(None of the following words are my own)
A list of content I like from 2018 (a no good, terrible, bad, atrocious year).
Art’s significance is no longer dependent on the creators or their merits, but rather the consumers and their willingness to pay money to be tangentially tied to a piece of art either through real or simulated ownership.
Art school was and is a sophisticated gatekeeping method designed to take art away from the blue-collar innovators and artists who historically populate the canon of great works and hand it over to people of means and privilege.
Now in addition to art collecting, art-making has become the realm of the elite. Artists who are not taught to engage with the canon, who do not have professional relationships with working artists and curators, do not have sizable financial backing or grant writing abilities, and most importantly, do not possess a degree from a prestigious school are deliberately excluded from engaging in the art world in any deep meaningful way. These people can have a tote bag if they know their place.
I really think it is up to creators to reclaim art for ourselves. It is important to value doodles, poems written by friends, and the little plasticine keychains my homie Julia makes at her house.
One time working at the MCA I saw a bird land on a two-point-one million dollar primary-colored Calder mobile —I wanted it to shit so bad. That bird was punk rock. I always have the urge to touch the artwork. To punch it like that brave man who punched the Monet. Many times I have watched children gather wide-eyed in large groups on the third floor to flap their arms in synchronicity to affect the position of the Calder mobile, that’s art. Another time in a grassy area in front of the museum I saw a pack of crows savaging a live rabbit, they first attacked its heels and ankles so the animal could not make an escape. One of our exhibits was a room full of meticulously laid out broken glass. After it closed, I got to see the preparators sweep it all up with push brooms. It only took a few minutes. Things moments of realness that interrupted the sanctified facade that museums try to incubate were more artful than many of the exhibitions I saw while working there.
An illness becomes an epidemic, and therefore worthy of attention, when enough of the right kind of victims—cis/straight/well-off/white/western/men—begin to suffer from it. This was true of PTSD and AIDS, and now is the turn of loneliness.
Men, compounded by straightness and whiteness as applicable, are the worst theorists of loneliness. They operate from the mind-boggling assumption that there must be something structurally wrong with the world if they are faced with any indication that it does not wish to keep company with them. They can fathom no structural reasons as to why they might be deemed unwanted.
Because straight white men refuse to recognize their own unpalatability, they come up with solutions to loneliness that appropriate the rhetoric of justice- and freedom-based ideologies without actually engaging in any rigorous structural analyses of their culpability in oppression. They don’t want revolutionary change but merely a polite tolerance that would make them more bearable. And this selfishness renders them incompetent to address the structures of loneliness as a social ill.
There are, broadly, two kinds of structural lonelinesses. One is the benign loneliness of the socially alienated, the other the malignant melancholy of the erstwhile master.
The loneliness of the oppressed is the condition of being exiled, being shunned, or having to flee relationship and community structures that have become abusive. All support structures can warp under toxicity, and family and community are especially vulnerable to the impositions of structural oppressions because of the unrelenting intimacy they demand from their constituents. The violence that patriarchy, casteism, racism, capitalism, and cisheterocentrism enact is multifaceted, but all of these structural oppressions remove the nourishment of companionship from the spaces they operate in. To be oppressed by any of these is to encounter loneliness.
But what about the loneliness of those deemed caretakers? What structural analysis of loneliness accounts for mothers trapped in a space where their predominant relationship is with an immature individual who provides no reciprocal caretaking? What public cost calculation is made regarding the loneliness of children across the world whose biological families have to leave them without adequate care in pursuit of subsistence-level employment? What health care is being provided to treat the loneliness on both sides of international remittance economies across the globe?
The other kind of structural loneliness—that of the erstwhile master—is a side effect of resistance and victory. Which is not to say that MRAs are justified in blaming their loneliness on feminists but rather that their alienation is a symptom of the malignant misogyny that feminism has finally been able to diagnose and quarantine for. The modern male urgency to calculate the economic burden of their loneliness is appropriated from the struggle to ensure men pay a fair price for the care work they need to alleviate it.
The beneficiaries of oppression—which is to say people in power—have no idea how to meet their social and emotional needs from equals, because they have had subordinates to fulfill them all along.
