Archive for June, 2009

mary’zine random redux: #26 January 2003

June 28, 2009

I’m like a book. I want to be read.
—D. Dworkin

merry lu’s holidaze

Dear friends and home-ies, I want you to know me,
my Christmas, December, intensive (remember?),
my old friends and new, and relatives too,
but all of it’s swirlin’, I ain’t no Merlin
magician gone fishin’,
can’t tie it all neatly in parables sweetly,
so forget the flappin’, hold off on the rappin’,
I’m about to stop rhymin’ and see what’s been happenin’….

I feel like I did when I saw my therapist, J, a few days after the 7-day painting intensive. There was so much to tell her that I veered between fast-talking the details and throwing out a few insights like a lifeline to a drowning man, but the only one drowning was me. She thought I was in the middle of something, and I thought I had already gone through it, even though I couldn’t say exactly what “it” was. We almost didn’t make it, she was trying her hardest but I was way out there,
past her lifeline and mine, or maybe the drowner was throwing the line
to the one on shore and wondering what she was waiting for.

The rhythm is still with me, can’t stop it or drop it,
so please bear with me while I make the transition,
I’m rockin’ my chair but can’t get transmission,
I wish I could mind-meld, directly deposit
the thoughts in my closet, but I guess that’s what language is for,
to awkwardly say what no man has said before…

I’m still straddling two worlds, like a tale of two cities, or make that one suburb and a remote small town, which in its own way is also the center of everything. What is remote to one is birth, life, and death to another—so there’s really no such thing as remote, or even “other,” just gazillions of centers all dancing on the head of a pin with how many angels.

My sister K has read all the ‘zines now and passed them on to hubby MP. After reading “Lost weekday” (#11), about going to the dentist and pukin’ and peein’ myself (her favorite story, go figure), she and Barb and I got to bond in a sisterly way over our shared peed adventures. Barb writes:

K said she feels our lives are pretty mundane but you probably enjoy knowing that we pee our pants too, and you are normal in that respect.

I love that my main claim to being normal is that I pee my pants.

MP is reported to have “mixed feelings” about the ‘zine (he was shocked, shocked by what I was into when Mom was trying to get me to drink coffee), but he keeps reading, so way to go, bro!

Later, Barb reported that, after reading them all,

MP said to tell you, you don’t need a psychiatrist because you have us. Then again maybe you do because you DO have us.

Everybody’s a comedian.

My Christmas was very different this year. Usually I bah-humbug my way through December and then, on Christmas Eve, literally at the 11th hour, I get suddenly sentimental, turn on the choral carols on the radio, and wish I had done more for my fellow human. This year I got started early by sending a check to Barb to buy presents for my little nieces and nephews. Only problem is, I forgot about the ones I haven’t met yet, so it’s eight not four little ones, but B stretched the check to cover them all. P&C, my usual Xmas cohorts, were out of town for the holiday, so it was a vicarious Christmas chez Maree and Pookee. Late Xmas Eve, I got an e from Barb, who described in great detail the planning, the giving, the receiving, the smiles, the surprises, the love, the love. About the little ones:

I made sure the kids knew which presents were from their Great Aunt Mary and it was repeated several times with Wyatt saying “This is the Aunt Mary I haven’t met yet,” and Summer triumphantly announcing, “I have.” … You were even talked about when they were sitting in the kitchen eating their lunch after all the present opening was done.

It’s weird knowing these people, having them know me, as if I’ve gotten remarried and started a new family, except the new family is pretty much the old family with a few deletions and several add-ons. P thinks I’m “in love with the idea” of having reestablished the connection with my UPeeps; sure, I do love the idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. I always knew the connection was there, it was just a matter of the planets getting realigned or something. It’s not about “going back” in any sense, back in space or time, it’s about being right where I am and letting the treasure that’s been there all along reveal itself. (I hope I didn’t use that exact same sentence last time, but if I did, c’est la vie, déjà vu, tant pis, pommes frites, oo la la.)

It’s no surprise to me that my sisters are generous and funny. It’s just that I was trying to put my own jigsaw puzzle together over here, not realizing that my pieces were part of the mixture, fitting neatly into the bigger picture created by my family, my friends and neighbors, my town, state, and country, my world, my universe. I’m only one center, just a renter who thinks she’s an owner, we’re all on loan here, but it’s still all mine and all theirs and theirs, multiplied multiple times… but finally I get it, the dimensions are infinite, the holographic whole is at once a goal and a done deal, nothing to reveal, just return to the One from which we all sprung, our ashes to AshLand or dust to rust. Doesn’t mean I have an answer to take to the bank or save me from cancer, no book deal or contract or stardom or fame, just me and my name, my rhymin’ so lame, the ‘zine, the queen-of-the-table game, it’s all the same. Wave or particle don’t really matter, we’re neither here nor there but everywhere. No doubt. Love in, love out.

This Christmas I went on a tipping spree. That’s dollars, not cows, for you Wisconsinites. I figure that rewarding the working people will have a ripple effect. Jon Carroll has an annual column in the Chronicle about his own invention, the Untied Way. It’s “untied” because it’s random. You take as much money as you can spare out of your bank account and give $20 bills out to the first however many people ask for money on the street. This is fine. I’ve had some good encounters on the street myself, when I gave willingly and not out of fear or guilt. A couple months ago, I came across a guy selling the Street Sheet in downtown S.F. He was sitting in the doorway of the (closed) restaurant I had wanted to eat lunch in. He was polite and cheerful, and when I passed him two or three times over the next half hour, we greeted each other and he told me about Lori’s Diner up the street, where I ended up having lunch. I had given him a dollar on our first encounter, but he was exuding such good cheer that after lunch I went back and gave him $10 “for the next 10 people who don’t give you anything.” He was inordinately pleased, considering it wasn’t exactly a fortune. But it felt to me like a true exchange, as if we were rewriting the equation of desperate beggar + reluctant passerby = resentment all around. This was more like real person + real person = humanity.

