I did a little interview on the Hugo House blog about my upcoming class co-presented with the Henry Art Gallery and about what I’ve been reading and writing lately. You can register for the class here and see previous students’ work from the class here and here. Join me Thursday nights 6-8 pm starting January 30. Happy new year!
There’s a real dreamy exhibit on at Photo Center NW until May 28. I’m especially fond of Erin V. Sotak’s “SUGAR and Spice,” which depicts a bride in a blue-papered drawing room about to eat a cube of sugar that is surely poisoned, and Christine Shank’s “You Promised to Listen,” an ethereal room filled with light and dust motes and a thick carpet of fuscia, white, and green flower buds, all suggesting an altercation gone seriously, and beautifully, wrong.
If you’re in Seattle, and in need of an art fix, do check it out! And if you’re not, 26 of the pictures are available online.
My review of Ellen Forney‘s fantastic graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me is up on the Ploughshares blog. The first time I read the book I was drying off in a Scottish pub in Victoria after a three mile walk in the rain; I read it again in Seattle with coffee and my critic’s goggles on. Loved it through both reads. Here’s how the review begins:
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Concerning: Cartoonist Ellen Forney’s confrontation with her bipolar disorder diagnosis
And: what it means for her identity as an artist
And: what it means for her creativity and her livelihood
So I’ve got this reading in a month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about sound and how important reading aloud is for writing. Even without having a performance to prepare for, I like to read drafts aloud to see where they’re working or not. The story I’ll be reading this August 1, “More Like Home Than Home,” uses a lot of footnotes, which is a special listening challenge, so I’ve enlisted my friend Kristen Young to perform the story with me as the voice of the footnotes. I’m really excited to be working on this with her.
I’ve also been playing with SoundCloud and hope to record a story or novel chapter soon (and I posted a recording from my last Castalia reading for now). In the meantime, here’s a fabulous article on writing and sound from Constance Hale.
My third and final post about our trip to Japan.
The Kobe Ropeway, I learned from Wikipedia just now, is nicknamed – quite appropriately- the “Kobe Dreamy Balloon.” Surely, it is a place where happiness is made. I took a half dozen pictures of the adorable mural beside the entrance to this aerial tramway, possibly the most cheerful mural I’ve ever seen. And then, silently, we zoomed 400 meters up Mount Rokkō , inside the little sleek black and red car, precariously attached to the cable by a tiny metal hook and swaying ever so slightly in the wind. Below us: lush trees, then the white-brick, gray-brick, and blue-glass city, then the glittering harbor melting into the milky horizon. Above us: the Nunobiki Herb Garden, an Alpine-style rest house, a concert hall, and a museum of fragrance. In the aromatherapy room, we made soap scented with lavender and geranium and tinted with turmeric and rosemary. Outside, snow whirled over snapdragons, white roses, a whole riot of springtime flowers. We wandered down the hill through the herb garden to a greenhouse with an exhibit on spices, smelling jars of cloves, saffron, anise, cardamom – essential, enlivening olfactory research!
Out of the garden and hiking back down Mount Rokkō, we passed many tiny shrines nestled into the hillside, and a few waterfalls. J pointed out this habitat as a likely home for kappa, a mythical amphibious animal notorious for stealing cucumbers and, when provoked, ripping out livers via the anus. How incredibly specific!
Here are some more pictures from the mural (click to expand):
Last week, I swooned over Tokyo’s never-endingness. This week I want to tell you about tiny things.
On a rainy night in Kyoto, we got lost looking for a restaurant recommended by my guidebook. (Silly me and my seven-year-old book!) We came to a lovely street, less bustling and generic than the downtown boulevard we’d been following and bisected by a canal, the yellow light of intimate restaurants illuminating the water. We poked around a few restaurants there, though the ground-floor ones seemed to cater to executives on expense accounts, and one that required taking an elevator gave off an unsettling-is-this-a-restaurant-or-not vibe, so we turned off this very-pretty-but-inaccessible street, onto an alley.We were tired, hungry, and wet.
This is the first place we found:
The restaurant was down a set of stairs and a sign above the stairway said “We have Yuba Food here!” J explained the yuba is tofu skin. A bearded man in a corduroy blazer rounded the corner, saw us deliberating outside, and smiled wide, encouraging us to go on in, so we took him up on it, descending the staircase and following a narrow cellar hallway to the front door. J peaked in the window. “It looks cozy,” he said.
It was, indeed, a tiny place, with one counter and one wooden table, which could seat about eight and at which sat two men just finishing their meal. The man in the picture (above), wearing a lab coat and a pink bowtie, greeted us and seated us at the table, telling the men already there to recommend dishes to us. We learned they were from Osaka, but regulars here. They asked if we like oysters (we do), but then went on to recommend a seasonal specialty, baby bamboo tempura.
Before the food came out, the woman of the picture above, in a red headscarf and looking eerily like a Japanese version of my paternal grandmother, brought out three little ceramic dishes – an amuse-bouche of tiny raw fish in a ponzu sauce, topped with grated radish and hot sauce. The fish were not so tiny that you could not see their tiny eyes. Their silvery skin was translucent, beneath which ran a dark line from head to tail. Reader, I’m sorry that we were squeamish. The only thing to do was eat the tiny fish. J had a lot of practice with this, having lived in Japan as long as he did. We all took a big gulp of cold beer and downed the tiny raw fish with their tiny eyes and tiny intestinal lines. It couldn’t be done in one bite, of course. There were lots of tiny fish in our tiny ceramic bowls. Actually, the dish was quite delicious (texture aside — an acquired taste, I’m sure!). I got through about half. J got through about half. But M? M was resolved to eat all his many tiny fish. And eat he did! Which led to a discussion on the origin of the phrase “mad props”.
