Sunday, April 14, 2013

Utterly Meaningless

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."   Ecclesiastes 1:2

I have been making these collages on 4 X 6" notecards, using crayons, magic markers, glue-sticks, masking tape, magazines and junk-mail.  I've almost made 50 of them now.  As I do them I try to push everything out of my head, pursuing meaninglessness.  The main reason, I think, I need and want to do something so silly and worthless is because making images and ideas that are meaningless is sort of like envisioning actuality.  A realness sets in as I go through the process of it all, culling the most mundane images from junk-mail and National Enquirer and Time Magazine, cutting them out (usually quite sloppily, although Bill helps out, and his cutting is much more careful), applying it all on notecards of official size, scanning in each card, and then slipping the finished product into little plastic photo-albums for preservation. 
It's all so stupid that it is beautiful, and I don't need anyone else to see what I'm doing, even though I know I'll end up posting it just for kicks, and also storage.  I feel like I am connected to a strain and cult of artists who don't give a fuck.  I know that sounds preciously punk, like I'm proud of such a thing, but all I'm getting at is the comfort of knowing nothing really matters.  Anyone can see.  Nothing really matters.  To me. 
And in that refrain comes a sort of peace you can only get at by understanding, as the Bible says,  "Everything is meaningless!"
A lot of the time art-making and fiction-writing seem to be constructed around the rational enterprises of meaning-making, of creating objects and worlds that will be understood and consumed and spoken about as if they have broken through meaninglessness in order to give us a new way of celebrating what we already know.  I guess in everything I do creatively I'm trying to do the exact opposite.  I cling to the notion that nobody knows anything, and that the pursuit of knowledge makes sense with microscopes and telescopes, but cutting out pictures of Marie Osmond and deep-dish pizzas is a whole other quest.  It's a quest for absurdity without a tongue in your cheek.  It's a search for something beautiful that isn't. 
I write short stories about people who have often given up.  Hopelessness pervades most of my creative decisions, not because I'm hopeless, but because hopelessness is a part of being alive and aware of your situation, and in that hopelessness, often, is where the people I write about find a sort of recognition and sanctuary from a world that is always trying to push hope and decency down their throats without giving them the economic and social tools they need to make "hope" matter.  I write about low-rent nobodies and I try to stylize their nobodiness not so that it is palatable, but so that the writing and the style replace the need for relatability.  Flannery O'Connor one said,  “It is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”
That process is the process of pulling meaning away from itself, and allowing people who think they are not freaks a moment of pure beautiful nothingness, a taste of what it is to have meaninglessness intervene and win.  The "depth" Flannery is talking about comes from that comeuppance, if that's what it is.  Who really knows?  But the collages and stories I make have that mean sense of upheaval, the bad manners and the awkward yelling of a drunk crawling into a room full of upstanding citizens about to pledge allegiance to something.  And the drunk says, "Ecclesiastes Volume 1, Verse 2 motherfuckers!"
I'm not iconoclastic.  Or even unruly.  I just have a bull-shit detector, and it  produces documents such as this:

And paragraphs such as this (from one of my short stories called "God Knows Where"):
 After we leave Urgent Care, me and Misty and Shawn go to Walgreens to get Shawn’s antibiotic, which costs 124 bucks.  I don’t mind, I keep saying, and Misty keeps saying she will pay me back.  I also get Shawn some coloring stuff.  We drive back to Misty’s place, where we find her boyfriend in the shadows, watching Survivor.  The place smells like chili and old water.  I carry Shawn, and Misty flicks on the light.  Chuck is the boyfriend’s name, and he opens his eyes wide.  He has the top of his Arby’s uniform on, and below that just underwear and tube-socks.  
At the end of day I guess I'm haunted by the fact that everything is shapeless but still causes shapes.   Everyone is stupid but hey we did get a man on the moon.