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Monday, 30 November 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

"God is good to us, and heals those wounds with a rapidity which seems to us impossible when we look forward, but is regarded with very insufficient wonder when we look backward. "

Saturday, 28 November 2009


I'd prefer it if you stayed, do you even have to ask?
Of course you can, I mean no, I don't mind;
buy me an orange juice and talk to me about Eden,
make me wonder, repeat the words I wrote.
Let me imagine I say the things to you I say to myself
when I'm looking right at you.
Do you know?
No less than I possibly can be,
but quieted still, I have a secret.
It's yours, of course, if you want it, and even if you don't.

I'd do a dance, let a tear fall, trip,
drop things and lose things, and turn to you and smile
You bought me an orange juice and walked away cool,
but no less than you possibly can be.
You have secrets, too, and so have we
who talk about Eden and mean things we don't say.

Just in Time for the Holidays

   FAMILY TIES Shane Winters and Kimberly Spring-Winters,
first cousins, married this year despite her mother’s concerns.

Shaking Off the Shame
Published: November 25, 2009
Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times
WHEN Kimberly Spring-Winters told her mother she was in love, she didn’t expect a positive response — and she didn’t get one. “It’s wrong, it’s taboo, nobody does that,” she recalled her mother saying.
But shortly after the conversation, Ms. Spring-Winters, 29, decided to marry the man she loved: her first cousin.

For the whole article:

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

But when we have said that Mrs. Stanhope knew how to dress, and used her knowledge daily, we have said all. Other purpose in life she had none.

How Plants are Trained to Work for Man

"Land-Molluscs are a great perplexity to me," Darwin wrote.  The man whose life work revolved around the "ethnography of communication" dies of Alzheimer's disease.  A woman's body curved into the shape of a shell, a photo her husband took, "after eight months we are closer together than ever. Already I have reached certain heights reached with no other love."
 Ferocity and gentleness, a grand
articulation. Bags I can't unpack,
sheets I don't know what to do with,
only don't wash them.
Burbank and a pack of seeds, a new strain.
Specimens, general and specific.
Each morning I woke in my bed;
you listened to me while we ate lunch,
I watched for your return. Discovered
a species, spoke in space, pictures
in my mind that make me gasp.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

You With Your Fresh Thoughts

The line for New Moon at the theatre next door crossed in front of the entrance and beyond, hoards of teenagers waiting to watch the summer of their minds. I knew where the wild things were--the place you went when the pains of growing had nowhere to go but to a seasonless land. I built tents on my bed, forts in closets, had a room full of dollhouses, my own room a dollhouse when I couldn't sleep--I knew how to make a whole world. I knew how to smash something and put it back together. Do a dance for my parents and make them smile again. I could say a story and they would write it down. The Goldengrove loses its leaves and a young child, if she notices, doesn't know why it makes her sad. Innocence will disappear though, like the clearing of the forest of the world as she grows older, and perception will inform her tears. But for now, for now, neither mouth nor mind need know it is for herself, and not the leaves she grieves. I can build something beautiful out of the wilderness, smash paper hearts, rebuild them with twigs, and sail back home.


     I've never been there before--at least not to 60th Street.  I've always wanted to go--for ice cream--but end up arriving quite often for the destiny.
     Last night I shared some correspondence with a friend over the nature of books as objects.  It started with a NYT article I found about the scent of old books--a faculty for which we share an affinity--and led to a discussion of books as objects and as living things--with a destiny all of their own.

