Oct 222014

melissa maysey

This was at a birthday party disguised as a wedding. You know how people say, “He gets it”? A lot of people didn’t. Straight woman, gay man. We registered for gifts at Macy’s and Target. We posted fake engagement photos on Facebook which seemed nakedly photo-shopped to me but confused various relatives, my high school English teacher, and a woman whose family my mother married into when I was a kid. The bride posted an explanation. I refused.

I seem to be hell-bent lately on distancing people. It’s something I’m going through. The wedding seemed ridiculous and perfect in many ways as an idea, and really all the preparations were the whole thing. The wedding and the party were beside the point, because everyone who showed up “got it”, and I was only interested in determining who didn’t, not to convert them but maybe to exile them.

Melissa (above right) gets almost everything. I’ve known her for over twenty years. At the party I was talking to her and that span of time stretched out between us in a palpable way and drew us closer into this startling moment of recognition. I knew her when she was just into her twenties, if even, had long hair and did a Cher impression back when Cher was too serious to make fun of any more, pre Autotune and enforced self deprecation.

We didn’t talk for several years. I don’t know what she was doing. I was moving around a lot, trying to get away from people knowing me too well.

She brought Maysey with her to the party, and it’s clear from this picture they’ve known each other quite a while too. Nothing could have repulsed me more than the looks on their faces even ten years ago. The idea of knowing someone that well, or capitulating to the belief that such a thing is possible, filled me with a restlessness which has now migrated into filmmaking.

Melissa tells me they met around 1990 through the overlap of mutual tribes. Like any long friendship, many stories and layers. Things that come to mind when she thinks of this friendship in particular: a long tap root, a winding river, gentleness, acceptance, wiggle room, laughter, art, studio life, books, teasing ideas out with one another, comfortable silences, inside jokes, daily, private.

Aug 182014


We were in Taylor, Mississippi to see a show at Yalo Gallery involving quilts. There was a watermelon festival right down the street, so in all the windows there was what I guess you’d call unironic watermelon art.

Lauren drove. I rode shotgun. Joel sat in back dispensing Funyons and Gummi Bears. At some point, he asked Lauren what the deal was with all the splatter on the roof of her car. “Somebody must have opened a Pepsi,” she said.

It was her dad’s birthday and when he called her back she put him on speaker phone. Lauren calls you Darlin’ and Sug’ a lot and listening to her dad you start to see where that comes from. Once she sent him a roll of toilet paper for his birthday. John Wayne was printed on it. Her mom wasn’t amused.

Joel and Lauren have an interesting friendship. Kind of bitchy. Kind of right up to the limit, then past it a hair, then a boundary is laid and there’s a little backtracking.

We were in the room with one hanging quilt and a few table lamps on the floor, and I asked Lauren could I take her picture. I got one with her glasses on but she liked this one better I think, maybe because it shows Joel, who caught wind of the photo session, inching toward the limit, trying to find that hair.

 Posted by on August 18, 2014
Aug 012014


Every month or so Cam and I talk on the phone. He texts me, usually after 10, to see if I’m around, and we stay on the phone for several hours.

I feel like I talk mostly. I always think, He must be recording me, because he’s letting me go on and on. If I hear a click on the line I think, He’s definitely recording me. Like he’s interested in what someone who likes the sound of his own voice that much will say if you give him enough rope. Like some specialized version of ethnography.

When I saw him in July he had a recorder with him. We were in Maine – was it Maine? – for an event that allowed zero time for anything but hustling from one building and activity to the next, so when I saw that recorder I had such a weird sweeping affection for Cam. He keeps this space for himself where he can be alone, even when there are hundreds of people swarming around, as there were that trip, busy making their aloneness go away.

On the phone, where you get a sort of highly concentrated version of him, Cam’s voice is the most amazing thing. I always think, He’s so American. He’s more American, whatever that is, than most people I know. No one I’ve ever met talks or thinks exactly like him, so I don’t know; what’s American?

I wish I could describe his sense of humor and the effect his presence, all six foot something of it, has on any social situation he gets anywhere near. People know they should be wary and some amount of social anxiety ensues. Cam has the ability to say just that one thing that clarifies a moment and everything swimming around in it.

He gave a presentation at this event, a “slide show” for lack of a better term, that stopped time a little. He got up and talked like we do on the phone. He talked about his work – as a filmmaker, writer, photographer – but it wasn’t “about his work”. It felt so generous and effortless, showing all the weird torment of confidence and insecurity trying to strangle each other into submission.

It was all over the place in a startlingly specific way. People were speechless – like, What just happened? More than a few despised him for making it seem so easy, when they’d labored over their own presentations so scrupulously, and showed it, just to make sure everyone knew they were serious.

Cam was like a big fuck you to serious, and got to a place of sincerity that showed everyone how much they miss it and wish they could let themselves be embarrassed enough to get back there. You could read people’s resentment in their comments. Sincerity, if that’s what you call it, is so easy to disparage in a way that makes you feel you’ve come out on top.

