Monday, August 23, 2010

Taming the Wild Jungle

Dear Garden,

I'm sorry that it has been so long since we last spent time together. The last several months have felt completely out of control, very fun, but very busy. It's a poor excuse for being a bad friend, I know. You probably noticed that even though I told you that I’ve been out of town, I really have been around for at least half of the time. But during those times I was trying to make up for all the time that I was going to be, or had been, gone, so I really didn’t have the time to hang out.

I was filled with so much excitement earlier this summer. You were looking so beautiful. Your peonies and iris, your lilac and poppies, you were exquisite. But I lost control. Now you’re covered in some sort of spotty disease that has spread from your poppies, to your roses, to your lilacs and I don’t know what to do. I’ve been ignoring you because I can’t bear the thought of taking you apart, but that may have to happen. If I take you apart, will you come back next year?

And your vegetables. Yesterday I finally went down to your vegetable box. The little trellis I made for your peas, constructed of string and wood, was in shambles. How could I so terribly underestimate your potential? Instead of building something for your peas to climb and climb and climb I gave you something small and insufficient. I gave you something that caused your peas to snarl and grow into a giant lopsided mess, so lopsided that they have grabbed onto the rhubarb and pulled themselves back to the ground, a perfect slug interstate.

And the salad greens. Those greens that feed us a month of salads have all flowered. Have all been infiltrated by forget-me-nots and flax so that the whole box looks like an overgrown grave.

And the raspberries. The branches so heavy with fruit that they’ve slumped away from their stakes with half the fruit blackened and syrupy.

But the daylilies have bloomed. Those same daylilies that didn’t even send up one bud last year have this year erupted into maroon and gold trumpets.  And even though I have been so neglectful, so thoughtless, yesterday you were kind enough to give me a bowl full of peas, a bucket of still-plump raspberries, and the promise of Brussels sprouts after the first freeze.

I don’t deserve a friend like you, but thank you.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Gender and Literature

Diane Meier's article "Chick Lit? Women's Literature? Why Not Just...Literature?" was published today in the Huffington Post and provided an interesting first-hand account of some of the issues that come from being a woman who writes.

But my concern is larger, for the issue is insidious: the way Chick Lit has been used to denigrate a wide swath of novels about contemporary life that happen to be written by women.

If you think it's not affecting our work, not affecting what the publishers are handed, not affecting the legacy we leave for future generations, you're wrong. In The New York Times, the judges of the UK Orange Prize (for women novelists) bemoaned the grim and brutal content offered this year in the submitted manuscripts. Their conclusion: No serious woman writer wanted to be painted with the Women's Lit label, and issues contemporary and domestic, if not presented with violence, are apparently (to academics, to critics and to the general culture -- male and female, alike) seen to have less value.

Most telling, I think, are the attempted "corrections," as those who try to right the misunderstanding of Chick Lit labels on some of our books, slap on another label: "Women's Literature." As opposed to what, Literature?
Obviously this a question that probably crops up in the mind of every woman who writes.
Other intersting conversations and comments came out of my earlier post and the corresponding post on 49 Writers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Talking, Reading, Walking

      You may not believe it, but the characters in a play are supposed to be real people. They are supposed to do things for reasons of their own. If a man is going to commit the perfect crime, he must have a deep-rooted motivation for doing so.
      Crime is not an end in itself. Even those who commit crimes through madness have a reason. Why are they mad? What motivated their sadism, their lust, their hate? The reason behind the events are what interest us. The daily papers are full of reports of murder, arson, rape. After a while we are honestly nauseated with them. Why should we got to the theater if not to find out why they were done?
      A young girl murders her mother. Horrible. But why? What were the steps that lead to the murder? The more the dramatist reveals, the better the play. The more you can reveal of the environment, the physiology and the psychology the murderer, and his or her personal premise, the more successful you will be.
      Everything in existence is related to everything else. You can not treat any subject as though it were isolated from the rest of life.

                                                                       - The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri

On our trip up into the interior, Tim Lash and I had a lot of time to talk books. The craft book that he recommended the most was Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing. I’m only about forty pages in, but so far it’s been a good, thought-provoking read. It’s focused on playwriting, but is applicable to any narrative form.

With this book I started experimenting with a new way of reading: reading while walking. For the last week and a half I read while I walk between my house and work (10 minutes). This has added a full 40 minutes of reading to my day as I walk home for lunch as well.

The walk home with the mansion lurking.
The stretch of road I walk is one of the oldest streets in Juneau. It takes me past the Governor’s Mansion (yes, where Sarah used to pretend to live), past Cope Park, across Gold Creek, and home. It’s the main evacuation route for the downtown area if the highway is ever closed off by an accident, so it’s a bit wider than other streets and more cars drive it at higher speeds than they ought to.

