On returning


Piedrín has always been an occasional series of texts, a collection of small observations, little stones, that might perhaps build something, if only for me. I make no claims about its usefulness to anyone else, anywhere else. Nor does it subscribe to the calendar of relentless publishing for publishing's sake. It is a quiet project, a space for gathering some thoughts, in conversation with some artists, for a small handful of readers, most of whom are my friends. I do not fool myself that this is a necessary project for anyone here, that I am needed here, or even wanted. Rather, I am simply here. Making my own mistakes, and reframing my own questions, taking some space to breathe, and returning. And so, here I am, after some absence. Hello, again, you.

As the year ends, I think about why we do what we do, why we persist in writing about art, in reading about art, in reading, in making art, in writing, even as the world burns? Two days ago, I returned to Guatemala City after an unexpected absence of several months. I needed to leave in August, for work and for my health, and when I left I was emotionally broken by a series of encounters in the art world, that nasty thing that can be needlessly brutal to its inhabitants. I have thought a lot about the cultural specificity of trust and friendship, the ways in which these things resonate differently in different historical contexts, about what small actions my work makes in the face of a distrustful world, about how to remain vulnerable and sincere without being crushed: this question is central to my practice as a writer, a curator, an historian.

I returned a few days ago to find the Festival Navideño filling the parque central, the Sexta Avenida almost impossible to walk. I returned to find the memorial for the burned girls of the Hogar de la Virgen still there on the plaza, their deaths unresolved. I returned to the holiday fireworks and concerts, the inexplicable ice skating rink defying the warm, sunny days in its artificial attempt at a holiday vision based on another geography. I returned to find the same art world gossip, the same divisions and uneasy friendships. I returned with suitcases full of art work from the exhibition Acts of Aggression, and with art supplies for a few artists, books for others, things people asked me to find and bring back. I am grateful for the luxury of leaving, and grateful for those who welcome me back. It is a season for gratitude, and I am grateful for you, reader, whoever you may be, even if you read me only to gather ammunition.

In Houston, I find myself thinking through the use of personal experience as part of a larger critical practice, as a political belief system that informs all of my work. I had imagined that--upon the shoulders of the feminist movement--it was no longer necessary to defend this kind of practice, but I had also imagined many legacies of the feminist movement that, in recent months, have been emphatically re-destroyed. Or perhaps they were always imaginings.... imaginarences, in the parlance of Houston artist Nathaniel Donnett (and I like how he makes his own word for alternative imaginary universes in a world that disallows whole broad categories of experience). At my eye doctor's office, I am asked to fill out a survey, including a series of categories of work and hobbies, none of which include anything relevant to my life, nor to the health of my vision. I am neither homemaker nor business person. My own categories of experience are quite invisible, here and there. And, most simply, this is why I write.

Ana Maria Rodas's words become my manifesto, in defense of the personal.

They say that a poem
should be less personal;
that this thing of speaking about you or me
is something only women do.
That it is not serious.
By luck or by accident
I still do what I want.
Perhaps one day I will use other methods
and speak in the abstract.
Now I only know that if I say something
it should be about something I know.
I am only sincere –and that is enough–
speaking of my own miseries and joys
I can describe how I like fresas,
for example,
and that I dislike some people
because they are hypocrites, or cruel
or simply because they are stupid.
That I didn't ask to live
and that to die has never attracted me
except when I am depressed.
That I am made
above all
of words.
That to make myself known
I use ink and paper in my own way...

We end this year, then. I have nothing more to offer than these small stones, which you may throw back at me, smash into dust, or gather as you wish. All I offer, fully aware of its insignificance, is my presence, a few thoughts, some quiet resistance. It is never enough to stem the tides of violence, the legacies of history, both personal and national. It is just barely enough to calm my own waves of despair, for moments at a time. I wish for a better future, for reparations for the past, and for kindness, even as I acknowledge how naive such wishes might seem. And this is why I write. I wish these things for you, and for me, for those we have lost, and for us.