     The man whose teaching position my mother took over just before I was born left a lot of his books in what was to become her office. I have some of them now, his Kittridge Shakespeares. His notes in red ink--actually elucidating at times--yellowing pages. My grandfather is a bibliophile--his father was a bookbinder, the name "Grolier Club" rolls off his tongue like "cookies" does off mine. He sent me to search his library once because he was sure he'd stuck a 100 dollar bill between the pages of a book. I never found it. I always liked the secrecy of books--what lies between the covers. Not just stories, but notes, dollar bills, a slip of paper with someone's phone number, a movie ticket stub, an inscription from giver to recipient (why did they give it away?), a receipt--clues to the things you can't see.  It feels like memory to me, something living--whether on one's mind or on a sheet of paper. And there is a very strong tension between memory and creation: the present is forever being shaped by the past and the past is continually being shaped by the present. Living--no wonder books have their own scent. Books have their own destiny. Just like we do. I studied bookbinding for a short time, feeling a connection to the past as I punched holes, and stretched leather, the actions of a great-granddaughter's hands--I love the paper, the thread, the curved needle, bone folder and awl, the different stitches to create different bindings.  This is another way to get to know their insides.
     There's a museum of bookbinding in Bath that sells old book covers that have lost their insides on the cheap. There's a poem written to a lover on one I bought, another has a binder's mark with an address on Chancery Lane, yet another, a bookplate that features a boxer dog, the owner's name, Spencer Eddy. Who knew their life would continue with me, or mine with theirs? 
     Today in the mail, I received a book much anticipated.  An overdue closing night gift for Tony Wendice, tennis champ.  Tony jokes that the novel I suggest he and Max (a crime writer) write together be called Murder on the Centre CourtCentre Court Murder arrived today, British and published in 1951.  The packaging itself pleased me: "Printed Paper" someone had written on the cardboard box.  The familiar but long ago blue Royal Mail sticker pasted underneath.  Inside was another cardboard box, and inside that, a bubble wrapped book, covered in red binder's cloth, the Boots Booklovers Library sticker still partially attached to the cover.  Inside the book, was a note from the bookseller.  "Best Wishes," he wrote.  I looked down to the bottom of the note paper, the Bookseller's address printed in blue ink:  Unit 2 Maida Vale Business Centre, Maida Vale Road.  It's found its way back home, and it has lots of stories to tell.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Unlock the Air

The new theatre at la mama is beautiful.  It's like The Ohio but exaggerated in depth, the playing space a long projected image reaching back toward the old proscenium.  Endless possibilities, and mysteries, too, like a dream's version of a maquette. I'm not sure the play I saw there last night has a life outside of the festival of which it was a part--a bit farce, a bit Pirandello, a bit about the Czech revolution; I like that theatre can always be revolutionary, even if it's just the actors electing to scream a battle cry of perseverance.

 My pen has been at the ready these days, compelled to write down and remember things I'm often willing to notice, accept, and pocket away.  I'm sure they're not really forgotten, but my fisherman's instinct is in overdrive lately, and I've been collecting not objects, as is my usual wont, but ideas.  "A community whose voice is repressed begins to use gesture to express itself."  The line spoken last night referred to a moment in the Velvet Revolution when students gathered at Wenceslav Square and jingled their keys all together, the resulting chimes gesturing the demand for the unlocking of doors, for the exit of the communist party from the building.  It also can't help but refer to the theatre, where gesture was eventually transformed to natural reality.  The idea of the sound of a thousand keys tinkling together made me think again of Keats, and the "viewless wings of Poesy;" idea, sound, and then sense.  To find sense in such ephemera--this must be why Pirandello wrote relentlessly about the theatre. It's cyclical, it's never-ending, it's a skeleton key to the universe.
    And then there's this (thanks to ZF for pointing me in this direction):
If there's a key to this, it will either mean the end of the world or the saving of it, I'm not sure.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

Her eyes were bright, but then, also, they were mischievous. She could talk fluently enough; but then, also, she could scold. She could assume sometimes the plumage of a dove; but then again she could occasionally ruffle her feathers like an angry kite.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Language of the Print

