Pain depends on me to be its host:
suffering is the needy child,
and I’m the parent who never says no.
As long I write, the pain is necessary. If I stop, the pain becomes unnecessary, pointless, all for nothing apart from what it is, which is inherently bad. I am a hostage, and if I stop transforming the pain into something better I will essentially be throwing away all chance of survival: I will not make it out alive, merely allowing myself to become another casualty of a sinister, seemingly unstoppable higher power who tortures me daily even though I have nothing to reveal, nothing it wants, nothing it needs. The pain becomes sheer cruelty with no objective other than to destroy me. As long as I write, I stave it off, I delay my death day. The narcissist in me likes to think that my torturer is secretly looking forward to reading what I write next.
I don’t invite the badness but once the pain decides to stay, it becomes hard to turn it away. The pain of unhooking it from my skin is enough of a deterrent. Easier to let it stay: less bloody that way. So I turn it into something else – something creative, perhaps even something beautiful, or helpful. I try to, anyway.
I’ve been given a life sentence.
I’ve been punished, blacklisted, labelled evil.
But it’s not me. It’s not me.
I’m not the villain.
It’s my mind!
My mind is the guilty one.
I’m not the evil one, my brain is!
My decisions are not mine to make.
My actions are not mine to take.
Everyone called it “attempted suicide” but it wasn’t,
it was attempted murder, my mind tried to kill me,
it was my mind, it was my mind, not me!
My mind is the one that did it!
Why can’t you see?
Don’t you believe me?
I have proof.
And the evil things that it does to me, all that badness, I try desperately to turn it into something creative, into words on a page. All of these filled notebooks, all of these poems, all of these scraps of paper: the proof. The proof. The proof that I have suffered for two decades, against my will.
Writing feels to me like an attempt to prove my innocence. They all have me down as guilty and I’m stuck on death row. My execution date is drawing ever nearer and writing is my last ditch attempt to prove my innocence. It feels like gathering evidence from the confines of my cell and presenting it to my unsympathetic lawyer:
Look at how I’ve been tortured and beaten and terrorised.
Look at all these years of misery.
You’ve got to listen to me.
I deserve to be free.
I’ve done nothing wrong.
My mind made me do it, made me do all of it, and all of the stuff that I didn’t do, too. They’ve got it all wrong.
Look at all this pain.
Look at it.
LOOK AT IT.
But it’s too late. I myself have been forgotten, and only ever remembered as mad, sad, bad. I stay locked in my cell, sharing a skull with the real danger, a bed with the real monster. I swallow my pills and eat my greens and am polite to those unfortunate souls whose jobs have led them to encounter me, the ones that are always unable or unwilling to help me, the ones who have written me off as mad, sad, bad, bad, bad. I play sudoku and collect smiles of pity. I keep writing and suffering, collecting my evidence. I suffer and I write, night after night after merciless night.
I dream of my grave and always smile when I see it. You dream of your name in lights, I dream of mine engraved on a marble headstone. Sometimes it says I died in 2008, sometimes 2015. It varies. The stone is always clean, polished. Someone’s been looking after it. Lush green grass has always grown over me perfectly, evenly, even beautifully; the first true natural equilibrium that has ever befallen me. The world is a better place. I smile until it hurts my face.
Upon waking from my latest grave dream, I reach for the box of evidence that is stowed under my bed. I unlock the box for the first time in a long time, so long in fact that I almost forget where I’d hidden the keys. Starting in 2003, I begin to read. Even though it is my own story, I am shocked at what I read. Look at all this pain. Look at all this trauma. Look at all this sadness. Look at all this writing. Look at all this suffering. Look at it. “Look,” I say to no one. “LOOK.”
My biggest regret is taking myself for granted. Appreciate your intelligence, your personality, your abilities, your beauty. You may wake up one day and find that your own brain has decided to take all of your goodness away.
