Thursday, August 30, 2007

ready for reykjavik

Reading about B. Fischer again.

I can't help but fixate on what I know is my own complicated mythology of genius. I've long acceded to the convention that high intelligence brings with it an attendant instability of character. I have only the most provincial rationale: in my own hometown, I, like any kid with long daily yawns of free time, colored in the bounds of my own full circle of life, all of it based on the folks I saw most often. Maria, mentally ill, walked around the neighborhood obsessively, wearing layers of tights and grimy sweatshirts, even in our stickiest summers. She captivated much of my attention. I smoked my first cigarettes while I followed her along train tracks. I sat blocks from her and just watched while she talked to herself for hours. So much gesticulation, real arguments happening, few resolutions, just distractions, and then all of it over again, the next round. It taught me suffering.

But when she'd see me, her eyes nearly shocked with their charge. She'd smile with the few bad teeth she did have and her eyes lit up with a violent intelligence that scared me then. I'd never been seen like that. She looked into me as if we'd been separated for years and I'd just said I'd marry her son. I felt held to her by chemistry. I felt held in the very same way I did by an employee at the bigger library a few towns over. I was very shy of him, though. He had the same social ineptitude, only it seemed willful; he had a keen consciousness, but it seemed to have been given a circuit to run. So, I concluded, it didn't break him in the same way. Everything, then for me, came down to circumstance. And circumstance was not only a matter of one's practical inheritance, but one's effort. My drive, then, has always been a matter of walking the demons, keeping them fit, exhausting them.

But increasingly I think I've got a lot of bullroar happening in my head about all this mental wellness business. Assigning the precocious among us a special propensity for insanity removes the responsibility factor. I can't just say that predestination led Bobby Fischer to crack under the cubic pressure of so much mental work and attention. Insanity is, I imagine, a dubiously overtaxed plea. I'm holding him increasingly accountable for his own moral career, the way the boy genius devolved from a model of intellectual hope to a vitriolic anti-Semite. Maybe I pay so much attention because I'm disappointed and need an explanation for the precise ways in which an inimitable strategist can recede from his work, and relax into such base, ignorant, backwater prejudices.

Things I don't understand can keep me up at night. I'm wanting more than ever to get to Japan, then to Iceland not to meet him in his home, but to walk the tracks, to sit on the benches.

So: please wire money, must walk among the poppies soon. Thanks!


Poppies in October

Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose red heart blooms through her coat so astoundingly —

A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky

Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.

O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers.

— S. Plath

Wednesday, August 29, 2007



Harvey's Imaginary Productions
________________ presents _________

never-before-seen stills from the set
of Hal Ashby's 1971 cult classic!

Harold & Maude


We bring you over a dozen never-before-seen pictures from the set!

We show the real Hollywood story of young Bud Cort's partying days!

We give you a rare glimpse of what it must have been like to work alongside one of the American film industry's most notorious divas, Ruth Gordon.

But first, a word from our sponsors:



And now a few candid shots to refresh you
on the names and faces of the film's original cast:

Ruth Gordon as Maude Chardin

Bud Cort as Harold Chasen

Craijan Merchashi, also as Harold Chasen
Little known fact: Two men, not one, played Harold. It was that big a role. Despite his virtuosity, Merchashi was destined to remain in the shadows.

Charles "Pixelated" Tyner as Uncle Victor

The Inside Story!

The truth will out: Ruth Gordon was a bona fide tyrant on set. Second little-known fact: she was, in fact, the one responsible for Harold's trademark "Rubberband Legs" gait in the film. She forced Cort to walk the cemetery path with her every day until she felt he got it just right.

Down ...

... and back. Sources say hundreds of circuits!

More evidence that Gordon could be incredibly demanding and idiosyncratic: she felt scenes needed to be shot one after the next, in sequence, to preserve her own sense of "narrative juju." When her colleagues could not get a scene right, there was NO MOVING ON. She hammered away at the kinks until it was perfect. Here, Gordon watches as Cort struggles off-camera to get Rubberband Legs just so:

... The pressure began to wear at Cort's focus. Sources close to the best boy grip say that Cort, a former Olympic cartwheeler, just couldn't nail the physical acting after Gordon's example.

