1. A day in Athens, then the sea, so blue, you can see it with your eyes closed. See/sea. This is what Derek Jarmen was referring to in his film, his blue masterpiece by the same name. His masterpiece Blue. And Pierre Guyotat in Coma: “My eyes are full of that blue and the sweep of the shore seen from above.” And: “So, in this late autumn, that color, which I do not see but whose fishing and trafficking animates the coast over which I write, is already watchful, alive, in the increased darkening of my gaze. The resounding blue, a color of Antiquity, of The Book, of the perdition of History, of the horror of being alone in it.”
2. It took two and a half days to get back to this blue. Still in New York, knowing that made me weary. Plane, plane, train, boat.
3. To go to my favorite beach on day two also required a small boat, on which I sat beside the bare feet of the young man who stood and drove it, who talked to me, smiled, asked questions, smoked a cigarette. Later, I shut my eyes while swimming underneath the water, and the blue still struck through. Finally it was quiet and cold and free and I could sink down and plug up my ears with water. And then a empty little chapel at the top of a mountain, which I climbed and where I sat by myself, with a panorama of ocean to look at. The smell of wild sage. All blue. Everywhere blue. Everything blue. In this blue my blue feels tolerable. Slips into place. Lock and key. No voices. No people. Finally. Blue, water blue, is one way to get your energy back. To survive being alone.
4. Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (1984):
“Letting The Days Go By
Let The Water Hold Me Down
Into The Blue Again.”
5. My first summer in Provincetown, the tip of the Cape, in the open fist of the ocean: the first thing I did as soon as we pulled up in the car to the house we rented on 8 Law Street, after a 6 hour drive, was jump in the water. It was already getting dark. My mother and her friend, Charlotte, took me down to the bay across the street. I jumped in without even sussing the water out first. It was my favorite place for 14 years years straight. My mother spent every summer there when I was still a child making sure I wasn’t drowning. She isn’t a swimmer, my father and I are the swimmers. She sat onshore with a nervous expression on her face. Hand over her eyes to see how far out I’d gone. But she also always let me swim. I had no idea how young she actually was, only 28, and I am her only child. Her girl. I did know. I knew how beautiful she was. How tender. Always kind to me. But I also didn’t know. You can’t until you are an age, or older. I would swim in deep water, I would stay in all day. Until dark. I would go to the bottom and touch it. Alone, hours alone. I stayed in the water until I was blue in the face. My mother had to pull me out for dinner to eat. I was blue, but not dead. In fact, the blue, the blueness, is the only thing that makes me feel better, still. That heals all my wounds. That and love. At dinner, I would sit and eat with my bathing suit still on, begging for one more swim.
I fell in love for the first time in Provincetown, too, three years later. I was 10 and he was 12. We were both from the city, and we’d met once before at my friend’s house. Then one day he was in Provincetown, standing in line at the movie theater. My mother said, “go talk to him.” I am still shy about all this. Him. Saying hello to someone like that. Someone fated (in Chinese culture, there is a difference between destiny and fate. This difference is described by the untranslatable word, Yuanfen). This story is in “Diegesis (World of the Fiction)” from my first book Beauty Talk & Monsters. Five years after the book was published, last February, he sent me a private message on Facebook in the middle of the night, saying he’d been “somehow clicking around online and found my writing.” One essay in particular. “Somehow.” An hour before, I’d woken up from a recurring nightmare about him. I’ve been having it once a year or so for fifteen years. Unable to sleep after that, I decided to Google him, something I’ve only done once or twice. What’s he up to, I wondered. Then his message at around the same time, which I found the next morning. In his note, he said he liked the piece he’d read, that it was “so on,” and he “just wanted to say that.” Much of the essay he read is about our shared New York childhood. But the unspoken message of his email is that in that essay, only a few lines in, I write about him being the first boy I ever loved. Something he’d never known outrightly, something I think he’s always needed to hear and which I regret not telling him, even though I had my reasons, so my admitting it, my putting it in writing where he could read it, was healing for him, I think. And him writing to me, finally, him reading it, was healing for me. I wrote “Diegesis” partly with that truce in mind for us. I wanted my own writing to be a witness to what had happened between us, because without putting it in writing we ran the risk, as every love story does, of “nothing had happened, generally, so it had been measureless” (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). A couple of emails in, we made a plan to meet, he suggested a coffee, I suggested a coffee or a drink, told him I’d be away for five months at artist residencies, then school. But ultimately we never did meet because he never responded after that. I don’t know why. He’s married now and has a little girl. But I think it might have been good for us. I think it would have given us some kind of peace. First loves need that, I think. I’d always hoped he’d find my (our) story one day. This is one of the powerful privileges of being a writer—you are building bridges. Roads to the past. Roads between times. When I went back to the essay he’d read and contacted me about, I remembered my confession about loving him and winced, still embarrassed after all these years. In one of his emails he said he was “still haunted by the past. Our past.” Said he wanted to understand it but then left it alone, again.
