Earlier this year I posted a piece about what my idea of art was, and it is that thing that evokes humanity. Our ability of expression, in all realms, is purely a human ability, what sets us apart. We are the only creatures on Earth with the ability to wonder at our existence. Art is the manifestation of this. My idea was that the more “nude” your art could become, the truer it was, the more impact it would make, the more lives it would touch, the more accurate of a form it could take, the more we can use it as a tool to grow. Though confession is a wonderful avenue that this form of exposure can take, it is not the all of art, because sometimes what we do and what happens to us is not what we are, is not what embodies our humanity, is not important even. Rather, what manifests after these actions, after these happenings, after these events is what accurately represents why it is different to be human. The everlasting effects, the stored feeling, the development, the building, the growing, the creation. This is what we translate through art. We are creators and we are communal creatures. We grow as we share. I want to share. I want to be shared with. Art is communication. The communication of what it means to us to be alive. The more we understand that, the larger life’s possibilities grow. In this realm, we are limitless – stunted only by what our minds cannot yet imagine.
Sometimes my own skin feels so uncomfortable – unbearable. I am covered in it. I can’t stand to sit in it. I can’t stand to wade through life in this ill-fitting vessel.
It has not equipped me with the proper accouterments to enjoy the spectrum of life. I am limited.
I cannot fly above the water, nor live beneath it. Even though everything in my self tells me I AM IT.
Fluid motions roll through my mind, over my heart in deep currents that move me from one act to another, on the crest and ebb of feeling.
We should be the same. I am separated, you see.
Because all I want to do is become – a part of. I want these boundaries fluid; to melt into.
I don’t just want to touch the world; a flat meeting of charges that push away from each other – no. I want to meld.
Skin is a restriction – a harm when it finally gives, and then only the outside can reach in and you cannot reach out. I stretch and expect to stretch forever. My skin shakes in restraint.
There is a constant upset, a nausea, a tensing – I drift. My mind is so far away from this.
I cannot stand these limitations.
Aches to grow outward – seeking. It is dissipating and disappointed in the body’s inability to follow suit.
- Jaime Dyna La Mondain
I killed it with kindness. Murdered it with kisses. Criminal words tripped over each other in my throat and came out tangled and woozy. Then I got tired of politeness and her pearly white condescension. While a real person sat inside in the cavernous dark of my chest and wrote grisly scriptures. She walked upstairs and pasted them to the walls of my skull, used them to bandage together all of the broken grey matter connection. She made new made good on all of the deals I’d once made for myself. So I let her stay. I find I’m not so singular as I may have once been. I share these eyes with more levels of perception than I often perceive – and none of them seem to really have it right. None of them seem to ever agree. When it’s too quiet I can hear them argue; like a tired memory of mom and dad in the kitchen. I slip headphones in and seek a state of ignorance as momentary relief. I wipe tears with no explanation; just clear and rolling. I look out windows as the world passes by. I watch the sun slide from horizon to horizon. I sit on park benches in silence. I am slowly decaying.
Photo by Sam Rizzo. See more here.
Sometimes I wonder if everybody’s as lost as I am. Or, if they aren’t, how they managed to pull it together. In this world full of options and exploitation; corruption, atrocities, abuse, affliction and pestilential humanity. How they wake up every morning and accomplish things. And I wonder, am I crippled? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just wake up and go to work with a smile on my face? There are people that will tell you that the only reason you’re unhappy is because of yourself. That you have the ability to make yourself happy. Wake up and smile – even if you don’t feel like smiling. Apparently it triggers some sort of psychological response purely through the act and effort of the facial muscles. Mirror affirmations to build self confidence. Listing things that you’re grateful for. You can’t be sad when you’re grateful, they’ve said. Sit up straight. If you improve your posture, you improve your mood. Do what you love – if you don’t love what you’re doing, do something else. Don’t worry about that rent check. And really, what all of this tells me – all of this information out there trying to hack happiness – is that there are a lot of really fucking unhappy people in the world who don’t know why they’re bummed out either. Because if you knew why, you would fix it, right? If you could do it yourself, you would have. Nobody likes wandering through life miserable – that’s not fun. Nobody likes to be sad. But it’s not really sad, is it? No. It’s beyond that. It’s purposelessness. It’s realism. It’s boredom. It’s defeat. It’s awareness. It’s overwhelm. It’s life. It’s bigger than you. If you’re going to wake up in the morning and bear down on life with a smile, you’ve got to be ignoring a lot of what’s really happening in the world. Because, honestly, if you’re watching the news with a smile these days, you’ve got to have a couple screws loose. If you’re not angry, you’re ignorant. If you’re not sad, you’re not human. And that’s just the goddamn draw of it.
