My sweetest find

24 11 2016

The usual:

And the sweetest find? My grand-nephew, Henry.

He arrived a bit early, and urgently, but he and my niece are fine. I am grateful for modern medicine.

Not including a photo, here, because I don’t know my niece’s cyber-social policy regarding her new son, but he looks, as all babies do, like a stoned little old man.

He’s beautiful.

May you have beauty in your life.





Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained

26 11 2015

I went to the Neue Galerie yesterday to see the Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933 exhibit—but, alas, the exhibit was closed.

On a Wednesday! (I thought Mondays were when museums snoozed.)

Anyway, the upside to that downer was that it was early enough to stroll through the park.

I haven’t been through Central Park in, oh, a year, maybe? My favorite part is the very north, but angling down from East 85th to 72nd and Central Park West was still lovely.

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Once I hit the street again I kept walking west until I hit the train station. There were a lot of people out, but I’ve learned how to look around while dodging oncoming pedestrians; all I could think, as I gazed at the sculpted ironwork and stately facades, the cheeky cornices and inscrutable reliefs, was Oh, this really is a beautiful city.

I bitch a lot about my life—I’m middle-aged and living like a graduate student, I’ve tanked my own career—but I’m living in a city that I’ve loved since I was young, and teaching students from around the world at a city university which is open to them all.

I really don’t know life at all—maybe I never will—but I’m all right. I’m all right.

May you live a beautiful life in a beautiful city, however strange it all may be.





Little earthquakes

22 07 2014

Ann Patchett writes lovely characters.

Well, huh, that could be misleading, implying that all of her characters are lovely. They are not.

Let me try again: Ann Patchett is a lovely writer of characters.

Yes, better.

Even when the characters are only briefly sketched, or when she chooses to hide aspects of the character from the reader, she gives you enough that you want to learn more about these people.

Dr. Swenson in State of Wonder is, shall we say, an obdurate personality, bound up in her own understanding of the world and impatient-to-dismissive of alternative views. I found her to be admirable, as well as the kind of person who terrifies me. How does someone get to be that way? What is it like to live utterly without neuroses?

You could put a label on it, I guess, call her some variant of -pathology, but that would take away her humanness, reduce her to that pathological label.

In any case, Patchett doesn’t give us much to go on—here’s Annika Swenson, now deal with it—but she gives us (or me, at any rate) enough to make her a real human being, to make me wonder about her.

Patchett is generally able to make all of her characters, supporting and main, human. I was a bit frustrated with the main character in Patron Saint of Liars—or maybe I was frustrated with Patchett’s withholding of information about her—but I never doubted she existed. (In fact, she’s one of the inspirations for the main character in my second novel, who, like Rose , leaves an apparently decent life to live her own life.)

I do have to admit, however, that the opera singer in Bel Canto, Roxane Cross, never did become real to me. It’s not that she was a cardboard character or that I disbelieved that someone like her could exist, but she never came into view.

A lot of people loved that book, but I did not. It shared, with Run, Patchett’s greatest weakness as a writer: plot.

Now, I didn’t have a problem with the set-up of Bel Canto—a gala is taken over by militants—nor with the  suspension of time in which the hostages and militants alike subsequently live: Patchett excels at setting the stage and the letting her characters loose.

No, the problem was with the resolution. Patchett is fine at setting things in motion, but not so fine at bringing them to a close, and the bigger the push at the beginning, the rockier the ending. Had I been more drawn to Cross, (as I was with the characters in State of Wonder, which suffers from a similar dynamic) I might have been able to walk over those rocks with her, but I wasn’t, and thus was left stranded.

The lack of realness in many of the characters in Run meant that the reader was left mainly to the plot, which was. . . not good. Patchett is generally willing to let things ride for long periods, but in Run, she kept jamming up her characters with unnecessary plotting, with the overdrawn happenings crowding out the characters.

Which is why I think her best novel is The Magician’s Assistant. She sets events in motion, and then just lets them go; what plot developments there are arise from the characters themselves, so instead of these events pulling us, er, me, out of the story of their lives, they drew me further in.

Maybe because, like Taft (a much better novel than its name implies) and Patron Saint, the events are smaller, arising out of her characters lives rather than intruding upon them.

I know: the line between “arising out of” and “intruding upon” can be arbitrary, depending on whether you think a couple of runaways showing up at a bar or long-estranged family arriving to visit the grave of a recently-dead son & brother is organic rather than artificial.

Or maybe Patchett is just better at revealing the beauty in the ordinary than the extraordinary.

In any case, I prefer the ordinary set-ups, largely because Patchett doesn’t have to strain to move her characters into place for the denouement: they move there of their own accord and, in that end, we are left with the people themselves.





Bound by the beauty

10 03 2014

It is shit like this that makes me, a fan of science, want to smash every fucking machine I see and go live in a cave.

What, exactly, smashes me so?

Not that mathematicians find some equations beautiful and others ugly.

Not the attempt by neurologists to look at brains looking at beautiful and ugly equations.

