Fingerprints of You

Reading Kristen-Paige Madonia’s Fingerprints of You, and certain passages strike home.

p.38: Inner voice of Lemon, a 17 year old pregnant girl who has never known her father, who resents her mother for moving her around so much as a child;

I remember our shitty little house with the stained carpet and the worn-out couch waiting for us on the other side of town, and I realized I’d spent most of my childhood being angry at her (Mom) for making us live like that, for not having enough money for us to rent a nicer home, and for refusing to pick a place to settle in. (End of Quote)

I have a similar situation in my family now, adult kids struggling with their resentment of moving a lot when they were young, of Mom being married multiple times and having boyfriends, of feeling when they were kids they didn’t have all the fancy stuff their peers had, because Mom bought thrift store Polos, cut the little guy on his horse off and sewed him onto their cheap shirts, because Mom pursued her art instead of a steady job. Mom’s hashed this out with them many times, but somehow it hasn’t been enough, though the kids have their own kids now, beautiful kids, like their parents, who are responsible and capable and articulate and are good people in large part because Mom has always provided for them, still provides for them, is committed to her children and grandchildren as if they were still her vulnerable little tots, which in many ways they are.

Lemon again, on p. 93, talking to her friend Emmy as they ride on a Greyhound bus across the country, to San Francisco to find her father;

“I wanted to believe she made the right choice for us,” I told her, “but I just couldn’t help being pissed off. It’s like sometimes I blame her for not making a family out of us, but then sometimes I know it was probably better that way,” I said. “He never came for me, so I figured he was a loser, the kind of guy who couldn’t handle being a real dad.” (End of Quote)

My wife’s son told me he’d reconciled with his father for not being there, that they’d never be friends, but they’d been able to talk about things in a way he couldn’t get his Mom to talk about things, and they’d come to terms. Yet I’ve been there more than once when the kids ganged up on their Mom, telling her how bad she was to them, how awful it was to live in a funky house full of art and artists, in the wrong part of town, how embarrassed they were that their mother made a living cleaning other people’s houses and traveling to art shows to sell her paintings, how she abandoned them when they were teenagers when she got an apartment close by and let her daughter’s boyfriend’s Aunt move into their house for a short while, and Mom apologizing and defending herself, until all any of us were doing was repeating ourselves. It’s hard for me to imagine what else could be said, what words from her could dig up and dissipate feelings that have been shunted aside since childhood. 

I haven”t finished Fingerprints of You yet, but I last night I read these passages to my wife, and I told her that I’m guessing Lemon comes to terms with her mother by the end of the novel, that she comes to realize that even her mother’s mistakes were the best she could do, and that part of becoming an adult means accepting responsibility for who you are, giving up the impulse to blame others for your emotions.

My parents always felt guilty for breaking up our home, for the protracted nastiness of the custody battle, for using us kids against the other parent. My sister and I dealt with the divorce in different, often unhealthy ways. My not blaming my parents may be the best thing I ever did for myself.

I hope to finish Fingerprints of You this evening, am anxious to see how Lemon grows up.

Letter to Dan Ellis

Dan,

Good to hear from you. Hopefully your strategic successes will overwhelm your tactical challenges.

I have included my friend, Ed Lawry, in this discussion, as Ed is not only a storied philosopher, but a scholar of aesthetics as well.

As for Kant. Though it’s likely I live much of his philosophy each day, it’s been a long time since I’ve read him. I am reading mainly fiction and poetry these days. As much as philosophy teaches me, at this point in my life I am focused on fiction and poetry to enrich my understanding, allowing me to break the bonds of analytics.

For Kant Psychological principals would be those governing our thought processes. The laws of cause and affect, for instance, are reflections of the structure of our mind/brain (let’s not complicate things with Descartes for the moment.) We think one thing causes another because we consistently see the first thing occur immediately preceeding the second (constant conjunction), and our mind posits that the first must be the cause of the second. It’s a very happy way of walking around the world without falling off a cliff.

What we don’t really know is whether this way of making sense of the world corresponds to the way the world really is, or if it’s merely a result of the way our mind must, due to the way it’s structured, process our perceptions.

Thus we live our lives ‘as if’ we perceive and understand ‘things in themselves.’

But we can never know ‘things in themselves.’ We only know things as we perceive them. Thus both empirical and psychological principals are based on our perceptions, which may or may not correspond to the ‘real’ world, and thus could never function as a reliable basis of a true demonstrated science.

This brings me to ‘Art For Your World,’ the statement on your website.

I have never thought of the mantra ‘art for art’s sake,’ as imposing such a weighty obligation on the viewer. A freeing of the artist, certainly.

Now I am going to bastardize Descartes. ‘I create, therefore I am.’

One of the great lessons I took from running the gallery is my definition of a true artist. It was a great experience to help so many aspiring artists exhibit for the first time. Most were, as you were at the time, burdened with the unreasonable capitalist imposition of paying rent.

You had to do your art after work, on the weekends, using your sick days that I did not pay you for.

I discovered that some people have to create. Like my beautiful wife Peggy McGivern, they have to physically change the world they live in. This is what I call a true artist.

Many people love art, and many are smitten with the romantic notion of being an artist, or bohemian, or rebel, or don’t like their life.

But a true artist is compelled to create. It’s therapy, exercise, as necessary as breathing, filtering ‘things in themselves’ through the nose hairs of their minds, existing ‘as if’ the cause and effect structure of their existence was malleable, invoking the same instinct to control their world as Kant is trying to understand when he embarks upon ‘The Critique of Pure Reason.’

Is it, as you suggest, a failure of the modern art avant-gard if the artist does not have the viewer in the back of her or his mind when comsumed by creation?

Is the viewer sinning when s/he doesn’t at least attempt to take the artist’s intentions into account?

Maybe we all just owe it to ourselves to contemplate creation; seen, heard, felt, processed, as if…

Give my love to Brenda,