Monday, December 24, 2012

Imaginary Exhibits: Happy Holidays

No matter what your beliefs, winter is a time of cold and darkness*. Festivals of light in times of dark are good for the soul. So too is coming together, celebrating, saying prayers and thanks, thinking of renewal and new things sprouting up from the old, and making excuses to be generous, kind, and open-hearted...

May merriment pervade your darkest days and keep you warm through the cold, friends, the days of black branches and the nights of bitter ice (spiritual or physical, and quite often both).

May the universe heap blessings on your heads and fill your nights with lamp-like stars and starry lamps.

And yes, one day I will dedicate an exhibition to festivals of lights. I just need to finish this eggnog first...

*Unless you live in Australia, like a large percentage of my family. But the metaphor holds. Or at least we can pretend it holds, because it's the f!@&ing holidays and you should be nice to me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Museum Musings: Some Sentimental Claptrap

It's been an emotionally overwhelming week. "Fraught" is a good word. There's been a lot of horrible, senseless death, and I have been weeping over that, and the things we don't and can't talk about, about the fear and the anger and the frenzy, and gun control, already, and mental health and equations of masculinity with violence, and all of the dark, brutal, important, necessary conversations we need to be having, and and and. And I'm not going to use this blog as a platform to talk about those things. That's not what it's for.

I am going to use this blog to talk about the experience of joy in the face of tragedy and horror. That is what it's for.

There's this thing that happens to me when shit gets really dark. I want very much to make a point of sharing reminders that the world is not inherently and absolutely a bitter pit of suffering precisely at the moments when it most feels like maybe that's exactly what it is. I start to write about kindness, and beauty, and love. And I always hesitate. My vision gets blurry. And the smog before my eyes coalesces into words whose letters manage to convey withering, belittling scorn in the very essence of their italics. They say something like fuck that namby-pamby nicey-nice touchy-feely New Age sentimental claptrap.

I get embarrassed. (I blush easily.) My ears go hot. I wonder what kind of searing, screaming privilege enables me to think that I have any right to talk about how life is very nice really when there are millions of people suffering in ways I can't even imagine. I feel like a clueless idiot who has no idea how the world really works.

And then I post that shit anyway, because fuck that noise. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Museum Musings: Novel Snippets

This morning's work on my ongoing novel, A Fool For God, a book about the delicate balance between doubt and faith in the experience of wonder. I woke up thinking about the astonishing painter Remedios Varo, with whom Lilya has an as-yet-undetermined connection. I'm not sure yet how I feel about threading Varo into my book this way - she was a very real, very important woman and I don't want to steal her life. Maybe I can justify it as having a Borgesian moment -- maybe. I'm not including any of Varo's paintings in this post, firstly because none of them are out of copyright and secondly because I don't want to give away the references, but you should check out her brilliant, beautiful, wild paintings here and trust me that the photos I am using convey, at least some of the spirit or aura of her way of seeing the world.

Baths of Lady María de Padilla, Alcázar of Seville
By ivan m v (Baños de Doña María de Padilla)
[CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Outside the café it had grown dark, and the streetlamps left their bruised light all over the walls. The clouds were a dullness above. Lilya walked, and looked. Everything changes color after sundown. Green and blue vanish, and the world becomes iron colors, rust and dying lilac and dry bone. Sunlight is impossible to imagine in its absence. At night things become opaque. The transparency, the lucidity, the lightness of day becomes dreamlike, a figment. The streets were silent as she walked, and more dead than the moon. The mountains of the moon are austere and sublime; empty streets are not even lonely, but flat, solid. She saw herself from above: a labyrinth of narrow orange walls with no minotaur. Nothing at all, not even bones. People asleep in doorways. No myth there, no secret meaning. The world presented itself to her eye as impermeable.

She held herself alert to shadows and quick footsteps, vibrating with the gravitational sensitivity of women who walk alone – who disturbs my orbit? – and it left a black tea of resentment under her tongue. Without the threat, the constant complex sine and cosine of danger and her anger at the looming fear of danger, she thought she might see mysteries instead. She was watchful and furious at having to watch, secretly certain she was missing a hundred holy sigils hidden in the shadows. A fleet of jaunty bandits flying by in frock coats, turned by suspicion into a flutter of starlings. A shadow casting a man on the steps of the bank building. A woman feeding the moon through her window. The alchemical transmutation of the night she could not see because it is impossible to look for the hidden properties of matter and still stay safe in the dark.

She slammed the door of her house with some vehemence. Inside, she remembered she hadn’t done the dishes. The dim shapes of the walls bent down. For a brief flash before her eyes adjusted the rooms swam like twilight and the doorways showed the curved shapes of distant trees, and the leaves were blowing blew in to the warm lamplight like a cat crouching at her feet and dragonflies came from the cracks in the walls. Her eyes adjusted quite against her will, too quickly. The house was just her house, the furniture slumped and ordinary. She squinted, but she could not call it back, and the walls were almost mocking. After a moment her vision was so normal she found she couldn’t manage to imagine what she had even seen. She did the dishes, violently, and stared furiously out the window into the dark.

Double staircases in Grazer Burg, Styria, Austria
By (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
via Wikimedia Commons
Later she called George, but he wasn’t there. She hesitated after the beep and then hung up. She sat with the phone in her hand and thought idly about someone breaking into her house and murdering her, nothing left of her but that tremulous breath on the end of the line. She wondered if she could talk her way out of being murdered. She wondered if it would hurt. She was startled when raindrops struck the glass in front of her, but not unpleasantly. She threw the window open and the smell of wet pavement rose up to her, a stony, musky incense. She wondered what was closer to reality, murder or the smell of the rain.

It pattered briskly on the pavement; the night came alive outside her window. A light like wet oranges crept into the kitchen. All around she could feel the rain, surrounding the apartment like a silver and saffron veil. She sat and thought about bringing her easel into the kitchen. She didn’t want to move. After a while she reached out and lit a candle in the middle of the table. The rain hammered, and she imagined a wind coming in and whirling up the tablecloth, stirring up the dishes and the apples and pomegranates and sending them into orbit around the flame.

