A Submission to Delights

“A constant comfort of that place – apart from the foliage, springing paths, and multitude other charms – was my mug. Handcrafted and ergonomic, it felt then as it does now: a real weight in the hand – substantial, truthful. It declares by its heft the worth of what it holds. It is heat, a vessel security blanket, a confirmation of time. And of course I carry the time with me physically even now as I use the mug emblazoned with the O and the X (hugs and kisses from the past to the future) almost every day. It reminds me of 2am munchie runs and awesome weekend breakfasts, of wind swept evenings and overcast middays. Its circle pleases me and my mouth conforms to it easily – a submission to delights.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

On nights like these – remembering Ox-Bow and my mug of that time – I think also of drinking port with Lex up the slope behind the Inn. One late afternoon, both of us moving toward that state of mellow so frequently found that summer, we debated art and ideas. I had my prized Odd Nerdrum book with me and, in a sequence of events not without mystery and malevolence, the tome found itself flipped off the deck and down the hillside. I keep the book broken away from its cover to this day in remembrance of my time with Alex.

Photo: My second Ox-Bow mug today. I got this mug at the same time as the one I speak about in the text above, but that first mug – my primary mug, the one that I had used every day for two years – was stolen from my workplace in 2003. Now I keep the second mug as a commemoration and never drink from it. Both mugs were made by Becky Wehmer, long time Ox-Bow-luminary and an artist/educator at Waterstreet Glassworks.

Ox-Bow as Self-Portrait

“As I reflect on this experience from the mitigating distance of years, I am staggered by the power it still holds within my heart. And by my heart I mean the seat of my emotions as well as that physical member within me. Perhaps this is because, as with all fantasies, I remember it in an idealized form. Yet even the least ideal aspects of the time hold a remarkable glow to me.”

“At the time, I saw that land – that Large Place – as a separate sphere, a space out of time, out of normalcy. It strikes me how, when I am able to recall it very clearly, my heart almost seizes within my chest as I briefly sense again the stinging joys that I felt there.”

“It was an exploration of myself, not simply a holiday from the reality I had always known. Sitting there on the shore of that ancient lake, gazing back west towards the big city that has since become my home, I marveled how it seemed that I was gazing across some chasm of time and space.”

“I was dislocated, thrown, out of my time into another, somehow timeless, yet time-full arena. I was looking backward and forward to that other shore of past experience and an unsure future. I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

“I could never be the same.”

All text: from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

All photos: Self-portraits taken between May 2001 and August 2001, in roughly chronological order.

Drawing: Matt (Hardass). Ink and Sharpie on paper, 11 by 14 inches, 2001, by Reid Thompson and unknown Ox-Bow Fellow (A.G.).

PS: Don’t smoke, kids.

The Ox-Bow Studio

“Image-making in this place seemed axiomatic. You live to make. Or, at least, in living you make. Let us take the ninety-degree turn twice and go back to where we once were, shall we? It was fun, challenging, and worthy; the most worthy and real thing I did that summer. It is the most abiding thing I did, even now. Alas, all the rest is dust, chaff, and stubble – ‘which are burnt and which the wind drives away’ – though it all was so beautiful while strewn on the ash pile there. And we, like the old pagans, went down to color it and cover our nakedness with it.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Above: the studio I used during the Summer of 2001 while at Ox-Bow on a Fellowship Residency. Click for larger view.

Below: a sign one of my fellow Fellows left for me one day. I’ve saved it all these years. I have a feeling who left it on my chair that night, but was never sure. Click for larger view.

Into Dust

“Can I remember it only in some half-form? Can I remember it only as a chimera, made of memory and will and hope? Can I not recall it totally, fully, being in myself as I was? Does no one understand the fullness of the emptying time? Does no one sense it in themselves, that time when they lost the tether? Let it loose again, to feel that it is gone! Alone. This is the deep pit of sensing, where I know the contour of death and dying. Suspended above the abyss. Glory.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

“Look… an abyssal missive, a doctrine of smoke… ‘into dust.’