But at Christmas I refocused my efforts and gave extra (or first-time) tips to the person who delivers my Sunday Times, my pleasant and conscientious mailman, a couple of waiters and valet parkers, my new haircutter, and even my favorite grocery store clerk (Nanette at United Market—tell her Mary sent you). The wind might get taken out of my sails when I have my taxes done and realize I’ve been thinking of all the money in my bank account as mine, when a large portion of my income this year didn’t have withholding taken out. But I still like the principle. It’s only a few dollars extra to me, but it’s meaningful to them, in both tangible and intangible ways. If a smile can send someone on her or his way with a lighter step, think what $20 can do.

The first song I heard when I turned on the radio on Christmas morn was by the Flaming Lips:

Do you realize… that everyone you know someday will die?
Do you realize… that we’re floating in space?
Do you realize… the sun doesn’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning ‘round?

I’d have to say Yes, Yes, and Yes, but it’s good to be reminded. The next song was some cock-schlock by a band called, with eerie accuracy, Disturbed. I switched to Alice and then to KALW, but they were all choral and Crosby, so I had to disrespect the Bing and settle for a silent morning. Decided to compose my own soundtrack on the Mac: ‘Zine attack!

December was especially notable for all the human contact. I was with people for, like, 10 days straight! I handled it pretty well, but I did have to bail on a brunch in Tiburon because I was starting to come unglued. Terry and Jean were here from Massachusetts, and they had to cancel their trip up the coast because of the rain, so we got to spend more time together. It was fun, fun, fun till Daddy took the T bird away (and the J bird). Besides the daily lunches during the intensive, we dined with Diane L. and Diane D. at Garibaldi’s in the city, and T, J, and I had our farewell dinner at the Buckeye in Mill Valley, where I take all my painting lovelies. I wore my blue hair for the occasion, praying it wouldn’t rain—blue rivulets running down my face, not the look I’m going for. We had a sweet-sorrow good-bye, but it’s so much better to be sorry to see someone go than to be relieved you’ve got your blessed solitude back.

Next fall, P&C will retire early, move to Oregon, and spend their declining years reclining in a house they bought on the Rogue River. P has been trying to get me to move up there too. When I complain about the Caveman ambience of Grants Pass (Caveman Motors, billboards with Cavemen dragging Cavewomen by the hair, etc.), she counters that I could settle nearby in the more refined community of Ashland, the Shakespeare festival place.

P is the executrix of my will, so every year or so I revised my detailed instructions to her regarding the distribution of my worldly goods. But I’ve never figured out if I want to REmain or CREmain, as it were. So one night I say to her, “I still don’t know what to do about ‘the body’.”

P (casual as can be): “I’ve already decided.”

Me: “Oh?”

P. “You’re going to Oregon.”

I howled, “That is SO against my EXPRESS WISHES,” and she just laughed.

A few days later, when T&J and I were having our farewell dinner (smoked pork sandwiches, onion rings, chicken salad, butterscotch crème brûlée), Jean said she wished they could put me in their suitcase and take me back to Massachusetts. I had just told them the story of P hauling my assh to Oregon, so I said, “Maybe you could get P to split the ashes with you.” Ha ha ha. One of them pointed out that I’d be happier with them because they live in ASHFIELD, get it? It only took me 2 days to realize the alternative is ASHLAND, so I’d say it’s a wash. That doesn’t even take into account my sisters’ possible wishes. Barb, in fact, protests, “Why Oregon? What is in Oregon? Will I have to say Mary gone to Oregon?… Or will it be Mary moved her ash to Ashfield?”

Quiet geek in Lake Oregon… Has a nice ring to it.

Barb pointed out that there are still three family plots in Riverside Cemetery where Mom, Dad, and baby Mike are buried. Mom’s ashes are tucked in at the foot of Mike’s grave, so there’s plenty of room left for me to have my “space.” I’m considering it. Having overcome my anti-hometown sentiments, I’m verging on the gung-ho (ya think?).

In fact, this just in… I’ve made my decision—or the decision that was a foregone conclusion unknown to my former illusion has come into view: Post-this-life, I’m headed back to the U.P. to rejoin my original nuclear family, yes, the prodigal electron comes whirling back into orbit, knowing, finally, that it can be the orbiter and the orbitee, hello Menominee!

It seems appropriate that I’ll end up getting’ down with the three people I’ve painted over and over for the past 20+ years, and not always in a flattering light. If there’s an After to this Life, I hope they’ll understand. When I get to the bright light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t want any angry ghosts on my hands. Part of my rap-prochement with the past is realizing that the key elements that have “defined” my life are not the deaths, the illnesses, the poverty, the illicit touching, the adolescent pain, the adult relationship pain, the pain the pain the goddamn pain. Flip the foreground and background—like that picture that looks like a death skull one way and a woman brushing her hair the other way [so sexist, but never mind that]—and you see the love, the sacrifice, the generosity, all the quiet invisible parental intangibles that created the offspring of William H. and Louise L. McKenney, and all the lives that have sprung off from each of us (in utero or de facto), and you know that the good far outweighed the bad.

The 7-day painting intensive was amazing, as always, packjam with insights and outtasights, real painters and painted realities, mysteries and surrealities, connections and discords, selfs and others, sisters and a coupla brothers, I’ll never do it justice so let’s just take a look at some highlights and lowdowns.

I was the only one it mattered to, and then I wasn’t there anymore.

