Objects of My Confection


Sunday, March 15, 2020. I get the occasional response to my halfhearted efforts at job seeking. I responded to one this morning, answering no to some of the preferred technical experience, no to driving to Southfield (hellish commute), no to working in a HAZWOPER environment (hazardous waste site operations and emergency response) though I doubt the job actually involves such work as there aren’t many haz. waste site environments around any longer and this is supposed to be an entry level scientist position which, that said, could mean just about anything. In other words, a lot of field type jobs or even lab jobs just overkill the training requirements. Blah, blah, who cares? I’m retired from that shit. A job now has to be close to home, preferably in town and part time. And at least twice minimum wage. I have skills and experience. And I’m not getting sucked into the mind numbing careerist nonsense again where I’m sleepwalking through the rest of my life just to collect a little paycheck that merely pitches us into a higher tax bracket. I have my work. It doesn’t pay, I wish it did, maybe someday it will, if something transpires that I need employment to survive, I’ll deal with it then.

The reader may be put off by such talk. Suck it up, buddy, get a job, do your part, be like the rest of us, man up, quit living off your wife’s money. Think what you want about me. The art-craft life is full of adjudications, self-inflicted and from without, so be it. I’m fifty-five, had a zillion lousy jobs and a handful of doomed, soul-crushing careers and I’m determined to exploit every advantage I have to realize my dreams. There’s no time to waste working for the man if it’s not imperative. I’ve wasted too many decades giving a shit about what other people think about what I ought to be doing, too many years selling my soul and denying my talents. Too many years not listening to my heart and suffering the horrible consequences of personal mythological schism. And I’m taking 100% responsibility, by the way, for the error of my ways. I made the decisions, I chose to be employed instead of working for myself; I took the jobs, became the careerist asshole and the money-grubbing moron. It was me screwing myself over, there’s nobody else to blame. I made my own bed, dug my own holes.

But the time is now. This is my year and my decade. I’m naming it and claiming it as such, come what may, damn the torpedoes. I’m a writer, an author and I’m good enough to get paid for it even I can’t, as yet, get anyone else to agree with me. I’m enduring the new species of silence. I’m determined to hold to my VAPM until the last knot in the rope.

Artist-craftsmen. My brother is forging ahead with his solo show preparations and they haven’t COVID-cancelled the thing yet – it’s still scheduled for the first week in April. He’s been stressing, driving hard to generate enough material, making up for lost time and of course dumping money into it just as I did for the book, it’s funny how it’s costing us both about the same amount of cash to finance our art-craft visions, our entrepreneurship dreams. That’s what an artist-craftsman is, mostly, an entrepreneur. It costs. Until it pays, if it ever does. And then Kev has the added burden of either storing his work somewhere or having to throw it away, again. Over the years, with the output for his various shows, he’s tried it all, including renting storage space and since you just can’t manage keeping it all in a house let alone an apartment, he’s resorted to discarding it all. Nobody buys original art, after all, even if they like it, not in this part of the world, anyway. Just like nobody buys books. Unless you get that break that we all dream of; the connection that transforms the one-way outlay into a commensurate reward scenario. Or even a goddamn break even scenario.

Kev’s vinyl “cushions”
Kev’s vinyl “peppermints”
Kev’s Godzilla I
Kev’s Godzilla II

I apologize for the crappy, tiny image of the first Hot Wheel painting he did.. There will be four, I think, in the show. I had a whole computer file with a lot of Kev’s art from his past shows but I can’t find it so I can’t include the other Hot Wheels paintings – I probably dumped the file given that I’ve been through a series of laptops and I’m crappy at maintaining any reliable cloud storage and it’ll have to wait until the vintage journal posts come around, years from now, oh well, because I’m just not keen to dig through all the volumes. I’ll post the photos of his stuff as it stands – the tedium of doing it all twice, pasting images here and then there, both on the website and in the Word doc, is getting bothersome – and when this latest show takes place, I’ll have images of everything. If carnegieolson.com frigging bombs and all the posts fall into the void with whatever images and text that I’ve failed to include here, so be it. Like Kev, I get fed up with all the management of my failed production – nobody else cares so why should I? That sounds defeatist. And I don’t mean to say that I’m not willing to do my best to keep slugging it out till the end, keeping my work alive, archived, just in case somebody, someday gives a shit. Then I’ll have it all. But there are limits. The romantic notion of posthumous discovery of your talents and then the mining of your art-craft archive is just that: a romantic notion. All that shit happens, yes, but so rarely as to make the statistics, the odds, irrelevant.

