A letter to the Editor – or – To My Mother

Dear Mom,

I read “The Real Humanities Crisis” by Gary Gutting which you kindly sent me this morning. Well, I skimmed it. I appreciated the sentiment, which I interpreted as a show of support and sympathy for the path that I have chosen, the life of an artist. I write this response sipping coffee and wearing a black turtleneck, but I assure you that is mere coincidence. The article itself, well, it’s almost as hard to swallow as my coffee.

This is the kind of article that gets stuffed into papers to remind us, lest we have forgotten, that the arts are important and the economic system we live in does not support that. Well, eh… that’s kind of baloney. Honestly, things are much better for artists now than they have ever been. The image of a wan, tortured soul suffering from syphilis in the cold corner of his apartment in Paris has been replaced by a gal with big glasses clutching some sort of analog recording device and sipping expensive coffee she traded with some guy at the farmers market she works at. Really, there hasn’t been a better time for us creative kids to support ourselves because we live in a service economy. I overheard a guy at Home Depot who worked at the paint station giving a woman excellent advice on complimentary colors. Turns out he’s an illustrator. My colleague at the bookstore is an animator. I have friends who are musicians and support themselves by tutoring kids. And me, well I’m using my car as a taxi, stuffing envelopes, hustling for film gigs and writing to you. Yes, I tape my shoes together, but I do it from my two bedroom flat before walking out to my new car. I sometimes work till 1am, but it’s Monday morning and I have the luxury of enjoying the cold winter light cascading over my down-stuffed l-shaped sofa.

I’m getting distracted from my point, which is that article is written by someone who is seeing the world as it was, not as it is. The job market is totally different now. The idea of employer and employee has been turned on its head by websites and apps that connect people that need things with people who can do things. So yes, I may pick up someone in my car and drive them to a bar, but they’re the person who fills my order out when I shop for dresses online. I work for dozens of people in a year, but they aren’t the ones who set my schedule. And what’s more, writing and illustrating and making videos or music is the kind of stuff a lot of companies want to pay for when they’re building a brand. And that’s great, because one week of work matching grain on photographs is two months rent and expenses for some of us. So even if I don’t make $75,000 a year, or even a quarter of that, I have the freedom to pursue what I love, sleep in late if I need to, live comfortably, and try something new every day. If I want to make more money, I just have to work more, but it’s a choice. And, I get to do that because I live in an economy that supports it.

There isn’t a crisis. Few artists have ever been able to support themselves by their craft alone. And, who is to say that it’s best to spent 12 hours a day every day staring at a blank sheet of paper waiting for inspiration. I’d be just as miserable doing that as I would staring at a computer screen in a fancy office. It’s all about finding balance between your material needs and your need to express yourself. As an artist yourself, I know you understand.

I’m going to go pay some bills and build boxes for my cool new prop closet.

Love Lili

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To Whom it May Concern

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing in response to the employment opportunity you have listed on Craigslist. Attached you will find my resume, which contains only half of the jobs I’ve actually had over the past three years, the dates of which have been stretched very slightly to give the illusion of intentional transitions between positions. In reality, I voluntarily left or was gently but decisively encouraged to seek employment elsewhere because I just couldn’t handle sitting behind a desk.

I have over two years of administrative experience despite the fact that I am not detail-orientated and I can’t design functional filing systems. I hate forms, I can’t get programs to work together, and I lied about being comfortable with Excel. I haven’t actually ever used Photoshop, but if I had to figure it out I imagine I could, so it’s listed under skills.

I consider myself a very reliable person. You can count on me to feel suffocated after six months and be looking for my next project. I am also very creative; I come up with thousands of escape plans on a daily basis, some of which include grand heists, others which involve cheap accommodation, and my back-up plan is marry rich. I am punctual, which is surprising given that I never leave the house on time.

The reason I am interested in this position is because it is more money than I am currently making at my part-time, minimum-wage, bookstore job. I also am optimistic that maybe this time it’ll be different. That I can survive as a square peg in a round hole. And, although I have absolutely no interest in administrative work, or in the field your company operates in, the idea of being taken seriously temporarily overrides the incredible bitterness I feel towards the 40-hour work week. That being said, I hate myself more with every word I type, knowing that this carefully crafted email will likely get me hired.

My references are available upon request, mostly because I’m hoping you won’t ask.

I am not looking forward to your response. I am available for an interview at your convenience – because I’m a masochist – and also I want my family to be proud of me.

Sincerely yours,

Lili Frances

ps. I am also available to cater parties, make props, and I’d cut a bitch for a mindless receptionist position.

Plastic Stethoscopes

Well I’ll be damned, but we all grow up.

My childhood friends are your civic leaders,

They’re your parents, your bosses, and your teachers.

