Monday, May 03, 2004


(don't feel shy about responding to this ongoing conversation)

Writing on isolation with you Hassen, at first seemed like a strange thing to do. You know, working out the words with someone else on the topic of isolation, it seemed funny really. But why not? I mean, it's happened in both our lives, and served our present lives in different ways, so why not examine it?

With me, isolation was something forced. And mostly, that's why I react so negatively when confronted with it as a topic. I much prefer community. But I'm capable of seeing how vital isolation was to my creative life, and I hope that we can both get personal in this discussion, really talk about our lived examples of isolation and creativity. But for me, I think I'm stepping into this water slowly. I want to ask some bigger questions first (if only for myself, which you may or may not be interested in following or adding to), then place my own life in there, by example, I suppose.

"Why does isolation work?" is my gnawing question. It's a splintered answer, probably impossible to gather all the shards together. But maybe a better question which is inside this first question might be, "Why the need to be removed from others to create?"

When I think of the ancient cultures we all come from, it seems that being creative was such a part of our communal space. Making a bowl, making it function, making it beautiful. Useful art makes so much sense because it's something we need, and we need it not just out of need to feed ourselves, but to feed others, our family, and visitors. And to say that that art was more simple back then is to deny everything about it really, because, where an "artist" today will sacrifice aspects of their life to paint it all on a canvas, the ancient bowl maker had all the same complexities LIVED, with this bowl at the end as statement for the life. The art was in the living, and the bowl was the masterpiece gift of that living, to share. I'm not being very specific of course, and if we look at cultures like today's Bali, we can get a better view of the carry-over of the ancient creativity. In Bali, everything seems beautiful, because everyone is busy making everything beautiful, everyone is involved in the art of decorating useful objects. And it's also important to point out that they have no word for "artist," as though there's no need to have that separate distinction between people.

Going to galleries and museums is important, because these "artists" of our own time and culture have worked so hard to share their discoveries of our infinite connections into the singular act of breathing, or seeing, or love. They've chosen to examine it all and we can stand there and see ourselves. And whether they go into isolation to create or not, they still have been held by the bowl maker in some way, because we all have been carried forward by the bowl maker.

Also carried out of the past are all those outrageous lies, the superstitious angst. To be honest, it seems to me that religion has so much more to do with needing isolation than we might think at first. With religion, even if you have fought against its rising waters all your life, you develop gills like everyone else, and you're in it, and although you may not be a believer, and may not give into its demands, it permeates everything, just the same. It's always there, its awful lessons, making a test of desire, and the only way to sometimes deal with it is to shut ourselves away. Or to stand in it, daily tormented with decisions based on deserving desired people and things. And in a way capitalism itself has been this enormous tidal wave of desire which has rushed over the planet in response to that horror of denial, and it too creates its own demands and fills our entire way of life. And then isolation from consumerism becomes another method of coping in order to create.

isolation, well. i'm not sure if it's a point to be made now, but your bowl
is more about craftsmanship as it relates specifically to human
physical efficiency. a flourish to the practical aspect, maybe as well as
the representational. while that type of thing is lovely, i'm not so
interested in that process as i am at art created via a tabula rasa, or a
more raw? organic? sub/pre-conscious projection, which, to me, is about
self-examination and facilitating one's evolution through creative
expression and future-self definition. this is a very different process than
bowl-making from my perspective. or at least for my part in this discussion.
there is craft to be made & found in both processes. in any process. i am
mostly interested in the craft that is developed a little more directly from
the mind. yes, surrealism, but with maybe a greater emphasis on direction
&/or process.

and ultimately, yes, these inner progressions through the creative act, can
very much affect other humans & community. however, the process of
development may require isolation from the audience.

i'm not sure i understand what you mean with regard to isolation and
religion. as religion has been for me an external conditioned response to my
senses/surroundings and therefore something i could change if not eradicate
if i saw fit. i can reason (thankfully!) my own evolution from the control
of superstition and mystic definition, as i see it. we don't need to carry
out these programs. especially if we find that we are uncomfortable or
tormented by them. isolation, for me, has allowed an arena to wrestle and
examine such rooted thought patterns from socio/religious teaching and form
my preferred belief system - one i found more nurturing and/or gratifying if
not simply more logical (yes, i said it, and i don't mean empirical).
without isolation, i would be doomed to a life of disappointment and
oppression. it was necessary that i be removed, whether by my own hand or
another's, from community, as it was community that defined & imposed an
intolerable reality in my childhood.

isolation is quite different from religion. it is the state in which we
confront, head-on, our psyche without distraction. it is not water but the
state we find ourselves in the water. and in this state can we free-form
possibilities without stipulation. this is where we are allowed to work out
of the straight-jacket of our conditioning. that is, if we're not petrified
with the sublimity or horror of it/ourselves. must everyone eventually
confront this for their own good or for their art? i don't know and that's
maybe beside the point and i'm not even sure why i brought it up. i guess i
want to clarify that i'm not insisting that it's the best way for anyone to
create or develop. but for some, it's the only way. i guess, if you'd like,
we can further discuss why that is.

