I’m thrilled to have my essay “Dark Fruit: A Cultural and Personal History of the Plum” appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books today. It collages personal stories with discussions of Tolstoy, Herta Müller, Gregor von Rezzori, ancient Chinese poetry, visual art, horticulture, superstitions, and more. I’m grateful it found a home in such a fine venue!
On December 3 at 7 pm, I’m reading from my novel PARALEGAL at the Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. This performance culminates a year+ of work on a project whirred forward by support from 4Culture and Jack Straw Cultural Center, for which I am very grateful. I’ll be joined by four fantastic Jack Straw Fellows whose work intersects with mine, on the topics of art, money, and desire: Bernard Grant, Emily Bedard, Matthew Schnirman, and Martha Kreiner. Please come!
I’m grateful to have caught “How Do I Fit This Ghost in My Mouth?”, Geoffrey Farmer‘s exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery this weekend. I had never heard of Farmer, and I was entranced. “The Last Two Million Years” is a collage sculpture that takes up an entire room, comprised of hundreds of figures meticulously cut from a found Reader’s Digest encyclopedia of the same title. I was awed not just at the amount of work that went into the installation, but the impulse to pin down layers of ephemera–not only tiny details in a vast history that feels impossible to contain but also the fleetingness of the found book itself, which stands eviscerated as you exit the room.
“The Surgeon and the Photographer” gathers images in a similar though more surreal manner, creating Dadaist characters from used books salvaged from a closed down used bookshop as well as fabrics. The sculptures are called puppets, suggesting one might inhabit them, give them voice and stories, and they’d be rich and complex stories indeed. Somehow this piece recalled for me a bizarre puppet movie I once saw as a tiny person, sitting alone in the attic in front of our old knobbed television tuned to a UHF channel. Faceless wooden mannequins sat chained in tubs of water and turned their heads, vaguely squeaking but unable to talk. I was utterly mesmerized and alarmed and had no idea what I was looking at.
The most thrilling installation for me was “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” — an eerie room filled with moving sculptures made of old movie props (lion heads, snakes with blue light bulb teeth), a haunting soundscape (bells, chimes, wind), and lights that shift from green to red to blue so that when it finally becomes white, the colors of the objects are almost a shock. The room is programmed to last the duration of an entire day, and I was very tempted to try and experience it for that long.
Alas, we did not spend the entire day there. After leaving the museum, we encountered a zombie-themed wedding and wondered if the square outside Vancouver Art Gallery has a similar function to New York’s Union Square. On the beach by English Bay, at sunset, we saw someone make enormous soap bubbles that shrieking children and adults alike chased to pop. We found a wonderfully curated independent bookstore called Pulp Fiction (I picked up The Dud Avocado and M picked up Wanderlust), and we watched a man train an enormous pit bull puppy on Kitsilano Beach with the help of beautiful red husky, and we gorged ourselves on Ukrainian, Malaysian, and Italian food. We also found time to just sit still and read. And, thanks to Geoffrey Farmer and all kinds of other stimuli, I wrote a poem, possibly the first I’ve written that I actually kind of like. Maybe I’ll even send it out. Art wins!
This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.
Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.
Yesterday and all of last night and into 9 am this morning, the Center on Contemporary Art hosted a 24-hour art-making marathon at their Ballard location, the Shilshole Bay Beach Club. One of the 21 artists participating, John Osgood, wanted to collaborate with other artists during this frenzied event, and last month, I was invited to submit some of my writing. I sent John a couple short stories, and didn’t know what would happen until I arrived at the marathon yesterday (of course, pretty much simultaneously with his other collaborators Amir Farhad, Robert Hardgrave, Stephen Rock, and a last minute fifth collaborator which added to the frenzy). John told me he’d chosen to work with my story “Skitter” and would paint a parade scene from it. He proposed that I paint text on the canvas and he would layer colors on top of that. I loved the idea, though I was nervous about painting, even if it was in my realm of text. After I decided what text should go on the canvas, he showed me how to use a paint pen, and I practiced as much as I could so that it didn’t look like a 3 year old or drunk person had written it, though I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing. John spray painted over my first layer of text, then wrote over the same excerpt with a red paint pen, using his infinitely cooler handwriting. Then he spray painted it again and handed me a calligraphy brush and more liquid black paint and asked me to write the text again in smaller letters, trying not to cover over the other two layers but getting between them. John is probably taking a well-deserved nap right now, seeing as he painted 5 new pieces, collaborating with 5 different people, all between 9 am yesterday and 9 am today. The works (and there was a ton of other fantastic stuff being made by 20 other artists) will be auctioned off tonight during CoCA’s fun-n-fancy gala dinner, which is, I understand sold out. Of course I am eagerly awaiting the final product from John’s take on “Skitter” — above are a few photos from documenting the process. Special thanks to John Osgood and to Nichole DeMent. It was a fantastic night!
Here it is, the final product, “Harush,” by John Osgood & Anca Szilagyi: