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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Monday
Feb142011

In Which You Can Never Be Sure Of The People You Know When They Don't Want To Show You Their Sadness

On Kath Bloom, Legendary Lesser-Known

by SARAH LEHRER-GRAIWER 

About four decades deep into a remote, touch-and-go life of private music-making, Kath Bloom keeps on doing what she does in the margins. Maybe perpetually being on the edge of recognition and being on edge — emotionally broken and sore from the effort of feeling so much — go together the way her songs are both fragile and dignified, quivering and tough, willful and unhinged, very close and very far away.

Bloom was born in Long Island when it was still all farmland. She moved to New Haven as a kid when her father Robert, a famous classical oboist, started teaching at Yale. Early on she trained as a cellist, dropping it to teach her teenage self guitar after being turned on like countless other would-be rockers to Joplin and Hendrix. She played alone a lot in Grove Street Cemetery, so much that the groundskeeper offered to pay her to rake the leaves since she was already always around. She recorded there the first of what would be many times with experimental guitarist Loren Mazzacane Connors in what was the beginning of a formative partnership.

Meeting in New Haven in the mid-70s, Bloom and Connors came into their own together, through each other. Recording was a casual afterthought and entirely Connors’ doing. Their collaborative albums (songs nearly all written by Bloom) were put out in tiny batches on his Daggett Records and St. Joan record labels, virtually undistributed. If it had been up to her there may not even be the small handful of now-coveted, cult classic vinyls from their sublime alliance of the late 70s and early 80s. There were about half a dozen albums with Connors (and often Tom Hanford) on Daggett Records between ‘78 and ’82: Gifts. Fields. Hanford, Bloom and Mazzacane. Listen to the Blues. Pushin Up Daisies. And ‘Round His Shoulders Gonna Be A Rainbow. Sing the Children Over also came out in 1982; Sand in My Shoe the next year, and Restless Faithful Desperate and Moonlight the following.

Each has the pair’s distinctively eerie, piercing, and breathtakingly beautiful sound—part fragile folk ballad parsed over a range of octaves (Bloom), part free-form avant-garde meandering guitar thru-line and the shadow of pained humming (Connors). They are astounding together, equally matched eagles. A first listen can feel like eavesdropping on private living room catharsis full of naked disillusionment and disappointment and sadness and failure more than pastoral ecstasy or feel-good sentimentality, though she isn’t afraid of clichés when she needs them. 

The spare space carved out by Bloom’s throbbing voice and Connor’s jangling, quasi-atonal guitar is scaled down to the personal and the daily, with all the latent dimension of a precisely observed suburban existence — an intensely perceived experience of self. Her voice — as singer and writer, lyricist, poet — is achingly human. It surges and swells. It tries to be good and fails. There are frustrated desires and apologies and momentary releases, but mainly an air of desperation throughout. She’s perpetually on the verge of crying this awesome and awful thing called living. If you can take it all, you may be struck dumb where you stand.

Bloom didn’t record for a long time after her collaboration with Connors ended. She briefly tried her hand at acting professionally in New York. She started a family. Had three sons. She went to live for a while in Florida. Then moved back to Litchfield, Connecticut where she lives today. In 1995 Richard Linklater put her song “Come Here” in Before Sunrise. The second important collaboration of her life began with guitarist Peter Friedman. They recorded together, putting out Come Here: The Florida Years in 1999 and producing Bloom’s single favorite song of her career, “It’s Just a Dream.” 

A couple retrospective anthologies have come out: 1981-1984 has songs she did with Connors and Finally has songs she did after Connors. In the past couple years her small cult following has steadily grown. A tribute album had fans Bill Callahan (with a downright shattering cover of “The Breeze/My Baby Cries”) and Devendra Banhart and Mark Kozelek covering her songs. Picking up her sound where she had left off, she released Thin Thin Line last year and started touring more broadly.

Being a fan feels like taking sides with the hermetic fringe of natural-born, pure-bred, real-deal artists in it for the long haul, through thin more often than thick.