Actually, I wasn't talking about religion, I was talking about being affected by its powerful demands, and how isolating those demands can make someone. For you who say you can turn it off, good for you. But this is rare in the historical context. Many people, in fact, many MANY people have become isolated because of religion. I've met queers for instance who enter religion for an acceptable (respectable) community, but of course wind up isolating themselves unlike any other possible form of isolation. Religion is suicide's bastard child-result in many cases. Even the governments of nations can't compare, in that religion's all-seeing and all-powerful alleged connection to the spirit world can cripple a person's total sense of themselves, which creates isolation.

Religion is a power structure, and like most power structures, it insists life be lived in certain manners, which you either conform to, or be punished by. For those of us who come from families riddled with Fundamentalism, this much is clear. If you don't, can't, or won't conform, you lose so very much: love most of all. Being shunned, and being told you are not worthy of a family's affections because of some ridiculous interpretation of the Bible, is excruciating, and isolating.

So maybe I wasn't making myself clear. But religion is an awesome power in the sense that it controls all aspects of how the congregation FEELS and THINKS of their bodies and their jobs and their spouses and their children. Its horrifying control has warped centuries of art and science, and continues to do so to this day.

To be honest, I believe isolation is one of the worst things in the world. And I agree with what you said Hassen, that it may not be the best way to create, in isolation. But I must admit, as I've said before, that it was isolation that brought me to where I am today with my poetry. If I had to do it over however, well, I'd certainly NOT take the isolation, so, whatever the changed results of that would have to be what it would be. But I'm not interested in changing the past (as though I could if I wanted to...).

To talk of those who have come from isolation to create, well, I cannot examine a life better than my own. Looking back, before that stretch of years I refer to as the years when I became a poet, (8 to 13 years old in particular) a few years earlier than that I had already had experiences of feeling different from everyone else around me. Of becoming isolated. The first time, the time that set me up for seeing the world as untrustworthy, was when I was five. I had just been told that I was adopted, and that Ronald Conrad wasn't my "real" father. This idea of "real" was forever going to be odd for me. My mother and Conrad had married and he had adopted me.

It's a funny story, this one. When I was told that my last name was different before the adoption, I remember asking if I had worn a wedding gown. It was the bride whose last name changed afterall, right? It bothered everyone that I wasn't getting the adoption process, and how my last name had changed. And they turned to anger at times when I would ask "were you at my wedding aunt Darlene? I don't remember it." Where was their sense of humor? I thought I was a bride, how funny is that!? The confusion isn't that difficult to understand!

If I had been a girl it might have been cute, but of course I was not a girl, and it was not funny for this Pennsylvania Dutch family my mother had married into. I remember looking at a wedding album with cousins who were a few years older, and they'd ask me who I looked like in the pictures, and I'd point to the bride with her beautiful lace veils and waves of white satin fabric, and they'd all giggle. Giggles made much more sense than the harsh condemnation the adults were giving me.

And of course I was having sex with the other boys, I was the bride, and that's what the bride does, right? Or so I was told by a boy who was four or five years older. He taught me to suck his cock, and it was loads of fun, as I recall. I remember him looking down at me on my knees on the bank of a creek, telling me that the more I did it, the better I'd get. And he was right, I've turned out to be a pretty fantastic cock-sucker. Weird, but it was his encouraging words that gave me a solid belief in myself, that I can do whatever I want by focusing on the task. Sucking cock was my first lesson in concentration. It's not for everybody of course, I understand that, but it should at least inspire the idea of the infinite number of reins available for grasping the imagination.

Finding out about the adoption though was when I learned to distrust appearances. Which has turned out to be a fairly useful tool. My FRANK poems are an example of this at work. Looking intensely at something, not believing what you see or are told you should see, and concentrating hard enough to uncover the Super Life beneath it. Everything has a Super Life underneath. Nothing is beyond surrealism's grasp of mutation.