Shamefully, the scene was rewritten with somersaults where the cartwheel once had been. Friends cite the cartwheel lessons as the turning point, the moment Cort really began to spin out of control (see below).

But the signs were there from the start. Gordon had broken Cort--and everyone else--long before the gymnastic gaffes. And here's the rub: had Cort just been able to imbibe some Red Bull(tm!), he may have had the energy to keep up with the hard-driving, senior dominatrix. But it wasn't around in those days. Cort compensated with Robitussin and ketamine. This was, in fact, his undoing.

Sometimes Cort would just space out in the middle of a scene, kick into monologues or zero in on props to the exclusion of any other reality:

... Or he'd lose his balance trying to stand in one place:

Often the unfortunate actor would wake smack in the middle of a scene and have no idea what was happening or who the chick with the braids was.

To everyone's great relief, the camerawoman had a friend--Craijan Merchashi--who had played Friedrich Von Trapp in his seventh grade school play. Merchashi brought a real passion to the character:

And according to a barista who passed Hal Ashby once on a street corner in L.A., Merchashi brought out a soft side in Gordon, settled her down, lightened her up:

He even set up a date between Gordon and the camerawoman (she had a very deep voice that Gordon had always liked). The sexual tension between Gordon and the mystery gal behind the lens is clear in this footage that the Avid guy's mom "saved" from the cutting floor when she brought his liverwurst sandwiches in at lunchtime.

The last word on the love affair came from Ashby's nephew's neighbor Ed, who claims the apple was Gordon's advance, a sort of "Come hither, camerawoman." These were the Golden Days, weren't they, when there was that kind of innocence to be lost. Get that apple, girl. She's ready for a close-up.


Thanks for the Birthday Make-Believe Day, boys.
Lifetimes of love and all hands on knees!


The presentation of this archival material has been made possible by a generous grant from the Maude Kennedy Foundation. Mieu, Maude. To your health.

Love you, Maudie.

Monday, August 27, 2007

power of suggestion

Another interval between Movie Week posts. Let's not force themes anymore; it cramps our style. (Soon, though: thoughts on The Invasion and pictures from the eagerly awaited Harmaudicon 2007!)

Okay, so here we go. I think I need to defend myself. I recently received an assessment from Sasha Cagen, the decidedly adored author of the (at least to me) sleeper phenom, To-Do Lists: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soulmate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. I am summarily characterized thus:


Elizabeth seems to be a very busy, creative, social woman (so many people to call and email, I can relate!). Her mind seems to be cluttered (I can also relate). She wants to write down every fleeting thought and obligation to prevent them from being forgotten. I understand the impulse to capture every single to-do item. I'm just concerned that she'll tire herself out from looking at her own list. (It exhausts me and I write epic lists!) She might benefit from writing shorter lists rather than one long running one. She should not be writing a to-do list within a to-do list.


My mind is cluttered? Now that I've read this, my head aches. My list exhausts an epic list-writer? After the sweep of feeling like the winningest busy person on the block, I feel the dust in my eyes without a drop of saline in sight. Could I somehow organize it better? Where's my solution? The whole point of a to-do list is to catch it all in the net. Why keep short to-do lists? I can remember seven things I need to do. Forty-five, though, and I begin to buckle without my Linus blanket of lists. Hmm. Maybe I should put thinking about that on my list. Or imagine this: living with no list at all. Maybe I'll burn my to-do list tonight. Can I put that on my to-do list and then burn the proof of my intentions on the planet? Oh my. Total ontological crisis.

Friday, August 24, 2007

beyond michael moore

Documentary talk with Sister T today. She never seems to turn off the mind lights. Much title flinging and substance sorting and as a result, even more movies that must be seen--by her, by me, maybe by you. All I'll give you now is one each.

her recommendation: Ghosts of Cité Soleil
mine: Bus 174

On we go.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

picture this

A momentary interruption of Movie Week to say that I've been sitting here the last few hours reading the latest by Sven Birkerts (Reading Life: Books for the Ages) and as I have, the first of eight buds on my rugged spider orchid opened right up in front of me, the sepals dropping down like two little elf legs.

