“I think the real test is to plan something and be able to carry it out to the very end. Not that you're always enthusiastic; it's just that you have to get this thing out. It's not done with one's emotions; it's done with the head.” — Richard Estes
My good friend,
This morning I drove to class between the familiar trees lining highway 169 while a man on the car radio described in great detailed monotony the storied dealings and early history of the Blandin Paper Company here in Grand Rapids, Minn. The man recalled the mill’s nimble accomodations filling customer requests of paper people with particulars: What shade of white, some certain heft or texture, or the specific ability to absorb ink or paint.
Somewhere in Koreatown in a concrete building on the 13th floor (which was not-so-surreptitiously labeled “floor 14” in all references thereto,) I sat in a studio apartment surrounded by paperback comics and handmade magazines fanned out on the unfamiliar bedspread beside me.
Looking into the piles of pages, the catalogs of honestly, the enormity of collected stories, I muttered aloud under the enormity of pressure: “I hate myself and I want to die.”
It was not a statement of fact. It was an expression of flippant discourse - the way we young wind-sail types sometimes toss around emotional exchanges with friends (good friends – but not ones that in any way feel responsible for your total happiness - not like, say, your parents) to make a point about life with very little to do with death: A diabolical expression about invisibility, about purposelessness, and about frustration. It was about art.
Paper scattered around my knees, my feet didn’t touch the ground; And from the bed where I mourned, my ankles angled toward the window where my young friend sat flanked by overstuffed bookshelves like some chronicle jockey. He blew cigarette smoke over the balding tops of small decorative cacti and into the speckled Los Angeles night, once a humble desert.
“Well,” he said at once, “If that’s really true…” a long-time friend and no stranger to pendulous speech, Clark quickly rebuked without tripping over the hapless trap of untruths I set before him: “...If that’s really true, you should work in print.”
“Modern” is not a word I revel in easily, yet it is one my eldest sister is quick to hold in her hand before her. A woman who distills an easy timelessness, her grace an arid reciprocity of the done and undone and the still yet to come. Perhaps that’s just how older siblings are.
“What even is modernity,” I puzzled to myself for a time after a correspondence on values with my sister.
“Modern.” Something about it struck me like a fetish: A metallurgic irony, some kind of slipping away into the digital ether, an ethereal futurism, a joyless, cold state far away from the honest dirt of being.
Miraculously, I hit the ball. It was one of those grapefruit-sized softballs they lob for girls my dad threw for me, and I hit it. My dad turned from the pitcher’s mound to the empty twilight field barely loping toward first base to retrieve my grandest slam yet.
Now was my chance. With my father’s back turned, I dropped to home plate and scooped handfuls of dirt into my little hands and expertly smeared the dusty earth down the front of my pink and white striped blouse then quickly reset into my best baseball batter’s pose. Poised like a question mark that beckoned, “Yeah, so what?” I waited for my dad to toss me another one. He turned back looking at me, connecting with his youngest child.
There are barely the words in this barren language to describe the stupefied face a parent drops on you when you are truly acting peculiar.
The first time I saw Richard Estes painting “Central Savings” nestled on the page of a library book, I gasped. I gasped the same way I did when I was a child standing in the dimly lit mirrored hallway of my first piano teacher’s first home and saw that the world went on forever before me and on forever behind me. The painting is not Magritte’s “Listening Room,” but what is the complexity of surrealism when you have before you the vision of bi-directional eternity?
“Central Savings,” to me, is modern. It is biting self-awareness, a post-industrial realness that gazes back upon itself first and you second and says, “Yes, this is as it is. So what?”
It is impressive. And yes, it is beautiful. But perhaps, it is everything I would desire to be, but simply am not. It holds congruity in hairline justice. The painting is algorithmic precision of purpose - a deftness of self-perpetuating fancy in glass and plastic.
“Some paper types yellowed too quickly, or did not age well at all,” the man on the radio hummed as my eyes darted between the speedometer and neon green leaflings sprouting high among the treetops (why aren’t they called leaflings, anyway? And why don’t more people dress their babies in fresh neon green outfits like the young sprung buds that they are?).
I have now worked in print longer than I have in digital platforms. I have been told most of my life that I’ve done it all backwards, and it’s true. As Wisconsin mills look for buyers readers accustom their appetites for digital feeds. I moved from the West inward and took up school only after a career.
I suppose we paper people dare honor the legacy of impermanence; of knowing that all our efforts will be diligently filed, lauded for obscurity, and ultimately - in a wimper of glory - be forgotten. It’s not that we want to, but simply that we will.
Infinity of affinity, your ever-delighted pal,