A story that was told to me by a painting

Inspired by the painting “My Heart Lives Outside My Body,” (pictured) by Daniel Nevins. This post is part of my writing experiment #30DaysofArt. Find more entries here.

THE FUGITIVE

One day the heart got a hold of a crowbar and pried itself out of its prison. It had been locked too long in the dark tower, not able to see anything, just taking the mind’s word for what was out there. But the mind got everything wrong. It had a lawyer’s reasoning and a miser’s unwillingness to part with its riches. “Don’t give more kindness than is required, ration your smiles, never trust more that you need to,” it advised. But the imprisoned heart slept on its coffers of gold and wondered if it wouldn’t rest more peacefully with fewer cold, hard coins rattling beneath its vertebrae.

15267668_10154508685655218_3182269665923310359_nThe escape was not without its fallbacks. “What’s the point of building a tower anyway, if not to keep something in it?” the mind asked. The heart fluttered nervously, grappling for purchase on the outside. The mind was right about that at least — the outside was a smooth suit without shelves or crevices. Certainly no bars. Maybe all along the bars had been less about restriction and more about protection.

And, it was all so blindingly bright. The heart felt itself burning in the sun and shivering at night. But it could see stars for the first time ever. Orion made its way across the winter sky and the heart swooned a little.

“Stop that,” the mind scolded. “You can’t go around just falling in love all over the place. Plus, you’re bleeding on everything. You’re a mess.” It was true. The heart was naked and raw. It thudded and gurgled and made a fool of itself. It was scared a lot. It wished it had a heart-shaped suit of armor. But still it stayed, trying to balance on a shoulder like a good guardian angle, whispering sweet nothings into the closest ear. Sweet everythings, really, because everything — after the initial rush of panic and doubt — was sweet and rich and bathed in wonder.

The heart swayed to music, drank rain, stuck out a capillary to catch the first snowflakes. It shivered as much from anticipation as from chill. Everything was a thrill, every caress of the wind, every passing glance of a stranger, every new song, every saturated color. The heart dressed itself in fresh paint and feathers. It admired its newly acquired scars.

“This has gone on long enough,” the mind said. It was using its patient-but-getting-sick-of-this-shit tone. “You have a place. IT’S INSIDE. Go back to your room and do your job.”

But the heart was in love again and again and again. It would not listen to reason. It wouldn’t even slow its roll enough for those prickling words of insecurity to catch up.

The heart surged toward its new desire. It rushed and throbbed. There was danger everywhere, outside the body. Car horns, sirens, hungry bears. But the new love was so beautiful, so real, so rare, so close. The heart wanted nothing but to fling its wealth at the feet of its desire, to rattle and beat a new poem, to curl into the curve between its love’s neck and shoulder.

The heart said that it would never go back.

“You’ll die of exposure,” the mind grumbled.

“I might,” the heart shrugged, like what could be better? It checked its look and fluttered its lashes. It leaned toward love like it was immune to gravity, like at any moment it might grow wings.

Dear Vincent

Originally published on Facebook as part of the social media experiment #30DaysofArt

It took me all morning to find the Vincent van Gogh paintings in the Musée d’Orsay. Not because they’re not well marked — I could have walked right to them — but because I have a thing about delayed gratification, so I made myself walk through every other room leading up to Vincent. And then there he was, like a long-lost lover appearing, as the crowds parted, at the end of the jetway. “Mine,” I thought. And then I ugly-cried like an overwhelmed Justin Beiber fan, right there in front of Vincent’s self-portrait.

To be fair, I also cried a least a little bit because I’d doing too many hill sprints in Montmartre and not enough chilling at cafes, drinking half-carafes of Sancerre. Sometimes I make it very hard to be me. My hips ached and the slow crawls through museum after museum didn’t help. Also, Paris is terribly romantic and everyone is in love and making out everywhere all the time, but I was not in love. I was alone. It was bullshit.

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I wondered, in the Musée d’Orsay, if Vincent wasn’t a lot like me. Too hard on himself and in love with someone who didn’t love him back, or at least not as he should have been loved. Because, my god! He was Vincent Fucking van Gogh! But he probably didn’t know that. He probably thought he was a weird Dutch dude, hopelessly unstylish, who made strange paintings. He probably suspected he was inherently unlovable. And yet love lived in him, so he did what he could — he put it all on the canvas. Those kinetic shapes, the saturated colors, the way a wheat field was as sensual as a woman; the way he captured his own agony with the same electric strokes he painted sunflowers — as if human ache and madness pulsed with the same sun-drenched ebullience as a vase of fresh flowers.

