Notes: This was to be the prologue to the Glum Estate. Unlike every other project I’ve ever worked on, I was writing the Glum Estate out of order so it makes some strange sense to post it out of order as well. — Erik
Two days before she died, Cordelia Glum painted it, bare footed in her drafty studio, spinning on her heels and smudging with her thumbs. She slashed color across the canvas with an arsenal of brushes and a pair of palette knives. A line of menstrual red, a curve of saffron yellow, isolated pools of Aegean blue, lush equinox green, the faded somber gray of Hadrian’s Wall. She smoked brown paper cigarettes to bitten filters, held her numb stained hands in front of a portable heater, laughed and then cried and then smiled and then closed her eyes.
When the fall turned colder and dark, Cordelia had begun to feel the maddening in her bones, the manic shivering paranoia that her hands wanted to flee her arms and her spine wished to tear loose from her thin pale skin and slither away on flailing nerve endings into the mountains.
She bit pills in half and swallowed them with wine. She pressed pasty hash into a slender glass-blown pipe and smoked in a bathtub of steaming water, gluttonously smelling and tasting the residue from her fingertips. She wrote books in made up languages while curled up in windowsills or when concealed under a canopy of sheets. She grew thinner from unconscious fasting, forgot to sleep for days and methodically disassembled electronic devices and buried them in frozen earth.
Though she had disappeared for many months in sanitariums or detox clinics in small European countries during her storied life, Cordelia felt no alarm or trepidation as the rational control of her mind faded. She eased into torpid delusion willingly, paced for nights without rest, imagining that she was not losing her mind but instead approaching a perfect state of mindlessness, a kind of numinous epiphany that she had only barely glimpsed before in the fugue of drug induced desert wanderings or in catatonic psychotic blurs bound by leather straps into beds that smelled too heavily of bleach. She recalled psychedelic poetry, fractal images, exiled Tibetan wisdom, whirling Dervish lovers, patchwork philosophies and an ecstatic nomad vagrant that told her once as the Brooklyn sun set into a halo behind his wind tangled hair: “life is a war that your soul fights against your mind and body.”
Cordelia had started the war preemptively when she was barely a girl, thirteen in the backseat of American cars, fumbling toward angst ridden nothing in a haze of Canadian whiskey and Canadian boys and never relented. She abused chemicals and hormones and danger and intimacy and grief, addicted to the suddenness of it all, afraid of nothing more than stillness, peace. She hurtled headlong through her teens and twenties, creating and destroying with a primal abandon. She was always going to be legendary; it was all that she could be.
It was after the magazine cover stories and late night talk show appearances, the honorary degrees, galleries, opiates, shock treatments, installations, performances, students, decades, lovers, children, biographers, ovarian tumors (bronzed and titled), confessions and Helsinki bar fights that Cordelia Glum’s life ended in the Green Mountains, two days after she stood in timid approval of her final painting in a barn turned studio, in the winter. That untitled final work encapsulated for Cordelia all of her fifty-four mad and provocative years in the swirl and bend of color and lines, a dense spiritual understanding stripped, exposed in muddled disorder, in perfect chaotic serenity. She saw the expansive, unknowable cosmos of supernovas and white dwarf stars and vast nihilistic vacuums, the aching desperate ascetic communion with divinity yearned for in every small or massive land, prayed for in every broken Babel tongue, the organic mysteries of her every fleshy cell, the significance of her arbitrary or autonomic thoughts and impulses arcing from one wrinkled labyrinthine corner of brain to another, Platonic forms, light broken and reconstructed, laughter. She saw all of it and knew all of it, communed with all of it and became it, her body and mind anticipating final defeat, solemn surrender. Her soul triumphant. The war nearly concluded.
Cordelia Glum’s final work would be considered and misunderstood. It would be revisited but ultimately remain enigmatic and unsatisfying; the clarity within it withheld for mad women and prophets. To all others it would stand only as an abstract tragic gathering of color that gave nothing of an explanation, said nothing of regret or goodbye.
Cordelia Glum let the palette knives fall where they would one last time. The morning broke over the mountains in the distance, reflected up cool blue from snow blanketed ground. Cordelia, the artist, the feminist battle cry, the mother, junkie and pop culture saint left her studio and the smell of drying oil paint. She let the smoldering half smoked spicy Moroccan cigarette fall from fingers to the snow with a step, the smoking tip hissing as it hit the ground. Her brushes were left unwashed, the heater and lights left on to keep vigil to the tall empty space. She walked into the snow in unfaltering steps, arms uncovered, calmly, leaving tracks in the soft fresh snow that would soon be covered and disappear.