moments of brightness

This time last year I’d gone to Asia twice in the span of less than a month. First to Tokyo with my friend Anna, in one of the most beautiful, dreamlike trips I’ve ever taken, and then to Shanghai for a work-ish trip, which was annihilating in its own way. The outcome of all this long-haul travel—almost four straight days, if you added up all the flights—was that my circadian rhythms were addled for several weeks. Setting the clock back an hour hardly meant anything to me when I was waking up every morning at 5 a.m. 

This year, though, I feel it. The sun goes down and I get sad. I used to avoid sunsets for this very reason—they awaken a kind of unbearably beautiful melancholy in me, akin to the Portuguese saudade (1). I love the gradients of a smoggy sunset, the way everyone in NYC takes pictures when the sky goes pink and purple, but I can’t bear that moment when the sun goes down, and the sky goes from deep to darkest blue. It feels too much like losing something. It’s okay if I’m with someone, but if I’m alone I’d rather be underground for the moment—emerge from the subway as my nighttime self, eyes sparkling.

Lately, this seasonal sadness has emerged as weeping, or more properly, wanting to weep: a soft, hot, cloying feeling in the back of my throat. I’m not wobbly, necessary, but I want to bash myself into things—a bird smashing into a windowpane. Sometimes, most of the time, my own sadness surprises me. This isn’t really a surprise, though, because all my feelings do. I’m surprised when I’m happy, I’m surprised when I’m sad. I’m surprised, again and again, at the gratitude I feel, for being present for so much love in the world.

Anyway, when I get like this, I start getting desperate for beauty, really desperate, the way a hunting dog must feel when told to smell for blood. I start scraping my life for it, holding every little fragment up to the light: is there beauty here? Here? The trouble is, depression makes beauty hard to see. When I’m sad, I don’t take any photographs; when I’m happy, I flood my camera roll.

So then, like some kind of cursed fairytale beast, I have to go looking for it, in the ordinary places: bodega roses, sunrises, deciduous trees, cut fruit, moving water. And some others: a mostly-bad art walk in Central Park that nevertheless got me to crack a smile (2). What I’m looking for is that moment of sublime brightness—something to snap me out of my fog and realize that there’s more to this world.

Some weeks ago, I found it in an art gallery, in Bushwick, tucked inside a warehouse. I had wanted to see this show for weeks, and we finally went. It was a sunny day; inside, of course, it didn’t matter. The paintings were transcendent, moire patterns of brilliant color that evoked rainbows, dewdrops, iridescent CDs. I had studied with Anoka Faruqee before, and she had given a talk about her practice, but I hadn’t expected to be so floored in person—I kept putting my face close to each painting, trying to understand its surface (3). What it was: beauty, yes, beauty. The preternaturally smooth surface, the optical mixing of the colors, the perfectly etched, circular lines. The way the paint built up on the edge of the canvas, so you knew it was a made thing, not generated. How amazing it was to be in that room, to be so close to the place where in your head, colors mixed and beauty was made.

We stayed in there for a while—maybe thirty minutes, maybe longer. Long for an empty art gallery. My heart felt lifted. Then we went outside, walked around, bought beers at a bodega, sat in Maria Hernandez Park and drank them. We saw a fat bird, a catbird, it was called. I was so in love with you then, as I am now. Then we went home; then I went home.

I had a different letter planned for this, one about painting and dreaming of painting, but when I went to send it out, it didn’t feel right. A first letter seems like it should set the tone, lay out the terms of the project to come—to tell you what I’ll try to tell you for the next, indefinite amount of weeks. But the point of this project is that I can’t plan what to tell you, that these letters will arise in the moment, and attempt to describe a small circuit—the world in these moments, as it very briefly is.

I said in a panel last week that in my creative practice, all I wanted to do was try to tell the truth. I got pushback for it, deservedly, because no one really knows what the truth is, but I know I’m not a fabulist. All I can do is describe a condition. But if I can tell you how something feels, and if it’s true for me, and true for you, then, yes, maybe I’ve arrived at some kind of truth.

So here is the first letter. It’s about sadness, and looking for beauty. There will be more, occasionally. Thank you for coming along with me.



1: There’s an essay about this feeling I love, by Anelise Chen.

2: I reviewed it for Art in America here

3: Here is where you can see some images of the show, which is no longer up.

The header and icon for this newsletter was designed by Chris Rypkema.

Hi, you’re reading intimacies, a relaunch of the original, occasional diary letter I sent out from 2016-2018. You’re getting this email because you were previously subscribed to its first iteration, and you got those emails because you were probably subscribed to Cum Shots, my previous letter at Nerve. Thank you for reading. I really appreciate you.