Archive for Arts

The Chandelier

When I passed this last week, I had to blink a couple of times to realize that this gigantic chandelier was indeed there, beneath the Granville Street Bridge. This is a permanent installation by a B.C. artist named Rodney Graham, who was inspired by an Isaac Newton experiment. It lights up and spins.

Vancouver’s such a trip.

Friendships, my own + Ginsberg & Kerouac’s

I received a note from a dear old family friend the other day.

I wouldn’t have noted it, but one of the sites I peruse (“LitHub”) had a piece that last Monday was the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s death. Which means he’s been gone longer than he was here.  Apparently, the town of Lowell had a small ceremony. I saw a photo of the grave where some folks had thoughtfully left a couple of bottles of booze. (Or thoughtlessly?  He died of alcoholism.)  I suppose they should also have a left a copy of [the conservative magazine] National Review.  

I am reminded, once again, of the beautiful song “Box of Rain,” by Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter (RIP):  “Such a long, long time to be gone; but a short time to be there.”

I replied:

I believe he and [National Review publisher] William Buckley were friends, actually. (One thing about both of them – they had gifts for friendship, Buckley getting an extra bonus point for being friends with his antagonists, too, for the most part.)

My feelings toward Kerouac have gone up and down over the years. He is unique in the Robert Basil pantheon in that respect, where once you’re in, you’re in for good (Barthes, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, William Carlos Williams …). I once made a disparaging remark about Kerouac’s poetry to a close friend of mine (a Garcia-Lorca scholar and a poet himself), and he gently chided me, taking me through some of Kerouac’s poems phrase by phrase, waking me back up. Kerouac’s prose, it must be said, relies on some vocabulary crutches in ways his poetry doesn’t – but so many of his books are nonetheless absolutely splendid. (I taught Dharma Bums while I was at Stanford.) 

And finally, he really really inspired me as a writer. The first Kerouac book I owned was a copy of The Dharma Bums that [my brother] Chris gave me – I must have been 19 or 20. I read about half of it sitting in the back of a pick-up truck zooming down route 17 to Manhattan, surrounded by fall foliage. One of my happiest memories.

To celebrate my graduation from university – this was a solitary activity, because literally *nobody* other than my girlfriend believed I had somehow graduated from college, having dropped out so often and, when actually enrolled, having spent almost as much time hitching around the country as attending classes – I read “On the Road” for the fourth or fifth time, cover to cover, back to front (how I read novels), drinking Miller Beer “ponies” and lying in bed, finishing at dawn. Another one of my happiest memories.

I want to share with you a quite moving piece from the New Yorker: “Allen Ginsberg: The Day After Kerouac Died.” It annotates some journal entries and a poem from “The Fall of America.” (My friend and teacher Robert Creeley makes a few appearances.)

The New Yorker / Allen Ginsberg piece brought some tears.

Memory Gardens

Covered with yellow leaves

     in morning rain …

He threw up his hands

& wrote the universe don’t exist

      & died to prove it. …

 

… Jack thru whose eyes I

    saw

    smog glory light

    gold over Manhattan’s spires

will never see these

    chimneys smoking

anymore over statues of Mary

            in the graveyard …

 

Well, while I’m here I’ll

      do the work –

and what’s the work?

      To ease the pain of living.

Everything else, drunken

      dumbshow.

“Good for pictures”

The Vancouver Art Gallery solo exhibition of photographs by Fred Herzog, who died a few days ago, was perhaps the biggest art event of 2007 in my city. It was a revelation, nothing less. Christopher Cheung’s retrospective essay in The Tyee is a wonderful introduction as well as memorial to Herzog’s work.

This passage struck me:

“I don’t think we can have a photographer like Fred Herzog now,” wrote photographer Jeff Wall in Vancouver Magazine. “In order to have that affection, there has to be something to have it for… those objects of his affection no longer exist. Or if they do exist, they are just vestiges of what they were in 1957 or 1961, when he captured them perfectly.”

[David] Campany [in his book Modern Color] adds that Vancouver “had been physically transformed in ways that were unconsciously cynical and dispiriting. The kinds of architecture, informal social spaces, and layer of material history to which Fred Herzog was drawn had been swept aside. In their place came a dense and homogeneous landscape determined by raw capital, and insensitive to its inhabitants.”

Herzog himself has said that the downtown is boring now, lacking the “disordered vitality” he was used to. But he admits that what might have made for good images could be bad for people. For one, Vancouver used to have a lot more smog, in part from burning garbage, that was good for pictures, but not residents.

“In order to have that affection, there has to be something to have it for… those objects of his affection no longer exist.” This sentence evokes time, so beautifully.

Photograph “Man with Bandage, 1968,” by Fred Herzog, courtesy of The Equinox Gallery.

Used with permission.

Portrait of an artist

“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.

Shakespeare’s Sister retires

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.”