Monday, September 28, 2009


So this is one of those nights, when I start writing something in my head, and instead of writing it down I just hone it further and further in my mind, forgetting that it will be forgotten in the morning, or sometimes the meat of it, so I'll be left with tossing and turning and not getting any sleep anyway, but not writing it down. So here's the counter-intuitive action of just getting up and getting it down so I'll actually go to sleep.

I've been wanting to write for a while about Elizabeth's blog,, which can be found here, but I've been a little dumbstruck. She's a beautiful writer, and she shines through in what she writes, but the subject of some of her posts makes me a little emotional. So knowing that you're going to be emotional feels a little like driving into a heavy rainstorm, and the air's not working in your car. You know it will be intense, you're not quite sure you're going to make it to the other end, but somehow the defogger kicks in and the rain lets up and you're on the other side. So I'm having faith that the sun will come out, and I'll do this without making a mess of it.

Elizabeth and I did a reading together a few months ago, and found out we had a mutual friend. So, we had a great conversation, and I started reading Elizabeth's blog. Elizabeth posts about many things, and very eloquently about her daughter's epileptic seizure disorder. In fact, there is a walk on October 18th to raise money for it, and I'm hoping to join her team or give money, probably both. Now I've not had a seizure disorder, or anyone in my family who has, but my father was diagnosed with MS when I was 5, and eventually died of it in 2002.

And here is the rainstorm.

So, reading Elizabeth's blog I am humbled at how she deals with the disorder, and with her two sons and husband and managing it. I am blown away that she talks with them about it, that she honors their own childhoods; that they are children, allowing them to be that and also have a family member with a very serious challenging disorder--enlisting their help and support while providing it to them as well; and her unbounded love for her beautiful daughter, which shines through in every word.

I was a child watching my father have seizures that were a side effect of the MS, go through different medications, walk with crutches, then a wheelchair, and all in a strange atmosphere of anger, frustration, and silence. I remember being told of the diagnosis, but after that it was really the thing that ruled the house and most of my childhood. I'm not blaming my parents at all--I can't imagine having children let alone dealing with that and how helpless you feel in the face of it, but I can't help but think of how different it might have been had there been that kind of understanding or place to talk about what we were all going through. It was definitely a different time, and I just don't think the tools were there for people. The past is the past, but I've really been wanting to just salute? commend? praise? her for the amazing way she shares what she's going through. And I'm amazed at the online community and support there is--I don't think that was available in the 70's the way that it is now, and I love seeing it. It's been very healing, actually, even though the experience is over 25 years ago.

I had misgivings about writing this because it's a) a little personal, b) about my reaction, c) afraid my mother would read this and take this personally, which it's not meant to be at all , but I wanted to let Elizabeth know how helpful and healing (besides informational, angering, and many other things) it is to read what she is going through.

And yes, I could've just sent an email, but I couldn't ask you to donate then, could I? ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

What's Art?

A friend of mine and I got into a discussion about art the other day. He’s a graphic design teacher, so he teaches art. He told me (from what I understand) that in his view that art didn’t start until the impressionists, as that was when there was really art for art’s sake—especially when it’s not representative, as there is no intent on the artist’s part for meaning, it’s only expression. Although I (pretty vehemently) disagree with this, it was an interesting place to try and figure out what my own definition for art is, which was his point—that you have to start somewhere. So, it’s easier for me to set myself up in opposition to something—I’ve always been an arguer—and I think I may do that a bit now. And it’s not personal—it’s fun to find someone to have these conversations with as you can hone your own ideas. Dust of the rust of the creaky brain gears. And since my friend was enjoying the conversation as well, I’m going to have a little stream of consciousness working it out here. It’s what I love about blogging: I can end up wherever.

Art for art’s sake is such a complicated term to me in and of itself. If art is in the marketplace it’s for something other than art, it’s for commerce. You could argue that Warhol, the champion of art for art’s sake, was actually just making product. And if it’s purpose is to make money, it’s no longer “art for art’s sake”. That phrase, I guess, raises my hackles because it separates out a supposed artist intention. What is the artist’s intention in making art? Similarly, if the test is that the viewer is to come with their own ideas, what makes one think that a picture is representational that the viewers will come to it with the same sense of history or expectation. Even the most pictorial of artists has a personal vision and eye, and just because they have an intention for us to have a certain reception to their art doesn’t mean we will. There are a lot of signs and symbols, in classical painting particularly, that we don’t have a background for.