But my point is that this experience of both discovering my father was not my father, and being condemned for not understanding the adoption process, shut me into this part of my brain that started to focus my thoughts differently than those around me. Many times things seemed funny to me that made no sense to others. While my younger friends were busy trying to see how everything fit into its place and how everything should be defined, I was busy with a slightly deeper examination, and deconstructing the bits of movement, combining those movements with the movements of other things, NOT confusing, but recreating by seeing how similar things were. The new world is always in each of us.

does anything create isolation? i suspect it waits. however one perceives
it. not only depends upon the circumstance of the person confronting it but
also how one comes to confront it - or how one associates it. yours, for
instance, seemed to be approached when you were in pain
caused by a community not of your choosing. you say power structures create
isolation but i think they create emotional trauma, diminishing one's sense
of control over one's own destiny. isolation is not created by it & it isn't
the isolation itself that is damaging but the feeling of powerlessness
and/or insignificance when one's ostracized. and this feeling is usually
reinforced whenever one confronts a general society. we are always
challenged, our reality, our purpose, our expectations, what is expected of
us. but unlike the challenge during isolation from non-human environs, it
challenges us based upon social constructs, mores, which are arguably as
'unreal' - or unrealistic - as any religious tenet. people don't have to be
raised around religion to have an inordinate sense of guilt or alienation or
powerlessness. from the earliest, we are manipulated and modified by
another's will over us.

also being raised in a fundamentalist home, it wasn't quite the same for me
as for you, Conrad. i don't recall ever feeling, with my own immediate
family anyway, that if i didn't agree with their religious convictions that
their love would be withheld. & fortunately my personal sense of "god" was
very different from what was imposed on me. it was isolation and attitude in
that sometimes frightening space that confirmed to me that dogma was
corrupt. this benevolent unifier i was told existed was not, for me, found
in communion but in solitude - that being this incredible will mirrored all
around me. i wonder if in some language(s) 'potential' is similar to if not
the same as the word 'truth'... anyway, i'm always surprised when people
ask me if i believe in god. it seems like such an obsolete question. i
suppose that's because i just have my head up my ass and don't often know
what's relevant to other folks. someone asked me that question again
recently. after sheepishly mumbling 'define a god,' i went on to say if it's
defined simply as The Inexplicable Will to Transform, then yes. if one
defines god as anything that mightn't ever be explained by human empirical
study. the most amazing, unfathomable thing i can think of is evolution, or
rather, the will that drives evolution. all matter seems to have this
potential to transcend its circumstance. the process of recognizing and
realizing this potential is what i'm most interested in and i can't help but
think that isolation is critical to that process. i mean, all artists work
in some degree of isolation anyway, don't they? maybe those with a more
intensive process need more space.

this brings me back to my original post on Laib, as well as to the point i
probably intended to make on a personal level. it might be that the act of
contending with the abyss of the self in isolation (can't say that with a
straight face) is what makes the artistic process so appealing to me. like
Elizabeth Scanlon had mentioned, Laib's physical act of retrieving pollen
for his piece is in itself profound. this is the process of discovering that
there is no actual isolation with matter &/or consciousness or whatever you
want to call it. social conditioning suggests that isolation is horrifying
because it also suggests that isolation can be absolute ('eternal
damnation'), which appeals maybe to our deeply biologic nature, i don't
know. this idea of absolute isolation, i'm convinced, was concocted and is
perpetuated as punishment, manipulation for one to conform to order
'safety' (ironically, in the context of biological evolution).

of course there is no absolute isolation (if one accepts our current
understanding of physics anyway), which is what's exciting about working
through that confrontation. this is a space where a process can emerge to
contend with its circumstance artistically. & in these rare incidences all
the variables can harmonize concept, intention, aesthetic, mathematics or
good fortune, intuition, whatever. the process of finding ecology in
'isolation' tickles me. the process of expressing in/from silence. of
physically smearing pigmented oil on a board, of color and definition,
intense physicality in creating an image. the process of realizing there are
few restrictions but our own, of projecting the idea or representation of a
new work or a new self. the process of transformation, exploration, of
fractals and un/real Alternatives. of things too amazing for language. & the
result is maybe a work that is not only a delightful piece of aesthetic but
one that insists on our acceptance that the process is also the art. * again
to reference Laib.

*(which approaches something even more important to me - the reality and
validity of experience & the pleasure of sensation of experience/creation
even if the pleasure derives solely from our own validation i don't know i
don't know)

of course i realize these things are not paramount to others & i certainly
don't suggest they should be. these are, as you'd wanted to explore,
personal experience with - & take on - the subject. most immediate, i often
need my own space to follow my thoughts wherever they trudge. perhaps
because of my place in the family or the religious practices that insulated
me from 'secularism' during childhood development. maybe the incredible
silence during the Midwest winters or during our long camping trips to the
Keweenaw Peninsula in the summers. or i'm just an oddball who can't focus
her thoughts at any given moment on any one task if there's the slightest
disturbance. (please note my disclaimer here for my seriously inadequate &
loose discussion about such an immense & potentially tangential topic).
alone, i don't have to contend for a little while with others' behavior &
agendas or manipulations or needs, frankly (not that these things can't also
be important in a creative process). i can absorb color aroma sound from an
organic world and stretch with or without a conscious narrative in my head.
isolation is often emancipation.

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