I currently live and work in Los Angeles, CA and recently received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As an exhibiting artist, I work within sculpture, installation, and video. Overall, my art practice regularly references bodily interactions, power relationships, intimate encounters, and anti-capitalist forms of protest. Besides being an artist, I am active in directing experimental art exhibition spaces, as well as political activism.
You used to be cavalier about all the places you have lived. You have two passports, one for America and one for Ireland. You have an apartment in NYC, a car in LA, and an ex-fiancé in London. You have a childhood that spanned from Zimbabwe, where you gave baby elephants candy, to Mexico, where you crossed the border every day for school, to Kenya, where you put mud in your hair and danced in termite rain, and to Bolivia, where you saved the wallpaper from your thirteen-year-old bedroom. That wallpaper is now in a brown paper bag, in a closet in your parents’ house in Florida. Your mother called to ask you why you have a sack full of confetti. You go to boarding school in Michigan, then to Ethiopia during the rainy season; you lose your virginity in a Montreal hotel that has a revolving restaurant on the roof. You spend Christmas in Slovakia, listening to the Opera singers drunkenly belt arias into the night sky as they walk home from a show. You always believed that none of these places or events mattered, that it was the velocity of how fast you moved forward that really counted. Then at twenty-two years old, you could no longer follow your parents around the world. The State Department, for which they worked, put a cap on how long you could be dependent, and your time was up. So there you were: an adult who had nowhere to go. You had the whole world, but you did not have a home.
Now you are thirty-two years old and deciding to leave New York. You are shocked to wake up one day and find that you have had the same apartment for more than six years. You were never meant to sit still, you think, looking into the mirror and noticing for the first time that a kind of Great Rift Valley has formed between your eyebrows.
SO THERE YOU WERE: AN ADULT WHO HAD NOWHERE TO GO. YOU HAD THE WHOLE WORLD, BUT YOU DID NOT HAVE A HOME.
You find yourself in Los Angeles, bathed in Jasmine-scented breezes, and surrounded by all your friends who left years before, prompted by their own “Goodbye to all that” crisis. There are parties you go to, and kissing that happens with far too many ex-boyfriends, and expensive ice tea you drink under a vermillion bougainvillea bush, the deep pink flowers reflecting the heat that blooms in your cheeks. There are also new people—your favorite kind—men who call company cars to pick you up, and performance artist boys who have nothing to show for their lives except the way their eyes light up when they look at you.
Yet the starting over seems to wash over you in tides of fear. Every day you look out the small window of the converted garage you have rented, expecting to see something. A kind of something that you are searching for everywhere: In the bars, in the coffee shops, in the never-ending thoughts of the man you left in New York, in the swooping hills of Griffith Park. You don’t know what it is, but the longing for it never goes away.
As soon as you decide to leave New York, you start making bad decisions—the worst of all is a man. (Is it ever really anything else?) Unfortunately, this is not a new habit for you—this a routine commonly practiced by gypsy children. Just as there are stages of grief that one goes through in mourning for a person, there are stages of grief for mourning a place. Born into one culture and raised among others, your identity is most closely aligned with others raised like you, moving internationally. You are not “from” anywhere. When you move so often, you start to mourn a country before you even leave.
JUST AS THERE ARE STAGES OF GRIEF THAT ONE GOES THROUGH IN MOURNING FOR A PERSON, THERE ARE STAGES OF GRIEF FOR MOURNING A PLACE.
Phase 1: You distance yourself from everything and everyone you have loved. In Bolivia, your sister stopped walking the dog, or even acknowledging his presence after years of him being her best friend, because she knew your family wouldn’t be able to take him to the next post.
Phase 2: You put up walls. In your childhood, this was as easy as telling someone you always thought they were ugly, or that you were glad they were moving. As an adult, this means you break up with the man via a text message that is cold and brief.
Phase 3: The grander the gesture, the better. When you were thirteen you left your window open, so a boy two years older than you and about to leave for Singapore, could climb through. Afterward, he never spoke to you again, even though he would be in the country for two more months. Strangely, you weren’t upset; instead, you knew someday you would do it too. After all, you were the one who left the window open and waited patiently in a thin cotton nightgown. But you had no idea that you would continue to do this even in your thirties—back then could you even envision "a thirties?" But there you are, begging the man to take you back, dancing in the rain on his rooftop, later having sex with him on the floor.