This line has stayed with me, because it’s one of the best descriptions I’ve heard of what happens in painting. You spend the day obsessing about this, that, and the other thing—not knowing what to paint, not liking what you painted, what’s going on in the room (“Everyone is into it but me”), what about this relationship or that work problem, what’s for lunch, will this day never end, etc. etc. Brain diarrhea, wontcha put me out of my miserrhea? And then… “you’re not there anymore.” Can you relate, dear reader? You’re not unconscious, you’re fully aware, you just aren’t “there,” Gertrude Stein-wise, in that petty, whiny little ego way with its long self-life and short half-life, it’s only half-living but we think it’s all there is. When we factor in the life after, our petty little head don’t want to be dead. No more ME. All we want is to continue to live (will there be a surge in the basic séances when the Boomers start moving to Ash Land?), but what if release from the body is like cracking through the egoshell and suddenly you’re “gone” but you still be with all the Gods chillin’?

After painting all day, when we’re all aglow, neither here nor there with our souls laid bare, all epiphany, happily happily, do we ever want to go back to the angst and torture of “nothing to paint”? No, we don’t. So why cling to our earthly fling, spend 80 years obsessing about this and that (and the other thing), knowing it matters only to us and then we aren’t there anymore but we’re so much more? What more could we ask for?

One day in the sharing, Pi-te (one of the sweetest men on earth) waxes poetic about the arrangement of flowers in the studio bathroom. He had followed the blooming of the gladiolas throughout the week and describes the buds, the careful unfolding, the luscious colors. The rest of us are thinking, “Geez, I never noticed any of that! All I see in there is the ordinaire, the “12 double rolls same as 24 regular rolls,” not exactly poet matter. Finally, Kate comes up with the answer. “He pees standing up!” The flowers are arranged behind the female behind, and the double (same as twice as many undouble) rolls provide the only distraction besides urinary satisfaction.

We have our laffs, that’s for sure.

As always, some strange things happened during the intensive. It’s like you don’t even know yourself after a few days of painting. The firm grasp you’ve been keeping on your identity starts to crumble, and you realize that your true self has no need to grasp—and there’s nothing to hold on to anyway. At various times I got agitated when I thought I had no reason to, and then was perfectly calm and collected when by rights I “should” have been upset. I got tired of hearing one of the painters harp about judging: “I judged, am judging now, trying not to judge, the judge says this, the judge says that, all is judgment, oops I’m judging again.” It was as if judgment were her identity, her badge or excuse, her comfortable pool of helplessness in which to wallow and never change because there would always be something to judge—it’s an endless loop, the judger is the judged, the observer is the observed (so that’s what Krishnamurti meant!), how would she ever see beyond it? I couldn’t stop myself from saying some of this in the sharing, in a shaky voice, not wanting to attack anyone but needing to say something, and everyone ignored what I said (or, I suppose, had their own things to say, imagine that) so I had to jump in later and say that I felt “hung out to dry” and that I “hated everyone” in the group for not responding. The general consensus was that I had merely been “thrown back on myself,” which is one of those things that sound good in theory but suck when it’s happening to you.

Barbara, of course, points out that I’m doing the same thing that I find so irritating about this other painter (I, too, am judging the judge), and says it’s useful to look at what we see in one another—or, to quote Byron Katie, “Judge your neighbor.” Use the judgment. You can only see in others what already exists in you.

One of the hardest things for me to deal with during a long intensive is not being able to nap at will. I’ve been spoiled rotten by working at home and setting my own schedule. So if I can catch a few winks in my car or on the couch in the sharing room after lunch, it really helps. I was sound asleep one day when a fellow painter, with the very best of intentions (thinking I may not have intended to go to sleep—clearly, she doesn’t know me very well), spoke my name softly and touched me on the shoulder. I CATAPULTED off the couch, yelled JESUS!, and my glasses went crashing to the floor as I rapidly tried to assess what was going on. As I sat there for a moment, head in hands, trying to bring down my heart rate, my FP (fellow painter) apologized profusely, but I was amazed to discover that I bore absolutely no ill will. I didn’t have to force myself to be polite for her sake, or overcome (or indulge) my true reaction. She said, “I made a mistake!” and I said (hardly recognizing myself), “It doesn’t matter! It’s like in the painting!… It’s all right, really, I’m not mad at all.”

This isn’t about my being a “good person,” it’s just something that happened. I never knew that things like that could go right through you, I’ve always held tight to any slight while believing I had no choice but to fight. When I told this story later, someone said we need to “work on” those reactions in our daily lives, and I found myself saying NO. No work! Not about working! It happens! It happens to you or through you when you are being truthful and not banishing the bad feelings. That’s why painting “works.” As Krishnamurti said, “The very fact of being aware of what is is truth. It is truth that liberates, not your striving to be free.” Painting truthfully (though difficult), sharing truthfully in the group (though more difficult), and especially being truthful (and true) to yourself takes you out of the realm of trying (to be a better person), working (on your issues), and processing (personal interactions). Instead, you feel irritated whether it makes sense or not, you feel forgiveness and love whether that makes sense or not, you paint what you paint and judge it or not, and it’s all part of what is, nothing special, no preference. You want to drive the train with your engineer brain, but Life maintains a seamless, trackless terrain. I guess it’s what the Buddhists have always said. Krishnamurti again: “Remembered truth has no value; you have to discover it each time. But each time you discover it, it’s the same.”

Let’s get back to my post-painting therapy session with J for a moment. Having struggled through most of the hour unable to be in the present, consumed with the past I wanted to present to her and even wondering, scarily, if I’d come to the end of therapy, I say, “I feel as if I used to sit in the audience in the dark theater and watch the movie [Life] on the screen. Now I’m in the movie, people can see me from all angles, I can see everything in 3-D too, and I don’t know what role I’m playing or where the story’s going.” No wonder I was having trouble knowing which character, action, or plot line to describe to her, like a movie reviewer in the middle of the show instead of the middle of the row.