The phone rang under her hand; the rain crackled. It was George. She felt like singing down the line to him. He wanted to have dinner. She hung up and listened to the glad clamor of the air, and her heart leaped madly as a deer.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Imaginary Exhibits: Secret Stairways to the Sacred

At the top of the steps, a minotaur? A play? Remedios Varo?
By gutter (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
An unexpected stairwell is always an invitation. Better to go up than down. In the dream museum, there is always a hidden flight of steps. Half-lit, beckoning, a dim lamp of possibility hanging just beyond the turn. Curved pathways are good for mystery, but steps that disappear around a bend are better; there is more revelation in the ascent than the descent, and we are more prone to awe when we are looking up. To discover a hidden stair is a delight -- to suffer the delicate suffusion of curiosity and adventure, the possibility that the stairway is forbidden, or goes nowhere, to someone's house or to some boring offices, and the faint suppressed twinge of longing to be let, at last, to see behind the scenes. Not into the prop-room, or the straight-armed forest of the struts holding up the sets, but into the heart of the mysteries, the proof that places hold wonders behind their wooden masks. So this stair leads higher, always just bending out of sight, and at the end of it -- something you think perhaps you weren't supposed to see, and yet exists, of course, for you alone. A balcony over a ballroom where the elements waltz in their feathers of lead and gold; a tiny, shining garden with walls that drip and whisper; a white chapel with walls of chalk where you can hear your heartbeat echo and reverberate, an amplified, insistent thrumming; a mystic play enacted in a noble silence; a room that rains music; an altar to an unknown goddess. There is a delight half-sacred, half-profane at thinking you have glimpsed (at last!) the startled face of Mystery behind the fallen corner of a veil. Whatever happens, you must not come down by the same stair, but descend another way; and it will always be difficult to find the stair again, and sometimes you will not find it at all.

By Clemens PFEIFFER (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Better still are steps that thread not through the known quantity of a building, no matter how infolded, labyrinthine, or nested, but wind hidden into a hillside. A city is best, a city overlooking the sea even better. They will look like steps to someone's house, or a path to a back garden, because who would put a narrow stairway here, tracing the amber-beamed glimpses of diamond-paned kitchens, the shadowed patios sunk under the sunlight, the forgotten veins of knee-deep clover and eucalyptus? The stairs should be steep, and narrow, and only a little uneven underfoot; but the path they take will not be straight. Deer came here once, and Prospero's ghost after his exile stood knee-deep weeping in the morning glories. If you turn to look behind you there is only the green throat of foliage and the flung rooftops, or else, at night, the dark backs of the hillside and the lonely, lovely coronets of distant lamps. After the rain, the eucalyptus cracks underfoot and lets loose its pungent, bitter fragrance, a gray-green scent the color of your yearning to be in on the joke, to share with those steps some intimate and sacred secret that the dull people in the houses have never glimpsed or guessed. You will find no secret but the fierceness of the longing for a secret. They will take you nowhere, those steps, and you will come down with your heart full of a singing strangeness, having arrived always a moment too late to see the temple vanishing.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Museum Musings: Les Correspondances, Heavy on the Dance

Via Nijeholt at nl.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Via Wikimedia Commons
So I really like it when I discover radically deep affinities between supposedly unrelated things in unlikely places. I like 'em especially when they come in the form of slightly mystical connections - you know, intuitive and evocative relationships between sensory experiences and states of mind, which the poet Baudelaire called correspondances and wrote about so awesomely that he basically spawned an entire art movement all by himself. (Okay, not by himself. But Baudelaire is the reason I do pretty much everything I do - yes, really - so I like giving him sweeping credit for things whenever possible. Also, side note: I prefer the French to the English "correspondence," of course, because hey wait a minute the word dance was perfectly happy in there, ya know.) (And now, as usual, my parenthetical is eclipsing my actual paragraph. Le sigh.) The reason I want to blog about it is the fact that it's often the chimerical and unexpected relationships between supposedly unrelated things (or projects, or ideas) that leads to great and beautiful things falling into place. When looking for sources of joy, I'm hard-pressed to find anything so immediate and satisfying as the feeling of discovering these fine threads of connection, the way a spiderweb suddenly appears from apparent invisibility when you look from just the right perspective. Only, you know, the strands are your LIFE, or whatever.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Museum Musings: Joyful Activism

This is kind of what I imagine, except not all the Jubilee fairies
are pretty white ladies. Titania & Bottom, circa 1790,
by Henry Fuseli [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Although I've been working to focus this blog towards visions and inspirations for the Museum, occasionally I run into something so fabulously and uniquely related to joy that I just have to write about or feel I'm somehow failing in my mission. Today it is my pleasure to write about the Rolling Jubilee, a work of activism so brilliant, beautiful, and far-reaching that I get that kind of proud inflated feeling in my chest that is you might recognize if you've ever sung a national anthems in a large crowd or watched a male pigeons strut around trying to impress the ladies. No, but really. Snark aside, the Rolling Jubilee is amazing. So what's the deal? Just this: The Occupy movement has birthed a legion of sparkly fairies who go around magically forgiving people's debts. Yes. For actual. And while there may not be any real glitter involved, this phenomenal piece of activism is absolutely, solidly golden.

Here's what's up. A lot of people in this country have debt, right? Like a lot a lot. And banks do this shady thing where they sell your debt for pennies to people who then go after you for the full amount. Those people are involved in one of the more uniquely horrible professions in this country: their job is to hound you until you die or give them money. So Strike Debt, the folks behind the Rolling Jubilee, decided to do something astounding: they would become debt buyers. And then...

...they would forgive the debt completely. 

Just make it go away. They buy it from the bank, it belongs to them - and yes, they can simply make it vanish. Into thin air. And remember, the bank sells the debts for a fraction of their worth. Which means that the $368,428 that Rolling Jubilee has raised so far can forgive seven million, three hundred and forty-three thousand, three hundred and seventy-seven dollars of debt. Yes, that's right. That means you can buy a dollar of debt for around a nickel. Which means some pretty astonishing things....

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Let's Taste This Matisse

This painting was not in the "Taste For Modernism"
show that Naomi & I saw, but there was a Degas there,
and all the other interesting paintings I wanted to us are
still under copyright - including the Matisse that inspired
the headline. If you live in SF, go taste the show!
I studied art history somewhat extensively in my undergrad years, with a primary focus on the two wildly diverging categories of Symbolist art & poetry and revolutionary cinema/performance art. Which admittedly is kind of like saying I studied cooking and focused on Japanese sushi-making traditions and Azerbaijani cuisine, but whatever, I went to Hampshire. I got super into it, joyously into it, and yet, despite cutting off all my hair in a performance piece about subverting the expectations of the oppressing gaze and all the hours I spent writing analytical essays about the urban sublime in the paintings of Fernand Khnopff, I still secretly hated art museums. Classical art museums were boring; modern art museums were infuriating. (I still have a draft of a five-thousand-word two-part rant about Jeff Koons sitting around here somewhere, but I'll spare you the yelling and the aggravated caps locking.) Every now and again I'd stumble into an exhibit that was a total revelation, but for the most part I was bored stiff and/or angry at all times. Until, that is, this past Friday's excursion to the de Young with Naomi of Brush Fire Painting. Naomi, it turns out, had read my post about synesthesia, and it turned out she, too, is synesthetic - in fact, she has a form of it I envy greatly, color-taste synesthesia. For example, she informed me, my bright cobalt blue jacket tasted of mint.

