I want to buy a rag rug for your mother
Because I imagine
She’ll know the work of weaving
And I want to lay something beautiful at her feet
I want to buy a rag rug for your mother
Because I imagine
She’ll know the work of weaving
And I want to lay something beautiful at her feet
How big is world
This whole world an inconceivable ache and I am also a world stuck in the stuck of the tiny
I look up star struck
Magnificent bodies, broken
I really am Joan, starving Christian saint, set myself on fire
Or is it just that I finally watched The Hunger Games on Netflix
Deposits of self in self and all of it sacred
Individual earths and yeah, I do like to think of it as a whole functioning universe
A braid of time and am I allowed to talk about race and everything
I’m not afraid
Or I’m not that afraid
Tend to myself, to others, to opening
Like an owl to cock head and wonder whoooo
Now that I love you
I walk in the face of loss
Like a woman
We wake hungry with a crave through the depth of a bone. Wash a buttery bowl what looks fierce like a hat. Want it on head. Want a child for someone to know what it means to need to don a bowl.
Love a body so hard. Not abstract betterment. Just feeling better and being with the being bowled over of it.
Last night in my dream I was depressed again.
I dreamed I was in a production of some musical and we were going to perform at Madison Square Garden and all I could think was – we haven’t even run the full show in like two weeks?! We are going to get slammed by THE CRITICS.
There were dance routines and spacing issues and I was backstage and I was one of the leads and I thought – I can’t pull this off, so I tried to feel like Beyonce. I tried to feel like Beyonce feeling like Sasha Fierce.
I thought about (and this is not a dream) Ricki Lee Jones. On the radio, I heard some Ricki Lee Jones and thought – she will always be a lesser Joni. To whom will I be a lesser?
What a depressor.
Popsicle stick trick when playing doctor.
She looked in the mirror and thought - I can’t believe I was relaxed enough to let you fuck me in the ass like that.
a poem i wrote several years ago that everyone hates but me, reposting in response to this
Zeus in a Dream
when gods seek to copulate
they enter through dreams
this human need and requisite of modernity
I welcomed Zeus in this dream
strangely he was played by Jeff Bridges
a real man he taught me
the thing about humans and gods
the reason they get so frustrated fucking us
but Zeus came to me in this dream
held by a god or Jeff Bridges
I lost self in agitation and
Zeus saw this
me being body bound
Zeus with his hair
and that body of a man
knew even I was part god in vibration
The fishes the fishes and when I was a child it was awful, really, all that stinky fish fry, and my father, my Irish Catholic father, so like a child, also complaining of the reek of fish and never to try even the most basic, calamari. Once momma told him it was an onion ring. Tricked a grown man into eating.
Grandpa Jim would pull at his pants above the knees so the hems would dance and you could tell there used to be something scary in him and I loved him when he clicked his heels together when you weren’t expecting it and life was a carpeted coziness and even if he had been mean, well, he wasn’t now. Was he?
I worked at my preteen greed, lists of what I wanted, lists of what I got. Already pumping and unstoppable. And one early Christmas thinking – it doesn’t matter if I get anything, ever, because I never stop wanting.
Uncle Billy and Aunt Sharon gave me the same doctor’s kit two years in a row when I was three (and four, I think) I knew I shouldn’t be bothered and should be graceful about it but knitted my brow and thought – what?
Wearing pajamas all day in the morning. What dogs when? Grandma and Grandpa Vona here for a whole month it was the longest and best. Forget about my lumped in birthday (I tried to forget the lumped in part and just love the extended season but half a gift at my birthday and I’d spend ten days waiting for whatever was to become that set.).
Mike believed in Santa. Mike believes in Santa. In the s p I r I t of it.