When we were speaking I brought up the Unicorn tapestries. Behind the Unicorn there are some ridiculous numbers of flowers and plants, each of which had a symbolic meaning probably known to some of it not all of the viewers when they were woven in the 15th century. A viewer now does not have those same references. Does that mean that this piece, with a possible intended meaning, is now ‘art for art’s sake’ since modern viewers do not have the same frame of reference?

Also, how are we to tell either artists intention or viewers frame of reference. One of the most interesting books on art I’ve read is Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Not because I agree with it, but because of his certitude. His theories are based on what he believes is the effect of color on the soul.

It is evident that many colours are hampered and even nullified in effect by many forms. On the whole, keen colours are well suited by sharp forms (e.g., a yellow triangle), and soft, deep colours by round forms (e.g., a blue circle). But it must be remembered that an unsuitable combination of form and colour is not necessarily discordant, but may, with manipulation, show the way to fresh possibilities of harmony.

Since colours and forms are well-nigh innumerable, their combination and their influences are likewise unending. The material is inexhaustible.

Form, in the narrow sense, is nothing but the separating line between surfaces of colour. That is its outer meaning. But it has also an inner meaning, of varying intensity, [Footnote: It is never literally true that any form is meaningless and "says nothing." Every form in the world says something. But its message often fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding is often withheld from us.] and, properly speaking, FORM IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THIS INNER MEANING. To use once more the metaphor of the piano--the artist is the hand which, by playing on this or that key (i.e., form), affects the human soul in this or that way.


Kandinsky wrote a series of un-performable plays (though would probably be interesting as animation) with stage directions like “large yellow forms or several feet move forward, shrink to green and disappear”. And, when you read a lot of his work, the color resonance seems hopelessly about how a German in 1915 might view color or have an emotional reaction to it. Other cultures are not taken into account, and it’s quite an assumption of viewer reception and feeling. I’m not knocking Kandinsky at all – he did some classic painting and also is doing the same thing in his book—defining what art is. And, even further, positing that there is a certain, definable reaction IN THE SOUL that one has to certain colors and shapes. That's quite a supposition.

BUT, does Kandinsky’s work become less “art for art’s sake” because there is an intended meaning? Does Matthew Barney’s, who famously has stories and expectations about his pieces no matter how abstract they seem? Does art that tries to have a meaning have less value, or is it not art?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about since we had this discussion.

I loved museums as a kid. I remember in second grade I was so excited we were going to the Joslyn museum in Omaha. I had been to the museum before—it was one of my favorite places. And I had a favorite painting—Bouguereau’s Return of Spring.

I still remember rounding the corner, excited I would be able to show everyone the painting (I didn’t have many friends, and was excited I knew something and could share it), and saw the painting was gone. Apparently, someone thought it was pornography, and had slashed it with a razor blade down the center. I just read this in Wikipedia: In 1890 and again in 1976, the painting was physically attacked by several people offended by its overtly sensual nudity.

Now, I didn’t think the painting was anything but pretty in the second grade, and was very sad that it was gone. So sad, in fact, that I remember it 33 years later. But is it not art because there is a meaning intended? Bouguereau was around the time of the impressionists, but no one would call him anything but a figurative painter. And did it stop my love of the painting when I was told by a couple of friends in NY who were art history PhD students that Bouguereau was considered a pornographer by historians (poor guy—he got it from all sides). And, even now, even though the painting could be just this side of kitsch and overdone as Rafael’s angels, I still love it. And from my 8 year old heart, I always will.

Interestingly what made me think of this again was reading about Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” that’s at the met right now in the New Yorker, and Peter Schjeldahl touches on it.

It’s interesting to think of art vs. illustration in the context of his painting. In mid-17th century Holland domestic scenes were popular as decoration, so Vermeer painted domestic scenes. But I would never call his paintings merely illustrative. I do think there are artists who have a skill for illustration and decoration (Thomas Kincaid anyone), but Vermeer is an interesting case in the discussion about art for art’s sake, illustration and audience. Who is he painting for? These are illustrative of a moment, but who knows what’s happening and how we’re to react. (He was 25 when he painted the above — astounding, really)

What is the look on that girl’s face? Why is the man in the back slouched? Is something disturbing happening?

Why is there so much foreground? Did we interrupt something?

What’s going on with the delivery of the letter? And we're definitely interrupting.

