fashion The Fool piece begins – first work an awkward and gawky, semi-translucent human, willing to work hard to acquire her own wings. Ruddy cardboard, the palette of traditional tarot cards, the notion that a person is ready to roam into finding when their heart is on fire, and the metaphor of love is all I have as I begin to walk along my very own and very long way …