When we were kids, before we disintegrated. But look at us know, all of us, a whole family mostly whole. Two whole fryers going in the kitchen. Lots of pop and sputter and we dance as if we could dance and pretend to be choral leaders, pumping our fists and hands, watching old movies as if our lives depended on it. Secreting chocolates (Dad pockets the mini Snickers I bought two bags for three dollars). He goes to REI Outfitters on Christmas Eve, every Christmas Eve, to stock up on our socks and an assortment of strange things we hopefully won’t need (like heat blankets and ponchos and pop up tents) and I wonder – is there some catastrophe coming that only he knows about? Is he preparing us for the worst? Every Christmas. In our stockings.
And they are hung there, we have the ones knit by somebody (Louis). I think I must have put them on my feet once one leg belonging to me another to my sister. These frazzlings. This medicated happy age. I watched Lincoln the other night with mom at the movies (we smuggled in “natural” chocolate covered peanuts ahem M&Ms) and thought – Sally Field could use some SSRI’s, n’est ce pas?
I offer to go to church with the anti-abortion beratement out front because I am a good Buddhist and I love my mother and I love how a tastes after you leave (not unpleasant wood smoke). Gawking over photographs, a Hollywood peopled by the glamour of grandparents. It took some engineering but we strung the paper lantern and it works like a charm. Extension cord, light bulb, wire spiral, something to glow our games of Banangrams, our coffees, my (third) glass of wine with two ice cubes.
The faint sound woke her. Open window, pleasant wind chime in a mild bit of bad weather. The rain. Moving in bed like a child. It didn’t seem adult to relish in it the way she did. Holding on to her own hips, curling her knees up to her shoulders.
The wind blew in and billowed the curtains like that and the light started to go blue gray with too late early winter aka it feels better in bed.
The rain sounded good though not loud enough.
Reaching over to her phone she tapped the SleepTastic app and chose “medium thunder rains heavy winds.”
William Deresiewicz’s essay Upper Middle Brow – The culture of the creative class, has helped me begin to articulate an idea that has been gnawing at me lately: the way that we are quickest to criticize work that we experience as having a lot of merit for not encompassing enough, not challenging enough, or not being enough, and the way that this criticism seems to serve, in some ways, as an acknowledgement of societal disparities and/or privilege that allows the consumption of the aforementioned meritorious work to continue to be our art of preference while making us feel virtuous. We have to say what we see as lacking in order to assuage our fears that we are trying to oversimplify a world that is very complicated. And we point out what’s “wrong” in the people who are closest to doing what we feel is “right,” both because we want to experience our own intellect at work and we want them to go all the way and be perfect for us – but that’s not their job.
What is the goal of this kind of criticism, a criticism that, recently, is exemplified in the flack Lena Dunham has caught about the lack of racial diversity on Girls? Is the goal to encourage diversity, to express distaste at one person’s chosen subject matter, or to allow us to experience ourselves as more sophisticated than the artist? I’m not underestimating the importance of the forces that collectively create our drives, as artists and individuals, to focus on one subject over another, but why should a person be limited to what is “inclusive” or more challenging to cultural norms, when specificity of experience, or another impulse, might be propelling them towards their art?
It is one thing when we critique art that is built on capitalism, which I would argue that Dwight Macdonald’s Masscult, as cited by Deresiewicz, is, even more so than being a reaction to mass literacy. It is another to recognize that much of what Deresiewicz describes as upper middle brow, though built from capitalism and often coming from wealth, does not have as its primary intention the perpetuation and building upon of that wealth by dissemination of the product and associated advertising (unlike Masscult). Critiquing Masscult as art is almost unnecessary or impossible; it’s not purporting to be art, it’s existing as advertisement. But when it comes to upper middle brow, which, in the essay, includes a very wide swath, although money and class, even before popular success (again Lena Dunham, and Sofia Coppola), play a massive role, we plead with this group, through our criticism, because we know it hits them where they live. We understand these artists to be driven by a desire for their art to be, if not well-received, ingested as art. Blockbusters, Masscult, don’t give a damn.