People compare her ethereality to hippie lady folk singers like Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez. But that doesn’t sit well with me. Vashti Bunyan may be a shade closer, but really Bloom is leagues beyond. Sometimes she reaches the heights of John Prine or Jonathan Richman’s genius. (For decades now, she mostly plays music and workshops for young children, babies and their parents—another good reason to think of her in relation to Richman, the iconic proto-punk troubadour who unplugged because he didn’t want to make music that would hurt a child’s ears.)

Her songs move towards sentimentality, cliché, romance, and dream but then twist darkly towards a brutal nakedness that bares itself as fucked up, having failed, cheated, cried, tripped, freaked out, broken down, died, passed out, fallen, and loved, if inadequately. By the time it reaches its chorus, the seemingly benign song “Little Flower” turns out to be about murder.

She also should be thought of as a certain kind of intuitively refined poet — in the vein of O’Hara or Ashbery, who trained himself not to revise so as not to interfere with thinking’s immediacy — whose sure-footed directness and guileless lyricism redeems banality and rejects creative constipation in favor of flow. Bloom doesn’t remember many of her early songs well enough to play them these days. The past is the past. She flows. 

Her house is filled with piles, his piles and her piles of handwritten lyrics that flow whenever she taps it:

What did I ever do to make you as lonely as me?

Finally all those wasted days become so important like the sun through the haze

So if we try and if we fail I don’t think I could bear the sadness, but I’d do anything to try it anyway

You can never be sure of the people you know when they don’t want to show you their sadness

It’s so hard for me to tell where I end and my father begins

No I’m not impossible to touch, I have never wanted you so much

Is this called living?

My body tends towards habit, my heart it longs for something new, sometimes you gotta have it, that’s the way I feel about you

Sometime in the summer when we’re lying in the breeze, the breeze can kill me, the breeze will kill me

If your child likes — loves — you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.

That last one wasn’t Bloom but could have been if it weren’t Salinger. This is also Salinger but is reiterated here about Bloom: God, how I still love private readers. It’s what we all used to be. Private reader, private singer. Bloom is more than a singer or even a writer or poet, she’s like a force, a philosophical proposition. The unbearability of things, of being tied up with other people, of sustaining oneself somehow gets manifest through her fingers and vocal chords as fluctuating degrees of love.

I keep cycling back to her as a figure of perseverance and pacing — pacing of thought and yearning desire, of lyrical phrasing and poetic verse, and of an artist’s practice and life as it ages. Taking and giving it slow. Notes spread out and linger as they fade. Intensity of feeling directs sonic delivery.

Thinking about the flow of Bloom’s mind, the on-again-off-again trickle of public recognition which should be a river, and the innate ebb and flow of the way her words come together and lyrics form, I want to end, somewhat obscurely, like her, with this Chinese folk tale about a famous painter commissioned by the emperor to paint a crab. At the end of the five years, the emperor came to the painter but she had nothing to show. She needed another five years. At the end of the tenth year, the emperor again returned, at which point the painter gracefully painted, in only a couple minutes, right there in front of him, the most exquisite crab ever painted ever in just a few perfect strokes of her calligrapher’s brush.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer is a writer and artist living in Los Angeles. This is her first appearance in these pages. She writes for Artforum, ArtSlant, and ArtReview.

"Freddie" - Kath Bloom (mp3)

"Window" - Kath Bloom & Loren Connors (mp3)

"Biggest Light of All" - Kath Bloom (mp3)

"The Breeze/My Baby Cries" - Bill Callahan (mp3)

Friday
Feb112011

In Which This Must Not Remain So For Long

False Beard

The diary of Franz Kafka in the year of our lord 1911 reveals the most sensitive, perceptive artist of a generation. In turn of the century Prague he was a Jew among Jews among Gentiles, noticing every glance and putting off every task as if it were addressed to him alone. The eldest of six, he was conflicted about his father and basically everyone he met. He had yet to begin any novel writing; he began his first story ("Description of a Struggle") proper at the tender age of 20 and worked on it at times until it was published in 1905. Rather than assuming a forward-thinking shape of a whole, Kafka's early writing approached the elephant on a diagonal, finding in glimpses what he would eventually discern at length. The following selections from his diary are abridged from longer entries.

