Sunday, July 1, 2012

for Jill Christmas. the sweetest goodbye, the littlest voice, the prettiest song

I usually leave for love or heartbreak. And I guess this time is really no different. But maybe it's more accurate to say love and heartbreak.

I've wanted to move away from here for years and years. After my first large show, after I had had the time in relative isolation to develop a method and trajectory for my work, I knew that there was no future for me, artistically, in Knoxville. Many things conspired to keep me here: my attachment to a partner who didn't want to move, money and failing business ventures, then sickness, then new loves, then sickness again, and so on. In other words I was kept here by love and fear and failure and loss and mortality. In many respects this place that I am leaving is a constant reminder of that trauma. And sometimes a physical move is a perfectly adequate response to personal pain. It doesn't feel so much like running. It feels more like leaving a madhouse. And (my) Knoxville is a kind of madhouse.

In most moments this town looks to me like a dystopian commercial hell. Like much of the United States, its sole organizing principle is commerce, capital, and the automobile. The backdrops of America might change from mountains to grasslands to desserts and cities, but in the foreground is the shopping mall, the food court, the boutique chain store, the fast food joint. Because this is such a universal American landscape it has become invisible. We move through it without seeing it for what it is, which isn't surprising since in some ways these foregrounds don't even exist. They are simulations of another thing that was once successful somewhere else. Our local McDonalds are not in any way the original burger joint of southern California with its ties to particular people and landscapes. It is a brand. A signifier for something else. A stand in. An empty pregnant architecture. These foreground irealities are ever present and inescapable even while they don't exist. And they are always speaking.

Change the channel on the TV randomly. Pay attentions to what you see. By intentionally disrupting it's narrative flow you get to what else is being said. And this comes down to one thing: ordinary every day fear. Fear of loneliness, acne, hunger, going bald, getting old, getting sick, loosing your erection, having an erection for too long, being too skinny or too fat, not having enough stuff or having too much stuff or not having the right stuff... and on and on and on. Never mind the constant threat of death and violence and ridicule. Never mind the actual threats to material and physical security.

The TV monitor is the electronic analog to the automobile windshield moving through America. The internet, that we have liked to think will change everything, is merely this screen and content decentralized and internalized and brought into our pockets and handbags. Contemporary America is Edward Bernays' actualized dream of a fully alienated/ propagandized consumer. This dream is ever present in the strip malls, freeways and food courts of Knoxville.

Maybe this image of Knoxville has little relation to the Knoxville you see. Maybe it has more or less reality depending on who you are and how you see. It is only a partial reality. All realities are partial.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a local writer and her A Living World, a remarkable, particular column. The Knoxville she sees is another reality, told from the point of the view of weeds and empty lots and forgotten communities. It's beauty is remarkable. And it reminds me of my friend, singer-songwriter, Jill Christmas. And she reminds me of all that I love about this part of the country.

Jill is from these hollers and ridge tops and interstate truck-stop communities. To me she represents everything that is beautiful about this part of the country: its strength, warmth, openness, creativity and sensitivity. She is the background noise still persisting through the haze of smog and commerce of Knoxville. And if you manage to hear it, it will break your heart. Because it is disappearing one mined mountain, one poisoned stream, and one subdivided farm at a time.

If I have a gift for seeing loss and violence where others don't, Jill has a gift for seeing beauty. I mention this because we only exist in our relations with others, and as I leave here I am very aware of the alienating connections I wish to sever, but also, I am too aware of the parts of me that exist because of the way Jill sees me, because of the way others see me. Loosing the gaze that turns you beautiful is heart wrenching indeed. This is an unusual loss for me. One which I have never consciously experienced. I have certainly run many times from the unbearable person I became in the eyes and heart of another. And it's important to do this. In some respects I am doing that now, running from those lovers and friends whose gaze and memory tie me to a self or trauma I no longer want. I hope to never see them again on my insides. Unfortunately, this also means that I am loosing Jill and all of those friends who are like her, who see the world in a way that makes it more bearable for the rest of us. Some part of all of them will persist in me. But as I prepare to get on the plane, it feels like that me is getting ripped out by the root.

Jill sent me this goodbye:

“My friend is leaving soon. My friend who has been leaving since a few months after I met him. Heading to Mexico, any minute now. Any minute now of the last year and a half.
The past two weeks he has been loading the back of his truck with bike parts, household appliances, whole bikes, workshop machinery and who knows what other scraps and treasures and dropping them off around town like some sweet, blue-collar, sad-eyed Santa (I woke up a week ago delighted and surprised by the custom trike on my carport). The rooms of his house already have the last-phase-of-the-move look, without furniture, lots of papers and bits of clothing taking up the mostly-bare floor space. I saw it just today and looked back at the sad eyes while sharing a beer on the porch. I think I even said something like, “Yeah. This is happening.” I thought I realized it then; I thought I got it last year too, and even last month when the house was foreclosed on and the move became something actually imminent. But that was all slick intellect. A survival skill maybe. Because this evening I felt the empty space waiting, where the warm black and metal of him will no longer be. And the ghost line of point A to B when he enters the bar, ducks his head under his shoulder strap and drops his shoulders in a sigh, always, of either love or weariness (he has defined this- it is a living moving shape). That house by the high-school where at any point in the day, the back of my mind can see him, with his warm black and metal thoughts, his chaos of books and canvases, his spinning feet, his quiet, frustrated walks from from room to room (does he actually do that?). Tonight, I'm having a hard time believing the empty outline of him will dissipate. Is it that looming emptiness or my own heart that is swallowing me whole?”

Jill, Knoxville, I will miss the person your eyes have made me. 

Jill, I will miss you and your voice and the worlds you make most of all. 


  1. Jorge, I've enjoyed reading your blog and I'm sad that we never got a chance to hang out and talk politics while you were in Knoxville. Buenos viajes.

    1. Thanks Will. Let's get a drink next week if you want.

  2. Thanks Zak. I'm going to be in town for a week or so. Let's shoot a movie. And please buy my movie stuff. I don't want to store it.