Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

How many artists...

There are almost 7 billion people living on the planet today.  Of 195 countries the United States follows China and India with a population of 310 million.  Mexico is #11 with 113 million people.  Before I left New York City in 2003, there were 8 million people living there...  100,000 of those 8 million were millionaires or a little over 2 percent of the population.  Supposedly there were over 100,000 artists, including actors, dancers, painters; who pay dues to artist unions...  In 2008, of those more than 100,000 artists, only 8,000 earned a living off their art...  When I left the U.S. January 29th, 2003, I had a little over $3,000 to my name... I never attempted selling my paintings, nor my food.  I never attempted being one of those 100,000 millionaires.

Randi and I moved from Astoria, Queens to Winsor Terrace, Brooklyn on the edge of Park Slope in the Spring of 1997. We had a falling out with her mother, something concerning the amount of rent we were paying and the caring for Randi's 86-year-old grandmother, who lived 6 months of the year in New York and 6 months of the year in Palm Springs, California.  Randi's mother, Linda, was recently retired from the New York City public school system, lived in upstate New York with her lover and had all the time in the world and the space for caring for her mother.  But she was protecting her freedom and prefered paying an aid and wished for us to pay more rent and share in looking after Randi's grandmothe; afterall, we were living in her grandmother's apartment...  Everyone involved in the housing/care conflict was guilty of a certain form of selfishness.  My part in the conflict was partly due to my concern that Randi didn't receive from her mother the emotional support she desired.  Because Randi didn't receive what she wanted, I decided that Linda shouldn't receive what she wanted either, which was control of the situation. As a mother, Linda was a cinder block wall...  She wore the pants and wouldn't loosen them for anyone, especially not for her youngest child.  So, instead of bowing down to Linda, we decided to look for our own place...  It didn't take us even half a day to hit the jackpot.  We found the apartment together.  But all credit for gaining the trust of the young landlords goes to Randi.  Although I knew she had a low image of herself, Randi appeared to others as very confident and responsible.  She easily gained people's trust and friendship.  I, on the other hand carried with me a guilt complex.  I always was afraid that people of authority (Landlords, teachers, prospective employers) would see in me someone who didn't merit their trust.  So, I maintained a low profile during the interview with those landlords and left the magic to Randi...

We lived on the corner of Seeley Street and Prospect Park Southwest across the street from the lake in Prospect Park.  Our apartment was a one bedroom on the 4th floor with great afternoon light entering the windows of the living and dining rooms that were separated by French doors.  We paid $1,000 in rent and continued our fighting.  One Saturday morning we had an argument that couldn't be resolved at that moment.  No one could hear the other person and the glucose in my frontal lobes was totally burned out.  So, I left the apartment, crossed the street and lay down on the edge of the lake, hoping to relax and return to the apartment and resolve the conflict in a few minutes.  But when I arrived Randi had packed her things for the weekend and said that she was off to Harrisburg to visit friends of hers... I spent the weekend trying to ease my loss and frustration.  I called the Jewish woman I had met looking for non-profit jobs and we met in Greenwich Village that evening.  Truthfully, I don't remember what was said during that meeting.  But we never spoke again.  I tried so hard to burn the hours Randi was away from our apartment, fighting against feeling worse than I already felt.  I went to Chinatown and bought ingredients for cooking Thai food and realized that we couldn't fight this way anymore.  Something entered me and I became calm. Randi returned late Sunday night, happy to see me.  I don't know what her friends told her.  All I know is what I told myself while alone those 36 hours...  And, like a cold blunt knife I told her that the relationship was over...  Looking back at those days, I feel a terrible sadness; the things we must do to people we love in order that we can love ourselves...  She wouldn't believe that.  Why love someone if you're going to leave them?  Isn't that the case?  No one comes to terms with that paradox.  You can't love someone and leave them?  It lacks congruency?

When we were together, Randi often mentioned that she didn't want to have kids.  But she didn't want to use oral contraceptives, concerned about the bloating.  During the 3 years we were together I frequently suggested she run with me.  That would have solved the problem. Contraception becomes a political/gender issue: why must the woman be responsible for all?  That wasn't my position.  Since I became sexually involved with Francesca at the age of 17, I was in charge of even learning about the menstrual cycle, how long a sperm can live inside the woman, truly how many days exist per month that the woman can become impregnated, very few, between 1 and 3.  With Randi, it wasn't a question of what she had to do to her body, but the question of what we had to do for our relationship.  This is foolish, arguing an issue that is long over...in a relationship that was not meant to continue beyond it's time...  