And I’m sitting beside you wondering 

what I am going to be when I grow up

I’d love to buy a house

I want a yard, a washing machine, and a dryer

To have talents that are respected,

And respect that is warranted

And no more roommates

 

I want to be married,

I want to be stable, accountable, bankable, insurable

I want you to want to give me a 30-year mortgage

Jesus, my friends are mortgage brokers

They can draw up the deeds to my house

They are licensed to operate heavy machinery

My friends are doctors, and lawyers, and food truck owners

They are analysts, they’re buying a wedding dress, they have P.h.D.s

I play house, I play doctor, I play Twister

I earn Monopoly money

I forget birthdays

And my mattress is on the floor

and I’ll be damned if we don’t all grow up

To the organizers of the TED Talks

Dear TED,

When I watch your shows I feel like I’m on the hamster wheel of success. You’ve created these perfect banana chips of inspiration. My thirst for knowledge is quenched at your waterer full of wisdom. My self-doubt becomes the shredded newspaper at the bottom of my cage. I am happy, my cheeks are full of peanuts and optimism. The world seems so simple, challenges are surmountable. I am enthralled for rough 12-18 minutes and then inspired to make changes in my own life. “Ah hah!” I squeal, I just need to stand like superman for two minutes a day, look at pictures of baby animals, and play Scrabble with my mother in order to live 10 more years and have the confidence to live my dreams (the Scrabble is for the mental stimulation as well as fostering a healthy and consistent relationship with my Mom… also, I enjoy kicking her ass by 70 points by the second move). My point being, these talks are crack. I feel invincible, but once I hope off my hamster wheel of optimism I notice my legs have gone wobbly and I manage to chip my tooth on a kernel of corn. And that’s when I think “DAMN YOU TED! You’ve fooled me again you sly dog! The world isn’t solved in 15 minutes!”

Okay, so that’s not what you’re advocating. You’ve got people who have dedicated their lives to understanding something, who have had their own struggles, and then they get invited to tell everyone about it. If there was any theme it would be “the journey” and “believe in YOU.” And I gorge myself on that shit. I do. But then when I try to tell someone what I learned it is reduced a pathetically tiny hamster poo of understanding. “So they were saying people who Are dying regret things, and doing the opposite will make you happy and live longer… oh and look at baby pigs… and play more games.” Also, apparently being happy makes you better at everything…

I’m not saying this isn’t good stuff. It is. But I need a big chunk of inspiration. Don’t give me one chip, give me the whole damn banana. Give me more than I can chew so I can go back to it again and again. I need something that will fill me up long term, not just satisfy my hunger for a limited time. And how about a little fiber, eh TED? Not something that’s going to go right through me. I want that wisdom sticking in my gut for days. 

Love Lili

Ps. It’s still one of my goals to be good enough at something to be invited to speak so… just saying…

The Gun in the Closet

Last night I dreamt I was searching for a gun in my sister’s closet. There were stacks of school supplies on a shelf, and clothes upon clothes hanging from every inch of space. There were shoes, and boxes. I felt suffocated, but I was under instruction to search through everything. It was hot, it was unfamiliar, and I pushed against the sweaters and dresses to open up boxes, slide aside binders, to feel everything that could have a gun hidden inside it. My arms ached as I pushed, attempting to get everything back in its rightful place lest my sister discover I had been rummaging through a space that was not mine. I felt indignant, it was a fools errand. There was too much to look through, and all packed so tightly, and I was so close to everything I couldn’t see whether I’d been thorough that box or not. And why did I have to go through the closet? And what was the point when I’d be as likely to miss the gun as find it? I had vague recollections of the dream before, when I shrunk myself so I could go flying through the air with the man I loved, but had been forbidden to leave with. And there was a forest. And there were living mountains. And it was dark. And somehow I had been sent from there to the reality of the closet to find the gun, and to bring it out.

I did not find the gun, reality rang and I was brought back to my bed and my responsibilities. But the suffocating feeling has stayed. Even in my waking life, I am searching for the gun, suffocating from the oppressive layers of memory and nurture. The gun is my power. The gun is my pride. The gun is control. But oh, it’s a struggle to patiently open up the boxes of my memory, to pat down every pocket. And it doesn’t feel like the gun is mine. And what I would do with it once I found it? Such a powerful weapon, my first reaction would be to give it away. Here, I found this, do with it what you will. But if I kept the gun, if it were mine, there is an undeniable amount of responsibility. My safety, their safety, and what about the accidents and the potential to misfire? But it could protect me. It could strengthen me. It is loaded with potential. But I have to find the damn thing before someone else does.

So I search, now, in my waking hours.

To The Elderly Man in the Bookstore

Sir,

When I see you I can’t help but think that age is just a vicious trick nature pays on the young. We are vain, and wasteful, ungrateful for our bodies which weather so quickly. And it seems so cruel to someone still full of life, still scared of age but timidly stepping into her rightful place as a woman, to see these stooped, shaking men… the ones who are pictured swinging joyfully from lamp posts just 50 years before… I wonder if they knew they’d get old. I wonder if they would weep to see the stooped man they’ve become. Do they stare at photos of themselves in their prime and ache for it? Do women like me remind them of girls they knew? Strong, kind, full of life and gumption. Is there a resentment that they feel when we smile sympathetically and speak softly, as if to a child, as if they never held a little brunette in their arms, as if they are fragile. But they are still men. They are still men! No less than they were, but for a few inches in stature, a few hairs, and color in their cheeks. Respect for my elders. Oh, but my elders were young once. And what a cruel, cruel thing to lose. I mourn for all the young men lost. I ache for their optimism, and naivete. What a beautiful thing it is to hold, like the warmth of a girl in your arms, the knowledge of which and absence thereof leaves you feeling cold. I try to freeze myself in time. I look for grey hairs and swing from trees. I am in limbo. And I mourn for all the young men lost.

