“We have to get on the floor.” I said,
“When this song comes on, we have to stop what we’re doing and get on the floor.”
It was Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. I can’t listen to it standing up. I have to lay down and let the floor hold all of my body.
I laid down on the rug.
come this way.
there is something this way.
leave the water boiling on the stove.
come to the floor.
The “something this way” is likely as simple or as complex as a feeling.
If you let me, I will hold open the door, for you too, to spill through.
come this way
I’ll hold your hand
so what if we miss
the dinner reservation
you are radiant
in the light
of your own vulnerability
in the seat of this car
stay here a moment
let your skin make contact
let the feeling come.
Perhaps I don’t want to be alone here.
Perhaps I lack the dexterity to leave.
One might say, stubbornly, I choose not to.
A July night in the desert. A decade ago now. The sky, a bounty of stars, I stumble out of an airstream to find two friends laying in the dirt weeping.
“Come here,” they said.
Now three heads nestled in the dirt.
“I think we don’t spend enough time looking up,” one said.
They’d taken some mushrooms.
But that didn’t matter.
She was right.
I don’t know how long we laid there watching the sky breathe.
How long we allowed the earth to hold us.
How long we marveled at the certainty of how much we do not know.
There are no chairs in my living room.
I have decided to keep it this way.
A plea: surrender convention and get down on the floor with me.
“Why does this always happen to me when I’m with you?”
This is my father as he swats at some breakaway tears.
I am in love with the moments in which he does not fight his radical softness.
I hold the door open.
Yes, come to the floor.
A recent afternoon. My father is driving me to the airport. I’m off to a new artistic endeavor, which in the end, may or may not catastrophize my psyche. We both know this. I’m excited as I talk about it. Hopeful. My father is trepidatious though curious. A familiar cringe on his face. I’m yet again dangling my legs over the edge of the next cliff, my next artistic whim. I’ve been doing this for decades. I may as well be on a mission to spot the Loch Ness monster. He has learned that to sway me toward stability is to be at odds with the very fabric me. He steals himself from offering his concerns.
We pull over at an AM/PM so he can hold the camera for me while I greet casting directors on zoom for a call back I can’t reschedule. We find a stucco wall as my backdrop. We giggle at the absurdity. I’m apologetic. He laughs it off and says, “I’ve been doing this shit with you your entire life. It’s okay.”
He’s been spending time with a friend who is a creature creator in Hollywood. For those who don’t know, this is an artist who creates the monsters we see in movies. Back in the passenger seat, he’s telling me about how this person, well into his 60’s, like me, is an odd ball, continuing to choose the unstable life of an artist. Passionate love affairs that make little sense to outsiders. Never married. This friend rides the tides of his career, careening towards success then plummeting. He’s had some successes. But it isn’t necessarily about that for him. He is alive when he is creating monsters out of clay alone in his workshop and when he is in love. His workshop is impressive and filled to the brim with creations that may or may not ever see the light of day. My father begins to tear up as he speaks. Admiration. The unconventional yet fulfilling life his friend has garnered the courage to choose.
My father turns to me, overcome with emotion, and says, “I’m starting to understand. I’m starting to understand.”
My father has watched me chase a life of risk. A life of feeling. A life in art. Grimy apartments in the armpit of Hollywood. A teen with no plan other than proximity to a life in movies. He’s watched me love people we knew would one day break my heart. He’s watched me spend dollars I sweated to earn on traveling to India on the promise of a spiritual awakening in lieu of attending college. He watched me leave acting for a time for an equally unstable career — I was going to be, uh huh, a novelist. When I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in my twenties, I quit my job, boarded a plane on borrowed funds from friends, and sought healing in the arms of a medicine man in Indonesia. A summer I lived out of my car, on couches, showering in gyms, I blew my savings on a surgery for a cat I’d leave behind in Los Angeles weeks later. I’d been admitted to a university I could by no means afford in New York City. An opportunity to spend 4 years doing nothing but studying art. I went. Jobs quit. Jobs taken. He’s watched me choose plays that pay pennies over careers that would afford me the opportunity to buy a home. Dumped over the phone days before a thanksgiving, my father smoked a turkey a day early, watched me weep into my plate of potatoes, and board a plane the following afternoon that would knowingly deliver me, directly, to the smattering of my own heart on a Manhattan sidewalk. A tremendous need to be told directly to my face, that this person was no longer in love with me. He watched my elation at the prospect of signing with an agency that could change the course of my life. And he watched the despair when they later lost interest in me. And. And. And.
How many times he’s sat on the other end of life’s disappointments.
“If I could take your pain, I would.”
“Keep your chin up, kid.”
Followed by an attempt to urge me toward a job that offers health insurance.
In the car, my father says to me, “I’m starting to understand. People like you, like my friend, need to feel a little deeper, examine life a little closer, and bear the pain of it all. In fact you welcome it.”
He says, “I think that if you’d come out of the womb and stood at the vending machine of life, you’d have chosen it this way, to feel it all. You’d have pushed your finger to that big fat feel button and said, bring it on.”
He has now ceased suggesting office jobs. He still calls me, “kid”. And I am. I feel ten years old, a little sweaty in my clown makeup, holding crayons in my hands. A passport in my pocket. A gleam in my eye when, “I gotta go see about a girl.” I may never change.
Last week I turned down an invitation to interview for a creative director position at a studio in Los Angeles. Some might think me insane for doing this. But I have an aversion to jobs, golden handcuffs, which are but adjacent to art making. I’d rather clean houses and make my art. I might be stubborn. Foolish even. Or perhaps I am becoming secure in the notion that for me, it is never really about an outcome, the big score, the money, the cars, the house. No. Not comfort or glory. But what is felt along the way. A hopeless romantic, I am alive when I am making art out of my life.
I press my trembling finger to that big fat “feel” button. Perhaps less recklessly than I did in younger years, but I push it, hard and fast, none the less.
Perhaps even my father is beginning to decline the natural impulse to protect me from my choices, my feelings, my art.
And perhaps this too, is love.
I’m quite certain this is love.
Maybe we are at last on the floor.
Maybe we are looking up.
Maybe the song has stirred a feeling.
Maybe this is enough.