Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shoes like green beetles

No reflective essay whoopdidoo today, just lust for shoes.

Yesterday, I saw a woman with bright green doc martens. Like this but shorter:

These are from a vintage site
Unfortunately, they've already been sold.

I kept glancing at her as I approached the table she was sitting at, as I passed, and even once as I climbed the staircase near her. When I was on the stairs we actually made eye contact. She probably thought I was scoping her out, or maybe she understood it was shoe lust.

I wish I had been wearing something appropriately shiny to match. My flower docs maybe. I got these lovelies a looooooooong time ago in Toronto, City of Shoes, home to a holy site for shoe lust pilgrimage: the Bata Shoe Museum. This is an entire freestanding, four-story museum devoted to the history and aesthetics of freaking shoes!!! I'll give you a moment to bask in the glory of this idea ...



A couple days ago, a friend posted on FB that she missed her old blue combat boots after seeing a woman walk across her campus sporting a pair. I don't know if the ones she saw were shiny metallic blue like these babies, but I like these a lot. The ones she used to wear back in day (as the kids say) were not metallic, but this same friend also used to wear the awesomest leather jacket with the The The logo painted on the back. <3 

But back to green. I currently only have one pair of green shoes in my collection. A lime green pair of Kenneth Cole loafers.   I got them in Camden, ME, once upon a time.

I used to have a pair of green canvas, t-strap Negevs, but when I had babies my feet got bigger and they stopped being comfortable. I hope someone else took them home from the thrift store and now wears them with a black and white gingham skirt.

Put this all in the shoe lust blender, and I now have a serious jones for some shiny bottle green confections. Green like metallic beetles. Green you can't deny. I like the look of these girls:


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dining in Nirvana with Little Steven

He's pretty shiny, right?

I have a habit of leaving cryptic notes for myself, often in the form of untitled lists scrawled on scraps of paper then tucked away to be found at some later date. I wonder over them.What was the moment in which this group of words seemed important? What was I thinking? What is on this list that is still important? Sometimes they result in lovely serendipities.

For instance, I have a tattered, creased sheet of grid paper I have held onto for 23 years. (It's somewhere in the attic right now.) At a funny angle on the back side (I've no idea what's on the front) is a list of titles of books about theater (Towards a Poor Theatre ... Empty Space ... ) And set off a bit, a guessed-at name: "Castlevetro?" I hurriedly made this list after a conversation with the Great Condee, my dramatic theory professor, whom I coouldn't embarass myself in front of by admitting I didn't know what he was talking about. For a long time I kept this list because I wanted to remember to learn its contents. Over time, without even referring to the list I did. Then I held onto it to remember being the person who made it. Last week, I gave my Intro to Fiction and Drama class a minilecture about the neoclassical response to Shakespeare; I mentioned Castelvetro. It's taken a long time, but I'm finally on the other side of that list.

Maybe Lodovico Castelvetro was shiny on the inside.

The other day, I found another list, this one more recent. A blue square of scrap paper with notes about music that might make good "soundtrack" for the damned Book in Progress (henceforth BIP), mostly rootsy, Americana type music. The Mark Knopfler/Emmylou Harris collaboration from a few years back is on there, and a lot of Springsteen, including an entry for Radio Nowhere (which has tantalizing connections to working title of BIP). I had the list at the library with me, and took the last 10 minutes before closing to try to grab some CDs. No Knopfler/Harris to be found, several Springsteen that I wanted to check out ... but nothing called Radio Nowhere.

At home, working on BIP, without looking too closely I tried to decide what CD I wanted to play in the background - Ghost of Tom Joad or Magic? There are ghosts in the book, but there is also magic, and right now what I need is more magic. (Yes, this is the way I think sometimes. Inviting serendipity, really.) I put Magic in CD player, then looked at the track list ... Do you know what the first song on that album is? "Radio Nowhere." Nice. Very nice. I opened up the case, and on the inside was a picture of Bruce and the band ... Steven Van Zandt beaming on the right ... and I was instantly transported to the time I crossed paths with him. I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

20 years ago, when I transferred from the most expensive experimental liberal arts college in the nation to CCNY, the kind chair of the English department suggested I might be interested in a special course with a visiting scholar, an Oxford don no less. An intensive half-semester poetry seminar with an Oxford don who happened to be the great-great-grandson of William Wordsworth's brother. I didn't know crap about poetry and I'd already the year before suffered my first bout of crippling writers block. How could I say no?

The great-great-great uncle, who had a fondness for daffodils.