So what do we do? We begin to compartmentalize. Part of you wakes up and glances at the newspaper and decides – I’ll read that later. Part of you sits down to communicate something meaningful and decides – maybe I’ll go out for a drink. Part of you thinks about the small hands that bled to make that jacket from Forever 21 and thinks – damn, it just fits so well. Part of you looks into the eyes of a homeless man with two withered legs that he drags behind him on the dirty sidewalk and thinks – I need my change for my morning coffee. Because that’s how the world works. If you’re not partially separated, you can’t achieve your modicum of happiness in this dismal and isolating system we’re stuck in. So you try to balance. Today I will read the news. I will feel all of the deaths in the world. I will cry for strangers and I will tell people how fucked up we’ve made everything. Tomorrow I will get drunk and dance until my legs hurt. Sunday I will read books on political theory and radicalism in history. I will get angry. I will rant at my friends about exactly how we need to change everything. Monday I will go out for coffee and talk about the last time I got laid. I’ll complain that I’m lonely. I’ll talk about my new workout plan and I’ll make plans to go shopping. Tuesday I will have a mental break down and cry in bed because I am not contributing anything useful to the world. Wednesday I will decide that I care for nothing and am, in fact, emotionless. Thursday I will watch Planet Earth and wonder at the beauty of life, I will feel endless amounts of love for everybody in my emotional register. I will appreciate being alive. On Friday I will start reading the news again. Switching between these different affectations that interact differently with the world; using them to justify the existence of each other. You need them all. They are all you. Wishing I could just wake up whole someday. Exhausted from constant mitosis. And this never makes you happy either, but it gives you momentary relief.
How to be happy in the 21st century? The answer is – if you’re really here, you can’t. You can find things that bring you joy, but it will never be lasting. You can find people that light you up, but they cannot restore the dignity of our entire species. You can find yourself surrounded by utter beauty, but eventually the you’ll be trudging through the dregs again. I wanted to end this in a comfortable place for you, reader. I wanted to talk about these feelings and then tell you it’s going to be okay. That everything has a way of working out. Unfortunately, I decided to read the news today. But hey, tomorrow let’s go dancing.
(This is partial and not meant to be considered a full piece of writing, but rather a musing towards a larger construction. Comments are more than welcome.)
She sought to wake up new, an inhabitant of anything unfamiliar. Suppressing the world’s suffering day by day by synthetic sociopathy. A successful disconnection from humanity – was it farther from or was it closer to? Without the constant reminder that we are all hurtling death-bound through life, removing this fear, removing feeling, opening up the ability to make concise and unmuddled decisions, poor or not; everything becomes a learning experience. Everything becomes more precise in its chaos. Everything becomes nothing.
Life is unique. To amalgamate the correct amount of molecules and make this. How many misfired neuron sparks did it take to make consciousness(/conscience)? So we can stumble along on cracked city sidewalks, hunting. The pursuant of – not sure if it’s the wild or the calculated. Heel stride wide and targeted. To her, everything feels both entirely unimportant and at once ultimately crucial. At her bones a meeting place for the primal and the methodological. Separation has become necessary for integration. Synthetic sociopathy; an impairment, or a transcendence?