I made this sweater for Cam’s birthday. He got it months after his birthday, in July, when I next saw him, at said event. It didn’t seem like it could possibly be right, even based on the measurements he’d given me. I thought he had to have gotten it wrong. When he held it up to his body his arms really were that long. He sent me this picture months later, when he could actually start wearing it. I wanted to make something for him to pay him back in some way for the rescue mission of his slide show.

(photo by Amy Belk)

 Posted by on August 1, 2014
Jul 222014


I’m trying to remember what was going on at the time this photo was taken. I’d been back home to Omaha, in August. I’d finished my second film and screened it in July. There’s a picture of me on Facebook from around this time eating pizza with people in LA, which is a dead giveaway (not pizza but eating it in LA).

There’s a picture I took of a car in need of washing, parked on some LA street, whose window read, “I wish my girlfriend was this dirty.” I feel like someone waited a long time for that opportunity and went through more than one girlfriend before it could be seized.

Savannah was probably the first person to like that picture.

From the style of her hair I can tell that we’d just filmed a short together, playing brother and sister.

None of that probably matters but I inevitably get caught up in the forensic exercise of trying to determine what was so funny to us at the time. What were we laughing about back then?

Savannah always laughs at my jokes. They don’t have to be funny. They don’t have to be jokes. Every year she does a show called The Break Up Show and people gather around her and her fellow performers on stage and it’s like everybody drinks the Kool Aid of her laughter.

It’s a smart show but the laughter is pure silly. You don’t realize how badly you need it until you’re sitting there and you don’t want to stop. You’re like a dog with a bone hoarding laughter.

She was breaking up more than she wasn’t breaking up for a while and that gave her a lot of personal material. Now she’s been with a guy for long enough that the rest is all old history, but other people have their share of shitty so she gets a lot of solicitations for the show.

Oddly, we laugh less about her own shitty experiences now than we did at the time. We subverted things I guess and chose to laugh then, when we weren’t supposed to.

 Posted by on July 22, 2014
Jul 152014


The second or third day we were in Berlin, Miguel showed up at our airbnb wearing more Madame de Carven than a lesser man could get away with.

This and everything else he wore the week we were there smelled fantastic on him.

He seems to prefer vintage, an abundance of which he manages to track down back home in Lisbon, and all that old musk really radiates from his skin. He’d packed an assortment of travel atomizers, decanted from large bottles he’d found at flea markets and old shops for next to nothing.

I remember the following: Bleu de Chine, Ungaro, Chanel No. 5 (eau de cologne; very ambery animalic), and a fragrance perfumer Viktoria Minya custom blended for him when he visited her studio in Paris. This scent was a big beautiful stink of cedar, peach, isobutyl quinoline, cumin, and civet.

At one point, Barbara Herman, who was traveling with me, asked Miguel about a tricky situation he’s going through in Portugal. After he told her the whole complicated story she said that it would probably just take time to resolve.

“I don’t believe in time,” Miguel said, as if banishing the whole inconvenient concept to the Americas.

 Posted by on July 15, 2014
Jul 072014


James moved to New York a few years ago, and came back yesterday for a visit.

He didn’t know his host’s address so I followed him over. On the way, a couple of kids ignited a pretty large Roman Candle. There’s probably another name for it. The thing was about two feet tall, shaped and decorated like a rocket. They’d erected it on the sidewalk.

James got past it but as I approached the thing fell over and was shooting colored stars across the street. I still haven’t checked my car to see what kind of damage, if any, running a gauntlet of fireworks does to a paint job.

James slowed down – to wait for me, I thought. Later he said he was laughing too hard to drive.

I’m sad about various things lately so I was inclined to be sad about this visit with James. This stupid reminder that people move away. Even the fallen over rocket seemed sad.

A leftover package of sparklers on the porch where we sat seemed so sad I thought, I can’t keep sitting here pretending not to be sad. The sparkler didn’t last half as long as you’d expect it to, given the length, which was sad too. When even my T-shirt was making me sad, I thought it was probably time to leave.

A friend and I were talking recently about embarrassment – how you’re not supposed to feel it, and if you do feel it you shouldn’t acknowledge that you do. You’re not supposed to admit that you get embarrassed. It’s like saying you’re weak – or anyway not as strong as you’re encouraged to believe everyone else must be. I’m going to take a guess that, if all this is true, you can be sad as long as you have a good reason for it, otherwise you should be embarrassed.

There’s no good reason. I mean, I do have reasons. I can’t make up my mind, if I have to account for it. I think maybe I’m experiencing what my friend the painter Melissa Dunn called “a dark night of the soul”. She put it in quotes like that. I read the sentence over and over thinking, Wow, quotation marks.

The sparkler in the photo was the second one James ignited. It lasted a little longer than the first. He took his time because the other one burned his hand.

