Thursday, March 24, 2011

Balance uneasy

In order to write about this piece of art, I need to tell you about the kitchen. The kitchen was where we argued the most. No, that’s not true -- we argued everywhere. What made the kitchen special? Maybe because it’s where we had our family dinners, Wednesdays and Sundays, we sat together so that made us argue more. On Sundays we would watch Murder She Wrote, or if that was a repeat then we would switch to -- what was it called? You know: the hour-long news show, why can’t I remember?

I remember the tension -- I remember anger and anxiety and hopelessness and disgust and sadness and loneliness and nervousness and helplessness and exhaustion and battles over how much I was going to eat, this was when I was anorexic and I remember deciding I would do my own dishes, my mother shouldn’t have to do them, I remember watching my father crinkle up his greasy napkins and put them on my placemat, I remember throwing a whole chicken into the trash, I remember my sister screaming that she was going to chop my parents up and put them in the frying pan, I remember Angela Lansbury’s expression on the TV, I remember running from the room to lock the door of my bedroom as my father pounded come back in here. I remember my mother licking her fingers after digging them into the grease of the mini-grill and of course I remember my father screaming at anyone, everyone, trying not to feel, everyone screaming, trying not to feel, everyone. I remember the kitchen table, round and white with a Jetsons-style round base, something from my grandmother, made bya famous designer, I remember the placemats, pliable plastic mesh in bright colors, rounded on the outside, also from my grandmother. I remember the kitchen cabinets, an aged mustard yellow, copper handles that I chose when we needed a replacement, I remember the cookies that I would eat much later, in the middle of the night when I was craving sugar, and then I would have to throw the cookies in the trash so I wouldn’t eat more, but then I would pull them out so I had to soak them in water and then once I smoked I would add cigarette ashes, just to make sure.

I remember the tension between my parents, the tension between my parents and me, the tension between me and my sister, the tension between my sister and my parents, the tension between my father and everyone else, I remember the knotted pine walls on the side of the kitchen across from the cabinets, and I remember the art, two small watercolors of dancers, another gift from my grandmother the artist, and a larger piece, that’s the one I want to tell you about, it says I love you.

But it also says -- BALANCE UNEASY. Just below I love you. That’s the key. That’s what made me want it, knowing the uneasy, wanting the balance, even now I can say: finding it so rarely. And so, when my father died and my mother moved into a smaller and fancier place, a condo downtown in a recently gentrified neighborhood, and she asked if I wanted anything in particular, I asked for that art piece. I knew she would give it to me because it was damaged, something about how they framed it wrong and maybe the paper even ripped. It took her four years to send it, but now I have it here: I love you BALANCE UNEASY -- lopsided letters printed on thick textured paper, and a quote from the Velveteen Rabbit, a book I loved as a kid but probably I remember it most from the quote in this piece of art, a quote handwritten in a rounded green section on the side:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

Before I was thinking about this quote in the context of the rest of the piece, mostly as a challenge to realness even while invoking it. That’s one of the things I love about it -- it seems simple, but it’s not. I mean it is simple visually -- text in something of a pop art style, a few printmaking tricks. But so much in the layering of the words and the image of the text.

But I hadn’t read that quote in a while, years I guess, and now I also see the places where I related as a trapped child. I mean I feel those places. That’s what it means to have this piece here in my house -- feeling the complications of my own history, not just that terrible kitchen of my childhood but the failures of my dreams so recently and the potential, still, of an uneasy balance.

4 comments:

richard labonte said...

wow.
i focused on that 'love' 'balance' work on the blog-pic tour of your apartment, would not have connected it to your family's art, imagined it was more SFian.
-richard

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I know -- it is kind of amazing, I think -- my grandmother, for all her problems, did have great taste in art..

So lovely to hear from you, my dear!!!

Love --
mattilda

Debbie Ann said...

you have great taste in art. I noticed that piece in the photos of your place. I love that you have so much art.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Aw, thank you, Debbie Anne :)

Love--
mattilda