Friday, April 22, 2016

Yes, I Know What It Says.

Everything an artist does really ought to be for and about our art: Up to and including what we do with our bodies. 

So much of my life has been dominated by having been in the United States Military, even though I wasn't even in it for that long (I did my four years, picked up my ball, and went home.) The overall direction and even the theme of my artwork continues to be dominated by what I had experienced while in uniform, especially what I went through in Iraq. It's really hard to come home from such a horror-show completely unaffected by it, you don't have to be shot at directly to know the horrors of war and what they can do to a person's mind. I realize that I'm incredibly lucky to have an awesome support network and access to a V.A. facility staffed with people who seem to actually give a shit about doing their jobs, but I also realize that there are entirely too many fellow Veterans who suffer needlessly due to administrative and bureaucratic negligence; every day, 22 of which decide to take matters into their own hands and end their lives.

In the past, I've mused and posted on the subject of suicide and it's moral implications: I stand by my word in the regard that I do not believe the act of suicide to be inherently immoral, but something that should be addressed and deterred nonetheless. Hell, there was a time when I myself could have easily joined another batch of 22 dead Veterans, but, as I am typing this even now and you have no doubt caught onto, I did not. I vomited up the stolen pills after it suddenly dawned on me the likelihood that there's probably no afterlife, and that an immediate end to suffering also means an immediate end to EVERYTHING. No more dick-bag squad-mates soliciting me for sex or calling me names, sure, but also no more orgasms or art galleries either. Sure, I wouldn't have to worry about going to Hell because it doesn't exist, but then neither would anything else if I had successfully swallowed the pills. Nope, no thanks: I guess I like sex, booze, weed, and video games too much to kill myself after-all.

It's fucked up and horrible, but I get it. And there are still days that I really wish I'd never had to find out, but there's no going back now.

I've been home from Iraq for 5 years and out of the Army for almost 3, I'm about to turn 35 very soon. I go to school full time at the University of Arkansas (part of the reason why I don't get to make posts as often as I'd really like to, school keeps me incredibly busy) and last year I made the Dean's AND Chancellor's lists. Yes, occasionally my PTSD creeps up on me and tries to fuck up my life, but thanks to a regular medication regimen and my super awesome husband who hasn't left my side, I find ways through it. One way I've managed to stabilize myself is through the whole art thing, which for the time being I make no money from but do anyway because I feel like it's something that I NEED to do. 

When I have time and energy to draw or paint, that's pretty much all I fucking do for weeks on end. Problem is, when school is in session or I'm otherwise not in the mood, things start getting stagnant. As much as I enjoy my studies, it leaves me with precious little free time. I need to stay motivated to keep on truckin' through when I'm otherwise just not able to visually communicate my frustrations and fears. Anyone who's seen my work will tell you how deeply motivated by politics, especially when violence and conflict are involved, the bulk of my artwork tends to be. In the military, I found more than I bargained for and it manifested itself in truly peculiar and downright terrifying ways. It saw people do horrible things to one another, even among fellow soldiers, and I still have nightmares about it from time to time; but as far as finding "inspiration" goes, it's pretty hard to top something as fucked up as WAR. As I've said in prior posts, my muses and my demons both wear the same face. They also happen to wear the same uniform I DID. 

But how to I stay motivated and inspired when I CAN'T create content? If I'm too busy to act on my inspiration due to school or psychiatric/medical issues, what could I do to keep that fire burning without burning out? Well, about a week ago I did what any other grown woman who's seen more fucked up shit than a JR Snuff-Film Festival and somehow managed to not die or go completely insane... would have done: 

I paid a nice young man a good chunk of my own hard-earned money to tattoo obscenities across my chest in the language of a part of the world most Americans don't understand.

