Cy Twombly’s roses. They belong to no one but himself.
What do I know about loneliness?
BREAKFAST: I made blueberry flaxseed banana pancakes this morning. They look awful, because I flail, but they are delicious. I listen to the new Fiona Apple in full.
CRYING: I’m crying a few times a week for the first time in years.
ULTRASOUND: A few years ago I got an ultrasound on a lump on my neck. M went with me, because who else would have been able to get off work? In the end, it was “probably nothing”, but I would have to pay thousands if I wanted to be sure.
COFFEE: After four cups of coffee, I feel electric and sluggish, after one I feel awake, two I feel creative, three I feel concerned. But I want to have the tolerance Patti Smith had when she went to South America with Fred.
FAMOUS COUPLES: Using romantic rock and roll or art couples as inspiration for the future feels mythical, tarot-like, and pathetic and I do it.
CONFESSION: Confession as a genre contains so much of art and life and communication, the turn, the admittance, the turn of the screw, the prints we leave behind are those moments preceded by someone’s name, as in, “X… I love you” or “X… I’m really sick.” or “X, … I’m coming.” Any use of the beloved or friend’s or family member’s name is a confrontation, an ask, a desire, to be seen or felt or held.
DANGER OF ICONS: I have been hiding behind artists I love, and their pain, in order to understand and orient my own. Sometimes people do this in a beautiful way, critics like Olivia Laing for instance, but sometimes we should be direct, concrete, a mise-en-scene en-plein-air like Audre Lorde, Assata, David Wojnarowicz, Derek Jarman. Say what you must. Don’t create a funhouse to say something. But hiding is easier sometimes.
JOY OF ICONS: Of course, letting art be a comfort a joy a balm a kaleidoscope a sieve a curatorial a telescope a skin can be important too. Having your icons around your house can be soothing, powerful. I have pictures of Arthur Russell, Frank O’Hara, Agnes Martin, Joni Mitchell, and many others, as well as art by my friends like Joselia Hughes, Chariot Wish, NJ, Myrrh Crow, and Marcus Scott Williams.
AVOIDANCE: The more avoidance of facts, the bigger the breakdown to a random pop song. It’s always these blunt gems that cause the tears. Waking up alone day after day lately, there is less frenzy, less moments in which to deny.
HISTORY-TAKING: Loneliness is a sport. It’s one I have learned how to play, from drinking martinis and making video art alone in spring 2016 when a boy I liked just kept taking shrooms and said he would want to get Chinese food sometime- “but as friends” or when I spent the first half of my senior year in fall 2016 in a lonely one-bedroom basement apartment watching Daria, The Good Wife, and The Good Place drinking red wine and walking the mile or so to classes because the bus was too unreliable and I didn’t want to live somewhere fancy with people who didn’t like when I had quit drinking temporarily. That fall I would date anyone who asked. Or in high school, when I realized I was gay because of a senior who was just nice to me for once, which I rewarded with obsession, pain, self-inflicted pain He was straight of course. I would run away from social gatherings and not answer my phone. I would make people worry because even surrounded by people, I was alone, a gay in a church. Or recall later in high school giving rides to everyone because I could not be in the car alone, did not have the mental fortitude when going to conversion therapy to also be alone at other times. I don’t know if those people knew what I did on a weekly basis, going to be “cured’. Loneliness is a sport. The key is a good tv show, trying to cook, some form of movement (not necessarily exercise), a soundtrack, and an art project to explore the contours of the loneliness (is it big? small? sharp? or worse, dull? is it old? young? new? old? based on a specific person? many people? is it the person you think it is or an even older hurt? both? all? none?). I think of Kathy Acker’s dog in Don Quixote: “Anyone who is lonely and doesn’t go mad is strong”. Unexamined loneliness is destructive.
LOSS: “Why did you not want to try/why did you take it all away?” Fiona Apple chants over and over. How can you give yourself what you weren’t given? If you can’t, can you find a new joy, a new pearl, something unexpected that you secretly needed? I’m learning that inside of loneliness secret pleasures bubble up. Walking in the woods and going to an orchard to pick apples were big things I did in my fall 2017 loneliness. Some of my best video work came from that period including a film called WOMXN about a person struggling with gender and religion and wandering in the woods. I just went to the woods and had my dear friend Stella film me walking. In the city, I have found that waking up early enough to read and write for a few hours has been immensely beautiful, needed. I’m reading texts I didn’t know I needed or thought might be helpful, some theory, some fiction, some poetic. What syllabus for loneliness works? I am finding I want to wander the industrial part of my neighborhood, the metal beams and warehouses, places I didn’t think of often but remind me of David Wojnarowicz and New York and give a physical representation to the whole “being alone thing”.