An art museum, needless to say, is an extraordinary place to hang out in the company of someone whose perception of color so obviously and radically differs from your own. You've all probably had that one stoned moment where you and your habitual partner in drugged-out-revelations were all like wait, dude. What if the color you see as totally the color that I see as green? and then you were both all like whooaaa and then you both forgot about it because how could we even know, man and anyway, icccce creeeeeam. (No, really, I know this isn't just me. Come on.) Now, that's partly crazy because there's just no way to know for sure. So when someone comes along who definitely experiences colors differently from you - because she freakin' tastes them, man - it can make for a pretty radical moment. Or, at least, it did for me. Because, of course, I wanted right away to know what every color tastes like. And was it different seeing this painting of brightly colored gumballs than this abstract with blue blobs? What about charcoal sketches? What about the color of the walls?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Prismatic Windows

The Exploratorium's windows have prismatic treatments on them,
meaning that certain angles of light produce spectacular displays
of rainbow light all over the gray, industrial walls of the building.
I love my job at the Exploratorium with a degree of fervency approaching obsession. It remains incredible to me that somebody actually wants to pay me real money to hang out in the world's best science museum all day long. I work early hours, which suits me fine, since I'm that chipper morning-lover who drives everyone else crazy with my cheery ebullience in the wee hours of the dawn. This morning I was startled by something I'd never seen before: I walked into the cavernous darkness of the museum, maybe ten minutes early for my shift, and stopped short, bewildered, dazzled by the rainbows splashed across the walls. Gorgeous, rich, glowing rainbows. The grungy pipes and dusty beams were covered in them. Wires hummed with them. I've written before about the rather delightful darkness of the museum -- in fact the shadowy gloom is one of the things I will miss the most after our move to Pier 15 -- and it was just that darkness that made the sudden apparition of a glory of color so strange and wonderful. That, and the fact that I'd never seen it before. Not because I'd never noticed - it had simply never been there. I stood and stared. Five minutes later the brilliant colors were bleached and pale; ten minutes later they were completely gone.

What the heck just happened? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Kinesynesthesia

Check out this fabulous anatomical(ish) drawing of the eye
by Johannes Zahn from 1687! The closest thing I could really
find to illustrate the bizarre ways that synesthesia makes the
senses overlap. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Let's talk about synesthesia for a minute. I want to sketch out an idea, and it's going to need a wee bit of context to make sense (and even then, of course, it's anybody's guess how much the machinations of my brain translate to comprehensible reality.) Synesthesia is all of the awesome. It's a "neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway," according to Wikipedia, which means that when you have it, what you usually experience through one set of senses sometimes comes out simultaneously through another. The common example is people who perceive numbers as colors or colored, but you may recognize it as well from any exposure you've had to various forms of psychedelia, where under certain circumstances music may become color, color may become scent, and scent may become music, among other, weirder things. There's also ideasthesia, which is a word that attempts to identify more accurately what happens in certain experiences usually called synesthetic. As far as I can understand it,  synesthesia refers to a union of sensory experiences (for example, those who experience the color pink as tasting sweet, or "hear" the yellow of a lemon), while ideasthesia refers to an association of a concept with a sense (for example, those who experience the number five as red - which I do, as it happens.)

There are all sorts of ways to be ideasthetic or synesthetic, and many people have varying degrees of it. I have mild grapheme-color ideasthesia, which generally speaking refers to people who see letters, numbers and/or typographical symbols as vividly colored. I see some numerals very strongly: 3 is very green for me and 5 is very red, but 6 is a pretty washed-out yellow, 8 is a muddy dark blue, and 1 is sort of colorless; I see 4 as pink, but only barely. When I say I see it, I mean that when I think of a 3, it is always a green three; even if you present me with a 3 written in red pen, the concept of 3 is green to me. (My father started an experiment a long time ago where once a year he asked me & my sister to list the colors of the numbers 1 through 20. Mine have been the same every year; there is something inherently green about 3 to me. I can't see it any other way. Other people I have met with grapheme-color ideasthesia only occasionally share the same association, and we are always sort of aghast when we hear differing colors - the idea of a blue 3 is very upsetting in its wrongness to me, and a green 3 equally repulsive to them.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Museum Dreams: Mystical Math Manifestations

I've been spending a lot of time mildly awed by the natural world recently. Maybe it's living in the middle of a city that makes seeing the egret in the Palace lagoon every morning such a strange, dreamy experience: I walk out into the hard gray lines of the street and get out of the harsh glare of the bus and whoa, there's this dainty, gleaming creature in the dawn, feathers so mistily white that it looks out of focus even when it's right in front of me. Or perhaps it's being surrounded by all the strict geometry of an urban environment that makes me all swoony about naturally-occurring mathematical manifestations. Either way, I've been unusually struck by the mystical face of geometry in the last few days, and I started wandering around Wikimedia Commons looking for examples. The images I found were so startling and wonderful I couldn't help imagining exhibits arising from them - a delightful entanglement of art, math, science, and natural history. Here are a few of my favorites.

citrus cathedral

Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Exhibit Inspirations: Perplexing Perspectives

The Ambassadors, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533. Oil on oak.
Via Wikimedia Commons.
If you have taken any kind of art history class ever, you're probably familiar with the painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, done in 1533. It's the one with the anamorphic skull. You're either rolling your eyes at me (omigod not that fucking skull again) or staring at me in rank incomprehension, and that's cool, I dig. Okay, anamorphosis. It's a thing you can do so that a piece of art can only be seen in proper perspective from a specific point of view. The Ambassadors is the fantastically overused example of two rich dudes surrounded by All Their Stuff, except wait! there's this weird smeary thing! and when you stand in the right place, it's a grinning fucking skull! to remind you that we're all gonna die! - yes, even the rich dudes.  Talk about perspective: hey, so, don't forget, all your stuff is gonna be dust, guys. From the right point of view, we're all just skeletons waiting to happen.