Keith died with a wealth of unpublished material, what amounts to a zillion volumes of a journal, a handful of essays and (the gods willing) several novels, one or two or three of which he independently published. All of it is now considered collectable and of intense interest to legions of scholars worldwide who publish hundreds of Ewing/Olson studies and dissertations every year in addition to a sizeable number of popular biographies and even films about the man’s work and life. There exist numerous foundations and associations devoted to the research and continued maintenance of the Carnegie Olson legacy. Had he lived to witness his vast and enduring popularity….

Yes, this is the keen level of derangement that we wannabes endure. It’s part of our maddeningly exaggerated form of psychological sustenance. Crazy? Yes. As if we’ll somehow be looking down from above after we die. But what else do we have? The alluring fantasies of success in life and, barring that, posthumous glory.

Every art show, meanwhile, needs a name or a title and a blurb, just like a novel, and Kev asked me for suggestions. I pondered it awhile, knowing a lot about what has gone into his creations, of course, but also because wordplay and the catchiness or not of marketing-type phraseology has somehow always appealed to me – why this collection of words captures the nature of thing and something else doesn’t. Anyway, part of his investigation as an artist involves the concept, the idea, the study of liking things. Which dovetails with my interest in attachment theory and the power, mythological (which amounts to psychological) of material things, of objects of our affection and all that. I came up with OBJECTS OF MY CONFECTION. And he said he really liked it, so, maybe I helped.

Meanwhile, I switched up some of the “details” for Time Crime in KDP, republishing it with what seems to me to more apt, more concisely relevant keywords and classifications, what have you. I fixed a classification I’d botched, too, for the hard cover on the Ingram site, somehow I had it listed as Fiction/General or some such nonsense versus science fiction. I tweak this stuff only because I’m determined to optimize my searchability, if that’s what it does, I don’t really know for certain. It’s all part of the learning curve for an indie author. Is TC1 better presented in the databases as so-called space opera, for instance, or alien contact? I’d initially preferred space opera but now I’m thinking alien contact is a more vital component of the story. As if it matters, right? Well, I’m not selling any copies with the information I had to begin with, so why not tweak it and see if it has any effect, if it perhaps refines its exposure in my ads or just shows up in front of a different, more applicable, more receptive niche?


Guiding & Abiding

Seraphine is a film about the French artist’s life. A self-taught painter, she lived from 1864 to 1942, working as a housekeeper and painting mostly in obscurity until she was discovered by her employer. She was driven to paint, by candlelight, in isolation, without support from her community, without support from anyone. She was intensely affected by the natural world, especially trees and other flowering plants. There are scenes of Seraphine making a point of walking a considerable distance, after her hard days of manual labor, in her heavy clothes and shoes, just to arrive at a particular tree so that she could stare up into its canopy, mesmerized by the restorative peace and beauty she saw within the branches and leaves. She would, as a middle-aged woman, even climb the trees to sit on a branch, apparently to intensify the experience. She had just enough money from working her arduous housekeeping tasks –washing, cleaning, cooking – to buy the most basic tools of her trade, brushes, paint mixing supplies, etc. She even made her own paints from natural pigments that she obtained from plants and even animal blood.

When we encounter roadblocks to our ambitions and aspirations, I think focusing on guides can help. Guides can be anything – a person, place, thing or even an activity – that encourages you, fuels your passions, gives back to you, draws you forward, strengthens your resolve, allows you to let go and otherwise helps hold you, wholeheartedly, to your vocations, even in the face of inevitable doubt and frustration.

Judith Thurman wrote “Night Kitchens,” an essay in The New Yorker ostensibly about her research into the making of artisanal tofu but, as with most good writing, touched on things not directly related to her topic. She went to Japan and spent some time in the abbot’s garden at the temple of Daisen-in, in Kyoto which, in her words:

[I]s a rectangle of raked gravel bordered by a white wall on one of its long sides, and by the wooden porch of an old pavilion on the other, where the monks meditate. From behind the wall, a camellia bush throws off its scent. The grooves made by the rake run horizontally, like steady but freehand rulings on a blank page, until they eddy around two conical mounds, each about a foot tall. I had been to Daisen-in earlier that week, and at my first sight of the mounds I surprised myself by bursting into tears, perhaps because, for all its austerity, the garden is an image of release: of the moment at which, after an intractable struggle, you get permission from yourself to let the inessential go.[1]

The inessential. Your heart knows what these things are and your mind knows how to let them go. I can tell you that for me some of these things are so simple and straightforward – jobs, money, achievement, acceptance, responsibility – that they are scary to look at; scary to imagine dropping from your life because the pain can be so familiar it’s almost a cherished part of you. There’s a Eurythmics lyric that speaks to this:

She said I have this unhappiness to wear around my neck.