What is human?
To realize that every interaction is a conduit to some greater understanding, and also entirely inconsequential leading to a superficial yet definite end. This meaning that we throw behind everything, significance – an afterthought, hindsight. We feel better about the superfluous decisions we wander through the world making. We feel better about existence, about being here, so we’re not just wasting space; so we’re not just an embodiment of exploitation and destruction. No, it’s purpose.
Synthetic sociopathy; an escape or a necessary abstraction? She is afraid that her humanity is wavering. She sits down to meals and can’t nourish her body in the correct forms. Nothing sits well in her stomach; she has been feeding off of determined apathy. The world has become shifting grey matter; everything is acceptable and everything is tainted. Nobody knows what love is – a messy wash of hormones, thought-controlled by a phantom formulist. She seeks control in the most chaotic ways.
What is human?
She has become obsessed with her synthetic sociopathy – in its purpose. She researches why she does the things she does, why feeling has become objectified, why acceptance is so easy, why nothing is everything and everything is nothing to her. She places her hand on the stovetop, the burner set on medium. She feels it, smells it more than anything, hears the sizzle. It is sudden realization that she is simply an object in an objectified world. This means nothing. Any meaning is a creation. Creation is divine. When she chooses to remove her hand, it is an act of deity. Choice is decision is creation is godly.
Waking up is not an act of fate, it’s an act of will.
Every morning we wake up and create something new; either for ourselves or for the rest of humanity -be it physical, fundamental, or in meaning only. We have been creators since consciousness. We are creators now. Why so many fear the open field of freedom forever troubles her. Why paths are our main mode of transportation, of mobility. Why we trust in the external rather than the internal. It’s not that the answers lie within us, it’s that the answers are superfluous. We are limitless, only contained by our own definitions. What happens when we stop defining?
I keep looking in the mirror, trying – to recognize those eyes looking back. A mirror as a window. A window as a lens – colored with spots of rust and aged watermarks. This is not the right face – you think – warped in a reflection of time. You’ve been staring at the same face for so long – one day it just wasn’t yours anymore.
We don’t know where we’re going.
Building on a vague recollection of where we’ve been. Collections of moments. Broken narratives. Conflicting and paradoxical plot twists. And have you always – you wonder in a vacuum – been too selfish to live beyond a present moment long enough to figure out how to stack up the life you meant to live. Instead, the only sound in your ears is the slap of pavement as you run, the feeling of the pulse of your blood in veins thick with every experience ever. If I sit quietly, I can hear it. I can hear my blood moving. Cell by cell. I can feel my throat pulse. I can feel my wrists. I can feel the back of my knees.
As I lay in the dark, I try to find ways to suppress every thought in my head without a lens of glorification and remove the taste of contempt. When I lay down at the end of the day, I am everything. I can feel absolutely every decision I’ve ever made. More, I can feel absolutely every decision everyone has ever made around me. I can taste every acrid memory – I crave. Thinking of every person ever who made my heart beat faster. Feeling every collection of memories that made them who they were – to me. Realizing that you will never really know who they are – to you. But never forgetting the feeling of skin. Never disconnecting the recognizable and comforting synapse spark. Lying in the ghost of a touch.
Sometimes it just feels so much – hysteria. I am laughing and I am crying and I am screaming and I am babbling and I am constant torrential hurricane, trying to stave off regular tsunamis of overwhelm, quaking at a core I’ve never been able to settle, waiting for even a brief eye of calm. Hoping they’ll look at you like that – but you are the embodiment of chaos. Trying to give this to the world, trying to translate what it feels like to be everything ever. Words are never sufficient. They can’t make you feel. You make you feel. Nobody makes you feel besides yourself. You choose this. I chose this.
And yet is(/am) uncontrollable.
