Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lynda Barry and fantasy

Art by Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry quote, one of many at Brainy Quotes:

"There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way that crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight. And when these two come together you get a fairytale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it.
"I believe there is something in these old stories that does what singing does to words. They have transformational capabilities, in the way melody can transform mood.
"They can’t transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don’t create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable."

Lynda Barry in WHAT IT IS

Well of course we create a fantasy world to be able to stay.  I've said it here before and will surely say it again:  Lynda Barry is one of the masters of the universe.   Someday I need to make a comprehensive list.

A phrase came to me not long ago that describes why so many of the things on my imaginary list remain undone, why it may take me days to respond to email, why deadlines are unmet, all the whys of what would appear to be avoidance or neglect.  I wander off.  I leave this place and go somewhere else.  Yes, I am lured by shiny things, or more accurately by beautiful things, optimistically resonant ideas, those elements which still and soothe and act as industrial strength Spackle for all the cracks and divots in ordinary life.  Beauty may be used as a distraction but it has a strongly medicinal purpose, the tonic for what ails us.  What a sweet job that would be, selling it by the bottle from the too-gaudy wagon drawn by a wearied horse, glad to stop for water and feed in another frontier town, hoping with horse-hope that a swift departure will not be necessary.  Today let there be satisfied, paying customers.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Mysterious Stranger

In my mind's eye, this is a version of me, Marylinn's Giant Book of Manifestation under my arm, sly glances about the street, off to make all my wishes real.
Illustrator:  N. C. Wyeth,
July 1916, from Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. "On the fourth day comes the astrologer from his crumbling old tower."

With an infinite capacity for self-delusion or, in less abrasive terms, self-confusion, we (by which I mean I) believe it is not only my assignment to figure it all out, but that it is within the realm of the possible, ignoring all natural laws to the contrary. Townes Van Zandt knows this territory well.

The longer I keep my passport current for this galactic voyage, the greater my awareness that I have one choice if I am  to be anything other than in opposition with my own life.  That choice is surrender.   That this is true for me does not assure me it is true for you as well, but signs point to yes.  Surrender is letting go, so different than giving up.  Surrender is acknowledging that there is an answer but that it hasn't shown up yet.  No amount of effort or intellect, will or desire can change that.  Last night I dreamed I was explaining to a child, impatient for some happy outcome, that things take a long time.  A very long time.  I felt myself as both characters, asking and receiving the unwelcome response, breaking the not-really-bad news, making smoothing motions with my hands to show how it does, eventually and miraculously, come level.

My art for today will be something yet unknown.  It will not be the magical lettering for the cover of my Giant Book of Manifestation.  It may be performance art: a rubber band around my wrist to remind me to snap out of it.  We are not intended to sink into our dreams but to soar along side, carry them under our flared and fraying sleeves, not the book of wishes asking them to come, please.  Soon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Kurt Vonnegut and the shape of a story

I am doing the internet equivalent of the old-fashioned writer's  dawdle of sharpening pencils.  I am finding writerish things via Google and YouTube. Because both of these videos made me laugh out loud and think that pencil-sharpening time is about over, here they are.  Kurt Vonnegut, whom we can also thank for this:
1. "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"The actual advice here is technically a quote from Kurt Vonnegut's "good uncle" Alex, but Vonnegut was nice enough to pass it on at speeches and in A Man Without A Country. Though he was sometimes derided as too gloomy and cynical, Vonnegut's most resonant messages have always been hopeful in the face of almost-certain doom. And his best advice seems almost ridiculously simple: Give your own happiness a bit of brainspace.

Too many days spent too tightly ensnared in our own company or even more alarmingly, our own thoughts, may drive us to distraction.  I am trying to get back on track.  Being reminded that others are out there in one-man gliders, hoping to catch the necessary thermals and ridge lifts to carry them a safe and predictable distance helps.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Lipstick, in the abstract

How fortunate, that I don't need to explain how this, red-red lipstick, became the subject of a post.  It just did.  It may be traced to the previous entry about resonating and remaining, for it has a home there and has started calling to me, now that there are those lines, radiating downward from my lips, into which red-red lipstick could slither.  I could go through my days in the world looking like the winner of a cherry pie eating contest.  Among the things I know, people will think what they will and attempts at imagined propriety have never been able to disguise the otherness I've always felt.  Let the lipstick slither.

Here is some history of lipstick, the true, very red variety in particular.

"Dark red was one of the most popular shades throughout the 19th and 20th century. Dark red lipstick was popular in the 1920s. Flappers wore lipstick to symbolize their independence."

I believe the quote below supports my fuzzy notion that there is something powerfully feminist, certainly, as I interpret it, fear producing about red lipstick.  (Getting the font sizes to match is beyond me.)

"In the mid 1940s, several teen books and magazines stressed that men prefer a natural look over a made up look." 

"Throughout most of the 19th century the obvious use of cosmetics was not considered acceptable in Britain for respectable women, and it was associated with marginalized groups such as actresses and prostitutes. It was considered brazen and uncouth to wear makeup.
"Lip colouring started to gain some popularity in 16th century England. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I bright red lips and a stark white face became fashionable.[5] By that time, lipstick was made from a blend of beeswax and red stains from plants. Only upper class women and male actors wore makeup."