     I was delighted that BL took me to The Morgan Library this past weekend; I wanted to see the Jane Austen exhibit and was excited that I hadn't missed the Blake exhibit.  The two presentations work well together, though separated by floors and galleries.  I'm fairly sure the overlap was unintentional--but how unintentional can a curator be?  Blake used words as and for art; the letters made poems, the poems made an excuse for visual art.  Words, images, all lines imprinted on copper and paper.  Each without the other, less than what they can be.  As a printmaking student, I remember marveling at some reproduction Blake plates brought in by a guest teacher to demonstrate his singular technique.  I engraved, exposing my fine lines to an acid bath that cut into the metal and bit down on my images.  He did something called relief etching--an almost reverse of the traditional intaglio technique that burns an image into a metal plate.  His technique--and it was his, something he originated--etched out everything surrounding the image he wanted to print--raising it, cutting out, not in.    A much more demanding process than the already ambitious technique calls for: in printmaking, all letters, all images will appear in the reverse, and so his hand lettering, fine, and script-like, all composed backward and in relief--a double negative of the finished product.  Blake said "I curse and bless engraving alternately because it takes so much time and is so untractable, tho capable of so much beauty and perfection."  And what's also fascinating about his printmaking is that the labor of it is hidden in the often mythic and mystical poems and images.  There is an odd whimsy to what I see in his art, so disparate from its medium and its matter.
     On the second floor are framed works of a different art.  Austen knew her letter writing was an art--these were our movies, television, radio, records--and she employed the everday technique in her often epistolary novels.  I had an inclination recently to write to somone about the simple events of my day--not a blog, not a diary--an email letter recounting  my encounters of the day.  I felt silly for it.  But Austen bolstered my spirits a bit--"Important nothings" she called her missives.  And so they are--at least to me, and hopefully to the one you're writing.  I've always seen the written word as a visual art.  Austen's letters present interesting images apart from handwriting; paper, this rare commodity, not to be wasted, is traced with her words in all possible directions and corners so as not to let any fiber go blank.  Sentences are written vertically over those written horizontally like a finished crossword puzzle.  And in a corner of the gallery, a note she sent to her eight year old niece, written backward for the girl's amusement (it would have just bewildered, then angered me at eight).  I thought of Blake's prints, and paper, and words, of whimsy and tedious work. 
     On our way out, we stepped quickly into a small chamber displaying Puccini's handwritten scores, beautiful also apart from the music that could come from them; without paper and ink, where would we be?  Right here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Truth and Beauty

     As a young girl, I was introduced to the art of Faith Ringgold, whose story quilts combine paint, fabric, and narrative. Her art springs from a form commonly thought of as craft--I’ve had the chance twice now to look at examples of those types of quilts in Lancaster, PA. Their sort have always been women’s work, and work, that, while not being explicitly narrative, is meant to hold the story of the family that created it, meant to be passed on and on--a textile of human life. Ringgold makes literal what is figurative, an interesting device in the artistic world. She creates a textual textile, clothing, draping, painting, stitching, writing her stories. I thought of her work when I saw Bright Star, saw Fanny Brawne sew stitches of care, thought, love, sorrow; thought about women, how there is something inherently feminine about fabric and how the fabric of themselves and their lives is written/woven by ourselves and by others. We are not art but we are artists--we paint ourselves and others in certain lights, life struggling toward being something better--not erasing imperfections, but crafting them, creating a narrative body at once physical and physiological.
     Five weeks without female companionship, save a night: a pleasure greatly missed; women rarely disappoint you, seldom let you down. My second night back in Brooklyn was spent watching a British film from 1954 (Netflix hadn’t been informed that I’d left that era behind), Please Turn Over. Please turn over, he might say, or might be written, or demand a closer inspection. Book to bed and page to sheet--text and textile. The film centers around Josephine Halliday (thanks for following me, Dial M), a seventeen year old who writes a salacious novel, Naked Revolt, that imagines her family in a torrid light. A couple of gems, just for the hell of it:

     “I’d like to kiss each one of your ribs.”
     “I say that’s naughty. All right. Later.”


     “Lovers are under greater obligation to be frank with each other than husband and wife.”
     “My goodness, that’s a highly sagacious aphorism. What’s its current application?”