I felt more in touch with J (and myself) after that, and it was past time to go, but I still wanted to show her my paintings from the 7-day. She loves to see them, and I don’t feel constrained in my prah-cess by allowing another’s eyes to gaze upon them. So I showed them to her in order and explained how I had gone into the intensive knowing I wanted to paint my sisters and maybe even my whole new-old family. I did paint B and K right away, but it didn’t feel anything like I thought it would. I had assumed that the warm loving connection from real life would flow onto the paper, but instead I stood there, thinking, “Who are these people?” When I paint my parents, they’re recognizable to me as images projected by me. But I couldn’t tell what I was projecting onto my sisters; it was as if I had painted two strangers. Both Barbara and later J thought this “mystery” mirrored my ongoing discovery of K and B as adults. It’s intriguing.

By day 2 or 3, I had started painting bodies from the inside out—first the bones, then fat, then flesh, with the skull staring out from the face. It was so intense that I felt like I was in one of those movies where someone’s trapped in a room and the walls are starting to move toward each other. I illustrated this to Barbara with my left hand in a fist meeting the irresistible force of my open right hand. She said that instead of fighting the intensity, I needed to SPLAT. No clues on how to accomplish that.

Barbara teaches like a Zen master, stopping at nothing to jolt us out of our mental ruts. She asks where more skeletons could be on my painting, and I point out that all the bodies already have them. She inquires innocently, “Oh? Can only bodies have skeletons?” I’m thinking, Yes. There aren’t even any more things to put skeletons in, and again she asks, “Can only things have skeletons?” At that point I give up and paint a “blob skeleton” inside a random shape. And somehow that propels me into painting the molecular structure of the people’s faces. Don’t ask me how.

On the final painting, I don’t start with my sisters, I start with me, and I’m big, with arms stretched wide at shoulder level. Skeleton + fat + flesh, I construct myself on the page with intense blue eyes, open mouth, strong golden lights beaming out of my heart tubes, more golden lights emanating from my midsection, which is intricately organed and celled, molecularly dense, no wispy spirit for me. The image feels so alive that I think it could almost get up and walk off the paper. (That would be a good excuse for taking a break: Can’t paint, my image is out having a cigarette.) I find myself retreating to the sharing room, where I take a deep, fast nap. The intensity is what we all say we want, and then when we get it, it’s almost too much to bear. Finally, I paint my parents on either side of me, pale-fleshily, looking at me dubiously. Who is this person who came out of us?

As I’m showing the paintings to J, she turns to that last one, and she is blown away! “We should have looked at this sooner!” she exclaims. She can’t get over the difference in the way I’ve painted myself. “And you say you’re not in the middle of something??” She mentions the wire sculpture “body” I made years ago: the exoskeleton constructed in wire on a floor lamp doubling as the spine, with a plastic skull, a rubber heart, ribbon- and bead- and flower-spangled innards, and skeleton hands. I had shown her a photograph, and she had marveled that it looked so much like my real body’s somatic posture, downward-sloping shoulders and all. So now she’s gazing in amazement at this painting, contrasting it with the earlier wire soma, pointing out the strong shoulders, solid bones, steady beams of light, intense gaze, so full of life yet self-contained.

What’s especially weird about her referring to the wire sculpture is that it had fallen down recently, and I had reluctantly decided I would have to take it apart. The skull was cracked, the chain and red skeleton hand had fallen off the heart, the yellow fluff that was a “flame” in the chest wouldn’t stay put, and the “neck” (a glob of Sculpey modeling compound to hold the skull on) had dried up and fallen off, so that was that. Nothing lasts forever. I thought it was sad at the time, but after what J said, I realized it was stunningly appropriate that my “old self” would crumble just as the “new self” was asserting itself on and off the paper.

Writing about this is tricky, because in the prah-cess we know not to comment on people’s paintings or to take any of the content to mean anything about us—not to mention the hubris of declaring ourselves to be shedding the old and becoming the new. The paintings are like light traveling for millions of years on a journey to nowhere in particular. By the time light is visible from Earth, the star it came from is dead and gone. So, in our case, what ends up on the paper—which to an “artist” and the “art”-worshiping world is the whole point—is really the detritus, the shed skin of the snake of creativity. The real art is in facing the Void with honesty and vulnerability.

Also, technically, the painting isn’t “finished,” meaning I haven’t gone to the very end and squeezed every last drop and dot out of it that I can. Which makes what happened next even stranger. (BK, avert your eyes!)

J says the painting moves her deeply—I can even see tears welling up (usually that’s my job)—and I’m moved by her response. There is a difference in my body/mind/being, and most of that difference stems from the work we’ve done together. So it feels perfectly natural when she says, If there’s any way I could get a copy of this… to say, I’ll give it to you. She protests at first but finally says simply, “I would be honored.”

I’m “breaking all the rules,” of course—I have never given away a painting before, especially one that isn’t finished. But as Barbara would surely say, There really are no rules except the ones we create, and we learn by testing them.

As so often happens when I start the hour begrudging the “artificial” format of therapy, questioning its usefulness at only 2 hours a month, something unexpected and perfect has happened. I had felt worlds apart from J, and then—SPLAT. I had assumed that the SPLAT, when it came, would be a collision, like a KO in the third round, but instead it’s a beautiful moment, so light, so effortless. At such a moment, I’m in love with life—the surprise and depth of it, the endless mystery, the light traveling toward us as though drawn onward by our grateful eyes.

