A Personal Archive

Red Lips Red Shirt Red Blood

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BikeAccidentSP.jpg

I stripped down in front of my mirror
My breasts scratched, my knee bruised
And my lips still red, and my shirt, red
And my face, red

And all I could really do was sit in front of the mirror
And the camera
And play calm while my heart was racing
Or, my heart was gone, maybe

I imagined my torn palm on the handlebars
Imagined my broken body biking through the city
All the grace beaten out of it

Afterwards, after the mirror, and the camera
And after all of the grace really was beaten
I was in the bath
And the water was running

My best friends hands were in the bath too
She was trying to clean something
The dirt from my face
Or something

And I was crying
The water was running and my ex-husband had come
And gone and I was alone and
There was no one to tenderly dress my wounds later
And I was the only one there to do those things
I was the only one there to be that person
For myself

I imagined the peace if my red clothed body had flopped
Over instead of behind the railing
And the water, which was green with the clouds of a storm

The first thing I noticed after my face hit the pavement
Was the earring from my left ear
Gold, and small, and the back was
Gone,

But I picked it up before it was ever really lost
And then it wasn’t lost anymore
And I had saved it.

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Needle

I might just like being afraid of something.
I might just be hungry for the fear of wanting someone.
I might just.

My heart might just be perpetually beating too fast.
My palms might be sweating just slightly.
All of those things they tell you about wanting someone,
They just might be true.

And I can tell myself again and again and again that this doesn’t mean anything.
But things that sneak their way under your skin always mean something, at least to me.
Things that burrow their way into my heart
And live there, sight unseen, for weeks, years, a month, a day, an hour, a split second,
Unsewn thread
Unthreaded needle
Needle prick that draws a dot of blood,
Then another,
And another,
Until the tip of my finger is glossy and red, and my mouth blooms with the metallic taste of blood.

The offending piece of metal is already forgotten,
On the floor,
Tucked into a pocket,
Stabbed through the arm on the cardigan I wear around the house

Waiting for another finger to stab
For more blood to rise to the surface.
My mouth dried up at the sight of blood again,
Your name is on my tongue again.
Your eyes are lit on mine again.
Everything blooms again.

This Week

The sky, a book, my bed
Luce to acknowledge the precise date in March that marks the start of the end
A bent coat-hanger (found drawing)
The first page of a recent favorite book of poems
The outfit I wore on the day Steele and I filed our divorce paperwork
And the paperwork sitting among objects on my studio desk
The definition of the word wilder in the big dictionary in the OCAC book arts room
The beautiful old windows at the courthouse
Matting prints for the Blue Sky Drawers
The jeep mirror with the sunset
The most beautiful rose on the stand this week, Princess Aiko
My window and the sunset and more flowers

An Exhale

We filed our paper work yesterday.

How many more things will I be able to say, “We” about?

We signed all the forms.

My palms were sweaty and I sort of felt like I forgot how to sign my own signature.

I thought I would cry, that it would feel more like an ending. But it sort of just felt like that moment when you get to the last page of a book and you’re already prepared for it to be over, so when you close the back cover it just sort of feels like an exhale.

Maybe it was because it was the first day of spring, and it was so nice outside. Or maybe it’s because the courthouse is so unsentimental. I felt almost giddy.

I wrote a poem in a cemetery last spring and there was a line about wishing to die, not in a morbid way, more like the conclusion to a story. And that’s what this feels like. The conclusion to a story. The last weird chapter.

And I know it’s not. I know grief isn’t linear, that I will have days that throw me into the pit of doubt again. But for now it feels enough like an ending to be an exhale.

Climbing

I’ve been thinking lately of the ways we hold ourselves up.

I spent so long, all of my adult life, not bearing the brunt of that burden. I always had someone at home who loved me who would let me lean on them when I wanted to collapse. I was always allowed to collapse. It’s the beautiful thing of relationships, of partnerships, of love. But I never had to learn any other way. I never had to hold myself up, alone.

