Definition of a Hotel Woman:
A fugitive sensibility or character, often “feminine,” reprieved from the rigors of fixed address.
List of the ecstatic liabilities of hotel consciousness: Transience, shiftlessness, languor, depersonalization, drift, despondency, trance, effeminacy, boredom, sitting, satiety, repetition, retirement, imprisonment, hypersexuality, prostitution, shame, addiction.
-Wayne Koestenbaum, Hotel Theory
I have been a hotel woman. It is not easy. There are liabilities. I would say this list covers a lot of it. You lose self-respect at a certain point. You look at the ocean as a shower, a bench in a dog park as a bed. I still look at towels as luxury, not a right. Time is measured by when you can put your backpack on, when you can take it off. I enjoy the drift. It makes me feel accomplished. Hotel consciousness forces you to constantly adapt. Just to survive the physical aspect of moving. Historically, most drift has been towards the west. I went another way. I grew up in California, the brim of western desire. I moved to New York four years ago to attend Pratt. I had admired New York for years. I obsessed over the history of the city (and still do). Moving eastward meant going back in time, something I missed growing up in a place that was still developing. Continuing my migration east, I spent the better part of 2010 living in Paris and backpacking across Europe. The trip was defining. I moved to France without knowing any French and left being able to fake a lot of it.
With language, you can make friends, you can enjoy the lyrics in a song. Moving to France where I didn’t have language as a basic commonality made me realize how much I’d taken it for granted. I was paralyzed in the simplest of situations. Walking into a store and asking for help would require many rehearsals of verb tenses. I had to find another way to relate to the places I was visiting. I found that in the buildings I frequented. Walking around for months, I began to make a habit of imagining stories for the buildings I saw. Who lived there? Had someone washed the baseboards recently? Did they have to hang their laundry in their showers or did they have washer/dryer combos? Architecture became the new language in my life.
Transitioning to life in New York was difficult. I overslept as habit. I was accustomed to morning signaling a new walk through a city. I had to settle back to school in the states; I sought sleep as an escape from the stasis. I was more interested in what I dreamt than what I did. I spent several months feeling a sort of failure in my mornings. I began to have vivid dreams. I would give the places in the dreams the names of actual cities I had travelled to. Yet even in the dreams I was aware that the topography of my dream cities didn’t correspond to that of the real ones. Soon after, I began having a similar set of dreams that dealt with past space. I was a child visiting a building on the harbor where I grew up. My father would put me in the toddler’s seat of his bike and drive me to this building to look at the fresh lobster in the glass tanks. I kept asking to visit an ice cream store in the same set of buildings. We would go to the ice cream store, and I would ask for bubble gum. They wouldn’t have it. I left disappointed.
A few weeks later, I came back to California for Christmas. I drove to the same harbor to investigate the place. The ice cream store was no longer there. I never had the dream again. Unable to revisit the cities in the dreams, I began to write about them to make them go away. They didn’t.
In Tibetan Buddhism knowledge of the fact that dream has great potential has been known for more than a thousand years and has been put to good use. In Buddhist thought, sleep consciousness is seen as a parallel to the consciousness experienced in death, and dream yoga was developed as a way of becoming enlightened. Yogi’s enter the dream state consciously; they have learned that through meditation it is possible to become enlightened while asleep.
-Rob Nairn, Living, Dreaming, Dying: Practical Wisdom from the Tibetan Book of the Dead
Frustrated with oversleeping, I began to engage in lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is the practice of developing an awareness that one is in a dream state while in the dream. I figured if I was already sleeping that much, I should channel the dreams into a learning experience. I developed a dream process that I still employ today. I set several alarms in my room, usually in seven-minute intervals, waking myself repeatedly in an effort to control my dreams. I wake up and fall back asleep for up to an hour. The alarms offer a brief interval of time to consider the actions, and attempt to access the most exciting episodes. I try to prolong dreams that I find interesting, giving me material to write with when I finally wake up. These dreams are the blueprint for my manuscript.
One dream had a particular obsession with physical space. I found myself in a strange mansion, something that in the dream I internally referred to as Hearst Castle. I was aware in the dream that this was not the actual castle. Hearst’s Xanadu and the castle in my dream did have many similarities. The indoor pool, mosaic columns, and antique furniture found at Hearst Castle seemed to inspire the interior design of the dreamed castle. The next morning, I drew a floor plan in response. The physicality of the dream was intense. I recalled colors, furniture placement, and even the types of textiles on the beds. I wrote poems in an effort to access the dream again. The clarity with which I remembered this space became an obsession.