Jonathan Wordsworth was tall, angular, smart, casually handsome, tweedy, enthusiastic, and ironical. Everything you'd want your visiting Oxford don poetry professor to be, I suppose. I was in way, way over my head. I can recall making one canny observation about a poem by e.e. cummings, but when it came time to begin writing the seminar paper, I was in deep trouble. Faced with the same writers block that had driven me to the edge of the cliff the year before, I tried to protect myself. I went to Jonathan's office (everyone called him Jonathan), and told him I was desperate and I wanted to drop the class. Jonathan guffawed and talked me into staying. (Later he described my demeanor during that visit as "dithering." I've always hated him a little bit for that.)

When the course was finished, before he took his Wordsworth Express on to the next station, Jonathan gave me an incomplete and detailed instructions about where to send my paper, and he took the whole class out for dinner, at Nirvana.

To get there I took the subway to Columbus Circle and walked across Central Park South to number 30. A discreet brass plaque on the building announced the presence of the restaurant to those who knew enough to look for it and pointed the way to the penthouse elevator. I rode up to the 15th floor alone and walked into the bar, the ornate antechamber to a glowing, draped, upholstered confection of luxury with one glass wall revealing the whole breathtaking expanse of Central Park.

I was the first one there. I have no idea if I was appropriately dressed. I sat on a tufted bar stool and ordered a rum and tonic with feigned nonchalance and waited until I was led to the table. Still alone, I sat with my back to the entrance, the park filling my view. Across the small room an expensive looking man with a scarf tied around his head leaned in close to talk to his dinner companions. He looked familiar. Soon Jonathan and the other students arrived. We munched on papadums. I ordered another drink. I flirted with the grad student on my left. I gazed and gazed at the park. It dawned on me that the guy in the headscarf laughing on the other side of the room was Little Steven. How very odd that we had ended up at the same place at the same time. I felt small and important. Completely out of my element at a table I had been invited to join. Magic?

Why is this memory asking to be written? I'm not sure.  I never finished my paper for Jonathan. My permanent record says F-incomplete. I carried shame about that for a long time, regretted not dropping the class. But what's the point? He died in 2006, teacher to thousands (including Martin Amis and me), having forgotten my dithering. Without him I'd never have sat in that dazzling penthouse with a rockstar and a view of this:
Thanks, Jonathan.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bait Fish

David made fun of me when I told him, two weeks ago, that I had "started writing the first post" for this blog.

"You don't get it, do you?" he asked, knowing perfectly well that I do.

I probably threatened to throw something at him.

I erased that fragment of first post. It was too mannered and laborious. It was all about what I want this blog to be about. It was all about my anxiety of influence re certain other writers (namely George Eliot), and about the wonder of coming upon a manuscript of Middlemarch in the British Library about 5 million years ago, and the little paperback reproduction of her quotation-filled blotter I bought in the gift shop.

The paperback looks like this. (I haven't actually read it.)
Miraculously, I was able to find it in less than 5 minutes,
despite the shocking disarray of my bookshelves ... it was on the attic stairs.
(more on bookshelves in some other post)

In the intervening two weeks, I have made a list of possible topics for blog posts - everything from "writing like cooking" to "sexual abuse sucks" to "my life in fantasy careers, foreign service edition," but I still haven't begun the blog.

Sure, it's easy for David to make fun of me. He has about 500 blogs (like this, this, this, and this). He uses them to organize his thoughts, to promote projects, to comment on certain topics of abiding interest to him. I admire and envy the particular kind of creative focus/compulsion of which this is a symptom.

My blog will be different. It will be a compendium of all topics interesting to Toni, depending on what she is working on, teaching, thinking about, or feeling called by. (Likely there will be many posts about books, music, food, shoes, children, and writing). I called it Shiny Things because I am a mental magpie. I collect pretty idea trinkets that glint in the sun, some are diamonds, some tinfoil. Here I will strew them about in a great, festive heap, and hope you, dear reader, will admire them.

When I was young I hoarded my shiny observations and ideas, my inspiration, in a dark, locked box. I feared that if I let them out in the world, I would run out. They dried up and died in there. This was one reason I suffered crippling writers block in my late teens and into my early mid-20s. Then, after writing on deadline for pay, after finally finishing college, after stillbirth, after yoga, after my first graduate degree, I finally came to trust the source. It was innate. There would be plenty. And for a while I thought it was enough to notice them as they occurred and to let them go. Catch and release, occasionally keep one to grill up into a story. If I were a true yogi, maybe that would be enough, but I have now begun to fear running out of time before I get to do enough with them. Now, I want to keep them, fresh and alive not locked in a box, so they can grow on their own or for me to use as bait when I go looking for the harder catch - the bright silver marlin, this goddamned novel I've been working on forever, my all-girl rockabilly movie, the list goes on.

Shiny Things is a holding tank for the quick, flashing bait fish I bring in each day. Watch them as they swim.