Monday, May 27, 2013

A place of dangerous wonder. Or, the alembic of me.

Have you ever or do you now own this album?

Every once in a while, I get a bee in my bonnet about this quote from Emerson's Nature: "Thus is Art, a nature passed through the alembic of man," but I can never remember the word "alembic." I think and I think. "Limbic?" I wonder. "Lambic?" And knowing that it means somethin about straining or distilling I go on a search for synonyms of these words or I try to comb my way through Emerson until finally I find it. (An alembic is a kind of still used in the Middle Ages.)

I think I first encountered the quote in an undergraduate classical rhetoric class, but why my professor brought it up I'm not sure. Perhaps the point was the rhetoric was part of the distilling process? I'm not sure that's what Emerson was getting at, but I'll go with it.

The quote occurs to me when I am trying to figure out why artmaking matters. This can be a position of despair. Human ugliness overwhelms me and I wonder what possible good art can do in the face of it. More often though, this springs from a place of dangerous wonder that edges toward annihilation. A feeling I think must have been at least somewhat familiar to Emerson. Struck by something beautiful in the natural world, I think "What could humans possible do that would be better than this. Why don't we just stop all our busyness and let the world be?" But we are here and we are busy, and we persist with this distilling of Nature into Art.

That "alembic" has an alchemical association by dint of its medieval origins makes this concept even more appealing to me. So art isn't just nature distilled - made more concentrated - through human perception, thought, experience, creativity, what have you. It is nature transmuted into something else. Sometimes I even believe this.

A glance in the OED also tells me that Nabokov used the word figuratively in Lolita: "Fate..mixed within its alembic the car and the dog and the sun and the shade." (See it for yourself, in context, here.)

And then, I start thinking about how pleasant this "mb" in the middle of the word is, and I go looking for other words with mb in the middle. Words like "adumbrate" and "akimbo" and "circumambulate" and "flamboyantly flambeed" and I find that I can peruse and entire list of them here:

I fucking love the internet.

Reading: Continuing with the Dillard. Also reading Gatsby, in preparation for seeing the movie. 

Writing: Yes! The goal for the weekend was to finish the North Beach scene, and I did it. I hope when I go back to it I think it's OK. Next, I need to spend some time with macro level stuff so I can figure out what to break off and work with on the micro level. But first, I have promised myself a writing session devoted to food writing as a reward.

Dinner: This weekend there was a potluck, to which I took lemony green bean salad, and a cookout with friends, to which we took mango-banana-orange-raisin-marshmallow salad (made by David). Tonight I made a white pizza with smoked sausage, broccoli, capers, and fresh roma tomato and a mixed lettuce salad with fresh avocade-lemon-cumin dressing, and a yummy California malbec.

Soundtrack: 80s compilation CD made in 1993. It includes "The Jam was Moving" (Listen) by Debbie Harry from her KooKoo album. This sort of surprised me because I live with the weird fantasy than I am the only person who ever owned this album. 

Random thing: I wrote in my last post about the robin's nest by my driveway and how I could hear the chicks "cheeping." Allow me to clarify. Robin chicks don't really "cheep." The make a strange high-pitched shimmer of sound as their mother approaches.

Also, I've seen several red tailed hawks soaring above my neighborhood and nearby Forest Hills Park, but Sunday morning, I spotted what I think was a red *shouldered* hawk, identifiable by the appearance of white bar-like marking on the underside of its wings.

more images on the photographer, Bill Hubick's site..

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Contagious and outrageous.

Driving O to school earlier this week, I spotted a red-headed bird among the roots of a tree. O was chatting to me about Legos, and it took me a second for my brain to fully register the sight and then think, "I want to look at that!"  I stopped the car several houses down and backed up in time to still catch this guy, a red bellied woodpecker, poking around on the ground and then hopping his way up the side of the tree.

I was knocked out on Thursday with a stomach bug/food poisoning/something yucky. Friday, I felt totally human again. Now, on Saturday, I am coming down with a cold. Z is a day ahead of me in the cold, and she is miserable; more so with the knowledge that there is a sleepover party she may or may not make it to tonight.

During the same time, I got to go to Z's school choir concert, for which she wore a sheriff's costume she has had since she was 4 for the Village People number, and I got to go see an amazing and delightful play. There is a Happiness that Morning Is by Chicago playwright Mickle Maher, in production through tonight (! get your tickets now!) at CPT, is simply a joy. My friend Brian Pedaci does some of the best acting I have ever seen him do, and he is matched by his fellows, Deirdrui Ring and Matthew Wright.

The play is a comedy in verse about two Blake scholars forced to apologize for having sex on the lawn ... but that doesn't even really describe how outrageously smart, beautiful, and hilarious it is. At one point I was actually crying I was laughing so hard. Maher has a terrific ability to turn the action just exactly when it needs to be turned - or maybe that is the director, Beth Wood. Really, if you have nothing to do tonight and you are anywhere near Cleveland, go see it. I am so rarely simply delighted by a play. This makes worthwhile all those times I have sat in a theater as the lights dim dreading the possibility of being trapped in the dark by a mediocre show. Because sometimes, this happens. (The set by Todd Krispinsky is a treat in its own right, too.)