A few weeks after this dream, I walked into a room full of the works of Joseph Cornell while visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. There were maybe twenty pieces arranged in a cabinet. I was immediately entranced. The blue background tinting a swan that floated behind a wooden lake. The jointing peculiar to each piece. The framing of the box was so simple, yet the visual and textual arrangements within were so intricate. The presentation seemed effortless. Cut outs of French words, particularly hotel names, made me long for my time in Paris. I felt nostalgia for the present, for three months before, and for sixty years before. The manifestation of Cornell’s desire intensified my own. Each hotel name was a night I couldn’t get back, no matter how often I set out to dream of it. This was the moment that I realized how important architecture was to my sexuality.
I began to read ‘good’ and ‘bad’ architecture as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sexuality. My poetic concerns began to shift from architectural latency to realized sexuality. I think of architectural latency as a way of describing a building that has not reached its full potential as an object of beauty. Latent buildings are concerned with square footage rather than aesthetic value. Why are certain buildings attractive? Why are two people attracted to each other? Uninspired buildings leave me depressed and longing. Uninspired fashion does the same. I read lack of interest in fashion as complacency. I see boring facades of buildings as lazy architects with no interest in history and contribution. Office buildings are sexually oppressive, their structured interior plans and symmetrical floor levels serve as metaphors for impotency. The similarity between suit shapes and ties are latency’s representation in fashion. Architectural dormancy breeds sexual latency. How can one fall in love when all the buildings look like each other? What sets one building apart from another? Without physical differentiation how can one fall in love? The buildings of Old Europe seemed to encourage sexuality. The woman with their high heels driving to work on a Vespa reflected an assured sexuality I had never been exposed to. I envied them.
As I began to compile this manuscript, I began to notice that several voices were differentiating themselves. They were all affected by the cities where I wrote them. My writing in Los Angeles tends to be more introspective and focused on change. My New York poetry seeks linear perfection, a lingual attempt to consolidate everything I’ve learned in my past four years into crystalline lines. The affectation of lines reveals a commitment to self-awareness that urban life and architecture impose. Being close to such huge buildings makes me feel competition. I need to create something as architecturally significant. My writing from Paris has neither of these moods. In Paris, commerce is scattered all around the city; any sign of ‘big business’ is pushed firmly to the outskirts. With day-to-day architecture focused on the steeples and epiceries, one feels calmer. Every action in New York and Los Angeles seems more consequential to life than in Paris. Even the stores in Paris focus on one particular thing, instead of being a supercenter. This allows for pride in craft and knowledge. Looking at a poem from each city would bring back mental images. The tones from each place made the manuscript seem disjointed. To build consistency in my imagery, I began to make my own shadowboxes. I crafted them to serve as physical counterparts to my architecturally inspired works. By making the boxes, I learned how to edit imagery and references that didn’t cohere with my body of work.
Cornell did not practice representational methods such as drawing and photography, and literal illustration was never his intent even when he adapted likenesses created by other artist. Instead, he designed portraits and homages as abstract equivalents that captured the essence of his subjects, an approach he described as “image making akin to poetry.
-Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination
The process of creating the boxes allowed for much more freedom than writing a poem. When I sit down to write, I’m already thinking in short lines. Erasure is applied immediately to the poems. I edit sparsely afterwards. When I work on a box, I have the materials scattered around me, choosing the appropriate placement as I go along. Like moving lines to create new voice, I experimented with pictures to create a story. I worked with lights in the boxes, using them as a metaphor for the light of reality and the darkness of the dreams. In one such box, the lights flickered to reveal the word “Man” in a found Kodachrome slide. The male/female dynamic revealing itself in the boxes began to affect the tone of the newer poems. The physicality of the box form made me consider the lack of emotional physicality in my manuscript. I began to feel as if architecture was serving as a placeholder for my hesitation to become intimate in my poetry. Hartigan writes once more:
Typically boxes are made to be opened and to be closed, to reveal and protect their contents. In Cornell’s constructions, glass panes achieve both goals to create a dynamic, transparent relationship between interior and exterior. Peering through a glass to inspect the contents and composition of his boxes and collages suggest using a telescope to bring the distant or mysterious closer. The presence of mirrors complicates the experience. They expand the sense of space, confuse the real and the reflected and include the viewer in their imagery. In the process, mirrors evoke a range of meanings, especially Cornell’s interest in the mind as a mirror of the soul and dreams.
