Of making many books there is no end

finding love in a hopeless place / it’s the way I’m feelin I just can’t deny [photos from 2008]

“No no no no no fucking no. Can we please not tell victims of assault and abuse what they should and should not do, and what they’re doing wrong?
Chris Brown is a horrible person who ought to never get another moment of media coverage in his life (among other things.) Talk all the shit you want about him.
But Rihanna? Her interactions with Brown and the music she’s decided to make are her damn decisions. (Well, I hope they are, at least.) You’re not her grandma. And even if you were – it was her relationship, she’s the one who suffered the abuse. Let her figure out how to best deal with it.”

“Um, I found this piece really misguided. Should we really be interrogating Rihanna about this situation? Sure, we can speculate about her relationship with Chris Brown, her reasons for collaborating with him once more; we can talk about how bad the singles are; we can shake our heads over her “self-destructive” behavior. But honestly it just looks like she’s another woman who has found herself caught up in the cycle of abuse, and right now heaping further criticism on her is not going to do ANYTHING”

“Rihanna is neither the poster girl for domestic abuse nor someone who owes you an explanation about anything in her private life. This is her situation to deal with as she wishes and it doesn’t have to follow your script or look like you want it to. I find the whole pile-on judgement about her decisions lately to be really infantilizing and victim-blaming.”


I agree whole-heartedly that Rihanna, as a person, should not have to explain anything. She was the victim to a horrible crime, and Chris Brown is vile, to say the least. However, as a public figure, I wish she would have considered the impact of this decision. The only reason I say this is because I work with teenage girls in a very high-risk community, and many of these girls look up to her as a role model. Many of the girls I work with are or have been involved in abusive relationships. They look to their celebrity role models as they would any other adult in their life that they admire. I’ve heard concern from them over this issue, and it scares me how they relate it back to their own situations. I just wish at the very least that Rihanna would have released some sort of statement to her young fans with the release of these singles. The whole thing makes me sick; we shouldn’t ever place blame on Rihanna, but she is in the spotlight and her actions will be carefully observed by the youth who admire her.


@laurnadoone I get where you’re coming from, I really do. It would be ideal for her safety and everything if she got away from Chris Brown and renounced him or whatever. But I guess part of what gets me so worked up about this, is I want to be like, don’t you SEE? It’s not that simple! These are real abuse dynamics happening in real time. Talk honestly about those. Talk honestly about why it isn’t rare or unthinkable that things are playing out this way, that it’s not her fault. Rihanna doesn’t have to be a role model in this situation precisely BECAUSE this is a real life, very common dynamic. And if these girls you’re working with have experienced abuse, I can’t imagine it’s more helpful to give it to them black and white–i.e. leave or stay, look at Rihanna, she left! This is how this stuff really happens. This is how it really works. It’s so much more difficult and confusing than people want to believe.”

“Other people have articulated my arguments more clearly above me but this is the first time I’ve really been mad at a hairpin piece. I know that this is a complicated issue that inspires crazy amounts of emotions on all sides and as a white dude I probably have no business even speaking up about it because of the privileges inherent therein. THAT BEING SAID – every piece that ive seen in the last week that is ‘disappointed’ in Rihanna or questions ER decisions or her agency w/r/t her management stinks of so much victim blaming that is still so present in our culture. Chris Brown is a horrible human being and I hate the music industry for letting him have even a semblance of a career after he nearly killed his girlfriend and then acted smug and triumphant about each and every success after that point. But no one writing these pieces is close to Rihanna, no one is inside her head, and no one gets to dictate how she “should” deal with her abuse except Rihanna herself.”

“I think a lot of people have said it above, but I am super disappointed about the victim-blaming going down in this, as well as in the comments. Everyone is allowed to hope someone who’s abused stays out of danger, but–and this goes for a celeb you don’t know or your bestie–no one gets to dictate how they live their life after the abuse. Not to mention, let the woman have some agency of her own that allows her to exist outside of being either a victim or an idiot. Fuck. This is actually making me really mad?”

“I am so, so, so disappointed and upset that the Hairpin would post this piece of victim-blaming horseshit. I am so disappointed and upset that the comments reflect a similar sense of entitlement to Rihanna’s choices about how to deal with her experiences of violence. It is absolutely not Rihanna’s job to make anyone feel comfortable about how she deals with her abuse. It is of no consequence how gross anyone feels about Rihanna’s choices about who to collaborate with EXCEPT RIHANNA. That the Hairpin would add to the chorus of voices painting Rihanna as childish, immature, stupid, naive, passive, or otherwise unaware of the consequences and implications of her actions is sickening to me. Rihanna is not the morally reprehensible individual in this situation. Chris Brown is. No one gets to ask “Why, Rihanna?” except Rihanna. I don’t explicitly deploy shame lightly, but, fuck: this author ought to be ashamed of this piece.”


