I write not to teach but to learn. Rebecca West
- "Always Forever Now," Ideomancer volume 13, issue 2
- "Black Sun," Black Static # 32
- "Bread or Cake" and "Pride/Shame,"2nd Annual Philadelphia One-Minute Play Festival
- "Copper Heart," Polluto Magazine issue 5, A Steampunk Orange
- "The Accomplished Birder's Guide to Overcoming Rejection," Last Drink Bird Head, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
- "Another Night With the Henriksens," Player's Theater Halloween One-Act Festival NYC 2008
- "Hating the Lovers," and "Pipe Down!" Geez Magazine: Thirty Sermons You Would Never Hear in Church
- "Beth/slash/Nathan," Paper Fruit Blogiversary Contest
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The starting point of true literature is the man who shuts himself up in his room with his books.
I write because I can only partake in real life by changing it.
Something pivots between these two quotes. To move into the world as a writer, you must first withdraw from it.
The woman I met in the shop travels the country on her motorcycle, and writes about her adventures. She was on the cover of the City Paper two weeks ago. She leads workshops on erotic poetry for people who were sexually abused. She is partaking in real life by changing it.
In Samuel Delany's book on writing, he says we are not striving for spare writing, but for clear writing. I have heard many people praise spare writing. Spareness can be beautiful, but so can complexity. Delany says good writing may be spare or complex, but must be clear. He has disentangled starkness and clarity, which for me had become confused. The latter is a virtue, the former merely a characteristic.
Delany also says you cannot hope to write a book better than the best book you have read in the past three months! I strive to read the best books: my first writing teacher told me, You will write like what you read. This year I have been reading Yeats, Woolf, Merton, Haruki Murikami, Sherman Alexei, and a lot of Samuel Delany. But Delany is making me realize I must read even more.
To be a writer, I am allowing my more outward self to atrophy a bit. And I have neglected my spiritual life. I am determined to get all I can out of life but do continually shave off pieces of a potentially more well-rounded and generous self, in order to cultivate my writing. In that most famous portrait of Shakespeare, he looks so disappointingly tired and dull. The actor Simon Callow says, in his book Being an Actor, that that is because he has exhausted himself giving life to his characters. And of course his characters are more lively, more vital, than anyone's.
I visited a friend of mine, a fox-- those of you who know me know that my job brings me into contact with people of many different species. I don't visit my friend the fox as often as I did. Now I see her only now and then. I have known her seven years! She was so happy to see me, she vocalized much more than she usually does. At one point she lowered her head and pressed it against against my leg-- I was sitting beside her. As she pressed her head against my leg she gave a long deep trill-- a sound I've never heard her make. With that trill, and the pressure of her forehead, she communicated (I think) her fondness for me, her memory of the times I've spent with her, and how grateful she was I visited her. There was no reproach in it. Her lack of reproach, her total acceptance and welcome, stings more than a reproach.
To be engaged, to be fully engaged, is demanding.
I worry that I am losing out on something valuable, not being more vitally involved with more people, and with the animals I know. I should be willing to spend more of my vitality, and venture more of my heart. And save something for my writing too.
Oscar Wilde said "I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works." If that's true, his talent was enough to make him indispensable. I used to think it was sad that Oscar said the greatest part of himself had gone into his life and not his writing. Now I think: how lucky his friends were to have had him so fully present in their lives.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Father Divine, who lived in this area for many years, was a real life version of the Wizard of Oz-- with similar contradictions. A preacher, visionary civil rights pioneer, and friend of the poor, Father Divine ran integrated hotels, spoke out against injustice, and provided his followers with jobs, and decent, low-income housing. The religion he founded, the Peace Mission, was a model of racial parity. For all this, Father Divine is admired, and remembered fondly. But it's fair to say that The Wiz took as much as he gave. Living in ostentatious luxury, Father Divine persuaded his followers to separate from their families, subsume their identities in the Peace Movement, and worship him, literally, as God incarnate. Sex was forbidden, and language was policed with a evangelical rigor that makes campus speech codes seem permissive. This Philadelphia Inquirer article from 1989 gives a great overview of life in the Peace Mission, from the point of view of Father Divine's adopted son Tommy Garcia.
After legal troubles forced Father Divine to leave New York, the Lorraine Hotel on Broad Street became home base for the Peace Mission. Father Divine renamed the hotel the Divine Lorraine, and declared Philadelphia to be the center of the universe.
It was a real privilege to tour the beautiful and mysterious Divine Lorraine Hotel. I have a fascination for cults and mysticism, and love old buildings, so I've always been intrigued by it. Thank you Ken and Summer! I posted my photos from our visit in the Trips section of this page, the link is under Books to the right. I'm sure you'll agree that the Lorraine is a precious part of Philadelphia history-- a pearly dewdrop on the rose at the center of the universe.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Here are three portentous things I saw in the fifteen minutes it took to walk to Metropolitan Bakery, then stand in Rittenhouse Park and eat an oatmeal cookie (which have gone up .50, to $1.75):
1: WHITE PIGEON.
This pigeon was a marvel of whiteness. I saw it right where Rittenhouse Alley meets 20th street, and chased it with my camera phone, but it kept hustling nervously away. It was all white except for dark gray bands on its wings. To compare this pigeon's whiteness to new snow is a cliche but it really did have that cold bright color.