O has his first baseball game of the season today. I will drag myself to that too, despite my pathetic state. Perhaps the sunshine will do me good. Burn off the contagion and all that.

Reading: I was going to transcribe a quote, but I have run out of time.

Writing: Yes. Hoping Planning to finish the North Beach scene this weekend and then do some macro-level work. Reward will be a few hours to think more seriously about food writing.

Dinner: On Friday, whilst temporarily human, I made a veggie-might sauce with the addition of some crushed up leftover meatballs, and served it over whole wheat spaghetti with Romano cheese.

Soundtrack: Today is Paul Weller's 55th birthday. Here is one of my favorite of his 21st century songs:

Also, I was really enjoying this week's installment of Spy vs. Spy on WRUW.

Random thing: We have a mama robin raising chicks in the arbor vitae by the driveway. I can't see the nest, but I can hear the chicks cheeping from my kitchen window, and I see her dashing back and forth with her beak full of wriggling things. If I stop and watch her for too long she squawks sternly at me. It is on my to do list this weekend to go see if I can find any blue shell fragments. That will probably make her angry too.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thor Enchanted - important lessons in comparative literature

As a family, we are slowly consuming the Avengers movie franchise. Last night, we finished watching Thor. When Thor's pals "Sif and the Warriors Three" show up to try to bring him back to Asgard, Z exclaimed, "Oh, so this is like Enchanted."

Mythical being cast out of their own world arrives on Earth through a magical portal to find themselves baffled by ways of the mundane, other creatures good and bad from the mythical world come in search of the outcast, hijinks ensue.

Yes, Z. Thor is just like Enchanted. (This sounds like something some of my friends would have written undergraduate seminar papers on.)

Reading: One of the things that Annie Dillard meditates about in For the Time Being is how we think about or fail to be able to think about tragedy on a large scale. A garment factory collapses in Bangladesh. A tornado causes "atomic bomb like" devastation in Oklahoma, leveling neighborhoods and schools. Outside my window the goldfinches serenade the dawn just like every other morning.

Writing: Yes.

Dinner: O saves the day! First, the pizza dough I thawed wouldn't cooperate. I couldn't get it to stretch out. Holes kept tearing in it. Very frustrating. Then Z and I realized her soccer practice is at 6 not 7, as I had been operating on. As it was currently 6:10, we then hustled to get her out the door. Dinner? What dinner? And whence? I was a little bit in despair. In the car, O lobbies for going to get a frozen pizza. I am skeptical, so he asks, "So, what did you have ready to go on the pizza? Salami and what else?" I told him that I had some chopped tomatoes too. "Salami and tomatoes?" he says, "We have lettuce, right? Add some cheese and that would make a really good salad, and we could get some olives and banana peppers -- with Italian dressing. And we could have that with the frozen pizza." So we did. And it was good. I praised him later for his improvisatory skills. He said, "Yeah, I like to exercise my brain."

Soundtrack: Found myself singing "Sea of Love" when trying to get the children away from Sarah's house. "Come with me ... To the sea ..."

Random thing: "A lot of memoirs end in catharsis. They're hunky-dory with their mother and father, their sister and brother, and I feel that's imposed. You're alone with yourself, and your writing, and the feeling of one's mind fraying, from a lot of things--the weight of time, the wailing of the foxes." -- Edna O'Brien in this week's New Yorker.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

O Overwhelmingly is 8

My mother-in-law made fish cake for the fishing party.
They were not fish flavored.

"Mom? Have I ever told you I'm proud to be your son?" said the new 8-year-old this morning. It kind of doesn't get any better than that, right? Nice to get this the day after one of the most successful, and least planned, kids birthdays I have presided over.

The day began with a fishing trip, during which we caught a lot of trees. And once, two in our party caught the same fish at the same time. Poor fish. The day ended in a glitzy restaurant in Little Italy watching our goofy and multi-talented friend Tim play stand-up bass in a doo-wop band. We were with Leah, who was overwhelmed by the fabulous weirdness of the whole scene. Also, I had amazing parking juju. In between the O got to play with friends, play with a Legos, play with a new video game, and eat his favorite dinner. Z got to go to the Hessler Street Fair with one of her favorite people, and see a friend on stilts. I got to putter around the house, tidy a few things, and continue the Great Book Rearrangement of 2013 (and take a nap).

I have a lot of friends who made it possible. I feel incredibly fortunate and kind of weepy for all these people.

Today I have forced the children to make me breakfast in bed. Not only did I give him a great birthday, I also birthed all of the original 10 lbs. 3 oz. of him. I deserve breakfast in bed, even if it is a leftover sandwich from his birthday party.

