A Storyteller Essay
I spent much of this week alone in Barcelona, which is my favorite way to spend a week. When I’m alone, I feel like I can finally hear myself. When I’m alone, I feel like I can finally listen to myself. I guess when I’m with other people, I’m trying to listen to them, because I want to be a good listener, and I want to be present. Not that that’s a bad thing. But when I’m with other people, I miss myself. Nevertheless, I think it’s better to be with loved ones, especially when mine are so wonderful. So I would like to love solitude less. I don’t always want to be so reclusive. I want to learn how to feel lonely so I stop craving to be alone.
Anyway, here’s week two. I had a great time in Barcelona with myself even if I worked too much. (Already breaking my New Year’s resolution to work less.) And then, on Friday, I headed to Berlin to meet up with loved ones. We’re having a good time.
By the way, I’m realizing this newsletter is rather self-indulgent and navelgazey, but if I can’t have that at least once, then what’s the point? Besides, I could argue that everything an artist makes is navelgazey even if they presume otherwise. It takes a wild sort of delusional self-confidence to believe yourself able to make art—to make anything, to start anything.
I went to a jazz bar (Casa Figari) alone in Gràcia late at night, needing to chill after hours of nonstop working. I love going to places alone, and I loved going to this show alone. One of the musicians leaned his head against his cello’s stem, his hands dancing up and down like he was caressing and whispering to a lover. It looked very romantic and I felt like an intruder in an intimate moment.
I was in Catalonia, yes, but while there, I read the novel Bilbao-New York-Bilbao by Kirmen Uribe, translated from the Basque by Elizabeth Macklin. (I’d love to go to northern Spain and the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum someday!) It’s a novel that’s not a novel, which is my favorite kind of novel. It doesn’t exist in linear time—it exists in memories, and in flights, and in conversations with friends-who-are-strangers. The writer of the novel, who is also the main character of the novel, muses about Spanish history, art, and his family. He says that “the novel itself will never appear.” That “the movement is the most important thing, the process that leads the writer to write the novel.”
I went to the Joan Miró Museum, partly because of my own interest and partly because two people I trust and am possibly starting to love recommended the museum and the artist to me. I guess that’s another point for art as a reason to stay alive—because it brings you closer to people you think you could love. Already love? I do love (and not just romantically) very quickly... Anyway, when I went, there was a class of kids, and their tour guide instructed them to lie down in front of a massive tapestry woven in color. I grinned when I saw them. I love when the rules of stodgy white wall no-touch museums are broken. I love play mixed with art. The kids were all lying there, staring upwards and giggling, and it was just so cute! It felt like the right way art should be experienced. It reminded me of a Carl Andre show in Berlin I saw years ago (yes, and now I am back in Berlin, guess it’s true time and memory are not linear but cyclical) and how his flat geometric artworks exhibited on the floor begged me to lie down on or next to them. To walk directly on top of them. To engage with his work in a way that the gallery space would never allow.
How could one look at Miró’s paintings and not want to break museum rules? His paintings are physical. They are not brushstrokes of paint but gashes of paint; they are full of uneven lines and violent color—the act of creation not of painting but of movement. Freedom of movement. And it makes me wonder if the act of writing can ever be so free too. I’m not like Miró, spreading his large canvases on the floor and dancing around them with paint and other materials. I diligently slouch in a chair at my laptop. His work makes me want to explore how the act of writing can allow for more movement of the body. Perhaps it’s a sentiment better for poetry rather than fiction. Perhaps I can only romanticize painting because I’m not a painter. I don’t know.
Which brings me to the marvelous show Poetic Intention at The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) featuring Pep Duran’s Updated, 1997 to welcome you inside. You have to bend in half, ducking like the limbo to walk through it and enter the gallery space. I giggled when I went through! I loved it so much! The work has the appearance of unfinished wood, a direct contrast against a pristine gallery white wall. It’s the perfect “exercise in disruption.” It’s the perfect “emancipatory force.” It activates your body and rejects the typical museum space. It’s like Palle Nielsen’s The Model, which turned Stockholm’s Moderna Museet into a literal playground, with free admission for children (over 20,000 of whom showed up!) Nielsen said this was “only an exhibition for those who do not play”—yes. Less exhibits, more play!!!
Around the MACBA building, there are many skateboarders who use the pavilion’s smooth surface & steps to practice tricks. They used the museum’s outdoor sculptures to rest their bodies in between sets. They’d lean their backs against them, bounce off them, and place their hands on them as they catch their breath for the next round. It was beautiful. And I think that’s what art should be. To be a place of rest, to be a place of play, and to be amongst the people, outside in the sun.
I teared up when entering the Louis Fratino room at Berlin’s Boros Collection. I just really love his simple, tender paintings of his queer friends in the gestures of everyday life. In his paintings, his friends do not pose—they rest and love and dance.
We started talking to a fellow visitor to the Boros Collection who used to work in publishing in Paris. She’s since retired, and she says part of the reason she retired years ago is that publishing turned from “a culture of books to a culture of money.” This is depressing, and feels true, but it still was delightful to chat with a stranger from a different country who worked in books, loves books, and who has opinions—smart opinions—about what books could be.
Because I’m in Berlin, I’m finally exploring Walter Benjamin, reading NYRB’s collection of his titled The Storyteller Essays. I’m enjoying it greatly even if my Baudelaire flâneur teenage obsession faded years ago. In his essay “The Crisis of the Novel” (lol) on Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, I liked this line: “Nothing is so grim that we cannot bear it for a time. In this book wretchedness shows its jovial side. It sits down at the same table with people, but that does not stop their conversation; everyone pulls up their chairs and continues their meal.” I suppose I, and everyone I love, strives for jovialness despite trudging alongside wretchedness. Yet how lucky we are to sit at the same table. To pull up our chairs and converse together about both our joys and our despairs.
See you next week.
Chlorine is in Buzzfeed’s 2023 Books You Should Read this Winter, The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2023, Polygon’s round-up of 2023 SFF books they’re most excited for, and LitHub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2023.
Chlorine also got a starred(!) review from Booklist with kind words like “strikingly original” and “heartbreakingly beautiful.” Booklist makes me so happy since it’s for libraries and librarians. I love libraries—I grew up going to the library every weekend, and my mom always let me check out as many books as I wanted as long as I promised I’d read them all.
We also got a delightful review from Publisher’s Weekly, which makes me giggle with phrases like “becomes a monster of her own making!” “Killing their would-be colonizers!” “Cronenberg-esque glory!” “Disturbing and visionary!” And “a singular coming-of-age!”
Lastly, I won’t be back in New York City by January 18, but the HarperCollins Union is having another rally that day at 12:30pm at 1211 Avenue of the Americas. The previous rally was empowering and energetic, and even if management still refuses to come to the bargaining table and everything seems hopeless, perhaps a protest can still become a communal party, as emulated in the Amalia Pica piece titled Procesión de ocho I saw at MACBA this week. If you’re in New York and love books, consider stopping by and showing your support for book workers who deserve a living wage.
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