Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bear Dreams

Perhaps the bear in the hat is dreaming of


Thursday, January 24, 2008


No no no, I don’t have TB.

It’s just that it occurred to me that although I blog semi-irregularly about the very fascinating contents of my own head and various animal life in and around the North Bronx, I don’t often mention what I’m reading or looking at. Which is partly that deeply ingrained but pathetically disingenuous-for-someone-who-blogs ethos of “who in the world would care what I’m reading/watching?” And then there’s the fact that I’m a very lucky girl and have many people in my life who I talk to about this stuff. So by the time it occurs to me to blog about some item of interest, I’ve already had the discussion a couple-few times, up to and including late-night conversations in bed with the light off and a passel of warm animals snoring softly around us – sometimes the idea of blogging about it on top of all the personal talk feels a bit redundant.

But hey, I have a readership, it seems. And I do get my hands on some interesting and fun stuff . Three things from the past week:

Every Last Cuckoo, by Kate Maloy

Full disclosure: Kate is a dear friend of mine, but I don’t automatically shill for my friends’ books – and was a little hesitant to mention it in the first place because I’m not in fact shilling. This is a lovely novel, very sentimental without being in any way mawkish or pat. It’s about a lot of what interests me on a sort of cellular level these days, as I creep toward the birthday that in my mind heralds middle age: family and coming to terms with all the permutations thereof, the way ties of friendship endure, how loss is synthesized and incorporated, how I connect to the physical landscape I live in, how creativity keeps evolving, and – important lately – how I relate to my age and my aging self. This is a soulful book, accessible and warm, but not simplistic. And it makes me want to move back to Vermont.

Plus – how gorgeous is this cover? I really think it’ll help sell the book, which can only be a good thing. What I’m really hoping is that it does so well that Algonquin is forced to do some kind of marketing tie-in and finds someone to make those mugs with the birds on them. To go with that big pile of Fiestaware that I don’t yet own, y’know.

The Best Short Stories of William Kittredge

I’m reading this now, and not just because it has a great bear on the cover – it’s a recommendation from Jeff. This is some very male stuff, farmers and ranchers from the West Coast, hunters and field workers and crop dusters. I’m enjoying the voyeuristic aspect of it – this is not company I generally keep, not guys like that nor is it my side of the continent, and I like the picture he paints me of a world that has nothing to do with mine. His language is beautiful as well. The contrast between the spare, often hard-edged narrative and the real delicacy of his words is pretty indeed. There’s a precision that I like and that I appreciate from my stranger’s viewpoint.

The quality varies, as short stories tend to do, and I’m not quite halfway through, but some of these are really pure and affecting. I’m definitely moved to keep reading.

And a movie from just last night: Nights of Cabiria.

Oh my goodness. This has to be up in my lifetime top five, I think. What a very female movie – not feminine, not feminist, but so reflective of the complex mindset that I’m pretty sure is mostly women’s territory, without getting into too much generalization. (I won’t say “painting with a broad brush,promise.) Say what you want to about the convention of the crass-yet-beautiful, marginalized-yet-proud, brokenhearted-but-hopeful hooker, but I’m sorry – she lives in all of us to some extent. I haven’t seen a whole lot of Fellini films so I couldn’t say if this is any overriding sensitivity on his part or perceptiveness or just good observation, but it really resonated. And I’m not generally one to interpret stuff along gender lines above any other way of looking at it – a lot of that strikes me as superficial much of the time, an easy referent. Yes, I know I just called the Kittredge stories “very male,” but this is different. Cabiria spoke to the deepest x-chromosome part of me, I don’t know how to put it in any less hokey way.

Jeff told me that Giulietta Massina consciously channeled Charlie Chaplin in her characterization of Cabiria, and it’s there, in a non-caricaturish way that really does echo his sweetness. We saw City Lights at Film Forum on New Year’s Day – presumably a good omen for a year of movie-watching – and I was surprised at how completely charming it was. I’d never watched an entire Chaplin movie, only knew him from the Little Tramp archetype, and only then understood why he was, and is, so loved. Cabiria carried a lot of that with her. I really did fall in love with her. There’s a scene where a famous movie star takes her to a fancy nightclub, and in the middle of what’s supposed to be a reserved mambo she breaks out into this goofy, wonderful dance by herself. I could watch that a hundred times. (And thanks to YouTube, I guess I can.)

I really missed out on a lot of great movies during most of my formative years not having a TV will do that, I guess – but I'm kind of glad I'm getting to see these now, in my 40s, with a certain amount of life experience, humility, and sentimentality in place. I think I react to art much more emotionally now than I would have in my 20s and 30s, and I rather like that. There's always time afterward to intellectualize something, to mentally turn it over and look at the workings. But it's nice to take things in viscerally on first viewing – that first reaction, you can never do that over.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Gideon's First Fish

On the back it says July, 1993, which puts him a couple of months shy of his sixth birthday.

Why yes, I have spent my day doing a whole lot of nothing, which includes poking around up in the attic. Given all the events I usually try to cram into my weekends, this was a necessary and very appreciated day of total R&R.

