Peter Williams at Paul Kotula Projects
Peter Williams is one of my favorite painters and people. We met in the early 1990’s when he lived in Detroit, taught at Wayne State University and showed at REVOLUTION Gallery (he left for Delaware in 2004). Peter’s home, an Arts & Craft bungalow on East Grand Boulevard, was a terrific space to visit, mostly because of his company but also because of what he did with rooms. Wood floors, rugs, art, windows, light, plants, oddly stacked soup cans on his kitchen counter all came together to form a warm, welcome society of things engaging. Outside was different. The neighborhood, then, was usually empty. Partly because of this, I read his brilliant, gorgeous, jam-packed canvases (Opera Bouffe, 2000; Recipe for Artistic Repair, 2002) as, in part, imagining a thriving street life he sometimes wished he had.
The new series at Paul Kotula Projects (Paul is the former director at the now closed REVOLUTION) are rife with Williams-Trademarks (technical wizardry; biting humor and commentary at once sly, subtle and in your face), yet, bend in, nod toward, new territory. They are beautifully pared down, distilled to something fantastically rare, potent. This is Williams, deservedly at ease with excellence. A friend at the opening snapped his fingers and said, “Lynn, give me one word, describe this show,” and I blurted out: “Chill.” It is a word I rarely use but it fits: Williams as Chill; Captain Chill, ready to take off on a space ship or in an amphicar.
oil on canvas
20" x 24"
Photograph: Tim Thayer; Courtesy Paul Kotula Projects, Ferndale, MI
Pussy Galore, 2013
oil on linen
30" x 30"
Photograph: Tim Thayer; Courtesy Paul Kotula Projects, Ferndale, MI
“Paula Regossy,” my response to the recent show Jim Chatelain and Peter Wiliams: Recent Work (2014), in particular two paintings, Untitled (fig. 1), 2013, and Pussy Galore (fig. 2), 2013, is not my only story riffing on Peter’s work. The first, a sestina, “Fortification Resort”, appears in my book of art related sestinas titled--guess what--Fortification Resort (Black Square Editions, 2005). The second, “The Professor”, became the prologue to my last novel, Simply Separate People, Two (Brooklyn Rail/Black Square Editions, 2011).
This new story began as a strict sestina (the words: bell, kit, weight, galore, bright, lip) but morphed into a much longer narrative about an organization run by a man named Hoss, and an agent working within it named Paula Regossy (an anagram of Pussy Galore). Here are the opening pages:
Our profession is covert, therefore little understood by outsiders.
Publicity jeopardizes our overall mission and staff security. Enforced secrecy lands our men and women in lonely places. They have one another, but cannot share experiences with family, neighbors or friends. They cannot be frank with partners. When they have personal problems---and they do-- they cannot address them in talking therapy because that model is based upon honesty and being honest means referencing, therefore jeopardizing, those close to them. Physical therapy is possible but difficult. They get regularly banged up, but must invent reasons for the job sustained cuts, bruises, sprains and breaks.
Along these lines, no PR. No talk shows, blogs, lecture circuits. No advertisements, public panels or interviews. This is a shame about the interviews, because our staff tends to think like, and get along with, journalists, especially daring, ethical ones, but NRP (No Relationship Possible).
We are contacted and hired by the few in the know. Few, but enough to keep us busy. Our fees are high. Staff are well paid, respected and fulfilled.
When we hire, we look, first and foremost, for ability to sustain emotional distance. Other skills can be taught, but not that one.
Hoss gives a solid description of our profession, but omits mentioning the required soul building pursuits (music, gardening, woodwork, outdoor biking), he insists, offset occupational strain. Besides that, his statement provides enough context for me to jot down a few things about my private work experience(s).
I love my job from the soles of my feet to the bottom of my heart. I understand, and agree with, working conditions. These words are not protesting our job, its undercover requirements. I record here some of what we do, or, at least, what I do, in case something destroys us or me.
The document is on multiple hard drives and two printed copies.
Hoss believes in preparation for what he calls a post-Collapse world. Some might roll his or her eyes (the guy is a paranoid) others might nod his or her head, (he is one smart fellow). I was going to say person but Hoss is male.
I, trained to prepare, take no side. We store valuable objects—like this record-- inside wood coffins (we each build our own), buried several feet underground. I have three: one outside my home, another outside my cottage, upstate and another outside headquarters.
Hoss says the link between coffins and crucial documents is this: both have to do with things transitional.
I do not want this confessional published when I am alive and accountable. I do not want to be put in a position of defending my personal work methods. I am going to be honest here and say, admit to, things humiliating. Yet, yet, maybe something of what I share will help others. Or an other.