I love this hat. You can almost touch it.

Beyond those questions is what I came to for myself as what I would define as art. Certainly not all of the definition, since for me it’s only a tent that gets bigger to shelter anything that needs it. Open arms. But in the case of Vermeer, beyond illustration or mirroring ourselves, he manages to take moments of the mundane and make them extraordinary. He catches a girl pouring milk into a vase and we’re captivated. Not because of the scene, but how beautiful the moment is. Art, to me, can take those moments that would seem boring or even sometimes disgusting and disturbing and make them transfixing. You can’t look away. It’s haunting. The colors are heartbreaking. The girl will never be that young, that glowing, that impossibly easy. If there was anyone else in the room she wouldn’t look that way. Art, for me, can capture moments that are happening while we are looking away. It’s the tree falling in the forest. This may be voyeuristic on my part, and I think a lot of art is, but it’s also celebratory. And though it may be representational, I do not think there is any specific intention in the artist except that you witness it. And even though the scene is specific I think each viewer brings their own experience and witnesses it in a different way.

There’s a great movie called La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette. It’s four hours long. Emanuelle Beart is naked for about 2/3 of the movie. At a certain point you forget she’s nude, as the point of the movie is how to paint her, the inner her, and how the artist and by extension we the audience get to know her deeper than her skin. So, although the nudity is literal, it becomes figurative and deeper as the film progresses.

Schjeldahl has a great quote here: “an artist has contrived to lure me out of myself into an illusion of reality more fulfilling than any lived reality can be”. That about sums it up. Funnily enough, when I went to get the link I saw that he has a new piece about Kandinsky. HA! I’ll have to read that.

In the end, then, I guess what I respond to, even in figurative painting (and I haven’t mentioned sculpture here) is the attempt at any artist to get at our humanity. And perhaps not even “at”, but “in”. Vermeer is a great example because his painting is masterful enough to allow surface and ambiguity. Books have been written, so I’ll not continue, but safe to say there’s a reason there are so many shows dedicated to him. I would even go so far as to say that in non-figurative contemporary painting there’s less room for me as a viewer as it feels like a lot of contemporary artists are so about the “idea” of their art that the execution feels inelegant, unemotional, and there’s no room for my response save having a critic/artseller tell me what I’m supposed to be getting from it. But THAT’s another set of words.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. Looks like it’s time for me to hone some ideas.

And thanks to my friend, for making me think about it. We're going tomorrow to a fun annual party called "Why we create" which has a backyard full of craft stations--what a blast. More art.

Robert Frank

I was reading this story about Robert Frank's photo exhibit in NY and saw the above picture in the slideshow. It's the only one without people, and I thought "That looks like New Mexico" and lo and behold it is. That always makes me laugh--I don't live there anymore, haven't for twenty years, go back maybe once a year if I'm lucky, but still you can just spot it.

The exhibit looks amazing--travels in the mid-fifties documenting a changing country. They're difficult, lonely photos in some ways. The people look distressed--not in pain, but what you call a costume when you take a new fabric and make it look worn. It's called distressing the fabric. It's showing its wear. That's what some of these photos look like to me. Captivating.

If you're in NY, go see it for me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


You know that feeling? That one where you're 5 and you have the chicken pox and you're underneath the kitchen table where your mother and the ancient woman of 70 named Dorothy who your mother calls Dot, who wears square glasses and calls you an old soul, are smoking and having coffee; you can't go outside since you have chicken pox, but you have to much energy to just sit, and you itch all over and can't scratch? And you're kind of whiny but squirming underneath the table and in and out of the yellowish vinyl bucket seat kitchen chairs?


Friday, September 18, 2009

Looking for yourself

I want to write something, and I'm not up to La Roldana or No Impact Man at the moment.

I have a little notebook that I bought when I was in NY last year. It has the little M tabs all over it.

The notes are random, as usual.

I see more dogs in NY than LA.

