Shot with the Pixel 3

I’m hungry and grateful for any little bit of individualized attention this indifferent city can condescend to give me. Today , when the counterperson at the deli on Seventh and 40th took my grey travel mug from my hand and without a word handed it back with just the right amount of coffee in it and then unquestioningly rang up the oat meal and fruit I had assembled in the other mug I’d brought from home, it felt like a sweet, sweet gift. And that feeling was compounded when I then rounded the corner, and climbed the stairs to Midtown Comics, where I picked up my weekly pull and joked with the staffers.

On one hand New York is about speed and efficiency, knowing the quickest route to someplace, getting a good deal. On the other, it’s about being the insider, the one who knows the stuff others don’t. Between those two, I hunger for being part of a neighborhood, knowing that that my encounters with people remain distinct in their minds. Is this pathology? My morning experiences were just encounters with people doing their jobs, which in part are about convincing me to come back as a customer. That I take this as special can just be my own delusion.

But so much of modern experience is about standardization, of eliminating the peculiarities of interaction in the name of convenience or safety. We treat each other uniformly so that we aren’t caught in an awkward encounter that puts us at risk. The staff at the comic book store has to deal with thousands of folks in a week who could turn belligerent or obsessive. It’s a type of dynamic that never want to fall into, and I like to think that I do the work of building trust, so that my presence there can act as a respite from the work week and not as a problem. But then, do we know when we’ve become one?

The desire to be special is different from the desire to have humane interactions. We may want to be noticed by the world in general and turn peevish when that wish is thwarted, forcing individuals to notice us when the world will not. But while all of us deserve love, none of us is owed attention. We can only make those gestures of paying attention, of trying to treat those we encounter as individuals. In the same way that I have time when I make time, I can change the tenor of my interactions by focusing on my actions.

This is what cleaning looks like sometimes.

Is it possible to have bipolar cluttering disorder? For every few months I have of haplessly watching my piles of things grow and spread across my apartment, I will have periods like last weekend, where I manage to get granular with my sorting and reorganizing. In the past few days I have accomplished some of the goals I’ve thought about for years with old files and hard drives.

The problem with digital clutter is that for the most part it is invisible: an organized hard drive looks no different from a disorganized one. But the emotional effect of it is vastly different. Clutter feels to me that my life is both oppressively present and yet ungraspable: there is stuff all around, but the thread of what I am doing and what I need to use for it is lost in the mess. All of my incomplete decisions are in front of me, competing for my attention. It becomes easier to just let an object drop and go on to the next thing, even though to do so means that I have also created a tiny addition to my fears about the future.

The clutterer lives in dread of that moment sometime in the future where the decision must be made, even thought that decision is one of liberation. There are times when I can genuinely say, no I don’t need this thing any longer and I can let it go, and that begins to grow my ability to move other things out of my life.

The difficulty in all of this is that is can come to very quickly resemble the binge/purge cycles of eating disorders. The challenge in all of these is how not to become stuck, to all ow both food and possessions to flow through my life in a way that is nourishing and pleasurable.

At least this week I was able to migrate my digital music collection and photo archive off of a mechanical hard drive that was performing erratically and onto one that seems more stable and capacious. In the process I also managed to discover archives for some earlier art projects as well as some personal photos that I hadn’t seen in ages. I got a chunky drive off of my desk, and felt a bit more in control

Times Square redefines glamour and desire

Saturday morning and I’m getting deep with the Au Pairs. Why don’t they have a jukebox musical? Also they do an excellent version of Bowie’s “Repetition”, which I always thought was his attempt to write a Talking Heads song.

I hear things differently when I turn of the streaming options and just haul out records and listen to them all the way through. In fact I’m trying to reimagine my current audio set up – to refocus on quality, now that I don’t have to shove fifty different multimedia boxes through he same amplifier.

Yesterday I enlisted help with overhauling this site to make it more useful to visitors. It might be nice if you could look at some of the images of my work and find out what the piece was called, for example.

Also revisiting a project from 1997 : Hare Follies, a performance collaboration with Chris Cochrane and Patricia Hoffbauer and Ishmael Houston-Jones. It reads to me now as the culmination of all of the rabbit – hole – racial images in my work from the early 1990’s onward. For a long time I couldn’t bear to watch myself in it. But there’s a lot in there i feel actually good about, even though it’s my biggest most public fan letter to Richard Foreman and Kathy Acker ever. At least I trod the boards of the Brooklyn Academy of Music in my union suit, narrating all my fears of internalized racism.