I am not a maker or innovator.
Parts of my job are, frankly, mean, dirty and revolting. Examples: manipulative sex, blackmail, stealing, inflicting harm – emotional and physical-- on others.
Even so, I hope, usually believe, my work contributes to the greater good.
I just don’t want anyone to think I am promoting my job, myself, my tactics.
Sharing does not equal Championing.
My (considerable) professional success stems from two sets of reasons. One I am proud of, the second I am embarrassed—but trying not to be-- by. One Hoss and colleagues know about, the other (s) I keep to myself.
The first, Drive for Excellence. I work hard to get the numbers supporting my “impressive track rate” (that, lifted from my last evaluation). Achievement does not always happen but it sometimes, well, ok, often, happens, and I am so pleased when it does. My success is hard earned, it really is. And things hard earned deserve some reward, yes?
Long story short: I hesitate to train others. This is because of the second reason: Personal Quirks. They are vital to my success and are—you will see—embarrassing. To me. And probably to you. And others. However, it must be said (not proudly) my excellence is not achieved without them.
TANGENT--- I will not speculate about quirks of my co-workers or Hoss. It is not my place to out anyone but me.
I so want to replace quirk with flaw. I so want to say my flaws help account for my success. But what I want is not what I need. If I start with the word flaw, it will turn into the word defect, then failure, then spiral downward into a puddle of negativity, leading me to the point of feeling, and believing, in my incompetence. I have a big day tomorrow so cannot afford to go there.
To avoid that, I use the word quirk since it is less judgmental than flaw.
Below are my morning routines, or, what we call PJG
Yes, these procedures are extensive. Yet, you have to understand that our occupation is based upon planning; many actual jobs are completed quickly if our groundwork is solid. We look at the PJG as a resource saver.
Thorough PJG allows me to apply my particular skill: repeated, graphic, imagining of potential job situations. This is part of what gives me a leg up. Pre-job picturing equips me to buffer things unpleasant and execute my assignment neatly, efficiently, with some element of pride.
Morning sun salutations (5 to 50, depending) followed by varied cardio (sprints, kicks, jumps; weights; rowing; lap swim) ending with a stretch.
TANGENT: This routine is the one I am least embarrassed by but not most proud of.
SCENTED BATH & MEDITATION
My bath scents, based on specific assignments, must be precise.
If I am properly briefed, I spend the night before, in bed, thinking about which scent is required for the next morning (pine, bacon, mint, moss, cedar, lemon, vanilla-honey?). Honestly, sometimes trying to choose the best scent for the job ahead takes all night but I’ve learned the proper scent is worth more than a long sleep.
Am I over-sharing? If yes, apologies. I am not used to things confessional. Being so messy on a job would land me dead or badly injured.
TANGENT: Does this come off as precious, a little superior, the way successful, fit, American actors and CEs are in interviews?
“Tell us your favorite way to unwind.”
“Where do you like to swim?”
“The Black Sea.”
As if it’s no big deal.
I understand the cringe factor, I really do when you hear words like bath, scent and meditate, especially in the context of dailiness. I am sorry. I also understand--and this might be worse--these words may make you feel inadequate. Or sad. They might make you rue your timed gym showers, your drug store baby oil or the fact you do not have bath. You might feel left behind winners so feel pushed to find a bath, purchase something nice to put in it, learn how to meditate.
If you do pursue these things you might be enriched, thankful.
You might gain nothing. No radiance, no focus, no calm. You might even feel worse than before. You might regret your waste of time and money on useless additions.
Please know I am speaking about what works for me. Not making suggestions for you.
Baths happen before meditation but after exercise.
Meditation helps me (maybe not you) clarify, focus. It helps me be more me, helps me not ache to be someone else I imagine is better.
TANGENT--I could stop here and, for the most part, will. Only adding this: after the usual 20 minutes meditating I spend 10 – 15 specifically breathing for survival if buried underground. This began as a childhood goal, to say “Ha HA Edgar Allen Poe, you will no longer invade my head, day and night.” Because when I read “The Premature Burial”, it stole several years of my young life. I could not get away from fearing my premature burial: how, who, when? The darkness, the lack o ventilation, the dirt plugging up my nose, throat.
My” ha HA,” my release, is possible because of specific breathing I learn from a yogini who is regularly buried, then dug up so she can teach others. This insures Edgar Allen –finally--has no power over me. If I am prematurely buried (and it is a realistic job hazard) I might not survive but at least can breathe my way to extinction (of life as I know it).