I am not a scrapbook person, I don't have a baby book for Gideon, and none of my photos are in albums -- they are stuffed haphazardly into boxes. And while there's a kind of aleatory charm in pulling out a handful of pictures and seeing what I get, I'm sure someday when my memory is starting to go I'll really wish I had organized them better. But I don't really foresee having big chunks of free time to do this... oh, ever, honestly.

What's very touching is that I see Gideon's been through some of them and labeled the backs. I have no idea when he did it. The handwriting is on the young side -- he can't have been in his teens, I don't think. But it's sweet -- I'll have to remember to thank him.


Friday, January 18, 2008

The Readerville Journal

One of my favorite places on the internets is Readerville.com, an online forum for likeminded bookwormy hard-reading opinionated chatty folks like myself. For years there was also the Readerville Journal, a smart and handsome full-color magazine along similar lines. It ceased printing soon after I started hanging out there, going on four years ago, which was a sad thing – not least because someone had just given me a year’s gift subscription.
But now the Readerville Journal is back in digital form, and you don’t need no stinkin’ gift subscriptions. It’s up there for everyone, and it’s still smart and handsome. There’s neat content that changes daily, good links, and some really excellent book recommendations that you probably won’t find anywhere else.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Surprise

Well, yes, not only am I a Master Baker but I am a really shitty blogger, and yes, I am aware of that. But these days I actually have a little bit more reason than usual. I've been trying to get back to drawing every day, or something close to that, in my sketchbook.

What many people don't know about me is that I was an Illustration major in college -- I have a BFA from the School of Visual Arts, which is a fine institution of some renown. I was one of those kids who was always drawing, and I think I did have some promise, but I think I was also lazy and largely squandered it. No matter -- I have no desire to take up illustration on a professional level again. But what I would like to do is get back to the point where it was fun. Once upon a time I always had a sketchbook, and the doodles flowed out of me naturally and pleasurably. Over the years sitting down to draw or paint has felt more like work, like something I feel like I should be doing. And that really kind of sucks.

Here's what I think happened:

Back when my husband and I split up in 1996 I suddenly found myself solely responsible for keeping body and soul together for both myself and an 8-year-old. Not that my ex had ever been much on co-parenting, but at least he was a second warm body and I had some mobility.

When it became just me and Gideon, I had to plan everything out, plan everything ahead. If there was going to be food on the table and clean laundry and garbage bags and school lunch, I had to plan and plot and think ten steps ahead all the time. Never a break. Before I got my own washer, laundry night meant that we had to have some kind of dinner prepared that we could come up and eat while the dryer was running and Gideon would need to be set up to bring his homework to the laundromat, and whatever needed to be bought would have had to be bought on my way home from work or better yet on my lunch hour so as to save those precious 15 minutes.

And yes, I know, lots of people's lives are like that all the time, and probably worse. Eventually he got older and I could leave him alone for little chunks of time, and he started spending more time with his dad, and I acquired a little more flexibility. But that endless planning never quite let up. There was always something that needed to be accounted for, foamcore boards for science projects and sneakers suddenly grown out of and lunch money lost... all that stuff that almost feels like nostalgia now.

The thing is, I'm still in the habit. Kid's gone from home a few years now and the only creatures really dependent on me are a dog and two cats. But I'm still always thinking thinking thinking ahead, thinking about what I'm going to wear while I'm in the shower and thinking about what I'm going to cook for dinner while I'm at work, and if I walk the dog all the way around the reservoir when I get home then what order do I make the food in so we can eat at a decent hour and I can put a load of wash in when I get home if I do it right away and Monday is recycling night and oh we're going to need more soap in the bathroom in a couple of days...

So OK, I'm a bit compulsive and on a certain level it works for me. We're fed and the animals are fed and the house is in order and the bills are paid, and I rarely get that fucked up behind-the-eight-ball feeling.

But what I've also divorced myself from is a level of spontaneity, of letting happy accidents happen, and that is fucking me up artistically.

It's one of the reasons I like writing -- I can write in my head at odd moments during the day and there it is. I can put it down on paper later. I had this particular thought sequence about 15 hours ago, and I've been looking forward all weekend to getting it down. And in fact with my writing, having something planned out gives me a framework to get started and propel myself forward in order for a little serendipity to happen.

But making art, for me, is different. For most of my life I just liked putting pen to paper to see what happened, starting in one corner of the page and doodling across it until the space was filled. Or not. It didn't matter what happened -- the joy was in the surprise.

That's what I want to get back to: The Surprise.

So I've been taking the time to just draw, draw anything, copy pictures I like, or write things down by hand and make some pretty letterforms. Whatever catches my fancy. Just to get my hand moving.
This week I've been drawing trained bears. Not to flog a really tired cliché, but -- it's all good.

In totally unrelated news, it's 38˚ and pouring rain and there are two raccoons having hot raccoon sex up in the big tree in our yard. On Thursday we had the goshawk hanging around. This place is turning into Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Kinda cool for the Bronx, though.
Oh, and I updated all the links on my sidebar to reflect what blogs I'm reading these days with any regularity and with a whole section for food links. Enjoy! Or not.

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