Missing “My Red Homeland”

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Anish Kapoor’s installation, My Red Homeland was in Abu Dhabi. I was in New York.

“I didn’t know there was more than one Guggenheim…” I told M 1. “I guess that just shows you how much of a country girl I am.” I tried to laugh it off, but I was really disappointed. After seeing an Instagram post featuring My Red Homeland at the Guggenheim, I fixated on it. It was this giant installation of rich, red oil based wax that looked like a crater in the middle of a pristine white room. But then there was this cube with a flat arm that apparently moved. I imagined it smoothed out the wax over and over again. There was something about the richness of the color and the malleability of the wax that captivated me. I felt it with my eyes through my phone’s screen, knowing if I could touch it (and that I wouldn’t be able to) I would love the sensation. I thought when I watched this mechanized sculpture do its thing, I’d have: A Moment. An Experience. With Art. I’d have something to write about that didn’t involve being a struggling twenty-something.

But I hadn’t read the hashtags. Sandwiched between #TheCreativeAct and #Guggenheim, there it was… #GuggenheimAbuDhabi.  

The budgeting part of my brain stung first. I just spent $25 to go to a museum I don’t even like. I went to the Gug once during college and left disappointed and annoyed, unsure of what I had just seen. The building, I liked. It swirled like soft serve ice cream. M, not having been to the Gug before and being the laid back guy that he is, didn’t mind my mess up. So we went all the way up to the top floor and I tried to forget about the red wax and the moving bar and my embarrassment. There would be something else worth writing about. We found an installation that involved germs growing on white furniture and another one that featured ants in a circuit board looking maze. M thought the latter was cruel. Blinded by expectation and disappointment, I didn’t appreciate either of these exhibits.

I stalked about the rippling floors and nearly shouted at a Kandinsky that I hated it. By the third floor, I thought that maybe it wasn’t that it was modern art or New York City or disappointment, that I had a problem with, it was STRAIGHT LINES! I didn’t like straight lines! M tried to cheer me up by making up stories about each painting. He launched into this hokey 1930s radio voice which helped.

I took a photo of him looking over the side of the ramp and onto all of the other museum patrons. This was something familiar, something I could understand or at least understand my limits of understanding.

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I was about ready to leave and so was he.

Making our way out, we found Woman Ironing by Picasso during his blue period. This painting was done early in his career, at a not particularly lucrative time either. Struggling to make a living as an artist, he painted everyday people trying to make a living and used blue, greens, and gray to capitalize on this ennui. His friend, Jaime Sabartés wrote, “Picasso believes that art emanates from sadness and pain” , which is evident in this painting. Drawn in by the slant of her shoulders and the definition of her face, I stopped my internal whine-olauge. The depth of the shadow carving into her neck and collarbone made me sigh. What looks like rumpled fabric next to a bowl, I thought resembled a skull and the background looks transparent, erased. The whole thing was haunting. This woman is missing her context; her place and her people. It looks like she is painted from one long line, pulled and angled into a single portrait of exhaustion. “I like this one.” I told M and apologized to Picasso. My complaints with the museum and with myself felt trivial in the presence of this.

I found myself boarding the train home to New Haven a few quick hours later. I curled around my backpack full of dirty clothes from a weekend well spent. Almost protectively, I thought about the Guggenheim- as if focusing on earlier annoyances and frustration would be more comfortable than the ache in my chest from another goodbye to M. Slowly, the memory came back into focus with some new information. I didn’t want to look at something that looked like me. Disparate, chaotic, uncertain. The paintings and sculptures were inviting me to ask questions and I had enough questions in my life. I didn’t know it then, but even the Woman Ironing harbors a secret underpainting of a potentially much more cheerful man. There are always questions, always things unknown.

I thought about M’s funny narration again. How he was able to make the best of the situation and appreciate things for what they were. How he didn’t go into the museum with expectations like I did and he didn’t have the same lens of uncertainty I had about my life. Or maybe better put, the same uncertainty but less of the anxiety around it. He didn’t hold onto his fears like I did. Maybe he didn’t confront them as much as I did either. Still, he embraced the present in a way I struggled with and in a way I thought I used to be much better at.

Like most people in their twenties, and I suspect most people at any age, I feel a little lost and scared. I get caught between the practical: How will I ever afford to move out of my parent’s house? and the existential: How will I ever live a meaningful life? and chase my tail for days at a time too afraid or too tired to make choices in one direction or the other. It doesn’t help that I’ve been lulled into this holding pattern with each new job/fellowship/opportunity I seem to encounter:

We’ll call you in two weeks.

We’ll let you know when the funding comes through. There’s a meeting Wednesday.

We will contact all applicants by June 1.

It seems like it’s never two weeks, or June 1, or Wednesday. It’s after a week of me calling and emailing and then me assuming it’s a no, that I get an email redundantly confirming that.2

I am never going to be happy if I can’t appreciate the present more. Not in museums, not in my career, and not with M. Our long distance relationship is plagued by the anxious desire for us to “be in the same place” as my career is to “get a really awesome job”.

I remembered that feeling in front of Woman Ironing, something between shame and understanding. I annoyed myself with my expectations and the eclipsing feeling of “wanting more”. This pervasive, grumbling hunger, sometimes serving me well- as drive and diligence- but starving me now. I texted M.