Lili

The Lightening Round

“It’s that time again folks, let’s give a hand to our contestant for making it this far.”

[raucous applause]

[contestant waves]

“Aaaaaaand it’s the lightening round. Try to answer as many questions as you can correctly in the next 60 seconds for the chance to see what’s behind door number three. Are you ready?”

[contestant nods]

“Fannnnnnnntastic. Julie, the timer.”

[a lady in a sparkly dress punches a big red button]

“Here we go. How do you feel about me? If you could get any outcome from this what would it be? What are scares you, just in general? Was this a false start? Have you mentioned me to your Mom? Did she see my picture? What are your expectations? Are you actually busy or can you not admit that you’re avoiding me a little because you don’t have answers to these questions yet? Do you want to take the lead and call me or is it okay if I call you? Are we really past games or is telling me that a sneaky move so that you can win? Do I need to read anything into the other night? Do you like me as much as people say you do, or are they just projecting the outcome they want to see for us onto you and trying to encourage me to see it to? Am I going to meet your friends for real? Do you bring me up in conversation? Would you think it was weird that I’ve mentioned you to people you’ve never met? How much are you willing to put into this? How far can I push you before you push back? How many times can I push you before you’ve had enough? Can you give me any guarantees that you’ll still want to talk to me next week? Next month? Next year? How about ten? Are you flattered that I suddenly care or now do you think that you can do better since I’m obviously interested and now the balance of power is tipped towards you?”

[Contestant faints]

“Oh not again… NEXT CONTESTANT PLEASE.”

The Whimsy

There’s more I want you to know. It’s not just the last thing, the sad thing, where I’m melancholy. There’s also the joyful thing, the whimsy. Let me tell you about the whimsy. 

The whimsy is when dry leaves spiral upwards with the wind and swirl across the pavement in fall. The whimsy is when your hand brushes up against his knee and you lock pinkies. Just pinkies. Oh, but then your hand creeps into his. That’s the whimsy too. And the whimsy is checkered skirts, mangoes, weathered journals, typewriters, rusted keys, hidden doors in walls by the bay, heart beats, and quarters. It’s the flutters. 

And I’m consumed by the whimsy. It laughs at the melancholy in a warm-hearted way, it invites it to play, to see the sad things as beautiful, and the beautiful things as whimsical, and the whimsical things as ordinary, because ordinary is wonderfully constant. 

So don’t feel sorry when you see me melancholy. I’m just gathering toys for the whimsy. It’s a delightful creature. We’re such good friends. No, I’m not lonely. I’ve got mangoes and checkered skirts and sometimes I listen for your heartbeats. Sneakily. I can’t help it. It soothes me. 

Yesterday I was melancholy. But I’m better now. I’ve got the whimsy.

Apologies to the Person this is Written to

Apologies,

I should stop writing letters. It’s getting to the point where even I cringe at the idea that people read these. Public displays of emotion in this format are especially embarrassing. Does the whole world really need to know I’ve had a bad day, or that I’ve eaten for two, or that I have had some break-through in my own journey of self-exploration. No. But there is so much I have to say to you, and so few places other than here where the intimacy of the moment isn’t so mind-crushingly terrifying that I can’t get the words out. When I write here, I don’t have to wait for a response from you, because I didn’t technically write this for you. I wrote it for me. And I wrote it for them.

People say it’s brave to be so open, but it’s not, it’s cowardly. Being brave would be calling to say “I miss you”, or admitting that sometimes I turn the key in the front door lock and pause for a moment because I don’t want to see that the living room is different. I don’t want there to be paintings instead of posters. I want the cat sleeping on the chair to be the one we talked about getting. I want to go back to playing house. I want my forks back. I want my creativity back. I don’t actually care about the forks. You can keep them. But I haven’t been able to write for two months. I try. But I don’t care anymore, you see. 

I want to write. I imagine myself sending this to you, full of caveats and explanations, and I feel sick. I imagine sending this to the world, written as it was meant to sound, and feel relieved. But if I said these things to you, then we’d both know I’d said it and you heard it, and then there would be this awkward sense of accountability. If I send this out to the world, then I can tell myself that maybe you didn’t see it. You can pretend not to have read it. And if we happened to meet then we could pretend it never existed because only things whispered out loud have to be acknowledged. I could not send this at all. It could sit in the pile of half-written letters, but there are things that need to be said, they need to be said somewhere, and I can’t hold them anymore. I want my creativity back. I want to feel a sense of childish wonder at the world. I want my heart to feel like it’s hanging upside-down. I want to write. But the only things I have to say are that life is much clearer but much grayer without you. 

Lili

Ps. If you bring me my creativity I’ll return your red laundry basket. 

Pps. I regret logging out of Netflix but it felt weird to use it once you left.