Actress Jane Russell, at age 87 or near to it.  Red and no feathering.
It may be about power, the sort that can come with cronehood. It feels primitive, it feels like reclaiming at least a portion of what was lost. As with the previous post, there seems to be more here than I have yet found the words to express. I have never owned a red-red lipstick, in the last few decades have defaulted to a sort of mauve shade, more seemly for a woman of a certain age. Seemly is laughably over-rated.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What resonates and remains

In a fit of silly curiosity, I asked Google, "What makes On Green Dolphin Street a jazz standard?  I found myself here.  When you click on the Songs link, you'll discover it is ranked #25.  Click there and be taken to learn all you may ever have wanted to know about the song, the movie in which it was first heard and so much more.  I don't read music, play an instrument, compose or really know what makes a composition endure and I think the water was too deep for me.  Too much information (for me), however, takes nothing away from the tune or this interpretation of it.

A rhetorical question, asking myself for an opinion:  what gives anything - creative work, toy, lipstick color, fragrance, any object, the ability to endure?  The short and simple answer, the very personal answer, is we love what we love.  Books we never want to see go out of print - and hunt them down if they do, easier than it used to be.  The same for a favorite pen or brand and color of socks or frozen chicken pie.  Claim Jumper still markets its frozen dessert pies but the chicken pie has faded into memory.  Which is more about preference and not about timelessness.  My son discovered that the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens are both available for free downloading.  I have spent a lifetime rereading Dickens and, happily, forget some of the plot points so it all stays fresh.  The characters, the names, the writing.  What a bonanza.

I was thinking this week, apropos of a conversation with a friend about turning to favorite childhood books for the wisdom and friendship they offered, of reading some of the Oz books I never got around to and going back to those I did read.  I thought of all that passes through our lives, how much of it resonates and remains, how we are, at least in part, formed by the way we ingest and process it, convert it to material for the building of a self.  These are early, scarcely explored musings, just the beginnings of seeing each of us as an amalgam of all things.  A reminder to choose carefully that to which we give our time and attention.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


A quick mash note to wonderfully restored black and white movies from the 1950s.  My son had selected a Netflix download for us, based on a guide to film noir (see below).   Called "The House on Telegraph Hill," as he read me the description the writer admitted it was, perhaps, more gothic than noir. It qualified as noir for its vintage - 1951, the urban setting - San Francisco, and general noirishness.

It is more gothic, in the very best sense, having elements in common with "Gaslight" and "Rebecca" and the house of the title is a character in itself. Gothic, indeed.

I am easily enthralled by period location shots of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York - noir's meat and potatoes.  Rooming houses on LA's Bunker Hill, department store Christmas windows, lots of Chinatown streets found their way into the story lines and onto the screen.  One film we watched, "The Lineup" upon which the tv series was based, showed San Francisco's not-yet-demolished Sutro Baths, converted to a skating rink and arcade with carnival-type games.  Having only seen its ruins in "Harold and Maud," I had no idea that amazing destination was still standing in the 1950s.
Sutro Baths background information here.

For other fans of the genre, our guidebook is called "Film Noir An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style," edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.


Apropos of absolutely nothing other than the Netflix connection, we've been re-watching "The West Wing," the earlier seasons when Aaron Sorkin was still at the helm.  A few nights ago was one of my favorite episodes, the finale for season 2, called Two Cathedrals.  It has, I will argue, the best use ever of a Dire Straits song in a television series, and that includes use of the same music in "Miami Vice."  President Bartlett in the rain with all his President's men falling into step behind him, facing the press and a baffled, betrayed American public, that's some good television and inspired bit of soundtrack.  A hopeless fan of the medium and happier for it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

There are places I remember: Memoir

I believe our paths are illuminated, our loneliness diminished by learning more about the lives of others.  The ways in which they see themselves, inhabit their experiences help push open some of the doors to self-awareness.  What we learn, through their sharing or exploring our own histories may not be what we sought.  Truth can be a world-class ass kicker.

At their just-launched site, Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie, Susan T. Landry and Melissa Shook present a Cineramic look at memoir, all the angles, from self-portraits, interviews, discussion of books, submissions. 

Here is an excerpt of Melissa Shook's interview with Patt Blue regarding Patt's memoir, LIVING ON A DREAM: A MARRIAGE TALE:

