First Day of Summer Break, 4’ x 51/2’, kitchen wall, masking tape, stuffed animals, balloons to make balloon animals, light switch, 2013. Amelia Peper

In his beautifully descriptive memoir, The Storyteller, Dave Grohl has written his life thus far, including time spent in Washington State in 1990. He and Kurt Cobain had moved into an apartment in Olympia, and Kurt was writing what would eventually become Nevermind.

Dave’s memory is vivid enough that you feel yourself living in that apartment. They were poor. No housekeeping was happening, everything was dirty, and a turtle in a tank was living there, too. As his account of that time makes clear, the reader is brought to a bleak winter with two-thirds of Nirvana cohabitating in self-imposed poverty for Kurt to write and Krist Novoselic and Dave to interpret his vision.

Reading this passage made me think about the ineffable spark of human ingenuity. It cannot be manufactured, no matter what they tell you, and it cannot be bought; it is, however, accessible to those who have learned how to invite it in. Inviting it can make you nuts, though, and I would put that delicately if I could. To be sincere about your work doesn’t mean it will make you famous or rich, just as fame will not ensure a shelf life. I think the secret to this is not a secret at all, and that is that if you’re an artist, no matter what kind, focus on your craft as honestly as you can. Try not to think about the starving part.

A room of one’s own is beautiful (thank you, Virginia). Halfway through college, I knew I’d be making art for the rest of my life, which meant I would always need a studio. It is the one thing I’ve insisted on in every place I’ve ever lived as an adult. It is sacred. You can do whatever you need to do to court that spark to make your art, and I would never expect someone’s studio space/room/alcove/hallway/detached garage/spare bedroom/fire escape/desk, or kitchen table to look cute. It doesn’t have to have matching gingham curtains and pillows, or, forgive me, mine shouldn’t. I have never put too much stock into the aesthetics of my studio because I’ve been there to work, not decorate.

To be receptive and open for the duration of your writing, alone and consumed by thoughts long enough for the paint to dry, is only sometimes fun. You do it because you don’t know how not to do it. That’s the spark part- being driven enough to write it down so that you can perform, film, dance, sing, or paint it. You can’t let go. Then comes the self-consciousness of exposure. You’ve spewed all those dark and happy secrets onto the canvas and stage. Onto the pages of cyberspace, and most of the stuff you’ve spent hours on won’t even see the light of day. I’m sorry; did someone say this was easy?

We must continue to support the arts so that those of us so inclined can go crazy on our own time and, now and again, make stunning, stellar works of brilliance for the betterment of humanity. For the next several generations to learn from and be defined by. No pressure.

This Is Why

Please Vote

My dad was a John Wayne Republican. He served in World War II. The only thing he loved more than his dogs and football was time spent as a boxer in the Navy, and it made him proud to say his nose was broken three times because of that fact. He watched golf whenever it was on and supported the military, firemen, and especially the police.

He mocked my liberal arts education with an Archie Bunkeresque routine that was not a routine at all. He was more Archie Bunker than Archie. He made stupid, insensitive, imprudent comments I’ve been dumb enough to repeat, because to write that he was politically incorrect does not begin to cover it. All The Lily Whites In This Country Are Going To Drive Us To The Poorhouse – his Mantra hurled at me and the television whenever I drove home to visit.

He read Newsday and watched News 12, complained about taxes and crime, especially crime, was from Sheepshead Bay, and got kicked out of his Catholic prep school for fighting. He would graduate from Saint John’s University thanks to financial assistance afforded in part by the GI Bill. Did you read that last part? He played football for Saint John’s University in Queens, New York. He owned a gun cabinet with lots of rifles in it. He loved everything about Texas. This was not the person you’d have asked to speak at your sensitivity training workshop or invited to the ballet.

And if he had witnessed the mob descending on our Capitol, dragging police officers into the crowd and desecrating the halls, it would have repulsed him. Destroyed him. Had he seen that blond threatening Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez through a locked door, it would have enraged him beyond all things, not that he would have aligned himself with her politics; that’s not the point. My die-hard American veteran father would have distanced himself from the rhetoric of Republicans long before the insurrection.

Keeping fossil fuel monies out of politics, bodily autonomy, abortion rights, healthcare, social security, safe and reasonable gun laws, background checks, assuring LGBTQ rights and quality of life, voting rights, immigration reform, improving our standing in the world- it’s all on the table right now. And all we have to do is vote. Please, please vote.