Dressing a girl shaped like an oil barrel in a short pleated sky blue schoolgirl dress is just cruel
(this outside of the Met--there's a famous all girl's academy across the street)

But I came across some notes on black figure vases that were about seeing things not at all notated or described in the cards:

Late 6th c. BC Two soldiers in a chariot - their horses cross noses while they embrace - one helmet under the shoulder of the other - two side horses look to the side of a woman who holds out grain for them - What's happening?


same exact image on drinking cup - only information about artist and "betweeen eyes, chariot" though in this one only one is wering a lemet and the the horse and man both look like they're nuzzling into the other


56.171.43 - Fascinating that he talks about the lion and the dog (Maltese) on the other side without mentioning that the Satyr with Dionysus has an erection and the two youths with the dog look like they're about to get together. I love "not entirely overcome their animal actives (? I can't read my writing)

I just think it's interesting that I'm still looking for myself in history. I know that there are not a lot of instances of gays, and most of them are coded, but it's fascinating with the Greeks. Some of it is sexual, some of it is affectionate, but it's interesting how it is not curated. And I'm sure many of the men who wrote these cards were gay themselves, though who knows how closeted or not they were. I just realized it's an activity that feels unique to being gay. Sure, others look for themselves in representation; I've been part of the "did you know so and so is Jewish" conversation, and I'm sure it's common with everyone who is not portrayed in some way in movies, art, etc. And I know there's an invisibility in Western art for a lot of groups and I'm not denying that at all, and yet...

there's something different about sometimes even seeing something that feels starkly pointed and not having it named. To have it ignored, elided, refused. To have it possibly represented, and thne have someone say "You're wrong, it's not that." I'm not sure, now, with all the representations of gays in the media that young men and women still do this, but I imagine they do. It's still not commonplace enough to not warrant note. And, for my money, I see most of it as about sex and not affection. Same sex affection and love still upset people. Witness: marriage debate.

Perhaps that's why I found myself looking deeply into a krater with two men embracing made over 25 centuries ago and wishing it would tell me something about myself, or give me an ancestor.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Brick and Mortar

I mentioned to my friend Patrick that I was going on a date, which happens about as often as Halley's comet. Or roughly coincides with each time Hilary Swank wins an Oscar.

Anyhow, for this, the date of my 41st year (here in my 5TH DECADE ON EARTH, but who's counting?), I told Patrick I was going on a "brick and mortar" date, to distinguish it from the online shenanigans that fizzle into nothingness before you actually meet the person face to face. Not even a facebook friend. He thought the phrase was hysterical, so I should copyright it before it was taken.

So, tonight I am going on a brick and mortar date©

There's a bricklayer joke in there somewhere, but hell if I'm going to touch it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Shawl

I was listening to a great "best of" shorts program based on winner's of the Rea Award for the short story yesterday. Cynthia Ozick was the first winner, so they broadcast Lois Smith reading "The Shawl", which I had heard of but never read. I've never even read Cynthia Ozick.


Part of it was Smith's performance, but it's such a painful, taut, story it's like piano wire. It's almost unbearable. Masterful.

I don't know her other work, but it really makes me want to read it. You can read it here, and it's the text I heard, but I don't know if it's abridged or not. It's only three pages. I'm assuming it's the full story, since I can't imagine what you'd add or take away. Really painful, but amazing.

There's also a great funny story by Grace Paley and a tantalizing beginning of a story by Richard Ford about his father.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

French Bronze

There’s a sound, approximating wind and storm, that’s used in songs sometimes. For some reason I’m thinking it’s in the background of one of the Wizard of Oz songs, which would make sense. It’s a chorus of voices, starting soft, then increasing in volume, ending softly. It’s all very quick, like ooOOWHOAOOoooo and has the effect of a strong wind, a roller coaster, picking you up and spinning you around. Although the exhibit encompasses three centuries, that’s how I felt when I finished Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution at the Getty.

I believe this is a traveling exhibition that was just at the Met, so it’s great to see some things that usually don’t travel. Also, it’s a great companion the show of French marble busts they had last year that just blew my mind.

The show starts off during the Mannerist period, with a tomb effigy in relief by Barthelemy Prieur, who was the pre-eminent craftsman of the period, it seems.

This is the best picture I could find. The effigy is simple, and it’s design reminded me of the 1920’s. It wouldn’t seem out of place in the medieval fantasies of the early 20th c, and there was something in the lines that felt nouveau to me, I think, and it always strikes me how history repeats, or elements of it. Certainly the 16th and 17th century little bronze statue interest was repeated in the gilded age. Prieur was exiled, it seems, for being a Protestant, so there are these great little sculptures of non-religious subjects. Good art must trump religion, as Henry IV snuck away to visit Prieur in exile to have little portrait statues done of himself and his mistress. They're about a foot tall. And the placard mentions that they were recognizable and nude. Scandale!

