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Helga and Nectarines

8 Sep

I see people walking down Bellevue, dressed for work. On sunnier, warmer days, back in August, I saw them bounding down the avenue to catch their bus. Today, cool and gray, mist hiding the mountains and the water, they walk rather grimly, knowing that their idyllic blackberry summer is coming to an end. No more sea kayaking. No more hiking in the Olympic peninsula or on Mt. Rainier (yesterday, Labor Day: saw Imogen Cunningham’s nude husband wandering in the milky sunshine atop the latter at the Seattle Art Museum). We’re getting used to venturing to the farmers’ market with plastic hoods against plops of rain. M. found a vendor with the most real-tasting nectarines we’ve ever had: more than flavorful, juicy, aromatic. Never have I eaten such a joyous fruit. The vendor, too, is a wonder. Tell her you want some fruit to eat today and some fruit to eat in a couple of days, and she dandles her fingers over the rows of nectarines, sniffs each fruit at the stem and tells you (to the minute!) when the fruit will be most delicious.

But I mentioned SAM. What else did we see? Cunningham was great: innards of flowers with enormous precision; a self-portrait reflected in a Danish lingerie shop; a fun house portrait of loopyily stretched grand kids; gap-toothed smiling children staring voraciously into her lens, eager to be captured on film.

And Wyeth. Only seven paintings, but by far the most crowded exhibit. Like Cunningham’s nudes, there’s a sort of milky luminance to his Helga, but less dreamy than Cunningham, sort of hyper real. As if he sees her more clearly than one can ever see anything. If that makes sense. He wrote that a really good painting will be mostly memory. I like that idea.

The most heavily advertised temporary exhibit was Target Practice: Art Under Attack, 1949-1978, an international survey of post World War II art trying to subvert, to do something else. A 1960s French artist shot paint at her canvas with a rifle; an Italian artist and a Japanese artist began stabbing their canvases around the same time period without knowing about each other; canvases were taken off their stretchers and crumpled into forms; canvases were gouged, drawn and quartered; latex paints were poured on the floor; paintings without paint or a canvas were contemplated, concocted. My favorite piece (though I’ll admit this was my least favorite exhibit) was Andy Warhol’s oxidized squares, at the end of the exhibit. He and his assistants urinated onto copper-based paint, allowing an oxidization process to create a rather lovely dappled patina. For all the violence and aggression of the show, it was a rather pretty piece.

Cross-Country Drive

26 Aug

Eschewing sentences, paragraphs, and chronology, I’ve assembled a discombobulated list of lists. Like Gertrude Stein. But not.

Mileage: Approximately 3200
Days: 7 (5 driving)
Start Point: Brooklyn, NY
End Point: Seattle, WA

Parting Image of New York City: A fish-netted rump, bent over the entrance to the Holland Tunnel (a Jumbotron advertisement for Chicago)

A propos song accompaniment to parting image: Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back” (nice coincidence: Sir Mix A Lot hails from Seattle)

Cities Stopped in to eat and/or sleep: Clarion, PA; Chicago, IL; Madison, WI; Twin Cities, MN; Sioux Falls, SD; Rapid City, SD; Gillette, WY; Sheridan, WY; Billings, MT; Bozeman, MT; Missoula, MT; Coeur D’Alene, ID

Detours: Corn Palace; Badlands National Park; Mount Rushmore; the Berkeley Pit of Butte, MT

Planned Detour, Skipped: Milwaukee, WI

Parting Image of Pennsylvania: An Amish man rifling through the woods behind a diesel station.

Parting Image of Ohio: a rest stop’s large rack of Amish and Mennonite-themed romance fiction

Most Displaced-Seeming Image: A tumble weed rolling down the street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Weird Recurrent Theme: Scarred Arms. Slashes on the man who picked up our old bed in Brooklyn; accidents and operations (including bolts) on a waitress in Gillette; purposeful horizontal lines on a waitress in our new favorite neighborhood bar.

