complicated piece, a design that confounded me despite all my strategies
Betty looked at several of the sections I’d pinned to the wall—the
reverse-dyed sections, reminiscent of earlier topographical pieces, but
also a faded peach cloth painted with a lavender grid—and intuited
my concerns. “Sometimes sleep is the best resource. At least there’s the
possibility of dreaming a solution.” She drank a big gulp of coffee and
grinned. “At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.”
And then she went back to her loom.
But sleep was inevitably the problem. Sleep meant a release, an unwinding, meant lying down, my thoughts untethered, a labyrinth of
anxieties open to darkness. Each night when I came through my apartment door and saw the comfortable but ugly plaid couch and beyond
it, the necklace of lights descending toward Westwood, my heart sank.
Here, when I was alone and unbuttoned from ambition, the possibility
of being a fool, of kidding myself, of wanting what I couldn’t have, punctured the armor of my fury. Staring out into the night, I felt stricken.
Who did I think I was? What had I actually accomplished? If I meant to
defy my father, to “show him,” why did I still cash his check? All moral
indignation wilted under this scrutiny, for the truth was I couldn’t afford to live here on a TA’s salary, though I scrimped on everything, even
sleeping on three beach towels because I didn’t have enough money for
a mattress. No, I was nothing. I’d always be nothing. And I didn’t know
how to stop being nothing. I was just a girl far from home, sleepless on
an ugly plaid couch.
It pains me to realize that it never occurred to me to get a second job,
to cut back my hours of art work in order to support myself completely.
I’d so convinced myself that my vindication had to be artistic that my
sole response was to “do something important.” Even in defiance, I remained the obedient daughter. This too was part of the war, this battle
between obedience and egoism. While working, I felt such a rush of vital
selfishness and redemptive meaning that I didn’t give a damn about my
father’s money. I’d use it when I needed it. His loss. Too bad. But alone
in my apartment, lying on my beach towels, the shame of dependence
burrowed deep into the crevices of my brain.
To release myself from this trajectory of work and sleep, I often went to
the LA County Museum of Art and stood before Robert Motherwell’s
Elegy to the Spanish Republic #100, staring at the thick black rectangles