Let me sniff you. Let me feed you strange food. Let me brush and wash and cut your hair on unknown neighbor’s lawns. Tell me about your knick-knacks. Let me hire back up singers to sing to you while you do your laundry. I’m going to hide under the bed for hours and I’m going to sweep the floor in dance and I’m going to draw pictures of tiny fat people and strangers eating on their lunch break and I’m going to try to remain curious about all the stuff that’s happening all around me and I’m definitely going to fail. I’m going to question yes and no and I’m also going to shake my head maybe and I’m going to marry myself because I don’t love anyone as much as I love myself, I don’t hate anyone as much as I hate myself.
The artist grinds on a once-was couch once-was horse now boyfriend. She likes how deep it moves inside her, but not all the time from behind because it feels like something is ripping her inside out. So she says gentle and no more and flips over and grinds until she comes two times three times, sometimes four times, but no more than that. She drops her legs to the ground, pitter-patters into the bathroom to pee away urinary tract infections. Repeat. Once a week. Sometimes not at all. And this is art. Or so it feels like it.
Premeditated choreographies: paying the bills, opening the fridge, walking down the stairs to the laundry room. Or so it feels like it. I’m not going to stop. This is how it was a long time ago at the typewriter, I would keep going. I wouldn’t pause I would disregard the typos. I would erase, move foreword, erase, no I wouldn’t erase, I would just move forward. I would clench my fists and watch the wrinkles in my hand take shape. I would pull up my underwear and notice the elastic tug on my hind. Watch me peel this banana. Watch me shift my car into first. Watch me. It’s all about watching me watching you watching me watching us. I hold a microscope and I see the problems of the world magnified by a zillion, children running away from sexual predators, abusive dads beating wives, North Korean women performing love acts for an evil leader. What are we doing here? What good am I doing here? What is there to say amongst the raucous? Words shake themselves off a wet dog.
Nightly, I write in a journal that my mom stuffed inside my Christmas stocking. It’s pink with black roses and a spiral binding. I tuck a pen on the inside of the spiral, one of those pens with red and blue and green and black options. I’m not sure how they make such a pen, I haven’t thought enough about it, and haven’t considered writing the pen engineers a note of gratitude, but maybe I should. I like to switch colors every other day, but sometimes I forget and just stick with black. The black ink lists out my future goals, where I plan on living when I’m older - NYC, what I plan on being - an artist, how my house will eventually look - white and not too big, who I will marry - Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables, or Anne. how many children I’d like to have - maybe one? I write these lists down and then I write stories in red about the girl I imagine myself to be if I were a girl one hundred fifty years ago in either Italy or Russia. I’d be a blend of two classes, poor and rich. I’d do the cooking and have the cooking done for me. I’d braid my hair and stack it atop my head like a cake. I’d sleep in a canopied bed and on a pile of dried grasses. The protagonist, me, would be two people inside the same person, or the same person inside two people. I haven’t decided. It’s hard to decide on the finality of things. How is it possible to say this is how it ends. This is who you are. This is it. It’s finished, and really believe it? Right now I’m pretty certain I’m not a starving Russian peasant nor an Italian queen. My name is FMF and I’m in 6th grade and I have a crush on a boy named Jason who has a crush on my best friend with major boobs. I am average and subtle in my exclamations. I like to laugh, to write and draw and dance. I hate long division. I despise gym because of all the displays of physicality that take place. I cannot do a pull up and I’m pretty positive I will never find myself in a situation where I’ll need to do one unless there is a major earthquake and I fall into a crevice and have to pull myself up, back to familiar ground. And even then I may just be ok with letting go.