On the last day of the intensive, Kate has the idea of getting a wedding cake for Terry and Jean, who were ceremonially united in domestic committed partnership (or something like that) in Vermont earlier in the year. Of course it wasn’t a “real marriage,” as it would be if they were a man and a woman who met in a bar in Las Vegas and got hitched the next day by an Elvis impersonator while jumping out of an airplane—oh no, how could their love and 20 years together possibly be “real” compared to the inherently holy union of male + female?? [end rant]

So there was much secrecy and whispering and plotting, and we searched in vain for two little bride figures for the cake. Kate says we can draw the figures instead, so she comes to me in the afternoon and asks if I’ll do it, and I say, “No, I can’t draw!” We look around, trying to think who among us can draw—pretty weird, for a painting group. Kate finally recruits Pi-te, and he does a wonderful job. Kate cuts the figures out like little paper dolls (they’re naked with rosy red nipples, a nice touch) and arranges them on the cake with flowers, and at the end of the day brings the cake out while we sing, “Here come the bridezzz…” and it’s great to watch Jean and Terry looking around in confusion, like “Who…?” It was a wonderful moment, especially because it wasn’t the work of a cultural subgroup honoring their own, it was just friends honoring each other.

heavy petting

Pookie has a new forbidden pleasure, and it’s all my fault. He often comes up beside me when I’m working and makes this little squeaky meow, so I pet his head, murmur some sweet nothings, and go back to what I’m doing. That used to be enough, but then he started presenting himself back end first, and one day when I was feeling especially generous I scratched his back down by his tail, and he got all blissed-out and tried to lick himself on the chest (not sure what that’s about). I frequently comb him with a spiky comb that’s like a bed of nails with a handle, and he likes that too, but there’s something about my stumpy fingernails that really gets him going. And I, being picky about where my stumpy fingernails have been, get all icked-out and have to wash my hands immediately—or at least rub them on my pants. (I’m Ms. Cleanliness-Is-Next-to-Godliness unless I don’t feel like getting up.)

Also… don’t tell the IRS, but… I think my home office is being “repurposed.” Pookie seems to be rallying his forces for a coup, or a koop (pook spelled backwards, huh, huh?). All his stuff used to be out in the hall, but I see it’s now spreading like a virus into my official tax-deductible work territory—his bed, tissue paper, toys, cardboard, catnip heart, ribbons, combs, chair (with towels, for on and under), ad infinitum. I admit I have a hand in this, because he doesn’t have any of his own (hands, that is), but he must be beaming commands into my brain or something (ha! yeah, right). And it’s not as if I have a lot of extra room in here. As I approach my desk, I have to negotiate several noncarpet surfaces: swishy, slippery, crunchy (sounds like the 7 dwarfs), spiky (that bed-of-nails comb is hell on bare feet), and that’s not even counting the litter crumbs, the clumps of fur, the kitty vomitus, and even the occasional turdlet. I ask you! When he starts running around the house frantically, I know there’s something hanging out of his ass that he can’t dispose of in the usual manner.

Well, I could go on and on, right, Pook? But let’s wrap this baby up and put it to bed.

[mutter mutter] get no privacy whatsoever.

jump around! jump around, jump up and get down!

Long Night’s Journey into New Year’s Day

3:00 a.m.: I’ve been listening to party music on Live 105 since 8:00 and don’t want to go to bed and miss any of it. It’s the perfect mix of every upbeat song you ever knew and loved, or didn’t know and get to discover, from the ‘50s to the ‘00s, a whole lifetime of the rock and the roll: James Brown, the Kinks, a dash of disco, Abba, the Clash, Sex Pistols, Oingo Boingo, the Cure, hip-hop, rap rock, electroclash, techno. The oldies are goodies, and the creativity of the new is awesome. Sampling and remix and turntable DJ’in’—it’s recycling that sounds like anything but—the perfect re-use of the musical environment, like a spangly new jacket made out of old tires. They play a techno remix of the Eminem song in which he proclaims, “Nobody listens to techno!” and of course that line is sampled over and over until the joyful irony imprints itself on yer dancin’ jones and yer party bones.

3:30 a.m.: They play an infectious hip-hop number called “Jump Around!” and I can’t help myself, I haul my middle-aged ass out of my chair and get out on the tiny dance floor (again, don’t tell the IRS)—“Jump around! Jump around, jump up and get down!” Pookie, who’s sprawled in the middle of the action, gives me the evil eye—it’s the middle of the night, for Christ’s sake! But I think he secretly enjoys it, and, besides, love it or leave it, eh tu, Pooké?

Next there’s a rap by a guy named Humpty who likes women with big butts. (By the way, when did the ass become so popular?) There’s a dance with this one, too, called the Humpty Hump, but I think I’ll humpty hump my derrière off to bed instead.

Love, Emelem

hi youse guys… ksjf87ffnvks*jlf.. what did she do, oil the wheels on this *@!&k% chair? first of all the pook-coup has already happened.. ive got her doin my biddin. I lift my eyebrow, wait do I even have eyebrows, never thought about it before. I twitch my whiskers and she scratches my back or gets me fresh tissue paper to lie on and thinks its her idea!!! im nuthin if not diabolical—eee-ah-hahaaaa!!!!!! have u noticed ive been practicin on the shift key, I almost have it mastered, just wait til I start typin in ALL CATS {oops, freudy-cat slip, oooh I crack myself up, teehee!}

No doubt! Pookie, butt out!

[Mary McKenney]

mary’zine #38 May/June 2009

June 8, 2009

Spring in the U.P. made it just under the wire. As I write this it’s almost June, and the leaves on the trees just popped green about a week ago, closely followed by a spike in temperature to 82°. I’m sure UP’ers were celebrating all over the place, but I was miserable. I thought, Oh great, spring has sprung right over into summer. But then it went back down to 48° and all was forgiven.

Can you tell I don’t like summer? I do have air conditioning, so I can stay relatively cool unless someone makes me go outside. But I’m still paying over $100/mo. for gas & electric ($300+ in the dead of winter), and it would be nice to get that bill down further before turning on the A/C.

jetsam, dreams, painting, death, the almighty $

I’ve been mildly depressed lately, mostly because this is the week of the May painting intensive in San Francisco that I had intended to go to, back when I didn’t realize that my little editing business would be affected by the global financial crisis (Think globally, lose money locally). Ironically, my best client, at UCSF, is getting so much money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that it’s making her “crazy” (I guess with grant applications? administrative details?) and she and her lab group don’t have time to write papers. A few jobs have trickled in from Italy, but nothing like in recent years. In the meantime, I sit here, the little birdie on the back of the hippo, and the hippo isn’t doing a damn thing for our symbiotic relationship. I forget what the birdie is supposed to do. OK, I looked it up [] and added a few editorial translations.