I didn’t have my camera, but was struck by a little “Blind Orion being led by Cedalion”. The bronzes are meticulous and awe-inspiring. There were three Orions in a row, and I wish I had had my camera since they were fascinating together. Next to them, also by Prieur, were two “chained captives” – one a youth, and the other a bearded captive “in the prime of life”, whose thigh was veined and looked real enough to touch. They are a little larger than life-size. Awe inspiring.

The pose of both of them, struggling against their chains, looked like a standard fashion pose—shoulders forward, curved, submissive, that odd broken look of couture models. The work is, like all of it, unbelievable. That they knocked this stuff out is just beyond me.

The exhibit moves onto Louis XIV, and there’s a room devoted to the statue of him on horseback, including a bronze wall relief of him being shown the plans for the sculpture. There is a miniature version in the exhibit

And for me what was the most fascinating, which is a miniature of the sculpture with all the sprues (channels for the wax to melt). [A side note—downstairs there is also the fascinating From Foundry to Finish: the Making of a Bronze Sculpture, which shows just how the sculpture is made—I’ve read descriptions, but I’ve always been unclear. This is what a sculpture with the sprues and part of the cast looks like

It’s wild, and the exhibit has videos that you can watch online. I have never been able to picture it before, probably because it's extremely complicated--it doesn't sound like it would work]. This sculpture on horseback was gigantic, and I guess if you blow it, you blow it with lost wax casting, but they managed to make it successfully. It was destroyed during the revolution, and what survives is Louis’ left foot. It’s a good foot and a half tall, so you can only imagine the enormitude of the full finished project.

After this, the exhibit moves into Rococo. There is drapery everywhere. And it’s not simple drapery. Suddenly it’s as if everyone is saying “look what I can do!” There are some beautiful sculptures, though. Here's a wonderful Prometheus by Dumont. I love the way the bronze is polished to give his body a different feeling than the rest of the sculpture, as well as how lifelike it is. It's painful.

There is a spiraling “Leda and the Swan” by Van Cleve that’s breathtaking, and an entire set of Hercules by Lespignola that defies easy description. I couldn’t find a picture of “Hercules delivering the Erymathean boar to Eurystheus, but the entire energy of the sculpture moves out. It’s as if it’s going to blow off it’s pedestal at any moment. Eurystheus is toppling over backward and away, his arm reaching out, as Hercules is holding the boar who is wrestling against his grip. There is a whole series of Hercules, all of which were explosions of movement. Here's one:

Then you come upon Lespignola’s “Death of Dido”, which is almost cacophonous. It’s filled with figures, and includes and angel on a rainbow! It’s over the top. Literally!

Next comes Parnassus, which is over 2m tall I believe, and just crammed. At this point there is so much in the piece it’s almost overwhelming. It’s huge, and a feat of expertise, but I have to say with all else in the room it starts to be completely overwhelming.

All the decoration and drapery and action is a display of virtuosity to be sure (and they're all masterpieces), but in one room it’s quite astounding. So, naturally, there is a bit of an exhale when you come to the quietly simple and beautiful Diana by Houdon from 1790. It must have been scandalous in its time, having no clothing whatsoever.

It’s a totally different experience coming upon this after all the fuss of what came before. And I never realized the St. Gaudens Diana that was on Penn Station had such a clear precedent, but I guess everything does.

The exhibit ends with the Winter/La Frileuse, also by Houdon, which is spectacular. Not only does it feel so artful and lifelike in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the skill that came before it, it’s a breath of fresh air after the tour of the last three centuries. It’s the exhale after the storm of bronze that comes before. It’s so real; you feel cold looking at it, which is supposedly why the Shivering Girl (La Frileuse) is actually a nickname based on the reaction to it. Along with the Diana, it feels revolutionary. Then you see the date of 1787, and you realize it was. If what came before is the monarchy, this is a harbinger of the revolution. It’s history, shivering in your face.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Small Trades

Yesterday I decided I needed a day alone. Like, really alone. I didn't see anyone until about 6 PM. It was, I have to say, blissful.

I woke up, had breakfast while reading a book, and then decided on a whim to go to the Getty. I saw 4 exhibits, which I'll hopefully write about at some point since I took notes. I love doing that in a museum, even if my notes only look like this:

Sargent, The Wyndham Sisters

Repin-Gashin - committed suicide looks like a photo

Sargent, Madame X

A lot of my notes seem to presuppose these images live somewhere on the web, which a lot of the older ones do. Voila, The Wyndham Sisters and Madame X:

Gorgeous. That skin is unreal. Photoshop that! Hrmph.