Patriarchy teaches men to alleviate their emotional needs through unequal relationships, rewarding the construction of toxic hierarchies in families, workspaces, and social arenas. When we start dismantling the inequalities between spouses, employees, and fellow citizens, the diminishing powerful have no skills to build relationships of mutual care work with equals. Their loneliness is a way station: a place to take stock in their investment in decolonization and come to terms with their complicity in oppression. Learning how to socialize as a way to survive begins young for women, for religious, racial, and ethnic minorities, for queer and trans people. What lonely entitled men are really asking for is to be cocooned from the life experiences that give other people the skills to survive loneliness.
Men who demand that women concern themselves with the problem of lonely men in order to ensure their own safety are issuing the same hackneyed threats that patriarchy entrenches—a disguised demand that women invest their energy in socializing boys, in dating men, in doing even more care work than we already do.
As individuals we are not owed freedom from loneliness any more than we can demand love from those we want it from. But collectively we can recognize patterns of loneliness as symptoms of awful structural injustices. And we can use our loneliness as impetus to work toward systems that ethically meet our social and emotional needs. The way to help alleviate the loneliness of the oppressed is to continue to destroy oppressive structures and support organizing and resistance. The only way to ethically survive loneliness is to look at labor: to ask who performs care work for me, who I perform it for, what systems are viable and where I transmute being abandoned to resistance.
Men who demand empathy for their gendered fear of dying un-cared-for, unwanted, and unmourned without referencing feminism are acting in bad faith—they would like us to pretend there is no distinction between the solitary deaths of an abuser and an abused person. They would like gendered consoling while remaining indifferent to the deaths they, as a gender, are responsible for. They would like cosmetic cultural change while believing that emasculation is bad, as though it is horrible to change out of being a toxic oppressor. They would like us to care about men as men, when there are people—disabled, old, sick, poor, queer, migrant, discriminated-against PEOPLE—who are dying and are lonely. Those are the ones we should be focused on. If some of them happen to be men, well, let us try to not hold it against them.
The contemporary meaning of crush—infatuation—has been sanitized. Crush is rendered cute, brief, and pathologically girlish instead of passionate, enraged, and at the very core of what, in the midst of vulnerability, keeps us going day after day. Part of this cultural purification is a result of the disastrous mistake that adults make by not taking adolescents seriously. The crush dominates contemporary American culture as a teenaged fantasy. We crush on “boys” and “girls,” even if they are grown. In the stories that belong to cities in the metropolitan West or the proliferating globalized cities of elite cosmopolitanism, the crush is featured as a defining breakthrough of emotional and psychic development, anointed a relic of childhood. (In reality, American teens are not categorically wild and free but, like adults, depressed, anxious, and hungry.)
As singer and musician Moses Sumney tweeted at the end of last year, “Multiple partners? In this economy???” There is no time for fanatical intimacies. No time for obsessions other than capitalist productivity, disciplined subjectivity, and neoliberal self-improvement. On Tinder, everyone is simultaneously their own CEO and the latest Machu Picchu visitor. No time to fall deep and heavy—there are businesses to build, brands to consult, and world-citizenships to obtain.
Things became better when I stopped making those depressing to-do lists and started texting my friends, omg I’m crushing on X, wow Y is so beautiful, I think I like Z? It meant I was open to potential, to twisting the bounds of the quotidian. It meant I was open to interruptions, to ignoring—excuse me if I sound cute—the draining productivity of late capital. A day is no longer task-driven but dream-driven.
In other words, crushing season refuses to end as I refuse to die. I’ve had an on-off crush for six or so years. She lives in another city. I ask our mutual friends how she’s doing more than I ask her herself. I’ve written garbage poems about her, and I’ve even told her, “I’m very into you.” We’ve made out once or twice. It’s not that it’s unreciprocated; it’s that it feels almost impossible. Almost. I’ve spent some time with her but I hardly know her at all. She is a dream; I hope I never know her. And it is this longing to know her deeply—my untamed dreams and “wasted” energy spent thinking about her—that keeps me here, crushing and being crushed.
Darkness is acceptable and even attractive so long as there is a threshold that is not crossed. But most people I know who suffer, suffer relentlessly and unendingly no matter what sort of future is proposed (“it’ll get better/it won’t always be this like/you will start to heal I know it’s such a cliché but you really will come out of this stronger in the end”).
Why is it so humiliating to go on and on about something that means a lot to you only to be told, “Wow, you spend a lot of time thinking about stuff, don’t you?”
The failure to move someone with what you think is the tragedy of your existence. I don’t know, or just another way of saying #noonecares.