"Wait... what? OMG WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU DO THAT!?!?!" or maybe "That's going to be there forever, you know that, right?" Yes, I'm quite aware of how tattoos work. This will technically be my fourth tattoo, fourth and fifth in turn if you count each individual word. So why would I do this to myself? Easiest answer, because I'm a grown woman and I'll do whatever the fuck I want: I eat what I want, drink what I want, go where I want, smoke what I want, and fuck who I want (with the informed consent of the other adult/s in question, naturally.) The long answer? The nitty-gritty of why I chose these particular words in this particular language? 

If you don't know me or my background all that well, then clear your schedule for the next 20 minutes, put on some head-phones, and CLICK.

Curiosity satisfied? Maybe you knew, maybe you didn't. It makes no difference to me, I don't expect people to understand how this has so perversely affected me and aspects of my everyday life. It's shitty to have to think about, but I'm fine with it, really. That's part of the reason I created this blog, and why my artwork took the direction it did: I like to think of art as one of the highest forms of protest possible, here's one non-Banksy example of what I mean. I think one reason why people tend not to take the arts, especially the more traditional "fine arts," so seriously anymore is because they think art is for people who can afford to decorate their homes with it or buy tickets to snooty-ass "galas" or whatever they're called. I don't think a lot of people understand that the arts literally define humanity itself, by the values we uphold and the causes we care about. I once asked my Anthropology professor if he thought maybe human creativity could have been the defining factor as to why we spread ourselves across the planet and built civilizations and the Neanderthals did not, and it seems pretty plausible.

When some Daesh-bags overtook a museum in Mosul last year and began smashing ancient artworks, I cried a little inside: Human hands once manifested what human minds designed from a time when humanity was yet young in our understanding of the world, a reflection of the thoughts and values of a people who no longer exist, and now some fuck-heads ruined it for the rest of us because these relics didn't reflect THEIR values. The same could be said of the Buddha statues of Afghanistan, you know, the ones that don't exist anymore because organized religion and reasons. Those statues, from Mosul or Afghanistan, are never coming back: The people who made them have been dead for centuries, replicas may achieve a likeness but they can never reproduce the process that made then truly special; that human touch.

"But Jen," you ask, "You're just a person yourself, too. Someday, YOU'RE GOING TO DIE and your tattoos WILL DIE WITH YOU!" Again, not fun to think about, but inconsequential: Yes, I know I'm going to die someday and that my tattoos, like my very body, won't last forever. I mean, I COULD set aside a fuck-ton of money and write up a fancy-shmancy will detailing precise instructions for mummification, but that hardly seems worth it to me. I'm alive NOW, when I'm dead, I WON'T CARE. Why? Because I'll be fucking dead.

This is a "calligraphy project" I did over winter break, where I basically took specific Arabic words that were relevant to my experience and set them against a backdrop of text to give it 'context' 

When I was deployed, I found a crate full of what looked like officially sanctioned "conversational Arabic for Soldiers" books. The books came with a CD inside the cover, so I stole one for myself and tried to pick up just some really basic phrases. I figured that since I was in an Arabic country, there'd be no harm in learning some Arabic on my own. But in the very rare occasion that I'd ever have any dealings with Iraqis, surprise-surprise, they all spoke English. Bummer.

But now that I'm a full-time University Student with a Middle-East Studies Minor tacked onto my History Major, I have to learn Arabic ANYWAY. Personally, I know it's going to be a challenge, but I'm also super-psyched about it: I want to go to graduate school and study American foreign policy and military history, specifically in the Middle East. It's not only relevant to my intended field of study, but it's also relevant to ME.

So what words did I choose and why? Well, I'm about to show you...