I can feel eternity in my bones, in the bond of molecules, at the center of every atom. I can feel the electricity emanating from the active tears that roll down flushed cheeks. I can feel the dispersal of every death in the universe. The recycle of energy. I can feel that. I can feel the family that hurts – in the confused state of survival. I can feel the friends that question mortality for the first time. I can taste death on the tip of my tongue as a presence, as somebody I’ve loved and somebody I’ve lost and as a disconnect from the face that continues peering back through the cracked mirror. I can feel. A flood; dammed. Damned. Everything. And it just hurts. Always.
Inescapable. But what good would it do to remain unaffected? I am not, I cannot – be. I am a receptor; that magnetic moment. A battleground and a safe space. A collection of existence. An agglomeration of humanity – as an extremity of its bests and worsts. I am a sponge, soaking up every lived experience, an integration of immortal nuclei. Expansive. Empathic. Destructive. Demiurgic. Delusional and yet entirely representative.
It never stops, there’s just ways to dull it.
And sometimes I just wish this house would stop burning.
But then I don’t want to lose everything that makes us human.
I just need to be reminded where the ground is.
Photograph “Black Bag” by Kudret Cayiroglu.
I can feel it in my blood. An unfurling, like tongues yawning in ecstasy. Boiling with anticipation and the rush of a quickened arterial beat. I’m a scatter trying to fill voids that I didn’t realize I had. Trying to match fingerprints with stale ink and moist fingertips. Masking feelings in thoughts and putting the rational into jumbled erotic descriptions of – it’s a mechanism for hiding. As fear-based creatures, we’re all stumbling along trying to sabotage anything that feels too good before it rejects, like a poorly performed heart transplant. When really we just want to be consumed; knowing that submission to consumption is terminal. Seeking freedom in a lack of self preservation. Held back by the pollution of self-contempt; the verisimilitude of excessive analysis. In the age of indifference, trying to display the minimum amount of vulnerability while setting clear but distant intentions. I don’t even know how to be honest anymore. Emotion is foreign currency. Now I’m tied down to the obscurity of expression, esoteric articulation. Wondering if it’s really as opaque as I think it is. Wondering why emotions are so disconnected from marionette lips. Wondering what there is to say to stretch possibility and maintain connection.
And what I really want to say is that you set me on fire. And I’ve been left burning.
Waiting. Waiting. I find I’ve spent most of my life waiting, spent time waiting, waiting, waiting on people, on opportunities, waiting on movement, waiting on moments, waiting. Wondering. When. When it comes together, when I figure it out, when life comes together. Waiting for everything to amount to something, when words add up and moments and choices pay off, waiting for fruition, fruition of something, of anything. Just waiting, as if the patience – that of which I may have none and perhaps that’s why fruition is postponement is still waiting. When I do something, make something epic, contribute something meaningful, as if anything makes any difference at this point in sensationalized history. Waiting. Waiting for desperation, for dire times, for the motivation of suffering, waiting to care more, waiting to care. Waiting for necessity, when words are necessary, when passion is necessary. When I’m necessary. Maybe the point is that none of us are ever really necessary. We just think we are.
The first time I got the chance to admire Melanie Steinway’s work was a couple of years ago, during my time working at Ozo Coffee – a staple Boulder business that seeks to support its local community in several ways. I showed up to work at the shop to find fantastical, visceral creatures burned into the wood of sliced trees and guitars adorning the walls. They seemed so alive, as if the artist had somehow burned souls into the inanimate creatures.
The second time I experienced Melanie’s work was a few months later at a RAW: natural born artists event at Boulder’s own Absinthe House. This small waif of a woman with wispy hair carried a humble smile upon her face and sat at a table behind a display of pendant necklaces carved from deer antlers. She was waiting for her band to be called to the stage – then called Howl Moonshine Howl (since disbanded). When she took to the stage, she commanded an honest and candid presence that struck the crowd’s attention by heart and soul.
