Friday, December 29, 2017

It is I.

Dear Everything,

I often think about how much has changed- it's overwhelming, really, to consider how different things seem now.  All this ready-made rubbish, and anime tattoos and single servings of snacks, or what have you; all the beer and wine, all the cheap clothing, all the giant pet supply stores. All the stores that sell cell phone service and all the nail salons.  All the collections of electronic imagery.  But then it hit me, things seem different to me, because I am not the same. 

So here's to who I used to be, I guess, and also to who you used to be.  May you remember always how you were. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

In Beauty it is Finished.



Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Do you wonder, sometimes, what you are supposed to do with these pictures I keep sending you?   I can make some suggestions, but you are under no obligation whatsoever.  You might just want to turn away, and not even look. 

What I am going to do with this picture is allow it to completely change what I think a mural ought to look like.  I will let it alter my notions of how time and movement can be depicted in two dimensional work.  I am going to stack up figures and put them in rows.  I am going to ponder the words 'in beauty it is finished' over and over, in columns and lines.

This mural is on the wall of a laundry in Kayenta, Arizona.  It depicts a portion of this Dineh chant, which is your song for today.  The mural was painted by artist Hyuro.  I am completely charmed by her work!  I think you will be too!

Take a gander at this, too.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The smaller you are the bigger Christmas is.

Christmas, an excerpt from Tove Jansson's childhood memoir, Sculptor's Daughter, 1968, published by William Morrow, 2014.

The smaller you are the bigger Christmas is.  Underneath the Christmas tree Christmas is vast, it is a  green jungle with red apples and sad, peaceful angels twirling around on cotton thread keeping watch over the entrance to the primaeval forest.   In the glass balls the primaeval forest is never-ending; Christmas is a time when you feel absolutely safe, thanks to the Christmas tree.

 There outside is the studio which is very big and very cold.  The only warm place is close to the stove.  The fire and the shadows on the floor and the pillar-like legs of the statues.

 The studio is full of sculpture, large white women who have always been there.  They are everywhere, the movements of their arms are vague and shy and they look straight past one because they are uninterested, and sad in quite a different way from my angels.  Some of them have clay rags on their heads and the largest one has a clothesline round her tummy.  The rags are wet and when one goes past they brush one's face like cold white birds in the dark.  It's always dark in the evening.

The studio window must never be cleaned because it gives a very beautiful light, it has a hundred little panes, some of them darker than others, and the lanterns outside swing to and fro and draw a window of their own on the wall.  There are stout shelves, one under the other, and on each shelf white ladies stand, but they are quite tiny.  They face one another and turn away from one another but their movements are just as hesitant and shy as those of the big women.  All of them get dusted just before Christmas.  But only Mummy is allowed to touch them and the grenades from the 1918 war aren't dusted at all.

Daddy's women are sacred.  He doesn't care about them after they are cast in plaster, but for everybody else they are sacred.

Apart from the women, the window and the stove, everything else is in shadow.  Against the wall there is a sinister heap of things that mustn't be examined; armatures, boxes with clay and plaster, moulds, wood, rags and modelling stands, and behind them all creeps the mysterious thing with eyes as black as night. 

But the middle of the room is empty.  All there is is a single modelling stand with a woman in wet rags, and she is the most sacred thing of all.  The stand has three legs and they throw stiff shadows across the blank patch of concrete floor and up towards the ceiling which is so far away that no one can get up there, at least not before the Christmas tree arrives.  We have the finest and tallest tree in the town and it's probably worth a fortune because it has to reach right up to the ceiling and be of the bristly kind.  All other sculptors have small and scruffy Christmas trees, not to mention certain painters who hardly have what you could call trees at all.  People who live in ordinary flats have their tree on a table with a cloth on it, poor things!  They buy their tree as an afterthought.

On the morning agreed upon beforehand we, that is Daddy and I, get up at six o'clock because Christmas threes must be bought in the dark.  We walk from Skatudden to the other end of town because the big harbor there is just the right setting for buying a Christmas tree.  We generally spend hours choosing, looking at every branch very suspiciously, because they can be stuck in.  It's always cold.  Once Daddy got the top of a tree in his eye.  The early morning darkness is full of freezing bundles hunting for trees and the snow is scattered with fir twigs.  There is a menacing enchantment about the harbor and the market place.

Then the studio is transformed into a primaeval forest where one can make oneself unget-at-able deep in under the Christmas tree.  Under the tree one must feel full of love.  There are also other places where one can feel full of grief or hate, between the hall doors where the letters drop through the letter-box. for example.  The hall door has small red and green glass panes, it is narrow and solemn, and the hall is full of clothes, skis and packing cases, but it is between the two doors that there is just enough room to stand and hate.  If one hates in a big space one dies immediately.  But if the space is narrow the hate turns inwards again and goes round and round one's body and never reaches God.

