Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yesterday, I sat on the couch in my ex-boyfriend's living room and listened to my best friend read the love letters I wrote to him years ago from a different city in a different state, to a different city in a different state. They aren't my love letters, exactly. They're letters I wrote using stolen sentences from the [love] letters of other writers, modernist writers, who wrote to each other and to their lovers in the beginning of the 20th century. I built a character out of those stolen sentences, arranged the sentences into three letters detailing this character's swift and sudden departure from her fiancé into the desert. But the letters are addressed to R. And the intention in them, the sentiment, is something I crafted with my then boyfriend as the particular audience I had in mind. I was scared. We were in new territory in our relationship at that point, four or so years in. I didn't want to leave him. But I wanted to talk about the idea of leaving him without talking about it. So I sent him these letters. He never wavered. Even after he left me.

My best friend brought me cupcakes for the session even though she and X were the ones helping me out and I probably owe them cupcakes and hugs and money. Thank god all my friends are artists and we can call this collaboration instead of services. X retrieved the original copy of my handwritten letters. The whole stack. I looked through some of them. I love hard. I know no other way.

For the past several years, with increasing frequency, I've filmed the desert on my iPhone. From an airplane 30,000 feet above eastern California and southern Arizona. From my car window driving through Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado. From my bike in the Negev in Israel. On foot in the Negev in Israel. I'm combining this footage with N's voiceover of the letters I appropriated, rearranged, and wrote to X back in 2012. This is all for a video remix project called "Letters from the Desert" that I'm creating for the &Now conference at CalArts this March. A and I also pitched a panel proposal to the NonFictioNow folks for their conference in October, and if accepted, I intend to discuss, among other things, this piece and how it builds a fiction using strictly non-fictional components. But mostly, this is just a project that's been inside me for a long time. There's a reason the desert comes out in almost everything that I do. And I am excited to finally be making this. But I am NOT excited to be making it on my five year old MacBook Pro with an outdated OS that I seemingly refuse to update. I have to render my workspace every time I do a single goddamn thing in Premiere. It is painful. I'm going to buy a new computer this weekend. Fuck it. I've been holding off on a real iMac desktop for many years, but when you can't even do your work because of your technology, you must upgrade your technology [she tells herself as justification for dropping way too much money she should be saving for groceries]. 

I know this all sounds school related, but it is not. The only school related things I'm doing are reading for field exams, which I take in two weeks, drafting my prospectus and preparing for qualifying exams, which I take a week and a half after fields, and teaching. I finally completed my translation exam in Spanish today, thus fulfilling my language requirement for my program. One small step closer to that PhD. 

But somehow this excessive school workload has resulted in my being more artistically productive than I've been in a really long time. I've started practicing shooting bodies [or rather, my body, since I want to learn using myself as a model first]. 
I wrote an essay last night about my experience collaborating with my X, which involves many digressions about Tinder, romance, horror, loneliness, and the leakiness of love. I've been fucking around with this iPhone app that allows me to make double exposures digitally using my digital photos. This feels like cheating, but it's fun and it's helping to keep me sane. A couple of these are actually old film photos I shot in Europe as a 14 year old brat with my dad's camera. 

The thing I love most about making these photos is that it does the thing that I cannot do in real life: combine two places I love into one space. All I want is to be able to live in Colorado and work in LA and not have those be two separate places, and yet for them to somehow retain all the things that make them the distinct locales that they are. I would say my biggest struggle my whole life has been coping with the impossibility of being in two places at once. And I know, if that's my biggest struggle, I have it good. I do have it good. That's probably not my biggest practical struggle. But it has always been the hardest for me to accept of anything I've experienced, including death, including heartbreak, because the impossibility remains constant. It does not fade over time. If anything, it only gets more complicated with each new place I love and cannot live in. But I can resolve these feelings for myself, at least momentarily, in these pictures. 

This is a No pets, [mostly] No PhD, No Social Life update. Those things will come later if and when I feel the urge to write about them. For now, these are the things that have my emotional attention while academia quietly sucks away my soul. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

I've spent the last 2.5 years in Los Angeles rolling steadily through my PhD coursework. I've had a million adventures that usually involved the beach, eating, dancing, walking, hiking, fancy hotels, comedy shows, concerts, parties, desert trips, etc etc etc. I never know how long I'll really be able to live here, and I want to know I did everything. I want to really be here while I'm here. Maybe I'll end up here. Can't think about these things now. The point is, this, my 6th semester of PhD school, my 10th semester of graduate school, my 16th semester of higher education, and this is the semester that just might end me. Lately I feel like I am inside an aquarium. But not in a fun way. Just in an awful way where I am definitely not a fish and so why the fuck am I in an aquarium I can't hold my breath this long and it's so loud and blurry and all these gallons of water are compressing my tiny human body to nothing.

Because I'm applying for a fancy fellowship that requires me to be in a certain standing by a certain date, I am very suddenly doing all of my PhD exams in one semester.

Reading for fields fields fields 

Writing, reading, and researching for quals quals quals

And teaching what is effectively an upper division honors literature/composition course I designed about the desert

Here's just a very little bit of what I've found:

And here's just a very little bit of what's been going on in my classroom: 

In between all of that, I'm trying to breathe and push my heart to pounding every day so I can stay sane.

I am also trying to raise these creatures proper, which will very soon involve beginning Malta's service training to become an Emotional Support Animal.

But I'm still trying to have fun sometimes. So I don't explode. I've only taken one day off this whole semester. I think that needs to become a regular thing. A person cannot live with 3 different field exam reading lists & ideas, a dissertation project, deadlines, bureaucracy, and a whole class inside one brain at one time. I mean, maybe better minds than mine can do it, but I cannot juggle so many disparities in one small chunk of mushy grey stuff in my head. So sometimes eating dinner at fancy places, sometimes dancing, sometimes watching the sun go down over the Pacific from my favorite rooftop bar with my favorite girl, sometimes hiking with Malta, always walking with Malta, sometimes seeing Judith Butler read or David Shields talk. 

Oh and the other day my brain finally figured out this thing it's been trying to think through since forever, so I ended up writing the first section of my essay on Shelley Jackson's story project, "Snow." Basically I just accosted her project by leaving comments on something like the first hundred photos. The essay is intended to be read in reverse order, as is her project, and each comment is part of the larger essay that reflects on her work and the interface with which she's chosen to present it.


There's been paperwork and committees and occasional free on campus lunch. There have been meetings and email exchanges and scheduling and drafting. Today I asked someone to be on my committee, and it felt like such an exciting moment because I get to work with people of my choosing for the next two years on something that is incredibly important to me. And that, in the end, will make all of this hoop jumping, brain killing totally worth it. 

I've also been thinking a lot about love. And why I'm so bad at it. And why it owns me. And how it can be something better than it is.

Though mostly what's happening is that my insides are screaming GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT RUN RUN RUN THE DESERT IS WAITING THERE IS NO PHD IN THE DESERT THERE IS LOVE IN THE DESERT THERE IS FREEDOM IN THE DESERT RUN.

But I will not run.
For the first time.
I will not run.