She didn't want to run.  She insisted that her legs couldn't withstand the stress of even running a quarter mile.  I know how it is to injure oneself running.  But, I never made it as far as Randi running before she injured herself.  I'm jumping ahead of myself.  I frequently invited her on my cross-city walks.  But she claimed I walked too fast and opted for staying at home.  The first time I "bumped" into Randi in Park Slope after we separated, I was walking up the perimeter road inside Prospect Park and she passed me, running.  I was floored! I called her Minnie Mouse, because she had lost so much weight.  She was so small. I believe I owed her something and visited her once at her apartment on Prospect Park West.  She said that she was training for running a marathon in less than a year.  When I bumped into her years later and asked her what happened with the running, she said that she injured herself at mile 13.  I blew out my ilial tibial band at mile 7 the summer after my first year at Hampshire.  I've never reached that number again.  I'm cool with that.  Randi didn't know how happy I was for her.  I didn't understand why she was so angry with me.  She said "goodbye" to me with a hug...  The hug was uncomfortable; she was too small.  Minnie Mouse.

We both suffered significant sexual dysfunctions; psychologic inhibitions, political/gender issues.  Truthfully, until I met Vicky late 1998 while I was drawing in a cafe-cinema on East 11th Street in the East Village, I never thought I could enjoy sex.  Never had I enjoyed sex.  With Randi I would get stimulated.  However between struggling with the condom and certain problems suffered by Randi, the sexual act ceased being stimulating.  I would try to overcome the problem and she would say sarcastically with a smirk on her face, "No, I lost it.  Sorry.  Too late!"  During the battles between John and Jane, neither person realizes that the other person is sensitive and fallable, with that little boy or girl they carry within...

As I have mentioned before, early in 1997 I stumbled across a new ADD diagnosis for adults and saw so many of the symptoms suffered by others in myself.  11 years earlier I was told that ADD only exists in children and that they "outgrow" it in adulthood.  So, I bought all the new literature on Adult ADD sold in Barnes and Noble and put myself to the reading.  I saw the symptoms in Randi and suggested she read the books.  At first she opted against it.  I asked around and discovered an Adult ADD specialist in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan and he prescribed a new form of amphetamine that removed much of my appetite and had me hyper-sensitive.  During the 1st month taking the "medication" I must have lost at least 20 pounds.  It was such a drastic weight loss, that I was approached by my supervisor and other co-workers asking me if I was ill...  I finally convinced Randi to read the literature applying to female adult sufferers of ADD and she decided to see the ADD specialist too...  We lived together at least a week after the break-up.  She hoping that I would reconsider.  One day she came home with a surprise; she was on the pill. That night we had the only truly potent sexual engagement of the 3 years we were together.  I maintained an incredible erection (I felt like a man) and didn't terminate before her, which had been a constant complaint of hers, constantly accusing me of being inadequate, making it less desirable for me to engage sexually with her; too much pressure.  From the time I became a sexually active person, I always placed too much emphasis on satisfying the other person, often ruining the experience for me.  What good is a sexual relationship wrapped up in knots of preoccupation and inadequacy?  In the effort of overcompensation, of only focussing upon the needs of the other person, we ruin the experience and the relationship for both people.

The following day Randi returned to Astoria. We couldn't live that way and I wasn't backing down.  It was wrong maintaining the other person's false expectations.  It's also wrong to believe because one person says, "no" and the other person finds themself on the short end of the leash, the person saying "no" is superior.  In all forms and means, Randi was more "capable" than I was.  I needed the chance to find myself, to relinquish some of my "weaknesses".  I couldn't do that living with her.  We would have continued being embroiled in misunderstandings.

Randi insisted that because I was the one ending the relationship, she should keep the apartment.  I asked her what she expected me to do.  My mother lived a two hour commute from New York City.  So, she said that I should return to her grandmother's apartment where she grew up.  The idea horrified me.  The idea of finding a share also horrified me because of my discomfort socially, my lack of confidence during interviews with strangers...  I didn't bend and she hated me for that...  I guess I seemed like her mother...  Someone always triggers off childhood concerns..

For some reason I can't write this in a straight line.