And now I do. It seems a silly thing to complain about, a silly thing to grapple with. I’m aware most everyone who may read these words knows how to stay upright of their own accord. Maybe that learning came with it’s own period of growing pains. The shockwaves which I’m only feeling now, year 27. I’ve said before, know one can know my mind. No one can love my body. But I still miss the attempts.

Just so there's proof of this somewhere

Usually photographing myself grounds me, calms me, brings me back down into my body. Lets me escape my mind for a bit, lets me just be a physical void for a thirtieth of a second, or however long the light calls for.

But not today.

Today I striped down in my studio, arranged the stool and focused on an upright broom, a stand-in for my body. Focus and focus again and check the light and make sure the lens isn’t locked and make sure the lens is set to timer. Wind the film, click the shutter open and hear the whirring of the timer.

And then I’m in front of the camera again. I’m in front of myself again. And I can’t hide anymore, or pretend I’m not who I am. I can’t face away and even when I try my eyes are still there, looking out, looking in.

Usually this is validating. Its why I do what I do, it’s what I live for, those seconds when I can exist as two people: photographer and subject. I divide into two bodies, half of me lives in the camera and the other half is raw and vulnerable, trying to be seen, wanting to be seen.

Usually, this division allow me to breathe.

But today the fact that I couldn’t hide or run or turn away was a hand around my throat, my heart, my eyes welled against my will and I was found naked and photographing myself crying, like a dramatic 13 year old version of myself again.

And I couldn’t run away. And I couldn’t hide from myself, my alter ego the camera was there, my other half, my more discerning self, the one I can’t lie to.

And instead of feeling grounded, instead of escaping my mind, I collapsed instead and all that came were tears and fear and self loathing. Instead of a physical void it was like I was the most real thing I had ever been, and it scared the shit out of me because the most real thing I have ever been is so flawed, full of pock marks and weird scars and the most real thing I have ever been has made so many mistakes, has let the wrong people get close to her and pushed the good ones away, and the most real thing I have ever been is afraid all of the time and the most real thing I have ever been hides behind the camera and the words and the flowers and the morning sky and the most real thing I have ever been is nobody, probably.

Being nothing, to no one

Today I fainted at work, standing at the sink changing the bandaid from a cut on my thumb. (As for the cut, it had come the day before, a slice to my right thumb. The knife bit into me and blood came and came, soaked through cotton balls and gauze until I pulled the band aids tighter.) I felt faint, took a sip of water, held myself up with the edge of the counter and then the next thing I knew I was on the floor, my eyes tearing against my will, my boss Sarah with my head in her lap and her soothing mom voice, apologizing for not catching me as I fell.

They say I flipped right over the open lower cabinet door. (I have a bruise to prove this, the line of the door pressed into the small of my back.) They say my body went completely limp, rubbery, a crash test dummy. They say I hit the ground head first. They say I was white as a sheet, a ghost, a corpse, my lips as pale as my bloodless skin.

I lost consciousness for a brief moment, less than a minute. The blissful emptiness of being nothing. But when I woke up all of my pragmatism and hard edges snapped right back into place, I told them not to call 911, I can’t afford an ambulance. I thought of the hours I wouldn’t be working as I sat in urgent care waiting rooms. I laughed with my coworkers about how dramatic the day had become, the kind of nervous laughter that bubbles up when one has seen or gone through something that could have been worse.

I was fine, though my head pounded and felt heavy and full of cotton, or maybe something heavier, graphite, lead on my shoulders. My back ached and my stomach felt drained and weak and I spent some time on the ground, with the grime that comes from so many florists parading through a space. I was fine, though they loaded me into a car and insisted I go to urgent care incase I had a concussion.

Insurance is bullshit, and it took a fair amount of jumping around before finding a place that would take me and my insurance card. I was standing the parking lot of a Zoomcare that wanted to charge me $500 out of pocket and I’m standing there feeling so defeated and angry, and resigned.

I’m still learning what it is to be single. It’s not outwardly all that different, and usually the moments of feeling adrift, aimless, are welcome. When I realize I can go anywhere I want and not tell anyone, that no one cares how long I spent walking around the Goodwill, or that I spent an entire Sunday in bed reading. I love the feeling of knowing no one wants anything from me. No one wants the good things or the bad things, every emotion I have is for myself alone.