cf: 1. this

2. this — note language in third paragraph


Filed under: at arm's length,

the first letter, second page

Filed under: at arm's length, ,

Break-A-Way // The Contradiction, agency, & girl group music


Irma Thomas, Break-a-Way

I made my reservation

I’m leavin’ town tomorrow

I’ll find somebody new and

there’ll be no more sorrow

That’s what I do each time, but I can’t follow through

I can’t break away, though you made me cry

I can’t break away, I can’t say goodbye

I’ll never, ever break away from you no no

“The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established in their innermost being.  They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically.  Yet, although they desire authentic existence, they fear it.  They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized.  The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting them; between solidarity or alienation; between following prescriptions or having choices; between being spectators or actors; between acting or having the illusion of acting through the action of the oppressors; between speaking out or being silent, castrated in their power to create and re-create, in their power to transform the world.  This is the tragic dilemma of the oppressed which their education must take into account.”

–Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


This song is imprinted somewhere at the very core of my body. HER VOICE. It is a train barreling forward on its tracks, no wavering, no pausing, forward, singular, I don’t think she even breathes.  And I hear her, I experience her, not as a singer of a song, it’s her, as a fabric of robust living tissue. I feel it resonating. I feel it in her biography. I feel it, to a much milder yet somehow deeply penetrating extent, in my own autobiography, in the spaces where words are never enough.


Claudine Clark, Party Lights

I see the lights I see the lights

I see the party lights

They’re red and blue and green

Everybody in the crowd is there

but you won’t let me make the scene


“As a network of discourse and institutions, an accretion of beliefs, a field of positions, an amalgam of historical effects, [the art world] is fully ideological in that it orders and effects real relations, it hovers above and around them, determining, forecasting. It seems fully adequate, after all, it includes the names and work you already know, those names you can call to mind, can compare yourself to, have an opinion about, someone or something you need to learn and teach. Indeed, teaching it and learning it are crucial, how it is transmitted, how it is continued. Students are, once again, both its most important product and its target audience, its believers. One could say, to use a little psychoanalytic theory … that the art world is always as Freud described the unconscious, ein andere Schauplatz— that other show place or the place of the Other’s show. If the art world is in some sense elsewhere, that does not mean that its boundaries, its inclusions and exclusions are not felt.”

–Howard Singerman in his essay Excellence and Pluralism, a history of the UCLA Art Department


Her voice is cracking with desperation, she is stuck in her bedroom, watching a spectacular party take place across the street, begging her mom to let her go to it. She’s not singing to us about it; she’s singing directly to the person who has the power to keep her confined. The song isn’t called “Stuck in My Room” or “I’m Grounded;” it’s named after the flashes of the over-there, the not-here. What is most important is elsewhere. She can see the over-there, she is reaching out for it like an asymptote: red and blue and green, viewing her own powerlessness reflected through the visual flickers of a world to which she has no access. I can’t help but poeticize this song to indulge my own narrative, but I must also say that when you consider the overwhelming lack of a voice that black girls had in 1962, you can understand why Susan Douglas wrote that her howling “sounded like someone who had been in Alcatraz for twenty years and would simply explode if she didn’t get out.”


The Exciters, He’s Got the Power

He makes me do things I don’t wanna do

He makes me say things I don’t wanna say

And even though I wanna break away

I can’t stop saying I adore him

Can’t stop doin’ things for him

He’s got the power, the power of love over me

( me memmeemememmee)


“A system of valuing songs that insists on their honesty and an absence of mediation in the circumstances of their creation cannot apply to songs by and for girls, because girl culture and girl identity are always built on foundations laid by others. Accepting the roles and images offered to them and experimenting with prefabricated identities are fundamental strategies for girls’ self-fashioning and should not be dismissed as submissive and derivative. Summarizing Laura Mulvey’s important writings on women as objects of a male gaze, Valerie Walkerdine [writes], ‘[Girls’] fantasies are shaped entirely by the available representations: there are no fantasies that originate with girls, only those projected onto them.’

… Dismissing girl groups on the grounds that they are like windup dolls whose material is forced upon them by other, more creative minds ignores the parallels between girl music and girl identity in its largest sense. The important question, then, is not whether girls imbibe experiences fabricated for them, but how they do it, and how they make meanings from doing it.”

–Jacqueline Warwick in her book Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s


She is somewhere between screaming and singing, the drums pounding relentlessly like exclamation points, the backup vocals are street sirens, curling and pulsing. “OH BUT I LOVE HIM,” she paints pleasure in his grip over her, she feels it, she convinces us of it. Like in Break-a-Way, she can’t leave her lover/controller/abuser, even when it makes her do things she doesn’t wanna do, even when she wants to break away; but unlike in Break-a-Way, she’s never even bothered to make plans to leave. She knows she can’t. Because to her, his power is love. So she revels in it.


