Monthly Archives: October 2009

Years pass…

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Years pass… The sun sets and rises as if it possesses a mind of its own. I forget things. I forget who I am.

Dawn and Mia become more and more human. Soon, we are indistinguishable from others of our kind. Time exhibits an absurd regularity – so too, for that matter, does space. The measuring devices of this unreal world prove themselves to be nearly infallible.

I know I am lost but it seems an insignificant price to pay. My little successes, after all, bring rewards. All that’s needed is for me to tighten the muscles of my jaw, draw up the perimeter of my vision. Along the way, I see how unnecessary it is to be aware of peripheral things.

One day however, lying on the couch with a book in my hand, I succumb to a light sleep. This almost never happens to me. It seems insignificant, even though, upon waking, I note an unexpected shift in position of the hands of the clock.

As I move through the rest of the day, a feeling comes over me that I have not been asleep. For each time I happen to glance at a timepiece I have a sense that the hour has inordinately accelerated.

After several iterations of this increasingly strange sensation, I call Dawn just to anchor my experience within her familiar frame of reference. She is out of the office. I leave a brief voice message and – so as not to alarm her – make no reference to what I am experiencing.

I call Mia.

“Hi baby.”

“Hi Art, what’s wrong?”

“Why? Do I sound like something’s wrong?”

“Yes. Are you OK?”

“I don’t know. I feel strange. It’s like… I’m losing…forgetting…things – what I’ve just been doing. I know I’m here doing something …but when I look up at the clock…an hour has gone by. And I can’t really remember what I was doing for all that time…”

“Art…just stay there. I’m going to leave work and come home. Did you call Dawn?”

“Yeah, she wasn’t in. I just I left an innocuous message…I’m OK though. You don’t have to leave work…I feel a little… spaced or something. Whatever happened, I think it’s over. I mean… I can’t really remember… but…”

“Art. I’m coming home…now. I love you.”

“Yeah…OK. Yeah…I guess that would be good. I love you, too. Thanks.”

A few minutes pass. Dawn calls.

“Art, I’m on my way home. I talked to Mia. How are you feeling?”

“I’m OK now…I think. I had a strange day. I feel like…I lost a couple of hours…I can’t remember what happened…”

“I’ll be home soon, Art. Just try to relax.”

“Yeah, OK. Thanks Dawn. I don’t know what’s going on… but… I love you.”

Time passes. Obsessively, I try to reassemble the missing pieces of the day. It is as if the act of remembering causes a tunneling effect – a spinning sensation. Holding a few moments in memory seems to cause the entire edifice of the here and now to slip away.

I look at the clock to ground myself. I catch a glimmer, a glimpse of a phone call. I just made a phone call. I heard a female voice. Dawn’s voice? Or was it Mia? I try to recall a few bits of the conversation. Why the call? What were we talking about?

I look back at the clock and ten minutes have passed. But how can that be? Ten minutes for a few thoughts?

Panic… I am losing my memory of immediate things. I am lost in this moment. And I don’t know what is happening to me…

*

Image: “Years Pass,” drawing, painting, and digital photo collage by Tullio DeSantis, 2009.

 

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Waking Up

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A soft gray texture suffuses my inner vision. Conscious awareness asserts itself. It penetrates my slumber like a torch in a cave. But I am not so easily awakened. I resist with subconscious strength built up from a lifetime of stolid willfulness. I choose sleep and a fragment of dreaming returns.
I call up a scene in which an angelic creature… a golden-haired woman… is speaking to me with insistence. By her side, a darker, younger girl speaks in an accent that is strange to me. She is talking of ghosts. And she is smiling.

In and out of wakefulness now, I recall this scene from last night’s dream. I catch glimpses, seemingly at random, from the dreamscape. Images of tropical islands transforming into vast desert plains mix with scenes of flying high in midnight skies.

I pull up the covers and burrow deeper into the bed in an effort to hold on to these memories of dreaming and to fend off the urge to open my eyes. Morning sensations – the tangible pressure of light upon eyelids, bird sounds, a dog barking in the distance – force a sense of inevitability. The new day is coming. I can resist for only so long before I lose my fight against it.