Except anamorphosis is not always miserably depressing. In fact, sometimes it is extremely awesome. Used right, it can be a beautiful reminder that what you see is all dependent on your point of view, and shifting your stance can turn a mess into something magical. Plus, it's about science. Bam, science! I'm a really big fan of art that actively engages the brain and makes thoughtful use of the strange and marvelous ways that our eyes make sense of the world. It's fun and exciting and gives me that same thrill of discovery that Magic Eye pictures used to give me as a kid, even after the headache that inevitably came of staring at swarms of dots for hours on end. (Did I just go and spent half an hour on their website giving myself exactly the same headaches? Yes. Yes I did.) Except that with anamorphic art the level of artistry is usually pretty far above the leaping-pod-of-dolphins type of image that you find in the Magic Eye images (which are stereograms, not anamorphic images, so it's not their fault) and also? you can put them anywhere, little gems to be uncovered in a city street or cafe bathroom.

So today I have three examples of fabulous, inventive art that makes use of the unique and wonderful properties of light, vision, and perspective in their engineering. I find these pieces totally inspiring in their playfulness and weirdness, and so I have imagined them here together as the basis for an imaginary exhibit on the joys of perception...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Museum Dreams: The Great Books Room

Calligraphy on the walls of a monument
in the Qutb minar complex. Probably Alai
Gate, aka Alai Darwaza. When one sees a
building turned so throughly to text, it begs
the question: what is a book? Photo by
Shashwat Nagpal via Wikimedia Commons
In reading alone, the pages become translucent to me, pale as water. It is not like watching a film, nor do I feel surrounded by the story as if I was submerged within it; it is more like bending down to watch the gold flecks on the riverbed, the bodies of the fish alive and trembling under the bright surface. I see the surface and I don't see it; my eyes are focused underneath, underwater, to the fixed world over which the words flow flickering. I do not inhabit books as one inhabits houses. But still I'd to dwell for a while in a room all full of giant books, stars of eight-foot paper with their leaves fanned out like carousels, doors in their covers and their guts hollowed out into rooms of language. Books whose pages turn around you, a dizzying whirl of shifted scenarios and the rustle of invented life. Books whose covers open onto stairways carved in a spiral round the spine. Books opening like the wings of a suspension bridge on either side, angelic, enfolding. Books to get truly lost in - say, a dozen volumes connected by folded paper passageways that drop you, disoriented, into someone else's story. Books hallowed and hollowed like cathedrals. Poems clinging lichen-like, meandering like vines, drainspouts of sorrow and wonder. Favorite lines underscored with black pen fat as graffiti strokes. Notes taken in college become manifestoes on the walls, annotating, aggrandizing, letters large as your hand. Novels grave and sturdy as small houses, prayerbooks private as altars. Erotic books with pages of tracing paper to hide behind naked and leap out to surprise the beloved, wound with nothing but calligraphy like a black ribbon. You feel the walls of words with your palms, paper like stone, covers solemn as church doors. Here in the pages you hold yourself upright. On the other side of the page, an unknown reader looks down through the surface and sees you standing, small and alive between the lines.

Feasibility: closer to a narwhal than a unicorn.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Museum Dreams: The Imaginary Academy

Please note: this is the first in a new series of posts dedicated to imaginary museum exhibits. Because the new California Academy of Sciences is so radically different from the old, and because the old Academy is so radically imprinted into my brain, and because there is such a radical absence of images of the old exhibits on the internet, my memories of the original museum are essentially now one of an imaginary place. It seems like a good place to start.

A floor map of the old Academy. Things on this map that no longer
 exist: Fish Roundabout, North American Bird Hall, Astronomy Hall,
Botany Annex, North American Mammal Hall, Fossil Hall, Hall of
Man, Anthropology Hall, Mineral Hall. Not pictured: Life Through 
Time, the dinosaur exhibit that I remember more clearly than my
father's face. You can tour it & other extinct exhibits here.
by MetaGrrrl (AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved)

The first line of my favorite Philip Roth novel is "She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise." This is how I feel about the Academy. I can't remember the faces of my parents; I know my father had a beard but as far as I'm concerned it never happened. What happened was the slick backs of the dolphin statues, the weary fins of the fish swimming the endless blue spiral in the luminous twilight of the tank. What happened was Foucault's Pendulum like a brass moon larger than my body looming this way and that way in the dark. What happened were the jewelbox terrariums in the walls of a white room full of the sound of falling water and alligators private and quiet in their pit. What happened was the eery green hologram of a triceratops' skull and velociraptors leaping from the foliage. My first bad dreams were of museums gone wrong, black shadows in the halls and every beloved exhibit gone nightmare. I thought the museum belonged to me. There has never been a temple like it.

Eventually we went somewhere no longer in walking distance and I forgot about it for almost twenty years. I heard they closed it down to keep the earthquakes out. I began to dream of it again. I was three thousand miles away and I dreamed of the exhibits somewhere temporary, a brown hall with the touch tank alive with starfish in a light like old beer, packing crates, a prickling joy. I wanted to go home. I wanted to fall on my knees in the first temple. There are gods you can only speak to when you stand somewhere that was holy as a child.

When the museum reopened I stood in line with my heart shaking in my stomach. Under the new green roof was a white gape of space. The emptiness was shaped like velociraptors and jewelbox terrariums. An absence in the space of a spiral tank shedding twilight, a room full of bones, glass boxes of gems. The alligators squirmed in a pit made of windows, uneasy, their underbellies showing. The room scooped clean as an eggshell and the pendulum swinging from the roof like an embarrassed yolk. I ran my tongue over the museum and felt nothing but hollows where teeth used to be. If you set down a piano in that smiling void the jangling would ring out through the space and hang there humming. The architect's name is Renzo Piano. I want to set him down there with clumsy hands and jangle the whereabouts of my ikons out of him. He will stand there humming and ask me why I want such dusty old gods anyway. Look, he says, these ones are so clean, so modern, so bright.

Afterwards I ran frantically to another kind of emptiness, the internet, and searched with shaking hands for proof I hadn't made it up. There were so few pictures I was sure I had invented it, my memories recalled dreams, the rooms of Jurassic forest and the space-dark of the planetarium illusions, imaginary collections of moon rocks and bones. Maybe there had never been such a museum. I turned up page after page of photos of shiny new artificial rainforest, the same sole T Rex skeleton over and over. Renzo Piano, you made the dinosaurs extinct -- again. I am trembling as I write this. It is like being told you made up your mother. It is like coming home to your father with his arm around a woman that you've never seen, a room full of blank stares when you demand to see the woman who goes back inside you so far she comes out the other side and it turns out you were inside her in the first place. Where did she go, you plead, what have you done with my mother. But this one is so beautiful, says your father, what do you need to remember her for?