We ate crab wrapped in yuba and a tomato-cheese-in-a-skillet-thing, but by the far the most delectable dish was the spring vegetable tempura, which included asparagus, a “spring flower”, a “tree root” (which I think was actually an exceptionally refined piece of broccoli), and the tender baby bamboo, crown jewel of the spring vegetables. Which just goes to show, always ask a local for a recommendation.
Food aside, this was a neat little place. The stucco walls and the basement location made it feel like a cave whose walls had been whitewashed. A mask made of a coconut shell sat on a side table by the door and one wall was adorned with a motherboard. The music jumped from African to traditional Japanese (the koto, I think), to jazz. I felt like we were just hanging out at someone’s house.
M. and I went to Japan last month to visit his brother J., who’d been living there for six years. We met J. in Tokyo, and traveled with him to Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe before hopping over to NYC for a wedding. I’m back in Seattle and not-too-jet-lagged and will write about the trip over the next few posts.
The first thing that struck me about Tokyo, having grown up in Brooklyn but having lived in Seattle for the last few years, is how large – and dense – it is. For me, this is joy. I love to be on an elevated subway, careening past a cityscape (hence the glee I experience in Chicago), glimpsing life from an angle you can’t get from any other vantage. I love, also, wandering the sidewalks, turning off from the bustle of boulevards to find a narrow alleyway filled with mom & pop restaurants, tiny art galleries, adorable (if, in Tokyo, overpriced) cafes. (M.’s urban planning is really rubbing off on me!) The thing about Tokyo is that wandering its enormity is like wandering the best of my anxiety dreams. Do you have those dreams where you’re lost in a city (for me, always a version of New York or Montreal or some fusion of the two) and the streets and trains never seem to end? I do. But in Tokyo, it felt right. Exhausting, as a tourist, but right. And despite that, one is never far away from a quiet garden or temple or shrine - some place where the noise just falls away and you’re in contact with the natural world.
There is so much to say about Tokyo, I can’t fit it all into a blog post. But, one of my favorite things we did was take a “Haunted Tokyo” walking tour, meandering the back alleys of Kabukicho, an older neighborhood that is now the red light district. Our tour guide, Lilly, has been living in Tokyo nearly 27 years and collecting its ghost stories all along. Our first stop was a Shinto shrine to the “mother of all angry ghosts,” O-iwa. The gruesome story of her death (her husband poisons her slowly, and half her face becomes disfigured, her eyeball drooping off of it) reminded me of how the worst of my migraines feels. To soothe O-iwa’s spirit, and to stay on her good side, local merchants leave her offerings of sake.
We stopped by a Buddha of the Phlegm (which is not haunted, but a good place to cure congestion problems) and learned that workers in the Edo period believed earthquakes (which happened every 50 years or so) were caused by the cat fish god, which, Lilly said, they liked because the cyclical upheaval caused a radical redistribution of wealth and rebuilding the city meant more opportunities for work.
Lilly told many more ghost stories, but perhaps my favorite morsel of her spiel was not ghostly at all. Walking down “Golden Alley,” a nightlife area purported to be favorite haunts of Wim Wenders, Johnny Depp, and Tim Burton, she told us that *her*favorite bar, Cremaster, is hosted by a psychiatrist, who for 1500 yen will give you a drink and a 30 minute chat. Maybe next time I’m in Tokyo I’ll go there and tell him about my endless-city-anxiety-dreams over a shikuwasa sour.
Greetings from Kyoto! Just a short note to share my review of Vitomil Zupan’s Minuet For Guitar, up on the Ploughshares blog. This time, I tried to do something a little different, composing the review in lists, and had a lot of fun changing things up this – I just might do it again!
In the third grade, I wanted to be an archaeologist. You know, the whole Indiana Jones shtick: I’d climb along the side of my bunk bed, scaling vertical rock walls and absconding with golden statues of squat monster-gods. My friend Jane, who was only allowed to watch PBS but somehow watched Twin Peaks on the sly, had us don imaginary lab coats and examine jewels and bones. Later, I actually minored in archaeology in college and learned that “shoats” can be either sheep or goat (their skeletons are the same). Gin Philips’s novel, Come in and Cover Me, which I’ve reviewed over at Ploughshares, takes on archaeology from a different angle, one admittedly more mature and emotionally nuanced than my juvenile forays into the field, and with some humor along the way.
This weekend I picked up a copy of Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Looking forward to dig into that one. In the meantime, here’s a lovely post about Miller’s childhood in Brooklyn. I do wonder how one played “cat” or “shimmy”!
Originally posted on Ephemeral New York:
“It’s strange what a little boy remembers of his early life,” wrote Henry Miller in a 1971 New York Times essay, nine years before the death of the author of Tropic of Cancer and other great 20th century novels.
Until age nine, Miller lived with his family (at left) at 662 Driggs Avenue (below) in Williamsburg. His memories of what he deemed his “sojourn in paradise” offer fascinating glimpses of life through a kid’s eyes in 1890s Brooklyn.
“Diagonally opposite us was Fillmore Place, just one block long, which was my favorite street and which I can still see vividly if I close my eyes.”