Notes on The Raritan Valley Line
March 19, 2019
I. If you search “train” on the notes app in my phone, you will discover many separate paragraphs of unfinished thoughts, while in transit towards Newark, or Christopher Street, or New York Penn Station and so on. When without service or without a book to keep me occupied during my commute, I type to no one. Perhaps you do as well.
II. A common conversation among friends that I’ve participated in, circles around the idea that when you die, God, or Jesus, or your Great Great Great Grandmother, or whoever up there that was paying more attention than you, will have the statistics on various accumulations in your life. After hearing this theory, everyone goes around saying what they would like to know about themselves. How many pizza bagels they ate, how many steps they took, how many haircuts they had, how many pages they read. Sometimes it’s fun to guess. I’d like to know how many times I washed my face, but above all I’d really like to know the distance I traveled by train.
III. On the train today, I overheard a conversation between a couple, where the man compared a train to a shaft of a penis, New Jersey as the balls, New York as a vagina and the people as sperm, filling the city when the train arrives.
IV. My face has been in so many armpits since I started commuting. It has been six days. On the subway, a man said to me, “They should call this the Pee train not the C train.”
V. There has been tension in the air since this morning. Maybe it’s the snow. A woman yelled on the train after her foot got stepped on by a high heel. It felt like an omen. My left eye has been stinging for hours, and I watched from my periphery — a homeless woman loudly rocking in despair on the PATH. That woman appeared to be 17. Yesterday, kids around the same age danced for money. I didn’t watch, because I was too nervous that they might fall.
VI. My father described the snow today as the type that comes before a blizzard, but we both agreed that it was nice and delicate. It is what has been missing since November. A week before Thanksgiving of 2018, a monstrous storm covered New York. It was the hardest and deepest cold that I have witnessed in years. Getting home was nearly impossible for most, and that is what I fear for today. A centimeter has already piled and all the schools are closed, but I am on the 9:16 bound for Newark. This station that is notoriously crowded in times of crisis. (But sometimes it’s nice when the trains get filled, because then the tickets don’t get checked.)
VII. There are two buildings that I see in passing when I sit on the left side. One is a tall apartment building with mismatched curtains and another is a golden office building, which I hope to own someway. Yet, they look better from a distance and in passing, so maybe instead I can have a train that will ride along the Raritan Valley Line, so whoever wants to, can join me in looking at my building along the McCarter highway, and again at my apartment in Lincoln Park. Someday when the trains stop running, we can still see the above ground pools, the rusted stool on the side of the hill, the cinder blocks, the abandoned Hondas with missing tires, the storage centers, and the matted pink couch without cushions.
Pulp or No Pulp
January 23, 2019
My sister and I share the same memory of ruining a cake batter our mother was preparing on an August afternoon in 1999. At the age of three or five, one of us climbed up our step ladder, carried the mixing bowl down to the floor, and proceeded to pour orange juice into it in the pursuit of helping. I can still remember the lighting in the kitchen and my mother’s dismay when finding the mess that remained. In the years to come this became our very own who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? A stirring of the pot in the most literal sense. We would argue over who did it and try to prove each other wrong, even though no one could recall the actual events. It was pointless, we might as well have been debating over if there was pulp or no pulp. Our fighting did not stem from wanting to be the one who poured the juice, it was a result of the realization that we can form memories through repeated stories and images in our heads of similar afternoons.
In my youth I began to collect in order to diffuse the frustration caused by my faulty hippocampus. Guitar picks, ticket stubs, brochures. If I kept these in a box, there was proof in case I needed it later. When acquiring an iPhone, compulsively taking screenshots and photographs of what I had seen aided in my hopes of solidifying my own personal history. Most of these items and images are meaningless to others, sometimes even to me. Not all of them remain, but many of them do if only to sit still until they are thrown in the trash or are wiped away from existence.
One purpose I have realized in keeping the box on the top shelf of my closet was to scan these items for a video. What I discovered after an ounce of gumption drove me to spend hours opening and closing an Epson Stylus NX420 was that holding certain objects created more joy than seeing them on a screen. These postcards and expired forms of identification must be touched in order to remember why they were kept in the first place. Many of the leftovers of my adolescence became altered before my eyes and appeared as empty to me as they would to a stranger. No longer a personal collection of moments, but a remorseful and sad display of living in the past. Which makes me question, why have I been digitizing my thoughts and memories? The notes and pictures I take out of impulse are often put away to become digital piles too tall to be sorted. If we spend our lives trying to save everything for later, the time will never come unless an excuse is made to dig. And still, they will never really exist. Our screens cause as much disappointment as cake batter full of orange juice.
Sunrise T.V. Set
November 30, 2018
We forget about the lens when something is exciting enough to disengage us from the screen. Whatever it is in front of us becomes what we are experiencing without mediation, if only our imaginations and the subject matter let it be so. In 2019 this proves to be more difficult, because screens are a part of the everyday experience. One does not easily forget that they are watching a video captured by someone else. However, from a distance, Mary Lucier’s Equinox successfully causes the viewer to feel as though they are watching the sunrise, if only for a moment.
When studying art, you are taught that the frame is recognized as a window. Perhaps in the wake of video art, monitors have the same effect. Equinox references romantic painting through its seven consecutive videos on a series of monitors increasing in size, each mounted on a tall pedestal. Industrial sounds break the silence of a dark room where viewers gaze at the screens. They watch a week pass by in a matter of minutes. Although, one may feel transported, technology is present in the abstraction created by zooming of the lens increasing in each monitor. By the final video all the way to the right, a complete haze of yellow and green is created. The fuzziness from burning of the camera’s internal vidicon tube and the natural graininess of the picture cause a smudging like charcoal drawings. When approaching the monitors, the visuals are further obscured, contradicting an initial belief that this work has a natural quality. It transitions to watching a TV, no longer a romantic painting. One second, it’s a sunrise, the next it’s a TV set.