Wednesday, January 11, 2012

winter march

"four a.m., bars close. guys asleep in bowery doorways. but just before dawn is the worst: despair city. the jumpers start, out the windows, off the roof. i can't even look. So that's the night, new york. Ain't it grand? what a life."
-arthur fellig, a.k.a. weegee

today it felt like january for the first time to me. a friend of mine recently shared a quote from the author jim harrison stating that "it takes a great deal of strength to keep january out of the soul[.]" the past 24 hours of my life have been a complete freak show. i met a man who had lost his glasses and i told him that i would find them for him. "i'm good at finding things," i said, and even though it took me a sleepless night and a clumsy morning to do so, i found them. they were on the floor resting on a dark spot of the carpet. even though i found them, nothing changed. he could see again, but there was no coffee in the cupboard and too much vodka in the freezer, and there was no way he was going to leave the house that day. so i left instead. i had no choice but to leave. there was nothing more i could have done.

when i left i called out of work. after stopping at home to devour four cups of coffee and put on my best chelsea girl outfit (which is what i always do when i go to chelsea), i went to see the weegee/vivian maier show at steven kasher gallery. the desire to attend an art show originates from the desire to educate oneself; the wish to pay homage to art and artists; or the urge to participate in a timely, intersubjective experience. but in addition to all this, i believe that the most important reason we attend these shows is because they speak to certain needs, questions, castastrophes, and epiphanies within us that we aren't even conscious of. these works and their collective energy beckon to us, and once we enter the space in which they occupy we become completely powerless. one might experience a sensation akin to drowning, or, conversely, coming up for air. in either case, something is unlocked, and one cannot help but feel that it must be fate, that these images were assembled in this space at this time because you needed to see them, because the narrative of your life demanded that you do so. i suppose this all sounds very narcissistic, but i am not just talking about myself, i am speaking for everybody who has ever felt themselves become completely undone (for better or for worse) by art.

i suppose i should continue with my story. i walked from the 6th avenue subway stop to the gallery because i felt like taking a walk. i have new black boots and it's nice to stomp around in them after wearing filthy converse sneakers for so long. i silenced my phone before i entered the gallery, the entryway of which was flanked with a small display of photographs by accra shepp depicting the occupy movement. after perusing them, i stepped into the gallery's main space, which was filled entirely with weegee prints. each of these famously sensationalistic images projected a kind of manic, despairing energy into the room. weegee's work has been described as having captured "the good and the bad, but mostly the bad." at the kasher space, the sampling of the "good" and the "bad" were roughly equal to one another; however, the boundaries between "good" and "bad" became blurred in the sense that the "bad" seemed to bleed over into the "good." in the "good" images, people were gaping and not looking, they were not putting on costumes so much as hiding, and every embrace was transformed into a grope. i felt scared and small in that room, and i was highly conscious of the noise my boots were making as i circled the exhibition. i felt deeply sad as i viewed that show. it, combined with all that had occurred within the past 24 hours, made me feel that our constant exposure to misery has the power to imbue even the most benign sights and happenings into miniature terrible melodramas. i thought about my walk to the gallery, and how my good feelings about taking a walk through new york city were also plagued by my own fears, how i would feel distracted at times at the thought of having my purse snatched or being hit by a car. sometimes i feel that i am never safe, and it is true: nobody is safe, not ever. if we are to lead happy lives, we must learn to ignore this fact while also maintaining an air of caution. this, i think, is one of the hardest things to do.

and then i thought about the man whose glasses i found. i thought about him being trapped in his apartment and about the overwhelming amount of vodka in his freezer. the sliver of his life that i had just glimpsed was harrowing, but i couldn't help but be drawn into it, to romanticize it against my better judgement. to sensationalize it, if you will. as much as it disgusts me to admit to this, i couldn't look away from this man whose life was so obviously disintegrating. i replayed the disaster of my brief time with him in the way one recounts the events of a tragic play. i couldn't help but not only want to watch the play, but to be in it. i always do this, so many people always do this. when you do this, you are trying to break your own heart, you are trying to die faster. to thrust yourself into a dangerous situation, to be the first one at the crime scene (or at least feel like it) is thrilling, but it is thrilling in a way that is completely, knowingly wrong. weegee said that people were jumping to their deaths and he couldn't look, but he did look. he couldn't stop looking, and neither can i.

vivian maier's work was quieter and of course wonderful, but i didn't linger for long in the separate, sequestered wing of the gallery in which her work was hung. weegee had me feeling like a complete fucking maniac. i left the gallery and walked over to where the water was. i watched the water, and it was the color of the sky: ice blue. that was the first time i realized that, yes, it truly is winter, because the sky only looks this way when it's winter. i sat by the water and wrote in my journal until my body was chilled. when i realized i was cold i reminded myself to keep january out, to find someplace warm where i could eat and write while i waited to eat. despite not having consumed food all day, i wasn't hungry. i ordered a burger anyway, and when it came i discovered that i was ravenous. before i left i ordered some tea and perused the arts section of a local free newspaper. as i read, i had the feeling that january was still lingering inside me despite my efforts to drive it out, but perhaps i was just chilled from sitting by the water for so long and sad because i felt powerless in the face of human tragedy. either way, i knew the best thing to do was to go home. so that's what i did: i marched straight home. i think that's what you have to do in the winter: march, and don't stop marching until you're warm again!

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