One version of symbiosis is the relationship of certain birds and hippopotami. In this relationship, the birds are well known for preying on [editing] parasites [errors] that feed on each hippopotamus which are potentially harmful for the animal [s career]. To that end, this hippopotamus openly invites the birds to hunt [edit] on its body, even going so far as to open its  jaws to allow the birds to enter the mouth safely to hunt [edit, sometimes very close to the esophagus]. For the birds’ part, this relationship not only is a ready source of food [money], but a safe one considering that few predators [credit card companies, mortgage holders] would dare strike at the bird at such close proximity to its host [client].

At the end of the first day of the intensive, Barbara e-mailed to say she missed me, and that made me feel a little better about it. In fact, I went into a flurry of activity and ended up taking most of the stuff out of my long walk-in closet that was literally stuffed to the gills (well, “literally” if closets had gills; let’s just say it was jam-packed right up to the door). I had the idea of digging out my old “Painting Letters” that I started writing to the group at the studio (CCE, nee Painting Experience) in late 1995. I’ve become obsessed with posting my writings on my website, For some reason there’s now a glut of books on the market titled “… Before You Die” (recordings you have to listen to Before You Die, books you have to read Before You Die, places you have to go Before You Die). I’m not generally paranoid, but it’s starting to get to me. So now my Before I Die project is to pour my thimbleful of outpourings into the ocean of literacy to be, in all likelihood, lost forever, or maybe to join the masses of flotsam (jetsam?—let’s just call it garbage) that is swirling over the earth’s watery surface. That (the garbage in the oceans) started out to be a metaphor but is unfortunately a fact, but at least my own teaspoonful of thoughts, stories, and rants will take up nothing but “bandwidth,” which I assume is very close to being metaphorical itself…. or at least can’t float on the ocean or wash up on desert islands populated with cartoon characters with straggly beards hoping for rescue. A recent cartoon in The New Yorker had one of these guys opening a bottle with a note in it and saying, “I wish they’d quit sending my financial statements.” Apparently no cartoonist has ever thought of putting a woman on that island—I guess because man is the default human and woman is only good for sexual or nagging-her-husband jokes. There are some excellent female cartoonists—Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel—but let’s face it, women just aren’t funny, or so I constantly hear from male comedians—whereas the Three Stooges and farting, now that’s funny!

Where was I? OK, so I started lugging all this stuff out of the closet, including eight large cartons and five portfolios stuffed (to the gills) with my paintings since 1979. I’ve weeded them out a few times, but there’s still a lot for my “heirs” to toss when the time comes. Over the years I’ve given several of my paintings away in the dim hope that they will outlive me. So maybe some of them won’t get thrown overboard with the rest of the jetsam. (Flotsam = “floating debris”; jetsam = stuff “cast overboard to lighten the load in time of distress.”) I’ve asked my peops, should I die first, to put some of my paintings up at the funeral home in lieu of the photographic montage that reminds or educates the mourners about the one who has passed on. I would love-love-love to be hovering over that gathering, watching the shocked reactions to my shocking paintings (“Mary, we hardly knew ye!”)—but I’d rather not see all the crying, and I definitely don’t want to see all the laughing and chatting—I expect my death to be taken seriously!

Since I’ve stumbled onto this topic, let me go a little further. I’m curious to find out if painting will have prepared me for the spooky projections that the Tibetan Buddhists say will greet each of us in “the bardo” when we die. I don’t think I was aware of being born; I want to be awake for my death. And I dare my inner projector to find scarier images than the ones I’ve already seen on other people’s paintings and on my own.

I’ve had several lucid dreams over the years, when I knew I was dreaming, and a few super-lucid ones that felt exactly like what we call “real life.” In one of the super ones, I heard people walking up the stairs to my bedroom. It was a man and a woman, and I somehow knew that they knew M. Cassou (larger-than-life painter/teacher). The man said, “We’ve heard about you.” At the time, I was really into the “afterlife” (so much more appealing than the “duringlife”). So I clung to that dream/experience as some sort of guarantee that there is an Order to it all. I’ve since lost the need to feel immortal, if only in spirit form, but the one thing I truly believe I have going for me is that when Death comes, I will go toward Him, Her or It without reservation. I’ve somehow learned through dreaming not to shrink back from scary images (I push through them and they dissolve) or from falling (I fall even faster and then swoop up and fly) or even from death that I “know” is imminent. This is it, go-go-go, I actually dream-think to myself. And someday it will really happen.

Death… to be cont’d.

the stuff of memory

As I was taking stuff out of the closet, the cats were in heaven, especially Brutus, who has long wanted to explore the marvelous peaks and valleys and tunnels and crevices that make up my “not wanted now but someday…” accretions. I sweated and heaved and carried and pushed and pulled my way through the narrow passageway between two old bookcases that will henceforth be exiled to the garage. I knew that my old painting writings would be way in the back, in an unmarked box, and they were. So I hauled them out and spent hours going through them and selecting several pieces that I could conceivably post on my website (“In the bardo,” “Party time,” “The thief, the policeman, the devil & I,” and other oldies but goodies). As always happens when I try to “declutter,” everything I’ve dragged out of hiding is now very much in sight and under foot. If I didn’t expect my niece to come clean on Thursday, I could happily leave it there until inspiration strikes to put it all back. But she is my cleanliness/clutter conscience, so I will probably have to do something with it all before then. [Update: Didn’t happen; she cleaned around it.] There are still several large storage boxes of old books and feminist/lesbian magazines from the ‘70s in there, which I’m sure will be of interest to somebody, someday; I can’t bear to throw them out. There’s also a trunk containing old letters and writings  dating back to at least college—it’s the trunk I took to college—and I’m sorry, but I don’t subscribe to the idea that you should throw away anything you haven’t used or looked at in the past year. I will haul that shit with me until the day I die. It’s my life, man!