The problem, or at least a problem, is that this kind of criticism is a wrestling with privilege, class, race, our emotional lives as humans, and that needs to happen, but it is misdirected. An artist, writer, filmmaker, musician can only do the work that reflects their own passions, obsessions, path, desire for exploration. Perhaps this is not entirely true, everyone can work within constraints, and we are all already very much constrained by our experiences so we are working with them already, but what I mean is: the flaw doesn’t lie with these targeted figures (the upper middle brow) quite so much as it does with the entrenched systems that determine, in a sense, who can have a voice, who will be promoted publically (and celebrity, the push towards fame, fame as the proof of success is another topic entirely that needs to be dissected), how we understand art, what stories we care about as a culture, and what stories are deemed relatable. This is in some transition because of emerging technology, but it seems to me that some of the democracy of even the internet is nothing more than myth (again, another –albeit related- topic).
What is necessary, more than criticism of the upper middle brow, is more diversity in the field. What is not necessary is a push for those who are already producing (in the sense of completing) and, I shudder to use the term, bringing to market, work that meets their aesthetic intentions to change what they are doing in order to make us feel better about ourselves. We don’t need the upper middle brow, as they have been classified, to change their intentions. What we need are more voices, not that the existing few attempt to represent a wider view of the world in their work.
This isn’t to say at all that individuals, when working on creative projects (I lack a term for all art forms), are unable to persuasively move beyond their own experience into the world of another, but there is this thing of the drive to tell a certain story, in whatever way, and while the artist as craftsman should certainly be able (should have the skill to do so) to do this, do we want artists to feel they are required to meet certain quotas in their work as they represent a world, whatever that world may be?
Transcendence through story, or even, merely, real emotion, as opposed to the sentimentality that Deresiewicz cites Dwight Macdonald’s “Masscult and Midcult” critiques, seems to become possible when artists go to the places that are messy, difficult, painful, complicated, specific. Might we need ample stories from diverse voices first in order to experience this anywhere? Is this where the discomfort that leads to the criticism Deresiewicz levels comes from? Is it an intuition that if we had more and more varied stories, there would be more safety (in the sense of openness, and a place for each person to be themselves) in the culture and a permeation that would safely let us see our experience in various forms, rather than seeking out examples of ourselves tied to the broaching of specific topics. Of course, this assumes (probably incorrectly, definitely subjectively) that a goal of art is a kind of touching on real deep emotional experience, and transcendence through story as a way to know non-duality and universality.
Deresiewicz claims that upper middle brow work is meant to flatter and cites Macdonald as saying the same about the Midcult work of previous generations. Is it possible that what is being interpreted as flattery is actually an attempt (perhaps unsuccessful) at saying anything in a larger culture so reluctant to engage in self-reflection? Is sentimentality the best we can do (no, it isn’t, but maybe…under some circumstances) when we live in fear of our own emotional lives and eventual death?
Is what is here classified as flattery in fact an invitation into an elite that we somehow believe we don’t deserve to be a part of? The Daily Show is mentioned as an example of the upper middle brow, and by extension of this kind of elitism and flattery, and yet that show seems to me a bit like zucchini bread – sneaking vegetables into something sweet. Stewart’s aim is to challenge and educate the viewer, he just does it in a way that most people find more engaging than the traditional news. He doesn’t talk down to us and moves with the assumption that we’re on the same side, even when he is, in a sense, breaking news to his audience.
Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life is mentioned as an example of Midcult (disclosure, I worked on Malick’s To The Wonder). I loved the film, although it has its flaws, but the goal of art is not to be flawless. Tree of Life was released at around the same time as Miranda July’s The Future, which I would venture would fall under the upper middle brow classification, and I have found those two films to be, essentially, an attempt at considering time and connectedness, and yet Malick’s comes in the voice of the established male, and July, who is about as established as one can be, but also young, beautiful, unapologetically personal, and female, gets at the subject in a decidedly different way.
