Here’s the thing: I feel weird about talking about art like it’s a separate thing from my body or from me or whatever those two things have in common. So, after the show, when the poems are out and the air is everyone’s, when people come and say things like, WHEN DID YOU BECOME A POET, I want to hold them forever and also, I often want to run until I die or something equally dramatic.
After a show where I’ve just read poems about death and family and flowers, a man says to me, IS ALL YOUR WORK POLITICAL? I know that the answer he wants is no. That there’s just the flowers. that There’s a love poem somewhere. There’s a Christmas rhyme thing in there somewhere and everyone gets to stay whole. He looks like a good man, searching. He wants me to tell him he’s alright or we’re alright or we make it out of any of this alive. He’s standing too close.
We’re out of champagne.
I have a moment where I can’t let him go. There’s a clarifying question that I probably want to ask, but I can’t settle on it. I say something that feels stupid and reductive even as it comes out of me, but it’s the only thing that will come.
I don’t really know.
Backstory: I’m eleven when someone hands me NERUDA and we write questions and talk poetics the way you can talk poetics with a room full of eleven-year-olds. At the time, I don’t know what I’m supposed to love about Neruda and I ask if we have to know what we don’t know. The whole class laughs and I don’t ever stop reading.
Before that, someone reads to us from Psalms in Sunday school and everyone is drawing fish in baskets or hearts that say Jesus in them or pushing at their socks under the table. I ask how we know when to read and when to sing. I draw a jelly fish. I fold it into an airplane. I tear the airplane’s wings off. I think about what being saved will look like for any of us.
I feel jelly-fish-airplane then and always.
After that, and before Neruda, my grandmother comes to visit. She smells like cigarettes and eucalyptus. She eats thousand island dressing and her hair is almost like mine. We don’t ever talk about poetry. We talk about Yul Brynner’s voice and her garden and what will live in San Diego that won’t grow in the central valley. What the frost kills off despite her work to cover everything.
By the time I get to Neruda, I already love the sound of drums and THE COLOR PURPLE. I already love the girl in my class for her sneakers and the fluorescent light reflecting off of the hair, braided near the top of her head. By the time someone hands me Neruda, someone has already called me ‘nigger’. I’ve already been handcuffed with zip ties for looking too long at a police officer. By the time someone hands me Neruda, I’ve already written a love letter to a boy I didn’t love. I’ve already been called ‘faggot’ and shoved so hard into stucco that I felt the word marked a bone in me or something deeper.
In the year of Neruda, when I read MAYA ANGELOU and she writes about Mrs. Flowers telling her to speak to own the words she thinks she loves; there’s something I know to be true about words and what can be mine in there somewhere. I decide to speak as an act of love or not disappearing. I keep pockets full of napkins and old receipts with little weird lines about tomato plants and running out of air and my grandmother’s hands. By then, I’m already eating books. I learn to play the blues on a spanish guitar. I bloody the nose of a girl that calls me ‘ugly’ and ‘black’ in the same breath.
I feel guilty about the blood for 10 years but not about the striking.
I have this dream that I’m in a car and we’re driving—the ‘We’ changes periodically. There’s me and my parents, me and someone I love, me and some friend that I’m worried about.
Me and some ghost body that I miss.
Anyway, we’re driving. And the car is nothing special. It’s a run of the mill, standard-sized, boring. In the dream, the car has power windows, but it doesn’t have power locks. And I’m staring at the panel on the door thinking,
humans are so weird.
And also, I have this love of everything weird about humans in that moment. I think about people who get angry about two different food groups touching on their plates Or the time when we were kids, my sister and I tried, very seriously, to take the neighbor girl’s head off when we were playing red rover because she was mean and it was two against one. I think of the way my brother climbed trees: his long arms and legs looking like light or life or some sculpture of a thing and I couldn’t go after him. And I remember the act of trying to will my limbs to grow faster. All of this happens in the dream.