So I got all sweaty and tired doing that, and I had earned a rest, so I fell back into my big red comfy chair by the open window and inhaled the delightful smells brought in by the breeze and listened to the birds—I had just fed them that morning—and watched Brutus and Luther run from window to window to catch sight of the pigeons cooing (shitting, fornicating) on the roof. The temperature was a perfect 62° (San Francisco weather!). There are so few days like this, when I can have the windows open and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of nature.
(I’m not in nature, but I’m nature-adjacent.)

In Barbara’s e-mail she said I wasn’t “where [I] was supposed to be” (painting on a tripod near the door where I could get the occasional hint of breeze) but then hastened to add that I was where I was supposed to be, just not where she wanted me. And though I wished to be there too, I knew that if I were, I’d be dealing with physical privations and fears of people, process, and planes. And yet the experiences I have there are like nothing else in my life… so deep, so meaningful, so touching the core of the little me and the big I. The world within those painting walls is the whole world when 20 or 25 of us are painting all day for 7 days in a row. The energy and sublime quiet in that room, the giggles and the tears, Barbara’s words floating through the air (not at all like flotsam) as she talks to each of us in turn are powerful beyond imagining. It’s a place where strong feelings come up and you don’t have to pretend not to be feeling them. And the camaraderie—but more than that—the rapport, affinity, intimacy, affection, love—often with the unlikeliest people (“new” people, the impossibly young, those with whom you’ve had un petit conflit), but also with the longtime companions you’ve been painting with, exploring with, undergoing upheaval and change with, for 25 or 30 years. Of course, there have also been the strange, unwanted encounters with people who push your buttons big-time, or you theirs, and it’s all in the mix, the connections and the dysfunctions, the getting thrown back on yourself, whether in the group or on the paper. So easy, it would seem, to apply paint to paper, so complex and difficult in the execution, every painting a self-portrait in a way, but a self you barely recognize or, worse, recognize all too well and want to rip off the wall. But there’s no escape, and in that twisting, sometimes agonizing aloneness and confrontation with yourself, you find love underneath it all and a great expanse of spirit, a letting go. And when you turn and face your painting companions at the end of the day, you’re raw, you’re bleeding grace, but you’ve survived. That’s when you can look in someone else’s eyes and see that, beneath the differences of physical body, country and culture, age and experience, you are one.

I am so missing you right now. (You know who you are.)

some jog, some blog

It’s strange that I suddenly feel like writing. I went for how long—a year and a half?—without having the urge, or at least the stamina, to make a ‘zine out of a long list of half-told tales. And now I wonder if I’m going to overwhelm you—“oh God, not another zine! I don’t have time for this!”—or just deteriorate into telling you what I had for breakfast this morning, or that I’m just getting over a cold, like a Twitterer intent on announcing her every move. You could say I’ve always done that anyway, and you could be right.

I feel like I’m straddling two worlds: (1) the heartfelt world of little Midwestern (or West Coastern) stories xeroxed, stapled, and mailed to a few friends and (2) the vast, personal/impersonal, wasteland/gold mine/font of everything and nothing-of-value—the Internet, where I can post an innocent, throwaway comment about Stonehenge (they figured out it was a burial ground, big deal) and get back a response from the U.K. less than an hour later, by the author of a book on the subject, gently chastising me for buying into the media’s glib pronouncements.

The size of the Internet world seems way out of proportion to that of an individual sitting at her typewriter-like object plugged into the wall, in a small town in a remote part of the country where most of the residents are blithely unconnected to anything larger than their big screen TVs. It seems both as wonderful and as not-quite-believable as when humans were first able to cover long distances in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks, via the magic flying machine, the airplane—which is no longer magical but only tedious in the extreme, to the point where you wish you could hop in a covered wagon, hook up the horses, and get there already.

Like those first awed airplane passengers, I have easy access to a world beyond my local environment—I can communicate instantly with a writer in Seattle, a bookseller in Kentucky, a scientist in Austria, friends all over the country, and, of course, my sister a town over. I suppose the computer is just an extension (so to speak) of the telephone, which still feels like the original technological miracle to me. The car is like a faster and more durable horse, but the telephone is the sine qua non. Imagine telling your great-great-grandparents, We have this machine with numbered buttons on it that you touch and you can talk to someone who lives 5 (500, 5,000) miles away! It’s absurd that this is even possible… or that airplanes can stay up in the air, for that matter…. Am I dating myself yet? So the Internet is more or less a glorified telephone where you use the written word instead of voice  to reach strangers far, far away, and you don’t even have to specify (dial up) these strangers, they just see what you’ve written (or recorded or filmed) in the privacy of your own home and then can answer you, correct you, or berate you, as they see fit. (If you read the “comments” pages on most websites, you will despair of humanity, I assure you.)

As you know, I’ve been posting old mary’zines and some previously “unpublished” material (“best of the mary’zine that never made it to print”) on I see this mostly as a practical means to get my precious words out there to the masses who don’t yet know they’re dying to read them, like those scientists who broadcast Buddy Holly or Elvis songs into outer space in case Someone is out there receiving signals and simultaneously having the first clue what music is. (If those Someones are anything like most human adults in the 1950s, they’ll just cover their ears, if they have them, and wonder what that “noise” is.)