Renzo Piano stands reverberating in his luminous galleries. Under his feet are the ruins of the temple I imagined coming home to. An extinct museum. There will be no case for its fossil. I will not remember it in glass boxes. In my imagination it is still alive, extravagant and musty, shattered by the avoidance of a shattering. How safe it is now, where no earthquake can uproot it from my bones.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Approaching Hibernation

Dear friends,

You may have noticed I have been seriously slacking on the blog posts (and, for those of you that pay attention to such things, the blog reading as well - I have managed to keep up with precisely zero of my favorite blogs in the last two weeks.) This is because life has suddenly gotten rather full of, well, shiny new museum-related excitement, which is to say the new job I've landed at The Exploratorium. Yup, two months to the day after I started volunteering, they hired me. The hours are long and a little crazy and I am blissfully overwhelmed with the newness and the bigness of it all, and so I'm gently putting this blog down for a nap while I get acclimatized, learn my way around, and start to spend my free time doing something other than taking friends to the museum on my days off to play with electricity and giant bubbles or running around SF eating as much sushi/udon/thai food as I can hold. (It's good to be back in California.) Hopefully by the time I get back to it, I'll have a bit more of a shape for this site too - a little more form and direction beyond ZOMG I WANT A MUSEUM HERE LOOK A PRETTY THING. I'll miss you in the meanwhile, but I'll be back, I promise. Keep the internet warm for me.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Things In My Cabinet: Science, Art, and Giant Books

Gratuitous picture of the Palace of Fine Arts,
because I'm going to miss it so much.
It's been hard to keep up with this blog recently because, well, there's so much going on in the tangible world. I've been interviewing for jobs at the Exploratorium, which is the most awesome thing ever and totally means that I was right about how excellent volunteering there would be for my life in general. (Hint: volunteering does not, in fact, have to be an utterly altruistic act. Turns out nobody yells at you if you secretly have some totally selfish motives for showing up and being as helpful as possible to people who need it.) Needless to say, they have a really great freakin' website (it's won awards and everything, and is flashy without being obnoxious, and is full of SCIENCE) and I was bopping around on it, ostensibly doing job research but actually just clicking around all the shiny science experiment links, and I got totally stuck on the Tinkering Studio blog. Now, The Tinkering Studio is the coolest thing ever. Like, everything in the Exploratorium is cool, but the Tinkering Studio is EXTRA cool. They run this workshop in the back where they basically teach you how to do things like make magical masking tape art, paint with light, build circuit boards and Rube Goldberg machines, and other assorted low-tech experimental grooviness. (Check out all their activities here.)

I love them for two major reasons: one, because of their devotion to collaborative, hands-on project-building and art-making, exploration, and play; and two, because they, like me, freakin' love cardboard. They have all these amazing artists coming in to teach museum visitors easy ways to make awesome things out of junk, and many of those artists are obsessed with cardboard. One of them was MIT masters student Jie Qi, who has become this month's absolute inspiration for me - and once you see what she's making, you'll understand why.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday Fantasmagoria: Tomas Saraceno & Mira Nussbaum

Scene of a Fantasmagoria, 1885
Scene of a Fantasmagoria, 1885.
By Arthur Pougin [Public Domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
This week, instead of a What The F!#& Should I Read Friday, I'm trying a new feature: Friday Fantasmagoria, in which I introduce fantastical and inspiring works of art and/or artists I've recently discovered. Why fantasmagoria? Fantasmagorias were magic lantern shows in the late 18th/19th century that utilized all sorts of materials and projection methods to create spooky, supernatural effects. Although I don't intend to highlight ghost stories in this feature, I do want to choose works that include uncommon materials used to almost unbelievable results. I'll be choosing artists who use smoke, silk, paper, etc, twisted into truly fantastical forms that might just make you gasp or gape in disbelief. This week, I've got two artists, one famous, one relatively unknown: Tomás Saraceno and Mira Nussbaum. Both of them use fabric in their works to astounding, wonderful ends: Saraceno is his installation Poetic Cosmos of the Breath, among other works, and Nussbaum in her incredible Silk Stories, personalized paintings on silk.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The House That I Built

The building on Day Nine. This is the view from the east.
An opening window will be fitted into the gap you see;
a curved door will be made for the arched opening on
the other side. The ridgepoles will be fixed in place
and cobbed in, and a living roof will be built on top!

I used to kind of laugh behind my hand at people who say things like "omg I went to this ah-may-zing workshop and it totally changed my life omg" because, you know, I'm a big cynical skeptic for all I love writing and thinking about joy. Except now I can't laugh any more because, um omg I went to this amazing workshop and it totally changed my life omg.

Yeah. For real. Thanks, Sundog School of Natural Building.

This is what we saw on Day One. You're looking at the
southeast corner here, where the red bucket is above. A grand
total of 16 people worked on the building, although we never
had more than 10 or 11 present at any given time. Over half
of us had no building experience whatsoever. 
Many of you know that I recently returned from a nine-day natural building workshop. Yup, that was the lifechanger. We built a house. Out of mud. With our hands, and also our feet. It's a beautiful, snug, warm guest cottage for wwoofers at Roseman Creek Ranch. It's also a piece of art. We used no powertools during the entire construction, with the exception of a chainsaw to cut straw bales in half for one of the walls - a step that could have been skipped, as it happens. Oh, and we did screw the doorjambs into place with an electric drill. Four screws. That was it. The ridgepoles were stripped of their bark by hand. The gorgeous redwood mullion for the windows was chiseled into shape. Holes were made with a brace and bit. And there was no part of the construction process that I, a 5' 2" twenty-four-year old in only moderately decent shape, couldn't do myself.

That's right. I could now go out and build this house. Oh, I'd need some help - though not right away. Crazy though it sounds, most of what you see here I could, given the time, do all by myself.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: In The Penny Arcade

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird and Wonderful
In The Penny Arcade by Steven Millhauser

It's Friday, and I'm totally writing this on time! I mean, it's six in the evening and I'm half a strong gin and tonic in, but I will get this posted for your long weekend before the steak goes on the barbeque. (I don't care if there are Halloween decorations in the drugstore already, summer's not over until I can't eat grilled corn and large lumps of meat outdoors any more. Hell, it's still August.) Today I have a book for you that I only just discovered. It was given to me - as a gift! - by one of the guys from my absolute favorite local bookstore. (Joe Christiano is a truly stellar dude who runs some ultra spectacular literary and musical events in the East Bay.) I'm super glad I decided to feature this book for WTFSIRF because in doing so I learned an awesomely fun fact: the author, Steven Millhauser, wrote the short story that went on to become the movie The Illusionist. Which is seriously one of my favorite movies ever. Actually, there are two movies called The Illusionist, and they are somewhat different, but both are totally magical and you should go see them right now. Trailers will be featured at the end of the post! But before we get to them, of course, your five important questions must be answered:

