Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Performance Art

[For some reason, one paragraph in this post is highlighted white. I didn't do this on purpose, though I suppose it is pretty. I'm working to get that to go away. I apologize for the visual distraction.]

The artist on Frenchmen St. would really love to shock me. Though I guess I make it sound personal when I say it like that.

I found her at one of those outdoor art markets on Frenchmen St while I was walking around with my friend Jeremy a couple of weeks ago. I usually steer clear of those things because it feels awkward when you're looking at hand-made necklaces and the jeweler is standing there staring at you, willing you to buy something. It's not that I don't want to buy art, it's just that my budget hasn't evolved past the"basic needs" category yet and I feel like I'm teasing these people when I walk in, become interested in their work, and then walk away with nothing.

But when I saw the the plastic, electric couch and love seat in the middle of the courtyard, I couldn't help myself.

"I think we should sit there," I said, pointing to the life-sized doll house furniture that were glowing like light bulbs. "So we can see what it's like to be a lightening bugs."

He agreed so we walked over to the couches with the purpose of trying them on until we realized that we would be sitting on someone's art.

"Well, they look cool," Jeremy said, standing in their glow.

"Yeah. I bet they're too hot to sit on anyway. Being a lightening bug is probably uncomfortable."

He looked around at the booths encircling the chairs. "We could look at stuff. You wanna?"

"Can we sit on any of it?"

He glanced at the tables of paintings, homemade-soaps, and jars. "No."

I sighed. "Art's too one-sided. It should all atleast double as an ottoman."

"Do you like art?" he asked.

"Well, yeah. I just don't always understand it."

[Note: This is the perfect time to say that you don't understand my writing. Especially if you are an artist who's sculptures look like chairs that people can't sit on. And cue tearing into me....NOW]

"This is interesting," he said, leading to me to a table of interesting things. The maker of the interesting things was so skinny, that the fattest things on him was his Adam's apple. I don't know if I imagined or not, but it felt like he was watching me the whole time I looked at his stuff and I felt guilty for walking away without buying anything.

It was a few booths before we found the lady who liked to shock. She was sitting in a folding chair, in between two racks of her prints. There was a third rack across from her, and it was that one I chose to peruse because then I didn't have to see if she had a starving Adam's apple. The paintings were sharp cartoon characters - faeries, trees shaped like women, and nightmarish things with claws. I was admiring the small details of them (the shapes of toes and hips) when she said from her chair, "Their stories are on the back."

I twisted my head around, unsure that she was talking to me. It was then that I noticed she was beautiful in her black dress with blue eyes and dark hair.

She pointed to the palm of her hand and then turned it over. "Look on the back."

I flipped over the print of faeries that I'd been looking at and there was a slip of paper in the in the plastic case that told me their story. I began looking at the pictures with new interest, now that I could know more about the creatures in them. Jeremy was interested in one particular picture of a little girl walking along who was being followed by a swarm of dark, hideous creatures. The artist said it was inspired by a reoccurring nightmare she'd had as a kid, and I half listened to their conversation while I looked at print after print. After reading one that was about strength and female sexuality I said to her, "You're a good writer."

She smiled sideways. "Thanks."

She began to talk about the painting, about how it was important to get the nightmares out, even if it disturbed people. Especially if it disturbed people, she said, because it was important to break them out of their own little dreams. It was Jeremy who was asking her questions so it was mostly him that she addressed all of this to, but she looked right at me when she said, "Some of my work disturbs people, but you know what? I just stick my tongue right in that hole and push."

Several things happened inside of me when she said this. First, I could feel what she'd just described as if it were being done to me but not at all in a pleasurable way. Second, I felt smothered, like I couldn't breathe, and I wanted to knee her in the face. Third, the guardian in my mind that keeps me from going crazy shouted out a set of instructions.

"Shields up!" she said. "We have a potentially aggressive woman on scope! Let nothing in emotionally or physically!"

"Done," my brain said.

"Do not lash out violently."

"Yes, sir."

"I'm a ma'am. Your guardian subconscious is female."

"Oh.  Yes ma'am."

"Excellent. Are we disconnecting from any sex abuse memories that this woman has provoked?"


"How's the inner child? She ok?"

"Eh...she's a little rattled."

"She always is. Tell her to get up here with the grown ups and watch us work."


"Sarcastic remarks at the ready?"


"Fire at will."

I looked at the artist, the tongue pusher, and I wanted to suggest that she stick her tongue in the hole of a pencil sharpener. And I wanted to tell her that it was people like her, puffed up peacocks strutting around with obscene gestures spray painted on their feathers, that were the stuff of my nightmares. People who want to push and shock, and push and push and push no matter how you feel about it. Hold still while I hold you down, just hold still if you love me, if you want me to feel better. Hold still and I'll force you open and I'll tell you a story and I'll show you a nightmare.

I turned around and set the picture on the shelf where I'd gotten it. Then when I looked back at her again, my kid, the one that the guardian in my mind had invited to the captain's chair to watch me deal with the artist, looked out into her face and saw another little girl. That one had nightmares just like me but she didn't deal with them like me. I had become very still and quiet and thought if I just made myself small enough that the bad thing that was happening would eventually stop and everybody would be ok. The woman hurting me wouldn't feel bad about herself if I didn't bring it up, and I would be ok if I forgot about it.

The artist child didn't make herself forget to make everyone else feel comfortable. In fact, she decided to make everyone she could feel extremely uncomfortable.

"She's hurting too," my inner child said. She looked at the guardian and said, "Why are so many people hurting?"

"I don't know but that doesn't give her the right to hurt anybody else."

"She doesn't know you're hurting," my brain said. "She doesn't know you're thinking or feeling any of this. She just knows her own shit."

"She wants to shock me," the kid said. "I don't like being shocked."

"Then don't be," the guardian said.

I came out of my head. "Sounds effective," I said to her.

She nodded and then went on to describe her work, how it's used by children's therapists and by parents who want to help their kids deal with their emotions. She showed me a book of her work that had nude pictures of herself.  I listened to her and flipped through the book, stony faced, not reacting except to say "cool" from time to time.

Honestly, I don't remember most of the pictures she showed me. But I remembered what she said about sticking her tongue in holes. And now I've blogged about it. So I was right - it was effective. It made me think about why I reacted the way I did, why I felt so uncomfortable, why it made me feel so violated that I had to work with different parts of my brain just to calm myself down.

It's probably time to start writing about that part of my life, not to scare anyone or shock them, but just in case someone else is living through child abuse memories that they'd made themselves forget. Oddly, to get all of this work out, I'm going to have to do exactly what I don't like doing. I'm going to have to make myself visible when the child inside of me wants to stay quiet and invisible. Be very, very quiet and still and obedient. I seem to be carrying that philosophy over into too many areas of my life and my writing career has been one of them.

So I'm just going to stick my ear in that, that doesn't work. I'm just gonna stick my esophagus in that that's dumb. What can I stick in something that's shocking without sexually traumatizing me or anyone else?...I got it. I'm just going to stick that hamster in that rabbit cage, GODDAMNIT, I'm just going to stick that waffle in that fondue pot and I don't care who it upsets!

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