The energetic connection between all of Melanie’s work paints an impressive portrait of a creative soul. It is obvious that there is a force driving the visual into the musical back into the visual into words into something indescribably interactive and all of this culminates as an expression of something underivative and visceral – something completely authentic and engaging. So when I heard that Melanie was beginning a career in tattoo artistry at Urban Element Tattoo in Denver, it felt like a consummation was coming to hand of everything that Melanie’s work could be; becoming something personal shared with the individual, a transfer of spirit. It felt right.
This week I have the privilege of not only introducing some of Melanie’s own favorite works – including those that sparked her unique stylistic path – but also that of digging deeper into the methods and mind behind them. Check out more of Melanie’s work and follow her future projects on Facebook, Tumblr, and at her domain melaniesteinway.com. Without further ado, Melanie Steinway:
LMB: Melanie, can you tell me what inspires you to create?
MS: A large part of my creation process dwells in a very quiet, primitive part of my brain. It’s instinctual, and strange creatures have been emerging from my hands since a very young age. While middle schoolers were trying on make-up for the first time and finding their clique, I had my eyes out the window, flying amongst strange beasts who knew me so much better. I think a large part of my inspiration comes from growing up in Colorado, where I spent a lot of time tromping alone or with my younger sister barefoot through the pine needles. I was always a dragon and she was always a unicorn. I grew up owning a myriad of small animals, including mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, even a ferret at one point. When I was three or so, I thought I was a dog, and my mom would catch me eating the dog food and running around on all fours. I have occasional dreams still of being an animal – I’ve swam as a seal, howled as a wolf, and soared many a time as a bird. There’s something really fascinating about living according to instinct – this absolutely silent knowledge of what to do that we lack so hugely in our over-evolved state. Some of the emotion in my artwork comes from my love of music as well. There’s a similarity between the feeling of playing music on stage in a band and flying as a bird. That level of synergy is almost sacred in its purity.
LMB: Beautiful. And can you talk about how your work interacts with the world?
MS: For a long time I kept my work to myself. In middle and high school I got into digital artwork, coloring my linework in Photoshop and posting to communal gallery sites like Deviantart. In 2008 I traveled east to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, where I was surrounded by eccentric, brilliant creatives that I really jived with. Here was somewhere you could be yourself. For a couple years the creatures got pushed back in favor of tedious figure drawings and perspective studies, where the charcoal never really left underneath your fingernails. Towards the second half of my RISD attendance I discovered woodburning via a classmate who had used the woodburning tool for a project. I stuck with the medium and spent most of my final year there figuring out how to ideally use the medium in my style. The potential for this medium catapulted into the classroom with two pieces; “The Antlers” and “I Am (Surrender)”. People were impressed and this was the beginning of, “hey, I think I’m on to something here”. These two pieces took people somewhere else. Someone will walk up and say, “I know that feeling”. Around graduation in 2012 I started woodburning on musical instruments, which was a big leap for my exposure. After a couple warm-up instruments I collaborated with Fender Guitars on two acoustic guitars that were on display at NAMM, an annual musical instrument convention in Anaheim, CA (and a large one at that). My woodburning work was starting to get attention. So many people were unfamiliar with and curious about this medium. Last October I had the pleasure of woodburning a telecaster for Ritzy of The Joy Formidable, which felt pretty good. Seeing her play it on stage felt REALLY good. Very recently, my artwork has taken another leap in its worldly interaction via tattooing. Art can’t interact with people much more personally than that. I had been designing tattoos for people for a few years and a few of them were like, hey, you’d probably be really good at this, you should ink people too. So, now I do. It’s an incredibly satisfying and humbling experience to work with people on that level. A great teacher that I had at RISD, I just realized, foresaw pretty much all of this happening. He would refer to me as an aspiring tattoo artist before I even really realized I wanted to do it. He told me that all of these different mediums for my work traced back to the same life force, and that they would all converge again, somehow, in some form. They’re all part of one big picture. I’m not sure if I’ve quite figured out what that big picture is, but I’m starting to get some sort of idea. A medium is just that; a medium. The physical material you use to manifest something greater. Regardless of the way my artwork choses to take form, it’s all striving towards the same perfect, primal energy. Like the way it feels to fly.