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set?
5. Why the f!#& should I read it?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guest Blogging: Art to Inspire Joy

Check out their sweet logo!
Guess what, kids? While I'm busy writing up a post describing the totally wacky, beautiful, and mildly life-changing experience I had learning to build a house last week, the truly awesome Naomi Rifkin of Brush Fire Painting is featuring me as a guest blogger today! Brush Fire Painting Workshops bring art to marginalized youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. Talk about joy, seriously: they treat art as a tool for healing, expression, critical thinking, and self-esteem-building for kids who are often denied access to art programs. It's an honor to be featured on her blog. You can read the piece here, although really you should check out the whole darn website because it's so full of fabulous resources, ideas, and writing on the role of art in inspiring and changing lives. The best thing? I totally get to meet Naomi now that I'm back in the Bay, even though we encountered each other completely by chance on the internet. Whaddaya know, turns out the interwebz can be used for good and not just 4chan and flame wars about Mitt Romney's dog evil after all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Things in My Cabinet: A Manifesto

Emily O'Neill once quoted me as saying that every moment of joy in the face of oppression is an act of revolution; I will die believing that, and I don't know about you, brothers and sisters, but I think revolution's what we need right now, and bad. Every day it seems like some new horrific thing is happening in this country, rights being stripped away or simply refused, transfolk murders, police brutality, horrific shootings, wrongful imprisonment, the growing clarity with which we face the total submission of our government to the big money that could not care less about most of us. Some days just reading the news feels like swallowing spoonfuls of poison. Some days I just feel dark and full of despair. And on days like that, I need to remember what I'm doing here. So here they are, folks, the articles of the only revolution that I know.

Friday, August 24, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Self-Portrait As Ruth

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books To Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Self-Portrait As Ruth by Jasmine Donahaye
Salt Publishing, 2009

Fair disclosure: Jasmine Donahaye is my mother. Fortunately, she is a damn good poet, because it would be extremely awkward if she wasn't. You should f!#&ing read her book. Not because she's my mother, even though she is therefore obviously awesome. Because it's a really f!#&ing good book, and really f!#&ing relevant, and I feel kind of dopey that I didn't think of it for WTFSIRF before. It's a book of poetry, but it's not just poetry; it's a book about politics as well, and the difference between politics as they are seen on the news and politics as they are felt in the heart. Right now, we need books like this more than ever. I've written about it before, but not in depth. So, let me tell you then, the answers to your five questions...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some things not learned in school: mud, money, and making people put away their stupid phones

I am probably doing this right now! Unless you're reading it in
the future, in which case I'm done now. Photo: Mixing cob for an 
oven at the University of Washington. By Josh Larios via Flickr.
So although I am away from the internet right now making stuff out of mud, I was incredibly productive in the days before I left and actually managed to write posts in advance! I know this is true because here I am in the past, writing them, even though you're reading them in the future, except now it's the present. For you, I mean. (And presumably for me, wherever I am. Why isn't there a separate verb tense for this kind of crap?) Anyway, I thought I would entertain you briefly while I was away by explaining that my whole idea of volunteering at the Exploratorium (free education and possible job opportunities!) instead of getting a graduate degree in Museum Studies (totally expensive and not any guarantee of employment whatsoever!) is totally working. For example, today I learned something extremely and wildly important that I probably would not have learned about museums in my first month of school. Want to know what it is? Of course you do.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: The Wind in the Willows

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books To Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Cover of the first edition, from 1908
Note that it features Pan!

You've probably read The Wind in the Willows already, and if you haven't, you are seriously missing out. It's my choice this week for WTFSIRF for a couple of reasons. One, I love it. Yes, all the characters except the jailer's daughter are male; yes, it's essentially about the moneyed gentry of the Thames Valley and has some rather uncomfortable references to those poorer and less fortunate, complete with awkward lower-class accents and touching of caps; yes, it's another book written by a straight white dude. I'm sorry. It's just that Wind in the Willows is a book from my childhood that articulates a very particular and special feeling of comfort that has nothing to do with social roles or gender and everything to do with the feeling of being a small animal in a snug, beautiful hole - just like my favorite thing about the entire Lord of the Rings cycle is not the adventure but the hobbit-holes. Yes, I'll say it right now: the thing I love best in all of Tolkien is hobbit houses. 

And this is especially relevant this week, because this week's WTFSIRF is a little different. See, while you're reading this, I am en route to an unconnected building site in Northern California where I will be spending nine days learning, in essence, how to make a hobbit house.

Monday, August 13, 2012

So I Wrote This Book...

Totally fake cover. It'll do for now.
Yeah. I wrote this book. Really I did, and I've been basically away from the internetz except for looking for apartments all this past week while I finished it. Which is why there was no What The F!#& Should I Read Friday this week - really, I was editing. Honest. And this morning the 3rd full draft of the book was done. I felt a little wobbly. I mean, I wrote this book kind of by accident, and now it's a huge meaningful part of my life. I've been following lots of writing blogs, and book blogs, and meeting lots of writers, and people who love books, and I've encountered some fabulous people, but there's been this odd thing: I've never thought of myself as a writer. I've always loved books, I mean literally since before I have memories; I learned to read when I was three. But I've never written fiction for fun. Even when I was dreaming of jobs as a kid, while I was busy wanting to be a racehorse jockey (too poor for riding lessons), an architect (all the school sounded boring), and a paleontologist (still not sure why I gave that one up), writer was never on the list. I think I figured out pretty early that nobody would pay you for it? Or I just wasn't that interested? Oh, I started a number of novels, and I wrote some pretty piss-poor erotica, but it was only because I thought I ought to be able to write if I wanted, seeing as I knew all about books from reading them. Because, you know, that's the only thing that qualifies you to be a writer. Which is why I never got past chapter one of anything.

And then last NaNoWriMo came along. I had just started artist modeling seriously at that point, and even though I really wanted to love it (getting paid - well! - to stand around naked getting turned into art? Hell, yeah) I was bored out of my mind. I was literally counting seconds. You think you watched the clock in your high school biology class? Oh, no. You have no idea just how far time can slow down until you're holding perfectly still. It was the second or third three-hour session of an eight-session pose. I thought I might go, y'know, just mildly insane. And then I realized it was November 1st, day one of the challenge. My sister was doing it. My dad was doing it. Why not me?