In the end I suppose that I wish for it, (and sometimes still seek it with nervous hope) that confusion. Sweet psychological instability – the wobbly legs of a newly drunken lad – here as the land curves away beneath me. I guess that, at times, the seeking is more interesting to me than the knowing. I’ve seen it here, right here on this land; is there self-loathing? What’s beneath the surface of us all? Did I see myself here for the first time, or was I just revealed anew, from a novel angle and in skewed light? The absolute beauty of being permissive, of stepping aside and watching oneself from the wings – it can’t be beat, though it stays with you in some way I can’t yet fully understand. I don’t think I ever will understand it. Watching others though – there’s the bittersweet fruit. The fallen human trembles and tumbles through life, and even at the lowest point renders to itself the most poetic, romanticized stroke.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Still falling
Breathless and on again
Inside today
Beside me today
A round broken in two
’til your eyes shed into dust
Like two strangers turning into dust
’til my hand shook the way I fear

I could possibly be fading
Or have something more to gain
I could feel myself growing colder
I could feel myself under your face
Under…your face

It was you
breathless and torn
I could feel my eyes turning into dust
And two strangers turning into dust
Turning into dust.

“Into Dust” by Mazzy Star

All images above are from digital photos taken between May and August 2001.

Sense of Place

There is a great Bad At Sports interview with long time Ox-Bow cook and Director of Chicago’s Roots & Culture gallery Eric May. It’s awesome. Check it out here.

Above: Eric in his grilling glory, summer 2001.

A lot of what Eric talks about in the conversation with Claudine Ise reminded me of my favorite parts of Ox-Bow life… it creates its own micro-cultural climate, its own peculiar and special sense of place. Here are some of my thoughts on it…

“It is interesting that the wonderful mixture of scents is always with you: air, fire, dirt, grass, and water. There is the staleness of cigarettes, the pungency of weed, the hoppy brews left after the parties. There are dinners of steak, shrimp, pork chops, Portobello mushrooms and ever-present feta and peas. There are soups, fish, teas, deserts, additions, and all; delights each and every day. All manner of body odors redound. The lesser animals also make their presence known, as does the mildew. Rain always works its strange rejuvenations to counter the constancy of the Lagoon. There is the rotting wood, the wet leaves, the morning mists, and my hair with its own unwashed, unkempt glory.” – – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

 

Music for Reading A Mnemonic of Longing

Music for reading A Mnemonic of Longing,

an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

THE OCEAN

by u2

FIRESUITE

by doves

FOX CONFESSOR BRINGS THE FLOOD

by neko case

BLACK MILK

by massive attack

HISTORY SONG

by the good the bad and the queen

MARY OF SILENCE

by mazzy star

PYRAMID SONG

by radiohead

WAITING IN THE KOUNTRY

by gram rabbit

HARES DON’T HAVE TEA, SILLY

by gram rabbit

OAHU

by menomena

M62 SONG

by doves

SHE’S GOT CHANEL NO. 5

by calexico

WILLOW SONG

by doves

SO TONIGHT THAT I MIGHT SEE

by mazzy star

KATMANDU

by cat stevens

Ten Years Gone

Ten years ago today – May 27th, 2001 – I arrived at Ox-Bow for a three month long fellowship residency.

It’s hard to express to everyone around me how important my time there was, how transformative it was, how much it has stayed with me and influenced everything that I am.

“It is a circus of cycles: rejuvenation and writhing. And each year new initiates take up residence even as the remains of those who had gone before continue a silent obliteration. To call its colors: all manner of greens and the diffuse, languid blues of late summer days, tinseled pinpricks of red and gold. It is a baptism of twilight and smoke, a romance – like long forgotten songs that still ring in the air – of memories echoing in a shell, of sounds muffled in the ear.” – from A Mnemonic of Longing, an unpublished essay, 2002-2009.

Above: The Ox-Bow Lagoon in the gloaming, summer 2001.