6. The blue of bliss, the bliss of blue. The red of sun, when I close my eyes. The fire of sun as it gets cooler. The fire of people. My fire, as I get cooler. Older. Maybe I used to need my fire more? But I don’t know my own fire the way others do, who have always thought I’m hotter than I am. Can I feel my own heat? No, but I feel my blue. I do my best to regulate it. Both the heat and the chill. Maybe I underestimated the cool down that happens over time. The shade. Mistaking it for complacency and never ever wanting to be complacent even though I need a lot of solitude. Or an away-ness from certain people and ways of living. Being alone, or not quite immersed in the world as it is, or at all, is one way to be in the shade. Rousseau going to an island in Switzerland in Reveries of the Solitary Walker to breed rabbits and study flowers. The sun hit him that hard.
7. Saudade: “A deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. It’s related to the feelings of longing, yearning. Saudade has been described as a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist … a turning towards the past or towards the future…A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover, or a family member who has gone missing. It may also be translated as a deep longing or yearning for something that does not exist or is unattainable.”
8. What is true friendship, true love, I ask myself as I climb out of the water on my third day here. New beach, a rocky cove.
I think I heard Susan Sarandon say this once in some interview about a silly Jennifer Lopez/Richard Gere dance movie she was in, and I thought she was right: true friendship and true love is about witnessing and being witnessed. Being a witness to someone’s beingness. Taking note of how another—your other—lives. What it means for them to live, and vice versa. How one lives with another, for another, in another.
9. If, as an astrologer told me just before I left New York for my trip abroad, I “do everything backwards,” “opposite,” (because I don’t want children, because I got married to M., as a kid, instead of now, as an adult, etc) then this explains why almost everyone I meet, everyone I’ve had any romantic involvement with for the past two years, is younger. All these super young men. The older ones are so closed up and jaded, the young ones, too, but for cultural rather than chronological reasons. The world’s cynicism, rather than any particular person or disappointment in their life, afflicts them, wears them down, ages them. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why I went from being a person who always gravitated towards older people—friends and lovers—and then suddenly everyone around me was younger. It’s because I started off old—older—extremely careful, rooted. Passionate, but cautious. All or nothing. And now I am working my way back to real love by going in reverse. Getting younger, unsettled, less rooted. Maybe not less, but reticent and careful in a different way, about different things. Levity is not always in numbers. Sometimes its direction. Progression. “The further one goes, the less one knows” (Blue).
10. Sea of faith. Faith in sea.
11. “Blue stretches. Is awake:”
12. On the beach. Starring at nothing all day. Starring at everything all day.
13. “Blue an open door to soul” (Blue).
