I am incredibly honored to have been included in this inaugural issue of SUBLEVEL, a new digital journal launched by the CalArts MFA Creative Writing Program. I shared some of my work that I composed while in the grasslands of Wyoming in 2015. I’ve also allowed them to release one of my full videopoems, “Grasslands, No Wilds.”
I can’t believe I get to to be in the company of Janice Lee Candice Lin, Mel Y. Chen, Jih-Fei Cheng, Solmaz Sharif, Rickey Laurentiis, Hilton Als, Litia Perta, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Simone White, Andrew F Giles, Steven Karl, Muriel Leung, Asiya Wadud, and Nicholas Wong.
CalArts is an amazing art space to me–a brilliant community of experiment, social engagement, and risk. I’ve loved everyone I’ve intersected with there. I’m honored to be in their digital family, to launch–or burrow–with sublevel.
I have been taking sky portraits for over two years now. It developed out of an eerie experience I had once while on the train to work.
I suddenly AWOKE. I suddenly found myself on the train, surrounded by others on their morning routes. I had no memory of rising out of bed, my morning toilet, dressing, leaving my home, or waiting for the train. It terrified me. What had become of all my lost time? And where was I in those spans? Who was I now without that person of those times lost? I felt intermittent. Was this dangerous? Perhaps so. It troubled me.
I realized I needed a mindful practice. Something to sweep me out of the default zero-grade attention that our banal daily activities lull us into. I needed something I could do regularly no matter where I was. And so my eyes turned skyward.
As a child I used to love cloud watching. I have a distinct, visceral body memory of me laying in the grass out front of the house where I grew up. I recall the dry crackle the grass made in my ears, the slight cool dampness of it pressed into my back. The way the clouds tumbled their way across the sky, eating each other.
When I was living in Pittsburgh, I was agog at how close the sky felt. It hung just over me. Perilous.
Back here in Philadelphia, it feels tamed by the lurking wild abandonment of so many of the streets near where I live.
I’m struck by a certain mode of day. I’m struck by the preciousness of that constantly evasive terrain–sky so fleet and stern. I want to say it.
I noticed last fall in Philadelphia that my attention was on the wane. Sudden blocks of time were disappearing from my memory — simply because I wasn’t noticing or really engaging the world around me. This was made pressingly clear to me as I was riding the blue line to work. I suddenly noticed that I was on the train — and no matter how hard I wracked my mind, I couldn’t recall how I’d gotten on. My entire morning was lost. Getting up, dressing, walking to the station, waiting for the train, finding a seat — all of that was gone from me, as though I had never done it at all.
Just before that experience, I had read an article on how the human mind feels as though time passes more quickly in middle age because there are fewer novel experiences for the mind to attend to. For many weeks before moving from Philadelphia early last summer, I remember feeling each night that it was impossible that it was already time for me to sleep. I was plagued by this sense that I had only a moment ago just risen, just begun the day…but the day itself was of no matter, unremarkable.
And some people want to live forever. If only each day could be as various and surprising as the very first of life.
To stop this terrible disorder, this sapping of my days, I realized I needed to attend to something each day. Something novel, but also consistently so. And so I’ve re-learned to take just a few minutes to notice the sky each day. In some ways, this is a sad lesson. As a child, I used to love cloud-gazing. I’d lay in the lawn for long periods and simply listen and observe. This memory bites me with its small teeth. What else have I forgotten that was precious to me?