I've had orchids for years, but I guess I've never sat still in front of them. They've always been tucked into some corner of misty, indirect, southerly light. In my new, compact place, however, they're front and center. And as I watch this growth, it's like I'm getting a condensed, close-in version of a calving ice floe, the spectacular miniaturized.

I read fifty pages, one foot dropped. Looked up twenty later, the next was down. And the flower is caught blooming, petals bending out but still sticky over the anther, like the tip of the tiniest vajra. And in his book, among the many glittery slivers, one phrase Sven used, unusually showy for his style but thus ideal for my adaptive moment, got the enchantment of the flower's uneven unfolding just right: "erratic and operatic, and errantly erotic."

Now THAT's art for all occasions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

now playing

Let's declare it Movie Week at the scribbler's cove. I'll begin with The Pillow Book (Peter Greenaway). This was presented to me as one of those "how could you have missed this," "must get in bed and watch immediately" movies, requiring chocolate and candles and all sorts of silky things at hand. Okay, I'm game.

Interim: Said movie is watched.

Yawn. Where's the candle snuffer? Bring the lights up. Do you have any tea to go with this chocolate?

The Pillow Book, as I've had to admit to the enthusiasts, did not work for me. Several scenes were pretty enough. Images of the calligrapher's brush on skin provided a predictable kind of appeal. Rain, blossoms, skin, skin, skin. Lovely, I'll take it.

But I think I spaced out somewhere during the outright enactments between and among various parties in all sorts of debauched states and strained postures. Something about it felt too frankly presented, even absurd, like wildlife mating footage complete with brushes, pillows, and parasols.

Even all that would be fine and passable, except for the subsequent series of freakishly broken taboos that function both to stimulate tension (one imagines that was the intent, anyway) and to meet the basic narrative demands of character development. Neither really comes off.

To great disappointment, I suppose, my primary physical response was a wince. I don't consider myself particularly provincial when it comes to matters such as these, but pillow book pages painted on the salvaged skin of disinterred lovers who died, arms crossed over the chest and blue mouth pouting, after a rather pathetic boudoir breakdown of drug-induced abandon all seemed--well, it just seemed weird to the point of distraction.

And let it be said that I consider weird an especially laudable characteristic, one to be encouraged equally in matters of love as in life. But as with any fancy moves, the risk of the bumble increases. And what a disappointment when a fellow adventurer commands attention by limning an aesthetic boundary, only to slip off the cliff with all the attendant whoa-whoa-whoa gesticulations of the humiliating fall.

Naturally, any heat that the weird might have generated in such a setting is discharged. And then what's left? Only the embarrassed sense of having witnessed the spectacle of sudden insufficiency and the ricochet replays of irrepressible memory.

Monday, August 20, 2007

or something just like it

The painfully fascinating DS and I visited an exhibit at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco this weekend, the occasion being the hundredth anniversary of Gertrude Stein's meeting Alice B. Toklas.

This, the celebration of a private milestone for a public poet, might strike you as suspect. It struck me that way anyway. As I learned working on my Bellow thesis, it's generally in the work of poetasters and artistic bottomfeeders that we witness the failure to distinguish between the poet's body of work and her lived life. But well, my friends, we've come all this way. The ocean floor has all sorts of good bits. And now that we've invaded the personal life of the ladies, what the hell, let's mill around for a bit, shall we?

First things first: I do wish there were more happy photos of Alice. Take a look at the one I've got here. I can earnestly say that that's one of the more flattering shots. Hayzeus! Most of the others are more of the same, painted portaits included, Gertrude looking very much the satisfied rooster and poor Alice to her side and slipped a bit back, as if an apron-string kid, always the dour sulker. If pictures are to be trusted (which, unless maybe taken by Arbus or Sherman, they are not!), Alice haunted around looking perennially bummed out--always with the same long limbs, pulled face, heavy cloche, shadowy mustache, and the eyes--ugh. The very eyes of contrition. Buck up, Alice. Look at the company you keep, for god's sake!

Anyway, we walked exactly two short hallways with a total of five display cases and maybe a dozen of said less-than-charitable portraits and photographs. All in all, it was a very good tourlet. It's a rare occasion, indeed, that I find myself trading Gertrude Stein recordings. DS even has a fantastic McAlly speaker doodad and so we sat on a wide birch bench and ate chocolate malt balls and listened together to our iPods (DS's black, mine an angelic white) giving poetry reading by proxy for our very own Gertie.