One Sunday before Randi left the apartment in Winsor Terrace, we entered the park together.  I thought she was walking with me, I hoped she was walking with me...  But she split off for the Park Slope end and I was left alone.  Then suddenly I started hearing the sound of drums passing through the tops of the trees.  There must be a special event going on, passed through my mind and I walked in the direction of the percussion led by the sound of drums like rats behind the Pied Piper.  I found myself crossing large groups of Blacks and Latinos picnicking.  But I didn't see a parade nor a fair.  The sound grew louder and much more intense. I was approaching the Northeast corner of the park, where the black and Carribean community of Parkside begins, when I noticed venders and a lot of women in colorful clothing with head wraps (turbans).  Bikers and roller skaters were stopping on the side of the perimeter road to see what was happening...  Little by little I waded through the crowd.  I was intrigued.  Passing the Carribean and West African vegetarian food tables and the clothing sellers and crafts venders, I discovered a giant drummers circle.  There were at least 60 bongos and djembes, there were African flutes and African gourd shakers with their outside web and bead covering.  There were African Dancers inside the circle, men and women, priests and priestesses.  Outside the circle below the trees and on the side of the slightly sloping hill were artisans sculpting, painters painting african dancers, men weaving the outside of their bongos or stretching the raw hide of the bongos they would later sell.  I had never known a drummers circle.  I would never know such spiritual magic as I found those Sundays between 1pm and 9pm April through October at "Drummers Grove".  Standing in the circle of onlookers, I felt my body moving, swaying.  My feet started lifting themselves off the earth, rising and falling.  I looked at the other people behind the drummers and each and every one of them, white and black, asian, latino, was moving to their own internal response.  Later on I had the impulse to enter the circle and dance as I felt the music.  But, I never got up the nerve.  I was afraid of making a spectacle of myself, a suburban Jersey white boy who hadn't studied African Dance. 

I would walk around the circle and I would hear the music change, like a stereo with 4 different sets of speakers.  The music would change as I approached different instruments and I would sense the differing relationships each artist had with the drummer's circle, with the dancers, with the trees, with the breeze and the clouds above.  Each and every artist was connected with the rest within a spiritual net.  The music rocked, it swayed, it bellowed and rose to the tops of the trees calling other spirits from other sides of the park.  The dancers dipped and spun and jumped into the air, bent backwards and stretched their arms and hands to the sky... some seemed to float inches above the ground or just when it seemed they would fall from exhaustion or lose balance, they righted themselves and continued pounding their feet into the dirt and spinning around the others possessed by the collective energy shared by all sitting or standing below those trees.  The drums, the wind instruments, the calls, the yells, the dancers, the swayers moved more intensely, more frenetically.  Everyone participating within the bubble of ecstacy.  And then suddenly, SILENCE as if it was an orchestra and the conductor made the signal, the music and the dancing stopped.  No sheet music.  No rehearsals.  100% improvisation.  You contribute who you are at that moment.  But, as if they were syncronized watches, they all stopped at the same millisecond...  Not one instrument sounded out of place in the intense silence.  The look on the faces of the drummers and the dancers showed that they also were aware of participating in a miracle. And people hugged.  And Randi wasn't there to witness what I had just experienced.  I was alone.  This was the beginning of my journey, although I wouldn't know where it would take me...

At the time, the West African and Carribean artist community occupied that parcel of land for 16 years; each year the New York City Parks Department and the Mayor's office threatened that this would be the last year... http://www.prospectpark.org/visit/places/drummers I fell in-love with the pastel colors of the West Indian women's clothing. So much so I bought myself a wrap-around skirt, yellow with pink and turquoise fish, that I used as a ground covering when later on I went to Drummer's Grove to draw while obsorbing the rhythm and beat of their music.  Afterwards I hung the yellow wrap around skirt in my window.  Margarita and I have it with us here in Veracruz; one of the few things I brought with me from the U.S.

I lost my job at the Russell Sage Institute on July 5th, 1997.  Madge, my supervisor said that I wasn't happy there and she and the director "let me go".  I actually saw tears in her eyes...  They gave me one month's severance pay.  I left the building on East 64th Street thinking that I had a month to look for another job and I walked downtown.  Crossing Soho, a crazy idea entered my head related to the West Indian clothing.  I walked to Canal Street and entered Pearl Paint.  With some of the money I was given as compensation for being fired, I bought a large set of pastels, pastel paper and charcoal and returned to my apartment.  I said to myself, you are such a fool.  Like the boy who sees the Gibson Les Paul with the starburst finish in the music store, saves up all his money and buys the guitar, later to hang it on his wall and never learn to play, weeks down the road you're gonna find this expensive box of pastels sitting untouched in the same place you put it when you first entered the apartment.  The problem was that I never had an interest in art.  Never in my life.  I didn't take art classes, nor art history classes in high school nor in college.  I didn't see the purpose, the social value.  I didn't remember my early childhood.  I didn't remember the animal pencil drawings briefly in high school.  I didn't remember how I wanted to learn all forms of needle point, crewel, etc...

That evening, after working out on my Nordic Trac, I took out the pastels and I played with the colors...  to see what they could do...  And what did they do?

So many artists.  So many people...  Each of us must justify our existence.  Each of us must prove our worth... A slab of meat weighed on a butcher's scale.  How much would you pay for a tall tale? Would you pay less knowing I am for real?

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