Come Visit Often
We’re driving in our car away from where we live and work, because it’s summertime and fuck all that. It’s Friday afternoon, I have half a tank of gas and my wife is in the passenger seat looking through Spotify playlists on my phone trying to find one that is actually saved to the phone.
One time we swam all night long in this swimming pool in the desert and there wasn’t wifi and we streamed Hall & Oates over a roaming network and it accidentally cost $416 to listen to Hall & Oates while we swam in that nighttime desert pool, dusk to dawn. Almost worth it.
That trip, unlike this trip, was artless. This trip, four hours northwest from Jersey City, has got me thinking about the Maya Angelou quote, the famous one, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use it the more you have.” I’m thinking about that Maya Angelou quote because at the moment I am driving and feeling feeling temporarily out of ideas and juice to make things, I’m feeling stale with the writing I’m doing, the drawings I’m doing, the lack of music I’m playing with my perfectly functioning hands. I’m making art, but I want to be surrounded by someone else’s. To live around it for the weekend. To suck inspiration out of it like a vampire bat sucks blood probably, I don’t know, do vampire bats really do that? Suck blood.
Bugs explode on the windshield and hit the grill of the car and sound like rocks. We are driving to our friends’ house in New York State. They’re in their 60s and full of more life than anybody I know. He is a potter and poet. She is a piano tuner and my favorite living fine artist who also knows what day my birthday is. Where they live is like ‘WE MAKE ART GROUND ZERO’. So, in order to recharge our art batteries, my wife and I are headed towards ‘WE MAKE ART GROUND ZERO’. Why not?
My wife says, “You still don’t have Hall & Oates saved to your phone …”
But! In my rearview mirror I see a man, red bandana over his face. No hemet. Black motorcycle and look at this shit, he’s popping a wheely. We’re going 87mph, driving like a flash, and I yell, “Quick look behind you.”
I’m nervous the wheely will end before she gets to see it and I’ll be the only one on the trip who gets to experience it.
As she turns to look, the man on the motorcycle changes lanes, motorcycle still skyward, he stays in this wheely as he accelerates to 90, maybe 100 mph.
When the man passes us, and crosses over into our lane a few hundred feet ahead of us, the wheely ends and both tires slap down to the road.
“Holy shit, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
It’s a bright sunny day. Up ahead, there are more cars. And the motorcycle goes into another wheely and the rider goes around those cars in a swoop, before swooping drastically back to the right and still in wheely, he takes the off ramp to wherever he is going, front tires pointed up at the falling sun. He looks like a bird gone loopy and flying the world.
My friend the potter explains how he taught other people how to make pottery. The lesson goes like this:
“Do you see this? This is a perfectly thrown pot.”
The teacher passes the ceramic to the nearest student, “Check it out. Pass it on …”
The ceramic pot makes its way around the room, each student admiring the clay work. They all want to make a pot this fine. They’re here to learn this. They want it so bad.
My friend the teacher says something like, “Just yesterday I made that pot, take a look at the detail, the purity of the work. Think about what it means …”
Eventually after much close scrutiny and admiration, the pot makes its way back around to the teacher, who picks it up over his head and the smile on his face disappears as he smashes his own, maybe most perfect work, into the ground so it explodes into a thousand shards.
The students gasp.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll just make a new one,” Teach says.
What he means is this: don’t make your work precious. Be humble.
“You will make hundreds of pots. Don’t get attached to what you make. Just make.”
This is my friend Mike, and just passed the road he lives on, I stomp on the brakes and my wife laughs. We do a u-turn on the country road and head back the other way, towards the gravel road where he lives.
Sometimes, little ol’ me feels stumped against creativity. Sometimes little ol’ me feels out of juice. Sometimes, I think I’ve learned the most about being an artist by watching garbagemen pick up cans at the curb and aggressively toss them into the back of the truck. Sometimes I feel like my guts are dull and the only way to make them glow is to skip town and visit beautiful friends. Leave our little nest of mud and sticks and worry.
Like I said, she is a piano tuner but there is no piano in the house that we see. I’m walking from room to room always ready to trip over a piano. I’m opening closet doors expecting a piano to leap out and crush me. There are hundreds of her oil paintings though. Doomsday preppers are stockpiling ammo and canned meat, but she is saving the coolest oil paintings you’ve ever seen around the house. If the zombies come this weekend, we will battle them off with 24x24inch canvases; still lifes of grocery store parking lots; abstract explosions of color; bottles of medicine on a countertop shining.
The paintings she likes best are hanging on the walls here and there. A black dog walking through a puddle in the living room. A white cat bathed in pink light the hallway by the wood burning stove. My favorite of her work is a recent turn of abstract art. She says, kinda like this, “I had to learn figurative painting to be able to do abstract painting. One doesn’t come without the other.”
My wife and I made this long drive to see this art and to see how she makes this art. The garage next to their lake side house has been converted from a place to store junk and for spiders to live, into an art studio where she steps away from the home and does her painting.
When I wake up on Saturday morning at 8am, she is already out there in the studio, I can look out the blinds and see the door open a crack and know she is standing at her canvas, painting yellow and blue blocks on a background of taupe. I click on my cellphone and I begin to write a story. Energy gives energy if you’re paying attention to it.
Chipmunks roam the yard in a gang leaping from everything. The dogs sprint across the grass, together. At the bird feeder there are sometimes clementine peels to draw the orioles.
I finish the bottle of tequila with my friend the potter. I finish the bottle of tequila with my friend the poet. I finish the bottle of tequila with my friend the songwriter. I finish the bottle of tequila with my friend the carpenter. We stand up from his table and we walk down the hallway of his house filled with books and music and his paintings too but not a single piano.
He is building a room onto his house that is going to have nothing in it. He says it will be the Zen room. You will just go in the Zen room and there will be nothing in the Zen room to distract you. The room doesn’t have walls yet. There is exposed lumber and from the screen door, if you look up in the rafters, you will see, there is a nest.
“I had to stop construction …” he says.
There’s a table saw on the ground and saw dust and cut up 2x4s. But construction has halted. And who knows when it will resume again.
He says, “As soon as the other eggs hatched and the birds left the nest, other birds showed up and adopted this nest.”
all drawings by Rae Buleri