Doze Green’s Gaia

There is a ghetto blaster in Doze Green’s House, circa 1982.  It still works.  It sits, like a robotic shrine amid a wall of records, tapes and DVDs.  His vinyl collection is a lexicon of psychedelic, hip-hop, hardcore, reggae, jazz, and on and on.

Doze’s house is a low-slung affair in west Nevada County, a remnant of the 80’s that is steadily transforming into a self sufficient, off-the-grid paradise.  He and his partner Nicole Strand moved here from San Francisco a few years ago.  Like many of us arriving in Nevada County, they wanted to try and repair their severed ties to Mother Earth. He and Nicole started, Ouroboros, an heirloom seed company with a fellow permaculturist in Sebastapol.

Doze is a monolith of pop culture.  He can reference any pop personality, place or happening in the last 50 years.  He is of that New York ilk that is faster, street-smarter and wittier by osmosis.  When he talks, he cracks himself up, bursting into sudden cartoonish motion.

I met Doze by house sitting for him last September while he was in Chicago painting a mural for three weeks.  I met his partner, Nicole, his dogs, his chickens, and his tomato plants and paintings months before I met him.  It was intense waking up to his art everyday.  I don’t think I got it at first.  I could see clearly that he had chops, but the intent wasn’t so clear to me.  Some of his paintings appear to be epic narrative glyphs, compressed and layered.  Multiple stories told simultaneously.  Some of them are so infused with sadness and rage that I avoided them first thing in the morning.  And some of them seem empty of emotion altogether. I would stay up late at night with a glass of wine, watching them for new developments.  I became familiar with his cast of characters.  It took weeks for Doze’s work to unravel enough, for my eyes to slowly penetrate the layers, so that I felt like I was getting the story. Or stories.

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(still life with Siddhartha)

Doze is a graffiti veteran of the 70’s and 80’s.  He and his compatriots went from being the most hated faction of New York life to the most revered.  “I’m no art critic but I can tell ya that ain’t art!” said a cop gesturing at a throw-up on a subway car in the 1983 documentary Style Wars.  It meant having a secret identity that was emblazoned on every imaginable surface.  As the form became more elaborate and more illegal, the accompanying hip-hop soundtrack was eeking it’s way from little local radio stations into big record labels.   Slowly but with increasing speed, outsider artists were beckoned into the money institutions: getting signed, getting larger venues, and getting acknowledged as culture makers.  To the rest of the country, hip-hop must have seemed to come out of nowhere.  But for the youth at the center of the counter culture, it was just the natural whipping together of hundreds of influences.

Simultaneously, punk and hardcore were lacerating crowds of teens at CBGB’s with the barely human sound of outrage.  Doze frequently found himself enthralled in the chaos of the Ramones or the Misfits.

As part of the Rock Steady Crew, he traveled all over the world, “every continent but Africa and Antarctica,” he laughed.  He worked for design companies like Jive and Bad Boy and painted murals in famous nightclubs like the Devil’s Nest.  He came out to California in the late 80’s and lived in Hollywood with Special K, Grandmaster Caz, Prince Whipperwhip and IceT.  In ‘91 he had the strange LA experience of living on Skid Row and in Beverly Hills in the same year. The empty-eyed faces in many of his paintings are echos of the homelessness he witnessed. The Beverly Hills mansion used to belong to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s House and was populated by ghosts and Scientologists.  “They tried to convert me.  It didn’t work.”

The first painting I bonded with was a single figure that hung in the living room: a golden alien robot floating on a white background.  I imagined if humans evolved for a few thousand more years we might look like that guy.  He was a protector of sorts, there was something soft about him despite his armor.  When I moved out, I missed him.  (Arawak 2011)

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(Arawak 2011)

This was a really brutal time in my life.  I took the gig house sitting for Doze and Nicole because my marriage was falling apart and I needed a neutral space to figure out a plan. Everyday Blossom and I would get up and feed the spastic black labs and then we’d go out to the chicken hutch to collect eggs.  Blossom would hunker down with an egg in her hands like it was a precious jewel.  “Thank you, Ladies,” she would coo to each of them.  Then we’d go back up to the kitchen and make breakfast.  We could pick tomatoes and grapes, swing in the hammock or watch cartoons on their old, tiny TV.  It was a relief to be away from my crumbling home and in a place where people were doing everything we dreamed about doing: growing food, making art.  Blossom would occasionally comment on a painting: “I like the blue bird,” or “that one is scary.” Doze and Blossom have since exchanged art; one of her original pieces (finger paints on card stock) hangs in his studio.