In the dream, I have time to think of everything. There was a tree that the girls at school used to pour sand over to make the bark smooth and the sand soft. There was the time I saw my friend at her funeral, lying in front of everyone in the room, exactly how she would have hated it to go, and I laughed at the bird shit on the car window after we walked back to the car because the stupid laugh of me was all of her that I could carry at the moment. There was this story of my grandmother winning a dance competition that she told after the story of cotton and bailing wire and dust everywhere, so much so that no one could breathe without masks. And the time that ash literally rained down on us during fire season and it covered everything like snow, but less alive. And the sunset was the most singularly beautiful it’s ever been in Southern California. While we were all on fire and losing everything.
There was time to think of that. And all of it was in the same time as the weirdness of the power window without the power lock.
I laughed about it in the dream. But small, like babies watching ants crawl over their hands. So we’re in this nothing-special car and I don’t know where we’re supposed to be going but I know we’re late. And I’m not driving but I feel responsible for our lateness. And whomever
I’m with thinks I’m neurotic or exaggerating or I’ve had too much coffee or something. And they say, ‘RELAX’ and ‘YOU ALWAYS WORRY’, and ‘IT'S ONLY MINUTES. DON'T WE ALWAYS END UP OK?’
And there’s a real panic in me when they say the thing about the minutes because somehow, that’s connected to how much is in the power window to power lock situation. I want to say something way too abstract about it all probably. And I think, ‘HOW DO I MAKE YOU LOVE US AS MUCH AS I LOVE US AND OUR WEIRD INADEQUATE LANGUAGE.’ I want to say, ‘DID YOU KNOW THIS CAR IS ONLY HALF ROBOT?’ Or something else that really means to sound like, ‘HOW? HOW DO WE KEEP BEING OKAY WHEN WE BUILD THINGS WITH ONLY HALF OF THE CONVENIENCES‘ or whatever. And, ‘WHOSE CAR IS THIS?’
What I say out loud happens because I want to believe. Or because I already don’t. Or because I just want to make somebody else happy. Or because the minutes are not coming back.
I say, ‘OKAY’. And that’s it.
We keep driving and there’s all this standing water everywhere like after a huge storm. And I watch trucks and little coupes drive through the water like it’s nothing. We’re coming up on this pool of water and after watching everybody else survive, I think, WE'LL PROBABLY DIE, for no real reason. And I don’t cry or try to stop us. So we drive forward and water splashes up around us, but we make it through like everybody else.
When we drive through, the water just keeps coming. It swallows us and I look over at the somebody-I-love driver and I think of how stupid it is to worry about being late. How perfect the light is coming through our hair. How the neighbor girl’s head would have floated clean off if our arms were light like this when we red-rovered. It’s not a life before your eyes thing as much as it’s a heart exploding with all of this weird jelly-fish-airplane ridiculousness.
Our eyes stay open, me and the driver. We don’t reach for anything.
The car is heavy. The water is deep.
The man asking me about the art I make (because it should have saved us) says, ‘WHY NOT LIVE IN THE IMAGE OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL’ before he asks about my politics. Like there’s a boundary line. Like I’m a mirror. Like it’s not all the image of something beautiful.
He talks about his daughter. How afraid he is of dying. He says something about the cocktail napkins. Makes a joke about an asteroid hitting the earth and says he imagines doppelgangers in some other parallel place living like he did as a boy, running and throwing leaves up over his head. He hasn’t noticed how human he’s being.
He asks if all of my work is political like anything is ever all one thing. I say, ‘I DON'T KNOW.’ Which is to say, ‘YES, IT'S ALL POLITICAL.’ There is nothing in the flowers without the blood in the soil. My skin is not heavy-black, but black, all the way to the stolen parts of my hum. And also, heavy. And it’s all work. Some of it is ugly. Most of it is something else. All of that to say,
‘YES, WE NEED MORE CHAMPAGNE.’
Yes, its only minutes and poetry.