Patty and the Emblems, Mixed-Up, Shook-Up, Girl

Am I crying because you left me

Or am I crying because I don’t know what to do?

One day you said we’d never part

Am I sad or am I glad?

I’m a mixed-up, shook-up girl over you


more Jacqueline Warwick Girl Groups, Girl Culture:

“… John Berger explores the divided identity that is naturally enacted by females:

To be born a woman has been to be born, within an allotted and confined space, into the keeping of men. The social presence of women has developed as a result of their ingenuity in living under such tutelage within such a limited space. But this has been at the cost of a woman’s being split in two.

Berger’s analysis echoes W.E.B. DuBois’s observations about the experiences of black people in white culture:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others… One ever feels this twoness–an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”


The version I have of this song is live, and I like it a lot better than this version, its shouts and sways of the crowd and of Patty and how she just lets them scream the words “mixed-up, shook-up girl” rather than sing them herself. (Also, I love how “Am I sad or am I glad” does not rhyme whatsoever with the line before it.)

But mostly it means this to me: if you can’t fix the conflict on your own, if you can’t make sense of it or smooth it out, if you can’t make it stop making you cry, if it’s tearing you apart yet you can’t breakaway… whether or not there’s an audience in front of you, whether or not anyone will ever hear you… There is one thing you can do. You can sing the fuck out of the conflict.


Note: I owe my love of these songs to the ultimate girl-group-of-one, Julia Sull, who shared many of them with me while lying in my bed in Charlottesville, on the same night that Dave Matthews made a remark to Nicolas in a bathroom about eyebrows.

Filed under: at arm's length, The Contradiction,

Jaymee Martin says goodbye to college joys

Filed under: "Officialdom", at arm's length, tough and unmoveable as the soviet bloc

The beginning

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A couple of Friday mornings ago I was putting together a bowl of cereal when the radio mentioned it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday. A theologian, he had spoken out against the Nazi regime, was offered a cushy professorship asylum in New York, got there, realized he was being a coward, went back to Germany, continued to speak out against the Nazis, and was executed two weeks before Hitler’s suicide, 23 days before Germany surrendered. And then, this quotation. Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.

I checked my phone, I’d gotten a text message. From Justin: No word from either Lopez brother about the key to the storage unit. This storage unit in Oakland has held a trove of my artwork since September 2008, since I fled Los Angeles and my identity in the art world, since I fled a dynamic of abuse that had developed between Ernie and me. I’d been in text-message limbo with Justin, our only middleman left, about getting my artwork back, but nothing was working out. Ernie’s brother had the key down south, someone was going to mail it, nobody mailed it, Ernie’s not answering his phone, Justin is too busy himself. I knew I needed these paintings back—they were my identity, essentially; the metaphor of my artwork (my lifeblood) still being held in Ernie’s storage was not lost on me by any means—but I sort of imagined that they’d show up eventually, Justin could bring them down to me, I wouldn’t have to go to any sites of pain or deal with Ernie myself in any way, it could be as tidy as a special delivery to my doorstep. It could all remain at a distance.

The weight of loss, the weight of silence, The Contradiction, has been growing like a tidal wave… pretty much since I disappeared from the life that I had built, since I fled. Before, I had structured my entire identity around being An Artist. And my entire identity as An Artist included Ernie: I met him at my first art show when I was 17 (he was 25), when he was the first person to buy my artwork. From that point we developed a tense, at arm’s length, off-and-on relationship that centered around my artistic ambitions. I would do anything to become one of the Names that I read in the art books. I fell into a deep obsession, I had to make it happen, this mattered more than anything. He “got” this and fostered it as my purpose, with a seductive encouragement I had never felt before. A pushing of boundaries, a cerebral transgression, the breaking-open of art-as-idea.

I turned eighteen, went away to college, too pricy, didn’t fit, met Nicolas, came back to Monterey one semester later with the goal of transferring to art school at UCLA, where the Names were not just Names but actually belonged to real people who could someday know my name back. Several weeks later, Ernie’s mom was murdered. Southern California, estrangement, drugs and shady boyfriends and domestic violence. After this, Ernie would let himself into my room while I was sleeping and get into my bed. The bizarre power dynamic between us had already been set in place (later I will write about the anonymous emails he wrote me while I was at college), but for some reason this event stands out the most, some kind of turning point. I would coldly flip over, try to ignore him, I was trying to sleep, he was holding my body. No matter what I did, his heavy presence would be there in my bed, I didn’t know how to respond to his grief.

