Tag Archives: harry nilsson

Today

Standard

Today I am sitting in my purple chair, feet propped up on my coffee table, watching it pour down rain. My palm tree (and I do mean “MY” palm tree) is waving in the wind, pelted with rain, the fronds dripping. In the background I am listening to the lovely soundtrack to “Sirens,” a film about artist and eroticist Norman Lindsay, a man I could and have learned a lot from. Norman was quite sure of himself, and I doubt he ever gave second thought to his unconventional ways, even in the face of a judgmental and conventional culture. Therein lies the rub, huh? The second guessing that goes on in my head is never in my own voice, it is in the voice of my mother, the culture as it is, it is the voicing of the expectations of others. These thoughts are impurities that dilute my vision, little demons that work to root out my dreams from the inside, pollutants that, if left unattended, can infect me from deep down inside. It doesn’t seem Norman Lindsay allowed such impurities or pollutants to knock him astray from his course. Sadly, I have often been knocked astray, blown too far by far from Ithaca.

Art by Norman Lindsay

Art by Norman Lindsay

Abandon, purity of vision, sensuality, hedonism, liberation. Norman Lindsay, Brigitte Bardot, the Marquis de Sade, Rose O’Neill, Harry Nilsson, all saints and skewers of the standard moral compass, all rockers of boats. People like them cause trouble and get into trouble, or so it is believed. What they really do is choose to live as they please, choose to follow dangerous muses, choose to see their vision through, they choose to tell the truth about themselves before a world of people who have never bothered to look deep enough to see if there are deeper truths in them. They are people who chose to live their lives and damn the consequences, but there were consequences, there are always consequences. As it turns out, it would seem most of the trouble caused by them is rather caused in reaction to them. They muddy the waters, splash, make waves, without ever once meaning to shock or annoy. They do all this simply by having the courage to be honest about their true nature, they do all this merely by liberating themselves from the bondage of their times, they do this by transcending and by renouncing. They do this by dreaming their own dreams and daring to live them.

I believe in dreams and dreaming, and I believe in following dreams, perhaps to a fall and a fault. I’ve had a checklist of dreams, and it seems I have pursued them at the expense of all else. I have certainly pursued my dreams, my vision for my life, at the expense of security and stability, at the expense of acceptance, and most definitely under the threat of consequences, consequences which rain down and drip from my limbs like the rainwater dripping from the fronds.

I dreamt of being a comic book artist… check.
I dreamt of swimming with a dolphin… check.
I dreamt of SCUBA diving… check.
I dreamt of visiting the Philippines… check.
I dreamt of making erotic comics… check.
I dreamt of being a barefoot girl… check.
I dreamt of living a life of hedonism and sensuality… check.
I dreamt of being an exhibitionistic woman… check.
I dreamt of meeting my many heroes… check.
I dreamt of traveling and working Medieval Faires… check.
I dreamt of living in a place with palm trees… check.
I dreamt of running away to be a carnie… check.
I dreamt of being a musician… check.
I dreamt of publishing topless photos… check. https://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

nilsson“It’s an artists prerogative to be indulgent to himself, he owes it to everyone else to be indulgent to himself, and if it’s at the cost of what he thinks is what the public might think it might result in, that’s tough luck.”
Harry Nilsson

I, we (my heroes), we are like sin-eaters, we do these things so others won’t have to. We take the leaps of faith, live the dreams, make dangerous decisions so that everyone else can sit back and watch, can shake their heads and cluck as we deal with the storm of dire consequences… or for many… they sit and wish with all their might that they had the courage to live their own dreams, to see their visions through and state their true opinions. I talk to these people all the time, and I encourage them to do it, to rise up from the mire of expectations and just go for it! But they don’t, they slide back down in their chairs and bring their favorite habits back up on the internet. I feel sorry for them, but I envy them, too, after all, it’s a lot easier to just shove ’em down, those contrary opinions, those scary visions, those disruptive dreams… isn’t it?