You love me for exactly the way I am.

-Yes, dear. That is the case.


1 M has a very popular man’s name. When I first met him, I already had a friend with the same name. So in my 19-year-old arrogance, I renamed him on the spot. “No, no. That can’t be your name… What’s your last name?” “M——.” “Okay. I’ll call you M.” I still call him that today and for privacy’s sake, it works well for this blog.

I am maybe- a little- bitter.

Paying Attention

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I am a sucker for library events.

They are usually free, there’s usually food, and there’s usually a good discussion. When my friend, Erin, asked me if I wanted to go to a reading of A Homemade Life with author Molly Wizenberg, I said yes and all the things that are usually true about library events were true in this case.

Molly is a blogger and author of two books. She bakes autobiography into her food musings and recipes in a way that feels, well… filling. She’s just real. The ordinary, wonderful and terrible things that happen to her, happen to a lot of us. I identified with her writing in a way I hadn’t identified with an author for some time. Sure, I had loved Ewan McEwan’s Atonement and Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking that I had read earlier that year, but this was different. It was more Wild by Cheryl Strayed. There were similar flavors of poetry, style, a familiar voice. There was an element of loss that hung around the corners of my life at that time that was in Molly’s writing too.

I wasn’t a big subscriber of blogs back then. There was just one that I committed myself to, Chrystina Noel, which is about the art of staying in touch and hosting events. Why I didn’t read blogs went deeper than the excuse I gave when someone tried to recommend one- “I just don’t like to read off screens”. Honestly, I felt like most of them weren’t legit and could spiral into something hokey and awkward fast. After meeting Molly and hearing the story of her life in writing, I reconsidered. Creatively, professionally, maybe even emotionally… blogging could be a good tool for me.

For a long time, I didn’t feel like I had a thing to write about, not in the way Molly had cooking. Then I couldn’t commit to the things that did come to mind. They felt narrow and stifling. I worried that I would outgrow them. Then I worried about originality. Why should people care about what I had to say about this? How could I say something new about that? I choked myself out with these questions.

Then I had a blog! I wrote about hiking the Appalachian Trail with my friend Mamie. We made our own blog and that all morphed into me blogging for an amazing website, The Trek. I loved it. I loved sharing how I was feeling and what I was doing. It also terrified me but I thought that was good for me too. And I looooved talking to people in the comments or in real life. I loved-loved- loved it.

When I got off the Appalachian Trail, I had some things figured out. Maybe more than that, I had the right attitude to figure things out and make them happen. Here we are, almost a year later. A lot has shifted and changed, and some stuff has totally lapsed. Writing for myself is one of those things that has totally lapsed. I tried working in the freelance/ghostwriting world but the pay has been meager and there’s something demoralizing putting in so much work into something and not having your name on it. If I’m going to write it has to be about things I care about and my name has to be on them.

Which is where a second blogger and author comes in, Austin Kleon. (You will probably see his name and his links a lot on this site. He’s incredible.) Austin wrote Steal Like an Artist, which I highly recommend and for a lot of reasons, but to make a long story a little shorter, at the end of the book he recommends starting a blog. Again, I faltered and pushed the idea off. Then a potential professional connection asked me where she could read my writing, and the first thing I wanted to say was “At my blog, tlciambra.com!

And. I. Couldn’t.

In the very beginning of college, when everything is exciting and feels possible, I remember telling a friend that I loved everything art related. “Music, drama, visual arts, everything! Everything!” She laughed and told me that was good because I was studying theatre, which was a mix of all of those things. I felt so sure that I was on the right path then.

I want to write about how I experience art and how it helps me understand my life. Similar to how Molly writes about her life and cooking or how Austin writes about the things he finds inspiration from and his creative process. This feels like something I can grow with. It feels like paying closer attention to what I already love and sharing that.

I hope you’ll join me!

TLC

 

Writing for Craftivate!

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I’m excited to announce I’m now working for Craftivate!

Craftivate is an a cute little craft studio with a mission I absolutely love: getting people to make art together.

Joining Craftivate was one of those funny, “I think this is meant to be!” things. My best friend heard that our high school art teacher started her own crafting business and we started going to events. Before you know it, I’m working with her! I am loving getting to know the ins and outs of a small business and adding something positive and creative to our community.

If you’re in the Greater New Haven area you should definitely check out the fun events we’ve got coming up- from working with polymer clay to wine bottle wind chimes- there’s something for everyone to get into.

Oh and here’s my first blog post!

Happy National Poetry Month!

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Happy National Poetry Month y’all!

To celebrate, I’m going to post a poem to my Instagram every day.  For the first two days, I experimented with blackout poetry because I just read Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist (which I can’t recommend more highly) and that got me into his newspaper blackout poetry. Today’s poem comes straight from my heart and my typewriter.

Follow @blisters_before_misters on Instagram to see more as the month progresses!

Three Poems Featured in Olentangy Review

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I’m happy to share that Olentangy Review, a wonderful literary website and quarterly magazine, is including three of my poems, Meet Me in MissoulaMaking a Commitment, and November Nineth in it’s Winter 2016 edition. Read the poems here and listen to the audio here!

Thank you editors, Darryl and Melissa Price for this opportunity!