Yesterday, I sat on the couch in my ex-boyfriend’s living room and listened to my best friend read the love letters I wrote to him years ago from a different city in a different state, to a different city in a different state. They aren’t my love letters, exactly. They’re letters I wrote using stolen sentences from the [love] letters of other writers, modernist writers, who wrote to each other and to their lovers in the beginning of the 20th century. I built a character out of those stolen sentences, arranged the sentences into three letters detailing this character’s swift and sudden departure from her fiancé into the desert. But the letters are addressed to R. And the intention in them, the sentiment, is something I crafted with my then boyfriend as the particular audience I had in mind. I was scared. We were in new territory in our relationship at that point, four or so years in. I didn’t want to leave him. But I wanted to talk about the idea of leaving him without talking about it. So I sent him these letters. He never wavered. Even after he left me.
My best friend brought me cupcakes for the session even though she and X were the ones helping me out and I probably owe them cupcakes and hugs and money. Thank god all my friends are artists and we can call this collaboration instead of services. X retrieved the original copy of my handwritten letters. The whole stack. I looked through some of them. I love hard. I know no other way.
For the past several years, with increasing frequency, I’ve filmed the desert on my iPhone. From an airplane 30,000 feet above eastern California and southern Arizona. From my car window driving through Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado. From my bike in the Negev in Israel. On foot in the Negev in Israel. I’m combining this footage with N’s voiceover of the letters I appropriated, rearranged, and wrote to X back in 2012. This is all for a video remix project called “Letters from the Desert” that I’m creating for the &Now conference at CalArts this March. A and I also pitched a panel proposal to the NonFictioNow folks for their conference in October, and if accepted, I intend to discuss, among other things, this piece and how it builds a fiction using strictly non-fictional components. But mostly, this is just a project that’s been inside me for a long time. There’s a reason the desert comes out in almost everything that I do. And I am excited to finally be making this. But I am NOT excited to be making it on my five year old MacBook Pro with an outdated OS that I seemingly refuse to update. I have to render my workspace every time I do a single goddamn thing in Premiere. It is painful. I’m going to buy a new computer this weekend. Fuck it. I’ve been holding off on a real iMac desktop for many years, but when you can’t even do your work because of your technology, you must upgrade your technology [she tells herself as justification for dropping way too much money she should be saving for groceries].
I know this all sounds school related, but it is not. The only school related things I’m doing are reading for field exams, which I take in two weeks, drafting my prospectus and preparing for qualifying exams, which I take a week and a half after fields, and teaching. I finally completed my translation exam in Spanish today, thus fulfilling my language requirement for my program. One small step closer to that PhD.
But somehow this excessive school workload has resulted in my being more artistically productive than I’ve been in a really long time. I’ve started practicing shooting bodies.
I wrote an essay last night about my experience collaborating with my X, which involves many digressions about Tinder, romance, horror, loneliness, and the leakiness of love. I’ve been fucking around with this iPhone app that allows me to make double exposures digitally using my digital photos. This feels like cheating, but it’s fun and it’s helping to keep me sane. A couple of these are actually old film photos I shot in Europe as a 14 year old brat with my dad’s camera.
The thing I love most about making these photos is that it does the thing that I cannot do in real life: combine two places I love into one space. All I want is to be able to live in Colorado and work in LA and not have those be two separate places, and yet for them to somehow retain all the things that make them the distinct locales that they are. I would say my biggest struggle my whole life has been coping with the impossibility of being in two places at once. And I know, if that’s my biggest struggle, I have it good. I do have it good. That’s probably not my biggest practical struggle. But it has always been the hardest for me to accept of anything I’ve experienced, including death, including heartbreak, because the impossibility remains constant. It does not fade over time. If anything, it only gets more complicated with each new place I love and cannot live in. But I can resolve these feelings for myself, at least momentarily, in these pictures.
This is a No pets, [mostly] No PhD, No Social Life update. Those things will come later if and when I feel the urge to write about them. For now, these are the things that have my emotional attention while academia quietly sucks away my soul.