Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The top picture was taken a few days ago out at Sauvie Island, home of pick your own berries, bird sanctuaries and buck naked fairies. We walked along the Columbia, saw a whole host of pretty little snakes and admired the distant but crisp view of Mount St. Helens.

The bottom picture is from 1980 when St. Helen's erupted. Those aren't clouds. That's ash. I find it fascinating. Imagine the energy it takes to blow the top off a mountain. In my fourteen plus years here, I've never been to see it. That's unbearably lame. It is, however, top of my long list of Pacific Northwest destinations to get to before the end of the year.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Reading an old issue of The Paris Review, I came across an interview with Jack Gilbert. This guy has it figured out, or at least, a good way of trying to figure it out:

The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in "I'm in love" or "my girl cheated on me"–I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We're the only things–leaving religion out of it–we're the only things in the world that know spring is coming.

Later, the interviewer asks Gilbert what, other than himself, is the subject of his poems.

Those I love. Being. Living my life without being diverted into things that people so often get diverted into. Being alive is so extraordinary I don't know why people limit it to riches, pride, security–all of those things life is built on. People miss so much because they want money and comfort and pride, a house and a job to pay for the the house. And they have to have a car. You can't see anything from a car. It's moving too fast. People take vacations. That's their reward–the vacation. Why not the life? Vacations are second-rate. People deprive themselves of so much of their lives–until it's too late. Though I understand that often you don't have a choice.

Makes me want to pick up and move to Italy, move to the beach, move towards some slower place. Makes me wonder about all the times I've chosen security over adventure, comfort over joy. Makes me wonder what it would take for me to make a different choice.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I now own tan pants. Sigh. I long ago came to terms with being shunned from the punk rock club, but I'm now officially banned from inclusion amongst the artsy/fartsy pre-goth alternatypes. Of course, the transition happened ages ago. The thrift store dresses got chucked. The amount of polyester in my wardrobe has been minimal for years. Still, tan pants? Having grown up surrounded by L.L. Bean models, I always feared this moment would come and now it has, but that's what I get for trying to make my pants from last winter make it through this winter. Slim pickins off the winter sale rack. Shoot me if I post a pic of my new duck boots.

Is it obvious now, how I'm in full avoidance of the matters at hand? There's big trouble brewing in my latest novel revision. Brewing can be good, of course. A good boil can do wonders. However, I fear the whole thing will have to be chucked in the end, an unpalatable mess. Humph.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The rain may come in slow and steady for the rest of the week, but today we have daphne. Regardless of what the calendar says and ignoring the pale crocus blooms, the first intoxicating hit of those tart pink buds means it's spring in Portland. Praise be.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Long ago, I shaved my head bald. I went by the name Bob. I was the regretful owner of a big iguana named Skunk that lived in my closet. But I have never been punk rock in the traditional sense. Hm. That's a funny sentence. Anyway, there is still a little part of me that admires the punk rock life and those capable of living it. There will always be a part of me that loves a house decorated with mannequin legs and puppets. I especially like the long ladder leading up to the second-story porch that's just barely visible in this picture.

There is something ridiculous, stupid and completely wonderful about the punk house. There's a book of photographs by Abby Banks out now that documents these houses. Thurston Moore wrote an essay for it. And yes, Portland has its own pages in the book.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I just finished rereading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson for my book club. I must have read this in high school, maybe I saw the movie. All I remembered of it was a cold darkness and a certain affinity with the tall, quiet narrator. I'm so glad that I went back to it.

Having spent a great deal of time thinking about regional literature for my graduate thesis paper and lecture, I found Robinson's novel a perfect example of how to do it right. Robinson insists that the fictional town of Fingerbone is just that, fictional, and that the story could take place anywhere and yet the landscape plays a crucial role in the story. These characters stand apart from the civic and social aspects of the town they live in, and yet they feel like a natural product of the landscape. They are also a product of their particular tragedies which, in their case, are intrinsically linked with the lake that dominates the area.