STRANGE LOT: I notice now that I am in the room with windows, that the lot across the street from us has tons of cars, even a police car, that never move, that all just sit there, and I have yet to see anyone go in there, even when I used to physically walk by it. I realize how empty our street really is, at least our intersection of it. When I took a short walk with C (the only time I have been out in 35 days until a brief walk today) we passed by the gas station and a police car was getting gas, but the station said “closed” next to the “24 hours” sign. I have never seen someone enter or leave the gas station other than at the pumps. I notice the power lines more, the way they are the tissue and flora of our block, even more than the two pink trees. Every car that goes by feels like an event. I’m reminded of the way Haruki Murakami transforms a neighborhood into a world of magic, the silence a portal, the well a new yet full void in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The suburban, the urban, the cramped quarters actually a space full of potentiality inside the between and the liminal. I look down and see a sole man feeding cats.
CY TWOMBLY: I first saw Cy’s work in person in LA, a city of tricks, magic, despair, and hope. Cy lived a life of thinly veiled secrets, obviously everyone alive is worried about the gossip. But it’s all but known he had affairs with Rob Rauschenberg and Nicola del Roscio. The photos only seem to further this. I have so few photos with lovers, as if they’ll disappear later. Most have. There’s no photographic evidence of Cy and Rauschenberg, Cy, and Nicola. Only the photos on steps that suggest something erotic. The myth of Cy is in his almost silence, in letting his paintings talk for him, something that seems oddly old now. No artist can keep quiet. Sontag’s reflection on Rimbaud, Artaud, Wittgenstein, few like them now. Everyone must fill the world with noise, with themselves. Few who paint don’t also grant interviews. Those my age ready to spurt out their romantic histories for Rolling Stone. And why not? What is left to stay silent on? Silence as its own artistic act seems broken. Cy’s paintings of his presumed literal whiteness of the sun light in the Mediterranean, his Poems to the Sea, seem oddly quiet, and yet Cy’s work speaks with pure feeling. Maybe in our endless chattering we are attempting this same emotion, this way of devouring emotion by spitting it out, by creating it, an endless cycle we can’t fix, we can’t release. We don’t want just gesture or play anymore, we want the explicit, we want out queer artists, we want exposure, we want to leave legacies and histories. We don’t want the quiet mystery of Hero and Leandro, its queer subtext, its dark grit. We want the yell of Wojnarowicz or at least the phallic work of Haring. Haring’s paintings of hell and sex on the far side of what Twombly would ever want. Twombly’s erasures, half-words, illegibility, names sending us on wild hunts for slight changes in color meaning… what? There is only a return to silence. No confirmation. No ghost even. Just, dead ends. We try to explain the flow of Murakami's Miyawaki house and are left with nothing. Often his last paintings of roses are considered sentimental, affective, or trite. Twombly’s roses for who? Perhaps, himself alone.
WHITE LIGHT: When Fiona Apple sings about gravity on “Cosmonauts”, her voice drifts out it goes to that quivering place of loneliness, the falter, the tipping point. That’s what crying in the morning is like. Crying in the morning is like the yolk breaking. Something that is already soft pouring out icky, gooey yellow in the sunlight, the sunlight that is warm and kind and too full of color for the moment, too much, white light asks for too much this morning and I can’t give it.
HUMILITY: Loneliness is a humility. A humiliation. Tied to gender, ideas of failure, ideas of Christian morality of what community is supposed to look like, ideas of what connection looks like under capitalism, ideas of the body and ideas of what is erotic and what is not that are tied to structures of ableism. What I’m saying is loneliness is a political structure of alienation forced onto us by a genealogy of nationalism and morality and Christianity and white supremacy and capitalism and patriarchy. And this does not mean that the body does not feel it or can intellectualize it away. It doesn’t mean the body doesn’t know that deep down it is still difficult. It doesn’t mean we can argue it away by saying that we don’t deserve it. Loneliness can creep in even in the best of times when we are connected and interdependent in new, queer, humble ways. Sometimes it is better to feel angry than sad in loneliness and sometimes it is better to feel sad than angry in loneliness.
RAIN: It was raining when I woke up. I tuned into my friend Clementine’s music set and tell people my flaxseed pancakes were a fail (flail) and I sit on my couch drinking copious amounts of coffee.
On a different note, the podcast I made with Anna Fieldmann, Myrrh Crow, Alana Ruiz, and Adam Cecil is live. Find it by searching for The Nonbinary Carrie Bradshaw in Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Anchor, or wherever you get your podcasts. Two episodes are available now, with a new episode coming every other week until July. Find it also at my website. If you enjoy, please review, like, subscribe, share with your knitting group, your lovers, your gay bread-baking reddit threads, your online karaoke chat rooms, your lesbian book clubs, your trans support groups, or whomever you think would enjoy. I hope it gives you something nice during this quarantine. I hope you’re doing well and let me know if you need me.