Archive for Arts

“One to a customer.”

At Mercer Street Books and Records in lower Manhattan yesterday, I found this pamphlet Black Sparrow Press published way back when. It filled me with joy. Knowing Robert Creeley was a terrific blessing.

If I could just create the kind of world I’d really like to live in … *I* wouldn’t be there. “I” is an experience of creation, which puts up with it no matter. There’s a lot to get done. You’ve been born and that’s the first and last ticket. Already he changes his mind, makes the necessary adjustments, picks up his suitcase and getting into his car, drives slowly home. He lives with people whom he has the experience of loving. It all works out. He says. It has to. One to a customer. It’s late. But they’ll be there. He relaxes. He has an active mind.

Goodbye to a legendary blogger

Feminist Melissa McEwan’s blog Shakesville [originally called “Shakespeare’s Sister”] has been around for almost as long as this site, though she has always been much more prolific. Her blog also created its own intelligent, progressive community of readers and commenters. I’m sad McEwan has called it quits.

After nearly 15 years, exactly one-third of my life, I am moving on from Shakesville. …

I love this community. I love writing for you. I love the research and the silly photoshops and crafting nerdy political jokes. I love talking about our individual lived experiences and learning from you. I love helping people find and access resources, or figure out a tough problem, in private communications. I love seeing pictures of your faces, your kids, your pets. I love making you laugh, and I love how often you make me laugh.

I don’t love the nature of the content about which I’ve been writing, especially these last couple of years. But even that would be tolerable, if it weren’t for everything else that I am obliged to navigate as part of being a fat feminist woman writing in public. I don’t need to recount it. You’ve seen enough to know that it is a steep cost, and it turns out that even I have limits. I have reached them.

The truth is that I reached them a long time ago, and I stayed far longer than I should have, and now I’m paying the price with both my psychological and physical health.

So I’m going to go take care of myself. I don’t know what’s next after that. I’m frankly pretty scared, because I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s a huge part of who I am. It is very difficult to let go.

Godspeed, Melissa. And thank you for your work.

h/t Clarissa

My prodigal URL

When I moved to Vancouver in 1996, I became a communications specialist for public and private companies mostly headquartered in this city. I wrote management discussions for annual and quarterly reports, literally hundreds of news releases, and lots of material for online audiences in chatrooms on Usenet and elsewhere. With a couple of partners, I also created two or three dozen websites for clients; these were among the first in their industries.

Part of the fun of these latter projects was registering not just appropriate domain names for these companies, but other URLs that *might* be appropriate for them one day. On top of that, we made sure to register domain names that could possibly be confused for those our clients used, so that their competitors couldn’t get ahold of them for the purpose of confounding investors and regulators.

I thus spent a fair amount of capital collecting URLs, mostly for clients and potential clients but also for many for my own endeavours. This week I learned that I almost lost one – PigeonPark.net (used for various literary projects) – that I have had for 15 or so years. (Its expiration notice landed in my spam folder – yikes!) With the help of my friends at Uniserve Communications (which hosts most of my websites), I saved it in the nick of time – whew!

Here’s a blast from the past, from when I first announced the site on basil.CA:

16 August 03:  In You Don’t Look 35, Charlie Brown! the late Charles M. Schultz writes, “There must be different kinds of loneliness, or at least different degrees of loneliness. …  The most terrifying loneliness is not experienced by everyone and can be understood only by a few.  I compare the panic in this kind of loneliness to the dog we see running frantically down the road pursuing the family car.  He is not really being left behind, for the family knows it is to return, but for that moment in his limited understanding, he is being left alone forever, and he has to run and run to survive.  It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Comix artist Seth illustrates these words in a remarkable series of panels called “Good Grief!” published in Drawn and Quarterly (Volume 2, Number 4).  I came across these panels many years ago and have been looking for them ever since, locating them in my disorganized files only this morning.  I now realize that my Pigeon Park Sentences were variations on Schultz’s theme, that I could not have even started without its echo in my imagination. 

“It is no wonder that we make terrible choices in our lives to avoid loneliness.”

Cyclops

I subscribe to very few newsletters (preferring my news feeds and news alerts), but I am really enjoying one recently recommended by my friend Clarissa. It is called Prufrock: Books, Arts & Ideas. Prepared by Micah Mattix, the daily newsletter has an erudite, literary-philosophical bent, with a paleoconservative disposition. It’s well-written. From this morning:

I’ve finished the final lectures on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The final two treat friendship and action. Friendship according to Aristotle is the “most necessary” virtue. I won’t go into Aristotle’s types of friendship (those founded on utility, pleasure, and virtue), but I appreciated his view that friendship is one of the foundations of civilization. It is what binds a city together. We see this idea in classical and modern literature, too. Friendship and hospitality (which is welcoming a stranger as a friend) are quintessentially human attributes in The Odyssey, for example, which are not shared by the gods or the sub-human cyclops. These two ideas—that friendship is the basis of civilization and a touchstone of humanity—are also found in Francis Bacon’s short essay “Of Friendship,” which is obviously drawn from classical sources. Whatever “delights in solitude,” Bacon writes, “is either a wild beast or a god. For it is most true, that a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” It’s not that solitude is bad or unnecessary. It is that to live only in solitude is to live a sub-human life. Without friends, Bacon continues, the “world is but a wilderness.”