Although my poems were largely working in a box shape, they did not have the “glass pane” that Cornell employed. Architecture, narrative, and structure framed them, yet the intricacies within were missing. Architectural focuses distracted from emotional obsessions. I trained myself to focus more on the personal intensity in my dreams. My process allowed me to activate reflection in a dream state. I studied my surroundings, discovering an intimacy that began to affect my manuscript. The more I became aware of my environment in the dreams, the more sexually aware the poems became.
The manuscript began to develop two identities. One physical, the other ‘unphysical.’ I see the physical as the stagnant objects in life. They are difficult to manipulate on one’s own accord. The unphysical is a realm of imagination. It has some physical proponents but it is more malleable in its existence. A person has an ability to control the unphysical. When the unphysical elements lose their innocence, they become physical ideas. Once I identified the two components of the physical and unphysical worlds, it was clear that my dreams were the intersection of the two. Dreams were an intrusion to sleep, new men an intrusion to fantasy and freedom, architecture an intrusion to natural landscape. Dreams were my medium to access both of these moments at the same time. Just like Cornell used boxes to access his interests, I was using dreams to access and make sense of my own.
My previous artistic experience had been a practice of street photography. After seeing a retrospective of William Eggleston’s photography, I began to make a connection between his work and Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. O’Hara’s words are a poetic version of street photography. O’Hara made the quotidian extraordinary simply by framing what he saw on the street. Eggleston did the same. When asked what he felt he was accomplishing with his photographs, Eggleston said “I think of them as parts of a novel I’m doing.’ Signs, buildings, people, are composed in order to create stories. Lunch Poems employs a similar combination of distance and intimacy to strangers that Eggleston’s photography is famous for. “A Negro stands in a doorway with a toothpick, languorously agitating. A blonde chorus girl clicks: he smiles and rubs his chin. Everything suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of a Thursday” (O’Hara, “A Step Away From Them”). The ability to access the extraordinary in what most people ignore is what I find most compelling about these two artists.
It is these types of moments that I am most interested in accessing in my dreams. In this manuscript, I’ve created a personal narrative based on the action of my dreams. I’ve included internal monologues from these dreams, juxtaposing being aware that you are in a dream while engaging with the action going on. Even asleep, we have some ability to disengage from the dream and recognize it as a fiction/façade.
Inspired by George Oppen, my short staccato lines developed from a desire to increase attention to the multiple meanings of a word. Oppen’s breaks give his poems speed. I wanted to combine this pace with elements of my lucid dreaming process. Actions in a dream can feel instant and fluid. The short line breaks call for instant differentiations in word meaning to create the same flow.
At curbs and curb gratings,
At barber shops and townsmen
Born of girls –
Of girls! Girls gave birth . . . But the interiors
Are the women’s: curtained,
Lit, the fabric
To which the men return. Surely they imagine
Some task beyond the window glass..
-George Oppen, The Collected Poems of George Oppen
I always feel like Oppen wants to test me. Like he wanted to define the world so particularly and got so exhausted from it that he had to stop writing poems altogether. I get scared that I will get that tired as well. I haven’t been sleeping, and I’m getting more tired every day but I don’t want to burn out. I don’t think I’ll burn out yet. I think Oppen should have thought about ‘someday’ more, but he had to give it up for the now. That makes him stronger. Sometimes I judge Oppen for burning out. Sometimes I feel like he just gave up. Like he stopped giving things to me. I think a lot of times I want things all the time from artists.
When I like something I want it all the time, and what I really want is art, music, movies, Oppen. Art isn’t like friends. I don’t need to call anyone to see art. I don’t need them to ignore my text messages. And this is how I feel about Oppen. I feel like for 30 years he just wouldn’t text back. I know he was there, by his phone the whole time, but he just had to keep me waiting. He had to put himself back in control. He already knows I love him; he doesn’t need me to bug him everyday. When he comes back, he’s more powerful than ever.
“I, I I I I, find me, find my navel, so that I will exist, find my nipples, so that they will exist, find every hair of my belly, find… It is a root of poetry, it is indeed, well, I don’t know… Because it seems to me the pitfall that has trapped every woman poet who has written in English: I am good (or I am bad); find me” (Oppen, Of Being Numerous). The real question is I don’t know who Oppen would want me to be, and that’s starting to bother me too.