That thing where we imagine what would happen if we died and our dead, needy souls could float above our own funeral, watching the people who didn’t love us as we wanted to be loved, in attendance, weeping, blaming themselves for not having tried harder to save us, for not having been more generous, more attentive. Why does it give us such satisfaction to imagine them saying, “I should have been better to you. I should have never treated you this way.”
When someone dies, we go searching for poetry. When a new chapter of life starts or ends — graduations, weddings, inaugurations, funerals — we insist on poetry. The occasion for poetry is always a grand one, leaving us little people with our little lives bereft of elegies and love poems.
But I want elegies while I’m still alive, I want rhapsodies though I’ve never seen Mount Olympus. I want ballads, I want ugly, grating sounds, I want repetition, I want white space, I want juxtaposition and metaphor and meditation and all caps and erasure and blank verse and sonnets and even center-aligned italicized poems that rhyme, and most of all — feelings.
When I was a teenager, every little moment called for poetry. I mean, I’m still this way, except at my age it’s considered inappropriate and embarrassing, if not downright creepy.
We loved the crudeness of her drawings and embroideries and monoprints and neons. I loved her self-absorption. I found it so incredibly generous — to be just as ugly as anyone but to emphasize that ugliness over and over again, to let yourself be the subject of your art and to take all the pummeling and the eye-rolling and the cruel remarks and the who cares? and the that’s not art that’s just a scorned woman unable to let go. Her pain was so alluring to me. I stared at the pictures of her depressed bed with the sheets all bunched up and stained with her bodily fluids and dried up menstrual blood and the psychic weight of psychic bedsores from not being able to lift oneself out of there. I had a bed too and it had been the site of my depression so many times in my life. I slept on my own dried blood as well and wore the same underwear so many days in a row that the discharge from my cunt had built up and become so thick that it essentially glued my pubic hair to my underwear and every time I had to pee and pull down my panties I would give myself like a little unintentional bikini wax.
I rarely have the impulse to correct someone’s mistake, or misspelling, or mispronunciation, or misusage. Every time my mom speaks in English, she makes a mistake. She pronounces tissue “tee-shoe” and once, in the middle of the night, when she was sick with the flu she woke violently sneezing and asked my dad to get her a “tee-shoe,” and so he got up and pulled a T-shirt from the drawer, thinking she was cold. Later, I tried to teach both of them how to “correctly” pronounce “tissue” and “T-shirt” and I truly, truly, truly felt like a scumbag.
In How It Feels, Tracey narrates through a voiceover her struggle to make art after her abortion:
Ah ... I gave up painting, I gave up art, I gave up believing, I gave up faith. I had what I called my emotional suicide, I gave up a lot of friendships with people, I just gave up believing in life really and it’s taken me years to actually start loving and believing again. I realized that there was a greater idea of creativity. Greater than anything I could make just with my mind or with my hands, I realized there was something ... the essence of creativity, that moment of conception, the whole importance, the whole being of everything and I realized that if I was going to make art it couldn’t be about ... it couldn’t be about a fuckin’ picture. It couldn’t be about something visual. It had to be about where it was really coming from and because of the abortion and because of conceiving, I had a greater understanding of where things really came from and where they actually ended up so I couldn’t tolerate, or, or, err, I just felt it would be unforgivable of me to start making things, filling the world up with more crap. There’s no reason for that. But if I couldn’t fill the world up with someone which I could love for ever and ever and ever then there was no way I could fill the world up with just like menial things. That’s art.
I guess that is what is so embarrassing about being a poet, that you might be filling the world up with more crap. That your pathetic little thing is not interesting to anyone but yourself.
I don’t know if we, as a culture, feel compelled to extend much sympathy to those who are half alive. Half alive is not dead.
I sincerely don’t know why poetry can be mortifying but tattoos can be cool.
I think everyone wants to make something touchable, but most of us don’t out of fear of being laughable. I’m not saying I’m fearless.
My mom used to ask her mom to touch her earlobes so she could fall asleep. When she immigrated to New York and could no longer fall asleep at her mother’s house in Shanghai, she started asking me and my father. I remember one time I said, I don’t get it, why do you like that? Let me show you, she said, and she rubbed my earlobes until I couldn’t help but close my eyes. I started to see differently. I think we were spooning. Or I had my head in her lap and she was sitting upright against the bed. “Do you see how good it feels to be touched there?” she asked me. I did.