14. On the immoral moral (my term), which is almost everyone. Which is here, too, the other night (Night #2). Even though I am try my best to live my life in a just way, to be just towards others, to do what’s just, I am often told I don’t know how to “behave.” The disgusting tell me I don’t know how to behave. The liars tell me I don’t know how to behave. The chauvinists and womanizers tell me I don’t know how to behave. The women who hate women tell me I don’t know how to behave. The selfish tell me I don’t know how to behave. The cynical and uncritical tell me I don’t know how to behave. The people who don’t know a fucking thing about love or how to treat people tell me I don’t know how to behave. On my second night here (and I have since not gone out at night. I’m waiting for Elaine to come and rescue me), I go out to dinner with a guy, M., a hotel owner on the island who rents me my room, and from whom I rented last summer, too. We were good friends and spent a lot of time together. But this summer things are different. Numerous people end up crashing our dinner, including his yoga teacher, and this aging, alcoholic Norwegian womanizer and sociopath, T., who spent last summer trying to seduce me in the most bizarre and psychotic ways. Long story short: I said no way, go to hell (he needed and deserved the go-to-hell part), and he said and did a number of outrageous things to me in return, one of which was to tell everyone on the island (including his young teenage daughters with whom I spent some time) that I was a crazy slut and had tried to seduce him. He also told this to a woman (a neighbor in Norway) his age that he ended up having a 3 day sexual tryst with once fucking me proved impossible. A woman he paid no attention to whatsoever when he was still hunting for me. Hunting being the operative word.
The yoga instructor, who teaches on Amorgos during the summer, is “renowned all over the world” apparently. I end up fighting with her. It’s bad enough T. came to dinner uninvited despite the way he treated me last summer. I can’t help running into him on this small island, but at the very least I should be able to decide if I want to have dinner with him. M. could have asked, as I’ve told him numerous times that I never want to see T. again. I was already upset that he’d sent T. to pick me up at the ferry the night I arrived to the island on the boat. It was 2 am and I saw T. standing in the shadows. I thought he was there to pick up someone else, but I still ducked and went the other way. The next morning M. told me that he had asked T. to help me with my luggage. Of all the fucking people to send to my aid, especially when I never asked for help. I was a pool of sweat by the time I dragged my suitcase up the hill to my room, but I would have rather died than accept anything from T.
At one point the yoga instructor snaps (she’d been snapping at me all night about everything I said, and I’d never even met her before): “Yoga is not about showing off. Yoga is about the spirit.” She’d been correcting me all night. This holy woman, with her silicone face and glistening lips the size of I don’t know what, and whose every word is a fucking New Age platitude, calls herself Soul. Yoga is not for showing off (I never said it was. I could care less about the way the West has appropriated yoga, except that it pisses me off that it has), but a face and breasts are for slicing open and injecting? I guess she gets to decide what is and what is not for showing off. What is and is not spiritual. For me, the body and face are spiritual, too. I tell her she’s been talking to me all night like she is my mother, except my mother has never talked to me like that. She explodes. “You are so aggressive. Go take a bath. Chill out,” she barks. Her face is in my face, and she is pointing her forefinger at me when she says this.
The night turns into Reality TV. This yogi is primed for a fight. She’s been waiting to have one with me all night. I say, “And you’re not aggressive? Aggressive people always accuse other people of being aggressive. Is this how yoga instructors talk to people? Go get some more plastic surgery.” She is up in arms about the last thing I say, not because she hasn’t gotten tons of work done on her face, but precisely because she has and I have called her face on it. The stupid, frozen expressions she’s been making all night, the grotesque pouts, while she condescendingly lectures everyone—mostly me—about being evolved. It wasn’t my proudest moment, no, but I meant it. I’d been thinking it. Was in disbelief over her face. The content vs. the form. What she was saying versus the way she looked. I am after all a person to whom faces are everything. I still believe in the value of faces (not the commercial value), now more than ever, as real faces are dying all around us. Why can’t I say that a certain kind of face bothers me, especially when I am being attacked? You think I am aggressive? I think your face is aggressive. There are different ways to be affronted. There are different ways to be full of shit. In The Smiths’ song, “You’ve Got Everything Now,” Morrissey sings, “And did I ever tell you, by the way, I never did like your face?” Well, I told her. Morrissey sings about hating a face the way some people hate someone’s guts.