Ishmael Houston Jones, Nayland Blake and Patricia Hoffbauer in Hare Follies 1997 photo courtesy of On The Boards

The show is about me owning my shit, and looking at it now, there are parts that prefigure the ways that my performance would move out of public spaces and into the kink/BDSM context. There’s a lot of humiliation, dominance and restraining in the show which incorporates my rewriting of things like Blacula, The Turner Diaries, The Octaroon, and transcripts of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I wrote the script, designed the costumes and sets and directed. I wanted to have someone else act the central part but I remember during the audition process when I was trying to get Stuart Sherman to take the part he just looked at me and said “Really, these are your issues, you should do it”. He was right, but that has lead me to shy away from watching myself in it for twenty years.

New lunch place on the block and it’s Cava – the Greek(?) version of fast casual whatever – in other words: here’s a pile of stuff in a bowl. I’m not complaining much, since some of these places give me just what I want – a little bit of a number of different flavors all on one plate. They must be nightmares for any person who hates to have their food touch, but I enjoy poking around in them.

I was trying to figure out what sort of an eating experience they were modeled on however, all these rice bowls and grain bowls and such and while I think they started out as the offspring of salads, at this point they draw on another eating tradition: leftovers. Single folks rarely experience leftovers of much variety, at least I don’t.If I’m cooking something I either make enough for one night or enough for a week, and it’s usually one dish, not five types of vegetables. These bowls are like someone rummaging through the family fridge after a holiday. There’s a couple of tablespoons of everything, and some sauce to tie it all together. That’s why the are so comforting to eat at your desk. It’s like someone cared enough to put together all the scraps and send you off to work with them.

As environments, all of these places are the same, extensions of that I’ve been calling The White Tube, a visual retail environment that makes all urban locations into the same location through careful deployment of Edison Bulbs, white painted brick, reclaimed wood, and uncomfortable stools. These places, with their attached apps for online ordering are never about lingering, they are about getting you your food with the smallest possible amount of human contact possible and getting you back out the door. Given how similar they all are, it’s easy to foresee a future they start to merge and you just order via app and pick up food from any number of comapanies via something like an Amazon dropbox, your packages and your bowl of noms delivered to you in the Automat of the 21st century.

Gnomen at six.

Today is the day that I mark as the one when I first joined the furry fandom and thus it’s the day I celebrate the arrival of Gnomen, my first fully conceived animal surrogate. A birthday of sorts. A naming day. Somebody is six years old.

Gnomen is something very distinct from the other ways that animals have cropped up in my work, even though I’ve used images of monsters and beasts for years. There was so much rabbit imagery in my work in the 90’s that in most people’s minds I became “The Bunny Guy”. Even today much of my drawing language stems from being a child absorbed by cartoons, comics and animation. I wanted to exist in the frames of a Bob Clampett cartoon as much as I wanted my work to hang on the walls of a museum, if not more so. Animation cells remain magic objects for me, especially ones that show weird bits of a sequence that you wouldn’t think to look at otherwise. I’ve thought alot about how the rebroadcasting of classic studio cartoons on TV in the sixties was a generation’s conduit to the legacy of disreputable American entertainment: burlesque, vaudeville and minstrelsy. Bugs Bunny cracks wise in a voice that includes immigrants, genderblurred and the dispossessed, even as he traffics in blatant  stereotypes.

Much of my earlier work was speaking through that imagery, using it to point to discourses of race and queerness. Furry seems to me to be about something very different. It is a kind of working, of identity formation that has more to do with embodiment, than it has to do with pure imagery. Gnomen is a character who has adventures that Nayland can’t. They undergo transformations and troubles and at the same time they embody my own sense of hybridity and mutability. Gnomen is a kind of working that rarely finds a place in galleries these days, but weirdly enough has landed on the cover of a magazine.

Owning my relationship to this fandom has brought some important things into my life, and I think this year is going to be about doing more of that. Here’s a picture I drew to celebrate Gnomen’s presence in my life. If you want to see me drawing it, I put this video up on youtube.

Part of the new year’s experiment is Twitter reduction. Here’s some things that would have been tweets. Now they’re…aphorisms? observations? pointless?

Empires rule by convincing you that your horizon is the same as their borders, and that nothing lies beyond. (About the “art world”)

Saw Catherine Opie’s recent show at Lehman-Maupin : A glam vision of burning it all down. Couldn’t shake the wierdness of the context, given how nothing in the gallery was a millimeter out of place.