Syllable by arch syllable, she introduced "She Bowed to Her Brother" with a review of the importance of the period in the piece. I don't know why I'm so much less interested in Gertrude's perspective on the period than I am, as DS pointed out, the em dash in Dickinson. I just think Dickinson's dashes made a difference. Stein's readings seemed to be so very much about performance. Then again, so were Parker's. So were Millay's. And I have lots that I love about each of them. And it's not Stein's haughtiness that bugs me. If that were the case, "Daddy" would not be one of my more frequently played tracks in my lists. (And what do you know? DS played me a great excerpt of Plath. She can be heard tightly decrying the personal's unjustified place in the poetical; she made the important caveat that the personal must first be managed and manipulated and shoved around until it can be kept in its written corner. "Now stay, bad personal experience worth recounting; stay, I said!") I mean, if Plath wasn't arrogant enough in her standards and style to give Stein a run, then I don't know who was. And I, by the by, revel in Plath's punishing poems.

So. It's all, along with the sudden hole brutally torn in my own literary universe, naturally got me thinking about posterity. And I suppose that whatever aspect of a subject's life is being recognized, remembered, memorialized, at the very least I expect the items to be the authentic artifact.

To my great surprise, as I stood with my nose practically pressed up to the glass before the typewriter Toklas used to type Stein's weird poems and prose, DS read from the little placard that it was, in fact, "something just like" the Smith Premier of the Parisian lovebirds, NOT actually the McCoy. Outrageous.

I am going to start my own museum in which I will have papier-mâché Blackwing pencils, credible holographic replicas of the Moleskine notebooks, maybe a foam-mounted poster of the Olivetto giclée that hung over Sontag's worktable. I will even make my own brownies and say my creation bears a striking resemblance to Alice's recipe. I'll call the show my Depressed Ladies' Literary Bakesale. It will be brilliant. You're invited. Bring your iPods.

Friday, August 17, 2007

he's right about the abandonment

Those of us who revolved at a remote distance from Liam—I never knew him well; we'd talked no more than ten times at most, emailed even less—are now swift in the eddy. Late into the night, toss, turn, toss, turn, I dizzied mostly in the terror of whatever his consequences may be (see 8/16 post), but I was also saddened by the what-ifs, fixated on the outlandish alternatives. I, all windows open to the waking echo of confusing strife, looked back at the let-downs we all may have been to him and, likewise—now or before—he to us.

Several friends have written saying they're angry. Or they're disappointed. I can't say I feel either of these things. There's almost a blank acceptance where these feelings ought to be. Who can presume to understand the suffering of another? We can write to ape it, build art in deference to it, probe it ruthlessly for some sort of statistical relief. We can get grand about the comprehension and capture of these things, but psychic pain, pain of the body—these, along with death, are of a province that remains impassive, solitary. And they always will be. Despite that, I miss Liam in a way that isn't justified since I was never really in his world in a complete way, not even secondarily.

I know it's indulgent to insert thoughts into the space Liam occupied among us, but I do imagine he'd lack patience, perhaps, with whatever personalized responses I might be tempted to have. Liam prepared me--and anyone else who has been paying attention to his poetry--for this eventuality. The poem that follows suggests only that we face it. That's a very different statement than suggesting we need to deal with it and move on. One never moves on in such situations, however remotely she stands from the sadness. She can only move in. Face that abandonment, after Eliot, and now after Rector.

The Remarkable Objectivity of Your Old Friends
by Liam Rector

We did right by your death and went out,
Right away, to a public place to drink,
To be with each other, to face it.
We called other friends - the ones
Your mother hadn't called - and told them
What you had decided, and some said
What you did was right; it was the thing
You wanted and we'd just have to live
With that, that your life had been one
Long misery and they could see why you
Had chosen that, no matter what any of us
Thought about it, and anyway, one said,
Most of us abandoned each other a long
Time ago and we'd have to face that
If we had any hope of getting it right.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Liam Rector, 1949-2007

I just received the following email from Victoria Clausi of the Bennington Writing Seminars, where I took my MFA & built close community.


