Support BHQ
Buy books at Blithe House (in association with

Study for The Family Wedding : Shaun Levin

My materials are words and silence; they only look like the sounds you make at the checkout counter. These things I’m using to produce white hibiscus flowers and wedding bells are not words. Come closer and you’ll hear my fingers on these keys, watch my pencil sketch words on the page. This is the closest I’ll ever get to a piano or a canvas. I’m a child on chocolate at two in the morning; bored with my own frenzy.

Once you know everything I’ll have to leave. What a relief that’ll be, not to have to carry the truth around with me on my own. I’ll cease to be the sole bearer of my stories. Then you can tell me your interpretation of me.

Although my cousin David’s too embarrassed to pee in public urinals, he’s addicted to cottaging. We visit the toilets where George Michael was arrested; I tell him I saw George waving his willy around in a Mill Hill cottage a few months back. David tells me about Selwyn in Florida with the Magen David doormat and the swastika flags in every room. Call me Jew-boy, he tells my cousin, who has his cock up Selwyn’s bum.

Pornography proves that words are more than themselves. “For fuck’s sake” and “shut up” were amongst the first words I felt. A silent mother leaves a lasting impression. A good paint clings to the canvas. A good painter clings to nature: the only language he needs to know. Now that nature has been taken away from us, how do we express our inner worlds? My hatred for my parents confuses my son. I tell him it’s just like when he tells me “I hate you,” only in my case it’s lasted longer.

I am effected by light and shade and the colours around me. The red and blue neon sign that turns purple in the puddle on the sidewalk. I change with the landscape and the weather, and the oils and brushes at my disposal. I keep disappearing. I believe in perseverance, in the importance of sticking to things. No wonder I hardly ever budge. Even the mouse leaves it’s foot in the glue trap so it can keep moving. Flying from London to LA means nothing, unless you’re going on holiday, or immigrating, and I’m not.

My imagination is being eaten up by rage and resentment. My full-time job - childhood - pays a pittance. Not much of a treasure house there. I get caught up in sadness; my caul of solitude has seeped into my skin. Your love for me contradicts my belief system and brings my body to life. I wish I could have brought you with me. Don’t move; let me paint clichès into Me. I’m sick of the abstract and the general. Take one perspective and hold onto it. You don’t want to land up a cubist, now, do you?

May rain in LA is disgusting. Random thick drops dry immediately; humidity clings to everything. A consolation: I have more recognition now than Van Gogh ever had in his lifetime, though I lack the urgency and madness necessary for immortality. Eating your words is not the same as sitting in a field of wheat with a canvas and a palette, licking white paint on your brush to keep it wet. Here the sky is Turner blue, a light veiled by smog, a truth, hidden and attention-seeking. The brushstrokes move with the waves, the current, the swirls, the sun. Why? One day I will wake up and not be able to speak a word of English.

Where are the young poet’s letters to Rilke, and Theo’s to his brother? At times like this I need to know how to approach the artist. Other times, one side of the story is all I need. Take desire, for example. The man with the shaved head in the tight green vest sits outside Starbucks on Santa Monica reading a karate magazine. His goatee is gold and white, his shoulders gleam with an onion-skin layer of sweat. The woman comes up behind him and covers his eyes with her hands. The smell of your armpits on my fingertips. Lifting you up to sit facing each other, taking turns to be the rower or the canoe. Everything can change in a split second. They talk, and while they talk, he flips through his magazine. She has her face to the flames, eyes closed in submission to the sun.

Look inside for food. My hatred provides a distraction. I’d rather not tell you what I want. Quick, let me turn you into the monster I think I am. This is a tale of revenge. No one bullies the creator, the transformer of chaos. You can tell a painter by his colours. The way I mix my words. Take Hopper. Always observing from the right, never directly in front of his subject, careful not to block your view. There’s a third party present at every act of creation. Who was God’s superego? That’s the problem with monotheism: all feelings have the same face.

Each generation should be richer than the one before. My grandfather carried sacks of sugar, and I am this. My father took his Velum and vitamin pills with freshly squeezed orange juice. He taught me to love silence. His waiting ruined my life, and his. Keep that buckskin wrapped around you, Pops. Keep waving that assegai. Howl, for fuck’s sake. Howl. Death isn’t as arbitrary as you think; it feeds off the bored and the bitter. My language is doubt and nosiness. I can stay hard inside you if you keep feeding me information about yourself.

Put me in a cage with the firetigers. Anything for a lush conversation. I’m waiting for the significant to appear. In this dream we only say things worth recording, things that, as they’re uttered, beg to be stolen, things with the weight and force of Beauty. What, then, if this insignificance is eternal?

In the opposite corner: If you can’t be the best, don’t even bother trying. We’re quick to feel betrayed. My God, did you see Marjorie; she gets uglier by the year. The Levins are all good musicians. Monsters at home: sociable and loveable on the outside. Thousands came to my grandfather’s funeral. She gets up and leaves me sitting there: another family trait. Throughout our conversation I keep my eyes on the strand of chicken breast stuck between her front teeth.

Do you take?

When I get home I open my mail, call my friends, fall in love with you all over again, walk by the stream, feed the dogs, eat from the apple pie the neighbours have left me in the kitchen, ring my stockbroker, ha-ha, read the letter from my agent, and the royalties cheque, ha-ha, which I deposit on my way to the cafè for tea, an almond croissant, a chat with the owners, Peter and Marcel, who tell me they’ve missed me; they want to know how the wedding went in LA. Was it good to spend time with your family?

Don’t compare your life to mine. Just don’t.