     The movie plays with our ideas of ourselves, and how easily they can be rewritten--there’s always a flip side. I bound a book about beds once, made the covers the mattress, the pages sheets, the spine, four posters. There is a way in which women’s stories are couched--or should I say bedded--in a web of habiliment, weaving a mystic poetry of paper fibers and fine silk. And how illusive this is; life and story--creation--provide hope and in the same instance evoke a certain hopelessness for their permanence that can so speedily and quietly be lost. A partnership of sacrifice--we inhabit our stories by creating them--shape our stories to represent ourselves, just as our garments can retain our shapes after we have shed them.
     At The Verge this Friday the 13th, I watched Claire, creator, refute her role as procreator, eschewing men and women alike. The three men in her life, neatly named Tom, Dick, and Harry, are a sum of all their parts--their autonomous selves unable to fulfill Claire. “You are too much, you are not enough,” she says to the one of them who might have seen her most clearly. It is in this inability to satiate that Claire distances herself from gender and turns toward science to create life without a partner. She is trying to write her story herself, to be free from what men, and the world, and her children want to create for her or at least, with her. She turns to the soil, to the earth, where even in death there is life, and grows something outside of herself and for herself alone--Breath of Life she calls this plant, its scent, Reminiscence. And it is beautiful. And that she has made something is beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that the one other human in her world who might not have tried to take ownership of her and the story of her life that she was trying to write, wants it. Suddenly wants her. And she realizes that she cannot succeed--she kills her plant, kills her would-be mate, but her daughter lives. Nature fails, but what is natural succeeds--and nature and her daughter keep trying. And so do I. Mom, and Stella, and Helen. Amanda, Meredith, Sarah, Cynthia, Sharon, Helen, Jane, Mary and Alice, Gita, Virginie, Marcella . . .

Friday, 13 November 2009

. . . Awake forever in a sweet unrest . . .

     I have long held poetry at arms length--or maybe truer to say that I held poems at arms length--for I've always felt a poetry of self, and of others, and the world.  I never studied poetry, though I've written poems, and someone once wrote a poem for me.  It was in this way, among other ways, that I felt a kinship with Fanny Brawne as she's portrayed in Jane Campion's Bright Star.  An artist of another medium, whose poetry is of another material, ready to let folds, scraps, patterns of words fall over her as if to be absorbed.  Or dissolved, take your pick.  Keats teaches her "Poetry enables the soul to accept mystery."  How clear, how unmysterious.  How wonderfully permissive.  Now, I hold onto words seen and heard, their meanings keeping my unknowns company.  How lovely that we write to express the mysteries we are starting to understand, read with a yearning to discover them, hear, thinking the answer is there. 
     Bright Star opens on a magnified image of a needle penetrating a piece of cloth, and in an instant, the mysteries of male and female, author and story, artist and clay are offered to us.  In her greatest moments of unknowing, Fanny traps butterflies, holds onto Topper, writes, and sews, and reads, and waits for understanding.  And as I look around the world--in a kind word from a parent, the silence of someone you miss, the eyes of your cat, the promise of new friendship, a book, a poem, a letter, a scent, a dress only worn before by someone else, a picture of a kiss; "there's a holiness to the affections of the heart" says JK--I'm emboldened to accept that there are no greater mysteries than these.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

In matters of love men do not see clearly in their own affairs. They say that faint heart never won fair lady; and it is amazing to me how fair ladies are won, so faint are often men's hearts!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Tempest

Suddenly I was on the subway again, familiar rituals hurtling forward as if nothing had happened. The neighborhood people less impressed this time around with my reappearance--Oh, you're back. Again. The cats felt the same. My make-up has worn off, the bruises fading more quickly now that the repetitive action has ceased, the curls allowed to run rampant, I've said good-bye once, twice, over again and over and over. The welcoming committee shot me in the mouth with Novocaine, bumped into me on 60th and Lex, left me with a broken towel rod, and some rotting food in the refrigerator. But I've been tossed up by the ocean before--forced into an underwater spiral, eyes drawn open by the velocity, my father searching for me, his heavier body scratched by sand. I came up to the surface and had a sip from my mother's Pepsi, and never looked at the sea the same way again. But always dove back in.