Knowing the imminence of tomorrow, I am like a frantic householder, whose home is ablaze, picking up shards of a life that is ending. I desire to collect and preserve the memories of the night’s dreams because in these past few moments they have grown in significance and seem to be of monumental importance.

With eyes that will not stay closed, I scan my bedside table for my paper and pen. Each word I scrawl on the yellow pad seems to erase an entire phrase I am intending to write. In a flash, I see the futility of this effort and simply endeavor to commit the main dream scenes to memory.

*

Dawn is already awake. I can hear her moving about as I descend the stairs. Hugging her and seeing her smile, I feel situated again in my familiar world of time-and-space. A moment later, wrapped in a blue towel, Mia emerges from the shower. She walks into the kitchen with a hug and a good-morning smile of her own.

“I had these amazing dreams last night. I can hardly remember them though. I tried writing them down but it was quicker just to try to memorize the scenes in pictures.”

The ladies are curious. Dawn takes a sip of coffee and Mia sits down to stroke the dogs. They look expectant, interested.

“First, I just had this feeling of significance…like my dreams were really important…but I could hardly remember anything except the last scene. I was sitting on a soft white couch. There were two women. One was Spanish or South-American…with dark hair…she was talking about seeing ghosts. On the couch next to me was this really angelic-looking blond. And she was telling me to keep quiet and listen to something…which I couldn’t hear…at all.”

Dawn asks where the dream took place.

“It looked like my studio in San Francisco. But the dark-haired woman was someone I knew from New York. Actually, I remember a lot of places. It started out in some tropical jungle, really beautiful…full of butterflies. I felt like I could fly and ended up flying over this desert. Then there was this high mountain region full of caves. I had these…sort of…endless adventures in the caves. I remember coming out into daylight…and I saw my old Mustang driving away. There were a couple of people in it…couldn’t see who they were.”

Mia looks up. “That’s it?”

“Well, then it was the scene on the couch…that was at the end…right before I woke up. The main thing was this woman saying…insisting…I should basically shut up and start listening. That’s all I can remember.”

They’re both smiling now – looking at each other like they’re about to break into fits of laughing out loud.

“I can tell you guys like the ending.”

After sharing a nod with Mia, Dawn puts down her cup and says, “It sounds like it began in Florida. I’ve been dreaming of Florida lately, too.”

“Yeah, it started out really hot and I could feel the climate change each time the scene changed.”

Mia moves toward the stairs.

“I need to get ready for work, Art. It sounds cool. Nothing wrong with taking more time to really hear things.”

“Right. But I feel like most of the important parts I just can’t remember. It seems like a dream that you only half-recall can just as easily be misinterpreted as not. I guess I’ll just be going over it for a while to see if any more comes back to me.”

“I have to get ready too, Art. It’s like amnesia I guess. If you can’t remember something that happened to you, is it lost forever? Or do you just keep struggling to fill in the gaps until it makes some kind of sense?”

“I know, Dawn. I think I’m just going to stop trying to make sense of things and….”

“Listen?”

“Listen.”

We say the word in unison. For her it is a question. For me it is… done.

*

Image: “Waking Up,” artwork and digital photo collage, Tullio DeSantis, 2009.

 

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Already Dead

“Now you know.”

“I know what, Keith? That everything comes from nothing? I wrote about that in 1970 – earlier actually, I did a paper on it when I was a physics major. I published a poetic explanation of quantum fluctuation of virtual particles in the RipOff Review…”

“Just shut up for once, Art!”

Regaining composure, he utters seven words.

“Now you know…you are already dead.”

The instant I hear him say it, my mind goes quiet. I am a blank tablet, an empty vessel. I want to listen to what he is trying to tell me. I feel like a student who seeks a clear and simple explanation for something mysterious and complex.

“…so…when…did I die?”

“Only you know that. It could have been the first trip we took.”

“When we drove to New York a few days after we met?”

“Yeah. What was in that smoke anyway?”

“Nothing but grass. Why?”

“There was something else in that joint, Art. I completely blacked out. I can’t remember anything after we stopped the car on the side of the road.”