And we’re already late.
- Felicia Williams
THE ACOUSTIC GUITAR AND CELLO THAT CAN FILL THE ROOM
I walked into Big Front Door on Park Ave in North Park last Saturday [at the time of writing this] to meet up with Heather Nation and Erdis Maxhelaku before we headed to Magnatron Studios in Clairemont to shoot a video. There they were, matching in black, near-formal dress, as I walked in sans-makeup and draped in my oversized flannel. We must have looked so mismatched as we discussed our plan of action for the few hours we had to shoot some sort of promotional material for their duet.
Our original intent was to shoot a few songs and then put together a demo so they can book more gigs…
If you or a venue you know would like to book Heather Nation and Erdis Maxhelaku, you can email Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org ;)
We walked into Magnatron’s beautiful ‘Showcase Room’ and as Heather and Erdis took their places, with their guitar and cello respectfully. They seemed to step into some precomposed framing that was made for them. The room is adorned with a rich, light-colored wood, which highlighted their skin tones. Heather’s guitar matched the wooden, decorative structure behind her and the bongos, which sat in the corner of the frame in a warm, red wood, matched Erdis’ cello. Their outfits topped it off, complimenting the black drum carpet that I set them up on and the dark grey walls.
In my head, I imagine the scene as if they walked into the studio in slow motion, at the start of a music video. As if we took time to plan how perfectly casual and fitting this was. It was kismet.
As the duet sanc up their loopers, I set my framing.
“Ok, whenever you’re ready.” I told them and leaned back against the wall.
What I heard gave me a flashback to another artist for a moment, along with an instant smile that reminded me of why
I love my job.
I was reminded of an Australian musician called Dub FX whom I found videos of a few years ago, creating his own beats with a mic and looper on the streets, then singing/rapping over it. It was the first time I had ever seen someone solely and wholly produce and perform original music on the spot. It was different and unique and inviting.
Whether you liked him or not, you wanted to watch him build the song, layer by layer, and see where it goes. The duo in front of me started playing and for a moment, I was reminded of Dub FX. They used the loopers sparingly compared to their Australian counterpart, relying on Heather’s acoustic electric and Erdis’ cello to fill the foundations of the song, but listening to Heather’s voice layered upon her voice during Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again” was just the right amount of spice for flavor.
An artist or artisan who is comfortable and familiar with their tools will know when to use them and when not to. A good editor needs a lot of experience to know when to cut footage and when to let the clip breathe before adding in another element.
These two are clearly at an understanding of the right way to use their tools.
And as they played, I was fully encompassed by their music. The two of them fill the air like a full band and I could have stayed there all day listening to them.
I can go on all day about Heather Nation but before I end this article I want to spotlight Erdis Maxhelaku, the cellist of the duet. I played cello for a brief time in high school and completely fell in love with the instrument. Erdis is the first cellist that I’ve met who performs on a regular basis. And on a wide variety of music, no less. I’ve even seen him play electric bass at a Metallica Undercover night at The Office Bar in North Park, play cello to partner with Heather, I’ve seen him play covers along with her original songs, and I was lucky enough to catch the moment where we were on break and he broke out into a beautifully romantic, classical song that I can’t name. His cello in this particular duet gives the group a unique sound that blends all of their layers together rather than lay down who separate instruments whose layers happen to match. It was like watching delicious creamer mix with rich coffee in a clear glass.
I leaned against the wall, one foot over the other, flannel sleeves clustered together as my arms were crossed, listening to them play in Magnatron Studios.
All I could think was how much I loved my job.
And how much I wanted a good cup of coffee.
Getting a private concert where all I had to do was find good angles to film them in and ask them to play it again was definitely a good day.
I urge everyone to look up Heather Nation and Erdis Maxhelaku and find their next duet show and please, help them find a catchy name! They don’t have a name for their duet yet and it’s driving me crazy.
Seriously, these two are amazing and we should all meet up at their next show.