Soul had been an asshole to me all night, had some beef with me from the start, and even when she told me to “take a bath” (I think she meant take a swim? The bar we were at was on the beach), I tried to avoid the argument. When T. heard me tell Soul to go get more plastic surgery, he jumped in for his big moment. “Did you hear what she said to you!?” he asked incredulously. This sick fuck suddenly has morals and boundaries. M. slinks away from the table, drink in hand, straw in mouth, like a child. I respond to T. with, “Do you remember what you did to me last summer? The things you said? How dare you say anything to me?.” T., like a true sociopath, who doesn’t have his own moral compass needs other people to “witness” his crimes and transgressions in order for them to exist, smirks, “Prove it. There are no witnesses.” Of course there were witnesses. M. was a witness, even confronting T. at one point last summer, and screaming at him in the middle of a bar about being a liar when T. accused me of chasing him and feeling scorned due to his rejection of me. T.’s daughters were witnesses, too. T., who crashed my dinner with M. has the gall to tell me “You are not wanted at this table.” I tell him that if he says another fucking word to me, I will punch him in the face. He looks pleased and scared at the same time. This is his victorious moment. He consoles Soul, who is still up in arms. After all, he might get to fuck her, so why not. “Why did you tell my to go get plastic surgery?” Soul keeps asking. Why do you think? I want to say, but don’t. Another older French woman in her 50s, A., an islander, defends T. Says he is a good man and a good friend, and then accuses me of trying to seduce M. all night. WHAT???? “We’ve been talking about it all night,” she hisses. “This is not the way women behave in Greece. You don’t know how to behave.” At this point, even M. is in disbelief. “What are you talking about, A.?” He asks, dumbstruck. But A. keeps insisting. Do they realize they are practically talking to a monk, who has spent her whole life staying out of things. Looking for true love. What is all of this—this fury—really about?
First of all, what A. says about me and M. is just nonsense. These men are old enough to be my father, I have no interest in either T. or M., I rarely have any interest in anyone, and I was just talking to M. that night, like I was talking to everyone else. Lastly, what business is it of anyone’s even if I was? M. isn’t married, and in fact he was interested in me last summer, but unlike T., had the decency to know it wasn’t reciprocated and respected that. T. lashes out, “You are educated but you don’t know how to behave. This is what you are like. You are a loser.” If behaving is not telling the truth, then fine, I don’t know how to behave. Especially with people like T. and Soul. And why am I the loser, but this 50+ year old lying lowlife scumbag isn’t? What followed was much worse and involved everyone ganging up on me for insane reasons. Some random guys at the bar defended me, telling me not to “fall with the rotten fruit. To be strong because you are better. These people have cabin fever. They have nothing better to do on this island, and they’re drunk.” Other drunk male assholes called me an “angry woman.” I left the bar alone. Better stick to nature. I didn’t come here to get eaten alive. But, I wonder, have always wondered: why are the so-called “spiritualists,” the Souls of the world, always the biggest assholes? Why do the most “evolved” people defend the worst people? Why do women always defend misogynists? Why do so many women gang up on women (I know the answer to this, but it still shocks me). Why is a strong young woman, traveling alone, still so suspect? Why does it bring out the village mob in people? The immoral moral.
15. “What a terrible mess I’ve made of my life.” (The Smiths).
16. “In the pandemonium of image, I present you with the universal Blue” (Blue).
17. Auden: “Words are for those with promises to keep.” This digital age hasn’t got a clue about what it means to say things to people. I used to ask people (lovers) to tell me things, but I don’t do that anymore. Warning: no one should say anything to me that they don’t mean. Good or bad. I get attached to and hung up on words. Words are actions. Don’t say you miss me. Don’t say you can’t live without me. Don’t say you need me. Don’t say you love me unless you mean it and want me to believe you. Unless you want me to carry it around with me for the rest of my life. I am married to everything and I can’t help but remember. Can’t help but care. And just the way words kill me, words save me. So don’t say something unless you mean it and know what it means to mean something.
18. “Use your time just to work things out” (Maximo Park).
19. The road to blue. “One can know the whole world without stirring abroad.” (Blue).
One can know nothing despite stirring abroad.