By the end of that pose, I had a plotline. I went home and started writing. And a book fell out of me.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Things In My Cabinet: Sun and Dark

The Sunshine Blogger award. So...sunshiney.
I woke up this morning to a sky full of fog and two unexpected doses of intense sunshine in my inbox. First of all, the delightful A.F.E. Smith of Reflections of Reality nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger award. I have mixed feelings about these awards - they're sort of like chain emails, in that they kinda guilt-trip you into passing them along with the sense of "Well, at least somebody cares about me enough to pass it on, I'm not alone in the world, better make sure I send it to everyone I know!" And then, too, they don't tend to have much in the way of meaningful content (what's your favorite place to vacation? what's your favorite Christmas movie?) That being said, though, this kind of casual blog award is a sweet, unexpected indicator that hey, whoa, somebody out there is actually reading your blog! And likes it! And wants to share it! Which is lovely. And this one is, well, unusually topical.

See, I've been having a rough few weeks. Moving across the country has been much harder than I expected. I left behind a beautiful house full of art that I'd made, a wonderful partner, and a community of kind, creative people to come back to the Bay Area, because despite everything I'd made for myself in Massachusetts I knew it wasn't the right place for me, and I was homesick for fresh fruit and the smell of the jasmine and blue days full of sunlight that weren't soul-witheringly humid. And I thought that here would be the best place to seriously get to work on the Museum of Joy. I'd volunteer at the Exploratorium and learn a million things about how to make and run an amazing museum. I'd have contacts here, and family, a safety net. It would be a hard change, sure, but the right one! I didn't expect to find myself, a month out, walking around on the brink of weeping all the damn time. I didn't expect to find myself swamped so deeply in self-doubt that I'd actually consider moving back to the East Coast. I didn't expect to miss Kevin so viciously. I thought I'd be doing a splendid, adventurous thing, and it doesn't feel that way.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Book To Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon by Pablo Neruda, trans. Stephen Mitchell

Good morning, wonderful people! I've been in a bit of a blue funk the last few days, so I tried to pick something really extra glorious for this week's read. This collection of poems is as much a cure for discontent and despair as a slug of whiskey, and much, much better for your liver. I mean, even the cover is a joy to look at - designed by one David Bullen, featuring Paul Gaugin's painting Woman With Mango. I don't know about you folks, but I find mangoes to be potent bearers of joy. Eating a good mango is like eating a particularly juicy golden sun, especially on a  dreary morning. It's kind of a dreary morning, and this whole collection is my mango for the day. So...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

This Inquiry Into The Nature Of Joy Is Totally Scientific I Swear

This is the four-mile trail from Sky Camp to
the beach, a hike we refer to as The Death
March - it's even more lovely than it looks.
I want you to talk to me about joy.

I'm not much for "please comment!" or "please share!" but this post is a little different. You see, I'm doing research, and I need your help. I need to know:

What brings you joy?

I've just come down from four days in the shocking beauty that is the Point Reyes National Seashore, and while I was up there, wandering around in the glorious sunlight (watching baby quails fluffing themselves in the dust, ospreys diving for fish, hummingbirds in the sticky monkey flower, bunnies hopping, fawns with big ears staring at me through the underbrush...what joy) I did some thinking. (Like you do when you've finished the only book you've backpacked up with you and there are about eleven hours of daylight left to ponder in.) And one of the things I thought about was - okay, so this Museum of mine. You know, it's really time to get started on that. And I know what I think about joy, but really? I don't know what everyone else thinks. But if I want to really start laying the foundation of a museum dedicated to joyousness, I'm going to need to learn a lot more about joy. So, ladies and germs, it's time to do a survey. It's TOTALLY SCIENTIFIC AND STUFF! by which I mean it's not, even a little bit. It is, however, very simple.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Fear not, children. No soap is involved.
Unfortunately, neither are Brad Pitt's abs.
I'm not winning at internet communication this week. I totally failed to put up a WTFSIRF yesterday, I missed most of the #PtBiB drinkalong, and now I'm trying to talk myself out of continuing a nasty exchange of Facebook remarks with a racist jerkface on a friend's wall by posting about something wonderful. To wit, WRiTE CLUB 2012! The brainchild of the splendid & generous DL Hammons, WRiTE CLUB is a super-simple, super-awesome, unusually fun & interactive writing competition for folks who are interested in getting their work out in front of some thoughtful readers and possibly some agents, editors, and ultra-friendly-and-helpful published authors. It's so easy that you have no excuse not to join in. You submit an anonymous 500-word sample, any style, any genre (including poetry, kids!), self-contained or a selection from a work in progress. Then, staring July 30th, every week for 12 weeks (and possibly twice a week, sez DL, because lots of people are participating!) two submissions will be picked at random and go head to head (hence, you know, the title reference) with people voting for their favorite selection in the comments. Winners advance to a "playoff" round that starts in October.

Eep, public voting? Ack! Halp! Horror! Except, um, not actually. You've got to register to vote (and while we're at it, November's not very far away, kids, know the laws in your district and come to the polls registered and prepared if there are ID requirements!! which there aren't here, hooray) and I can say from experience that the readers & writers in DL's circle are kind souls and not horrible flamers. (Unlike me. Today I was a horrible flamer. I gave in to temptation. I should not have done it, because it was not constructive and I knew it wouldn't be constructive. It's just, when somebody tries to use "science" to justify their deeply racist statements, I can't back off. Because, you know, I'm Jewish, and that shit don't fly after the Holocaust, son. Or actually ever. Ever.) So, anyway, I think they are lovely people, and I'm not utterly terrified to put 500 words of my work up in front of them. Especially anonymously. Because submitting is hard and scary and this is just about the nicest way I can think of to do it. As DL says,

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Putting the Active Back in Interactive: Why the Exploratorium Continues to Win at Everything

The shiny new home of the Exploratorium in 2013!
In my eyes, anyway. Some subjectivity may follow.

So, as some of you know, I have recently returned to the SF Bay Area after many years in Massachusetts. There were a number of reasons for my return, not the least of which was that I become vicious and cruel when the relative humidity hits 50% my awesomeness has a tendency to wilt in humid weather, and spending the summer in MA is kinda like trying to live normally while wrapped in hot wet blankets. (Yeah, yeah, I know, there are worse places, but I'M STILL ALLOWED TO COMPLAIN because, see, I moved away.) But I also came back to the Bay to, well, start work on the Museum. See, since I currently know approximately nothing whatsoever about the actualities of running a museum, I figured now would be a good time to learn. And one of the greatest museums in the world is right here in San Francisco. My dad worked there when he was 22. I've been going there since before my 2nd birthday. Man, the first nightmare I can ever remember having was set there. (That might not sound like praise, but it is -- it got WAY into my head, yo. I was all alone and it was dark and the exhibits were looking at me. This is no longer a scary thought.) Yes, I've talked about it before -- this is the Exploratorium, guys,


and maybe just the best museum, full stop.