Paul460x276“We can do what we want,
We can live as we choose.
You see there’s no guarantee,
We got nothing to lose.”
Paul McCartney

One thing I’ve learned… we’ve definitely got nothing to lose if we follow our dreams, state our unpopular opinions, our follow our unconventional visions for our lives through, not in this culture of disparity… the deck is stacked, my friends, and it is stacked in THEIR favor, in favor of the 1%. You’ve got nothing to lose, there’s no security, no retirement… just more time on their fucking treadmill. Besides, really, what good are unfulfilled dreams? What good is a life unchallenged? What good is it being accepted by THIS time and this culture? That, my friends is nothing at all. This time and this culture is shit. It’s full of shit art, shit music, shit news, shit TV, shit-gray movies, shitty derivative ideas, shitty cell phones, shitty texting, shitty products, shitty rules and shittier rulers. Shit.

But it still hurts, the consequences still seem as dire as ever. The real question is not, and ne’er should be, “why do I do the things I do?” nor, “why do I make the decisions I make?” no, the questions is, was, will be, and always damn well should have been and should be… why do I worry? Why do I suffer over the consequences? Why do I long to be accepted? Why do I have second thoughts?

That’s the real rub… why do I have second thoughts?

I don’t have an answer, but the rain has moved on, nothing left of it but the gentle pitter patter of the last few drops on the metal roof above, and the winds and the gray left in the wake of the storm. It’s the gray, isn’t it, that’s what these people do, the dreamers, create gray in a world that prefers black and white. They show that there are no books or leaders with one-size-fits-all answers, they show us that for many of us, the answers come from within, not from without.

Perhaps I, too, succumb to black and white thinking, but it’s my black and white, it’s the clarity I have found from the inside out rather than from turning the outside in. The only clarity in my life comes from the inside, it comes from me, never from the logic of the world, never from a club or organization, laws or leaders, and especially not from fashionable cultural norms. My opinions are contrarian to say the least, but contrary to what, I ask? I’ll tell you what, contrary to this shit culture. My vision has led me at times through the dark forest, my dreams have led me down some dangerous paths. But in the end, I have to say, it’s all been worth it.

But sometimes… still, I can’t sleep. I wonder how many nights Norman Lindsay stayed up, fearing, worrying, second-guessing. My guess… not many, Justine, not many.

Sigh…

(This just in… I just saw an otter run across our backyard! Hell yeah!)

Mortality

Standard

I realized today why I have this overwhelming sense that everything is transient. I didn’t used to feel that way. I feared death, like any good neurotic, but for years now I have been plagued with a restlessness that I cannot quiet. Everywhere I “settle” I feel like I’ll have to gather up a little bit of my stuff and get on a plane and go somewhere else.

I have nowhere to go.

I know there are contributing reasons for this sense of transience, beyond the as yet untold core reason, in fact, a multitude of lesser reasons. Consider this, about 9 or 10 years ago I walked away from the only thing I knew to be true about myself, and that was that I was going to be a comic book artist. I had burnt out. Anyone who has seen my body of work understands how that happened… I was insanely prolific. Shortly before that I had lost my sense of certainty regarding my spiritual beliefs. About 7 or 8 years ago I packed what I could fit in a suitcase and a half and left my house for Korea to live for one year. I did that for a second year as well… living out of suitcases, my stuff in storage. After that I went to Chile, also lived there for a brief period. When I returned home, it was to a foreclosing home and an inevitable divorce after twenty years of marriage. Of course after that I went through the BIG transition, meaning even something as simple as my most basic sense of self was not permanent. Since then I have converted to Hinduism AND moved from Ohio to Florida… a lot of my stuff still in storage. All of this combined would leave anyone feeling as though they were not going to be in any one place for long, wouldn’t it? It preys on me. I can’t always focus for the nagging feeling that I’m just passing through.

For years I figured those were the reasons I feel so transient. I had somehow overlooked the core reason I feel so overwhelmed by a haunting feeling of impermanence.

The real reason, I now realize, that I feel as though nothing will last, as though nothing is permanent, is that I had to face my mortality twice in six months. That second year in Korea I was diagnosed with cancer, though everyone who knows me knows this, it had a greater impact than anyone who has not had cancer could ever realize. I remember getting the diagnosis. I don’t remember anything in particular in my mind or heart, I just remember sitting on a chair outside the doctor’s office.

I just sat.

That was it. I sat in that chair. I sat in an oppressive state of numbness, unable to move, not even able to move so much as a thought. I simply was unable to wrap my head around it. I couldn’t feel anything. But I recall that it seemed as though the hospital lights had been lowered on a dimmer, and that though I was in a busy hospital surrounded by people, I felt as if I had been shoved in a muggy little egg, totally isolated. I was facing my mortality in a very big way.

