“Nevermind if you think an angry black man is scary … try dealing with an old white lady when her food order gets screwed up – now that’s scary.”
Incorrectly recalled quote posted via Instagram, tagged to me, her mother, by my 25 year old daughter currently living and working in Philadelphia.
When I get angry I am certain that it is justified. I think of myself as righteous, speaking to power, taking down the man, confronting injustice. Granted it’s mostly when my food order gets screwed up, or when someone is smoking outside an open window while I am eating my lunch, or when someone is at a red light that just turned green and they are still texting, or a cop pulls me over for no apparent reason. It’s always an irritating inept activity that interrupts the illusion of my potentially perfect day coupled with the expectations that we should all do our best all the time.
Like I said – righteous. The scary black man part of the quote was totally lost on me – it was all about me – the scary old white lady.
As a white woman in this world – having been young up until just recently, by the way – I am fully immersed in the illusion that by speaking up I can actually make a difference in the limitations of my fellow human’s activities. If someone is following my car too closely on the one lane road that leads up to my house, I have been known to stop my car, get out and full out tirade on the rudeness and ignorance of such an act. Screaming inconsolably stuff like: “Not only are your headlights blinding me, but there are animals everywhere! Do you know how many deer I have hit on this road? I am not going to kill an animal just because YOU are in a rush! SLOW DOWN! Get off my ass!” Stuff like this. As a young white woman, most of the time, the driver was rendered speechless. As an old white woman, they seem to just want me to die, disappear, evaporate – like some irritating tick bite or bat flying around the house. The response is very different as an old white woman as opposed to a young white woman. Although, if I were a black man – or a black woman for that matter – or just simply just a man (I like the word ‘man’ and ‘simple’ in the same sentence – sorry, knee jerk reaction) 911 would have been called after my license plate was recorded, and I would have been arrested of course assuming that the driver behind me were an old white woman. Because, y’know, that would have been really scary, a violation of an old white woman’s almost perfect day.
What I have come to love about that quote is that, as an old white lady, I am merely a demographic. I am not just an old lady, I am an old WHITE lady. This fact speaks volumes about how people of color have become more viable, more powerful.
This scary old white lady has come to be more ‘woke’ – although I am not totally comfortable using that word, it does feel correct just about now – I have become more and more aware of how race and circumstance effect our behavior.
As an older woman, I am also keenly aware of how I am perceived differently than when I was young. As a young woman, it was difficult to speak to power without being looked at as a sexual object, and a little ‘cute’. Like ‘ok honey,’ whatever you think – that kind of thing. Although I recall, more often, a heightened level of engagement that I do not experience anymore. As an older white woman, when I have almost any interactions, the perception of the lack of my sexuality has become palpable. Almost as if there were something in their heads saying, “she must have been hot when she was young”. Although not sure how much of that is just me. Conversations become tainted by our obsession with youth, as if youth is something to honor in and of itself. We are living in the illusion that being young and sexual is being alive. Now that I am no longer ruled by sexuality, I feel as if I have been freed by the limitations that youth and sexuality had placed upon me. I recently heard a quote on NPR – yes I am one of those old white, righteous ladies that listen to NPR – “If you are lucky, you get to age.”
When we stand up for ourselves we should all expect not to be arrested or shot. We all should expect a perfect day here and there, and not simply the illusion of a perfect day. Hopefully this might happen more often and for more of us regardless of our whiteness, non-whiteness, or for that matter, our age.
- I am the Wildest Boar.
- Or could it be that I am the wildest bore?
- I’m not sure sometimes but it probably doesn’t matter, at least not to me. It is not necessary to get philosophical about it or to even define the possibility of my existence.
- I am aware that I am inside of here, so then, if all things real and unreal are defined as they should be, I exist. I am here. And that is, as they say, that.
- I tend to sleep a lot. I snore.
- Snippets of the outside world occasionally seep their way into the fluids surrounding my body.
- The sounds that make their way through tend to be muffled and mysterious.
- If I listen very, very carefully, I can make out a word or two. And if I am lucky, I can string together a few words and they might mean something.
- Over time, some of the sounds are getting familiar. They tend to create a comprehensive concept, even if each single syllable is not decipherable.
- That, my friend, is a good day!
- At times, there is bone. A hard, sudden jolt the makes us both cry out in pain.
- Then, everything changes.
- Conversations occur. If the syllables of the words have clarity, then I can be certain that they are from inside the body I inhabit.
- I’m thinking it must be what we know as “ internal dialogue.”
- When a creature gets bored it gets naughty. For fun, I add a word or two here or there to that dialogue.
- Granted these might not really be my true opinions, just a little game to keep myself entertained.
- For some reason, those randomly placed words seem to pack a real punch.
- Everything changes AGAIN! But in a different way. The atmosphere becomes muddy, unclear and uncertain.
- I can feel the patterns of the universe shift around me.
- I don’t really know why I keep doing it, but I think that if I had a little more wiggle room in this container, I would probably tend towards causing less trouble in my own neighborhood.
- Silly me.
Inevitably, whenever we watch one of our heroes speak of their process, our inclination is to feel as if we have failed on some level and will never achieve even a minimally comparable level of success – either within our work or in the world at large. We realize that we already took the wrong path in life. Our path will never possess a scant mimetic hint of our hero’s life.