The reading while walking is going well. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to focus on my reading, that the walking part of the equation would prove too heavy. Weirdly enough the opposite has been true. Two activities of such high focus are all my brain can handle and there is no space left for wandering thoughts. The only time I lose focus is if I start paying too much attention to how close I am to the edge of the sidewalk. I’ll spook myself into thinking that I’m about to fall off and I’ll miss-step, bring my foot down too hard with my knee locked and give myself a jolt.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Public Snooping

Every month I sit down and read my local Craigslist backlog of personal ads.  Craigslist is still catching on in Alaska, so it's not unreasonable to think that I have read every personal ad posted there in the last two years.  Although, I'll admit that I often skim the "men seeking men" section.  I have a limit on how many pictures of penis I can look at in one day.  If I find a really good post, I'll copy/paste it and save it for later.  For what?  I'm not sure.  So far I haven't used any.  An example:

Longing and wanting a wife and family - 49 (Valdez, AK)
Date: 2009-11-09, 11:06AM AKST
Reply To This Post

One of three pictures included in Longing's post.
Recently moved into the area.  Currently staying with church members until end of this Month.  I am Alaskan native master artist.  I have a cat and a dog.  Been married and dis-sollution.  My desires are to live a life through the bible's teaching with wife and family.  I have approval right for re-marriage according to the scriptures and blessing from the church.  Contact me by this numver that is forwarded to my cell one - eight - eight - eight - eight - five - eight - five - nine - nine - five or rebertcrumley at y a h o o dot c o m to chat.  The magpi bird had been rescued from a stray cat.  I had released it after it was healed from it's injuries.  Best Regards, Robert.
Location: Valdez, AK
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

This is a man that I will probably never know and most likely never meet.  I'll never get to ask some of the hundreds of questions that reading and re-reading his post bring up (How did this man end up posting on Craigslist?  Did he read about it online?  Or in a magazine?  Did his sister tell him about it?  Does he have a sister?  Who does he have?  Where did he get the 888 number?  Is this somehow a con?  What religion is he?  Where did the bird come from?  Does he often rescue stray birds?).

I am an unabashed lover of facebook for this same reason.  Yes, I love keeping in touch with friends far away, but more than that, I love having such access.  Both craigslists personals and facebook pages are forums in which the subject is constructing and controlling their own image, but you can still make inferences.  Pictures can say a lot.  I'm especially interested in people who have their "picture pose" down pat.  You know what I'm talking about, those people on facebook who have the exact same expression in every single photograph they take.  Or maybe two or three set faces.  

It must take practice, thought, and extreme self-awareness to achieve that level of control.  Who are the people behind those set faces? 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Buying Art

Andrea Nelson's Inside #85
I was completely shocked when Andrea opened the first box. It was a Simm's box labeled on the outside as containing hipwaders. Inside, she had glued small styrofoam squares in a circle on the floor of the cardboard. The styrofoam squares gently held in place a small gilded frame. Within the frame was a redheaded woodpecker, wings spread and pinned. The belly of the bird was full of tiny smooth riverstones and next to the bird's feet was a nail, from which a hung round brass tag stamped "085".

She lifted the frame out of the box, held the bird upright, as if hanging it on an invisible wall, and pulled the brass tag forward on the nail so that it shimmered in the foreground.

Andrea Nelson is a first-year non-fiction student in UAA's MFA program, and was one of the people I spent the most time with during our two week residency. We met three weeks ago in the Juneau airport while waiting for our flight to Anchorage.

When she mentioned her studio one night, I asked what she made. She said she made assemblage sort of pieces to hang on the wall, sometimes in boxes.

"Kind of like Joeseph Cornell?" I asked.

"Kind of."
Joseph Cornell's Untitled (The Hotel Eden)

This weekend I was in Haines (Andrea's town) for the Southeast Alaska State Fair and harranged Andrea into showing me her studio and some of her work. "Inside #85" was the first piece she pulled out, but she had a whole stack of similar boxes containing all sorts of other pieces, many featuring some kind of creature (bees, cockroaches, hummingbirds), all with the look of aged, ravaged, sadly hopeful beauty.

I kept looking back at the first box she'd pulled out. She had closed it back up and set it on the floor, but I found myself wanting to open it up again and pull out the bird. I wanted to see that bird full of stones every day.

Two days later I had convinced Andrea that I was serious about buying it and I carefully carried the box onto the Fairweather. Now I have the pleasure of figuring out where to hang it in my home and what company it will keep (maybe next to Trevor Gong's salmon fly that Andrew bought last year).

Remnants of the shock I felt when Andrea opened the first box are still with me. Not that I didn't think that Andrea was the kind of person to make beautiful art, but I hadn't actually thought about what she made. I also made some assumptions based on the fact that she lives in a town of 2,000 people in Southeast Alaska and the fact that the context I met her in had little to do with visual art. But the biggest part of it was how totally humble and unassuming she was, almost hesitant to show me what she makes - her pieces, stored in the opposite of christmas wrapping, recycled shoe and hipwader boxes, purely utilitarian. I was completely unprepared. Which made the surprise that much sweeter.

I'm a non-reading museum stroller.  I walk slowly glancing around until something catches my eye and then I stop, look, and read the tag.  I bought my first piece of art about five years ago, it was one of Rob Roys' paintings, something to make me stop and stare. I'm not sure there's any one thing that makes me stop at certain pieces, but I know that as a budding collector, that's what I want. I want a home full of art that I can sit and stare at over morning coffee.

Sit and stare and think or not think.