 Posted by on July 7, 2014
Jul 012014


Ryan and I met maybe seven or eight years ago now, basically by chance. There was a randomness to it. He just kind of walked in.

I noticed he worked at the TV station; I was about to buy a camera to shoot my first film, the film that became The Way I See Things, and I figured he might have something to say about the wisdom – or stupidity – of my strategy.

It seems inconceivable to me now that I intended to shoot that film myself. I was sick of waiting around, and didn’t really know much of anybody that could help me. Ryan’s entrance was a grand one in the larger scheme of things. He’d just quit the TV station, freeing him to work with me.

It’s hard for me to imagine thinking about a film without thinking about the way Ryan and I work and think together. This is five or six films we’ve made now, and various other related projects. He’s been the director of photography on all of these, as well as a producing partner in some capacity. Most of the imagery I’ve looked at on a film set has been framed by Ryan, so it’s really been a way of looking together.

Even when I film things by myself these days, Ryan is usually there with me, in my head. The difference is we aren’t arguing. When we work together, we do a lot of arguing. Maybe not a lot, but enough. As friends there’s not much conflict; as collaborators, it gets tricky. You see it together but you have different ideas about what you’re looking at, or should be looking at. As friends you can look at whatever you want to. You don’t have to justify your gaze.

I enjoy working by myself now more than I would have admitted several years ago. Maybe it’s just that I know more and feel a confidence I didn’t have then. It’s good to get away from that battle of wills over what you’re choosing to look at together. But I always look forward to getting back with Ryan. We both pretend things have changed since the last time, that we’re “past” all that. But I think all that, whatever it is, comes with the alchemy.

This is Ryan the other day at lunch. In another shot, he’d looked out the window. “That’s the first thing they teach you in photography,” he smirked. “Look out the window.”

I assumed he was making fun of me and I got defensive, then he got defensive, because he’d been making fun of his own pose, then I said I’m not being defensive you’re being too sensitive, then he was annoyed that I called him sensitive, and we argued for a few more minutes, then we ate lunch and talked about other stuff.

 Posted by on July 1, 2014
Jun 192014


Barbara is the author of Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume.

We were staying a few days in Nashville for a reading she had scheduled at Parnassus Books. We went to Princess Hot Chicken, tracked down books by Edward St. Aubyn and Jane Bowles at a used bookstore among an Amish family of five, drank an iced coffee drink with rose water and lime (very good, like drinking perfume).

We stayed at an airbnb basement addition rented out by a couple named Linda Ray and Matt, both women. The first morning, we walked outside and saw the backyard for the first time, everything very green, and in the middle of the green this bright red bucket that matched Barbara’s striped shirt. Let’s take a picture, I said.

Had we been talking about George Hurrell? We’d talked about so many things, I can’t remember. He was on my mind. I asked her if she remembered that famous picture of Jane Russell by Hurrell with the straw in her mouth. She said she’d need lipstick first, if we really wanted to seize the opportunity.

 Posted by on June 19, 2014
Jun 142014



When she saw this picture, Jessica (J.B. to her friends) said: “Look at that. One of my eyebrows is always raised.”

I don’t see her as much right now as I used to. We used to meet regularly for coffee. I’d be at the coffeehouse first thing before work, and she’d walk up on foot or with her bike. We’d sit there smoking and talking and my day was filtered somehow through our conversation.

When I was planning the second episode of a series I do called White Shoulders, and told her I wanted to make finger puppets, she made copies on fabric of vintage doll faces for me to glue on white gloves.

She was going to Italy at some point and we talked beforehand, then once she was back. Like a lot of people who go to Europe she came back slightly changed, re-energized or something. Her perspective widened a little.

Right before shooting on Only Child began a few years ago, she made a doll for me. I ended up using it in a scene she did with Grace Zabriskie. J.B. played a waitress named Betty at a diner Grace’s character frequents.

J.B. was nervous and we tried to bring real life into the scene to relax everyone. We pretended Betty made dolls as a hobby and sold them out of the diner. Betty brought the doll out and Grace’s character liked it so much she let her keep it. The doll pops up in the movie in a few other places. It’s like having a friend there with me for keeps in the film.

Her last day of shooting, J.B. presented Grace with a doll inspired by her character. She had black clothes and a colorful scarf like Grace wears in the film.

 Posted by on June 14, 2014
Jun 112014


April: I’m not wearing any lipstick.

Me: That’s okay.

April showed up yesterday at work with an old bottle of Avon Cotillion, which looks like something a Genie would pop out of. She had on a polka dot dress and little or no make-up, with her hair in a long braid she wore to one side. When I asked her if I could take her picture she acted as if it were just another thing happening to her that day, like the wind blowing, demonstrating zero self-consciousness about it. She didn’t ask me how she looked or even ask to see the pictures. When I did show her she just kind of went, like, “Huh.” And off she went.


 Posted by on June 11, 2014