Every ugly stupid thing
I am reading about the hottest woman alive across every year that I have been alive. I wish I was alive in 1988 so I could say that I was born in the year that Jessica Rabbit was the hottest woman alive. A CILF: Cartoon I’d Like to Fuck. My birth year’s hottest woman was Christina Applegate, who played a sexy teenager on TV, validating men who sat at home on their couches watching TV, laughing at pretty ordinary jokes while wanting to fuck a teenager, which is perhaps a more forceful message about times in which we live than a CILF.
I am reading about Prince Harry’s particular pattern of male baldness as proof half of his genes came from Prince Charles and not from that other guy Princess Di was having sex with before she died.
An ad demonstrates the different kinds of belly fat. Hormonal. Beer. Carbohydrates. Follow the link to find out how to eliminate them.
15 winning vintage dresses that wowed at the Oscars. Kim Kardashian’s daughter’s pink room could reduce anxiety. What causes love handles and how to get rid of them. 11 natural ways to lower cortisol levels.
Sometimes I think what’s the point. Why read, write. Most reading I do is scrolling through my phone, which feels helpless but fine like a panic attack after coffee. Desperate one moment embarrassing the next, like the panic attacks I have after coffee.
Can’t remember enjoying reading much when I was younger. Remember lying a lot about reading and what I had read. Lied about having read John Marsden in my scholarship interview for high school. Even though it didn’t really matter if I had or not. I think I enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books a lot more. But I already had ideas about good and bad reading. My father told me that in high school he once wrote an essay about Great Expectations without having read it. He got my uncle to give him the gist the night before it was due. The teacher said it was a fine report but what gave him away was that he misspelt every name. Maybe the best kind of lie is one you can get away with. Maybe it’s the one you can use even to fool yourself.
I stopped liking reading in high school, I think. Undiagnosed anxiety disorder maybe. Laziness, more likely. Some psychologists say there are no lazy people, that there’s always an underlying cause for their avoidance. I wonder if a coalition of rich lazy people pay the psychologists to say this.
Each year I sign up for the Goodreads Reading Challenge. To make myself read more and better and to feel bad if I do not. To compete with other people and to feel superiority/inferiority depending on success. To waste time. To have something to do. Books: terrain to be conquered, digested and spat out as tokens for others to consume. Books: rungs on the way to other books. Ideas are mementos. Writers to be compared and scorned and adored. Amazon, the corporate entity that owns Goodreads, the owner of this purloined value. I resent this relationship, yet I abide. I complete the reading challenge. In the new year, I begin another.
When I told my uncle I got a residency in Paris, he said, ‘great—what a good use of taxpayer funds.’ Sarcastic. Then he said, ‘wait, I don’t pay taxes anymore.’ Laughed. I laughed too. I’ve rarely in my life earned enough to pay taxes. I’m not sure whether I’m worth spending them on.
In her book of reflective non-fiction The Cost of Living Deborah Levy writes about photographer Francesca Woodman: ‘Woodman had made a series of self-portraits, often naked, in which she had found a technique to blur the female form. She was always trying to make herself disappear into walls and behind the wallpaper and into floors, to become vapour, a spectre, a smudge, a blur, a female subject that is erased but recognizable.’
Maybe this is what my reading can be. A method for disappearing into something else. And the writing too. Erect a tent of words and images around myself as a performance piece. Live inside it for years and years casting shadows. Become murky, a blur, barely there. And then I vanish out the back flap one day. I walk away and never turn back. Will anyone notice that I’m no longer there? A self-involved question.
Adrienne Rich: ‘What kind of beast would turn its life into words? / What atonement is this all about? / –and yet, writing words like this, I’m also living’.
How to separate my reading and writing from capitalism. How to resist my urge to be constantly doing, making, producing. Reading, inferring meaning, commuting this meaning into output. I know, of course I know, that well-worn anti-neoliberal catch-cry: ‘you are worth more than your productivity.’ Please, tattoo it onto my forehead. Stitch it to my bra straps so it gives me affirming welts along my back. Write it in poisonous ink at the bottom of my coffee cup. I will still try to ignore it.
I try to hold onto moments where I can just be, and not feel self-disgust for it. I try to write to record thoughts and feelings, then let them drift away. I try to read to, well, just read. Writing and reading, not to stave off death, nor to live perfectly.
Walking Vince, my small geriatric dog, around the block. He lifts his leg at every green patch. Designating points of value within his territory (?). If so, he does so just like every other dog. He pisses. He pisses. He pisses some more. He pisses till there is no piss left. He lifts his leg again.
I am trying to draw a portrait of every ugly stupid thing. Not sure for whom. It won’t matter how fine I draw the linework or if I pain-stake the details or capture the light that scatters across the surfaces, just so. It won’t matter how well I write things down. Their value is not something I have much sway over in the end. All I can do is sniff things out. Piss, mark.
In How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee writes of death and art: ‘When an artist dies young there is always talk of the paintings unpainted, the books unwritten, which points to some imaginary storehouse of undone things and not to the imagination itself, the far richer treasure, lost. All of those works are the trail left behind, a path across time, left like the sun leaves gold on the sea: you can see it but you can’t ever pick it up. What we lose with each death, though, is more like stars falling out of the sky and into the sea and gone.’
Hard not to think of my creativity in volumes. In hours spent, outcomes met. I distrust the idea of my imagination being a star or sun of any kind, fallen or not. Too dazzling, not concrete enough. Instead, I see my mind in boxes; those that are ticked and those that sit in an imaginary attic. When I am gone they will fill with the outmoded heat of the past. Whatever significance left would be soggy, smudged.
Chee says that we should write the stories we would want to tell on our deathbeds. But maybe I just want a warm bed, a peaceful end of life. No frantic words. No clamouring pictures. I want to be unproductive and unaware as my small, sleeping dog. Maybe I want the kind of brain which will allow me this. The author (me) is dead, or drunk—asleep at the wheel.
Levy writes, ‘We either die of the past or we become an artist.’ Why not both? Dying but struggling against it. Swallowing seawater and singing and choking. ‘So we beat on, boats against the current.’ The Great Gatsby, one of the only books I read/liked as a teenager.
Being an artist but watching our symbols slide from our grip, drip away from us, become something else. Dissolve like a Rorschach in reverse.
I preserve the details, knowing full well all I’ll leave behind is the outline which surrounds the object. Negative space, seeping. A stain on carpet, an odd shadow which crawls through cheap blinds when the sun is at the right height. A future unexplained bruise that rises. Up up up out of the grey.
Eloise Grills (eloisegrills.com) is an award-winning comics artist, writer, and poet living in Melbourne. She is currently working on her debut illustrated memoir, big beautiful female theory, with support from the Australia Council, Creative Victoria and the Copyright Agency. She tweets and grams as @grillzoid