31 October 1911

When on Sunday afternoon, just after passing three women, I stepped into Max's house, I thought: There are still one or two houses in which I have something to do, there are still women walking behind me who can see me turn in on a Sunday afternoon at a house door in order to work, talk, purposefully, hurriedly, only occasionally looking at the matter in this way. This must not remain so for long.

1 November

This afternoon the pain occasioned by my loneliness came upon me so piercingly and intensely that I became aware that the strength which I gain through this writing thus spends itself, a strength which I certainly have not intended for this purpose.

2 November

This morning, for the first time in a long time, the joy again of imagining a knife twisted in my heart.

8 November

All afternoon at the lawyer's about the factory.

The girl who only because she was walking arm in arm with her sweetheart looked quietly around.

When I was waiting at the lawyer's I looked at the one typist and thought how hard it was to make out her face even while looking at it. The relationship between a hairdo standing out almost at the same distance all around her head, and the straight nose that most of the time seemed too long, was especially confusing. When the girl who was reading a document made a more striking movement, I was almost confounded by the observation that through my contemplation I had remained more of a stranger to the girl than if I had brushed her skirt with my little finger.

9 November

Schiller some place or other: The chief thing is (or something similar) “to transform emotion into character.”

11 November

I will try, gradually, to group everything certain in me, later the credible, then the possible, etc. The greed for books is certain in me. Not really to own or to read them, but rather to see them, to convince myself of their actuality in the stalls of a bookseller. If there are several copies of the same book somewhere, each individual one delights me. It is as though this greed came from my stomach, as though it were a perverse appetite. Books that I own delight me less, but books belonging to my sisters do delight me. The desire to own them is incomparably less, it is almost absent.

12 November

A tall, powerful man of fifty with a waistline. His hair is stiff and tousled (Daudet's, for example) although pressed fairly close to his skull. Like all old Southerners with their thick nose and the broad, wrinkled face that goes with it, from whose nostrils a strong wind can blow as from a horse's muzzle, and of whom you know very well that this is the final state of their faces, it will not be replaced but will endure for a long time; his face also reminded me of the face of an elderly Italian woman wearing a very natural, definitely not false beard.

14 November

Tuesday. Yesterday at Max's who returned from his Brünn lecture.

In the afternoon while falling asleep. As though the solid skullcap encircling the insensitive cranium had moved more deeply inwards and left a part of the brain exposed to the free play of light and muscles.

To awaken on a cold autumn morning full of yellowish light. To force your way through the half-shut window and while still in front of the panes, before you fall, to hover, arms extended, belly arched, legs curved backwards, like the figures on the bows of ships in old times.

Before falling asleep.

It seems so dreadful to be a bachelor, to become an old man struggling to keep one's dignity while begging for an invitation whenever one wants to spend an evening in company, having to carry one's meal home in one's hand, unable to expect anyone with a lazy sense of calm confidence, able only with difficulty and vexation to give a gift to someone, having to say good night at the front door, never being able to run up a stairway beside one's wife, to lie ill and have only the solace of the view from one's window when one can sit up, to have only side doors in one's room leading into other people's living rooms, to feel estranged from one’s family, with whom one can keep on close terms only by marriage, first by the marriage of one's parents, then, when the effect of that has worn off, by one's own, having to admire other people's children and not even being allowed to go on saying: “I have none myself,” never to feel oneself grow older since there is no family growing up around one, modeling oneself in appearance and behavior on one or two bachelors remembered from our youth.

16 November

From an old notebook: “Now, in the evening, after having studied since six o'clock in the morning, I noticed that my left hand had already for some time been sympathetically clasping my right hand by the fingers.”

19 November

This evening I was again filled with anxiously restrained abilities.

