Saturday, June 23, 2012

Leaving Alcatraz

I'm beginning my sixth year of work on the same project, a long painting of the city of San Francisco. It took some time to find the right view to paint. I found it on the island of Alcatraz, near the summer solstice, in the evening. Only during this time of year does the north face of the city light up. 

Even though I live here, I conduct a long-distance romance with my subject. Since about 2009, I only see her one night a year. I feel like the young man in The Night Visiting Song, a traditional folksong from Scotland, sung here by Kate Rusby.

Walking around the crowds waiting to enter the prison, I climb the steep hill with my equipment, my knees protesting every step. When I stagger to the top, panting away, there she is, stretched out on the opposite shore. I say, "Hi, Honey. Did you have a good year? Just let me look at you. I do believe you're more beautiful tonight than the day we met." 

My time on the island is not comfortable. The weather is always cold. Gale force winds charge angrily through the Golden Gate. The name Alcatraz means "pelican" or "strange bird." In summer, clouds of sea birds use the rock for hatching babies, and as a giant toilet. Surely some of the prisoners did not deserve this level of smell and noise! The video below gives a sample of the atmosphere.

The light does not cooperate this time. The sun hides in clouds and fog, and only shines on the city for a few minutes. I reluctantly pack up to return on the early boat, instead of freezing in the dark. One last look. "Sorry, my Love. It has to end some day, and I'm afraid that day has arrived."

On my way back, a sunset breaks through the fog. 

Each minute, the colors in the sky burn brighter than the minute before. My heart races. "Where will it climax? Now? Or now? Or now? Has is already happened?" Edmund White wrote about being in love. It makes us aware of every passing minute, and how precious they are. 

The commotion of happiness ringing in my head was so loud I could scarcely hear what was happening. Such moments in a whole long life are neither as rare as one fears nor as frequent as one hopes.
—Edmund White, The Beautiful Room Is Empty

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Packing Up

I hate my possessions and dream of living in empty rooms. Despite this desire, I accumulate stuff, like everyone else. No one forced these things on me. At some point, I thought my life required additional equipment. Just like everyone else, once I get something, I have a horrible time letting go of it. Somewhere in my art bin there are fine etching tools. I have not made an etching in thirty years. Thirty. Years. But I can't let go of the tools, because one day, long after I'm dead, in an alternate universe I'll never visit . . . I'll use them. No, I won't. I'll never use them, but I'm powerless to throw them out.

I make honest efforts to unburden myself from this stuff. I've given away books, furniture, appliances, and sculptures filled with glycerin. I received a few more inches of breathing room, but I was always disappointed with the result. I wanted to roller skate through the living room. 

The problem with trying to improve myself is that I only do what I'm forced to do. Many people succeed by putting themselves in uncomfortable situations, where they are forced to perform. They climb mountains or join the military.

In my case, I am moving out of my house. We're not out yet, but we soon will be. This deadline makes me ruthless, merciless in my hauling. I'd like to get my stuff down to one suitcase, but that's impossible. After two months of sorting, day and night, I'm down to a few cubic yards. Sadly, the house looks worse, because now there are boxes everywhere. I'm hoping to feel the open space when I get to the new house, but I may be in for more disappointment. 

Disappointment or not, it has to be done. Misa and Max have their own possessions to deal with, and we'll compare notes on the other side. 

Meanwhile, I feel relief already. I knew I had old light fixtures, cans of paint, photo negatives, slides vulnerable to molding. The constant reminders—Need to deal with those, maybe next weekend—took a toll on my meager mental processes. Now that stuff is all gone. I can put some new thoughts in those neurons.