But it's quite different with Christmas trees, particularly when the glass balls have been hung up.  They are store-places for love and that's why it's so terribly dangerous to drop them.

As soon as the Christmas tree was in the studio everything took on a fresh significance, and was charged with a holiness that had nothing to do with Art.  Christmas began in earnest.

Mummy and I went to the icy rocks behind the Russian Church and scratched around for some moss.  We built the Land of the Nativity with the desert and Bethlehem in clay, with new streets and houses each time, we filled the whole of the studio window, we made lakes with pieces of mirror and placed the shepherds and gave them new lambs and new legs because the old ones had broken up in the moss and we placed the sand carefully so that the clay could be used later.  When we took out the manger with the thatched roof which they had got in Paris in nineteen hundred and ten, Daddy was very moved and had to have a snorter.

Mary was always right in the front, but Joseph had to be at the back with the cattle because he had been damaged by water and, besides, in perspective he was smaller.

Last of all came the Baby Jesus, who was made of wax and had real curly hair which they had made in Paris before I was born.  When he was in place we had to be quite quiet for a long while.

Once Poppolino got out and devoured the Baby Jesus.  He climbed up Daddy's Statue of Liberty, sat on the hilt of the sword, and ate up Jesus.

There was nothing we could do, and we didn't dare to look at each other.  Mummy made a new Baby Jesus of clay and painted it.  We thought that it turned out too red and too fat round the middle, but no one said anything. 

Christmas always rustled.  It rustled every time, mysteriously, with silver paper and gold paper and tissue paper and a rich abundance of shiny paper decorating and hiding everything and giving a feeling of reckless extravagance.

There were stars and rosettes everywhere, even on the vegetable dishes and on the expensive shop-bought sausages which we used to have before we began to have real ham.

One could wake up at night to the reassuring sound of Mummy wrapping up presents.  One night she painted the tiles of the stove with little blue landscapes and bunches of flowers on every tile all the way to the top. 

She made gingerbread biscuits shaped like goats with the pastry-cutter and gave the Lucy-pussies, small flat pastry scrolls, curly legs and a raisin in the middle of the tummy.  When they came here from Sweden the pussies and only four legs but every year they got more and more until they had a wild and curly ornamentation all over.

Mummy weighed sweets and nuts on a letter-balance so that everyone would get exactly the same amount.  During the year everything is measured roughly, but at Christmas everything has to be absolutely fair.  That's why it's such a strenuous time.

In Sweden people stuff their own sausages and make candles and carry small baskets to the poor for several months and all mothers sew presents at night.  On Christmas Eve they all become Lucias, with a great wreath with lots of candles in it on their heads.

The first time Daddy saw a Lucia he was very scared, but when he realized it was only Mummy he began to laugh.  Then he wanted her to be a Lucia every Christmas Eve because it was such fun.

I lay on my bunk and heard Lucia starting to climb the steps, and it wasn't easy for her.  The whole thing was as beautiful as being in heaven and she had modelled a pig in marzipan as they do in Sweden.  Then she sang a little and climbed up the steps to Daddy's bunk.  Mummy only sings once a year because her vocal cords are crossed.

There were hundreds of candles on the balustrade round our bunks waiting to be lit just before the Story of the Nativity.  Then they flutter in all directions round the studio like so many pearl necklaces, maybe there are thousands of them.  These candles are very interesting when they burn down because the cardboard dividing-wall could easily catch fire.

Later in the morning Daddy used to get very worked up because he took Christmas very seriously and could hardly stand all the preparations.  He was quite exhausted.  He put every single candle straight and warned us about the danger of fire.  He rushed out and bought mistletoe, a tiny twig of it, because it had to hang from the ceiling and is more expensive than orchids.  He kept on asking whether we were quite sure that everything was in order and suddenly thought that the composition of the Land of the Nativity was all wrong.  Then he had a snorter to calm himself.  Mummy wrote poetry and picked sealing-wax off wrapping-paper and gold ribbon from the previous Christmas.

Twilight came and Daddy went to the churchyard with nuts for the squirrels and to look at the graves.
He has never been particularly concerned about the relations lying there and they didn't particularly like him either because they were distant relatives and rather bourgeois.  But when Daddy got back home again he was sad and twice as worked up because the churchyard had been so wonderfully beautiful with all the candles burning there.  Anyway, the squirrels had buried masses of nuts along with the relatives although it was forbidden to do so, and that was a consoling thought at least.

After dinner there was a long pause to allow Christmas a breathing-space.  We lay on our bunks in the dark listening to Mummy rustling down by the stove and in the street outside all was quiet.