3 December

My recent reading of Mörike's autobiography to my sisters began well enough but improved as I went on, and finally, my fingertips together, it conquered inner obstacles with my voice's unceasing calm, provided a constantly expanding panorama for my voice, and finally the whole room round about me dared admit nothing but my voice. Until my parents, returning from business, rang.

Before falling asleep felt on my body the weight of the fists on my light arms.

9 December

Stauffer-Bern: “The sweetness of creation begets illusions about its real value."

13 December

Because of fatigue did not write and lay now on the sofa in the warm room and now on the one in the cold room, with sick legs and disgusting dreams. A dog lay on my body, one paw near my face. I woke up because of it but was still afraid for a little while to open my eyes and look at it.

It is almost a custom for a comedian to marry a serious actress and a serious actor a comedienne, and in general to take along with them only married women or relatives. The way once, at midnight, the piano player, probably a bachelor, slipped out of the door with his music.

Young Pipes when singing. As sole gesture, he rolls his right forearm back and forth at the joint, he opens his hands a little and then draws them together again. Sweat covers his face, especially his upper lip, as though with splinters of glass. A buttonless dickey has been hurriedly tucked into the vest under his straight black coat.

The warm shadow in the soft red of Mrs. Klug's mouth when she sings.

Jewish streets in Paris, rue Rosier, side street of rue de Rivoli.

If a disorganized education having only that minimum coherence indispensable for the merest uncertain existence is suddenly challenged to a task limited in time, therefore necessarily arduous, to self-development, to articulate speech, then the response can only be a bitterness in which are mingled arrogance over achievements which could be attained only by calling upon all one's untrained powers, a last glance at the knowledge that escapes in surprise and that is so very fluctuating because it was suspected rather than certain, and, finally, hate and admiration for the environment.

Before falling asleep yesterday I had an image of a drawing in which a group of people were isolated like a mountain in the air. The technique of the drawing seemed to me completely new and, once discovered, easily executed. It is certain that Sunday can never be of more use to me than a weekday because its special organization throws all my habits into confusion and I need the additional free time to adjust myself halfway to this special day.

The moment I were set free from the office I would yield at once to my desire to write an autobiography. I would have to have some such decisive change before me as a preliminary goal when I began to write in order to be able to give direction to the mass of events. But I cannot imagine any other inspiriting change than this, which is itself so terribly improbable. Then, however, the writing of the autobiography would be a great joy because it would move along as easily as the writing down of dreams, yet it would have an entirely different effect, a great one, which would always influence me and would be accessible as well to the understanding and feeling of everyone else.

18 December

I hate Werfel, not because I envy him, but I envy him too. He is healthy, young and rich, everything that I am not. Besides, gifted with a sense of music, he has done very good work early and easily, he has the happiest life behind him and before him, I work with weights I cannot get rid of, and I am entirely shut off from music.

26 December

List of things which today are easy to imagine as ancient: the crippled beggars on the way to promenades and picnic places, the unilluminated atmosphere at night, the crossed girders of the bridge.

5 January

For two days I have noticed, whenever I choose to, an inner coolness and indifference. Yesterday evening, during my walk, every little street sound, every eye turned towards me, every picture in a showcase, was more important to me than myself.

Excuses for Max Brod

I am now half delighted that I am actually studying at last, and for that reason will not come to our cafe this week. I would very much like to be there, because I never study after 7 o’clock; but if I do take a little change of this kind, it disturbs my studies all day the next day. And I daren’t waste any time. So it’s better for me to read my Kugelgen in the evening, a splendid occupation for a little mind and for sleep when it comes. Love to you

Franz

Now, dear fellow, I shan’t be able to go out anywhere for a bit. The Dean has been so irresponsible as to fix my finals a little earlier and as I was ashamed to be more cautious than he, I’ve made no protest. All my love,

Franz

Dear Max

Forgive me for yesterday evening, please! I shall come to your place at five o’clock. My excuse will be a little comic, so you are quite sure to believe it.

