Saturday, February 18, 2012

An Open Letter to My Sister

I love you. Contrary to what a lot of my words and actions would lead people to believe, I love you a great deal. I do, though, find it very difficult to get along with you. I genuinely want to work on that, and as part of my effort to get along with you better, I here attempt to articulate my difficulty opening up to you.
I really value literature. You know that I like books, but it's really much deeper than that. You see, the Word became flesh, and it radically impacted written texts. The Creator of our amazing universe gave us language and texts as a form of communication. We both know this truth, but we have responded differently. I have devoted my life to search for deeper relationships between the textual worlds and the empirical one based on the understanding that when the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, the empirical world was forever changed. I strongly believe that texts are infused with power, and they ought to be used responsibly. They deserve respect, not abuse.
You once told me that you read to escape, and at that very moment I completely shut down emotionally and have not allowed myself to be emotionally vulnerable around you since (I'm not saying we haven't fought since - I have just been emotionally disengaged from all communication with you) because I consider reading as an escape to be such a horrendous abuse of a text. You are using a text to disengage with your life rather than respecting it as something capable of enhancing your ontological reality.
Now, as I'm sure you were quick to notice, my disengagement from you, an actual ontological person, is no better than your treatment of textual worlds. I admit my sin, and I ask your forgiveness. I won't even ask you to read any differently. All I ask of you is that you understand that when you disregard textual reality, it's a personal wound to me. You see, sometimes I feel like Mali, the gardener of the Sea of Stories. In Rushdie's tale, Mali's sole purpose is to care for all of the stories in the ocean. I feel a responsibility to care for texts, and when someone pollutes the ocean which I care for, and which also sustains me, I get sick.
I can't know for sure if telling you this will actually help you understand me any more, but I'm making an effort to remove any road blocks I have put up to prevent you from knowing me. For example, hiding the fact that I have a blog from you for over a year (and still hiding it from most of our family - again, I can't keep you from blabbing, but I ask you respect my wishes right now) kept a lot of who I am from you. My writing makes me feel incredibly vulnerable, and I have hidden it from some of the people I love the most because they are capable of hurting me the most deeply. You are capable of hurting me most deeply, Nini.
I know that there are many careless readers on the internet capable of stumbling upon my writing and abusing my text with only a surface reading, but I cannot think of a single human being who would wound me more by doing that than you, Nini.
And so, I hope, begins a dialogue. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cracks in the Ice

I stared at the blank canvases on display at the art store, but I wasn't sure how I would be able to fill one again. I awkwardly picked up one of the largest ones and brought it with me to the paint aisle. I stared at the rows of colors for a long time. I sighed. I knew I didn't have enough paint left at home to cover a second canvas, but I hadn't been seized by any new vision to express on the canvas either. I picked up a bottle of dark blue similar to what  I had before and two lighter shades of blue to go along with it.
Once I got my new supplies home, I laid the new canvas out on my floor just as I had done before. My few colors of paint sat next to me on the floor. Still, no inspiration struck as it had before. I was unsure when Zosima had asked for the second piece, but it was such a treat to have my heat on that it would have been stupid to refuse. My check would last a long time, but not forever. Plus, Zosima hadn't told me when he planned to return. I didn't want him to show up expecting a completed work only to find that I had only sat and twiddled my thumbs during his absence.
I glared at the blank canvas before me; it glared right back. Frustrated, I emptied the remainder of my first dark blue paint on to the center of the pristine canvas. I smeared it around to cover the glaring white. Once the dark blue reached the edges of the canvas I added more from the fresh bottle of paint to ensure that no white escaped my wrath. Next I squirted two purple patches that turned into oversized hands as I stretched the paint out with my fingers. I sat back and looked at the shadowy hands before me. I stood up and went to the kitchen sink to wash the paint off my hands. This one wasn't going to be finished in one sitting.

I left the canvas on my floor to dry that night, and the image of the hands haunted my dreams. They were my hands, and I was trapped beneath thick ice, running out of air, unable to break through. I tossed and turned in my bed for several hours before giving up on sleep and going into my kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. I wrapped myself up in a thick blanket as I waited for the water to get hot. I only had the stove light on, so the canvas wasn't well lit, but as I stared at it my eyes adjusted to the dim light and I again felt as though the oversized hands on the canvas were mine trapped below inches of unforgiving ice. I don't know how long I stared at the canvas before my kettle of water started to whistle. I fumbled with a tea bag, mug, and boiling water. With the soothing scent of orange peels and spices steeping in hot water, I walked towards the foreboding canvas. Why would I paint my own hands trapped beneath the ice?
Since I had finished the previous painting in one sitting and hid it from my sight, I hadn't had the previous opportunity to mull over what I was putting onto the canvas. I stared at the purple hands for a long time, slowly sipping my tea. My apartment got gradually lighter as the sun joined my early morning, and eventually I decided to shower and get ready for my day. I was scheduled for an extra long shift at the restaurant that day, but I still had several hours to kill before then. I got dressed and made myself a healthy breakfast reheated pasta leftovers from two days ago at work. I wasn't yet out of the habit of surviving off of free food from work. I turned my back to the canvas as I ate my pasta, slowly chewing each bite and not wanting to return to my painting. I didn't like it staring at me, so I childishly avoided it until I had to go to work. Waiting tables kept my mind off the canvas for twelve hours until I stumbled back into my apartment late that night. The purple hands were waiting for me. My keys clattered on the counter as I tossed them aside, and I squatted down near the canvas.
I couldn't leave it forever. But maybe I could leave it one more day.
I slept poorly again that night, and decided when I woke up that I needed to deal with the painting. I pulled out small selection of colors and sat down cross-legged in front of the canvas. The purple hands pushed out of a deep blue background, and I realized that the image didn't reflect the resistance my hands felt in my dream. I squeezed a small amount of white paint into my hand and an even smaller amount of light blue to mix into that. I smeared the colors together on both my hands and lightly began to touch the surface of the canvas. After an hour, most of the canvas was covered with a web-like design of faint blue and white. There were still a few cracks in the webbing where the hands gave resistance - cracks in the ice. I dipped a the same pen cap in a tiny puddle of white paint to scrawl my name at the bottom. I washed the blue and white off my hands and tucked the bottles of paint back into my mostly empty kitchen cupboards.
The canvas stayed where it was when I left for work, and it wasn't until when I got home from my shift that night that I placed the finished painting in the window just as I had left the first one where Zosima saw it from the street.
He was on my doorstep early the next afternoon. I didn't bother to think about how he would know I had the day off, but instead I opened the door wide for him to enter. He greeted me respectfully, and I crossed my tiny living room to the window where is new painting was hiding.
I walked it back to him, and he looked at it briefly before writing in the checkbook already in his hands. He handed me a check for five thousand dollars; this one had two grazing rhinos behind the text.
He picked up the painting and headed for the door. "Thank you," he said, "I look forward to the next one."
He left without giving me a chance to protest.