“I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing;”

--T.S. Eliot

It is with unbearable sorrow that I write to tell you that our beloved founder and director, Liam Rector, killed himself yesterday morning.

“Fare forward O voyager.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made to the Liam Rector Scholarship Fund at The Writing Seminars of Bennington College, to organizations in support of Free Speech, or to The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

Liam is survived by his wife, Tree Swenson, and his daughter, Virginia Rector.


I'm not sure what to say, except that I feel an achy need to get down close to the ground, to hold onto the planet, and dig my fingernails into the dirt while I'm on the surface. I cannot imagine making the choice Liam did. Sad's a weak word.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


from Poetry magazine

One Afternoon
by Joanie V. Mackowski

A woman stepped outside, crumbled
into a loose particulate, and, as the breeze
blew up from the east, she scattered: her handful
of heart, volcanic ash, spiraled the highway,
and five of her teeth slipped between
her neighbor's breasts; her neighbor
unbuttoned her blouse to scratch
at her suddenly red and luminous skin.
Days passed. Each day the sun distractedly
drifted from chair to chair; each night the stars,
old scatterbrains, they commiserated.
It didn't rain. Strange, the granular woman
thought to herself: although I encompass
so much, I accomplish so little.

Her car sparkled with her hair and bones;
her garden thrived. She tried to think:
why did this happen? what had I eaten?
why was I bothered?
—those old hours,
spotted and exotic lizards, darted
the gravel, flicking through their colors
of skin as one flicks channels on a tv.
She couldn't catch a one. Then, as a flock
of sparrows converging for the skull
of an oak, all her twittering dust,
her brain, bone, and the dangerous shreds
of her fingers clawed for the sky;
what an interesting cloud someone said.

At first I'd included the Q&A, but ultimately decided the blah blah about Ovid and the supposed inspired madness of all poets undermined the grace of the poem and its movement. So here it is, naked. Go back and reread! Aloud.

Monday, August 13, 2007

godspeed, yone

So my best case scenario for sticking around on the planet, if we're using Yone Minagawa as a life-yardstick of sorts, is eighty-one more years. That remainder I've got is longer than anyone's even lived in my family, but why quibble?

Don't wake me from the dream! With that many years left, I've got time to master this effing fiddle, paint well, build a warehouse full of shadow boxes, settle firmly into fluency in Italian AND Japanese, tour Iceland, read my entire booklist (if I don't add anything else to it), send the letters I owe, review some stuff, run Boston, run Boston better, learn to build stuff, find a place with views and quiet, build a green home with views and quiet, learn to ride a motorcycle, buy a motorcycle, ride said motorcycle some faraway place, have important road trip realizations like Che (in a minor chord), act on insights, achieve enlightenment (snap!), and of course, finish two novels (yes, just two; can't be too lofty), the stories, the screenplay, even the epitaph.

So thank you, Yone! You (and the hope that, if I take my vitamins, drink lots of water, and exercise like Oprah tells me to, I might break your record) have reduced the anxious insistence I always feel to get all of the above done tonight. I think instead, it is a nice night to walk the dog to the ice cream parlor and get myself some coffee ice cream with extra fudge. And then I'll sit in the dark on the old-fashioned parlor seat with the cracked, striped covering, watch Bling (see 8/9) eat her Frosty Paws, and take in the magical example the beasts set in enjoying what's right before one's snout.

(And no, you are incorrect, mon cynical frere! Ice cream will make me live longer, not shorter. Silly health freaks. Oh, I'm sure of it. Ask me over ice cream when I am one hundred fifteen.)


P likes to open a Word document and press ctrl+v anytime he uses a public computer or any friend's computer. What would he see if he did that on yours?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

the sorrows of light rotation

When I was teaching a writing workshop to kindergartners, this one kid Harrison, who insisted on wearing the same delightful uniform of cowboy boots and a fringe jacket every day, came in and told stories that remain to this day among my fondest storytelling memories, right up there with my grandfather's wild Irish yarns. It's not that they were sophisticated or even particularly original, but while he talked in class I could watch him just making things up on the fly, a natural-born bulltosser. He could deliver a story with such deadpan confidence that his classmates believed unflinchingly that he'd hosted a jaguar in his Alameda Victorian. Pressed for details by teachers wanting to depose the bard, he never flagged. He could invent under pressure. He just had a capacity to wonder that could not be undermined.

