Walking Journal

Diana Hamilton

It's Wednesday, 7:28pm, which means Monster expected to eat about half an hour ago. There's some beans soaking. Let's see: I’m walking down the stairs, talking to myself, moving and speaking continuously to try to make writing and walking the same action. 

Depressed: I just left the house and all the lilacs on the stoop’s tree have died. I thought I had another week, and I didn't know this is the color they get—brown, like auburn hair. “Brown like something brown” is a terrible comparison. I’ll take a picture to cross reference later. It's sad—just two days ago it was this lush, kind of overgrown, pile of soft purple, and the smell announced the house ten houses before. I'm standing here, wringing my hands, and there's a really loud ice cream truck. The goal for this walk was to write what could be turned into at least 1000 words of Sleeping Around, the book for which I wrote a proposal in one night, in an attempt to give the other person in the room the impression I was capable of working.

Hypothetically, every chapter would include a memory of a bed that the main character, Rainer, had slept in, paired with an aesthetic representation of a bed they’d seen. Rainer would be committed to their life under the covers. But now that I’m thinking about it, this sounds like My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a book I hate. So they do go in the world, they have a full life, they just like thinking about this one place. Ugh, in that case, they need a job. I had put them in bed to avoid the question of work . . . now, I’ll have to make them rich.

Rainer takes a walk to the park, to the field that’s grassless—the city isn’t funding the parks this year—to see the skylines of two cities. Closer than the cities is the spire of a church, which looks, from there, bigger than One World Trade or whatever. They've always liked that ability churches have, to give the impression of being the biggest building, even as the city grows up around them. 

Now I am having the inverse experience of the lilacs: last week, I was standing under this tree waiting for its leaves to come in, admiring its branch structure—it’s most remarkable in winter, when you can see two strong branches, generously close to the ground, while still being big enough to support the weight of whole families—and now, here I am, it looks like it’s been summer for a month. I’m getting closer, and I see the leaves are brand new. From afar it looked like jubilee August, but up close, every branch has these little baby leaves, still curled up but about to unwind.  It’s sunset, and there’s an opaque wall of clouds on the horizon, but the sky overhead is bright. There must be a storm in Jersey. There was a little igloo over New York, and somebody cracked the top off like a soft boiled egg. 

It turns out I can’t draft the book aloud right now because plant life is going crazy. Even the pine trees, every hard plastic branch ends in soft spongy new growth, silicone pastry brushes. Inside the tree it’s bare, though, and I wonder what kind of animals live there. Another tree is covered in tiny little balls, flowers that are about to hatch. 

Women are exercising and lifting what look like 15-pound free weights, pulling their right arm up to its farthest extension, taking it back down to the ground between their legs, kind of like they are Staying Alive. They do a squat in the process. I accidentally checked out a girl. Her pink hair was incongruous with the rest of her appearance, and she was sitting with someone who seemed uncertain how close he should sit to her. 

You know what? I feel like I've taken my watercolors outside and I'm trying to paint the fucking park. I'm standing on a hill where the lawnmower has left stripes of freshly cut grass. It smells a little bit like the affordable perfume you'd buy from a lover’s friend. I don't like that comparison, either, but luckily nobody is with me to hear it. I haven’t mown a lawn since I was 16, and I wouldn’t know which buttons to press. 

You could tell the story of first meeting your cousin at the opening of the new MoMA in 2004, seeing Rauschenberg’s Bed for the first time. See if you already wrote that, when you were taking notes on Oppenheim’s fur cup and saucer. You could figure out a way to put it in this book—it's not a bed, but it could be a bed to somebody. It could be a bed to a mouse that runs across the floor. So Rainer sees a mouse run by their bed, and they think about how, when they were younger, they would have tried to save it, to fashion a little home for it. They would have pried the mouse out of the cat’s mouth and given it another day of life. They pictured themself constructing a replica of the fur cup, using a lilac tea set their mom gave them, and building the mouse a surrealist nest. While they imagined this, their cat came into the room and ate the mouse; at this age, they wouldn’t fight it. 

This is a vehicle to think about everything you’ve thought about Oppenheim’s Object. When I first saw Rauschenberg’s Bed, I remember thinking it was really meaningful that it was his actual comforter and pillow. That taught me something—I had felt some aversion to the personal, up to that point, when I might even have still called myself an atheist. There was something I did not know about the spirit, something that I understood when I saw the bed on the wall. I also understood that painting was three dimensional, that emotions can be provoked by slight changes (like making a bed vertical). Then the word “combine” itself, those verb-nouns—Rainer always liked the idea of making a work of art that was “new” only to the extent that it was newly iterable, when the genre needs a new word but can keep happening. That bed is so narrow—really makes you wonder if there's something you don't know about the average beds of 60s gay artists. It does not evoke a couple; only one guy could sleep there. 

Why do you always start a project with a list, and why give a character your own memories? It’s fiction. Try making something up for once.

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