MS: When I read the interviews that you made with your mother in Living on a Dream: A Marriage Tale, I thought of the hundreds of thousands of women, over many centuries, on different continents, those who have lived in similar bondage through the edicts of their cultures and religions, through lack of education and opportunities. I imagine that many were as lonely as your mother, but also that others fit into more cohesive societies in which women shared companionably in their rather confined lives.
Certainly we now know how many women don’t leave abusive situations, even though the rage, physical and sexual abuse, alcoholism or gambling addiction that their children are witnessing will affect them for the rest of their lives.
On one level, I’m actually envious that your mother told you such details, difficult as they must have been to listen to, of her life with your father. I’ve always had the sense that something difficult happened between my parents before my mother died, but I never learned any details to help me understand what tensions they had. 
On a different level, I was applauding you for the bravery of recording those interviews, but wanting to scream, “Get the hell out of there, now. Save yourself.”
PB: I was on a quest for truth. I wanted to know why a woman stays with the abuser. I hoped to transcend the personal darkness of the past by creating a book. As a photographer I was just doing what I loved to do. I was looking for my next project and was seeing with new eyes where I wanted to go by combining writing and photography. I saw my own family story as an important American tragic drama of universal proportions. I also thought emotional abuse was just as devastating and destructive as physical abuse but wasn’t talked about much so I wanted to bring awareness to it.
Knowing the sordid details changed me. Doing the work had emotional consequences that were certainly not anticipated. I had not considered that writing about my family trauma might not be the catalyst that everyone assumes it will be. The personal memoir is a Pandora’s box; it was for me. Suddenly I was faced with the hard cold unforgiving facts and not my made-up stories or fragmented memories. It had to come, but whether to make it public remains a question each memoirist has to reckon with.

At the site you will find recommended memoirs, favorite bookstores and suggestions for self-publishing.  Participating in "Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie" has been facilitated with a Submissions form.   This is a place to learn through absorption, a pool in which we may dunk ourselves and emerge to find ordinary life more complex but possibly less baffling than it once seemed.   Susan, Melissa, their interviews and contributors subtly reveal the infinite ways in which we are knitted together, in differences and similarities.  This is a place of wisdom, exemplified,  as Susan states it, by "...writing about true things in a true way."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Keep swimming

Ken Lee, thank you for the sky I couldn't capture.

Having just (recently) gone on and on about Los Angeles and its irregular cold, mentioning the wintery sky, etc., etc., the sun set last night in blazing stripes that suggested paradise, right here at home.  Unable to leap out and snap my own photo, the art I found on-line is an exact color match.

Every day, possibly every moment if I thought quickly enough, I could find reminders of why, in spite of how relentlessly it labors, despair does not win.  Because there are poets, because roses bloom, because my son assures me he would know if I had been turned into a pod person overnight and would run, were that the case.

Because the contents of Frida Kahlo's undiscovered closet are considered art and a window into her unique being.

Because Tom Waits says the clouds are like headlines on a new front page sky. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Warming up

Artist: Jessie Wilcox Smith
In a much younger life, the thin and faded light of winter suited me.  I was not troubled by the cold, not that there was much to contend with in Southern California, at least not by standards set elsewhere.  A winter birthday, chances for rain and indoor days with a stack of Nancy Drew books or the materials to make Valentines brought me and the season together.  We had harmony.   My affection for shrinking daylight hours began around Halloween.  Even though after-school time was spent raking, raking, sweeping and raking, I communed with the bright leaves and the dimming sky.

Now I shiver as though my limbs would shatter if we dip below 40 degrees, and sometimes at higher temperatures.  I have lost all tolerance for any sort of cold, here in our uninsulated - isn't it always warm? - home.  My necessary layers allow me even less graceful movement than my usual cautious lurching; I am the child from film and fiction, sausaged and immobilized in a snowsuit.  Indoors.

With normal/average mobility, I could dance myself warm.  Or vacuum, dust, rearrange, sort or, dread, exercise.  The parts that move unwillingly when things are mild, balmy, become all the more reluctant when shivering.  I do not imagine it, the stiffening of knees and ankles when the weather map shows an encroaching front of low pressure.  We, our bodies and all other aspects of self, are one continually unfolding mystery.  Adaptive living is the assignment.  We learn to adjust, improvise, invent.

Today, in my imagination as in my dreams where I still move fluidly and stand without yelping, this would be my tempo.  To those of you in chilly climes, stay warm and grateful for appendages that flex and function.  I am grateful for what I am able to do.  But I sure would rather be dancing up a sweat.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The quality of being both, at the same time

duality [djuːˈælɪtɪ]
n pl -ties
1. the state or quality of being two or in two parts; dichotomy
2. (Physics / General Physics) Physics the principle that a wave-particle duality exists in microphysics in which wave theory and corpuscular theory are complementary. The propagation of electromagnetic radiation is analysed using wave theory but its interaction with matter is described in terms of photons. The condition of particles such as electrons, neutrons, and atoms is described in terms of de Broglie waves
3. (Mathematics) Geometry the interchangeability of the roles of the point and the plane in statements and theorems in projective geometry
Items 2 and 3 are beyond - let's say for now - my ability to process.  Item 1 seems to be the plinth from which my life rises.  When I wonder at my fatigue, I need to remember how much energy it takes to maintain balance.

It is too soon to know much beyond the fact that duality not only exists but has hired the caterers, picked the music and arranged the lighting.  I show up and hope I can find my place card.

This is not a new theme.  It has been shouting at me in its outdoor voice, growing more and more insistent, inescapable, for at least six months.  I hope the condition becomes less dizzying over time.  I more than half suspect this is the natural order of things.  It gets so little press because - then what?  

As my friend Patricia once said, "Hang on to your sunsuit straps."  We are in unknown territory.