Even the very wise cannot see all ends.

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A few nights ago I watched The Fellowship of the Ring, which, for me, is like going to church. If you’ve never heard me say it before, The Lord of the Rings—along with The Chronicles of Narnia—is my holy scripture, functioning in my life like the Bible might to a devout Christian, or the Bhagavad Gita to a devout Hindu. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know them; they’re the stories through which I see my own life.

The first time I saw the film, my Mom had just died. I was a junior in college on Christmas break. I went to the theater alone because I didn’t trust anyone else to take it as seriously as I did. I remember thinking, after all the anticipation, The Fellowship of the Ring was not only good, but appallingly good, good beyond hope. Also, I saw everything in terms of Mom’s death: the encroaching darkness from Mordor was my encroaching depression, and my quest was to beat it back. When Frodo nearly gave in to his wound on the riverbank, I gave myself a headache crying. All my pain had found expression.

But this time, the story means different things to me. I saw everything in terms of the recent dark turns of the world: Syria, Russia, Putin, Duterte, Trump. Though I can only draw the metaphors so far, what struck me about the film this time was the total hopelessness of the quest, and how thin the thread of faith was, that sent the fellowship south.

I wish none of this had happened, says Frodo, and Gandalf answers, So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide.

We could be entering a dark age, when the worst tendencies of humanity overwhelm the best. Or we could be entering an age of heroes, when the greatest evil calls forth the greatest good.

 

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Three womanish moments.

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1

The first time I was with my partner after the election, I started crying. I couldn’t stop the flood of intrusive thoughts: Trump raping Ivana. Trump shoving Natasha Stoynoff against the wall. Trump raping a 13-year-old girl. I didn’t know how to be sexual anymore. Not when a rapist was the most powerful man in the world.

My partner listened to me. He was understanding and loving and patient. Later, I watched him sleeping and said to myself, Let this be my first act of resistance: I will not let that man come between us. He is no longer permitted here. 

2

One afternoon after Thanksgiving, I was making broth out of the turkey bones that my sister had given me. Just put it all in water and boil it for a whole afternoon, she said, so I picked out the pieces and dropped them into the pot, one by one, and there was light on my arms and hands, which always surprises me now. I’m surprised there’s still beauty in the world at all. I wondered if Trump had ever done this, the simple loving of oneself by making one’s own food in the afternoon sunlight, boiling, stirring, draining, and saving the broth for a day in the future, when one can chop vegetables and make a good winter soup. My heart was so calm. I wonder if his heart has ever been like that, and not a fist of static, a permanent hell.

3

At the gym last week, I chose an elliptical machine that didn’t face the news channels. Instead, I gazed at a muted show about three foster teenagers who want to start a girl group. They audition at a club, but no one pays attention; a sultry older woman convinces them to perform at a strip club, instead, where the “real managers” are. The main character strips down and struts for the watching men, and her body is the particular kind of ultraskinny that is the only kind allowed on television, and then I flashed back to Hillary Clinton stepping out at the Convention in a white suit and me crying because finally, finally, a woman was the center of adulation because of her mind, not her body.

I had to get off the elliptical and go into the empty room of spin bikes where there was only me and my reflection in the glass.

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If you liked this post, please consider supporting my work on Patreon for as little as $1/month. My work is entirely funded by patrons like you. Thank you.

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A simple test of any arts funding model.

Yesterday I was contacted by an arts trade magazine asking to reprint my TED Ideas piece, “How Do Artists Make a Living? An Ongoing, Almost Impossible Quest,” in exchange for six months of membership in their organization. I thanked them for their offer and asked for $100 instead, as I need groceries more than membership in an arts organization right now. They said they can’t pay writers because their magazine is massively money-losing and their governing council pays for it out of pocket, but to reconsider membership, because it comes with the opportunity to apply for emergency funding. I said, if you paid artists in the first place, they wouldn’t constantly be in need of emergency funding. They haven’t replied and that’s fine.