I keep on trying to say
won’t stop blooming between
So I’ve found myself
who carries no pieces
I don’t need the bars
across my bedroom
Nor take care
not to step on
doesn’t hold her broken heart
to my throat
she dances to jazz
and braids my flowers
into her hair,
that they grew
[Free-written at the Tate Modern, London, 2015]
Art is about shaking things up,
subverting everything that is safe and familiar.
Art sends you a link to a video
of your cosy little norms cheating on you,
in your own bed, with a handsome amalgamation
of everything you loathe
and then when you cry about it, Art just shrugs.
Art is about,
“Shaking up the still”
“Art as an extension of the body”
“Describing without describing it”
“Disrupting the settled”
I write these things down as I wander through the collections.
I am not settled, I will never be settled.
I am disrupted, severely, unfortunately.
Settled. I do not know the meaning of the word:
this truth makes me feel unsettled.
I’ve been told before that I’m a work of art –
each person who has said this meant it in a different way –
it doesn’t matter how, not really –
subjective, objective, neither.
But if art is about disrupting everything that is settled,
what am I? How am I? How do you disrupt the already disrupted?
Can you break the broken?
Maybe it would be real, true, genuine artistry to settle the unsettled.
Perhaps to rectify the disturbed would mean to
uncover the masterpiece underneath.
But no. This canvas may look pretty
but still been stretched and abused and exploited,
stared at, gawped at, criticised.
The framework in the centre of this sculpture
has crumbled; I fold in on myself
because I can’t hold this brain up anymore
with of all of its heavy thoughts and mind-fuckery.
But as long as my outermost layer stays easy on the eye
it’s fine for me to be ugly inside.
Art may well be about disrupting the disrupted
a test, an experiment,
to see how much disruption the disrupted can take
before they break
another layer of paint
let the cracks show
gloss over it all
keep piling on the paint
like the pressure that we’re so used to…
am I talking about art or psychiatry?
You can’t hang me on a wall
if I’m hanging from a tree.
We are disrupted daily hourly
above all, wholly.
We are entirely disturbed.
If art is about shaking things up,
I am the pre-packaged subject.
Life has rattled me, and
I am still shaking
recoiling from the things I’ve seen
with eyes, in dreams
running from my archive of deleted scenes
shuddering in my pathetic tent where I live
between the edges of some temperamental tectonic plates;
the tremors, the tremors, the never-ending tremors,
they are like noisy neighbours, disrupting me at all hours.
It is possible to disrupt those who are unsettled,
it’s just a little less easy.
Nobody pays to see me anymore.
I am no longer part of the collection
although I am still on display
in a lesser, unassuming way:
I have morphed into a nameless metal figure on a toilet door
I am bald, I have a triangle dress
and all of my scars have been polished off –
plus, I have no eyes or ears,
so no more lies and no more tears.
No longer the exhibitionist I was before
when I was a whore
when I was adored
when I was unconscious on the ballroom floor.
Things are quieter now.
But I’ll never be settled.
No, never settled.
Forever rattled, never settled.
If someone hears that I’m settled
they might decide to disrupt me
to shake me up
to make me into art.
My coffin in the ground
will be the grand finale
The cemetery will be the gallery
and people will come to see me again
not as a life form, but as an art form, immortalised.
A masterpiece that’ll take the art world by storm
see here, one who was ultimately unsettled who now lies settled!
My body in the ground
six feet under
a cheapo headstone bearing the official details
of one of my various personalities
some yellow roses, a pack of JPS and a vodka miniature
perhaps some rain
My most disrupted self, finally settled
The opposite of art
This final installation is named
Art will seek to settle the disrupted
before it’s too late.
It is probably the case
that art saves more lives than psychiatry.
But when you’re standing graveside saying
what a waste, what a waste,
you won’t think of my soul at all
you’ll just think of my pretty face.
Getting a haircut in a foreign country is like going to the dentist anywhere in the world; it sucks. Yet, I’d live in a dentist’s office before resorting to a man-bun, so I do what I have to do. I can tell that they can tell I am American before I open my mouth.
