Monday, August 13, 2018

push plate

Dear  Inked, 
This is an impression of the push plate from the door of the women's restroom entrance where I work.  An artist I know was printing some unconventional things: steel drawings and little silver pendants.  I started to look at the flat, ink-able surfaces around me differently.  May our eyes always be open to looking in another way.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Great Wars and Outting Pa

Dear Sad Goodbyes,

I have been informed that my mind and body are the field on which the broader culture wars continue to rage.  I am not sure I approve of this tenancy.  I have suspected it, of course, but it still stings.  Setting this injury aside, for now, I give you this review of a book on Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

What the author is, or was, or even who the author of these books is, might be less important than what the readers did or do with the stories, but the Little House books have been sitting in a stack in my studio, awaiting a tough decision:  continue to treasure their pale yellow spines, and sweet Garth Williams cover illustrations, or let them go like mist.

It pained me, 8 years ago, when I was reading these formerly beloved volumes aloud to my son and husband.  These books were formative, like the many Marguerite Henry books on the
Chincoteague ponies, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Madeline L'Engle books.  I found, in the second or third book, that Pa was actually a complete menace to his family.   A tyrant, really.  I couldn't even go on reading them- the family would laboriously scrape out a little hollow of safety, comfort, or stability, and he'd pack it in to move.  I could find no way to excuse or explain this man's actions to males I cared about.  If my job as a mother is to help to form my son's relationship to women, Pa seemed like a very bad influence, all of a sudden. 

I realized I had categorized Pa as a kind of natural phenomenon, a force of nature, an Act of God in the insurance sense- he struck randomly and fiercely, like fires and blizzards.  But strike he did, and that is why, after this final consideration, confession, and tearful acceptance, I am saying goodbye to the books, because I don't want crazy Pa in my life anymore.  I am sorry that Laura and all the beautiful prairie, woods, plains, and mountains will have to go too, but Pa just isn't good enough for me and my people.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Ruling Passions.

Dear Enthusiasts,

Things are in disrepair.  They usually are, but the first problem to tackle is the decision of what to fix and what to give up on.  It's clear from reading other pages here, and even from the words I used to write the previous sentence, that I am always sorry to have to give up on things.  I love repaired things; damaged things, even. 

The old rocking chair on the porch has a split cane seat woven in a complex pattern.  The stuff must be soaked, and then woven, and the oak of the armrests and the rockers is worn out of shape, and there are checks and splinters aplenty.  Repairing the seat and back will only be a temporary stay against utter uselessness as a chair.

Still, I thought we might try a webbing seat instead of the split cane, and so I consulted the Ashley Book of Knots.  With any luck, you have a copy already, because it is a really wonderful book, with beautiful illustrations and fascinating names and purposes for the many knots and plaits.

Whenever I look up a knot in this book, I also read the inside back flap of the crumbling dust jacket.  I look at this flap because it's where I begin straightening the paper tatters when I open or close the book.  I always look at dashing Clifford W. Ashley, and I read this sentence: 

     Clifford W. Ashley had two ruling passions all his life:  marine painting and knot tying.

I know you will love this sentence as I do, and so perhaps you will want to stop reading here now, and go forth into the future with your unique relationship to this arrangement of words.  I don't really think you need me to tell you how I feel about these words, after all.  If you did, though, wonder, after considering what they say to you first, I could tell you that I like to imagine my picture there, on the flap, and to think of what my life under two ruling passions might read like, to consider what the 620 pages would be filled with.  I never get too far imagining this before I find that two passions isn't anything like enough passions.  But then I allow as how these are not just any two passions, these, are the Sovereign Passions, and so maybe I really ought to be able to select two to be my Queen and King and to serve under them happily?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

confection collection

Dear You,

Suppose you were to take a little sample, a little morsel of everything you encountered in a month, or half a year; every worthy sight; a little of every interesting detail, every curious sound, a little bit, a bite, a slice, of everything you saw and took note of in these moments of time and space.  And then further suppose, you were to take all these bits and bobs, and present them in a large and well-crafted frame, and then give the whole confabulation to a friend.  This marvelous and never-before-seen distillation of all the time and experience you have lived. 

Receiving something like that is what it is to read The Rings of Saturn, by W. G. Sebald.  If when you reach the end of it, and you have licked the bowl by looking up the unfamiliar words and phrases (quincunx, marasmus, soakaways, francs-tireurs, insuperable, barely malt coffee, Silesian, Martello towers, plutôt mourir que changer, tumuli, boffins) you will have left to savor still the transmutation of your own experience into a telling, a showing, an image, a collection, or even just a letter to someone.  Like this one, to you. 

Pleasure awaits: be off to your bookshelf or library!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

wonderful, beautiful shoes

Kidskin sandal with layered cork sole and heel covered in suede.
 Designed by Salvatore Ferragamo for Judy Garland, 1938.

Dear Three Paragraphs, Introduction, and Conclusion,

I am often thinking on the Big Answers, that I have been the casual recipient of over time.  There was a man in the ferry waiting room en route to the Isle of Wight that was telling me something very important about what one 'owes' one's parents.  I never could grasp his meaning, but I am still trying to.  And I showed my studio once to another painter, and she looked around and said, "Well, I can see you have a story to tell."  I thought, do I?  I mean, I do? 

If I did have a story to tell, one story that would be the one that counted, the one that made it, the one I'd give to all the world's readers;  I can tell you that everyone in the story would be able to get their foot in the glass slipper, and they'd all get to live happily ever after.  It might at first seem like this would be entirely too much happily ever after, but no, not really, because to happily ever after you have to know what you want, and hardly anyone knows what they want.  There's so much to choose from.  You can't blame people for not wanting to settle for one thing or another.  Mostly, people wouldn't even put their foot into the shoe, because they couldn't be sure that was what they wanted.  So, in my story, the shoe would fit everyone, but only a very few would even try to wear it.

There is an essay that pertains to these issues of narrative, identity, and shoes, in Dave Hickey's new collection, Perfect Wave.  Here is an older version of the piece. 

One of the little and particular changes between the essay published online and the version in the book is the adjective 'wonderful' before the word 'shoes,' in contrast to 'beautiful shoes,' as you will read it online.  This kind of difference is exciting, because it invites us to decide which is a better descriptor in this context:  wonderful or beautiful; and it further requires us to consider why Dave Hickey made the changes.  When he gathered his papers to review and select them for the book, what little sprite whispered to him "'wonderful' is the word you want there, Dave, 'wonderful.'"