YOU THOUGHT THAT BECAUSE YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED TO LEAVE PLACES AND PEOPLE, THE MEMORY OF SOMEONE OR SOMEWHERE WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. . . YOU WERE WRONG.
You thought that because you have been raised to leave places and people, the memory of someone or somewhere was the most important thing. You thought you could do whatever you wanted and suffer no consequences because you would not be there to deal with the aftermath. You were wrong. Some things do change.
Now that you are in LA, you keep hoping to feel the way the landscape looks: You keep hoping that the warm glow of California, with its pinks and oranges, will start coming from inside you, instead of suffocating you from the outside. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, you walk down Sunset Boulevard and choke back the tears you feel coming like great waves of nausea. You double over on the pavement, but manage in the end to save the tears for late at night when you are alone in the bath, praying that the steam will protect you like a shroud. In the daytime, you are always walking, and you feel as conspicuous as when you tried to speak Spanish for the first time, or when you walked around Addis Ababa with your sixteen-year-old baby fat spilling gently over your velour sweat suits. Now when you are on the streets, you carry a great blue weight in your belly.
You can remember some of this feeling from before: you remember crying on the plane when you first went to London at twenty-two, you remember trying out the word “knackered” in your mouth, convinced that everyone would know you were a fraud when you said it for the first time. The welcome pamphlets, given to you by the Embassy, said that this was known as “culture shock.” But California is not another country. It is filled with people who love you, though you have begun to understand that love isn’t given as freely as it was when you were all younger. Now people have pocketed away their love a little more for partners who share the mortgage and the concern of having a baby. You feel like you are a ghost wandering around in your friends’ very established lives. Everyone’s definition of love is shifting, and for the first time, you don’t want to make a bad decision, for the first time you don’t want an adventure.
The memory of the man starts to slip away from you (and everyone is relieved because you have talked about him far too much). But even after he is gone completely, there is still the ectoplasm of something left on your heart. This sensation is sticky, and though you keep trying to wash it off with new faces and new flirtations, you come back late at night in a cab, and suddenly his face is so clear that you will think you can reach out and touch it.
THE DESPONDENCY HAS NEVER GONE AWAY… SHE WILL SMELL SOMETHING LIKE HER MOTHER’S BROWN BREAD, AND REALIZE THAT EVEN NOW SHE IS NOT, NOR WILL SHE EVER BE, HOME.
It was not him you wanted. It was the idea of him. And this feels cliché to you, so you will ignore it, and try to get on with your life. The realization comes to you while lying in bed in the morning, praying that you won’t have to go out into the sun, praying that it will be an overcast day: Your plan for leaving has backfired. Now you are neither here, nor there. You cannot shake the feeling that you do not know yourself, that not even this pain seems familiar. You are different now.
When you are stuck on the 101 frightened by all the other vehicles, Mrs. Dalloway floats across your eyes: “She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.” You too will think that the freeway seems like a great ocean full of unmoored ships. These cars will be inching towards a destination that will remain unknown to you, and you fear that you don’t know where you are going either. This time in California will soon be up, and what will you feel when you leave? Where will you go when it’s over? Who will be waiting for you?
Your mother tells you a story about when she and your father first moved to Costa Rica. She was thirty-two (just like you now), but she had never left Ireland before. Her father had owned an orange Peugeot 403, which also happened to be the car that every taxi company used in San José. Your mother says that sometimes she would see one coming up the drive and, for a brief moment, think it was her father coming to visit her bringing a little bit of Ireland with him. When she realized the absurdity of that, and how it was not her father but just a stranger being driven home in a cab, she felt a kind of despondency that was new to her then. She says that after having lived all over the world, the despondency has never gone away. Most of the time it hibernates, but then she will smell something like her mother’s brown bread, and realize that even now she is not, nor will she ever be, home.
You are suddenly aware that what you are looking for is some kind of version of the orange Peugeot. That the weight in your belly and the images of the man are really the same thing: you want to be home. Pieces of you are scattered on different continents, and it has been wrong to dismiss the idea that they still have you in their grasp. It is time to grieve the parts of you that live on smoky moors, the parts of you that can be found on a savanna the color of which matches the mustard yellow of a Lion’s main. You know you roll in with the tide that meets the warm sand of Mombasa’s beaches. Now you want these pieces back. You want to collect your memories and plant them in a garden behind your house. You want to nurture them until they grow as big as the sun-ripe corn that maps the Midwest. Then they will be yours to till, and you will hide in their shade, staring up at the great blue sky.