Ok, so this is a bit of an older article, but every now and then I end up with these stock piles of printed out articles that I want to read or want to remember to do something with and inevitably I don’t get through all of them. As I was going through papers, folded and crumpled in my desk pocket, I stumble across this gem, “Scientists Slow the Speed of Light,” from January 22, 2015, from BBC News.
A few years ago, a team of scientists from Scotland created a special “mask” that they send photons through, which changes the shape of the photon and then makes each particle travel slower in space.
This sounds like a swimmer who is pushing a closed umbrella underwater and then they open it, slowing down their speed. By changing the shape of the object to something less hydrodynamic,the resistance the object faces is increased against the environment of particles its’ traveling through.
It would make sense that changing the shape of a photon, which is a single particle of light, has the potential to slow it down as it moves through space on Earth. [Keeping in mind that air itself is made up of gases like oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. Now, I don’t know if this change would also affect the speed of light traveling in the vacuum of space, but it’s my best assumption as an artist in San Diego.]
The big deal here is that the speed of light is thought to be a constant, at 186,282 miles per second in “free space”.
See, we [humans, collectively, and in particular, scientists] had already discovered that light does move slower when it travels through different materials, “...like water or glass but goes back to it’s higher velocity as soon as it returns to free space again,” quoting from the article.
Like if an athlete was running on a track and then ran into three feet of water, and then out of water. The athlete would slow as they went into the water and would pick their speed back up when they emerged out of it.
BUT! With this special mask that the Scottish scientists have created, not only does it slow the photon down while it travels through the mask, it actually maintains the slower rate once it emerges into free space!
DUN DUN DUHHHHHH!!!!!
Turns out, this “special mask” is a, “software controlled liquid crystal device” that looks like a bull’s eye and imposes a pattern onto the particle.
These experiments were just used to study one photon on at time, but it will be interesting to see what types of experiments can be done when you impose a pattern onto a beam of light, which is made up of tons of photons.
This article came back to me a few days before NASA held a press conference about finding a planetary system, 40-light-years away, which held seven exoplanets, three of which are within the habitable zone for potential life. [On an interesting note for artists and writers, this amazing discovery was found within the constellation Aquarius, which was named by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century, and can be seen in the Northern Hemisphere in the fall. It’s name comes from the Latin for “cup-carrier” or “water-carrier” and seen in the months that lead up to rainy seasons. It seems appropriate that we found these exoplanets to be in the habitable zone, which is defined by an exoplanet being a certain distance from its star that allows liquid water to exist, along with sufficient atmospheric pressure.]
Even though it takes light 40 years to travel from this new solar system called Trappist-1,“At a working average of 15 miles per second, that would take us just about 12,770 years (or close to the entire history of humans since the dawn of civilization) to travel one light year. And to travel 40, it would take us about half a million years.” states an article by GQ India, who wrote an article on the idea of traveling to these new exoplanets.
It will be interesting to think about the possibilities of imposing patterns on beams of light that can travel to Trappist-1, which we can document within one human lifetime, that can contain messages from Earth to our newly discovered neighbors. Yes, we would have to find a way to assume inhabitants could interpret the messages we send, but it’s still something incredibly hopeful and interesting to think about.
Scientists who take inspiration from writers-
IT’S BEEN A GOOD DAY.
MY SISTER FROM NY FLEW IN YESTERDAY FOR WORK AND I MET UP WITH HER IN NEWPORT BEACH TO ACCOMPANY HER ON SOME ERRANDS AND CATCH UP AT NIGHT.
TODAY, WE’RE IN HUNTINGTON BEACH, I’M ENJOYING THE SMELLS AND TASTES OF A COFFEE SHOP, READING AND PEOPLE WATCHING WHILE SHE SHOPS.
IT’S DEFINITELY A GOOD DAY.
An hour into reading Ted Koppel's “Light’s Out,” - a report turned book about how vulnerable our electrical power grids are to cyberattacks, a couple sits next to me at the window/bar.