A sticky issue with Deresiewicz’s position is the seeming implication that somehow we were better off in terms of art when we had high culture under an aristocracy. This sounds like criticism of mass not being held in Latin.
Is the implication that education means less when more have it? Or that art is not for the masses? This is, or seems to me, a morally messy proposition.
Says Deresiewicz, “There is a sociology to all of this. As Clement Greenberg pointed out in “Avant-Garde andKitsch” (1939), the predecessor to Macdonald’s essay, high culture flourished under the aristocracy. Mass culture came in with mass literacy, while Midcult is a product of the postwar college boom, a way of catering to the cultural aspirations of the exploding middle class. Now, since the ’70s, we’ve gone a step further, into an era of mass elite and postgraduate education. This is the root of the so-called creative class, the Bobos, the liberal elite as it exists today. The upper middle brow is the cultural expression of this demographic. Its purpose is to make consciousness safe for the upper middle class. The salient characteristic of that class, as a moral entity, is a kind of Victorian engorgement with its own virtue. Its need is for an art that will disturb its self-delight.”
There is plenty of smug, wink-wink, work out there, but I don’t believe that it is the self-delight of the upper middle brow that needs to be disturbed, because I’m not sold on the idea that it is so comfortable with a sense of its own virtue. I believe that consciousness is never safe and yet it is a human birthright. I also believe that some to many of these upper middle brow artists and their works are not pointing directly towards consciousness at all. It’s a scary place to go.
We are all capable of consciousness. Is the job of the artist necessarily to engender consciousness in the community at large?
What really “lets us off the hook,” contrary to what Deresiewicz claims, is exactly the kind of criticism he has written here. It offers no alternative vision but allows us to supposedly face our shortcomings vis-à-vis our own preferences. There’s a touch of puritanical self-hatred to it (maybe I’m reaching now…).
Art is not politics, although it, as everything else, is very much political in the sense that none of us has the ability to extract ourselves, or any one element of our lives, from the web that is our world. If a change, progression is too loaded a term for it implies improvement, happens in some of the work the artists here targeted creates, fine, but the point isn’t to suddenly be able to say, “isn’t it great that the new Wes Anderson is so emotionally raw and centers on the Harlem Riot of 1964.”
We undeniably need more (and not just more of the same) out there, but there’s nothing wrong with liking any of what’s out there for what it is. The key, what protects the self, is understanding the limits of each work – be it JustJared, US Weekly, The New Yorker, BOMB, Taylor Swift, Sheila Heti, Zadie Smith, or Parks and Recreation. There may legitimately be a question of whether we can safely ingest all of this culture without it damaging us (or improving us…) – but, again, another topic.
In much the same way that we can appreciate that there are some very smart, talented, creative people working in advertising and that in that role, they are selling us something, it is difficult to be a recipient of messages from the outside without acknowledging how those messages are created, who is behind them, and what, if anything, they are trying to sell us on. When we try to sell ourselves on something, or when we fail to see the connections between an individual artist’s work and the greater culture, when we willfully ignore the existence of those connections, and the fact that they don’t necessarily, although they may, undermine the work, that’s when we really begin to lose consciousness, because we trick ourselves into thinking we’ve attained it. Perhaps it isn’t something to be attained, perhaps consciousness, too, is a process.
I saw your picture of snow in the city
You are still pretty. Do you still think I’m pretty?
How come I let myself feel so shitty so long
New York frankenstorm —- nor’easter deposits snow
All of my winter clothes at home in my closet
I can’t stop time, but can I pause it enough?
And in this cave inside my head
And in this blanket on my bed
To maps with states of blue and red
I used to feel weird talking about emails to my therapist(s)
Like letters would have been more real
Or more literary
Like it was dumb, to be all mad, at my dad, over an email
I have files in my gmail for many of the guys I’ve dated
I keep them so I can look through them —- if I want
If I get a sense that it’s over from the beginning
you don’t get your own name on a folder
Binders full of men, I guess
Binders full of men