From ‘Fictional Space’

Tree Navigates Her Distance

Tree knows her nature. She finds the forest unbearable. She doesn’t dislike her tree-ness. She casts an impressive shadow. She’s happy with her foliage. But immobility gets her down. She knows she isn’t static. Her slick roots have been pushing across acres for centuries, and she stretches steadily skyward year after year. Perhaps, she thinks, it’s the oversimplification of my archetype. What really troubles Tree is her fixed position. She is where she is and, barring lightning strike or chainsaw, that’s that. Only with Night does Tree feel herself, when space between trees becomes trees, when everywhere and nowhere overlap.

Thicket Resents His Lot, Until He Doesn’t

Thicket is sick of seasonal change—tired of the process: greening, blooming, browning, loss. He’s also had it with birds. A fat robin hops and scratches at the forest floor. Self-centered, Thicket thinks. (To be fair, everyone is.) When danger stalks, night falls, thunder rolls, they huddle within me. They puff, flit, and sing. Then, red weather passes and they fly. Just once, it’d be lovely if the little fuckers dropped by out of courtesy. Thicket doesn’t have a celestial view. But he knows clouds are gathering. He senses the barometric drop. Rain falls. Rivulets run. Suddenly, Thicket is full.

Thicket Can’t Sleep with a Full Moon and Full Heart

Thicket’s watching Tree again, her branches an arabesque of shadow and light. Moonlight’s tricky. It’s a lie. (Just sunlight with a different reputation.) But he knows his feelings for Tree are true. If by some cosmic failure, the laws of nature were repealed and he was able to stroll the forest floor and plant himself at her trunk, what would he say? I love you, Tree? Feels flat. Used up. Easy. Perhaps she already knows that below the surface their roots are entwined, twisting in the wet darkness somewhere near the water table. Perhaps she already knows they’re one. Enough?

 

Delta Deals

It was Sunday morning when Delta decided to dump the clocks. Fuck that feeble tick tick tick. It’s a construct. Nope. Not this girl. Give me tides. Give me celestial. On her afternoon walk, she watched the sea. Delta felt an affinity—a churning, crashing, sorority of two. She considered Jimmy: A good man brought low by the lie. She regarded him as one might a favorite shirt that fades and becomes something worn only for yard work. That night, Delta dreamt her body in waves: lifted and dropped, crest to trough, held under then rising out to open water.

Jason M. Marak

3 Questions for Jason

What was your process for creating this work? 

These pieces are part of a hybrid visual/literary project that culminated in a 2019 gallery exhibition, "Fictional Space," which also featured sculptures by artist Benjamin Funke. I worked on the drawings and prose pieces simultaneously (the initial writing steps that I usually do in a notebook I did on the same surface as the drawings). For the drawings, I limited myself to one primary shape in various iterations. For the story final drafts, I limited myself to exactly 100 words each. Repeated consideration of the shape changed how I interacted with it. Shapes became "figures." Figures became characters. Narratives developed. A mark might inspire a line of text or vice versa. The process wasn't linear. The drawings incorporate this process as part of the final product: the DNA of each story (fragments, phrases, observations, ideas, scraps) can be found scrawled in the margins of each drawing. The corresponding 100-word stories afford alternative experiences of the visual but were written to function independently, as well. 

What is the significance of the form/genre and medium(s) you chose for the writing and artwork?

We usually (and with good reason) feel negatively about constraints. However, regarding creativity, I find restrictive conditions profoundly useful. Working within self-prescribed parameters for this series pushed me to find solutions I wouldn't have arrived at working unfettered. The formal and literary constraints shaped the narrative and the artwork in ways that I couldn't have anticipated.

What is the significance of this work to you?

Working on these pieces made me consider constraint in other contexts and arenas. It has pushed me to look for potentials within those other restrictive conditions before reflexively feeling negatively about those circumstances—a change in perspective that I've found very helpful.

This project has also impacted how I approach working in less restrictive modes. In the past, the land of long format fiction is someplace that I haven't felt at home. After working for years exclusively within very limited parameters (restrictive poetic forms, flash fiction), that changed. I discovered, after all that restriction, I responded very differently to the idea of unlimited space when I tried writing longer pieces again. I think I became more aware of the luxury (and the curse) of working without constraints. Being more conscious of the unrestricted space made me more aware of how I was filling it. I realized that some things find their shape being free to grow and twist and change, other things, like water, only find their shape through containment. So, in a sense, all the restrictions in these drawings and stories led me to my current project: a novel incorporating Delta, Jimmy, Tree, and Thicket. (I should mention, the Delta in these tales is not intended as a reference to our current visiting variant. Her naming pre-dates the pandemic and I have, unfortunately, grown too attached to change it.)

Doing this work I was also able to pinpoint something about my aesthetic that I've always felt but had difficulty articulating. I prefer visual and literary work that allows some process to creep in: work where process and final product overlap. For me, allowing some of the process (a few footprints in the concrete, a couple bent nails) to remain visible in the final piece gives art more immediacy, more interest. There's almost a voyeuristic quality to it. In a way, it allows the reader or viewer to really see how the artist's mind moves, to see how they get from X to Y—to see their strivings, difficulties, moments of discovery, and (if they're lucky) triumphs.

Jason M. Marak is an artist and writer living in his hometown in Humboldt County, California. He returned to Humboldt in 2011 after living in Tokyo, Japan for 11 years where he taught in the English Department at Temple University's Japan campus. Prior to teaching, he worked as a hotel doorman in NYC, grill cook, house painter, and garbage collector. In 1990, he played semi-professional baseball for the Humboldt Crabs. Marak received a Creative Writing MFA from Columbia University in 1999.