It’s a pretty piece of jewelry to show what I protect.[2]

Letting go of the inessential. This includes self-sabotage. Fear of success. Getting off the ground and into the clouds can induce vertigo, physically but also existentially – you want to get back down to the familiar misery, just because it’s familiar – you’re used to it. Breaking old habits is not easy, including the habit of being miserable or unhappy – you can get used to anything, and you just need to remember that some things are not worth getting used to, and certainly not worth returning to once you’ve escaped them. A sense of being a fraud or a fake, that you’re not worthy, that you’re nothing and nobody from nowhere, that you don’t deserve success or happiness or fulfillment, is an insidious limitation. I’ve never felt like a fraud, but I can identify with something Euell Gibbons, the man who wrote Chasing the Wild Asparagus said to John McPhee, who accompanied Euell on a foraging trip in 1968 and wrote about it:

I asked [Gibbons] if he thought he would ever start another novel, and he said he hoped to, but that, even with regard to his wild-food writing, his mind was forever swaying on a shaky fence between confidence and fear. He went on to say candidly that this sort of vacillation was characteristic of him generally, and that he didn’t mind telling me now that he had even been afraid to start out on this trip because he had had no confidence that he could bring it off. He said he had been haunted for as long as he could remember by a sense of fraudulence, and thought that he had created failure for himself time after time in hopeless servitude to this ghost. It had been all he could do to weather the success of his published books, even though he had also been haunted for years by a desire to find himself as a writer. He said he imagined that some kind of desperate restlessness arising out of these crosswinds had made him leave Hawaii in 1953.[3]

When I arrived in Hawaii on November 6th, 2010, and stood on the beach, looking out at the ocean, I was also desperately restless, also holding onto unhappiness and also in need of permission from myself to let the inessential go. I didn’t burst into tears, but I was moved nonetheless, and relieved, sensing that this trip would help me in some way. I guess some places in the world are better than others at guiding people, at helping them through things. Hawaii remains one of my cherished guides.

To lose a guide is traumatic and never more so as when they die. My dog, who died in June, was a guide. She was a companion through many trials and it’s impossible to capture it all on the page and I don’t want to try. She was eleven and a half years old when we had to euthanize her. Suffering from an occasional seizure for many years prior, she had recently been showing additional signs of something going wrong with her nervous system, experiencing brief, yet traumatic events in which her eye, ear and front leg would freeze up. We had told our vet about them but there was nothing to be done after some blood tests were inconclusive. The “strokes” or seizures would upset her – she’d come to us with a sort of desperate, pleading need for comfort, aware that something was wrong, and it was a terrible thing for us to be unable to help her – watching her suffer was almost unbearable. But the events would pass after a minute or two and she’d return to herself.

But one hot, sunny late afternoon, she had seizure that wouldn’t stop. We tried to comfort her, waiting it out as usual, but it became clear, after more than several minutes of her right front leg being paralyzed, her right ear drooping, and her right eye giving her trouble, that this was different, more severe. Thankfully, after a few minutes, the seizure finally seemed to pass and I took her outside in the backyard to help her relax – she liked going outside. But as soon as she stepped into the bright sun, she went into another seizure, gran mal I suppose, where her whole body stiffened and contorted. I told Angie that we’d give her five minutes to see if she came out of it – she’d had gran mal seizures a handful of times before over the years – otherwise we’d call the vet and take her in. The seizure continued unabated, we could do nothing, there was no improvement, so we called the vet, took her in as an emergency and they attempted to use injections of relaxants to pull her out of the seizure. It didn’t work. We could hear her in the next room, making a choking sound, struggling in some way against the seizure and the medication. Eventually, the doctor told us we’d need to go to an animal emergency clinic several miles away where they had a stronger drug that would leave her unconscious overnight, the plan being to somehow “reboot” her nervous system by shutting it down completely. The doctor called ahead so they’d be expecting us. Everything was happening so fast and we had to rely on the advice of the doctor – all we could do was get her to the emergency clinic as quickly as we could. I held her in the back seat while Angie drove to the clinic. The ride was misery, we missed our exit and had to lose a few minutes turning around; all the while her seizures continued except for brief moments when her body would relax and she’d breathe normally in my arms, only to convulse again, twisting and turning. At the clinic they took her in and put her under.

