In January I started an ongoing art project, a series of installations where I have been leaving books in those little library kiosks that people have in front of their houses, along with photos taken with an instant camera, primarily of not-very-good art I have made from a collection I have been calling, “Postcards for Therapists,” which are propped on tiny wire chairs made out of the cages that fit over the corks from champagne (or in my case I should say sparkling wine and sometimes beer) bottles.
Why on earth….? I’ll get to that.
I’ll show you the installations in a minute, too, but first, here are some of the little chairs. They are so simple and imperfect, I just love them. The secret to bending them into shape is you have to do it with confidence – really get in there with those pliers. When I made one as a Happy New Year gift for a friend who appreciates precise language, I looked it up and learned that the wire cages are called “muselets,” from the French word for “muzzle.” I had been making these since before I knew the name for them, but once I had this information, I began to see this “unmuzzling” as more subversive than I realized, and it made me giddy. To me, each one now represents a celebration (the effervescent beverage) of speaking (removing the muzzle) and listening (pulling up a chair). Aren’t they cute?
Next, below are some of the Postcards for Therapists. Like I told you, I am aware that the art is not good, but there is something I like about how they are so rudimentary in execution and yet rather sophisticated in concept. The purpose in doing them is to make myself laugh, and they succeed. Calling attention to absurdity is wonderfully sanity-affirming, and humor is a fantastic mechanism through which to recalibrate perspective. I’m finding that they make other people laugh, too. That they seem to be relatable is an added bonus.
Uhm, cool… but why the installations?
To be sure, I am doing this project because it is fun and a little bit weird. I’ve been trying to figure out how to “put myself out there,” and this is a way to experiment with that. This project is low-stakes and self-imposed, yet still challenges me creatively while requiring me to plot a route and physically leave my house.
Setting up the installations is a little bit scary. So far nobody has questioned me (Banksy works in a ski mask under the cover of night, I work in a magenta windbreaker under the cover of being a middle aged woman), but as I do them I summon courage by reminding myself that I am participating in my community, not harming anyone, and in fact maybe contributing something of value (imagine that). It is thrilling to leave a mark on the world, even a very small, temporary one.
In a deeper personal sense, I think I am a friendly, sensitive, and observant person by nature, but I am concerned that those qualities are being eclipsed by anger, fear, and disillusionment, and I don’t want to be like this. I care and invest with my whole heart; I live life up close – and I like this about myself – but a consequence is that this also leaves me susceptible to bewilderment, disappointment, anxiety, depression, and so on, which can make life very un-fun and dark. This project is about deliberately and intentionally “making fun,” and “making light.”
There is a lot of push-pull in the statements I need to make, as happens when a gentle person has been pushed (pulled?) to her limit (i.e. “the pleaser is not pleased” – or – “the cooperator cannot compromise anymore”) which is actually part of why I think people identify with my work. I have things to say, and instead of waiting to be asked (which I have spent a lot of time doing), I am going to start saying them.
What is going to happen, at least temporarily, is occasionally I am going to allow myself to get really loud about the things that bother me. And by “loud,” I mean I am typing very aggressively right now as I prepare to make some bold assertions, right here on my personal blog…out there for all nine of you to read…
Go big or go home? Nope. Go big FROM home. Boo-yah.
Speaking of unmuzzled (and why I started this project)
This project, which brings me such joy (for real), was inspired by my hatred of a book with the hilariously appropriate title, Clearing Emotional Clutter. To be fair, I can’t say I hated the entire book, because I only got as far as page three of the introduction before it made me so furious that I quit reading.
I’m not going to do a very good job of explaining, but basically what flipped me out was how the author, a therapist, used an example of a female client and her childhood abuse to elevate himself as a hero and to hook readers. He writes:
She kept repeating a refrain that had almost become like a spiritual mantra. “My father, he abused me,” she said, almost robotically…
FIRST OF ALL, what kind of dick would refer to a therapy client’s disclosure of abuse during their initial appointment as a “spiritual mantra”? Oh right, a “former Buddhist monk” a.k.a. (according to himself) “America’s Mindfulness Coach” (put a bookmark there, because I am coming back to these).
NEXT, regarding his “almost robotically” comment. What is the best tone to use when making the statement, “My father, he abused me”? Pig latin? Ubby-dubby? Sung like a show tune? Fake Australian accent, mate? And let me get this straight – so first she has a spiritual mantra and then in the very next sentence she is a robot? Which is it?
Here’s the part that made me lose my shit:
…After empathizing with [her] I tried to redirect her, but she was so fixed on the old story she couldn’t get free of it…
Do you REALLY think, Mr. Altman, that “empathizing” is a skill that you turn on and off as a fucking technique? What is WRONG with you?
BUT the BIGGER POINT is that you, Donald, a man, are as capable of having true empathy for a woman abused in childhood by her father as I, a woman, am capable of having empathy for you when someone has kicked you in the nuts.
He goes on to describe how he saved the day by pointing out the obvious to this client (that she thinks about her abuse a lot and gets stuck there), which woke her from her “trance” and basically she lived happily ever after, all because of him, and you can, too!
Basically I paid $16 to watch him congratulate himself.
