18 January 2011

we're just kids

I know that often people - millions of people - desire a different life than that which has been assigned to them or that they've created for themselves. I don't want a different a life at all, I just want MORE lives. There seem to be certain things that are best experienced at a young age yet it is impossible to do all things at once. I like being a whiz kid but what about being an artist or a muse, living abroad, working with an aid agency in the field, being a young parent or a homesteader? Some experiences are simply more genuine when you and your partner in crime are just kids.

Patti Smith is a poet, author, artist and performer. Her autobiographical novel, Just Kids, chronicles her youth spent with Robert Mapplethorpe and if you have any artistic yearnings or aspirations, it'll stir them.

Swan... [t]he word alone hardly attested to its magnificence nor conveyed the emotion it produced. The sight of it generated an urge I had no words for, a desire to speak of the swan, to say something of its whiteness, the explosive nature of its movement, and the slow beating of its wings. The swan became one with the sky. I struggled to find words to describe my own sense of it. Swan, I repeated, not entirely satisfied, and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.

Negotiating the thick psychedelic atmosphere of St. Mark's Place, I was not prepared for the revolution under way. There was an air of vague and unsettling paranoia, an undercurrent of rumours, snatched fragments of conversation anticipating future revolution. I just sat there trying to figure it all out, the air thick with pot smoke, which may account for my dreamy recollections. I clawed through a thick web of the culture's consciousness that I hadn't known existed.

Allen introduced himself. He was talking about Walt Whitman and I mentioned I was raised near Camden, where Whitman was buried, when he leaned forward and looked at me intently. "Are you a girl?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said. "Is that a problem?"
He just laughed. "I'm sorry. I took you for a very pretty boy."
I got the picture immediately.
"Well, does this mean I return the sandwich?"
"No, enjoy it. It was my mistake."

This was one of the most glamorous parties of the season, attended by the upper echelon of art and fashion. I felt like a Buster Keaton character, leaning alone against a wall when Fernando [Sanchez] came up. He took me in skeptically. "Darling, the ensemble is fabulous, " he said, patting my hand, eyeing my black jacket, black tie, black silk shirt, and heavily pegged black satin pants, "but I'm not so sure about the white sneakers."
"But they're essential to my costume."
"Your costume? What are you dressed as?"
"A tennis player in mourning."
Fernando looked me up and down and began to laugh. "Perfect," he said, showing me off to the room. He took my hand and immediately led me to the dance floor. Being from South Jersey, I was now in my element. The dance floor was mine.

Robert and I took a lot of photographs at Bond Street. I liked the atmosphere there and I thought we took really good pictures. They were easily taken against the backdrop of the whitewashed brick walls and were bathed in beautiful New York light. One of the reasons we took such good pictures there is that I was out of my element. There were none of my things to clutter the picture, for me to identify with, or hide behind. Even as Robert and I parted as a couple, our photographs became more intimate, for they spoke of nothing but our common trust.

The absence of glamour made it seem all the more familiar, a place we could call our own. As the band played on, you could hear the whack of the pool cue hitting the balls, the saluki barking, bottles clinking, the sounds of a scene emerging. Though no one knew it, the stars were aligning, the angels were calling.

Quotations from just Kids by Patti Smith. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

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