Friday, July 20, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Indian Tales

What the F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Aw man, you guys, this is a special one. I'm sorry it's so late in the day. I suck at posting in a timely manner. It's already totally Saturday if you're on the East Coast, and I even managed to not tell you that I have a guest post up at Tossing It Out today! Arlee, who runs Tossing It Out and several other swell blogs, not to mention being a major host of the A-Z Challenge, decided he wanted some of his readers to hijack his blog for a month or two, and the result has been some super-awesome posts. I am very honored to be a recipient of such generosity, because Arlee is sharing his hard-earned and extremely kind-hearted audience and it's a pleasure to put my work in front of them.

So this book! This book is so wonderful. It's also very weird if you come from traditional Western culture and you think children's stories are supposed to have princes in them. William Carlos Williams called Jaime De Angulo, who wrote this book, "one of the most outstanding authors I have ever encountered," and that's, um, no small peanuts in the praise department, guys. It's kind of a poem and kind of a folktale and kind of a...well...maybe you have a few questions?

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set?
5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 

Friday, July 13, 2012

What The F!#& Should I Read Friday: Bonesheperds

What the F!#& Should I Read Friday: Books to Make Your Weekend Weird & Wonderful

Bonesheperds by Patrick Rosal

Today, my fanciful friends, today I've got poetry for you. No, don't run away! If you don't like poetry, I think you should keep reading just for a minute. I know, I know, we poem-lovers always say this: trust me, you'll like this one, the same way that people who like Brussels sprouts are forever trying to convince those of us who utterly loathe them that it's just because you haven't had their delicious recipe yet - which infallibly turns out to taste like, well, everything we loathe about Brussels sprouts, quelle surprise.

Except once I actually did have Brussels sprouts I liked so much I asked for seconds. No, really! IT TOTALLY HAPPENED. And thus I entreat you to believe that it is possible that there are poems in the universe that you might really like even if you usually hate poems, because miracles are possible! Really! Especially when you pick up a book like this one, which, oh man, might kinda blow your mind. Maybe you're unconvinced? Maybe you think you know what poetry's like and you doubt its ability to kick you in the gut? (Maybe I shouldn't assume you hate poetry. But just in case...) Listen, let me just quote you an interview Patrick Rosal did last month for Lantern Review, in which he talks a lot about poetry's relationship to music. "Music is not loyal to certainty," he says. "When it works, it follows surprise." I invite you, dear reader, to be surprised, and thus, without further ado...

1. Who the f!#& wrote this book?
2. What the f!#& is it about?
3. Where the f!#& should I read this book?
4. When the f!#& is it set? 
5. Why the f!#& should I read it? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Things in My Cabinet: Magical Realism is Actually Just Realism

Here is the Lady K. That top window? is part of a GIANT
USED BOOKSTORE. Also, the cafe is named after a
LADY PIRATE. And they serve BEER. It is all of
the awesome. Via Lauren C. on Yelp.
Just before I left Western Mass, I was in my most favoritest cafe, just, y'know, failing to read The Fellowship of the Ring because I was flirting with the barista (who happens to be my boyfriend, which is great, because he flirts back like he means it) and a guy I know sat down next to me with a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I mentioned I had recently reread it after trying it and completely failing to like it at the age of 16 or so, when I couldn't keep all the Arcadios and Aurelianos apart (I still can't, but now I suspect I'm not really supposed to, plus I found the family tree in the front of the book this time and bookmarked it, son) and had come away this time liking it okay. Which makes me feel wildly guilty, because it is Great Literature and all that, and a book snob like me is supposed to think it's the greatest thing since paperbacks! But...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

We Interrupt Your Scheduled Programming... announce that there will be no What The F!#& Should I Read Friday this week because tomorrow I will be on a plane and not Writing About Books as I would prefer to be. But Jericha, I hear you say, you could just write the post RIGHT NOW and SCHEDULE it for tomorrow! Well yes, technically, but I am typing this in a tiny hippie cafe in the middle of nowhere, Vermont, population 83, and I'm about to go hike up a mountain to say goodbye to New England in properly dramatic form and therefore feel excused from doing anything that might be considered productive today. So instead I'm going to give you a slice of one of the world's greatest and weirdest movies to check out, and you'll just have to be happy with that. Did you know Dr Seuss wrote a movie? Because he totally did, and it's about a evil piano teacher and it scared the holy bajeezus out of me when I was about four and it is ALL OF THE AWESOME. Also, weird but true? The kid in this movie? I was way close to his grandson back in high school and had NO IDEA until one random day when I mentioned the movie and said grandson was like "oh yeah, that was my grandpa." Which remains, in my mind, utterly fabulous and interesting although it's probably more like me saying "guys guys guess what I totally listened to that one song before it was famous!" whereupon everybody gives a total absence of flying f!#&s. Regardless, this movie is AH MAY ZING and also it is a musical. So here it is. go find the whole thing because it is EVEN BETTER and weirder and more Seussian. I will write to you again from the other side of the country!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Things In My Cabinet: This Land Is My Land

Look at that adorable kid. Via Brand New Traveler's Eyes
This past Thursday morning I did something I have never done before. I wore a burqa. It was a full burqa, handmade and hand-embroidered, a beautiful deep midnight blue color. The woman who was drawing me found it in a vintage shop in Pittsfield; she asked me to wear it as part of a series she is doing on transparency and opacity, on the complex veils we drop between public and private. (She's also doing a nun, a Virgin Mary, etc etc...) She told me bluntly that the burqa itself, just as a garment sitting on a dressmaker's dummy in her studio, really deeply unsettled her, and she wanted to come face to face with that. She explained that she'd originally thought of asking a Muslim woman of her acquaintance to model it, but her friend isn't at home in a burqa any more than I am, and in the end she asked me because - well, I guess because I went to Hampshire College and learned about feminist discourse and othering and the subaltern and all that, and also, maybe, because she knows I'm a bellydancer and there's nothing I love more than beautiful drapey blue satin. Even in a more, hmmm, challenging context.

So, okay. I'm going to say a slightly shouty thing. Here it is: America is a pretty good country in a lot of ways. It is not, however THE BEST COUNTRY EVAAAAR, and it does not have a particular moral monopoly on righteousness. But you could be easily fooled on that one. Google the word "burqa" and most of what you'll get is a bunch of Americans doing the one-note scream about OPPRESSION ZOMG. In the past, I've figured that this is because Americans like it when other countries are less than awesome, because then they can feel really good about themselves and America and whatnot and continue to believe that All We Do Is Win, etc. But now I'm thinking that maybe that? is actually a simplistic view of a simplistic view. Because, well, things looked a little different from under the burqa...
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