Best Contemporary Art: Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. See esp. Tomás Saraceno’s bucky balls of moss, black webbing, and PVC pillows.

Best Architecture: Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing for the Art Institute of Chicago. The main hall is light, airy, soaring, and with a vista winking at Gehry’s bandshell in Millennium Park.

Wildlife spotted: Hawks, buzzards, robin redbreasts, eagles, grasshoppers, one rabbit, one fox, and multiple “Beware of Rattlesnakes” signs. One little brown dot in a Badlands canyon purporting to be bison (sadly, no binoculars).

Most Surprising, Spectacular and Varied Landscape: South Dakota, especially catching sunset in the Badlands.

Colors of the Rocks in the Badlands: Stripes of yellow, gray, and rust.

Most Pervasive Sound in the Badlands: Rattling (M: “Those are insects, not snakes.” Me: “Then why all the warning signs for snakes? Why all the rattling?” Debate on the difference between rattling sounds and buzzing sounds ensues.)

Number of Hitchhikers Seen: 2

Number of Religious Billboards: 6, 3 of which were anti-abortion, mostly in South Dakota (perhaps refer back to religious-experience sunset over the Badlands for partial explanation)

Most Jarring Billboard (non-religious): [Picture of a filthy public toilet] “No one imagines losing their virginity here. Meth can change that.” (in Montana)

Most Public Service Announcements Regarding Meth: Montana

Most Bleak, Monotonous and Post-Apocalyptical Landscape: northeastern Wyoming (brown hills, black shrubs, mining pits, oil derricks). Closely followed by eastern Washington (a vast desert of dull blue shrubs and dry fields, mini-tornados of dust on either side of the interstate; placards for peach and cherry orchards seemed like perverse lies)

Most Welcome Body of Water: Moses Lake, Washington, after which the desert of eastern Washington gradually turns into Cascade National Forest and we fear not opening the car window again.

Most Acidic Body of Water: Gathering ground water inside the Berkeley Pit of Butte, Montana. Popular myth has it that water fowl landing on the water die instantly. The newsletter given with admission to view the pit tries to debunk that myth. Also discussed in the newsletter: the curious iron-feeding algae thriving in the vinegar-like water.

Most Disappointed Tourists: The Corn Palace (South Dakota)

Most Frightening Industrial Complexes: The Exxon-Mobil and Philips Conoco plants (refineries?) of Billings, Montana

Most Disdainful & Smug Starbucks Employee: Inside the Crowne Plaza of Billings, Montana

My best driving: southern Minnesota (straight, flat, empty)
My worst driving: forgetting to take my foot off the gas entering a gas station in Bozeman, Montana (not to worry, nothing happened)

Worst Smelling City: Gary, Indiana (Gowanus Canal is beaten by Wolf Lake, which can be sniffed from 10 miles away)
Best Smelling City: Bozeman, Montana

Felt Most Out of Place In: Lulabell’s Café, beside the freight trains hauling coal out of Gillette, Wyoming.

Overheard Conversation at Lulabell’s: How to win a lawsuit in which defendant broke plaintiff’s ribs after plaintiff insisted on hitting on defendant’s 15- year-old niece in a bar (defendant himself brought niece into said bar). Speakers (both in cowboy hats and both with booming voices) were on side of defendant. Strategy: demand a jury trial and get at least two jurors with teenage daughters.

Most flavorful (and most expensive) burger: Ted’s (e.g. Turner) Montana Grill in Bozeman

Biggest Attempt at Appearing Green: Ted’s (recycled paper mats, 80% paper straws, claim that their cow and bison live happy lives)

Overheard Conversation at Ted’s: Favorite American sculptor, living or dead

Most Well-Travelled Orange: Bought in Sheridan, Wyoming, apparently shipped from Australia, and eaten in Seattle.

First Memorable Experience in Seattle: After arriving in town on an uncharacteristically hot day and schlepping boxes and luggage up three flights of stairs, falling victim to a drive-by water gunning on the corner of Harvard and Harrison.

