Death, Ritual, and Persona

October has always been my favourite month, since it contains both my birthday and Halloween. I’ve loved the intense transformational explosion of the leaves changing colour when, where I grew up in upstate New York, it was always peaking right at the time when I was born. It gave me somewhat of an obsession with the colour red which can be seen in my work. This year, I’ve been studying to become an astrologer, as I’m now 42 and I can’t do porn forever, and I don’t want to pursue other aspects of the industry like being a director and so on. With this crazy economy and my stubbornness about painting whatever suits me, I can’t count on being able to establish a feasible art career either.

To make a long story shorter, this year I decided to try my hand at a Solar Return chart, which is done for the time when the Sun is returning to the same degree of the zodiac it was in when you were born. This is supposed to forecast something about the year to come. I’ve had an incredibly rough couple of years (or decades, let’s face it) and it disturbed me to see a year predicted that was more of the same. Astrologers see the planets as energies or even entities that tie in with mythological figures, such as Mars, Saturn, Jupiter, and so on. Mars, Uranus, Saturn, and Pluto were all lining up to bring me more loss and pain over this year to come, so I also tried something new to me, astrological remediation. This is a magical, ritualistic process that can take almost any form. It is designed to help mitigate the negative influences of the relevant energies, sort of like making a sacrifice to a God.

Something in me said, and maybe this is the former goth in me, that it isn’t going to be my birthday, it should be my funeral. The funeral for my old self. The planetary forces are wanting me to let go of everything that I was, and everyone I have loved, it seems, even to the point where I have, under their watch, lost more than one person to sudden death. So be it. Let it all die. In the spirit of Halloween, I dressed a plastic skeleton in my clothes, and pinned intentions related to the relevant planets to the outfit, and had a little fun with it. I placed items relating to my toxic coping mechanisms all around dead me. I got flowers. I lit candles and incense. One of my best and oldest friends and her partner came to visit me and we made it a party, and had a very special weekend.

Under the influence of a certain rather magical, healing, perception-altering substance, we finished the ritual together. The way everything worked out was really quite unexpected. They witnessed while I stripped dead me and burned the clothing and intentions on my patio. The selfie above is me dressed in some of my dead husband’s clothes, an impulsive decision but also I was thinking about, for the Mars remediation, how I could use more masculine energy in my being, instead of looking for it in a partner. I lost my husband to last year to a brain hemorrhage, and then my boyfriend this summer to betrayal, I wanted to try internalizing the masculine energy I seemed to be seeking elsewhere. To be my own fucking father figure for a change.

Ritual has long been a part of my life, not really in a formal way, more in a playful and intuitive manner. A method to work with matter and spirit to intentionally mark the passages of life. For me, ritual is much like art. You take various components and materials that have significance, everything included in a ritual is important, similarly to how everything in a painting must be there for a reason. Each part signifies something. Ritual and figurative painting for me are strongly work with symbols and meaning, and are magical in the way they use matter to work with energy and will to create something. Ritual and art also work with an invisible, unseen something. Intuition. Spirit. Vision. Inspiration. The subconscious.

My costume this year was pretty rushed and spontaneous, but in keeping with the theme fo death and pulling in masculine energy, I decided to be a dead white male artist, aka What it Takes to Make it in the Art World. Or maybe I’m a zombie artist come back to life after the pandemic, you decide. I wore some of my husband’s old clothes. This is tongue-in-cheek but also playing a bit with how difficult I’ve found it to make some kind of art career for myself. I realize I’m partly to blame for this, I don’t think anymore it is from any insufficiency in my work, just that my paintings are hard to sell for many reasons and I don’t know where the market is for it or if there is one. I just want to paint what I want to paint, and that happens to be large nudes which are often creepy and overwhelming for people. Not many people have the wall space either. I am working on trying to do more small stuff, however.

Costume has been a part of my art practise for almost the whole time I’ve been painting. Usually I pull on parts of myself, or aspects of a deity if I’m interested in their mythology. One of my early assignments in undergrad in intermediate painting class was to dress up as as aspect of ourselves and paint it. We took the photos in class with coloured lights. I think it made an impression on me on how a painting can be created, starting with the concept, then the creation of the source material, and how different aspects of ourselves can be honoured through art. I dressed up as the weekend goth part of myself. I felt tougher, more insulated, more badass, and it reminded me how what we wear and how we present ourselves can influence how we feel about ourselves and how others see us. This seems like a very basic concept but I was a very naive, sheltered 19 or 20 year-old.

What you see me wearing here is Uday Hussein’s black velvet jacket, as you can see, it is quite large on me, he was 6’5″. My late husband was a writer and war journalist, and he was in Iraq for both wars. I had just met him in 2002 and we had fallen in love only months before he decided to go be one of the few unembedded journalists in this crazy war. I couldn’t stand the idea of him in such danger and had this bad feeling if I wasn’t nearby, he would do something stupid and get himself killed. He went alone at first, but then asked if I would like to come, and against all common sense, I flew into Amman, Jordan. I was an ignorant American, and Jordan was a country I didn’t even know existed before this point. He met me and I stayed in Amman, the first country besides Canada that I had ever been to. I was only 23. Once the war stopped I went to Baghdad with him. But that’s a story for another day. He, along with many other journalists, went to Saddam’s palace. They stole a bunch of things, including some of Saddam Hussein’s notoriously horrible son’s (he was a terrible sadist and an all around evil person by all accounts) designer clothing. This was his rather sinister-looking coat. My husband wrote a funny but controversial article for a newspaper featuring a portrait of himself dressed as an Arab and holding an AK47 I believe, it was called “I am the Thief of Baghdad” (a film reference).

I think I also learned quite a lot about costume and persona not just from my long, long career in pornography, but also from my late husband, who was a theatre star in his youth, helped fundraise for the theatre in Oxford when he was studying there and met Samuel Becket, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, and Francis Bacon ans others while fundraising. My late husband was also a talented writer of fiction. He was also very talented at making up tall tales, and he was a compulsive liar. Its been extremely difficult and a major mind fuck after his death to discern truth from lies, and I’ve rather given up on that attempt. Does it even matter anymore?

It’s my belief and it has been confirmed by someone who is an authority, that my partner of 17 years had malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I only knew in the last few months of his life. A more benevolent aspect of that disorder is the ability to shapeshift into whatever self you think will get you the most benefit. He was amazing for his ability to travel anywhere and fit into the culture, learn bits of language, get through the most dangerous situations, and charm everyone. So my choice to wear some of his clothing that I kept (which wasn’t much, I donated most of it) may seem a bit morbid or odd, especially considering all the lies and abuse, but part of what I’ve been learning is keep what works, and throw out the rest. A year and a half after his death I’m starting to be able to forgive and release a lot of the trauma and realize that he will always be a part of me, and I accept that. I can wear his clothes. I can live in the house we shared together, even if terrible things happened here. Much of his influence was positive and transformational and contributed hugely to the development of my spiritual practise, my personality, my character, my art, and my understanding of the world. He also inadvertently taught me a lot about what not to put up with in future from people. And how to step away from him, which I did in the years before his death, I was actually trying to separate when he died, but he would make terrible threats and get abusive.

I feel like my birthday ritual at least (too soon to know about the other) has worked surprisingly well as I feel much lighter and happier as if a huge burden of misery and trauma has been lifted from my shoulders, but it could be temporary. For now, I’m enjoying it.