I remember him when I settle into my more indulgent drifts of pointless imagination. I had this great run with an idea all night last night. I sat on the Persian rug playing tug with the nutty pup I'm dogsitting (the adorable little monkey Betty Bling, for those familiar) and we watched the original Star Wars together. And I got to wondering what Star Wars would look like if it was retold as a series of episodic raves. Bjork plays Darth, Tilda Swinton Luke, Rachel Weisz Princess Leia, and I of course would get to be Han Solo. (I spent my youth planning to grow up as either Bo Duke, Han Solo, or a Solid Gold Dancer. Sadly, I'm kind of the perfect blend of all three.)

Anyway, it would be part traditional straight-ahead narrative whenever it had to be, part Weapon-of-Choice-variety breakout choreographed routine after the fashion of Dancer in the Dark, only without the terrible gun scene and with razzle dazzle lightsabers/glow sticks. You know that underground very ravey-looking scene in--what was it, the third?--Matrix? That ridiculous stuff? Imagine crowds of extras like that: tribal, futuristic, strobe lights, percussion, smoke, silly makeup, time-elapse, and did I mention smoke? Jawas were born to be choreographed. Likewise Imperial Stormtroopers. Sorry, it's true. And the Death Star, the droids and their pop & lock movements, wooly Chewie slung with crossbow ammo, Obi Wan the sage--all well suited to my & Betty's enlightened reinterpretation.

And so after the movie, I was exceptionally awake (unlike now ... zzz ...) and took the little Bling for a late-night sit to watch the waves break on Treasure Island. And as we drove back home on my three good tires and the slow-leak fourth, we heard this song on 92.7 (the local dance station that pretty much plays the same six electronicky songs over and over and over). I just know I heard that same song at a warehouse rave in Baltimore roundabout 1994. I didn't know the name then and I don't know it now. But as it played, I could just see little Bjork and earnest Tilda battling it out with that in the background. The spectacle would shatter glass, a Phantom of the Opera kind of orchestral stretch. Hair-raising!

But what am I to do? Be a weenie and call the radio station? There are NO lyrics, unless you count exclamatory monosyllables. So what would I do--just call and say, "You know? That one that goes la dee ahhh ahh ahhHHAHAHHHHHH and sounds vaguely German at parts?"

You know what this means. Endless loops of the six tracks in heavy rotation to get back to that one other song, if they even repeat it. And even then, the damn DJ may not say the name. So off I go, skipping the blues in my iPod for the same sponsored songs on the radio: Rihanna, JT, Hilary Duff, that ancient Daft Punk song, Dirty Vegas, and Beyonce yet again. Oh, the things I endure to populate my mental wunderkammers. At least I know Harrison would approve.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

hugh in mind

Being in the company of talented people in their artistic element is great. Being related to those folks, on the other hand, is sublime. Cousin Katie took this picture.

When I was a little girl (late single digits), I tried ardently to mother Katie all around her Brooklyn brownstone; she, ever the more sensible child, shuffled into corners away from me to read the book I remember she always had in her hands. I have always come on too strong and she was one of the first to educate me in that regard. She, as best evidenced in this composition, has much to teach about the value of space.

Katie’s leaving Seattle before I’ve arranged to visit. I should have visited. Back to Brooklyn goes KT. Sigh. Wherever she goes, though, I know she will invent beautifully and I’ll be her eager attendant. I am reading her play now and have attached my favorite of her photographs so far.

Look, see how the tree branch resembles a cord powering the streetlamp? On the blanket, that’s her. And a fellow named Craig who I thought was named Hugh. Sleeping in Seattle with a green Hugh.

I can feel the mood of this picture in my skin. It’s as if I was there.

Monday, August 06, 2007

the cave electric

Have I been in Berkeley too long if I feel inclined to kneel in the mud and thank my mysterious stars for all this great good fortune? Well it has been a long, often arduous, and sometimes miserable road getting to this here happy ranch. And everything's temporary, even grace, even productivity. So no, I’ll just go ahead and snarfle happily in my simple heaven for a spell, if you’ll brook the bliss.