I relied completely on the advice of the vet but he didn’t have much advice. I wanted to be as clear-headed as possible in terms of what was best for Cinder, to ease or end her suffering as quickly as possible while not panicking and making a rash decision. The emergency clinic vet advised that we keep her there overnight where they could monitor her, bring her back to consciousness in the morning and see how she was – he seemed convinced there was no way to predict what condition she’d be in. We went home reluctantly and tried to sleep, fitfully of course, wondering all night whether we were doing the right thing but not knowing what else to do besides wait until morning when the clinic opened.

In the morning, we hurried back to see her. She was in a cage near the floor, wrapped in blankets and she saw as we walked in. She was panting, obviously upset and seemed unable to get up. Tragically, she seemed to have only partial use of her right front and right back leg, and I don’t think she could see from her right eye. Despite her trauma, she seemed to recognize us and struggled to get up. Both of the emergency clinic vets who had helped us were still there, they were changing shifts. I immediately asked him if he thought she’d be okay, or if she was suffering and should be put down. He wouldn’t commit to an answer. The female vet said there was a chance that over time, her paralysis could subside and there were more tests that could be conducted elsewhere to try to determine what the problem was; surgery was also an option, but this woman’s demeanor told me that she didn’t believe such extreme measures would be worth the time and money. I went to Cinder, sat on the floor and reached into her cage. The lady vet let her out and Cinder tried to rise and walk. It was heartbreaking to watch her struggling to control her movements; she was panting heavily, obviously suffering terribly. She seemed disoriented and panicked. The vet sat down with us, talked to her and tried to get her to walk a little and it seemed to me that she was trying to demonstrate the extent of Cinder’s condition. We asked for a few more minutes to make our decision and she suggested we use their private room, designed for such times. I didn’t want to prolong Cinder’s agony, but I wanted to be sure that all hope was gone before we agreed to have her put down.

In the room, we sat on a blanket with her, trying to comfort her and calm her, but she was so upset, panting so hard that she had cut her tongue on her teeth. She kept trying to walk but could only stumble. I cupped my hands under the sink to give her water she lapped it up desperately. The vet came in and said she had a bowl we could use. Only a few terrible minutes had passed when we decided, hurried and panicked ourselves, yet resolute, that her suffering was too great, that there was no legitimate, humane hope left, that whatever time, treatment or surgery that was available would not alleviate her immediate state and that it was now too much to hope that she would return to herself. We could not help her. We agreed to have her put down, and stayed with her until the end – she wimpered only once, as the drug entered her leg, before collapsing gently to the floor. The vet quickly administered the drug that would stop her heart and told us she’s gone. It was horrible. It had all happened within thirty minutes, but now I felt overwhelming regret that we had allowed her to brought out of the anesthesia only to have her suffer further. I felt we’d made a selfish mistake in hoping she’d be better this morning. But I also knew we had to be absolutely sure we couldn’t help her and that’s why we waited. I got up, looking at Cinder while Angie walked out of the room. I turned to leave, but could not – I kneeled down beside my dog, put my hand on her muzzle and kissed her. I got up, looked at her one last time and left the room. We walked out of the clinic sobbing, without our dog of almost twelve years. She was one of our guides, now gone.

The next two weeks were a blur of hell. The trauma of her death was beyond what I could have imagined and we were lost without her. That she had helped us so much with so many things in life was now more evident than ever and that’s how I remember her, as our best guide on how to live in the moment and enjoy life. I have the memory of her to keep me going. Sometimes when I’m in one of my funks, feeling lost and sorry for myself, I ask myself how my dog would’ve acted, and the answer is that she would’ve made the best of it, and enjoyed the day. She was a great dog, we miss her terribly and I’ll never forget her. She remains my guide and she remains in my heart.

Cinder, 2010, Houston

[1] Judith Thurman, “Night Kitchens,” Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, David Remnick, ed., (New York: Random House, 2007), p.323.

[2] Eurythmics, “Savage,” Savage, RCA, 1987.

[3] McPhee, John, “A Forager,” in Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, ed.David Remnick, Random House, New York: 2007, p.221.