“No Keith, I draw a blank on that too. I’ve been trying to reconstruct those memories for almost 30 years. But we didn’t die. That’s absurd.”

“I didn’t die. We both know exactly when I died. But it’s obvious you don’t know you’re dead, man.”

“Keith, I admit, I’m totally sweating, look at my hands…I can’t stop them from shaking. I feel as weird, right now, as ever. But I have been straight…for a long time. What’s going on?”

“You died a long time ago, Art. That’s what’s going on. And you are freaking people out on both sides. You’ve been pursuing me…and I’ve been waiting to say this. Problem is, you talk more than you listen.”

The couch is cool to my touch. Through the vents, I hear the air conditioner shudder to a dead stop. My heart is beating hard. I want to speak, to call out – to scream the word, “NO!” but my jaw feels like it is welded shut. I know now why I am in this place. I know why we are here. It is time for me…to listen…to hear him…

(to be continued…)

*

 

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Tullio DeSantis and Keith Haring Project, an Introduction on YouTube

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I have posted to YouTube raw video footage of a recent lecture in which I introduce the subject of the project I initiated with Keith Haring in 1985. I have continued this work in various media since the day Keith died. Today, the project continues. You are invited to join in this collaborative journey…

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Here are links for all three parts:

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

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I die

I die.

There is nothing – a nothingness encompassing endless eons. It is no thing – unbound throughout infinite dimensions in a deep and dreamless void, a vast oceanic and eternal stillness, a cold nowhere, a shoreline of nonexistence, an empty formlessness.

And in this extremity of death, an infinitesimal shudder stirs. The merest ripple of nothingness echoes throughout universes of nonexistence. A standing wave, a subatomic quark, a protein warmed by an ancient sun – a single sensation is snuffed out in an instant by that same star as it rises in a remote sky.

A trillion deaths collapse in a split-nanosecond – a trillion lives surging instantaneously in and out of existence. This is the reality and illusion of both what is and what is not. Every death is one death. And it occurs over and over in the same instant. It occurs in the future and in the present moment. And it happens in the past and only once in the concentric cycles of space and time. It is my death and yours – one life and one death.

A glint in an empty eye, a wind-sound rushing past, I am spun wildly around. I catch momentary trails of events long passed, moving in liquid color through my senses. I am awash in their echoes, caught up in them for the merest fraction of a saccade. I am lost in stray instants that splash up from the froth of time on shipwrecked shores.

There is no sense to be made. There is only this endlessness of experience – and how it ends. Or more, that it does end. And its very end is the thing itself, held for the hundredth, thousandth, millionth time…suspended somewhere in the mind.

I open my eyes and close them again. In this moment, I am here. And in this moment I am gone.

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I stop believing in the real world

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“Hi Art. Can you hang on awhile; I have some calls to make?”

“Sure Keith”

A young Latino man I’ve never seen before offers me a Coke. I accept and relax into the soft leather couch.

The studio is geared for mass production – at least mass-production on Keith’s hand-made scale. Everything is within arm’s reach – markers, brushes, paint, paper, vinyl, rags, and buckets of water. There are more than a dozen iconic vases on the shelf. Some are covered with subtle geometric characters, tightly locked into repetitive patterns. Others are festooned with bright strokes of calligraphy. The ambiguous shapes form symbols that look like combinations of inscrutable letters, numbers, and figures.

Beside a group of maquettes for a sculpture series ready to be fabricated by the Lippincott Foundry, a pile of shiny prints forms a foot-high stack on the floor. The walls are alive with a row of brilliant red, yellow, blue, and green paintings.

I consider how far he has come in a few short years. His Broome Street studio was dark, seedy, cluttered. This new place on Broadway is spectacular in every way – from the plush furniture to the stores of newly-stocked art supplies.

After a half hour or so, he tells two boys in his immediate vicinity he doesn’t want to be disturbed and joins me on the couch.

“I’m way too busy, man.”

This is how he starts most conversations these days. It’s become clear the demands on him are great.

“Well ultimately you’re in charge of that, you know.”

“Yeah. It’s just that all these projects right now are important. I know they’re getting in the way of our meetings and I’m sorry about that, but…”

“It’s OK, Keith. The connections are…up there – in the air somewhere – it’s a mental…or metaphysical…thing. It goes on. Have you noticed that?”