There is an interview with Doze back in his graffiti days where he is explaining the connection between dance and the trippy characters that make up a piece.  He has been building his own language for decades so of course it is esoteric. But he is also so deeply connected to some kind of instinctive cuneiform; his imagination parts so sharply from reality at times that it must be a struggle to come back to this monotone world.

A few weeks ago, we were standing in his studio and looking at Doze’s new works in progress.  He keeps about 6 or 8 going at a time, which attests to his restless energy.  This particular painting was a body, a humanoid body, in a sickened landscape of darkness.  Within her body there are faces with different expressions.  She is plowing forward in a gesture of elephantine determination with one hand behind, a black veil trailing her and a red orb floating inside it.

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“It’s Gaia,” he said, “in the apocalypse, pulling the seed of life from the void.”

There is a phenomenon called the Stendhal Syndrome whereby a person is so moved by what they are seeing that they are transformed physically, often getting ill with the shakes or dizziness.  Apparently it happens a lot in Italy when people are seeing the great masters for the first time.  It happened to me when I saw the Venus de Milo and it happened when I saw Doze’s Gaia.  I had to catch my breath and he patted me on the back reassuringly.  I had trouble sleeping, which is nothing new, but the image stuck on the inside of my eyelids.  Great art resonates with our experience, like a tuning fork.  It should reach in there and pluck that chord that feels unique to our body, our memory.  It should require no explanation.

I just spent the last year dialing back all my plans and dreams because it took all my energy just to get out of bed in the morning.  Add in the chronic terror of living in a collapsing system, an eroding ecology and all the helplessness and the denial it takes to keep going within that system.  In the grips of single motherhood I looked at Gaia and I saw…myself. Gathering up the babies, walking through chaos, dragging the void and the seed of life behind me.

Doze seems to permeate that thin membrane between the dead and the living.  People come to Nevada County to call out the last shred of the sacred. There are other artists here, cloistered away in the hills, exhibiting internationally, bartering their paintings for chicken feed.  This is another reason I don’t want to leave.  It changes me, to see and to be around people who are making their imagination actual.  It gives me hope and the sense that the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, despite the smart phone pseudo-revolution.  Or maybe this is just a gold country phenomenon: that people like Doze and Nicole along with many other travelers on the path, arrive here.

Knowing them has made me all that much more resistant to moving, to getting a “straight job”.  I want to do in my fiction what Doze does on that canvas.  It maybe partly fear of failure.  A friend posted a quote for Beth Moore recently, “Writing is like throwing up: I know I’m going to do it, I just need to find a place.”

When I told Doze that I gave up trying to make music for a living because it sucked the joy out of the process, he said something that has stuck in my gut since: “Meer, you have to be willing to hate it, about half the time.”  When I sit down to write now, i think about that, I try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I can see what it must feel like to have reached a point in your art making where you no longer wonder or care if it is good.  Doze may be a little eccentric, but he’s also free.  And that freedom produces magnificent results.

He is about to go to Las Vegas to paint a five-story mural.

“I’ll be in a cherry-picker the whole time.”

“Are you scared of heights?”  I asked him.

“I didn’t used to be,” he said.  “I used to run on top of the subway cars.”

“Jesus.”

“Ahh, It’ll be fun,” he said with a grin and a bombastic gesture of excitement.

dozegreen.com

watch a video about the Las Vegas project:

http://vimeo.com/76575366

 

 

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Is it normal to go this nuts over your kid’s birthday?

Parents. help me out.  I feel like I am a little obsessed and have been for several days up until tomorrow, which is Blossom’s third birthday.  

Maybe I am feeling the extra compulsion to make things “normal” for her, given the upheaval she has had to bear in these last months.  She cried the whole way home last week after I picked her up from her dad’s, saying “i just miss my Daddy, I just want him to come back to our house.”  I know she is mirroring my stubborn wish to have a family again, but that her pain is so real, so acute for her.  

