A five-year installation, the BREAK-UP DIORAMAS are part decor slideshow and part emotional memory as can only be communicated through a Bob Dylan soundtrack
Bob Dylan has carried me through every breakup, like Jesus on the beach. This one was a Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks breakup. In my mind (alone, I assure you), in my final days there, each room in Dan and I’s home took on a song from one of these albums.
This could be worse. I once had a Highway 61 Revisited and Time Out of Mind break up. Caustic. Dark.
Dan and I broke up in June. After much extended agony. We made it public in July. Finally, in late August, after a nail-biting apartment search, I moved out. Only then, we stopped pretending nothing had changed. We stopped. Full stop. We had dated for six and half years. I had lived with him for five.
A breakup is a fugue state. It’s a David Lynch movie. You have lost the thread. You are disturbed, disoriented, disillusioned, discombobulated. All the dis-words, you are each of those. Great lighting and color palettes, sure, but it’s foggy, and it’s rising from the bitter smoke of your own heartburn and scorched earth soul. And everyone dresses weird (oh wait, that’s just me). Then, often taking you by surprise: disturbing and unpredictable sex scenes. Midgets dancing.
It’s Kafkaesque. Suddenly, your supposed soulmate transmogrifies before your eyes (as you do to them) into a totally ordinary person with giant dung beetle sized character flaws (as seen through your jaded perspective, of course).
A breakup is the chaos theory. Big bang. It’s a blast of emotion and pain and un-negotiable change that hits like scattershot shrapnel all across your psyche, ripping through your memories even, tearing gaping holes in your views of yourself and your past and your overall place in the world. Then, just when you think you’ve picked out all the shards, there comes the familiar stab, something else buried beneath the skin.
Perversely still a shock.
But a breakup is anything but numbing. By the end of our overstretched LTR, Dan and I were both drowning in a toxic soup of numb. We were both doing any passive aggressive and self destructive thing in our power to signal our despair. But no one was reading the signs. Until the absolute end of the road.
So yes. I’m here. Back in the rain. But I am not numb. And it feels fantastic to feel. The full spectrum of things. Even the pain. (It is my gain. You were right again, ‘80’s T-shirt.)
So that brings me back to the BREAK-UP DIORAMAS, and the point, which, I know, I should get to already. Here’s the real dirt. The house that Dan and I lived in meant the world to me. It was our silent third partner (our real estate unicorn). It was our love story, signifying everything. I spent more time, effort, money, and energy on it than probably anything else in my life over this half-decade.
I remember when I first went over to Dan’s house, a week into dating, and saw the flat white primer on the walls left untouched for the eight years since he had bought it; and the dirty 1980s-era living room carpet with patches of hardwood peeking out the frayed ends; and the bathroom walls and ceiling splotched with mold—the white of any extant porcelain filth black; and the thick layer of dust, and the general disregard.
At first I thought: “Leave here and never come back.” And then I thought: “I can fix this.” My romantic fantasies had less to do with princes on bareback horses than property owners with bare walls. I studied Queer Eye for the Straight Guy like a master class.
For months, for years after, I tried to ignore the obvious, and look at the potential. I plopped down on the giant dusty brown beanbag (dubbed Snuffaluffagus by me—the first assassination target in my total decor overthrow) in his living room and imagined how I would paint the walls. And what the hardwood would look like when I ripped up the carpet (fabulous, is the answer).
I have always lived in fantasy worlds. That I sometimes make come true through sheer grit and blind faith and cheap tricks. In many ways, that’s exactly how I approached everything with Dan.
Lesson: you can paint over anything. You can purchase vast amounts of brilliantly tiny tables and amazingly bizarre lamps that will endlessly annoy your partner. But you can truly change no one.
And places become prisons. My misplaced affection for that house made it harder to break up with Dan when all signs were pointing to a swift and immediate exit. Then during the break up, separating our stuff, and watching that house move on without me, was almost as painful as anything else.
Thus, the BREAK-UP DIORAMAS, to capture the uncanny moment of in between. Of love and loss. Of spaces and objects—and the strange emotional baggage they carry.
I took these pictures in August. One last look at the place that is and that isn’t. That was and that wasn’t. That held everything and that held nothing at all. This is the limbo moment, the relationship borderline, the ghost town right before it all came down. With Bob Dylan piped in for effect.
I last saw the house in October. I came back for the first time a few weeks ago (late January) to pick up the very last of my books.
And it’s just another place. A bit rundown—needing work. I wouldn’t want to live there. It’s not mine anymore. It has nothing to do with me.
The BREAK-UP DIORAMAS are a goodbye. To Dan. To that house that once meant so much to me, for whatever misplaced reasons. And to all the visions, revisions, and eventual prisons I found there.
The BREAK-UP DIORAMAS are also a launch. For all my rough drafts and rough starts and overhauls to Cheep, this concept just won’t leave me (it was inspired 5 years ago by the transformation made to Dan’s environs). Finally, slowly, with Cheep (as with everything else in my life), I am starting to let go of my grand fantasies of what I want it to be, and just make it a lens to view what actually is. What looks good. What feels good. What is creative. What is funny. What is a steal. What is free. What is real.
In the end is my beginning.