I nod. They lead me over to the sinks. They place a large black plastic robe around me and sit me down. As always, there is no position that is pleasant for my neck and my head is so far back that I can’t comfortably breathe. They wash it twice, three times.
I sit in front of the mirror, wet. I sigh.
“Style?” The woman asks. Embarrassed, as always, I find the screen shot on my phone of some much better looking man with much better hair than me and show it to her. She looks at it, then to my hair, then back. She frowns.
“Your hair, not like this.”
I shrug, taking my phone back. “Something like this then,” I tell her. She starts cutting, I close my eyes. Then, the worst part of a haircut arrives; talk.
“Where are you from?” she asks.
I open my eyes.
“America,” I say to her reflection.
She makes a face. “Why do you come to Russia?”
I try to blow off a piece of hair that’s fallen on my lip. It’s wet.
“I like it here,” I tell her.
She makes another face. I close my eyes, again. Only a moment.
“My friend go to America before. She went and came home with girlfriend.”
I wait for more, it comes.
“It is so strange, people in America do this a lot?”
“Girls making girlfriends.”
I can’t nod so I tell her, “yes, it is quite common.”
She makes a disapproving tsk. “She had a boyfriend when she left Russia, but came back with a girlfriend. She wants to marry her.”
“Yeah,” I say, instead of saying something. She continues snipping around my ears, obviously deep in thought.
“Can she do that?”
“America is strange.”
I shrug. “It’s not that unusual there. Depending on where you are from,” I say, then close my eyes.
“Do you have a Russian girlfriend?”
“Will you take her back to America?” she asks, moving around to my other side.
“We will probably visit someday. But maybe I shouldn’t, she might come back with a girlfriend,” I smirk.
The hairdresser is silent. She keeps snipping with a concerned face.
“No,” she decides, “that would not be good.”
It seems to be the last of her ideas on the matter. I sigh and close my eyes, finally.
I suffer the rest of my haircut in peace.
~magazine paper and ink backed on wood
Driving from the grand canyon into Vegas feels as I’d imagine a flea feels hopping from one side of a warzone to another.
We drive in at night. A sea of lights, a fire that refuses to die–or even flicker.
“Holy shit,” I say.
“Holy shit,” my brother agrees.
Our mother is in the back. “It’s the tackiest place on earth,” she tells us.
We get closer, a giant pink lighted sign advertises collision insurance. “Tacky, tack, tacky,” my mother says, in awe.
“It’s like the birth place of tacky,” I admire, as we head straight for a beam of light shooting into the sky.
My brother, trying desperately to concentrate on the road, can’t help but add, “the festering wound of tacky.”
We laugh, agreeing that ‘festering wound of tacky’ is the greatest height our joke will attain. “Where are we staying, again?” I ask.
“The giant glass pyramid,” our mother says.
My brother and I frown. “The what?”
“The giant glass pyramid.”
I don’t know exactly what we expected, but it turns out to be exactly that; a giant glass pyramid.
“Why?” I ask, staring up at the top where the beam of light is shooting into the sky.
My brother shrugs. “I think Las Vegas is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.”
“And what’s that?”
We make for the long entry-way into the pyramid.
“You realize if I were an alien, I would think this was the capitol of Earth.”
My brother nods. “Maybe this place was made by aliens and that is the capitol of Earth according to the rest of the universe.”
I can’t help but feel like that makes more sense than any other explanation I can come up with. So, I agree. Inside is motion–pure motion. People move, lights move, the air moves. It is 2 a.m. We carry our bags through a crowd of open containers, lit cigarettes, and bachelorettes. Our mother calls it “The Floor.”
It is endless, yet, it ends. The elevator goes up at a slant. A woman in a sequined blue dress stumbles into an elderly Hispanic woman holding a sleeping child.
“This is some wonky shit,” the sequined woman blurts out.
“I wonder what’s going on at the bottom of the Grand Canyon right now,” I whisper to my brother.
He looks around and shrugs, “probably the same.”
We laugh. Neither the elderly Hispanic woman or sequined dame seem terribly impressed.
**For more of our art and stories check us out at Flash 365