I had my worries about Repin-Garshin, but it turns out it's a painting of Garshin by Repin, and yes, it looks like a photo. Brilliance.

But aside from the astoundingly astute yet obvious observation "It looks like a photograph", I really have no idea what else there was about it that struck me at the time, except that it was haunting.

Sometimes, standing in front of the thing, you're having a completely separate experience from just seeing the image on a card or a screen. It's not even close. So, pages of this kind of thing.

I digress. The whole point was that I take notes, and I actually decided to strike while the iron is hot, and write about a show that's still running, that you can see until January. And you should.

It's Irving Penn's Small Trades at the Getty. IT's 155 silver prints and 97platinum prints. It's a wonderful look at not only a bunch of trades that may have run their course, but also a brilliant study of people and a time.

Turns out Penn was sent by Vogue to take photos in Paris and London, while based in NY. He took the opportunity to work on a project he'd been doing documenting "small trades", or the variety of workers in each city in their uniforms. See Seamstress from London:

Or Busboy from Paris:

Sometimes the photos are straightforward, as above, and sometimes whimsical. One of my favorites, was a Parisian boulanger, covered in the flour of his trade, shirtless and doughy, with a white cap. He looked like a giant piece of dough having a great time.

There were others, the dance instructors come to mind, or the showgirl; the flower delivery man holding white boxes. There is a terrifying cucumber seller who looks insane, as if he was selling cucumbers for that day only, having picked up a box on the way out of the institution. The cucumbers, save the one in his hand, are gnarled and twisted.

Some that I couldn't find images for, but struck me, were:

Lady Acrobat
Chair Caners--the woman knelt in the photos, and then you realize she actually has deformed legs. IT's almost intimate catching her and her partner in the act of caning a chair, as if they work in secret usually
Coal Man - NY
Pastry Chefs - Paris, who look like they could be brothers
Onion Seller and Chamois seller - both covered by their goods, the onion seller with a great boa of onions around his thick neck, and the chamois seller covered in hides
Balloon Seller - a woman with great, dark, shiny balloons
Window Washer - NY - who looked so young
Vehicle Watcher - London - An old heavyset woman in a dark floral dress with a black sweater. She looked like she thought everything is suspicious.

Penn has a gift in the series for bringing the uniform forth, and then disappear. You say to yourself "ah, it's a fireman" and then the uniform disappears and you see the person who usually hides behind it. You can see the pride or the misgivings about the careers, and on some the miles that have taken their toll.

The exhibit is wonderfully curated, and the photos are grouped so that you are encouraged to look at the difference in the types of prints Penn created and how those effect the image. Also wonderfully, there are certain trades he took pictures of in all three cities, so you can see Firemen, for instance, from NY, Paris, and London. Or waiters. There's a room of photos or restaurant people.

It's a beautiful exhibit, made even more remarkable by the copies of French, British, and American Vogue where the photos ran. I can't imagine it happening today. It's quite a project, and I'm excited I got to see it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11th

I wrote this a couple of years ago on this blog about the experience I had on 9/11 in NY. Here it is again, since it's the day. I think I'm done reposting it now.

Make it a good, grateful day.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hazards of Travel

I was reading How to Be Alone, Jonathan Franzen's book of essays while on the plane back from NM. I was right in the middle of his essay about fiction that he got a lot of flack for (what hasn't he?). Yes, he's a bit cranky, but he's smart and I like his writing. I ganked this photo from someone's blog who didn't like the book, saying if you're going to write about yourself you should at least be funny. Wow, does that miss the point. He's certainly self-interested, but he's using that as a jumping-off point to talk about culture. It's not a memoir.

Anyhow, I had just read a fascinating paragraph about the research he cites of a woman who asked people about reading habits. She said there are those who read as children, and who find other readers to bond with; there are those readers whose parents are readers and who are encouraged to read. Franzen said to her that he didn't have parents who read, but he did. So she responded that there was another type--social isolates--that as children were isolated and built their primary world with books. Those kids, as he says he felt he was, no matter how social as adults, at some point are strongly drawn back to their original sense of community, which is essentially to commune with an imaginary world that is constructed through reading. He's much more articulate, and I even wanted to copy the paragraph, since I related as well.