But also when every emotion you have is for yourself alone there’s no one to call to calm you when you’re scared and hurt and frustrated, no designated person who you belong to, who must be informed.

I was supposed to go on a second date tonight and it’s not that I don’t want to, but more that I want a man who loves me to come and stroke my hair and hold my temples, to check my body for bruises and kiss me without a question on their lips. But that’s something I don’t have right now, something a person I met on Tinder a couple weeks ago can’t offer me, something I can’t call from the middle of the night. And to want those things is to want something from an alternate universe. To want those things is to want a version of myself that isn’t real quite yet, and to feel this loneliness is to feel the grief for the lack of something I can’t even name.

Instead I sat with my coworker Shannon, and she listened to me talk about boys and made jokes with me about the whole situation, took photos of me in every state in the hospital bed. Clothed, gowned, under one blanket and then two. It’s not that these relationships with my coworkers are tender, but that there’s a certain tenderness to being allowed space. Space in which I am sometimes brash and loud and funny, and sometimes quiet and pulled back. And instead I texted the people in the world who I knew would want to know and let them love me and be worried for me. And it’s not a man holding me, but I can string enough threads out to the people who love me, and I can stand shakily on my own weak legs, or at least let myself cry in the shower as I wash the day off, and curl up with my seven pillows.

RIP, everything

Today OCAC announced their closure. This year the last class will graduate, and there won’t be anymore after that. No more incoming students, no more campus, no more professors, no more school.

Now the slate will be wiped clean and there won’t be anywhere for me to go back to, I won’t be able to recreate all of my former emotions, walk the same steps, put myself back in the same threadbare spot on the rug. There won’t be those wires holding me to that place anymore, the strings have been cut and I’m floating and there’s no more proof of who I used to be or where I used to exist.

I can’t handle anymore little deaths. Ali says change is always knocking, but I’m sick of answering the door, I want to shut it and hide and never come out and never exist in a world where I can’t walk among my ghosts.

This year I’ll have lived in Portland for 10 years. I’ve lived here for more years without the context of school holding me than with it. But, still, I knew it was just up the hill. I could go back and I could wave hello to all of my former selves, the ones printing endlessly in the darkroom or mixing ink, setting type, the ones who grappled with growing pains, and the ones who felt so certain and solid, the ones who built a life from the ground up. They were all there, and the sun was perpetually setting over the clover field (and furthermore, the clover was perpetually blooming.)

When I was there, even after I graduated, it was like I extended all the way to the edges of my body. Like I was the most me, like I was real, I wasn’t pretending, I wasn’t trying to extend further, and I wasn’t shrinking.

Every single good thing in my life is because of that place. Every thread that reaches out from the center of my life was spun there. All of the people I love, but even more than that, the way I walk from the bus stop and look up and look down and the way I read, and read, and the way I write and the way I will never stop making photographs and the hesitation before I talk about something that means so much, and the way I take myself way too seriously and the way I try not to. My love for things that grow and for using my hands, my appreciation for text and my insistence on using the correct word, “typeface” instead of, “font.” The way I feel entitled to scoff at the zone system because I can also stand in front of a silver gelatin print and appreciate the greyscale, and the way I take pride in developing my own black and white film, how I know I agitate a little weird but I always have, that despite never feeling the urge to pick up alternative processes, I still remember the feeling of coating tin in the dark and how the smell of fixer on my hands will always make me feel like home.

Also, the people I love. My tiny microcosm of artists, the ones who graduated with me and the ones who graduated after me and of course, of course, all of the professors who so patiently guided me and who made me believe I was something, an artist. After I graduated I never really considered leaving Portland because they were all still here, and because it felt good to belong to something, even when I was gone.

It’s not like any of those things are evaporating, they’re still a solid part of me, just that the campus will no longer exist and no one else will get that now, and the fact that there is now a solid line, something I can’t climb over when I’m feeling nostalgic, and now I really have to grow up and move on.

In our fourth grade yearbook we had to say what we wanted to be when we grew up, and they printed it below our pictures, little one word idealisms.

Mine read: Artist.