Look. If your arts model loses massive amounts of money, and loses it at the expense of artists, then your model doesn’t work. Drop it. Make a new one. I know everyone is very nice and has very nice intentions and blah blah blah but things will not change if artists don’t stand up to these practices, and if those enacting them don’t change them.

Incidentally, here’s the TED piece they wanted to reprint. If y’all would like to contribute to my Patreon for having written it (and everything I write), please do: patreon.com/monicabyrne, or I’m on PayPal under monica@monicabyrne.org, or Venmo at @monica-byrne-3. Thanks.

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If you liked this post, please consider supporting my work on Patreon for as little as $1/month. My work is entirely funded by patrons like you. Thank you.

~

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Thank you, Secret Santa!

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A few weeks ago, I tweeted my Amazon wishlist. I forget why. I was being facetious. I was like, “Here it is, it’s mostly Persian grammar and Maya archaeology.” But yesterday, I found a package on my doorstep—no name, straight from the distributor—and inside was this book, a very specialized and pricey academic book that happens to cover exactly the region where my novel takes place, which was a bit of a backwater even when the Maya civilization was at its height, so reliable research is hard to come by.

I couldn’t afford it by myself. It’s going to help me enormously with my novel. So, anonymous Secret Santa: thank you. You made my day very bright indeed.

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A servant of joy.

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Dad and I were watching the Ethiopia episode of Parts Unknown. There was a scene where the host—Marcus Samuelsson, an Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised star chef—went back to his home village for a big feast, after which there was music and dancing. Watching it, I started crying. Because Ethiopia’s government is so much more repressive than the U.S.’s, but here are these beautiful children dancing with total abandon by floodlight, and the stars wheel overhead, and witness all things.

I’ve been posting my daily affirmation for almost two weeks, and of course there’ve been trolls who pop up saying the expected “He doesn’t need your consent sweetie” and the like, and it takes me a couple seconds to block them (and the rest of my life to enjoy their not being in it). But every now and then I pause and think, Do you even know who I am? By which I mean, Do you know how much love I was raised in? Do you know how powerful that made me? Do you know how powerless you are in the face of it?

After this election, we must cultivate joy. Not as an escape, but as a resource.

Joy is different from happiness. It is more primal. When it hits us, we can just as easily cry as smile, or fall down as run. Joy comes not from this world, but the other. Art is one of the best ways to cultivate it. And it is armor. It makes us powerful. It makes us remember that love is the deepest reality in the universe, stronger than all things, enduring all evil, including the evil now before us.

This is the closest I’ve come to describing my role as an artist, post-election: I am a servant of joy. 

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday in Advent, when we light the rose candle. In the Catholic tradition, it’s the color of joy.

I know what my prayer will be tonight.

 

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TWO slots left for holiday commissions!

Friends! I’m working on THREE art commissions for the holidays, and I have slots for TWO more. If you’re interested, please email me at tusret@gmail.com, and we can get started. Thanks so much!

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My pledge.

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I’m thinking a lot about protest as a genre of art.

I kept wanting to do big sweeping gestures, like sit in the street in front of motorcades. (And yet may.) But then I was thinking about morning pages. I write at least a page, no matter how I’m feeling or where I am. Each entry is small, but added up, it’s the foundation and engine of my entire practice.

So I thought I could do a similar thing with protest: to just begin by writing down, every day, “I do not consent to this presidency,” and then posting it on Instagram and Twitter. (I use the word “consent” quite deliberately.) And I pledge that this will be my daily practice until he is not elected to office nor in office. I understand that may be years. But it’s the least I can do. It’s the least I NEED to do, to go forward, and I’m hoping that it will add up in some way I can’t yet see.

Anyone who wants to join, feel free, but no need. I hope all of us keep thinking about how to respond in our own ways.

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If you liked this post, please consider supporting my work on Patreon for as little as $1/month. My work is entirely funded by patrons like you. Thank you.