“Actually, I’ve been thinking about what you meant when you said you stopped believing in the real world…I can’t get that out of my head. I talked to Timothy Leary about it. He said he remembered you from Gettysburg…”

“Cool. I saw him after that in San Francisco, too. But that’s where we met, yeah. I was corresponding with Richard Alpert. He was working with Leary at Harvard. Anyway, I eventually got Tim to visit Gettysburg College. We had this loose group of beatniks and hippies. Everyone gathered around him in front. We sat there in lotus positions on the floor. The other students acted like a flying saucer had landed.”

“Maybe one did,” he says.

“As a matter of fact….”

At this point I just break up in laughter. Keith does too. I remember what I like about this relationship. It’s almost twenty years since the Summer of Love and the changes in consciousness that marked the end of one world and the beginning of a new one – at least for some of us.

Since then, though, a lot of my friends turned out straight-laced. And yet, here I am, sitting on a couch with a guy ten years younger than I am and we’re laughing and talking like we’re on a psychedelic trip, even though all we’ve had is a couple of Cokes.

“So anyway, I think you’re right about the real world,“ he says.

“Well, whatever it is there’s no reason to believe in it. It’s the last religion. Even atheists believe in the real world.”

“Yeah. People make up their reality as they go through it. Nobody seems to notice.”

“Until things get so strange…they have no choice – like when something we can’t comprehend won’t go away, or…when we’re dreaming…or dying.”

“I know. When I died it was, like…unreal at first…and then it seemed so natural…”

He is no longer here. I have not averted my gaze. He has simply…disappeared…

A young Jamaican kid who’s been blowing smoke rings into the ceiling fan looks over and laughs.

“You look like you see’in a ghost, mahn.”

A glimpse of gold in his smile and the glint in his eye are my final memories.

An eternity passes.

Within me – a voice…

“You’ll get used to death, Art. It took me some time, too. I’m with you here…don’t worry. Actually, you’re getting better at realizing it. You just tuned out for a few seconds this time.”

A young Latino man I feel like I have seen before – perhaps it was in a dream – offers me a Coke. I accept and relax into the soft leather couch.

(to be continued…)

*

Image: “New World 2012,” and studio view, Tullio DeSantis, 2009.

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Everything From Nothing

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A high-pitched sound reverberates throughout. I do not hear it so much as feel it on the periphery of my awareness. Soon, it becomes painful and overwhelming. I awaken to the persistent ringing of the phone.

It’s Keith.

“Art, I called a few times. Did you get my message?”

“I crashed man. I’ve been asleep since I got home.

“Oh, too bad. William Burroughs invited me out to dinner. I tried to get ahold of you to come along. He has this amazing mind… We talked about the same things you and I talk about.”

“That’s cool, thanks. I always thought his stuff was really negative.”

“He’s a sweet man, really kind. He was just so nice to me. I felt an instant bond with him. His work is just…you know…his work. I think he’s trying to wake people up.”

“No doubt. So yeah, man, that was a strange trip today, wasn’t it?”

“Why? What happened?”

“When we drove up here…all of that…the cave…the valley…the car on the side of the road…”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been in town for the last week. So have you, far as I know…You OK, man?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m OK. Let’s get together soon. I want to talk about the Project.”

“Um, well, I’m going to Europe in a couple of days. Can you stop over tomorrow?”

“Sure. You free in the afternoon?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell Julia you’re coming over.”

“OK Keith. See you then.”

Again…this feeling of strangeness, unreality…

I hang up the phone and am overcome with confusion. In an effort to feel in control, I trace sequentially through my memory of the day’s events. The fact that there is a sequence – or that I am convinced I can recall a continuous chain of memory linking one thing to the next – doesn’t change the sense of disorientation I feel about each bizarre occurrence.

In some ways, I am excited about the encroaching intuition that things will never again be as they were. If there’s something that characterizes my psyche – that has always been a very strong part of my motivation – it is the desire to reject what is called the “real world” in favor of some other form of experience.

