I met Steve Smith, the artist who made the assemblage that watches me sleep. I went to his house which is filled with artifacts, sparkling assemblages, decapitated mannequin torsos and plastic wrap to presumably keep the heat out of the cool in. I guess this is what happens in Cleveland—you stare at a painting long enough and say something about it to the right person and next thing you know you find yourself in that person’s living room with their wife, drinking warm seltzer while watching them light up a joint in a barcalounger.
I asked him about intimacy. He said all his work was about intimacy, that he wrote about the parts of life people don’t want to talk about—hard drugs, armed robbery, etc. He told me about an assemblage he’d made a while ago which featured his genitalia wrapped in an American flag with dead fish flanking it called, fittingly, “American Ego.” When I pressed him on the difference between transgression and intimacy (thinking but not saying that his examples might be more the latter than the former) he answered thoughtfully saying simply, “intimacy is…softer.” and made a gesture with his hands that had something of an offering in it. The afternoon sun reflected off his round glasses and accentuated the white of his beard. I thought he was maybe one of those lost boys who become occasional gurus later in life.
Is intimacy softer than transgression or is it just sneakier? What is the difference between the personal and the intimate? You’re there, reading this on your phone or computer, maybe on a subway or in bed or on the toilet and I’m over here propping my wrists up on a pillow, sharing with you this strange part of my day. But if I were to truly be intimate with you wouldn’t I share with you the incomprehensible pieces of my life—the inexplicable and overwhelming shame on the way to the laundromat I got from looking at a chipped toenail, my awkwardness at turning down the joint, my embarrassment when my mother called me while I was eating a happy hour taco alone. And even in telling you that, in putting the events into some kind of category we’ve become further apart haven’t we? Because now they make a little sense to you. We’ve all had a moment in a day that breaks down right? But if I had called you in that moment before the shame became a sentence, or the awkwardness became a story, in that blubbering without language when you look at another person and truly wonder if they'll ever come out of it. Would that expression of need created an intimacy between us or a rift? We’ll never know. I didn’t call you, did I?
Intimacy and illegibility have always rubbed shoulders which is why I think love happens always by accident. It happens when we fall into someones’s arms or look up from our tears to see a face or of course when we hold our arms out to a cryer, open our doors to a runner or our coffers to a thief. Love, outside of the logical, shows us the there-all-along part of ourselves we never would have chosen to show but somehow find we have no choice but to become.