Not fMRI machines.

No. All of that is fine.

What is not fine is the presumption that functional magnetic resonance imaging studies—and neurologists—will be able to settle the age-old question of What Is Beauty.

I’m not exaggerating. These researchers, after having read a book on beauty, conclude the experience combines pleasure, reward, and hedonic states. “Whether one can ever experience beauty without at the same time experiencing a sense of pleasure and/or reward is doubtful.”

I don’t do the philosophy of aesthetics, so I’m hardly in a position to take on this particular definition of beauty, but when I say of Golijov’s Ainadamar that It makes me cry and I hate crying but it’s so beautiful how can I not listen to it . . . I don’t think I’m misunderstanding beauty.

These guys need to watch Moonstruck, is what I’m saying.





And furthermore, I don’t like your trousers

3 06 2013

Ohhhh my:

Demetri Marchessini, a Greek-born shipping tycoon who gave [British political party] Ukip £10,000 this year, . . .teamed up with a photographer a decade ago to find “unattractive backsides”, in the words of the Observer writer Liz Hoggard, on the streets of London and New York.

Marchessini wrote in Women in Trousers: A Rear View: “I adore women and want to see them looking beautiful. Everyone has the obligation to look as attractive as possible. It pains me to see women looking terrible.

“Walk along any street and you see women using trousers like a uniform every single day. This is hostile behaviour. They are deliberately dressing in a way that is opposite to what men would like. It is behaviour that flies against common sense, and also flies against the normal human desire to please.”

. . .

