I confront the Portrait of Man. He stares at me.
From one of those free piles that I love is my current literary diversion “My Friend Leonard” by James Frey.
I used to put commas before and after things in quotes and I don’t exactly know why but I have decided lately to eschew commas in general and see how that fits with my existence for perhaps it is the commas that are the problem and because I often call myself an abstract punctuationist I can perform this eschewing of commas in good conscience. I will then re-evaluate my existence and compare it to my prior comma-ful existence and create charts and graphs and submit my findings to a science journal or some such thing after lengthy discussions with my therapist who lets me lie on her floor because sometimes sitting in the chair is painful and she has no chaise. I have yet to eschew run-on sentences. What does existentialism look like? I looked around my studio and took pictures. I tried.
And I am at this moment additionally influenced by the unique punctuation of James Frey of the aforementioned book from the aforementioned free pile. I admit to picking up this book with some perhapsly ungenerous preconceived thoughts for when I think of James Frey I think of the whole Oprah debacle and the resulting schadenfreude.
Why do we delight in the humiliation of others? It seems that we mostly reserve our schedenfreude for those who have achieved some measure of success whether it be in terms of notoriety or wealth, although there is sometimes a special flavor of schadenfreude reserved for the poverty-hued misfortune of others when judged to be the result of their own actions or inactions but that’s another topic best avoided with or without commas. If Schadenfreude was a picture what would it be? I looked around my studio and found none so I took a picture of my cowboy friend shooting my shellaced rosebuds. It made sense at the time.
I read an article the other day (which I failed to bookmark and now cannot find) which asserted that James Frey never actually called his book “A Million Little Pieces” a memoir but rather referred to it as an account of his ordeal and meant it to be fact and “other” run through a literary cuisinart (my words and not his) for the purpose of telling his story. When I imaginarily write my imaginary book I will call it fiction.
James Frey was tarred and feathered. But I am enjoying this book “My Friend Leonard” despite that it is a bleak tale and I cannot read it before bed else it affects my dreams.
I don’t have a friend named Leonard but I have otherly named friends and one of them who is so sagely wise and dear replied the following to me in an email this morning which lit up my inbox and made my coffee taste like shared earned wisdom:
had to smile with the growing a little every day because i read a quote by andré malraux the other day that went something like we spend 60 years freeing ourselves from the mess of our lives and then all we are good for is dying. well, what can you expect from an existentialist! but it was in a book by earnst becker on death which was surprisingly a very uplifting book where one of the points he makes is that we are all neurotic, that a therapist can help us deal more effectively with our problems but they can never help us deal with the problem of life. hence two of my newest quotes on the wall:
Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.
Character traits are secret psychoses.
But really this post began with a quote I liked as it stirred something in me. Dead fowl is an easy one to illustrate.
“The museum is offering free admission, as it does one day a week, I start wandering through the galleries. I stand beneath angels and saints, beneath the son of god, beneath his mother, beneath beheaded martyrs, sobbing virgins, angry popes, beneath marching armies, generals astride their mounts, looted burning ravaged cities. I stare at dead game, fruits and vegetables in a market, Dutch fishing boats, Merrymakers in an inn, Rinaldo being enchanted by Armida. I stare at Cupid firing arrows, the Crystal Palace, at the Seine, at Bennecourt. I watch a woman at a piano she does not move just stares at the keys making music I can’t hear. I meet Henri de Gas and his niece Lucie de Gas, I walk through Paris, rainy day, wait for the arrival of the Normandy train at the Gare Saint-Lazare. I confront the Portrait of Man. He stares at me. I stare back, waiting for answers. I get none.
I spend hours slowly moving from room to room. I try to get as close to the paintings as possible. I close one eye and look at the individual strokes made by the painters. I close both eyes and try to smell the oil. I stand as far away as I can, walk forward the image coming gradually closer. I want to rub my hands along the surface, but don’t want to set off an alarm or get arrested. Sometimes I talk to the paintings, to the figures in the paintings. I ask a farmer how’s the weather, I ask a singer what’s the song, I ask a baby what’s your name, I ask a young woman why are you crying? I stand in front of Vincent’s self-portrait. Vincent who knew pain and failure, who knew self-doubt and insanity, who cut off his ear, who shot himself. I know Vincent well. I have nothing to say to him.”