Morning meals vary, depending on what lies ahead. Desk days it is Malt-O-Meal with butter and syrup. Push days usually mean a circle of nuts around something vegetarian (fruit, tofu, chickpeas, cheese). I use two chopsticks for the nuts and a single one to spear whatever else.
Reward days: a plate of cucumber and rare slices of Kobe beef or (never and) Sockeye salmon.
TANGENT: I do sometimes use nuts, usually almonds, to kill; it is a tricky technique. I hide the nut (technically an almond is not a nut, closer to a peach pit, but I use the word nut for simplicity) in my mouth, allow a deep kiss (this usually surprises him, the kiss itself and the depth), maneuver the almond to the back of my tongue and force, with a hearty exhale, it down his throat at a precise angle. So nuts for breakfast are not just about nutrition but job-related practice at physical mastery.
After the morning meal, I allow myself a short sexual fantasy. But not the edgy kind. Mine are elementary.
Biking to a costume party, dressed as a cat (leotard, braids sticking up like ears, whiskers), I get a flat tire. Within minutes a car (shiny, sport) stops. A tall man, dressed as a cowboy, steps out. Turns out we are going to the same party. He suggests we drive together. We lock up my bike, get in his car. At the party he calls a tire repair person. We share a glass of champagne, and then return to the bike. The technician has repaired the tire. The cowboy goes to pay him and the technician pulls out a bow and arrow, points the arrow at my neck, and tell us we have to make love then and there, on the side of the road, next to the locked bike with the now full tire, or he will pierce my neck.
After our interlude, the technician drives away, the cowboy and I leave the bike, return to the party, have more champagne, we drive to my place, have more sex (the tire technician possibly lurking around my yard) . We wake up to morning breakfast of eggs, toast and bacon. It is breakfast I particularly love but never eat alone.
This is the most complicated part of my day. Intricate attention to outfits, hair and jewelry, because of character/disguise requirements, not vanity.
Some days I must appear formidable. Others mousy. Some days I must stand out. Others I must fade to the point of invisibility.
More on choosing what, and what not to, wear later. This job component is complicated by the fact that for me, it blends professional duty with things soul building. I will dedicate an entire passage to this later. If I have time.
Briefly: If there is any chance of combat, shoes are crucial, whether it is a pair of boots with some weight to add heft to a kick, or sneakers with a hidden blade.
When I am called on to be sexually seductive or terrifying, I usually wear stilettos.
Every day I wear my charm choker (flowers, shovels) and a long necklace ending in a cluster of barbells).
I have early onset glaucoma so wear shades every-time I go outside (even at dawn and evening), and sometimes inside places that are aggressively lit. This is sometimes misunderstood.
Days I cannot wear shaded glasses are dangerous for me, my eyes. But I will take one in the temple, take one, any time, for our team.
Back to my long metallic strand ending a cluster of tiny barbells.
One of the barbells, the largest, brass, contains my emergency kit (entirely digital; light as a feather). Job security depends upon it.
A specific breathing sequence activates its opening. Other sequences activate menu items of kit technologies. That is why it hangs from the longest necklace, against my chest, between my breasts.
Inside the metallic vessel is a visual surprise: white silk lined with a range of pinks and reds. Days I am required to appear attractive, I repeat (or try to) the color range blended on my cheeks and lips. It might sound strange but if I get the make-up right, it adds an element of radiance that makes me stand out.
This is not the place to go into this transformational practice. It is too big, too beautiful, too hard to capture in a factual record.
As I said, my job requires, at times, explicit sexual activity.
TANGENT: Should I add here what gives me a leg up in this field is insistence on pushing through things tough, tight, slimy, byzantine, brittle?
Should I add that I am a good actress and can tune-out things like bad breath, pock marks, aggressive grips and thrusts.
Should I add that I am sometimes genuinely attracted to, even fall in love with, clients? But NRP (No Relationship Possible).
Today I wear a pencil skirt, hoop earrings, tucked-in billowy blouse, knee boots. The blouse is dotted with tiny and various anthropomorphised felines. Some smile, others snarl, others bare fangs, others pucker up round lips.
I stand at the window of my office, well positioned to see this new job pedal a mountain bike up our pretty, tree-lane.
The fellow, stocky, in a bright tie and cream colored suit, turns into our drive, parks –but does not lock—his bike, removes his helmet, shakes his hair (shoulder length, glossy brown), swigs from a (probably water) bottle, walks to our door, looks down at his shoes, up at the sky, rings the bell, radiates high expectations.
(End of Part 1)