Melanie’s winning entry in The Antlers’ poster design contest for their newest album, “Familiars”, released in June.
Melanie’s 2nd place entry in Young the Giant’s poster contest from March for album “Mind Over Matter”.
“Youth” – Woodburning and white pencil on cedar, inspired by the song “Youth” by Daughter.
“I Am (Surrender)” – one of the woodburning pieces that sparked Melanie’s unique stylistic path.
“The Antlers” – the second woodburning piece that sparked Melanie’s stylistic path.
Back view of personal woodburned Fender telecaster. (Photo credit to Ian Glass.)
Front view of personal woodburned Fender telecaster. (Photo credit to Ian Glass.)
Bison Skull Guitar collaboration with Born Guitars of Broomfield, CO.
“Creator/Destroyer” – Woodburning, wood stain, paint, mixed media on pine.
“Dog String Bird” – Drawing.
Durer’s Rhinocerous – Tattoo on bicep. Courtesy of Josh Berntsen.
Photograph by Ludovic FLORENT. See more here.
One day, babe, one day (we)’ll be old. Sitting next to (you: objective you; one; anyone; people in general) the porch and laughing toothless thinking of all the inside jokes (you) have collected and all the people (you)’ve lost and disconnected. The love (you)’ve spent and what (you) spent it on and what that gave (you) shivers and what (you) stood for why (you) were standing and (you) are why are (you) still standing.
One day (your: the possessive case of you; indicates belonging, to oneself or any person) skin loose and colored with age. (Your) hair white halo like (you) know where (your) head is. (You) won’t cry anymore because sadness is just a state of mind and (you)’ve collected enough tears to soup for all the grandchildren (you) never had are not having.
And to understand is to think through is to connect memory to experiential input by electric fingertip connection to empath(ize/y) is a responsibility. And (you)’ll have realized long ago that life is masochism and god is sadist if (s)he’s up there at all and you lov(ed/e) it to survive but (you)’re tired – with full force consonants, T and D – and (your) head is lolling with dormant mortality. (Your) eyes will have grown stale, a jaundice at the corners that reminds the mirror that (you) used to be a different person (you) used to be so many different people (you) used to be a construction of so many different people and (you) will look in the mirror and wonder why any of them mattered and what happened to their voices and when (you) began to dread (your) birthday more than irrelevant anniversaries.
Because (you)’ve forgotten that there’s an (I) there somewhere in. (I: nominative I; denoting the narrator of a literary or oratory work in the first person; metaphysics, the ego) and responsibility is something (you) take up too late and lose soon after – life as a matter of a series of moments that a brain recollects as a divided and scattered narrative of happenings and images and smell as the greatest conductor of recollection. Stronger by experiential extremity, narrowed into over simplified lists of “the very best” and “the very worst”.
(You) smell(/ed) like cinnamon and (you) gave (my: the possessive case of I; attributive to the narrator of a work of literature or oration) throat the same feeling. Listed under “the very best” as a pupil (you) (were/are?) expansive – (I ) don’t know anymore and what (I) knew when (was/is) exactly what it felt like to slip a cigarette in (my) mouth after lips linger leaving and (I) think (I) said goodbye, but (I)’m not sure. (I) remember thinking “don’t go”, but for the denotative (I) am at loss.
In now (I) suppose (we: objective us; used to denote oneself and another or others) can revert to present, in terms of what (we) consider now, separate and concrete, with nothing but a vague idea of a smell that has long since aired out; stale tobacco erasing bits of faces and eye colors and specific touches and the way a hair falls out of place. And perhaps (we)’re a memory that will wash its way back around again. Until then (I) ponder pronounic significance and try to recapture ghost touches by way of this is what a dream feels like. Longing for something (you) and (I) don’t already know.
- Jaime Dyna La Mondain