I walked the halls of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan alone. I was alone for the whole trip. By choice but also very much in practice. I was jogged from my thoughts as I saw them. I had no idea they were here. Three paintings that had struck a chord with me nine years ago. I remember the day I first laid eyes on them in a book in a lecture at the aggressively trendy art school I attended in South East London. Goldsmiths. That is a whole different chapter, filled with the iron clasp of skinny jeans, activism and men with haircuts reminiscent of birds of paradise. I’ll save those stories for another day.
States of Mind: The Farewells, Those Who Go and Those Who Stay. Umberto Boccioni. An Italian Futurist who died after falling off a horse in 1916 age 33. He painted a series of three images in 1911, which were eerily preemptive of the mass divide that was about to strike Europe in 1914; the onset of World War I. While the first painting in the series is moving, it is the final two that have always rung around the passages of my brain. Those Who Go. Those Who Stay. Two sides of a coin. Both defined by one another, but can never exist as one.
At 19 I felt a strong connection to these two pieces, despite only having had the smallest taste of “going”. I was only 60 miles away from home back then. An hour on a train. It pales in comparison to the 3,537 miles I live with today. Yet I think that part of me knew, even then, that I would one day be away. Of the two camps, “Those Who Go” and “Those Who Stay”, I knew and have always known that I am going. That is the thing about me. I’m always going. I can’t stop. I can’t sit still. The going in me led me, after learning about futurism and modern art for the first time, to board a train to Paris to see it all for myself. The Pompidou. It was quite the adventure.
I have never been one to miss out on an adventure. Never. Its not like I’ve ever had any money but I’ll always make it work. I HAVE to go. I have to see. I cant miss out.
Yet…there has always been something that has drawn me to “Those Who Stay”. I cant say that I know too well what it’s like to stay, but I know that the scene depicted by Boccinio was the real price of my departure ticket. The thing about going is that it also means leaving. I’ve never been under any impression that life stands still without me there. The place and the people I have left behind continue on their path. It’s just…in all my going I can still feel them. And sadness, and regret, and love and loss that I can’t be with them and be somewhere new at the same time. And I know that they feel me too. They feel me somewhere unplaceable deep inside as they continue their lives knowing that it is their choice to be where they are and that it was my choice to leave them there. As I, alone, came face to face with Umberto Boccioni’s paintings at the Museum of Modern Art I also came face to face with my own deepest conflict and sadness.
Those Who Go. Those Who Stay.
I was going again to see the people who stayed. I had a plane ticket back to England for Christmas. Being of the “Go” camp, I hadn’t had a December in the UK for four years. Whatever the season, I’m always filled with the Go/Stay conflict when I fly back to the UK. Those who go will know what I mean when I say this…returning home is utterly bizarre. Flying over England, seeing it from the sky makes me feel something very deeply. Something like placing Boccioni’s paintings on top of one another in a few suspended moments of reality where “Those Who Go” and “Those Who Stay” can live together side by side again. Stay. Go. Stay. Go. Return. Stay. Return. Go. This is never more poignant than at the airport. It doesn’t matter whether you are one who goes or one who stays at this point, because we’re both sad. We are both defined by the other.
That’s the entropy of life though, isn’t it? We can’t all go and we can’t all stay, if not nothing would ever change. And change is the very crux of all life and everything, if you really think about it.
Ha. Spoken like a true goer.
My sister sent me a parcel. A gift passed along from one who stayed to one who left. It was a beautiful book. Not so ironically it was “Oh, The Places You Will Go” by Dr Seuss. She reads it to my niece and nephew and I read it to myself and for one moment it doesn’t matter who stays and who goes because we are all sharing something and I like that.
I think about the whole cycle some more. Staying and going. Despite being one that goes, a lot of things have stayed for me. My family are still there, and I am still here and we know we will be in the same space again … at some point. Love transcends geography. It doesn’t have a coordinate. If we all knew where to look for it, then it wouldn’t be so hard to find.
My best friend stayed by going…or coming…here, but in doing so started her own cycle of going and staying. In many ways I have stayed the same person. The reason I have always been a person that goes is because it has felt right not to stay. I stay as long as staying feels good and then I go when going calls me. And it does so, often.
I think I’ll know when I get there. I hope so anyway. Or am I destined to never settle?
On Tuesday you are going and on Tuesday I am staying. This is the right thing for you, but fuck does it feel weird to be one that stays. For once.
For now, I await the call with bated breath. Again.