And now here I am in a studio I have thanks to the recommendation of a former professor. I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully support myself financially with my art, which is after all what they were asking our fourth grade selves: how would you like to make money on this Earth? Despite that, my time at OCAC ingrained in me that deep belief: that I am an artist. It doesn’t matter how the money drips into my bank account, or what things get tacked slowly onto my tiny CV, it doesn’t even matter if I’m making work, it’s just what I am. A facet of my identity so true I haven’t felt the twinge of embarrassment of casually acknowledging it in years. There’s no more, “Well, I’m not really showing, but..” There’s no, “I mean, I’m not like, a ‘real’ artist…” It’s just there, just a fact of me.

My time there taught me to work with my hands, to understand the physical processes of something, which will always always always inform the digital processes. My work on the day to day is incredibly digital, but because of my sense of craft I never feel disconnected from it. (Though I sometimes miss the more physical processes, setting lead based type, darkroom printing, mixing ink.)

The truth is, I am in a lot of debt from school. The debt keeps growing, and will keep on growing and growing and I don’t realistically know when or how or if I’ll ever pay it off. Sometimes I say it wasn’t worth it. I say, if I could go back and do it again I wouldn’t. But I’m thankful every day that I don’t have that choice, that this is the path I’ve found myself on, even as the numbers on the balance rise higher every month from interest. It would have been a more pragmatic decision to go to a state school, or to not go to school, or to wait, who knows. 17 year old Brittany wasn’t as pragmatic as 27 year old Brittany. (17 year old Brittany also had no concept for the realities of debt, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

The truth is, I wouldn’t be who I am now without that place or those people. It’s the truest sentence that sounds the most flimsy, of course I wouldn’t. But I don’t know how else to say it. It makes my heart ache to think of not being able to step foot on that campus again, and it makes my heart ache to think of the people who will come into my life in the future and never be able to step foot on that campus, who won’t get to see what made me.

Tiny good things

Today was really hard and weird for a few reasons, hopefully some of which I can share in the next couple of weeks. For now it is enough to say that I’m feeling tired and tender and sad and a little scared, mostly of myself.

But, I don’t want to let the good things of the day slip through the cracks, so here are a couple good moments from today:

Drinking hot coffee in the shower while Dave Brubeck played on the record player.

Alex casting gold sparkle light refractions all of the studio walls.

Melina coming into the studio right when I needed to be hugged.

Flirting with a stranger.

Reading my rain soaked copy of Nikki’s poems.

A Personal Archive

I used to have a personal blog, half diary, half studio log, half letter to those I loved who loved me. It was updated with less and less frequency, until the only posts were my annual year in images (12 for) and the occasional life update, a list of bullet points to place a non-existent reader in the current context of my life.

The website I used to host my images changed their url, and all my image links broke, the blog was filled with empty squares where there used to be whole worlds. And then, my marriage was falling apart, and it started to feel weird and sad to have the past 9 years of our lives splayed out, too easy to jump post to post and connect the dots of our happy relationship. It didn’t seem fair to have that be so easily accessible. So I shut it down, made it private, and let it sit.

I decided instead that I would only have a studio log, a somewhat more valid (in my mind) archive of studio doings and writings and inspirations.

Cataloguing a life is a task I never know how to wrap my mind around. What’s art, what’s worth documenting, what will my future self wish to sift through?

Every time I journal–paper to pen–I find myself flipping back through all the past entries. I re-read and re-read and re-read. Like I can tell myself my own story, build myself out of nothing. I suppose it’s no surprise that I do the same thing on the internet, using the search bar in my own blog to pull things from the depth of my foggy memory, choosing random entries from the dated archive aptly labeled “Time Travel.”

Sharing these things feels trivial sometimes. What’s the point in another voice telling another average story? Why can’t I just be content to make the work, write the words, without sharing them? But then, I use the search bar on my now defunct personal blog, and pull something up from the bottom of the ocean, and I’m so grateful to my former self for taking the time to write about whatever menial thing I’d written about.

So here’s the start of another archive. A brand new diary, where all the circles of everything will overlap and it’s always just for the sake of remembering.