This is writing of a place, not about a place. The landscape is there to serve the story, not be the story. This is a difficult distinction to make, but a necessary one. The landscape has to already be there. It can't be imposed on a story, attached as a few introductory paragraphs. Here is a great example from early on in Housekeeping when Ruthie and Lucille skate to the far side of the lake:

The town itself seemed a negligible thing from such a distance. Were it not for the clutter on shore, the flames and the tremulous pillars of heat that stood above the barrels, and of course the skaters who swooped and sailed and made bright, brave sounds, it would have been possible not to notice the town at all. The mountains that stood up behind it were covered in snow and hidden in the white sky, and the lake was sealed and hidden, yet their eclipse had not made the town more prominent. Indeed, where we were we could feel the reach of the lake far behind us, and far beyond us on either side, in a spacious silence that seemed to ring like glass.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's been a few weeks since I finished the latest draft of my book. At the time, I was eager to take a break, play with some new ideas and get a fresh perspective. What I've noticed, however, is that since I sent my baby out for feedback, I've been lost. Being lost can be good and I can't deny that one of my new ideas has blossomed oh so slightly. But I've been cranky and disoriented. Without my novel to focus my attention, I've had very little focus at all.

I need them back, those imperfect and imperfectly written people, but I also NEED to take a little bit longer break, not only because the feedback hasn't rolled in yet, but because I still need to wipe my head clean of all those paragraphs I have memorized, all those scenes I've squeezed the life out of. My characters need time away from me as much as I need it from them. Doesn't mean it's easy. Doesn't mean it's fun. Our reunion, I hope, will be grand.

Friday, February 08, 2008

For the last two years, I've gone to Mexico with my friend, Joe. This year he went without me. Stupid me. Portland hasn't had any tornadoes and we're not buried under feet and feet of snow, so I don't really have the right to complain about the perpetual cold rain. I only have the right to complain about how much I regret not going to Holbox, a little island northwest of Cancun where there are no cars and no paved roads. Only crazy blue water and dreams of crazy blue water.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sven Birkerts has been named the new director of the Bennington Writing Seminars. The man has an awesome intelligence and a quiet, thoughtful nature. He was the person I was most scared would ask me a question after my graduate lecture. And of course, he did. All I could do was nod my head to his comment about Saul Bellow, who I'd briefly referenced in my lecture and say yes, you're right, yes.

Here's one of my favorite passages from his book Readings:

It is better, more rewarding, to study the grasshopper on the windowsill with full attention than to stand half-distractedly before a painting by Paul Klee or Botticelli. Attention completes the inner circuit, and completing that circuit is everything–at least if we care about the idea of an integral subjective self.

As it happens, reading is one of the very few things that you can only really do with full attentiveness.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Keeping me company on my desk is my new art purchase, a bird/man sculpture from John & Robin Gumaelius that I got at the Museum of Contemporary Craft Gallery. I wanted one of their more extravagant bird/bald-headed man pieces in ceramic and metal, but this was more than I could afford as it was. I've had a tirade or two against bird art in the past, but I think this is different. It's not a silhouette of a crow. It's not a rust colored owl. It has feet!

Instead of watching the Super Bowl my bird-man and I have been doing taxes this afternoon. Equally boring endeavors. My mother tells me she fears a victory parade in Boston on Monday. She says when the Sox won she couldn't get home from work at the State House because the trains were so packed with rabid fans. I'm all for some fun, but the fervor of these fans makes me sick. Show an ounce of that enthusiasm for something that actually makes a difference. Try it. Please.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Touching warms the art

A while back I posted about the signs at the Museum of Contemporary Craft that said "Touching Harms the Art." Well, my friend and metalsmith wiz, Rebecca Scheer, helped co-curate a new exhibit at the museum called Touching Warms the Art. It's all about jewelry that visitors can get their hands on, their fingers, wrists and necks in. I'm totally in love with Cristina Dias' rubber magnetic broach and Susan Matsché's necklace of little scribbled on pieces of cardboard. Check out more visitors trying on the jewelry here.

I went there yesterday by myself and it was a little odd to be playing with all this cool stuff without a friend to laugh and pose with, but it was too much fun to resist. I even spent some time sitting at the "Art Bar" in front of a row of bins of materials set up for people to make their own jewelry. I felt a little like a mental patient brought out for art therapy, but that didn't stop me from wrapping some twine around some rubber around some styrofoam. Weee! What a good cure for yet another cold, crappy day.