It seems to me that we’ve lost this high view of friendship as an aspect of human identity, which we now regularly confuse with personality or view as a discrete construction of the autonomous will rather than as something that is composed of universal attributes. So, it is no surprise that our lives increasingly look like those of the cyclops. We live in caves, in fenced-in back yards, and “consume” each other—on television, in movies, on Facebook and Twitter. And because our lives (I’m speaking generally here about American culture) are ordered around maximizing physical pleasure, not virtue, they must end in suicide when the body’s capacity for physical pleasure wanes. The opioid crisis starts with this low view of human nature and won’t end until a grander view is recaptured, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

I have worked hard at friendship all of my life, and have found that honest attentiveness can overcome awkwardness and the various stupidities, if not one’s friends’ arresting memories of these. My friends and I usually can see one another.

God Bless Joan Jett

JJ

This is an excellent interview by Chris Bath that covers much of her career,

Back in the day, friends of mine indulged my Joan Jett fervor. I even dragged a bunch of them to a show in Buffalo, NY – a cherished memory.

Simplicity is beautiful

h/t DE

Oliver Sacks’ crabby last note

Oliver Sacks was unsurpassed as an author of extended medical case-studies; he was also a marvellous memoirist. His range of erudition was impossibly wide and deep, and the tone of his prose was tender, profoundly courteous, and delightful even when melancholy.

In his last published piece, called “The Machine Stops” – published posthumously this week in the New Yorker – his tone is entirely different. It’s crabby and pessimistic. It is like nothing else in his entire oeuvre.

I cannot get used to seeing myriads of people in the street peering into little boxes or holding them in front of their faces, walking blithely in the path of moving traffic, totally out of touch with their surroundings. I am most alarmed by such distraction and inattention when I see young parents staring at their cell phones and ignoring their own babies as they walk or wheel them along. Such children, unable to attract their parents’ attention, must feel neglected, and they will surely show the effects of this in the years to come. …

I am confronted every day with the complete disappearance of the old civilities. Social life, street life, and attention to people and things around one have largely disappeared, at least in big cities, where a majority of the population is now glued almost without pause to phones or other devices—jabbering, texting, playing games, turning more and more to virtual reality of every sort. …

As one’s death draws near, one may take comfort in the feeling that life will go on—if not for oneself then for one’s children, or for what one has created. Here, at least, one can invest hope, though there may be no hope for oneself physically and (for those of us who are not believers) no sense of any “spiritual” survival after bodily death.

But it may not be enough to create, to contribute, to have influenced others if one feels, as I do now, that the very culture in which one was nourished, and to which one has given one’s best in return, is itself threatened. …

When I was eighteen, I read Hume for the first time, and I was horrified by the vision he expressed in his eighteenth-century work “A Treatise of Human Nature,” in which he wrote that mankind is “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement.” As a neurologist, I have seen many patients rendered amnesic by destruction of the memory systems in their brains, and I cannot help feeling that these people, having lost any sense of a past or a future and being caught in a flutter of ephemeral, ever-changing sensations, have in some way been reduced from human beings to Humean ones.

I have only to venture into the streets of my own neighborhood, the West Village, to see such Humean casualties by the thousand: younger people, for the most part, who have grown up in our social-media era, have no personal memory of how things were before, and no immunity to the seductions of digital life. What we are seeing—and bringing on ourselves—resembles a neurological catastrophe on a gigantic scale.

The hope presented in the essay’s last words seems not truly felt:

Between us, we can surely pull the world through its present crises and lead the way to a happier time ahead.

(That is such a depressing sentence.)

As I face my own impending departure from the world, I have to believe in this—that mankind and our planet will survive, that life will continue, and that this will not be our final hour.

Many years ago I capped off a story to my son Miles with the phrase “all’s well that ends well.” The story’s context made the meaning of this bit of Shakespeare come to life for him for the first time, Miles said. It was a pleasing moment for both of us.

That nearing his own end Oliver Sacks saw catastrophe not just coming but already here, barely rallying to convey even the flimsiest expression of hope – this stunned me (though it shouldn’t have) (we haven’t been taking care of our minds).