Franz

My dear Max

I am a completely useless person, really, but nothing can be done about it. Yesterday afternoon I sent you a letter by special messenger: “Here in the tobacconist’s in the Graben I beg you to forgive me for not being able to come tonight. I have a headache, my teeth are falling out, my razor is blunt, I am an unpleasant object to look at. - Your F.

And now in the evening I go and lie down on my sofa and reflect that I have made my excuses anyhow, and that there is again a little order in the world, but as I am thinking it over, I suddenly remember that I wrote Wladislaw street instead of Schalen street.

Now, please, I beg of you, be annoyed about it, and don’t speak to me any more because of it. I am utterly on the downward path, and - I can see far enough for that - I can’t help going to the dogs. Also I should love to cut myself, but as that is impossible, there is only one thing I can rejoice about, and that is that I have no pity on myself, and so I have at last become egoistic to that extent. We should celebrate achieving this height - you and I, I mean; just as a future enemy, you should celebrate it.

It is late. I should like you to know that I wished you a very good night tonight.

Your Franz

My Max

I am in such a bad way that I think I can only get over it by not speaking to anyone for a week, or as long as may be necessary. From the fact that you won’t try to answer this postcard in any way, I shall see that you are fond of me.

Your Franz

"Walked Out On A Line" - Okkervil River (mp3)

"Mermaid" - Okkervil River (mp3)

"Calling And Not Calling My Ex" - Okkervil River (mp3)

I do not envy particular married couples, I simply envy all married couples together; and even when I do envy one couple only, it is the happiness of married life in general, in all its infinite variety, that I envy - the happiness to be found in any one marriage, even in the likeliest case, would probably plunge me into despair.

I don’t believe people exist whose inner plight resembles mine.

Thursday
Feb102011

In Which We Learn How To Correctly Prepare A Canvas For Painting

I Paint

by MOLLY LAMBERT

Because I didn't go to art school, a class in the painting department was out of the question. Instead I signed up for the introductory painting class in the illustration department. The illustration department was a sort of more old style branch of the school, like what I imagined a 1950s art school to be like. The idea that you could teach somebody how to make art seemed as ridiculous to me as the idea you could teach someone how to write. You either could or you couldn't. You can or you can't.

I was deciding between drawing and painting. Like most people, I maintain a variety of side talents that I can imagine could be my main talent if only I were a little more focused on it, and I am very talented at drawing. I spent the majority of my school years drawing in notebooks during class and while my style is more caricaturish than strictly realistic, I am pretty fucking good. So the prospect of drawing in a real art class was exciting, as was that of life models, which seemed really official and traditional. But given the choice, the asceticism of drawing; the discipline and repetition verging on tedium, the limited supplies? It didn't stand a chance against the painting class. 

Painting, with all its accessories and trappings, had mystique I could not explain. It appealed deeply to my Irish-Catholic half, the side of me that enjoys going to botánicas and cataloguing sins and saints. But it mostly had to do with paintings. With the way that observing certain paintings could induce really powerful feelings in me.

I wanted to see what I had inside. The same way I was sure I could write a great song if I only knew how to play the guitar, I was convinced I had paintings in me. I was sure they would come out of me as soon as I got a brush in my hand. That when I had a little technique and a canvas in front of me it would be impossible to contain them.  

On the first day of class I ran into a really pretty girl I kind of knew who had inspired me a few months before to stop wearing bras entirely after seeing her at a restaurant in a wife-beater without one. "Wow, cool" I'd thought admiringly, "She doesn't give a fuck. And neither do I!" I tend to overdo it when I go to an extreme. She was on her way to the drawing class, and encouraged me to come so we could be in it together. I thought about it for a second. I loved making friends, especially very attractive ones. But I was really committed to the idea of the introductory painting class. To painting.

Every week after that I'd see her in the stairwell. We'd greet each other, then she'd turn the other way to head into the drawing class. Even when I didn't see her I would imagine her going to the drawing class to sketch and long to have followed her that first day. Being good at drawing, it turned out, had no bearing on other kinds of art. 