But then I left it in the pouch of the seat in front of me and got off the plane.

The hazards of travel.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

On My Way

This weekend I'm off to Taos for this Queer Spirituality retreat. Much more highfalutin than it sounds. It's a great, relaxing weekend with a small group of people at a buddhist intentional community in the mountains above Taos. We'll hang out, eat vegetarian food, do some yoga maybe. There's a no talent talent show. And some other stuff you can do or not do. Last time I did a sweat, which was surprising and great. I don't know if it was anger that I needed to express or just pain from sitting in a hut with burning rocks. We'll find out. And in the evening people play games--dominoes I remember a game called "chicken butt". So low stress. And clean air, which will be a salve after the fires in LA. I'll hopefully read a lot. And just sit on the porch and look out at the horizon.

I got off the plane in Albuquerque, and was struck as I always am, at all the space. There is so much space between people here. The airport felt almost empty, only because it was Friday evening. Monday mornings are busy. But still the ceilings are high, the vistas are endless, and the whole thing is built with space in mind. I suppose that's why people are attracted to spiritual stuff here. Or land. There's space for both. I don't know that I could live here again, but it's very easy to come back. I forget I'm a product of the West sometimes, and then I touchdown here and remember. It can't be avoided. Before this sky, there were the endless cornfields of Nebraska. Sometimes it strikes me as lonely, but it's really not. It's just a little slower (and mostly because I'm always on vacation). When I come back here I realize how in a rush I always am, and looking for one if I'm not. It's where my natural pace can conflict with natural space. And they both feel very comfortable. I was getting to the point in LA where everything felt crowded, and I needed a break. Most of the time it's a great balance, but every once in a while I just need to escape. Look at me--I'm even writing like I'm in New Mexico. 'Cuz I am!

So this evening I got my Frontierfix with Michael--a flame burger with green chile, fries and a side of beans. He got a burger, homemade tortillas and hashbrowns. Then we watched Project Runway, highlights of So You Think You Can Dance, and then Brian and I talked a bit about Broadway choreographers (Robbins, Fosse, Bennett, etc), the reworking of Nine for the movie, and about 200 other things (which is always one of the best things to do) while he folded laundry, including how we both over-thought 2(x)ist underwear when it came out. He thought it was 200 1st, while I was at the gym trying to solve for x somehow. When I asked what it meant some queen gave me a withering look and said "to exist"? like I was possibly the dimmest thing on Earth and had just asked what that was coming out of the faucet--"uh, water?". So that prompted a great book title, possibly my autobiography, "Overthinking Underpants". Which today seems like a perfect title.

Tomorrow I meet a friend who I haven't seen since high school graduation. We went to Prom together. She wore a vintage peach dress that looked from the thirties. I wore a vintage bolero cut navy dress jacket. Vintage--we were so on top of it in '86. Oh, wow. That's 23 years.

More thoughts on art 'n' stuff later. I hear a cricket, so it's time to put this grey head to bed. Have a good weekend, and enjoy the holiday celebrating labor unions and shorter work days. There's always a reason for the season.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oops, I blenched

I was clicking around online looking for something else in the New Yorker, which is kind of great to have online, and I clicked on the Michaelangelo’s first painting link.

Here it is—in all its glory—supposedly painted when our hero was 12 or 13. And whatever Shjeldahl wants to say about it being juvenile, it’s still better than I could ever think about doing ever, or probably than most contemporary artists could do if locked in a room with a paint-by-number of it (IMHO), as this was a copy of an etching. Then again, people had less distraction and more time to just paint. They probably didn’t have as much stimulus in a lifetime as we have in a day. And how twisted was the Gothic mind? Look at those creatures! Literal torment—wackadoo hedgehog winged fish lizard bedevilments.

Anyhow, in the blurb, Shjeldahl says Michaelangelo would blench. I have always heard blanch, so I looked it up. Turns out blench means to shrink, or flinch, while blanch means, simply, to turn pale. So I guess, though I thought blench was something you did politely after too much barbeque, it turns out you can blanch and blench at the same time. Learn something new every day. Bedeviling.