Strange bookends to our journey: Watching the first half of There Will Be Blood in Brooklyn surrounded by our packed up boxes and finishing it in Seattle in the chaos of unpacking. Simplified take-away from the film: greed and religion go hand-in-hand until greed bludgeons religion to death with a bowling pin. Mm. Welcome home!

Yellow Medicine Review

3 Aug

My short story “Ebb and Flow” has been accepted for the Fall 2009 issue of Yellow Medicine Review. This issue, guest edited by Andrei Guruianu, will focus on Eastern Europe twenty years after the fall of communism. Very much looking forward to seeing the issue!


9 Jul

We have an old metal filing cabinet that I think my father had picked up on a sidewalk once and that’s been sitting in our coat closet for the past few years. The clunker’s too big for our cross-country move, and I’ve started sifting through my files of drafts and copious rejection notes (ha ha…ugh). And at the very bottom of the bottom drawer, beneath my spare teaching supplies (do people still use overhead transparencies?) I found a large, yellowed index card, folded in half.

The outside was addressed “To Mother & Dad”. The inside says this:
“I want you both to sit down and relax– take a moment’s respite from the tedious effort of gift unwrapping– and turn on the KLH radio, listen for a few moments– perhaps munch on a little Figi’s cheese in the interim– and pretend the KLH tuner is a gift, again this year, from a most frugal daughter- and try to be grateful!!! Love, L___”


New Toy

18 Jun

While I’ve been relying heavily on Duotrope to find literary magazines to submit to, I just found this new website that organizes information about litmags in a different, more visual way. While it currently lists only 450 magazines (compared to Duotrope’s 1145), it color codes listings with bold borders indicating whether a magazine is more traditional or open to more experimental work, and there is also tag cloud showing the kinds of writing accepted by the various magazines listed. The site also allows for comments on particular publications, with the hope of one day posting “unbiased reviews” of mags on the front page of the site. Other neat tidbits of information include circulation data, which I’ve always found unwieldy to dig up, and acceptance rates as reported by editors rather than submitters. So that could be a nice counterbalance to Duotrope’s writer-reported acceptances. If you’re into that sort of thing.

High Line’s Debut

10 Jun

Yesterday, M. took me to the High Line, which officially opened its first section to the public this week. The only entrance for now is on Gansevoort and Washington. I felt giddy ascending the steps to what had been built up and built up and talked about and photographed and anticipated.

The rain had rendered the vegetation lush: wild grasses, purple and blue conical flowers, odd green spears and larger cones of muted yellow just about to burst open to something brighter. (I’d wished there was a guide to the plants, but could find none on their website, just a picture or two of echinacea purpurea.) There were spindly plants topped with magenta spheres and moody, bluish red petalled things, everything poking out of stylized cracks in concrete and elegantly arranged rusting train tracks, just as they’d done wildly, before.

And the views! M. snatched my attention away from the architectural botany to the strange and wonderful perspective on the buildings around us. Just-above-the-rooftops of the meatpacking district on the one side with wispy grasses growing atop awnings and views of pediments and cornices you’d never see from the street level without craning your neck and getting hit by truck hauling animal carcasses or a snarling Escalade.

On the other side, remnants of what is still a manufacturing zone. Whining machinery still grates the ear. You get a marvelous close up of the rotting neglect of buildings. Gorgeous patterns of mottled brick and peeling paint and metal doors leading out to no where, fire escapes rusted away long ago. Barbed wire catching plastic bags and shuddering rooftop ventilation systems.

Thankfully, the botany seems delicately designed with the olfactory in mind, wafting over any industrial smells.

We walked further north and M. seems to salivate at the view ahead, that explosion of West Chelsea architecture. I’m staring at a honeybee burrowing into a lavender poof of something and then he pulls us forward, under the gray Standard Hotel straddling the High Line. Slabs of concrete jut out of the hotel, reaching for the High Line without touching it, amputated by glass barriers that perhaps will one day be removed and planks put across the gap so park goers can be sucked into fancy pants lounges.