And really, the one-in-five-ish girls and one-in-seven-ish boys who have experienced abuse should just learn how to see it differently. Problem solved. Where do I get my yard sign that says, “It doesn’t matter”? Asking for a friend…
I wonder if Altman wears a pink pussy hat in an ironic way.
As you may have surmised, this guy really bugged me, and after trying to walk away from it and not succeeding, I decided to try to pinpoint why exactly he bothered me so much. I listened to five different YouTube interviews, which only made me dislike him more, including one where he mentions “trophy wives” (not cool), and another where, when pressed about his “former monk” status, he states that he was at a monastery for “a few months” – a few MONTHS is all? – which he justified by referring to himself as “ripe fruit,” which somehow was supposed to mean he was already almost a monk, or perhaps he was a monk savant? Whatever. I am sure it sells books.
Also, as far as I can tell the only places he is referred to as “America’s Mindfulness Coach” are on his own website and in bios he has supplied to other entities himself. Maybe he got his blurb file mixed up with his affirmation journal?
I tell you what, based on his standards, I am taking my 2007 online ordination from the Universal Life Church much more seriously. I will put my self-study and religiosity up against his anytime.
The clincher, though, was when I heard him in an interview repeat the story of the woman abused by her father from his book introduction, which he told almost verbatim (which in itself is totally fine), except this time when he told it, the client had been abused by her MOTHER and not her father. If you’re going to make stuff up, you should be more “mindful” about the details, liar.
“Put some clothes on, and btw you aren’t even an emperor.”
It’s really too bad for him that he has never been an abused six-year-old girl. Until he becomes one, he should stay in his own lane.
To Donald Altman, I say, “Nah-maste.”
Thus, my project was born
It came to me that I despised this book on so many levels that I should surrender it with some fanfare, and I did, and it felt GREAT.
By now you know me well enough to have anticipated that of course I went back the next day to see what became of my artistic statement on clutter liberation.
What a rush. Altman became frivolous and irrelevant, and someone else’s problem (or solution) as my attention shifted into a single thought: “I want to do it again.”
And I did do it again, another eight times so far. None of the subsequent installations have been as dramatic (insert “chasing the dragon” reference here: ____), but this project has really gotten me thinking about the messages I am willing to receive, and the messages I wish to express.
Here are the installations to date, with notes
I take full responsibility for not giving Knausgaard enough of a chance. Book 1 of a six volume series, and I bailed within the first chapter. Perhaps I will attempt again someday, in summer, should I ever go back on antidepressants.
Here I present a 624 page guide to overcoming depression. This seems like a lot to expect of a depressed person. Not only reading a book with so many pages, I mean, but lifting it. Maybe they’ll make it into a movie, which everyone will say isn’t nearly as good as the book because it leaves out important scenes and relies too heavily on dream sequences, but I bet it will have an excellent soundtrack. I did not pair a jaunty postcard with this one because as much as I screw around, I also understand that depression is serious and terrible, and I did not want an unsuspecting depressed person to feel like I was making fun of them. The picture I chose was taken of the tree right outside my front door on one of our recent snow days as I fought against my own despair and forced myself into the monumental tasks of crossing a threshold and looking up.
This book nagged at me for something like three years before I realized that maybe my brain was fine the way it was and it was my life that needed to change. Please note that I debated donating it with all of my post-its and bookmarks intact, opted not to, and am regretting it.
Have you ever looked at some stranger’s Instagram and thought to yourself that you would never be friends with that person? This book was like that for me, only minus the pictures. Those of you who know Portland will appreciate that this was in Ladd’s Addition, where after inadvertently giving completely wrong directions to a woman pushing a stroller who was looking for SE Madison St, I overshot my route home by eight blocks.
I decided I needed to get rid of this book in order to avoid putting mixed messages into the universe about my financial goals. Also, this dude gets by on freeloading (he blogs from the public library while paying no taxes: discuss), so it isn’t like he’s giving up money, really, just using other people’s. If he can make it work, good for him, I suppose, but I don’t need him squatting on my bookshelf.
I stood there on the sidewalk laughing so hard to myself with this one that I had a difficult time getting a steady shot. “My totem animal is a fainting goat” + Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close = Nothing funnier than tonic immobility with a Jungian twist. No? Well, I guess you had to be there…
GODDAMMIT, Sherman Alexie. #givemebackthetimeandmoneyispentonyoubeforeifoundoutyoureaprick
I am pleased to announce that the donation of this book was no big deal. Healing is a funny thing – subtle, dispassionate, and steadier than I’ve given it credit for. Oh how I hated the signs of spring that first year after my mom died. All of that insistent life bursting into color all over the place. Pure hell. And now this year, not only did I notice the rogue periwinkle blooming out of a dark and rocky spot, and that it just happened to be the exact color as the book cover, but I decided to document it. What has become of me? I better read a tragic memoir soon or I may end up writing sonnets or some shit like that. Next thing you know I will walk around humming, or, worse, whistling…
Postcard ideas? Check.
Muselets? Please keep me in mind when you have mimosas at upcoming brunches.
Little libraries? Here are all of them that have been registered within a five mile radius of my house:
So what’s the problem? I am running low on books I don’t want.