This powerful urge to inhabit another version of the world has impelled me over the years to risk everything in my attempt to satisfy it. It is the addiction that underlies all of the addictions I have ever entertained. And now that I have left those habits behind, I am still driven – driven to penetrate the territories of the unknown.

I’m left with the knowledge that this has happened to me many times before and that it will continue. It is a very familiar feeling – the near-vertiginous sensation of paradigmatic change. To leave behind one world – one reality, one state of mind – and to move through the first stages of a new one is always unsettling in deep ways.

I look up for a moment. The dark-haired girl in the building across the alley is undressing again – in front of the window. About a month after I moved in she started leaving the shades up all the time. Youthful and curvaceous, she is as beautiful as a girl in the window could possibly be. She moves like a dancer until her liquid eyes catch a fleeting glimpse of mine. Tonight though, I look away.

And as I have done thousands of times in the past, I pick up a pen and begin to draw. Making a trail of points to mark each moment, seeing the points coalesce into directional lines, and observing the resulting energetic forms moves me to a more peaceful state – for it is clear, right before my eyes I see that everything from nothing always comes.

(to be continued…)

*

Image: “Everything From Nothing,” 1985, ink on paper, by Tullio DeSantis.

 

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Naked. Inside.

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I say goodbye to Keith and drive through the Lower East Side up to West 20th. There’s a space open in front of the precinct station. It feels solid parking in one of the safest places in town. I like looking out the window to view the Mustang down here.
Miguel is on the sidewalk. He sees me coming, takes a final drag on his cigarette, gets up from a milk crate, and pushes open the barred door to the old freight elevator. He knows that’s the one I prefer. When I first started renting this place, he seemed disappointed I wouldn’t let him take me up in the newly renovated lift. At this point though, he just helps me with my bags and bids me a pleasant, “Adios.”

In the loft, reviewing the strange events of the day, I am both burdened and inspired. A deep transformation is taking over my life. It is moving me with insistent force toward a fuller, more completely realized version of myself. And as unsettling as it is, I feel no shred of fear. Fatigued and tired to the bone, I rest.

Naked now, between sheets, I await my descent into the world of dreaming. The enfolding layers of linen feel like soft echoes of the smooth boulders that surrounded us within the hillside cave.

Behind my eyelids, sight continues. Pulsations of entoptic vision fill my eyes with the regularity of ocean waves. I see phosphenes, staccato flashes, random spots of gold, and networked streaks of shiny blue and green. I catch a glimpse of shape-shifting colors. They move like protozoan forms of inner life.

There are spaces between the shapes. I make a conscious effort to send my imagination out to explore this evolving mindscape. Pear-green tubes sprout prickly spikes and take root in the emergent chaos. Finely detailed rosettes form from blood-red spheres. Plumes of ink-purple feathering out through watery mist emerge as nocturnal cactus flowers. I drift toward an incandescent horizon.

These events bring awareness of an approaching dream just as surely as quickly darkening cumulonimbus presage a thunderstorm. This knowledge gives me a moment to prepare. So as not to be caught unaware in the impending whirlwind, I clear a place in my thoughts to observe in a more detached manner.

I sense the pace quickening during the formation of this spontaneous vision. Calmed, I am able to see things from both inside and outside of myself. I see the scenes shift. Optical passageways illuminate the dark mind space within me. An onrush of cool air from my lungs and hot heart blood collide in emotional arcs. Drumbeat rhythms pulse through my chest. I am a ghost, passionate and alive in a chamber of flesh and mind.

I feel my spirit issue forth into the cavernous reaches of curved space and cosmic time. My awareness of dreaming merges with sensations of living and dying. I bridge the endless connectedness of inner and outer worlds. Each void is a threshold, each crypt a womb. I see the searing suns of Andromeda collapse into a vortex of interstellar emptiness and in the same instant new universes emerge from points of utter formlessness.

I am naked, as I have always been – within layers of soft tissue, smooth stones, rough boulders. All the places I inhabit – each wall, floor, vault, and every chambered space is filled with images, fraught with signs…

(to be continued…)

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Image: “Naked. Inside.,” Digitized image (Milky Way Galaxy and unititled painting by Tullio DeSantis), 2009.

 

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