Then the long lines of candles were lit and Daddy leaped down from his bunk to make sure that the ones on the Christmas tree were all upright and that the candle behind Joseph wasn't setting fire to the thatched roof.

And then we had the Story of the Nativity.  The most solemn part was when Mary pondered these things in her heart and it was almost as beautiful when they departed into their own country another way.  The rest of it wasn't so special.

We recovered from this and Daddy had a snorter.  And now I was triumphantly certain that Christmas belonged to me.

I crept into the green primaeval forest and pulled out parcels.  Now the feeling of love under the branches of the tree was almost unbearable, a compact feeling of holiness made up of Marys and angels and mothers and Lucias and statues, all of them blessing me and forgiving everything during the year that was past, including that business of hating in the hall, forgiving everything on earth as long as they could be sure that everybody loved one another.

And just then the largest glass ball fell on the concrete floor and it smashed into the world's tiniest and nastiest splinters.

The silence afterwards was unbelievable.  At the neck of the ball there was a little ring with two metal prongs.  And Mummy said: actually, that ball has always been the wrong colour.

And so night came and all the candles had burnt down and all the fires had been put out and all the ribbons and paper had been folded up for the next Christmas.  I took my presents to bed with me.

Every now and then Daddy's slippers shuffled down there in the studio and he ate a little pickled herring and had a snorter and tried to get some music out of the wireless he had built himself.  The feeling of peace everywhere was complete.

Once something happened to the wireless and it played a whole tune before the interference came back.  In its own way interference is something of a miracle, mystifying isolated signals from somewhere out in space.

Daddy sat in the darkened studio for a long time eating pickled herring and trying to get proper tunes on the wireless.  When it didn't work at all he climbed up on to his bunk again and rustled his newspapers.  Mummy's candles had gone out much earlier, and there was a general smell of Christmas tree and burning and benediction all over.

Nothing is as peaceful as when Christmas is over, when one has been forgiven for everything and one can be normal again.

After a while we packed the holy things away in the hall cupboard and the branches of the Christmas tree burnt in the stove with small violent explosions.   But the trunk wasn't burnt until the following Christmas.  All the year it stood next to the box of plaster, reminding us of Christmas and the absolute safety in everything.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Dear Beloved,

What can I do?  I cannot fathom when my over-joy and my over-enthusiasm slide into over-bearing!

I want to be demure, of course, like the dickens I do!  As we all do, like the Edwardian novels, but I get carried away by delight with the planet.  I am tumbling down the hill of possibilities face first and everyone around me is horrified.  It seems a shame that our most ingrained attributes are merely annoying and irritating to the Rest of the World.  I know that often that group includes you.

On the opposite side of the coin, there is me, and my sometimes frustration with what seems like apathy.  I get angry that you don't want to run down the street to the Byzantine basilica, or yet another ice cream stand.  How can you shun these delights?

 I read a fine expression of this feeling in Tove Jansson's book Sculptor's Daughter.  She tells of a frustrated woman who is making a mosaic of pebbles on some steps.  Ms. Jansson asks the woman why she doesn't seem to like playing, and writes that she "got fed up with her because she wasn't happy.  I don't like it when people find life difficult.  It gives me a bad conscience and then I get angry and begin to feel that they might as well go somewhere else." 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Late Fall Light.

Dear Near and Far,

It's like an Albert Bierstadt painting, isn't it?  I never say that we "are blessed," because that takes away our power to be pouty or joyous, pitiful or cranky, and gives it all to an impersonal (higher?) power.  What I say, is that beauty is everywhere, and it is free for the taking.  There are delights aplenty out there.

In Chinese painting of long ago, especially of the celebrated Song Dynasty, the artists specialized in landscapes with atmospheric perspective.  It looked like this image of the creek bed, and like this. 
Atmospheric, or aerial perspective refers to the misty, undefined areas in a painting serving as indicators of distance between objects in the near and far.  In other words, we read the mountains in the back as farther away from us because they are softer, blurred, less distinct.
Between now and then, abide in the misty interstices between near and far; there will be more on delight anon.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lateral Acceleration, or, How to Not Be An Asshole.


Dear Doctors and Lawyers and All the Rest,

Say, are you feeling down in the dumps?  Is your life meaningless?  You bet it is!  But, there are still things you can do and ideas to consider, so dig into this, and think about how you are moving through life, and if you don't absolutely adore your daily routine, you have my complete support in abandoning it entirely.  I look forward to reading about you in the New York Times!

Silly fruit loops are optional.  By that I mean that true Outsider Roller Skaters use what they now call "quad skates" to avoid confusion with what roller skaters (of the quad kind) like to call inline skates.  Oddly enough, the very first roller skates were inline, too, but you still won't catch me in 'em, because how it looks is all-important, and I don't mean vanity, I mean style.