CANCER

Six months later I was in Thailand on a SCUBA diving outing. I had looked over the equipment, and I did not like it. There were leaks in the equipment, as it turns out, more leaks than I had realized. I had pointed these things out to the dive instructor, and he shrugged them off. See, here’s what’s up with that: while I was SCUBA diving in the Philippines I was told over and over and over again by the Australian dive instructors that I needed to relax and stop worrying about everything. Well, the dive instructor thought the gear was fine, this to me seemed like a good place to stop worrying.

Here’s a BIG fucking tip for ya… if you’re worried about your SCUBA gear… stick to that! I learned that day that there is one and only one person between you and drowning while diving… and that is YOU! If you don’t like the gear, don’t go under.

We had gone out on the dive, and it was the most spectacular dive of my life. We came out around a bend that revealed acres of brilliant purple coral. I had NEVER seen anything like it, probably never will. This was the same outing where I saw bioluminescence for the first time–apart from fireflies. Unfortunately I was told to do an emergency ascent because the assistant dive instructor had run out of air, and I was running out of air, too. We emerged to unexpectedly choppy waters, very choppy waters, my vest would NOT inflate properly… it was leaking! And there was no boat! We were stranded in the middle of the choppy waters at sea, me with a leaking gear, and no boat in sight! I honestly thought I was going to die that day… drowning with leaky SCUBA gear on my back! It was hell. I tread water and felt a panic the likes of which you cannot imagine unless you have been stranded in the middle of the ocean with no rescue in sight.

I had just faced my own mortality twice. Add to this that inbetween cancer and nearly drowning, a dear friend of mine back in Akron had died suddenly. It was too much death. After that second year in Korea I endured a few months in Chile before returning to Ohio fatigued beyond the ability to function for six months. Upon returning home I also learned that another friend of mine was dying of that exact same cancer I had! Poor George, he passed, far too young. There but for the grace of God.

“There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
We’re the brightest objects in the sky
Remember, there but for the Grace of God go you and I
Do some good before you say goodbye”
Paul McCartney

Since then I feel as though I’m waiting. I feel like I’m just waiting for something to be over. I feel like at any moment I’m going to have to pack up and start over somewhere else… where I can’t imagine. Nothing has felt permanent for years. I’m restless, and I don’t feel like I can count on anything to last, nothing at all. Now I’m sure others feel this way, but I guarantee… you ain’t really felt it until you’ve stared down your own mortality. That changes everything, absolutely everything.

I am hoping that by thinking this through and spelling it out, perhaps I can look hard at it and begin to feel some peace with it. I would love to look out the windows of my room at the lakehouse and simply feel at home, but I don’t. I am very aware that none of this is going to last, because neither am I.

It’s not all bad, facing your own mortality is one way of opening yourself up to saying “fuck it,” one way to become liberated. Being as aware as I am of the fact that I am terribly mortal, that I will die… I just can’t see spending this life conforming to other people’s ideas about what life or art should be. After all, if I don’t get the life I want NOW… I may never get it. There is some liberation and power in that, in that ability to walk away from their plans for your life, to walk away from their points of view, their expectations, their rules, to instead follow your heart’s desire… but that sort of liberation comes at a very heavy price. I often wonder if the liberation is worth the price I am paying.

I try not to think about it, but it’s there. It’s there in how I almost always feel unsettled, a little in transit, or transition, even. I don’t know how to lose this feeling. I think in order to really live again, I’m going to have to let go and stop feeling this way, but how is that done?

Or perhaps it’s simply enough to once in a while take a kayak out on the lake, lay back and watch the birds overhead as I bob gently on the water… and to be wholly in that moment. Perhaps it’s enough to walk out of my room at night, outside towards the main house, and look out over the lake at the moonlight as it reflects on the lake and think how it’s never been any better than this. Perhaps it’s enough to listen to Harry Nilsson sing “Salmon Falls” and be nowhere else but in that song at that moment. Perhaps knowing what I know about life and death and hoping to forget it and feel settled and secure is far too much to ask for. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect to forget. Perhaps I just need to enjoy the moments as they come and realize that that is enough. Perhaps it’s that simple after all.