Good Reads


I was looking for this book, Laughing and Dancing Our Way to the Precipice, which seems incredibly fascinating – a woman who by accident not only was witness to the French Revolution but ended up exiled in America during the late 18th century, then returned to France under Napoleon, and then to London, and back to France. The result, it sounds like, was being witness to some of the most important events in European history. Turns out the actual memoir version is only available for something ridiculous like $109.00. I guess you can get the Caroline Moorehead scholarly view of it for $18, which might be nice. I’m always conflicted about whether to read the primary source (which can be either interesting or soporific) or the scholarly guide (which can be good but then you’re dealing with an interpreter. Thoughts?

Anyhow, because of my internet search for this, I came up on this site, It’s an online community of book lover/readers who rate books and talk about them. I’m not really one for joining too many “online communities” because too much information WEARS ME OUT!, but this one seemed like a good idea. And you can do little capsule reviews of things you’ve read or are reading. And then they give you stuff to post on your blog. Hence, the below. So you can have some good reads of your own. Friend me, if you sign up.

A Death in the Family A Death in the Family by James Agee

The "Knoxville Summer 1915" portion in the beginning of the book is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose written, probably because I love the Barber piece so much. I've always meant to read this, so I picked it up.

What's Not to Love?: The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer What's Not to Love?: The Adventures of a Mildly Perverted Young Writer by Jonathan Ames

I like Ames. His stories have a "how did I end up here" quality to them I like. He's a somewhat dispassionate observer of his passions, almost 19th century in his voice. I tend to binge on authors, and he's a current subject of gluttony.

The Alcoholic The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames

Sometimes the graphic novel can boost the story being told, especially when the prose itself feels matter-of-fact. It works for me in this in the same way it worked for me in the outstanding "Fun Home", magnifying the resonance of the story. Ames is brutally honest about where his drinking takes him, and just as honest about his somewhat complicated relationship to doing things about it. And, as with most of his stuff, frank in his dealing with his own complicated sexuality.

On Beauty On Beauty by Zadie Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
She's such a wonderful writer. Howard's End is one of my favorite books of all time. I love that she took it as a template, but also made it her own. Her domestic scenes are unequaled, and I loved the last scene so much I actually hugged the book when I was done with it and sat quietly feeling warm and content. TMI, maybe, but it's true.

Howards End Howards End by E.M. Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I can't even say how many times I've read this book. 7? 8? I even have a special paperback edition that whenever I see I have to buy. It's just about everything all at once. Beautiful balance of character and philosophy. Stellar.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Brilliant exploration of author's complicated relationship with her father, her own coming out and his sexuality. It was a best book of the year for a reason. The graphics only enrich the story, and since Bechdel herself does the drawing they can't be separated from the prose itself. Excellent example of how graphic novels can succeed as well as conventional ones, especially in something like memoir, that even in prose seems imagistic like memory.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Towel Season

This story, Towel Season by Ron Carlson surprised me. I'm not usually one who hears the word "suburbia" and thinks, "I really need to read this story", but thanks to a great reading by James Naughton on Selected Shorts, I had the pleasure. I was blown away.
The story concerns Edison, a math genius, and the neighborhood summer rituals of parties with peers, as well as his relationship with his wife, Leslie. The action of the story is him finding his place in relation to his work and the people around him, and I think as well the nature of work and description of work. I didn't resonate so much with the suburban aspect, but rather in the metaphor he and his wife work out for him to talk to her about his very complex work in theoretical mathematics. Though theoretical mathematics has become the shorthand for genius and unknowable, it didn't feel gimmicky.

In exploring the relationship, Carlson exposes the nature of any creative enterprise--at least for me--the depths one goes to inside it, and the difficulty in relating that to another person. Even more, the relationship between Edison and Leslie is beautifully drawn, touching in a way I didn't expect. The strength of their relation, and what is sustaining to both about it, is the suprise of the story. I loved how deep Edison went in, and how his wife managed to find a way to talk to him about it that was equally imaginative.

Loved it. There's another one by him called "The H Street Sledding Record" that is mentioned by people as one of the favorites ever on the program, so I'll seek that out.

I also love that according to Wikipedia he is a collector of rare and endangered badgers. Ha. And this quote, which is fab: "I did not understand my story; many times you don’t. It’s not your job to understand or evaluate or edit your work when you first emerge from it. Your duty is to be in love with it, and that defies explanation."

And this week, Chekhov and Welty--what a great combo.


I've been doing yoga a lot lately and I'm really loving it. But this photo made me smile. IT's just perfect. And it shows if you need to you can do yoga in a skirt and a babooshka. It's all good.