Here’s how much of a rock I’ve been under for the last 5 months or so, totally oblivious to the world.
Britney Spears has released a song:
- Using her best Stupid Robot Voice, of which I’m a fan (sort of);
- Which uses my name;
- Which uses my name to spell out an obscenity.
… it was like, last year when the song came out and I just found out about it five minutes ago. I’m pretty disappointed in you all for not bringing this to my attention sooner. C’mon, people.
I have enough distance from pop culture to find the song to be hilariously awful instead of just… awful. Which is a good thing, because otherwise I’d just be annoyed.
Jeff Stark, a fourth year Graphic Design student at SVA who is in my kitsch class, asked me if he could photograph our apartment for a series he’s working on about artists and their living spaces. I immediately agreed because I pretty much always agree to help out SVA kids if I can, but then I regretted it soon after and I started to realize that pictures of my place might add to my growing reputation as a crazy lady, something I wasn’t sure I wanted to do. As it winds up, Jeff wound up asking me to write a statement about our place to go along with the photos which I found to be kind of a relief – an explanatory text that would help shed light on this place of ours? thank god – I was in. Here is what I wrote, along with a few of the photos.
I remember being in high school and being asked by a guidance counselor what I wanted to do with my life. I had it all figured out, I told her: I would be an artist and squatter in the East Village, sharing a space above a bar with my musician boyfriend; we would have no money to speak of, but we would love each other like crazy and every day we’d paint pictures and write songs and generally live a life way the hell different than the one laid out for the other high school students in my suburban high school. The guidance counselor, it should be noted, never spoke to me again, and went through lengths to avoid my glance in the halls when we would pass each other en route to somewhere else.
I often think about how close to that dream my life today is. The details are different – the East Village today is nothing like the East Village of the late 1980s, so we live in Jersey City instead; I married my boyfriend and he became an art writer, not a musician; I teach and have a mortgage and a bunch of other grownup things I never thought I would have. There are things I discovered that, as I got older, I really needed – topping the list were the bare minimum of things that would grant me a certain sense of security (my romantic ideas about poverty now seem really quaint to me). A home I am not perpetually getting kicked out of is one, and some kind of paycheck is another. But the core of what I had in mind remains scarily accurate.
There was a point in my late 20s when I suddenly realized that many of the people I had grown up had pulled “ahead” of me (if you can call it that, and for a while there I admit that I did). While Jeff and I were purchasing the cheapest apartment we could possibly find so that the monthly payments didn’t loom large in our life, our friends were buying three-bedroom houses in the suburbs. And one thing I have learned is as soon as you have the three-bedroom house in the suburbs, you seem to automatically start filling it with the same sorts of things as your neighbors do – children, a purebred dog, crème-colored carpet and a big TV, furniture from Pottery Barn, and all the rest. Another stereotype emerged from those who chose to live in a city, call it urban sophisticate – kids, a dog, and crème-coloring again, but this time furniture from Shabby Chic or maybe even Design Within Reach. Both styles depended on a fierce sense of order and a love of cleanliness that would rival a hospital, neither of which seemed to exist in my genetic code.
I don’t knock that way of life at all. There are many times when, visiting people I knew from childhood, I found myself filled with regret and jealousy. I recognized all these things as things I was supposed to want – and, as strange as it might sound, I wanted to want them even though I didn’t, and this lead me to wonder what was wrong with me. I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t last a week in a newly constructed house on a cul-de-sac with a yard and two cars parked outside or in its city-dweller alternative, and yet I couldn’t help but wonder what the side effects of living in such a place would be. If my home looked like that, would I be smarter, more successful, and – dare I ask – happier?
I thought about this a lot. Jeff and I have a style which is based on a kind of no style, or a rejection of what it means to have a style – nothing is planned, everything is cluttered and things which absolutely don’t match are stuck together. When things get too neat or orderly, I have noticed us doing something to disrupt that (within days after a brisk spring cleaning, cat hair will be on absolutely everything and the beer bottles will start piling up, almost as if we can’t exist without them). After years of thinking that this was only temporary, just a stage that we were passing through, I’ve come to realize that instead our apartment is a kind of unconscious self-portrait – this is who we are, laid out plain for any visitor to see.
My studio is totally unfancy, with things existing in space merely because I don’t have a better place for them. Piles of papers and stacks of art supplies are everywhere, but I know where everything is (trust me). The curtain hangs off partially from its bar because I use that extra part of it to pin it back in the summer; that it looks stupid the other three-quarters of the year is not anything I care about. Most of the furniture was stuff being thrown away before it found its place in here. Our living room is similar to my studio only maybe neater (I hope) – a crummy Ikea sofa faded out from the sun, framed artworks by friends of ours, knickknacks and toys we’ve collected over the years, and books everywhere.
The most noticeable thing about Jeff’s study used to be that the walls are painted a burnt orange; now you’re lucky to see the walls at all. Over the years he has turned the entire room into a kind of artwork, filling it with 99 cent store purchases and things he’d find on the sidewalk, combining objects (for instance, ripping the head off of one action figure and placing it on another) into a kind of quirky installation filled with dark humor. It has a life of its own and is constantly changing and updating as he fiddles with and adds to the various things he has in there. I rarely go into that room, not because I dislike it but because there’s not much room for me – over the last few months it has been filled with books that he needed for his thesis and these have come to dominate every square inch of the floor space. As he gives those away or stores them during the summer, the room will evolve again and become something else. I don’t know what.
This may the only kind of home I would ever be comfortable enough to live in. Coming to an acceptance of that wasn’t easy – I still find myself wanting things I think I’m supposed to want. But I’m slowly doing away with that (artificial) desire and realizing a fundamental precept of who I am is that I simply don’t like nice things, or at least the things that other people seem to like. Thank god I wound up with a spouse who feels the same way; it could have been disastrous otherwise. But somehow everything has come together and settled into its own space in a way that is comfortable, usable, livable – all that stuff. At this point, I really can’t imagine it being any other way.