My words were juvenile and full of longing. My dad was mean to me again. I hate him. My mom is such a coward. My sister and I are going to run away from all this yelling. I wonder what it’s like to have a penis inside. I wonder what it’s like to have a penis. Once I saw my friend Emily’s dad’s penis. It was covered in red pubic hair, the same color of hair on top of his head. The color of his pubic hair scared me more than his penis. I have only seen my dad’s penis. It’s like a mushroom that sometimes in the morning, when he walks around the house naked has grown big and poisonous. I burn the pages and start over, somewhere outside, and maybe try to say something revolutionary while still remaining absurd. I won’t exploit my weaknesses, you’ll never catch me sobbing in the bathroom stall or carving into my arms with broken glass. My words aren’t about me. I don’t believe in me as much as I believe in everyone else. It’s enough to be who I am. I will wash my laundry in hot water. I will fold the sheets and stick them on a shelf for someone else to use. I can sleep on the floor. Here, have the bed. I don’t need anything. I don’t need stuff. I shove my duffle bag half full with paint and pencils, Revolutionary Letters, Howl, Siddhartha, one fork and one knife, a small bowl, a trench coat, three pairs of socks, a couple of dresses a pair of black pants, two polyester shirts with 60’s floral motifs, black combat boots, a walkman and 5 mix tapes, The Velvet Underground. This is all I need. This is all I think I need. This is all I want to think I need. I am beginning. I am no longer Colorado. I am no longer my boyfriend or my parents or the girl who used to walk into the cafeteria unsure where to sit, with the preppy kids, with the stoners, the jocks.
Cockroaches scurry around my bare feet as I paint on kitchen walls, something biomorphic, something resembling what one may see in an endoscopic surgery with lumps and bumps, pinks and reds, pits of shadow, pockets of gruel. My teacher sees these paintings and asks if I’ve ever tossed a baby in the garbage. He sniffs the air for vagina. Is that you? I pretend what he says doesn’t rot my insides. He asks me over to his studio. I follow him up a narrow staircase into a tiny one bedroom apartment stacked full of paintings, mostly street scenes and open legged women, thick with paint. I’m compelled to tell him about the crush I’m having on a girl who is not the boyfriend I’m living with. To him this is an invitation for perversion, for him to ask me to bring her over, for us to spread our legs for him to paint. Still I go to his class. He comments on the safety of my line work, suggests I get messier. He asks me if I know who I am when I wake up in the morning. I’m not sure how to answer him.
There is a broom down the hall the tenants of our crooked gray building on Maujer Street use to sweep up cigarette butts and bagel crumbs. There are two bottom floor tenants and both apartments have no room for the inhabitants inside. Couches and floors are for walking and sleeping upon. There is only one bathroom, we schedule our bowel movements accordingly. There are six of us living in a four room railroad apartment across from the fumes and glare of a gas station. Polish crackheads sleep in our basement and our landlord buys midnight blowjobs from ladies on the street for 15 dollars.
I haven’t seen our broom in a week. This house is rancid and moldy and should probably be destroyed. Our Puerto Rican neighbors upstairs toss dirty diapers into the yard because The God will take care of them. When I leave notes for my roommates to do the fucking dishes, I receive notes in return that read something like this: We are living in a collective household. Some of us like to live in filth while others choose to do the dishes. If you want the dishes done, please feel free to do them yourself. Because I can’t access the sink, I rarely cook. I eat Korean tofu from the place down the street and grab an egg on a roll in the mornings. I miss the clean air of Colorado, my own bedroom, soft sheets with hospital corners, access to a broom. I like to fold the underwear in my drawer and stack my journals and books so their spines are flush. I shower the city from my skin twice daily, segmenting my curly hair, brushing away the knots.
There are figures emerging in my paintings. I cover them up, avoiding faces or tangible objects, flip the canvas upside down to start over. There’s a struggle. Who am I making things for? Who does this work belong to? What is the fucking point? It’s hard to tell a story through paint and I’ve just read all of these books about industrialized farming and war and feel like I need a quiet sort of protest. I want to touch the hearts of Brecht and Boal, Berger, Ono, Ukeles, Calle, Kaprow. I want to merge the artist with the audience. I want a conversation please. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about the weather, figure out why we are so cold, examine the shelves of our refrigerator, the sheets on our bed, the dust in the corner of our tired brains. I’ll try to absorb the present and translate it. I’ll pick up fragments in spaces between lines on paper, gathering missing or unspoken prattle in a conversation, the subconscious, inappropriate, whimsical, loving and then question those missing spaces. There are always questions. What is nourishment? What consumes me? What do I consume? What consumes the world? How can I live each moment artfully? What is the difference between living artfully and living ordinarily?
FELICITY FENTON has presented her multidisciplinary work (social practice, photography, words, installation) in a number of public and private spaces around the globe. Her first book, User Not Found is coming out with Future Tense Books in October 2018. By day, she works a designer and radio host. She lives in Portland, Oregon.