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.

Sep 252014


I first saw this image on a postcard hanging on the wall of my friend’s office in New York about fifteen years ago.

We both laughed as we looked at it because we’d seen each other’s bodies enough to know that one of the woman’s breast in the photograph looked exactly like hers and the other looked exactly like mine.

Soon after that she sent it to me in the mail back in Memphis.   There’s not a photo credit on it so I don’t know who took the picture.  It’s printed on a nice card stock though and on the back the paper is a deep red.

On that red she wrote this.


Dear Melissa –

Thought you might like to have this image nearby for a while.

I am sort of lost in my relationship still, and though I’m sort of enjoying the new energy and attachment, I’m craving engagement with my work too.  It’s a bit frustrating.  I hate to complain, but still I hope to be honest.

It’s getting cold up here now and I’m eating and sleeping more like the good little animal I am.  Friends are procreating or breaking up.  Yoga is a far away dream.  I have absolutely zero spending money and frequently wonder what’s going to happen when.  I float a little – feeling it’ll happen when it will.

Love you, MB

We were very close friends from our late twenties to mid-thirties – that pivotal time of chucking off the remnants of adolescence and discovering who we are as adults.

Nowadays I’m only in touch with her every so often, usually through an annual email exchange.  I cherish the time we had when we regularly corresponded through the post, talked on the phone a couple of times a month, and regularly walked through New York talking and figuring things out.

My paintings and drawings are about seeing and searching out what happens when I manipulate color, layers, lines, volumes, patterns, and shapes.  I paint and look – I look more than I paint.  And yet, along with all this watching I am listening, hearing my own insecurities, questions, and frustrations rising up.

The studio process requires a lot of listening.

As I hear my inner guide figuring things out, I think of my friend’s words…

“but still I hope to be honest”

Today this image doesn’t just represent me facing a friend, looking her in the eye, giving her the time and room to work life out as I listen deeply, and then her giving me that same gift as she listens to me.

No, today, at this very moment, this is about me looking at me and listening to me.


Melissa Dunn makes art in Memphis, TN.  She’s a teaching artist at Flicker Street Studio and volunteers at several arts programs around the city.  Currently she’s spending as much time outside walking, gardening, and hanging out as possible.