[this was mostly written on tuesday evening. it took me a while.]
I wouldn’t know how else to write this. To be half-disappointed in myself because I had three drinks with a friend/coworker at our local haunt. But then to know that if I told my friend Dale about my disappointment he would slyly smile and tell me to Ah, fuck off. You’re great. That’s wonderful.
A year ago today, Evan and I were laying on our carpet in our living room, drinking whisky. Trying to sum up the courage to listen to a piece of art. A piece of sound. It was a dedication to our friend Dale. He was on his deathbed. His literal deathbed.
Deathbed. I cannot believe how jovially I used that term before I knew someone—loved someone—who laid their head on a pillow that lived on a deathbed.
We wept. I don’t know if Evan and I said a word to each other that whole night. We just listened. Deeply.
Dale was a friend, mentor, inspiration to both of us. He was a professor of mine. He was one of those people who meant so much to me, but I only filled a small slot in the multi-paged dance card of admirers he had.
We had a few conversations circled around my intense insecurity about being an artist. Or—rather—not being an artist at all. Being a complete imposter. Crying about it as he told me that most people call themselves artists and never make anything. He told me that I was making so much and not calling myself an artist, which wasn’t fair to anyone.
Dale was a huge part of “20/Nothing.” He had mentored us through the project and his hand in everything meant so much to us. We picked him up from his house in the craziest blizzard Missoula had ever seen. We slide all around the roads as we drove to the university. We sat in terrified silence in the studio as we screened “20/Nothing” for him. It finished. We sat in silence. He stared at the blank/finished screen and then said…
– One more time.
We pushed play again.
It finished. He looked at us and said…
– Well, hell. You kids have something here.
All of our insides smiled warmly as they collapsed together in an ecstatic faint.
He was the first person I texted when we won the PBS POV Award.
In his own way, he got in that positive jab. Did he invent that? Making fun of someone whilst simultaneously complimenting them to the core?
During all our talk about being an artist or not, I told Dale about how much I wanted to do an art installation one day. He encouraged me, telling me he was always—especially—excited to help with those kinds of projects.
The last day I saw Dale, we did not speak. I just saw him briefly and he nodded at me and I knew something was wrong. He did not look well.
I found out that day he was sick. He was going to die.
I couldn’t stop thinking about our last conversation. I had seen him in the hallway and asked if I could talk with him about something I couldn’t shake. I was in the car with a producer, working on a film, and the producer hit a puppy and it was horrible and it was a nightmare and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Dale told me that I couldn’t shake it because I was a caring person and we should never feel bad for caring. He so readily comforted the fact that we were human and stood up for the goodness in all of us and acknowledged the fucked-up-ness in all of it.
We walked together out to the parking lot and the conversation turned to his frustrations with some parts of his job. His last words to me were paired with a very Dale curtsey,
– They don’t even pay for my parking, Rachel.
Those were the last words. And then he was gone.
Then we were laying on the floor, listening to this piece of sound. This piece of art. Dale’s dance card of loved ones saying goodbye.
A week later, it was time to name my thesis project for my master’s program. I adamantly insisted on an art installation.
It was a crazy idea I pitched and Frontier Space accepted. They accepted it so much that they insisted it be a First Friday opening.
My idea was to take out the timers in parking meters and change them to music boxes. I also wanted to recreate parking tickets, rewrite them. Change the things they say to be inviting, encouraging, raw, open. Inviting people in. Talking about all the people that I want to be here. And cover a wall with them. Pink tickets. That was the color they had on campus.
It was the craziest time of my life. Learning a new art form, moving to Bozeman [for a new job], commuting to and fro between Missoula and Bozeman [because of aforementioned new job], starting the new job, trying to keep up with a newly-minted fiancé, finishing my master’s work, and ordering a ton of parking meter and music box pieces from eBay and praying to god it all works out.
Evan Smith was a saint and the most clutch team-member you’d ever want on your squad. He was an incredible tinkerer.
I wrote. Evan tinkered. I helped tinker. Evan welded. My advisor gave constant and solid advice. I spent many a nights in a small, cold space, reflecting, installing.
“You Can Be Here” was born.
I reached out to Dale’s wife to seek her input/approval. She said she could only come by late the night before the show opened. I was terrified.
It was all set up, ready to go, but the meters weren’t placed in their final positions yet.
She walked in the small space at 10:15pm and I held my breath. She looked around and made frank observations and gave honest critiques and advice.
– The meters need to be all in one line, close to the tickets.
And then on…
– You need to get the title of the show and your name printed in vinyl and put up on the wall.
She kept saying things like…
– Dale must’ve warned you about me, right? How I don’t hold anything back with my critiques.
I assured her I loved every turn, twist, and scenic overlook of this feedback.
We talked about art. About installations. We talked about how art is such an important part of the grieving process. We talked about Dale.
Then she said…
– This is really good. Dale would’ve approved. This needs to travel.
And then my insides smiled warmly as they collapsed together in an ecstatic faint.
That moment. That late night approval. That love. That was one of my favorite moments ever. It was connected in all the ways you want to exist.
“You Can Be Here” existed.
The next evening was also up there. So many loved ones, so many strangers, gathered in an alley. They picked up coins. They discovered the meters. They listened to music. They read the tickets. They laughed. They cried.
I was a buzzing part of it all. Dale was a gentle part of it all. It all shined. It all pulsated. It was everything.
It was one of the best times of my life in the saddest and the most joyous and the most connected way.
You can be here.