I think part of me is over compensating for the separation anxiety she is feeling at this stage of uncertainty.  

But may it is also this: this is the moment, 3 yrs ago, that i became a mother, that I pushed through the worst pain, the worst terror to the biggest joy I ever experienced.  The moment when the midwife placed her little body on top of mine and she swiped at her eyes like, “shit, it is bright in here,” I still feel it on my skin.  

She said to me in the car today, “Mamma, I don’t want you anymore.”  And when I asked her what she meant she said, “I just want to be with my Daddy all the time.”  

So, despite all my values, all my heavyset beliefs in meaningful gift-giving and homespun recycling, I went out and spent too much money on disposable fun and needless, girlie fashion.  I did get her a wooden train set and some second hand shoes, but even there I felt guilty.   

i love that child with all my being and i know that I will now spend my whole life wondering if I made the right choices for her and that, just like with “age reversal skin cream” there is no way to tell if it is working.  

i watch her sleep in my bed during bouts of insomnia and I have horrible visions of the world in 15 years.  I inagine her asking me why I had a child knowing the state of humanity, of the world, of the planet.  I wonder if she will be upset at me for having thrust her into this world.  Or if she will understand, like i did, and I do, that she made the choice, that she shouldered her way in.  

I hope tomorrow is a day of wonder for her.  I hope she revels in the love of her people, that she knows in her heart how remarkable a 3 yr old she really is.  I hope I am able to shelter her, teach her, soothe her and support her and that her father is able to do the same.  I hope that its not the things, she remembers, but the intention behind them.  I hope we make it through this next phase intact, as a fragile, openhearted, magic-invested 3 yr old, as a mother, as a species, as a planet. 

 

 

Adventures in House Hunting

Wow.  A new one, this one caught me totally off guard.  I’ve been using Craigslist, as many of you have, for at least 10 years, this one took the cake.  I posted a “wanted” ad looking for housing in Sac for me and Blossom.  Here’s the ad:

“Greetings! I am a creative, responsible and freshly single Mom looking for a place to live in a family friendly Sac neighborhood. We would love to live in an in-law or carriage house behind a family. 
I have one, lovely daughter who charms the socks off everyone she meets. We have no pets, one small car and lots and lots of art supplies! We love animals so it would be great if you have pets we can borrow. 
We would love to be near children and or a park. We like playing outside, gardening, making art and general frolicking. Biking is also high on the list. 
I am a freelance writer and rehabilitative yoga teacher so my time is flexible, I’d even be happy doing a babysitting trade or working off part of the rent in childcare. I can also furnish you with excellent landlord references and although my credit is not wonderful I have plenty of savings and additional support. A 6 month lease would be ideal but we are flexible. 
Thanks for reading this post, and enjoy this autumnal day. “

I got this response this morning:

“Hi

I have in-law quarters in back of the main house, 2 bd 1ba, that is currently empty. Its completely separate from the main house. It has its own entrance, kitchen etc. and its furnished.

Im looking for a CUTE female who is willing to clean, make coffee in the morning and do some ‘extra’ things around the house a couple times a week in exchange for $100 rent.

Normally rents for $1500/month. “

He also sent these pictures:

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So this was my carefully crafted reply:

Hi ——-,  I don’t know quite how to respond to this.  The implication is that you are looking for some sort of live in maid/prostitute and that you would be willing to knock 1400$ off the rent for those services.  Did I mention that I have a child? 
Do unusually handsome, wealthy men have to resort to sending inappropriate messages to single mamas on CL?  If they do it’s news to me.  
So I am going to have to call bullshit on this message, altogether.  The house looks beautiful, you (if this is indeed you) also look beautiful.  And while I happen to think I’m cute and I entertained this idea for a second, the fact that you had no problem sending it makes me think you are either a liar or an asshole.  Or both.
 
So I have to thank you for this gallant offer, but no thanks.  If there is a guy out there willing to make this proposal, then certainly there is a gal willing to take you up on it.  Best of Luck.  Next time, you might try asking a lady out for a drink first.  
 
 
~M
 
Again, wow.  Could I really get that lucky, to pay 100$ a month rent and all i had to do was bone a handsome rich guy a few times a week and make him coffee?  Nah, too good to be true.