But I was looking at one of my postings the other day and realized that it reads differently on the screen than it does on paper. The paper version fits the way I ramble in a leisurely fashion while deciding what I want to say—and what I want to say is often just the build-up to the ramble; you know, the journey not the destination—she said, as if she knew what the destination was, let alone how to get there. When you’re reading online, the eye wants to go fast, skip over whole sentences and paragraphs, get to the gist, the grist, the meat of the matter, and click on to something else if satisfaction is not immediate. I suppose I could try to make the writing in the ‘zine punchier, have lead sentences for every paragraph, organize my thoughts like a pyramid and get them out there, BAM!, like a journalist on a deadline who expects most people to read only the first paragraph or two. But no. Instead, I will have to rely on the likes of you: my slow… old… perhaps bedridden… readers out there who are willing to curl up with some good old-fashioned prose on paper…. or read it on your electro-screen if you must. And if little green men start leaving advanced-civilization-type comments on my blog, I’ll know that my ‘zine-waves-to-nowhere have done their job.

condo made of stone-a

In the fifth grade we studied ancient Egypt. I loved learning about the beginning of civilization—the images, the strange writing, the pyramids. It was my introduction to world history, and to the concept of something outside myself—vast and mysterious—irrelevant to my family’s pain and my own. That was the year that I was shocked to read about the burning of the Library of Alexandria (in aught-1st century B.C.), for all the knowledge that was lost forever. It was the year of editing the class newspaper, of writing plays for me and my classmates to perform, of being chosen to sing “Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” in the high school auditorium. It was the year I became a Girl Scout and dreamed of all the badges I was going to earn for tying knots and marking trails with little piles of stones. I loved playing basketball, football, and baseball with my boy cousins. I loved the woods and the shy little flowers. I read all the “boys’” adventure books—Hardy Boys, Jack London, deep-sea adventures, stories of proud Indian tribes—and I longed to own a typewriter and a desk and a bookcase.

Those memories from when I was 10 years old carry with them the innocence and hope with which I scanned the skies of infinite knowledge, expecting to learn more and more until I knew everything there was to know. Now, I look back through the other end of the telescope, and I see that I made my choices through time and never did get back to learning more about Egypt or so many other things. I’m a dilettante or, to be kinder to myself, a generalist. As I pore over the site, hopping and skipping from one recommendation to another, I end up ordering books such as Zero (The Biography of a Dangerous Idea); The Irony of American History; Decoding the Universe; The World Is Flat; Gödel, Escher, Bach; The Limits of Power; This Is Your Brain on Music. I’ve read some of all of these books, and all of some of them—you can’t read all the books, all the time. And yet, dipping my toe into the deep waters of quantum physics, U.S. foreign policy, biology of the brain, and globalization seems like too little too late. Why, now, go into depth on the big issues, the sciences, the histories? I loved Latin in high school… should I take it up again? Should I renew (or make) my acquaintance with Stonehenge and the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Muslims? I still have eyes to read and ears to hear, but now I’m on the other side of the immensity of all that is known—not because I know it all but because it seems increasingly pointless to learn facts.

At the age of 10, I wanted to know everything, but I had no interest in the unknown—what was there to know about that? And of course now I know that the unknown is the most important thing of all. It may be the only thing, because what do we really know for sure? Basically, we take everything on faith: gravity, birth, death, and our separate personhood, which may be the greatest illusion of all.

We are so small in the vast universe, so unschooled in the face of all that has come before and the more that will come after, so fully human and thus inadequate to the task of inhabiting, embracing, and containing all that life appears to offer. The view keeps changing, we see the big we cannot reach and reach for the small we cannot see. The hubris it takes just to write these sentences, as if I’m some Girl Shakespeare, reincarnated—and if it turns out that Francis Bacon wrote all those plays after all, I will be pissed: Who would aspire to be Girl Bacon? Maybe I’ll have better luck next time, or in the no-time, the whatever-it-is out there or in here.

Since it’s not something I can figure out, I’ll just keep following my little path and doing my little thing—typing my past and future thoughts into the computer and loading them up onto my blog so I’m no longer burdened by the need to disseminate myself personally, going from door to door or mailbox to mailbox. When I die, the books, the knowledge, the kudos, the joy and terror of writing, the connections, the ever-important follow-up and begging for scraps of praise will matter not at all; I will have been just one more little twig on the tree of life, one more ripple in the infinite river of humanity. So I try to be present, be alive, enjoy what I can and do what I must. That’s life, eh? On the TV show “Numbers” recently, one character says to his overwrought brother, the formerly boy genius who’s afraid he’ll never fulfill his childhood destiny: “Forget destiny. Just do what you want on any given day.” I second that emotion. The tree and the river don’t need me, gravity won’t remember me, birth and death will be behind me, and personhood? Poof.

epilog: Milk and more

The other night, the name of an old friend whom I lost touch with more than 20 years ago popped into my head, so I decided to google her to see what she was doing now. The first result that came up was her obituary. She had died a year ago. And while this was surprising news, it wasn’t exactly devastating, since I had been out of her orbit for so long. But it was odd to have her back in my thoughts again, to have all the memories of our times together right there, retrieved without effort as if it all happened yesterday—the glory days in San Francisco in the mid ‘70s, fighting for all the good things, observing and writing about the explosion of new political thought, the liberation of women and gay people, marching bravely (tremblingly) through the gauntlet of strangers in the Gay Pride parade. Back then I lived in the Castro (as did my friend), and we were all stunned by the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. That night, my partner and I and thousands of others walked the long walk to City Hall holding lit candles, and listened to Joan Baez sing heartbreakingly on the grand steps, a memory fossil that will exist through time.

I was touched by the movie “Milk,” though the story it told wasn’t mine—unless you consider that I was in the march scene (real footage, not a reenactment). But the memories that attach to the movie, to the old friend now gone, to the people from that time and place who are still in my life, those memories stir and stir, and the pot runneth over. In life there’s no neat ending, no credits rolling or director commentating, no special features, no previews, trailers, or conversations with the actors. No actors. Just one person stumbling along, half-blind and the other half blindfolded, no clue what’s going on until she reaches a ripe old age where some things are revealed and others will remain a mystery forever.

R.I.P. Celeste West.

Death does not matter, says Krishnamurti.  I look forward to finding out why not.

[Mary McKenney]

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