The painting teacher was a tall willowy bald man in a tunic with the kind of round frame glasses favored by older artist types. He commuted in weekly from New York. He was cold, with a zen master manner that appealed to me. I decided immediately that I liked him. In retrospect he was gay but I never thought about it at the time. During the first class he showed us some of his recent work; a series of grayscale oil paintings of the interior of a washing machine. "This guy is fucking serious," I thought admiringly.  

I was a senior in college, avoiding thinking about what I was going to do exactly after graduating. My boyfriend of a year had gone abroad and I was unprepared to feel so weird about our breakup. I'd decided not to do a thesis because a big project that was due all at once and mostly unsupervised seemed like the worst possible idea for a Ferris Bueller finish everything at the last minute person like me. But my friends were incredibly busy, and I had too much time to think about how I really felt (terrible).

Painting seemed like an elegant solution to all my problems. In lieu of a thesis, it would give me one thing to focus on. Going down to the art school would provide variety in my routine and I could devote all my unspoken for spare time to working on my paintings. To becoming a painter, a thing I was sure I could also be. It didn't occur to me that I might later resent my own arrogant blitheness that it would be easy.

I bought as many art supplies as I could afford, which was not all that many because I learned quickly that oil painting is a truly expensive pursuit. I was attracted to the accessories, the tinctures and tools. But I'd had no idea just how many accessories there really were, how much alchemy and liniment went into preparing the canvases. How familiar I'd soon become with the nightmarish poetic phrase "rabbit-skin glue."

I might have known some of this if I had asked any of my many, many friends who painted and took art classes even the most rudimentary questions about what a painting class might entail in advance of signing up for the painting class at the art school. But I had just charged in confidently like an idiot, like I generally always did.

The first few weeks of the class knocked the arrogance right out of me. I couldn't do anything. I had no knowledge, no background, no color theory. I thinned the paint wrong. I held the brush wrong. I couldn't mix colors correctly to save my life. Everyone else in the class seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They could all paint.

I asked for help every minute, but it didn't help any. I was terrible. Relentlessly terrible. Terrible in new and inventively terrible ways, ways that seemed to baffle the teacher and any classmates who caught a glance of my canvases. There was a wall between me and being any good at painting, and I could not get over the wall. I could barely even make out its sides. But I felt it there in front of my face, blocking me from my goal.

All we painted were still lifes. There would be three set-ups and over three hours, and each session was a lesson for me in abject failure. I was the worst person in the class by a long shot and it was humiliating. I fucking sucked. The teacher would come stand near me and just sort of shake his head. He was right to be confused. Why was I there?

Our homework was the same as the classwork. Three still lifes, a different color scheme each week. I went to the art building on my campus and set up my easel and materials by the picture window. I was jealous of the studio cubicles, especially of the clippings taped up inside, your own space to just dwell on inspirations and ideas.

Having a cubicle means you are a real artist, I thought. I saw the real artists I knew, working on their thesis projects, utterly consumed in themselves. "Why didn't I do a thesis? Why didn't I write a novel? Or short stories? Because I am a fucking idiot."

Then I tried to paint the shells that I was looking at again, and failed. Each attempt a failure in a totally different way. In one the shells are much too pink. In another the arrangement appears two dimensional. I found a new way to fail every time. I painted slower, then faster. Sober, then high. I went to the studio drunk and ended up falling asleep on the bench in the lobby. I woke up and outside the glass it was snowing.

I began to dread painting, because I dreaded being terrible. I hated the endless inevitable failures that were my attempts at translating an image from real life onto a canvas. I did not enjoy being terrible at it, and the classwork and homework were so rigid that there was no possibility of adjusting the subject matter to my outsider style, as I had done in other fields such as dance. I wondered a lot why it was that I so vehemently couldn't enjoy something I wasn't good at. How egotistical that was.

I was accustomed to picking things up easily, impressing and occasionally frustrating others with the seeming effortlessness with which I could pick new things up at will. There was no picking up painting. It was hard work and I was out of my depth. And I could tell. And the teacher could really tell, and he was getting sick of my excuses.