Marchessini warned that women are undermining their chances of finding a partner by wearing trousers. “The more women dress like men, the less they are attractive to men. If a man finds a woman attractive, he will find her legs sexy even if they are not perfect, simply because they are her legs. Women know that men don’t like trousers, yet they deliberately wear them.”

~~~

h/t Slactivist Patheos, HerbsandHags





All things weird and wonderful, 29

15 01 2013

The poetry of material things

What a lovely name for a Tumblr.

I am a materialist—tough to be Marxisch and not a materialist—but, honestly, I hadn’t really considered the poetry in the material, itself.

It was there, of course, in every Art Deco building or carved lintel, every curving bridge, strutting muscle car, and heavy-ceramic diner coffee cup. I noticed the beauty, but not the material, the sea, not the water.

I love this image. Ordinary and sublime and balanced without fussy symmetry. Just so.

How can this be real? It must be a poem. . . .

(h/t The Near-Sighted Monkey)





We are all going down

2 07 2012

True story: C. and I find a bar, are unimpressed. Re-find bar, are impressed, say, Hey, we should make this our bar!

Bartender says: This bar probably won’t last. . . Barclay’s Center. . . gentrification. . . .

C. and I nod, drink, nod, agree to come back as many times as we can before it goes away.

Friday. C: Let’s meet at O’Connor’s! Me: Yeah, let’s meet at O’Connor’s!

Off the train, down the street, hang a right. . . wait, hm. To the left? Really? To the left, down a few blocks. No, no, back up.

Then I notice: plywood with a white door where the dark door had been, white railings with plexiglass where the eave had been, sandy stone where the wood painted name had been.

I text C.: I think our bar is gone.

C. arrives. We look at the plywood and the roof patio and agree, yes, our bar is gone. We gesture toward the hulking arena, mutter curses, look for new bar.

Me: Let’s try this one (Gestures to kitty-cornerish to the old one).

C: And there’s a divey-looking bar around the corner.

Me: If this one’s no good [trans: if it’s too upscale], we’ll try that one.

We check the menu, the sandwich board; there’s a sign about a special for a can of beer and a shot.

Me: They sell cans here; that’s a good sign.

We peer in. Narrow, dart board in back, basic Irish pub regalia, sparsely hung about.

Friendly bartender. Hard cider on tap for C., beer for me. Yankees low on one t.v., Mets low on another.

C., the bartender and I banter-bitch about Barclays, tourists, gentrification.

Bartender: This neighborhood has already been gentrified.

C. sips, nods. Nothing stays the same in New York.

More sips, nods. Discourse on the movement from the Village to Brooklyn, to Williamsburg. Bartender mentions photos of Williamsburg from not so long ago, from when it was scary, not hip. Discourse on neighborhoods which are block-by-block: okay here, not okay there.

Me: It’s never a good sign when you’re all alone on a city street.

Later, after more drinks and discourse and nods, C. whispers that the glasses aren’t as big as we’re used to. We shrug and nod and drink some more.

Later still, out on the sidewalk, C. and the bartender smoking, a construction worker with a beautiful face and beautiful arms and beautiful shoulders flirts with C. and me., calling us beautiful. I’m not beautiful (C. is), but I don’t argue, because it’s nice to be called beautiful.

C. and I watch the construction worker saunter back to work on the arena; we comment on the view.

As we leave, C. shares one last smoke with the bartender. A former Chicago schoolteacher with arm tattoos that intrigue C. joins us in our discourse about drinking and work and whatever else one says during the final scene of the evening.

We laugh and say goodnight and promise we’ll be back.

Our bar is lost; long live our bar.





This is not a painting

23 05 2011

Camel thorn trees, Namibia.

Photograph by Frans Lanting, National Geographic





The heaviness, the heaviness

17 04 2011

Family farms are amazing places.

You notice the barns, first (there’s always more than one barn), and, in Wisconsin, they tend toward the standard red. There’s usually a big barn, thirty or forty feet high, and then a smaller one, maybe around 20, 25 feet, and maybe another outbuilding, used for the farm equipment; there’s often a chicken coop thereabouts. If there’s not a silo, then there are a number of large cylindrical containers, and it’s not unusual to find a gas pump on the property.

The family farms I knew were dairy farms, and the milk-barn, where the cows went into their stalls twice daily for milking, tended to be low-ceilinged in the stalls area, although where the hay was kept there was, actually, a loft.

The farm house looked big from the outside, but it was usually quite cozy inside. The first floor would have the kitchen, a den, then maybe a formal living or dining room; the parents and kids’ bedrooms—and on these farms, there were usually a lot of kids—were on the second and third floors. Depending upon how large the family was, the younger kids would share rooms, and the older ones might have their own, or, they were all shared, divvied up by sex and age; maybe there were two full bathrooms.

Any trees on the property were near the house, or maybe there’d be a small stand to mark the edge of the property or on some spot where crops wouldn’t grow. Two-lane highways might cut through a property or serve as the dividing line between families; shoulders were gravel and often pitched steeply toward a ditch. If you came upon a tractor driving on the shoulder, you still had to swing wide around him, as the tractor usually trailed some equipment that spread across both lane and shoulder. It was rarely a problem; there’s not much traffic out on those country roads.

And there’s the smell. It’s almost always smelly on a farm, but it’s a clean smell, of manure and hay and dirt and animal, the kind you get used to and reminds you, simply, of country.

I’m thinking of one farm, in particular, as I write this, but it was the thought of another which prompted this post.

Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm posted on a 4-H visit to his mini-farm, for the kids to watch his farrier take care of his donkeys. Katz notes (correctly, I think) that urban and suburban parents today are over-protective of their kids, but that In farm areas, most families can’t afford to do that and don’t believe in it. In this and many other posts, he celebrates the hard and necessary independence of those farm kids.

Such hardy independence, however, has its risks.

As I read Katz’s post, all I could think of was RW. R. was in my brother’s class (two years ahead of me), and oh, was he a honey. He was popular with the guys, very popular with the girls, close to his younger sister J, who I later knew through theatre and track.

Word was she had to be sedated at his funeral.

R. was hit in the chest with a piece of farm equipment, and, being out in the country, was far from any hospital; by the time the ambulance got there—word was it got lost on its way to the farm—it was too late.

I think he was sixteen.

R. likely wasn’t doing anything on the day he died that he hadn’t done before, and, at sixteen, was certainly old enough to be doing anything that needed doing on that farm. He was one of those kids that Katz and I would both admire.

But as much as Katz wants to thrust the sweat and peeling paint and oh yes, the smell, into his viewers’ understandings of the family farm, as often as he cautions that there’s no such thing as a “no-kill” farm, as much as he wants us to see the hardness and the beauty of these places, the admonitions themselves often serve to turn that hard beauty into its own kind of light.

There is light there; he’s not wrong to see it. But not everything hard is beautiful and not everything beautiful is light, and sometimes what matters most of all falls beneath a heavy sight.





Never enough

9 12 2009

Be beautiful.

Be smart (but not too. . .).

Be supportive.

Be thin.

Be a wife. Be a girlfriend. Be a mother.

Be everything.

But not enough. It won’t be enough, not for him.

Let it be stipulated that not every man cheats. Let it be stipulated that women cheat. Let it be stipulated that monogamy is not for everyone.

Let it be further stipulated that athletes and politicians and corporate moguls and celebrities are not like the rest of us.

Nonetheless.

I look at these everything-women and their caddish men and think Women are fucked.

Told constantly by magazine writers and self-help authors and media representations and advertisements and sexperts that if women would only lose the weight and change the hair and brighten the smile and maybe engage in a little bo-nip-tuck-tox (and, of course, shave/wax/defoliate one’s nether and whatever other  regions) you too could earn yourself The Man of Your Dreams™, we are confronted with the scenario in which said Man simply decides that one is nowhere near enough.

I know: media representations are bullshit, and my rational feminist brain tells me that relationships are complex and compatibility runs far deeper than the skin.

Nonetheless.

This plain and single woman cannot rid herself of the enduring thought that if only she’d lose five pounds and/or get in better shape and get her teeth and eyes fixed then maybe, just maybe, she could be worth dating.

Irrational, yes. Pathetic, yes. A handy way to avoid addressing the real reasons I don’t date—yes, absolutely, yes.

Nonetheless.

The thought remains.

As does the apparent evidence that whatever fixes one enacts won’t ever be enough.

Fucked, all around.