He opens a Dr. Pepper… get the fuck outta here. If you’re coming into a coffee shop, your options are coffee or tea, not some soda drink that you clearly brought in from the convenient store on the corner.
She sits down with a small cappuccino… ok, she can stay.
As neither one of them interacts with the other, every 5-10 minutes one of them points to an ancedote on their iPad, and comments or giggles before returning to their particular disconnection.
And then, I hear this gem:
“Oh my!” in almost a midwest accent, “Can you believe what happened at the Oscar’s last night?! I can’t believe they made SUCH a big mistake!”
Besides the fact that I’m sure (totally judging and assuming) that they watched the Academy Awards together last night, they discuss what a critical and “disastrous” moment this was and how disappointed La La Land must be.
This conversation quickly falls to a hush as both are significantly more engaged with their devices than each other.
A couple of things.
1. I actually saw the moment they were talking about, live, last night in the hotel with my sister. It was an honest mistake where Warren Beatty read the wrong card for Best Picture and the
La La Land crew graciously and
understandably announced the correct winner (Moonlight) while on stage giving their acceptance speeches and handed over their awards as soon as the
mistake was realized. (The fact that there were only about 8 movies nominated for awards is a subject for another day.)
2. Let’s also remember that I was reading about the state of our nation’s electrical power grids, our nation’s ability to defend them against cyberattacks and the consequences of a blackout or many blackouts or power outages that could total our country’s medical
facilities, banks, Internet and sewage systems, among other things.
I feel the only productive way that I can channel my feelings for this “disastrous” moment where La La Land was announced as the winner for Best Picture instead of Moonlight, who actually won, is to write about how many people, comforted by their own bubbles of filtered and carefully selected social media, are losing the ability to see the grey in life. It’s as if they are purposely putting themselves into sterilized bubbles.
HAVEN'T THEY EVER HEARD THE EXPRESSION, 'RUB SOME DIRT IN IT'?
Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year in space, at the International Space Station, together with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, launching on my 26th birthday and returning to Earth just before my 27th birthday. The length of their mission allowed scientists and doctors to study the effects of zero G’s on a body for a prolonged period of time.
The amazing thing about Scott Kelly- his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, is also an astronaut and has spent time in the International Space Station. They are currently subjects in NASA’s Twin Study; which is “studying two individuals who have the same genetics, but are in different environments for one year.” According to NASA’s website on the matter.
Here, we have near-ideal conditions to study what the lack of gravity does to the body, which could tell us how to better approach space travel to places like Mars.
One thing that scientists were watching was how Scott Kelly’s body was reacting to the ultra-sterilized environment. You see, space travel needs to be kept incredibly sterile because not only do astronauts and NASA scientists want their experiments uncorrupted by bacteria, the last thing anyone wants is an astronaut to catches an illness mid-mission.
When the body stops having outside bacteria fighting it, it begins to forget how to fight back, leaving it open to possible infection from weaker strains of bacteria in the future.
The same principle is true within students and former students.
While you’re in school, you most likely have a decent grasp of the subjects you’re studying, but when the artist graduates and takes a career in the arts, she might forget how to do complex math equations. Or the engineer might forget what happens in, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
So, doctors and scientists have kept a close eye on, and will continue to monitor, Scott Kelly’s immune system and response rate to infections and illnesses. Sterile environments are useful to experiment in but are not so healthy in the real world.
Do you remember when everyone was overusing hand sanitizer 10 years ago and there was the whole thing about a superbug breaking out because people were killing their bodies natural responses to simple bacteria? Maybe we’ve started to breed a superbug of mentality from over-sanitizing our social environments?
Perhaps if we took down our filters, we could start seeing the grey distinctions in between the worlds of black and white.
Perhaps we could recognize what a “disastrous” moment actually is and then perhaps, we could sit in a coffee shop, on a rainy day, and actually have something original to say to each other.