Gehry’s iceberg / sail boat is moored along the northwest side, with Nouvel’s winky windows behind, continuing installation as I write. We can stare into a yoga class in the Equinox near 14th Street and the students emege groggy from their corpse pose, befuddled by the voyeurs standing on this perch, snapping pictures of everything, shamelessly.

We recline on a cedar (?) bench that rolls a short distance along a track and wondered how long it would be before names were scratched into the slats of wood. A man in an army coat, circular sunglasses, and a thick gray moustache pointed whimsically up, shoots his enormously expensive camera right at our faces. He repeats this with the man beside us, assuring him he is only taking pictures of the gallery behind us.

At the fence on 20th St., a Parks Department sentry repeats a happy spiel: “This only the end for now. Section Two is scheduled to open next year. Check out the website for updates.”

newsy news

2 May

M. and I are moving cross-country to Seattle in August, something we’ve toyed with for a few years now. I’ll be pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Washington-Seattle; he’ll be doing his urban planning thing, hopefully (fingers crossed on this whole sour economy thing). We’re ecstatic and planning a cross-country drive which will cover a swath of the northern states. This means I will have to finally take some driving lessons so M. doesn’t drive all 2,000+ miles (even if I did have fun testing out GoogleMaps’experimental walking option: it would take us 39 days of non-stop walking, apparently). As it happens, that first trip to Vancouver and Seattle was where I drove for the first time, in an icy parking lot at the University of British Columbia; M. told me to drive in a circle and all I could do were figure eights.

On that note, here are two fun mapping sites:
1. triptopnyc
2. literature map


12 Feb

For my birthday, M. is taking me to see Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. Last year, we saw the Classic Stage Company’s rendition of The Seagull (not to be confused with the production that was on Broadway, which I also wanted to see). Sometimes I still walk around the house imitating Dianne Wiest as Arkadina bellowing, god-like, “I am not Jove.”

If you’re into the Chekhov, apparently CSC’s Uncle Vanya (with that handsome Brooklyn couple Maggie Gyllenhaall and Peter Sarsgaard) has been extended until March 8.

2009 Reading Queue

25 Jan

I’m approaching the end of that wonderful tome Middlemarch and finding myself agog at the huge number of books I’ve acquired over the past few years and have not yet read. The culprit for many of them is Housing Works, where I can find used books for $0.50-$1.00, as well gifts from many folk who know a good book gets my little heart aflutter. Here are some books I hope to read in the coming year (in no particular order):

1. Absurdistan
2. War and Peace (the new translation)
3. Aspects of the Novel
4. Kafka on the Shore
5. Germinal
6. Three Lives, by Gertrude Stein
7. The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing
8. The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud
9. Best American Short Stories of 2008, ed. by Salman Rushdie (already reading)
10. Midnight’s Children
11. Satanic Verses (I think it might be a Rushdie year for me…)
12. Natasha, by David Bezmogis

I’m realizing now this list doesn’t include many books sitting patiently, quietly, waiting to be plucked off the shelf and to receive little bends and cracks in their spines. I think this will be a good year.

Garden of Earthly Delights

17 Jan

Well, it has been eons since I’ve written anything here. Since I last wrote, I’ve gotten married, been to Spain, changed day jobs, spent two weeks in Wilmington, DE for work, and…whew. That’s enough of an update on the personal end of things.

Tonight, M. is taking me to Martha Clarke’s Garden of Earthly Delights. On our honeymoon, we gaped at Bosch’s masterpiece in the Prado, but had to jostle with the expected swarm of tourists to enjoy all its bulbous glory. Now we are going to see this dance based on the painting, originally performed in 1985 and now resurrected for your viewing pleasure. The website has a fun feature where you can click on each part of the painting’s triptych and gaze at all Bosch’s details, both glorious and horrible. (Click on “the painting”.) Enjoy!

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