This sounds weird, but despite how much I have changed, despite the fact that I am now married to Nicolas, despite how much I have grown and taken myself apart and reassembled myself according to my own terms, until only a few weeks ago I would find myself lying in bed, feeling like he was still there under the covers. I knew it wasn’t him, it was some metaphor for him, like my artwork in his storage unit, a more-than-metaphor that extended into real space. It wasn’t just him, it was the entire art world, it was the entire identity I had created and then seen crumble, built up within a System where if your Name never made it onto the pages of books, onto the glossy pages of a magazine, if you hadn’t hit certain milestones or been recognized by the right people or in the right forum, you did not matter. You may as well not exist. And at night, in bed, I would lay there silent, and all of this would condense there alongside me, pressing its weight against me.

So a Friday morning, that quote: “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” Whatever I am doing isn’t working, I realize. I could no longer go on with that presence in my bed at night. Even after I had gotten out from under it, I had left the System, I had left the abuse, it could find its way there, I was still letting it have power over me, to tell me that I didn’t matter if I was outside of its line of vision. I spent almost two years thinking about this, thinking about how to express this as someone who makes things; I tried to write it into a story but it was too heavy-handed, I am not a victim, he is not a monster. I tried to make it into a book but then it becomes another tool, tool of a book-deal world of success and failure where certain voices get heard over the involuntary silence of countless others. I tried to make it into “Art,” but how is that not playing the game, as if I never left? How can I play the game while I am trying to speak out about the game itself, to speak out against its mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion? Am I playing the game now by saying anything at all?

This is it: The Contradiction. This is what crawls into my bed, this is what I wrestle with every single time I sit down to try to make anything. I have thought and thought and thought, and it has not gone away. If anything, it has taken control of me completely. I have lost my agency.

And so, I realize, I have to confront it head-on. Now that I am back in California I can’t convince myself that it’s far away. I have to deal with it myself. I have to trust myself to enter back into the dynamic for the right reasons. So I find him on Facebook (the only way, these days?) and send a message, “Please call me, same number.” 90 seconds later, my phone rings. I tell him that I need my paintings back. Please get the key. I am tired of carrying this burden around. Do you want to talk when you come up? he asks. I would be open to talking to you – I am looking for reconciliation – but going into it I’d have to know that you wouldn’t ask anything of me, because I’ve already given you enough and had enough taken. My face is bright red. My boundaries are drawn.

The next Friday. I am coming up tomorrow, my friend Emily is driving me, he’d suggested dropping everything off at Justin’s, I could pick it up there. Justin is busy, unresponsive. So I call. I’d rather go straight to the source. I don’t want to “pick up” my artwork—I want to excavate it, to roll the rock away from the tomb. This means, we realize, that he will have to come along, to lead us to the storage unit, to unlock the door; I would see him for the first time since I fled, two years five months. You’ll have a friend there, so you won’t be able to talk? he asks. Even if we were to talk, how do I know you would listen? How do I know that this isn’t a way to reignite the toxic power-play of constant second guesses and mental strong-arming? I’ve changed, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, I am really just ready to listen. …Well then, how about now? An hour passes on the telephone, I speak words I have never uttered, I have no idea if he is hearing me, it seems he is but I can never be sure – but somehow that doesn’t matter anymore. Getting it out there is enough. Getting it out there is all I can do.

He is a person, I am a person, we share an intersecting history of brokenness. I get out of the car and ask for a glass of water. He puts his hands on my shoulders: “Let me just look at you for a second.”

Unrelenting blue as we drive home; the day shines, gorgeous and warm. Artwork takes over the floor of my apartment. I breathe, I feel full. My big yellow painting leans against the wall as a signal of an accomplishment—not a mnemonic device to trigger the loss of a life I no longer live, but a testament to the act of authoring my own recovery. I think of this picture my dad showed me when he got his first laptop; a family photo from 2006. “I got rid of someone,” he said, and I realized who, with the basic iPhoto retouching tool, he had cursorily deleted from the image:

Despite your attempts to erase it, it will never really go away.  You can never get rid of The Contradiction. As long your agency is in question,  it will still find its way into your bed at night. It will still lurk around you like a blurry ghost, haunting you, occupying your thoughts, despite your attempts to ignore it or smooth out its wrinkles internally or deny that part of your identity. It will take some of you along with it.

The best you can do is to face it directly, because it is already a part of you. Address it head-on, even if it won’t listen, even if it can kill you. Because as long as you lay there silently wracking your brain, nothing will change. Because your silence is not a way to escape the game— it is just a different way of playing it. Your silence gives the game permission to go on without you, with its power intact, with your artwork still in its storage.

Filed under: at arm's length, dude get over it Martin, reconciliation as a work of art?, The Contradiction