There is a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art called “The Birth of Venus.” I saw it a handful of times before they took it down and replaced it with something less memorable. I also photographed it. And then I took the photos home and looked at them and looked at them and looked at them some more. At one point I noticed something I thought was somewhat odd. At first glance, the female subject appears to have her eyes closed, but on closer inspection, her eyes, or maybe it’s just one eye, is open, just barely. There is something about this that hooked me, and maybe I find the slightest bit unsettling.
One of the things I love about art museums is I can gaze at the female figures, whether painted or sculpted, for as much and as long as I like. I can drink them in, trace every curve, every line, over and over again with my eyes, with my imagination. With my heart. My gaze is sanctioned. That is the very purpose of an art museum. But, like I said, Venus watching me is ever-so-slightly unsettling. But no, that’s not quite it. It feels to me that she is enjoying me studying her figure, her extravagant locks, her goddess’ beauty. That she wants to be admired and wants to watch me admiring her. Perhaps this is my projection, but it is hugely comforting to me. Rather than being the perpetrator of the much-vilified “male gaze,” I am a participant in a game of desire, my desire for feminine beauty, and her desire to be seen and admired. And that’s more honest than I care to be.
I decided I would treat myself to a bagel for breakfast, which is not something I do very often. The minute I woke up, I threw on whatever clothes were on my bedroom floor and ran down to the bagel shop. As I was rounding the corner, I saw this guy taping a flyer to the light post. I didn’t think much of it as I passed him, but after I got my bagel and was headed home, the flyer caught my eye. The title in big block letters across the top was, “Green Lawn Like a Carpet.” A pitch for lawn service didn’t make any sense here in the city, so I stopped to look.
It was the most curious thing – under the title was a full page of text, like a page from a book. It wasn’t a pitch for anything, or a political statement, or a notice about a missing pet. It didn’t make any sense. The first sentences were, “K lay on her back in bed listening to the rain. She could feel the weight of her body pressing her skin against the sheets.” It seemed like it was from the middle of a story or book, and those sentences kind of hooked me. I stood there in the grey light of early morning reading this story feeling confused. I looked around to see if the guy had posted it anywhere else, but I couldn’t see that he had. Seven or eight sentences in, I decided I was keeping it, so I tore it off the light post and put it in my pocket. I looked around guiltily to see if anyone had seen me, or if the guy was still around, but there was no one on the street.
I took a writing class back in 2016 and the teacher gave us this prompt:
Write about the woman smashing car windows. Turn her into a character in a story and explore her motivations.
This is what I wrote in response:
Thud! Ow! It’s not as easy to break a car window as it looks like in the movies. Fuck, that hurt! Not a scratch. I will try my boot. Thud! Wow, that was awkward. Still nothing. I need an object. A big heavy object, hopefully with a decent edge or point. What about a brick? OK, one more try with the heel of my boot. Thud! Nope. OK, where can I get a brick? Over there, decorative brick pavement around the base of that tree. I’m gonna smash that mother fucker. Dig dig dig. Dammit, nothing is as easy as it is on TV. Thwack. A crack! Yes, I definitely cracked it. Almost. Well, scratched it. OK, again. Crack! Smash. Yes. Take that mother fucker! You won’t fuck with me again. Smash. Smash. Smash. Shattered glass like a blanket. Peeling away from door frame. That was MY parking spot. I bet you wished you paid to park in the garage. I bet you will pay to park in the garage next time. Dirt bag.