2: BAND OF GREEN IN THE GRASS
Rittenhouse Square is still really green. Some trees have lost their leaves but most are in full leaf and very green. The sun was past its zenith as I was leaving the park (it was 4:45), and the sky was partly cloudy. A little light was shooting into the park from vantages between buildings. I saw a vibrant band of green in the otherwise dull grass. It cut one corner off the park, and was so bright and lively, it seemed to have not only physical mass but also personality: self-satisfied, and rich with humor.
3: GLOWING PEOPLE IN THE PARK
I walked down Locust Street and turned back to look again at the park, while talking on my phone to Jane. The last rays of light that were streaming into the park hit three people, illuminating them, in an otherwise coolly shadowed park. The wind was blowing, and for a moment the three people glowed gold. From my viewpoint, half a block down Locust, the people looked very ordinary, walking against the wind, but also messianic. They couldn't have known how they looked, glowing in the golden light, against the cool blowing leaves. Then the light evened out again.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
This is me-- trapped inside one of Andy Warhol's Mao prints.
Look over my shoulder and see a floating mask.
That's an eight foot tall self-portrait by sculptor Ron Mueck, who has done a lot of work for films, including Labyrinth.
I'm in the Duke University museum here, which rotates a large collection through a small exhibition space. The collection is world class, and the building is a neat balance of opposites: open yet intriguing, austere but exciting. It's a recent design (2005) by this cool guy, who did our own Kimmel Center.
The Mao prints are some of my favorite Warhols. Why is Andy Warhol's stuff always so much better and more exciting in person? They are simple, flat iconic graphics, which should work just as well in a book or on the web. So why are they more powerful live? Is it the scale?
Here are some clearer pictures of the Mueck mask-- domineering, funny, and powerful.
The Nasher Museum had arranged its current selection from the larger collection around the theme of gender-- With Mao, Mueck's mask, and the tidy suited fellow above, they started the exhibit with some strong statements of modern masculinity. In the ancient and medieval areas there were interesting Christs, plus some stone apostles, and Samson and Heracles. I guess I had forgotten about the theme of the exhibit as I looked at the objects-- yet the objects did cause me to meditate on masculine identities in different cultures and times. What does it all mean? Who are we, as men? Heracles was a renowned macho hero-- the ultimate type of the powerful man in both ancient and modern worlds--and had several male lovers. Christ the savior becomes the moral ideal for the West, not by kicking ass, but by conquering through non-violence. Both of these icons, these powerful symbols-- of masculine strength and enlightened moral and spiritual leadership--are husks to us now, resonant names with little content. Our civilization is rooted in Greek and Roman, Jewish and Christian ideas. Yet we have no place in our pantheon of archetypes for gay jocks, bisexual warriors, or leaders who win by peaceful means, and teach by listening. These personas could be useful touchstones for us, and they are legitimately a part of our heritage--our "patrimony." How was value leached from them? How did they become degraded through time? How did we inherit, from a rich and useful past, weary, stale, flat and unprofitable notions of manhood?
Looking at some of this art I became angry, thinking of how we have silenced history
and consigned our nobler possibilities to eternal stress positions.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
I think today is the last day for office duck.
Although my co-worker apologizes to me endlessly, having a duck in the cubicle next to mine hasn't been a big problem. I love animals. I don't mind stepping over barriers to get to my desk. I don't mind that my posters are loose at the bottom, because office duck likes to pull out the tacks. I just put them back up at the end of each day. I hope office duck isn’t swallowing them.
I did mind a little when office duck was raising his crest feathers and hissing at me every time I walked to my cubicle. It's hard not to take that personally. I wish I could explain to office duck that I am an ally, a non-combatant in the eternal, one-sided war of man against duck.
I also minded a little the day office duck had gas. A poisonous cloud of duck farts occupied my cubicle. There is no ventilation of any kind in my basement office. I can’t imagine what was fermenting in that animal’s belly, but wow. Maybe it was all the thumb tacks that have disappeared from my wall.It’s clear that this duck has been raised around people, because he relates to me like I am a member of the same species. We think he was one of last year's Easter chicks-- my coworker found him wandering the parking lot at her train stop. Working at my job, I continually encounter examples of our species' gross cavalierness toward animals.
My coworker named office duck Aloysious-- but, not, as you may be thinking, after the teddy bear in Evelyn Waugh's novel, Brideshead Revisited. Like many children, she had always wanted a duck named Aloysious.
Aloysious and I just got past the defensive display, crest-raise + hiss phase today. He started looking quizzically into my cubicle when I was working there, and then blandly watching me when I walked by him. I regret Aloysious is going away just as we had reached cross-species detente. He was getting used to me, and I was getting used to him. This was a significant step for both of us. I am generally no fan of fowl. Although I pick up snakes, insects, rats, and alligators for my job, and have no qualms about any of them, I find that I dislike fowl of all kinds. Geese, ducks, and chickens in my experience are invariably aggressive. That said, I cannot sanction eating them, factory farming them, force-feeding them in order to produce fatty livers for pate, or any of the other horrors we inflict on them. Fowl have every reason to be aggressive,and no living creature deserves the life of confinement and torture it endures on the way to your plate. But try not to think about that as you savor your next victim sandwich.
Other industrialized nations require that chickens be rendered unconscious or killed prior to bleeding and scalding, so they won’t have to go through those processes conscious. Here in the United States, however, poultry plants—exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act and still clinging to the industry myth that a dead animal won’t bleed properly—keep the stunning current down to about one-tenth of that needed to render a chicken unconscious.
Gail Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse
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- kater cheek's art
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conservation and ecology
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