We will not be “discovered” by a New York Dealer. We will not have the benefit of a non-existent, distracting family or partner or that plethora of friends to distract us. And we also know that we could never find contentment with the absolute purity of the life that was presented to us – that life summarized in one hour. And we feel we have failed, or will ultimately fail and should just give up.
Or do we?
In the case of comparing myself to Agnes – the thing we both have in common is that we both consider ourselves abstract expressionists. Also neither of us care about where we work, we would make the same work. Neither her work, nor my work is about the natural world. (That sounds odd for me right now, but believe me, its the truth.)
I didn’t have the reaction of imminent failure. I watched, and learned and thought about what she said. It was so very refreshing to hear an 86 year old painter speak about her life while she was still working on a painting. I think that was the most resonant part of the movie for me. The movies flashed back in small ways – that that were only referenced by Agnes at 86. There was nothing imposed upon me by the filmmaker, except for really smart editing and some poignant questions.
I left with the secure feeling that the direction I was going was right for me, as the direction she went was right for her. And that, damn it, I am still really young!
What I came away thinking was that we live in different times than the 1950’s Taos art scene or the 1960’s New York Art Scene. A New York Dealer does not need to search for anyone anymore, at least not in same way. They don’t look past their own small world for their artists. They already have their system that seems to work just fine for them. It keeps them in business and it continues to churn out the newest success stories. To try to seek out artists any other way would be totally overwhelming for them. The world is simply totally overwhelming!
It is my job to create a vital, strong body of work so that a dealer’s attention gets peaked. An artist that is confident, strong and speak to the times.
A Link to a Trailer of the movie: https://vimeo.com/66194933
Thank you Harwood Museum and Amy Rankin for showing that beautiful movie to the residents of the Wurlitzer! We loved seeing it in that amazing auditorium of yours.
… And I love the blues. Cause I got the blues just like anyone else got the blues. But this white girl always had this little nagging thing in the back of her head. Not poor enough, not rich enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough, not ugly enough, not thin enough, not fat enough, not weak enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not rich enough.. Etc.. Etc…
Wow, doesn’t that get tiring. Exhausting I might add. I remember spending 5 years.. That’s FIVE YEARS of my wonderful young life being totally anxiety driven about turning 40. So from the time I turned 35, right up until the very last day of my 39th year, I was filled with dread about growing old. Losing the zing of youth.. Getting wrinkled and having my boobs sag. You might say, and so do I, what a privilege to be able to worry about getting old. But we all have our version of the blues. Yours is not more valid than mine. Okay?
The day I turned 40, I took my sweet dog Ruby out for her morning walk. As I was waking up, as I always did on that lovely morning walk, and realized that I felt no different being 40 than I did being 35. Huh, I thought, this is easy. What was I so stressed about? Then, stopping in my tracks, I realizing that this was the very first day of my 41st year. Oh shit man!!! I never though about getting older than 40! What? And then and there I was like.. “really, val, you’re gonna spend the next decade worried about turning 50? Wtf?” So it was then I decide to not worry about growing older. So I didn’t. I just was like.. I’m older, and I can love it or I can dread it. My choice. So I chose to love it.
Growing older doesn’t change who I am. I can only get better if I choose to. And as long as I take care of myself, (which I didn’t really learn to do till I was really into my 50’s, because then, well, I deserved it by shear virtue of the fact that I had been on this planet for half a century and growed my kids up and survived divorce, bankruptcy and solo homeownership) all will be fine. My mind will remain clear, my body healthy. I am a survivor of LIFE. Man that an accomplishment. So I started to give my self stuff back. Or even stuff I never truly felt I deserved. And that would be simply the sense that who I am is no less valid and colorful and interesting than those old blues guys and gals who suffered and sang, and those inner city funky folk that branded hip hop and changed the world. Mine is valid, funky, interesting and deserving of a platform.
I have met so many amazing people out here in Taos. Folks who are plugging through their day, finding meaning in their lives and jobs after their initial youth colored dreams got a bit beat up. But we have one life. It’s hard. Getting through is hard. Life is not meant to be easy. Let’s face it. But everyday keep reminding yourself that this is just one journey. And it doesn’t matter if you sink or swim but that you just keep on keeping on. And take good care of yourself. Only you can do that for you.
Those moments these pondering of wishing
Of wishing that it were different
Those mind games of peeling apart the words that come out of my mouth
Those self flaggelative mind fucks that feed the beast
Be damned, be gone.
In 3 days, I will be in the road, in my car and heading for New Mexico for my very first artist residency. I’m not sure why I haven’t ever gone to an artist residency before. It seems kind of silly, really, that I haven’t. There are various reasons that I could manage to muster … excuses probably more like it … but if I look back, I think that I thought I wouldn’t get into one. I didn’t want to face the possibility of rejection.
Ok, so THAT is the first thing that is going to change in my quest for transformation.
Embracing rejection. It is what is going to happen as I forge ahead. It can’t possibly matter if someone says “NO” to anything…. I’m just gonna keep asking, keep applying and keep working with other artists.. Keep trying to act and make and create and think and write and paint…. And getting stuff out there.
Getting everything ready is hard… Time consuming, but I am planning to come back in May. Having everything left behind well will allow me to come home to my life without chaos.
I could do without the chaos.
Alright then! 3 days and counting.