Something about this new place has my mind roaring. This latest story I’m developing is writing itself, coming more smoothly than the last bloodletting experience I called fiction writing. And I’ve got a skeletal plot (some good bones, at least) doodled right here for a damned funny screenplay. (Who said that? Did I say that? No way. Well as M. says, perhaps it is finally the era of Yes Way.) Tonight I finished an article on the dinner party business (see July 22) and am about to begin another on a guerilla art movement here in the Bay Area. I’ve brought a couple solid authors on board at work and a regional paper sponsoring the Brattleboro Lit Festival just invited me to write a review of the latest book by one of our country’s best critics, Sven Birkerts. That’s an odd one—the book is a collection of reviews itself. So this will be a very metacritical review. And I feel not a little challenged by responding at such a distance from primary texts. But it’s not just about the reading; it’s the reading life, after all. So sure, I think I can handle that there horse.

But here’s the simplest crazy beauty. It’s always been one or the other in my life: writing or cooking. If I’m writing, I order pizza. If I’m cheffing it up, I skip the laptop. To my amazement, the benefit of being cracked-dirt poor (unexpected emergency vet bills flit and nip at my head like paper-cranes-gone-bad), I now have no choice but to cook. And people, necessity has rendered me a tricksy good cook. The frayed-thread-from-my-old-shoestring budget is, as it happens, the mother of all invention. My fridge resembles that of the Alpha Kappa Beta Abercrombie boys up at Cal, yet the miracles of spices, cheap farmers’ markets, and careful selection have me eating easy smoked paprika chops w/young broccoli and fresh corn tonight. Artist, sure. Starving, eff no!

(Sidenote: thanks for asking about the dear troubador, Rufus. I did mean to post a review of that sparkling starlet and his knockout eight-piece band. Suffice to say he made me come close to wanting to be a gay boy he was so talented and glamorous and prettyprettyprincess. Princess with gravitas, that is. Mountain Winery is like a Tuscan mirage and I’ll just say that being six rows back for the Judy Garland drag bit at the end with the cabaret jacket and the fishnets made me swoon. Welcome to the Cult of Wainwright, Kennedy. Indeed. He even made me wonder if I shouldn’t own more brooches. A chance to shine, after all, never hurt anyone.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

silly gato

Three posts in one day is excessive, but my cat Maude has been on my mind all day today and this picture E. sent has made me laugh so hard every time I've looked at it, well I just have to put it up.

see you next week

Going to see Rufus Wainwright this weekend in Saratoga. I'll leave you with a songlist that needs reordering. What sequence would you put it in?

I Was Made to Love Magic Nick Drake
Love Will Tear Us Apart Nouvelle Vague
Do You Realize? The Flaming Lips
Measuring Cups Andrew Bird
Hesitating Beauty Billy Bragg
If I Could Tell You W. H. Auden
Lover I Don't Have to Love
Bright Eyes
Ship Caught in the Bay Frames
Poncho's Lament Tom Waits
Sleep Imogen Heap
Bruno's Theme Ben Charest
One Perfect Rose Dorothy Parker
Photocorners The Lovely Feathers
Closer Melissa Ferrick
Jackson Johnny & June Carter Cash
No Children
Mountain Goats (God, I love that song)
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk Rufus Wainwright
New Slang The Shins
Wild Horses The Sundays
Little Chief Xavier Rudd
Outro Yonderboi

you have ZERO friends

I accept an invitation to the latest dubious community widget, this one called I arrive on the site and, as D. points out to me upon his subsequent receipt of my invitation, it tells me "You Have ZERO Friends." Wow. Okay, I take this deficit seriously, I suppose, because this is, after all, a book club. Even better, it is a book club in which one gets all the wine and cheese to herself and can pop off about what a punk Norman Mailer is anytime she wants, off the grid of the calendar. No one even need be in the room. But, the notion goes, if they're a member of the community, they'll hear you on their own time. Well then, yes, yes, sign me up and get me my dog-eared copy of The Executioner's Song!