I had been able to bullshit my way through a lot of things in life, but I could not bullshit a painting. Furthermore, there was no failing, because I had already failed a class earlier in the year. I needed the credit to graduate. I stopped going to class.

My refusal to attend coincided with a big snowstorm after a long weekend and I wrote off the first couple weeks of missed classes as weather related. The third week I was just slacking and knew it. The teacher knew it too. He e-mailed to say he'd fail me if I didn't show up the next week. "This guy is fucking serious," I thought irritatedly. 

I came back to class and tried to be less of an asshole, but was almost definitely even more of one in this attempt. The only place I really thrived in the class was during the critiques. Oh I had opinions about everyone's paintings. Positive ones! I could talk all day about what I liked about one painting or another. I loved talking about what I liked about things. I was still the worst painter but I sure talked the most during the crits.

I thought a lot about this tendency I had, towards language. How when I saw a tree I immediately began describing it in my head. I had talked about it with my boyfriend right before he'd left. He had countered that he never did that. That when he looked at the tree he saw only the tree. And if he started to break it down, it was into colors and shapes. Images, not words. I didn't understand. He never read for pleasure either. 

Painting seemed more mystical than ever. Now that my fantasy of being good at it had been destroyed and replaced with the truth (that I sucked) I was in complete awe of anyone with any painting talent. Anyone who was better than me was a genius. I admired those with talents I couldn't master. It was like being good at a sport. 

I continued to go to class. I stopped dreading failure. I didn't expect failure, but neither was I devastated when it happened. My ego was no longer in it. I had no natural talent for painting, but that didn't mean none could be cultivated. Sometimes I'd feel as though I had gotten one detail about the set-up across in my painting, and that would satisfy me enough to keep going. I had a couple of stupid winter hats, and whenever I wore one I was mistaken for an art student (and then asked directions).

It was not sudden but I began to understand. I started to look at things differently. I learned to think about the quality of the light. How things appeared to be different colors depending what time of day it was. How to observe buildings. How to describe without words. How this was a whole other language, a universal one, and I did know it. I had just been trying too hard to force everything into my own native dialect. 

We stopped doing still lifes and started painting nudes. I liked the life models. I felt connected to my own brushstrokes and color choices in a way I previously hadn't. Whatever it was I was trying to comprehend, I couldn't possibly put it into words, and I understood now how that was the point (zen master indeed). I had climbed the wall.

As with any fallow time, when I think about this period of my life I just wind up romanticizing it. I remember how cold I was and how heartbroken, how thwarted I felt and how hurt. I see myself riding my bike to the studio through the snow, listening to Southern gangsta rap on headphones, the music you listen to that helps blunt your feelings (rather than the miserable music you use to indulge them) with my portfolio slung over my shoulder. How determined I must have looked. It makes me laugh.

I proposed a series of paintings of small toys for my final project and was approved. I hung out with my other recently single friend who was an actual painter and we worked on our art in her attic room which had a big awesome skylight. We smoked joints and listened to Electric Light Orchestra albums on her record player while we painted. That I thought I was miserable that semester seems so ridiculous now.

I had no idea if I was going to pass the painting class given those three absences, and passing was necessary for my graduating, and graduating seemed crucial given how much money I was now (am) in debt for. I was nervous regarding a lot of other things about my immediate future, absolutely none of which would turn out to matter at all. 

When I think of the thing I might have written that semester had I dedicated myself to it I feel no remorse. No regret that I failed to take on a big writing project instead. No curiosity about what I might have produced. It would never have been any good. You cannot produce something great on purpose or on schedule. The painting class was more important, akin to psychedelics. It was the most important class I ever took.

The teacher surveyed my final project; small still lifes of toy cars. In his affectless tone he said something measuredly complimentary about my curve towards improvement and I felt myself stir with deep pride. How could I tell him how much it meant that he had tolerated me, had humbled me, had let me learn the lesson for myself? And then how much I had learned? I couldn't tell him, so I didn't. I passed painting with a C.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She twitters here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about her feud with Jack Nicholson.

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