I went out to dinner with a new friend the other night, a fellow model. He was stressed and a bit distracted. We talked about his acting classes and upcoming gigs, commiserating about days spent traveling and the spontaneity that the business requires. When’s the next time we’d get an email and would be asking our bookers, “Wait, where are you sending me?” Uncertainty is the best and worst part of our job, sometimes becoming a big part of who we are.
In my mind, I began to cast him in the role of a struggling artist from The East Village in the 60’s. He was charming and I saw in him that urge to express himself that I value in so many of my dearest friends. I embellished for myself the few things I knew of this person, which I liked.
My friend exuded confidence, as well as an intense focus on self-expression. Mannequins learn to keep a certain cool, never getting too excited over a particular job. Something in the darkness of his eyes, however, an undercurrent of anxiety, was obvious to me. I’ve been there before, wondering how much further my career can take me. There was an unease in his manner, although he maintained a meticulously careless posture. It takes a lot of work to look effortless in each instant.
When we went out into the warm spring evening, my mind wandered to another such night, when I first met another dark-eyed, inscrutable stranger. When I was new to the city, I would wander the streets alone late at night, unable to sleep. I had a studio in Chelsea at the time and would often find myself gravitating towards the steps at Union Square. There, early in the morning, insomniacs alike would amuse each other as the homeless slept. Most were young and outrageously dressed. The boys wore eyeliner and corsets and the girls had clearly chopped their own hair much like Patti Smith or Debbie Harry. I began as a stranger amongst strangers, but one night I was invited to join a game of charades. Gradually I became known to a group, I think they called themselves Children of the Poetry Train, many of whom returned regularly, led by one maniac that instigated it all.
Months later, the ringleader of the crew would write his mother, saying he’d met a girl and was moving in with her. He had made a huge success for himself as a child actor and was still reaping the royalties. He spent his days soaking up the city, performing on the trains, his nights holding poetry readings and his weekends cross-dressing in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He was all kinds of eccentric and my very first love. He often spoke in rhyme of robots and psychedelics and claimed that the city’s subways ran through his veins. I turned my affection into beautiful artifacts of our romance, crafting treasures from the stuff of our daily life together. I once presented him with an elaborate diorama that grew into a fantasy of the New York we shared: all colors, glitter and chaos. There was magic in that cramped studio in Chelsea, friends of friends of friends came and went, crashing on my tiny old couch, leaving art and stories in exchange. These people all drawn by my love, the truest artist I’d ever met, to my door.
We didn’t work out. My infatuation was with the boy with passion sweeping the city skyline like a spotlight, finding me alone in the dark. It remains to me an example of what love means. It’s fluid. If you’re lucky, two people can ride its wave at the same time, sharing lives. It’s also fire, a consuming flame that breaks you into a million pieces and sends them up and out into the night. I miss that feeling. It can be found effortlessly and instantaneously in another person, or what they are to you at that instant.
My once lover is now in a long-term relationship with one of my dearest friends and I love them both whole-heartedly. I, on the other hand, have taken myself out of the highs and lows of loving another, at least until I can love, nurture and protect myself as well as I would that person. It’s not easy, but it’s not all bad. We all live with ourselves through the good and bad. There are no dark secrets from ourselves that will fall unexpectedly to the floor. The investment I make to learn to truly love myself cannot be wasted. So, I meditate.
Of the people who’ve come and gone, I loved most what they open my eyes to. It’s a heart-breaking, hard-working drive and creativity that appeals to me most. Love is in what we create together. Love creates all things.
Me in the Chelsea apartment in 2008. Ph: Felipe A. Dieppa