So. Like any good grade school chain-letter slave, I immediately blast off invitations to a few readerly friends. Several were already members, some with dozens of books, a few time-sinkers with hundreds. When I hear back from A., he informs me we need no such net below us to talk about titles. Well, no. We don't. I could just as easily write or call him (or you, for that matter) directly, e vero. But I've got lots of excuses: I need nicer quills, some good stationary. Phone's not set up at my new place, low minutes on the cell. I'm out of cheese ... and gads, I need more time. But if I can post on boards, can't I email? Indeed, if I can blog, can't I write letters? Or what about an actual date at L'Amyx?

I very recently visited the marble-and-wood, paper-piled offices of a most talented poet, Steven Rood. He plays classical violin, writes proper letters, lives and breathes poetry to the extent that two weeks is a desperate dry spell. I admire him for it. Last night as I was working on a story involving a harried couple and their encounters with the cats at the Hemingway estate, the couple stopped talking to me and I drifted away from them. I thought of Steven's devotion to his work and I fished out (from the boxes of my recent move) my tattered little motto and taped it up on the wall: "There are those who do and those who wouldacouldashoulda." Indeed. But what it do, as the kids say, is the question.

Is recreational blogging such a waste of time after all? We all need to stretch for the races. And the truth is I do find blogging easier than playing the fiddle. Or developing my fiction. Or, especially that be-all, end-all, most sacred act of my life: writing reviews--the real reviews, the ruminations, those deep carbonic excavations. For me, the process of critiquing is scintillatingly comparable to Maggie Gyllenhaal's work with her little blades in Secretary. Feels unbelievably good to strike something below the skin and to see (and feel) all that flows, brighter and richer than the mundane, everyday agonies, yes. But there is only so much that can be cut in a go. And when I contrast formal writing with the lesser efforts, I can't help but return to those chain letters of my elementary school years and defend their utility. For kids, freeplay is an accepted, if frowned-upon, diversion (I'm talking about my own preambles to blogging--chain letters, horoscopes, passed notes, locker graffiti, and what my brother and I used to call "chit chat" when we stayed up past curfew as young kids to make up stories and giggle ourselves to sleep). Light conversation is a necessary counterpoint to our highest form of masochism, the concerted, highly personal derivation of meaning. I dunno. Besides all that, there's a sort of vanity to all these online monkeyshines, as well. Like looking in the mirror before the big date.

But why hang the laundry online? Is that what this blogging around is all about, a matter of opting first for visibility, well above clarity? What is it about hanging a shingle on the web that's so satisfying? Is it a stamped proof of existence? Not really for me, no. That puts too fine a point to it. And even I have my standards in that regard. Take the quicksands of myspace, friendster, hi5, for example.

Myspace is an analog to the experiences I frequently have on holiday. I visit these breathtaking countries (the humbling spectacles, twinkling cornflower-colored cities after sunset, the awe-inspiring views, the mythical woods, the people and their body languages, the histories haunting street corners, all that wonderment at what's foreign). And in every place, it's the same: pods of humans trot to the brink of their photo opportunity, grin with great plasticity, snap the shots, look around appreciatively, and move along. Move along. Move along. That's all myspace is, proof that you've come, you've conquered, and you've moved the hell along, somehow compensated and enriched by (the exhibition of) shared experience. And hayzeus, go to those sites. The comments are an embarrassment to our kind ("I fucking love you, man; that beerbust was the bomb!"), the worst kind of frathouse asshattery. But mayhaps it's just not my venue.

Muriel Ruykeyser suggested that "if there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger." When I read S.'s lament for the future of literary criticism as corrupted by bloggers and I return once again to these fundamental concerns about the passage (and expenditure) of my own time, I do feel the old worries about productivity arise. But I find now that I can only really fall back on Ruykeyser's words as a rationale for all this rambling. We hunger not only for the sustenance of our mainstays, but for a few empty calories between meals, too. And regardless of what notes I pass on any given day, wherever the pleasures of chit chat may take me, whether I like it or not, I know for certain that it all brings me back to the same hard work with the same damn motto sitting there in front of me like a timeworn provocation. I know down to the bone, even if I entertain the doubts presented by those I admire most, that a masochist works for life.