These are the days which are not days, because I live to work at night. The nights are short, they are cool, they sparkle with unveiled stars and ring with the unsettled movements of night insects and birds that don’t sleep either. When I do sleep, a few hours here and there, wherever I fall, I dream as I always do – full and lucid. I have conversations with important personages. I see my mother.
“I wish,” I said to Josh the other day “I wish that when I dreamed about my mom I wasn’t so damned LUCID about it. Every time I dream of her some part of my brain wakes up enough to remember that she’s dead, so the dream turns from happy to heartwrenching in a second, when my dream-self remembers that we’re all there just waiting for her to die.”
I’ve mentioned this dream in this space before. That’s the problem with recurring dreams – they come back. But twice in the last week I have had dreams and my mother eventually arrived in a hail of sunlight and she hugged her family and we bickered and had a barbecue and it was endlessly afternoon and when I woke up I realized that I didn’t think about her illness at all while I slept so this is how we measure progress.
In my waking hours – daylight for you, nighttime for me – there is an ongoing conversation in some corner of my brain that I can mostly tune out while I work. It takes note of contradictions and anachronisms, draws relationships between unrelated items and turns them into stories, then pauses and begins a litany of all the other things I should be doing with my time. You should create an enormous wireless installation. Big touch screens that react to the people in front of them, that interacts with their mobile phones, seeks them out as individuals. How would I tell a story with that? I ask and it brushes me off and continues excitedly obsessing over the tech. This is the true direction of art! it would cry, if it actually had voices to converse with. Videos that play in the middle of electronic books! Interactive! Massive!
And of course my interest is piqued, it always is. The web and interactive design is a glorious hallucination, a delightful folly. A timesuck with enough technical interest to keep any brain engaged in the solution of nonexistent problems. There are no creative problems, but many artistic methods would convince you otherwise. And of course, everything is moving in this direction, so I already sound older than my generation would indicate.
I’ve been reading again you see, and I think I’ve finally figured out what it is that is so enduring about books. Videos, dance music, web-art: they are frenetic children demanding the audience’s attention, and making false promises of the emotional exchange – you attend, the work says to the audience, and we will give you something that stirs your blood up. We will wring tears and laughter from you on schedule.
It never goes like that. Not when I’m the audience, anyway.
Books, on the other hand, are perfectly self-contained. They demand nothing. The story continues and endures whether you pay attention or not. Books don’t care if you are looking, they will be magnificent or mournful or dry and didactic on their own. They need no audience to exist in the moment.
A film always needs someone to press “play”, then sit still.
These interior conversations about art, they take place under the surface because they would consume me otherwise, and I need to eat. I have a living to make. It’s a small living, but I make it on my own terms and that’s enough for me to not dwell too much on how tedious the work is. I take a little pride in the shortcuts I’ve devised, because they are efficient improvements that I was forced to make only when the boredom finally threatened my livelihood. Look at that! I tell myself. I’ve shaved a full hour off of the process, what a productive improvement! Now I can do more boring work faster! And all the while, this conversation about art flows into my subconscious and erupts into my dreams.
I’ve always avoided confessing on the web that I find web work boring because I have very few friends who are not clients, and many clients who pay attention to what I write here. Between you and me, my friends, I know you don’t actually care. You give me this work because it is either beyond your technical abilities (understandable, I have fifteen years experience to draw from and I am good at what I do) or because while technically able, you find it boring too. So it goes. We will inch together closer and closer to harnessing the real capabilities of this medium into something magnificent and truly bigger than a gallery of pictures or a push-button-dispensing machine for art. Until then, we both get something out of it. There is satisfaction at the end of a day’s (night’s) completed work, a Puritanical satisfaction at a completed to-do list, if not a soulful satisfaction at a truth uncovered. And if you are my friend, and you really know me, then you know that I am always bored with the things that I am good at, because I am only ever truly excited by the new and challenging. So there’s a discipline in this rote, repeatable work that some part of me finds a bit fascinating. It’s the only thing I’ve ever done long after I’ve gotten tired of it.
When I dream these last few nights, that subconscious conversation overflows and I step into it and I am at a glorious university. My brightest and most truly artistic friends are with me. We are working together and laughing and inspiring each other and our teachers are all our heros. The other night I dreamed I was being taught by Brian Wilson, who essentially video-jockeyed clips from Youtube with his own soundtrack playing underneath. I understand so much now! I thought, and he called me up to the front of the class.
“Brianna, are you paying attention?” he asked and I noticed his face didn’t look exactly like Brian Wilson, but I nodded anyway.
“Could you stand before God and tell him honestly that you are doing your utmost as an artist to be a true vessel for translating beauty?”
I nodded again, even though I don’t believe in God. My heart felt light. I didn’t feel like I was lying. So he took me by the shoulders and turned me around to face God who was brighter than the first light you see at birth and I still felt lighthearted but I had to look away and just as I woke up I realized “Oh. I should try harder.”
So I am.