Oppen raises the question of identity. As a young female poet where do I feel comfortable being found? I raise this question in my poem “After Excuse Me.” I had been feeling strange about being by myself and how that might be socially perceived. I had grown accustomed to being alone while I was in Paris. There were language barriers, seemed barriers. I didn’t know anyone. Returning to New York brought back social interaction, yet I still enjoyed being by myself. I noticed that this solitude changed my interactions with others. With my friends, I was comfortable to interact with strangers because I had people who knew my ‘real’ personality around me. I felt like I couldn’t embarrass myself. Alone, I felt free to be judged. “I tiptoe / to make myself / seem frail to deny / myself / of my own age / in shame / they would / find me / attractive.”
I began to change my clothes. I tried to make my outfits more conservative in order to attract less attention. A penchant for crop tops turned into one for maxi skirts. I didn’t want people to think I was doing things by myself in order to attract social attention. I believed my interest in fashion made me seem less serious in my academic setting. I felt self conscious being dressed up at readings. This was in stark opposition to the fashion and art communities I admired. They used fashion to communicate the artist’s identity. In the poetry community, it felt like this was looked down upon. I often felt like I had to tone down this interest in efforts for people to pay attention to the writing rather than what I was wearing.
This frustration of identity paralleled the conflict of maturation that affected many parts of my manuscript. My sexual ideal was more than overly romantic, largely fueled by four years of daydreaming while I attended an all girls’ high school. Confidence, relationships, and social constructs all play a strong role in the poems. The transitional space where girls assert their sexual identity was particularly interesting to me. Coming of age in a single sex environment, I had to make this transition when I moved to New York. The transitional spaces of New York offered the same combination of smut and beauty that sex occupied. Sidewalks can lead into the Metropolitan Museum of Art or into a gutter. Eggleston can make a gutter look beautiful, and I can make it look like a cast off piece of sidewalk littered with Cheetos wrappers. In the same way I had to determine what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ architecture, I had to decide what was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ about my developing sexual identity.
But before we get to the WP (wall projection), we must first pass through the doorway of the room. Entering the breakfast room can be interpreted as a transition from one reality to another. The following conditions contribute to this:
3. The Function of the Room
3.1 A room designed to be used exclusively for breakfast hovers between day and night.
3.2. A breakfast room is also a place of transition between privacy and communication.
3.3 In this regard, a breakfast room also lies between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.
-Jan Turnovský, The Poetics of a Wall Projection
For a long time, I felt like my poetry was stuck in the breakfast room. I lacked confidence in my voice or the things that I was writing about. I wanted to have a project, but everything I invested my time in would instantly seem frivolous. The appearance of an asserted sexuality in my poetics paralleled my poetic maturation. As I went further into my research for my manuscript, I began to become confident in my knowledge of poetry. I had the skill set to finally talk about topics that I had been afraid of. I became more comfortable with the fact that people were going to read my work and make personal decisions about it. I wanted to take the same risk with my poetry as I did with fashion.
Line length was a major concern. Although I prefer the style of short lines, I was afraid that their brevity could be seen as weak. In my poetry, sparity breeds courage. I eliminate unnecessary words to create vulnerability in the words left. The use of short lines creates a juxtaposition of strength. What is small is normally the weakest. With no room for error, a short lined poem, like a stream lined building, must succeed on all levels, or risk being deemed ‘bad architecture.” Minimalism has confidence. It was in this form that I finally felt that the visual of my poetics complimented the tone of the works.
Hotels raise but cannot settle the questions of the anterior. Poetry– with its repetition, its cadences, its abruptness, its invocations of presence, its situations of immediacy and of idiocy – is reason-seeking prose’s anterior. I propose hotel as the desired else where to my dismal location…We each have an “oneric” hotel, a dream hotel, a phantom twin of the actual Hotel Unter den Linden… Hotels are my project. A project says Bachelard is “short-range onevision.” To pursue a project is to engage in active – and perhaps pointless – dreaming.
-Wayne Koestenbaum, Hotel Theory
To Koestenbaum a hotel is the “desired elsewhere.” Dreams fill the same void in my life. Dreams are spurred by desire, as is the decision to write. Can I train you to lucidly dream? Probably not. But I can train a reader to look at words, to analyze language instead of dreams. I have had to accept that I am a creature of desire. There are things that I will always want. There are people I will always obsess over. There are things I will always feel I am unable to achieve. I will always write but I may feel unsatisfied in my breaks. In the words that I choose. In the words that I don’t know yet. But I will keep working hoping that one day it will be fulfilling. Hoping that I’ll get some answers from these dreams. This is more than just a project. Maybe in this “active – and perhaps pointless – dreaming,” I will finally be able to tell the difference between what is a dream and what is real. I’ve been losing sleep over it.