He worked at the synthesis of beauty and pain. He buried his heart there, in those hues, those lines that are so specifically his. And I swear his lovely, immortal, perfectly broken heart beats on, forever, through his paintings.

Art. Love. Revolution.

Though I can’t make a political statement under the auspices of the alt-weekly paper I write for, I do want to speak from the perspective of a longtime arts writer and editor. Because art is what we have. Art is the conversation. Art is our great gift, to ourselves, each other, our communities and the world.

The election results were a blow to many people I care about and even more who I don’t know but whose concerns — LGBT rights, the environment, multiculturalism, civil rights, justice, the arts — mirror my own. But this is not the time to lose heart. Rather, this is the time to be brave, be bold, stand with those we love and stand for those who feel disempowered and disenfranchised. And this is the time to make art.

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Public art, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We have not lost our freedom of speech. We live in a country where we can express unpopular opinions, speak out against our government and disagree with our neighbors without fear of being imprisoned, or worse. We owe it those who do not have such luxuries to exercise those rights. And for those who don’t feel safe to speak out, we must be their voices and tell their stories.

To love in the face of hatred is a revolutionary act. To hope in the face of fear is a revolutionary act. Defy that which insults your good heart. Stand tall, radiate, invest in what you love, what feeds your soul, what strengthens your community, what represents your humanity. Continue reading

In the beginning there was the word

I was recently at a writers’ conference where a fellow author said to me, “Oh, I hate writing. I’d quit if I could.” I thought it was a funny statement, but also sad. Why would anyone give their time to a pursuit that they don’t love? Just because a story presents itself to you doesn’t mean you have to tell it. As author Matthew Quick writes in his YA novel, Every Exquisite Thing, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

For me, the word — both written and read — has long been a joy. I’ve lived in books. I believe I’ve loved fictional characters (both of my own creation and others) sometimes more deeply, more completely, than I’ve loved actual people.

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“Woman Reading” by Félix Vallotton, 1906

There was Kip, the Sihk bomb defuser from The English Patient. I’m not ashamed to say I loved him. And I love Michael Ondaatje for writing him. George Emerson from A Room With a View is both one of the great loves of my life and my spirit animal. Continue reading

Time Machine

You’re sitting on the back deck watching a small, brown rabbit nibble grass. He’s nervous, shooting you worried looks. But he also stays, keeps eating. It seems like a sign of something good, or at least not a sign of anything bad and sometimes it’s enough to just be still and watch a rabbit be a rabbit.

And then the weird next-door neighbor, the one who lurks behind his expensive shrubbery, pops out from the mock orange. The rabbit darts away and even though you shouldn’t take it personally, you feel your heart sink.

“Come see what I have in the garage,” the neighbor says. You’re going to decline because, seriously? Who would even think that’s okay to say? But then he adds that it’s a time machine.

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Image from the Predestination film poster

Okay. All the rich people who move to the mountains from Atlanta to retire can afford central air and reclaimed wood kitchens. (You have already pointed out that your kitchen is also wood. The original. And more than once you’ve reclaimed it from the rats, so. Maybe that will be the big trend in ten more years — rat-salvaged wood kitchens.) But this guy. This guy is so particularly rich that instead of installing a cedar-lined sauna or a recording studio, he’s gone and bought a time machine. Continue reading

Poetry for a moody Monday

I haven’t posted much poetry here, but I’m collecting pieces for a future chapbook and so it seems like a good time. This particular piece, dealing with the darker aspects of love, will also be part of a project I’m carrying out on my personal Facebook page, called 28 Days of Love. If you’d like to read more musings about love in its various forms, visit me/friend me here.

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ANTIQUING

You were supposed to decode the message behind
my stupid jokes and over-bright laugh. The brash word
“like,” ricocheting around us. I like you. Like you, like you.
Some younger version of myself tap dancing for attention
while this me winces at the acrid need. Why do we want
what we can’t have? Why want for anything
when there is already too much? To cool the crush Continue reading