Utopian Queer sex parties are still happening in New York. Blessings on everyone doing that work!

No matter how hoity-toity New York galleries get with architecture and intimidation, they still have recourse to dorky laser-printed signs made of office paper, scotch tape and plastic inserts to tell you when they are closed for installation.

Amnesiac professor helps Batman get in touch with his submissive, sensual side.

Adult Nay buys themself the toys young Nay wished for, if they even had existed. I can only imagine what play scenarios would have sprung to life if I had had access to action figures like this during Batman 66’s initial run. As it was, myself and my friends ran around schoolyards and neighborhood playgrounds spinning dramas of capture and control, escape and rescue. Most kids wanted to be Batman or Robin in those games. Not me.

King Tut started in the tv show, not in the comics, which I wasn’t reading then anyway. He was fat, gaudy, imperious and used his hypnotic powers to break down Batman’s vaunted mental control until the hero vacantly intones “Your every wish is my command…”

I was in enthralled. Everyone called Tut king, but we know he was a Queen pure and simple. His bombast, as enacted by Victor Bouno, is delicious. Everyone in Batman 66 delivers their lines like they are in film by Jack Smith or John Waters, which is the gold standard of acting as far as I’m concerned. Last week I went with a friend to watch Desperate Living and minus a few profane elements, it plays like an episode of B66. King Tut and Queen Carlotta of Mortville are rulers cut from the same cloth.

Seeing “8 Inch Retro” Tut in my comic store brought many of those memories back, and I grabbed the one remaining figure from the rack without thought of cost or room in my overstuffed apartment. Kids find the signposts they need, to create their future selves. I need Tut to find my past. A konk on the noggin and once again I rule.

Find your angle and peer into the future.

What a year that 2018, eh? After spending a couple of days recouperating with good friends, and much time huddled in my anxiety pits, I’m trying to figure out this, the last year of my 50’s. Where my work will go, what sorts of interactions I will value, when and how to connect.

It’s hard not to feel bruised and mistreated in this time. And that’s from someone whose wounds are almost entirely self inflicted. By just about any standard I am living a life of immense privilege and luck. I’ve found a way of living that allows me to engage creatively with my world and with friends. A very good life. So if I’m feeling pained it is from the things I drag into that life, the time I spend misusing media, the drains on my attention and energy.

There have been more and more days this past year where I have woken up, and immediately grabbed my phone, scanning twitter until I located the perfectly upsetting piece of news, and then flipping over to instagram to see how many endorphin nuggets of attention my latest picture has received. Buzzing with distress and self-satisfaction, I then head out to meet my day off center and with no plan for action. Time slips by, things don’t get done, the fear of deadlines looms until I flop down to sleep and wake and do it all again. Hardly sustainable.

For a while this year I had the luxury of remembering what my days used to be – how many books I read, how my ideas and investigations were guided by my intuitions and not driven by the priorities of platforms. I need to value my attention at a higher rate, and have the faith that I do not have to be part of every conversation. Deeper and slower can be the watchwords.

August of 2005, in Northern California. photo by Dominic Vyne

August 29th is my blog anniversary, meaning that thirteen years ago I started an online life on the forgotten but not gone livejournal. Making that choice has structured much of the life I live now, bringing me friends, lovers, community, work and connection.  Daily reflection and posting made me work on my writing and drove my photography. I set up this website in part because of it.

In the last few years, I’ve rarely posted directly to this site, spending more and more time on twitter and instagram, in some moments reveling in the visual flash and written wit of my peers on those platforms. I’ve been checking online endlessly, looking for those food pellets of attention that are “likes” and “views”. I’ve felt my attention erode, growing impatient with looking at any screen that doesn’t give me immediate feedback. This past July, I experienced voluntary reduction of online time at MacDowell, and that combined with the emotional climate of twitter is making me think that it’s time to reduce my presence on there for a while. I value the way that twitter lets me know what’s going on, but not the way that it makes me search for outrage on a daily basis. 

This is the patch of online space that I’ve rented, and for years I’ve neglected it. It would be nice to see what I could make of it again. I’ve set this up to crosspost to twitter, so that people there can find me, but I’m going to try to avoid posting directly on there for a while.  Online life is at once blatant and masked, and the self I feel encouraged to display there is one that I am ambivalent towards to say the least. I’m more interested in what people do on the street, where there are actual physical consequences.