The Mysterious Need
So yeah, the pictures above are of THE BALL, an early stage, and the final, fabric-covered stage. Before I tell you about THE BALL, I should probably tell you about THE STICK.
Around 2006, I was living with Billy Cotter in a little house on Avenue B in Hyde Park. It was pretty cute except for the no insulation, no air-conditioning, no heat, tons of roaches, etc. It had a big backyard with a bunch of trees, and raccoons so big we called them trash pandas. One night, I had a feeling. It was a very strong, physical kind of feeling, like hunger or thirst or horniness, but it was not any of those things. I felt agitated. I didn't know why I needed to do a very specific, strange thing but I knew I HAD TO DO IT!
I had to go in the backyard and find a stick and wrap it with embroidery thread. That is what I had to do. That was the gripping, all-consuming need. What could someone like me do? I went in the backyard, I found a stick, I brought it in, and I sat on the couch winding different colors of embroidery thread around it for a long time. I don't know what happened to the stick. I don't even remember what it looked like. But I remember how it felt to make it. Making the stick felt like drinking a glass of water after walking in the desert, or finally getting to stretch my legs after a ten hour flight. Thinking about it now, ten years later, I can still feel the weird combination of satisfaction and relief. I just this second took a deep breath and let it out in a big, stick-making sigh. It was amazing.
And I never did it again. I was complete after that one stick.
It was unlike me at the time, to make something I enjoyed making so much, and not want to make another hundred and fifty of them and try to sell them at the farmer's market or on etsy. I was doing that kind of shit all the time back then. It was my dream to make good money doing crafts and selling them. I tried over and over.
On and off throughout the last ten years, maybe even over my whole life, I've had a steady stream of urges to make things. That's what creative people are like. We get ideas or feelings and follow them until they become conscious acts that we turn into things-- paintings, sculptures, suspension bridges, plays, songs, etc. I think of these impulses like this old birthday party game we used to play when I was little. All the kids would get a string and the game was to follow it wherever it went, under the table, around a chair leg, behind the TV, to the end where there was a prize. Most of the time you got a shitty prize, like one of those plastic whistles shaped like a bird or a Tootsie Pop but sometimes, you were the winner, and at the end of your string, there was a Malibu Fucking Barbie. Not a lame prize, a for real toy, a Barbie. A lot of the time, my creative impulses lead me to make things that are okay. Some are really bad, some are pretty good, but every once in a while, I make a Barbie.
I'm not saying THE STICK was a Barbie. It wasn't. I think an impulse of mine that turned into a Barbie was the impulse to make a show about never making money at art but somehow doing art during the show. I did it. I made a show called "Drawing A Paycheck." I told stories about my failed craft-based businesses while I drew profile portraits of people in the audience. I loved doing that show. I'm proud to have it in my body of work. But, I have to admit, the impulse to make "Drawing A Paycheck" was not nearly as strong, as physical and compelling, as the impulse to make THE STICK, and neither was the satisfaction and relief while I performed it. But, I do think THE STICK and "Drawing A Paycheck" are related. Looking back, I realize that I made the stick around the time that I started letting go of trying to make crafty businesses and started working on my book and experimenting with performance. I'm not saying making THE STICK caused me to change what I was focused on or that it was magical. But it was something significant and somehow related to the larger pattern moving in my life at that time.
A few months ago, I started feeling something. I was sleeping with this guy on and off. He had a really big backyard and a garage filled with mountains of tools, lumber, metal shit, motorcycle parts, lawn furniture. Whenever I hung out with him, I would talk about how I wanted to make a giant ball out of all of his stuff. Like that Japanese video game, Katamari Damacy.
Then I started wanting to do it with everything, all the time, everywhere. When I saw cars in a parking lot, I wanted to make them into a giant ball. When I was at the gym, I wanted to roll all of the weights and platforms and gym stuff into a ball. It became this thing I talked to everyone about.
I NEEDED TO MAKE THE BALL.
So I did.
I put all kinds of stuff in it, shit I had in my apartment that I'd been wanting to get rid of but somehow couldn't-- an old laptop, bottles of fancy shampoo I never used, clothes, a giant drawing of my inner critic. I had my darling friend, Carrie Watson, over one day to work on it with me. She liked it, too. Although, that day she was way more into painting some terrible bisque vegetables she bought at a yard sale.
I kept thinking that the ball was going to be a real piece of art, something strangely beautiful. I was planning to do all kinds of amazing stuff to it, cover it with resin or fiberglass and eventually give it to my kettlebell coach for her backyard. Really. That was my plan. But it was not THE BALL's plan.
THE BALL stayed in my apartment with me for a while, a few weeks, I think. After I covered it in fabric and blue yarn, I felt done with it, finished, but I still wanted to make it into something good. I felt like I had to hold on to it until it was right, until it was art. I kept it around until one night when I HAD TO THROW IT OUT.
The feeling was intense. Big and sudden. It was ten or eleven at night and I wasn't feeling really good about myself. THE BALL seemed like a symbol of every ridiculous, ugly thing I've ever done or tried to do but didn't pull off and couldn't let go of, every single thing that kept me stuck. Worst of all, it looked like the exact kind of thing a middle-aged crazy woman would have in her filthy studio apartment. I stared at it until my heart started pounding and then I picked it up and carried it out on my shoulder to the dumpster in the alley. It was heavy. When I threw it into the dumpster, it made the loudest crashing kind of banging landing. I think THE BALL was all about that last act of chucking it. I loved how heavy it was and how good, and a little scary, it felt to launch it in the trash, how good it was to take a deep breath and let it out with a big sigh, after I dropped it in, like taking a drink of water in the desert or stretching my legs after a long flight.
The next sentence is one I vow never to use again in this blog:
When I told my therapist about it, she was impressed.
We talked about THE STICK and THE BALL and what those acts/artifacts might have been about, what they signaled. After some deep, therapy-ish, therapy talk that I won't go into now, we decided they signaled good things. Change. New powers. New mysteries.
And here's something so silly, she has a big stick wrapped in all different kinds of cords and strings, an artwork, leaning in the corner of her office. I keep meaning to ask her about it but we always run out of time before I do.