THIS WORD is 'alzzandiq' and it loosely translates to "ATHEIST" or "UNBELIEVER"
While my entire world was falling down all around me (even when I tried to kill myself,) my squad-mates never seemed to miss an opportunity to remind me that I was a "sinner" and "not right with god" and THAT'S why I apparently deserved to be sexually assaulted and publicly humiliated. Yep, behold your "heroes in uniform," folks: THESE GUYS get a free beer on Veteran's Day while I still sleep next to a loaded 12-guage. All because I fell in love with another consenting adult who just so happened to out-rank me. The soldier who forced his way into my room and assaulted me wasn't even religious himself, but all of a sudden everyone and their dog was a fucking minister and needed to 'preach' my 'sins' at me almost constantly. PLEASE! If this what Christianity is about, then I'm proud NOT to be one! If your god, or ANY GOD, is honestly okay with using rape (or even an attempt at such) as a punishment for ANYTHING, that god can go fuck itself. 
And of course, being that this all went down in a military setting, specifically a combat zone, there are other implications to consider. You might not want to think about it, but there are a lot of damn inconvenient realities to being downrange. For example, if a MAN seeks intimate company while deployed it's because he's lonely and misses home, but if a WOMAN does the same thing then she's a...
... 'Fajira' which is the literal word for "WHORE"
I always found it so odd that the only men who've ever called me a whore, to my face or otherwise, seemed to do so when I refused specifically to sleep with THEM. As I said, I'm an adult and I'll do with myself as I please, with whoever I please so long as the pleasure is mutual: What, you think because I openly admit to being a sexual person that I'm "up for anything?" I don't care how "lonely" you were, I don't owe you a lay. I met a man who treated me like a human being instead of a fuck-puppet in ACU's, ONE MAN. If my decision to share my bed and body with someone who made me feel valued, appreciated, and most importantly SAFE, but not with YOU, makes me a "whore" ... then I wear the word with pride.
So how do the two words tie in together? I especially remember overhearing the "Whore of Babylon" comment while on extra duty, which is an obvious reference to both Iraq itself formerly being Babylon in ancient times AND to a specific series of passages from the Bible. Revelation 17 and 18, to be specific. Very clever, fellas, very funny. I hope you all had a good laugh about it while you could, because after hitting rock bottom (and almost dying because of it) there's nowhere else to go but UP.
It's not pretty and it's probably utterly insane, but this experience has had such a profound impact on my very being that there's simply no going back. It may be ugly, painful, disgusting even, but IT'S MINE.
I've been thinking about this tattoo idea for a few months now, and so I spent that time (in what little free time I had between school assignments) looking up specific words, cross-referencing them between different language resources, and triple checking with fluent speakers I know personally. I picked the two that seemed to convey my experience the clearest, traced the lettering onto some paper and gave them an "umbra" with which to highlight the words themselves. t's been two weeks as of this blog post since I marched my happy-ass into Supernova Tattoo and had the words permanently embedded into my flesh, and now that the itching & peeling is done they look fan-fucking-tastic. Better yet, I specifically designed them to resemble the calligraphy pieces I've been working on over winter because the shade behind the words amplifies their appearance. Regular inks atop white or beige paper/flesh just wouldn't cut it, I needed my tattoos to reflect what motivates my art as well as the art itself.
"But Jen," you ask, "What will your tattoos look like when you're older?" Well, by the time I'm stocking up on Depends, subsiting on cat-food until the Meals-On-Wheels delivery guy gets to my apartment, and trying not to trip over my own sagging tits, I'll have far more important things to worry about than what my tattoos look like. Besides, why would I want to waste this one life I have with people who'd judge me just for having them? Worrying so much about what other people think of me is a colossal waste of time, energy, and precious LIFE. And if you're REALLY bent out of shape about something that otherwise doesn't affect you, if you were to meet me in my plain-clothes/t-shirt and jeans, you'd never even know that I have any tattoos at all.
It's generally been my experience that people who don't like tattoos or piercings, especially on women for some weird reason, are people who live very constrained lives that otherwise wouldn't "allow" for them. What about my job? PLEASE! My boss is 15 years my senior and she has more ink than I do! So do about half of my professors, most of my co-workers, almost everyone I served with in the Army, so... that's pretty much EVERYONE in my immediate social sphere.
Still don't like it? Just don't get it? Well, you don't have to like it, OR get it. Know why?
... Because just like the words inscribed upon my body, to include my very body itself, It's not yours to "get," IT'S MINE and I'M TAKING CONTROL OF IT.