Reading: In For the Time Being, Dillard is examining spirituality, individuality, temporality, beingness, and related phenomena, in a fractured, associational way. One thread to follow is the question of how to think about suffering and God -- she frequently returns to the idea that it is "fatal to reason" to believe suffering comes form an omnipotent God. Hivemind question: Where does the term "fatal to reason" come from? I've tried looking it up -- first hit on Google is a quote from Mary Wollestonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Women" -- but I get nowhere beyond understanding that it is a frequently used term. Is it from classical logic? Another thread is the one about clouds and the accounts people have written of them. I believe her aim is to use the ephemeral nature of clouds as an analogy for the ephemeral nature of human existence. As a writer, I like that she just does what she wants to do with this strange form without explaining or apologizing. Also, I liked the scene with the blue crab in the desert at the source of the River Jordan.

Writing: Did well during the week. Off track for the weekend.

Dinner: O chose the garlicky/mustardy chicken "pitza" at a local Middle Eastern restaurant for his birthday dinner. I had a pitza with lots of eggplant, feta, and olives.

Soundtrack: In preparation for seeing Tim's band, David got an album of doo-wop classics from the library, which he's been playing in the car all week. O was making fun of the "dum dums" in "Come Go with Me." This happens to be one of my favorite songs of its ilk, so we requested it from the band, but then, alas, we had to leave before they could play it for us. Also ... Dion? I don't think I have fully appreciated Dion.

Random thing: I have been overwhelmed more than once in recent days by the scent of Lily of Valley. Last night, picking up Leah, it wafted on a cool breeze, carried from where the lily plants were interspersed in the ivy under a big old tree. I love this scent. I would like to plant more Lily of the Valley. (I have some that has volunteered in a corner of my "garden." Then again I would like to do anything proactive in my garden.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Looking forward on a Friday morning

Not forward looking, but still very fine.
 The Paul Weller News facebook page sent me this gift this morn.

This is not an apology post for not posting (David would hate that), but it is a brief reflection on what not posting means to me.

So, as I have explained previously (and might return to provide links for here), the goal of this particular blog is to record the things that capture my interest or pique my emotions and the often fleeting chains of thought that go with them. I had a good stretch of doing this daily, and I really value that. But I am not going to get bent of of shape for not doing it as regularly. Life intervenes. I am lucky my days are so full.

But what of all those details of the past several days? The time I was listening to a tribute to Sidney Bechet on college radio when I turned into a parking lot and when I returned to my car 20 minutes later, after the top of the hour, someone was playing a Talking Heads song the name of which I do not know? Or the conversation I had with Z about friend angst and not prying but being here if she needs to talk? Or the hilarious way the cats rush to the windows at dawn to watch the birds wake?

Sometimes I do try to sum it all up, but I want to release myself from the need to return and document the past several days. It is not as though I have a lack of new experiences or ideas. Trying to hold onto all of those things is a kind of hording, and hording is a habit I am trying to break in general. Let's trust in the thing to come rather than cling to the thing that is past. I will endeavour tonight to tell you about today, the day before O's 8th birthday, when my mother and my nephew and I will work the bookfair and bring treats to school and go birthday shopping and then we will all go to the school carnival and I will come home exhausted and wanting whisky.

This does all beg the question ... Toni, don't you record those details somewhere else? Is this blog your only journal/diary/notebook/sketchpad? ... There is an entire blog post in this question. I will return to it on a day when I have nothing else to say. OK?

Reading: Non-obsessive readers have asked me what Dillard book it is I am so impressed with. If you kept up, you would know ... ::sigh:: ... but I will tell you it is For the Time Being, and it is odd and wonderful. I read slowly - my Kindle says I am still only 45% through it. I promise, I will go into more detail ... in the future. This is not hording. This is bookmarking. Before I go on to the next book I am reading, I will go into my thoughts on this one.

Writing: Actually, I have not been blogging because all my text generating time has been spent working on the North Beach scene requested by my writers group.

Dinner: It's mostly been hasty eating around here lately. Last night, before her violin recital, Z requested we have the family feast of spaghetti and meatballs (frozen meatballs not homemade, alas). David made awesome garlicky broccoli to go with.

Soundtrack: Back on a Paul Weller kick. Listening to Wildwood in the car the past couple days. It's funny to me how much I disliked this album when I first bought it, back in the early-mid-90s. I wasn't ready for it. I wanted Paul Weller to stay the Paul Weller of my youth. But part of what I lave about Paul Weller is that he continues to evolve as an artist. That and he's really hot.

Random thing:  I wore a vintage cotton lawn dress to Z's recital with a vintage lacy slip underneath. This is the perfect warm weather outfit. The women of the world deserve more cotton lawn. This fabric has gone out of style, but I challenge my fashion designing friends to bring it back.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Notes from a whirlwind weekend

at least you have an illustration to look at, OK?

Whirlwind weekend - Friday night David and I went to see children's theater without our children (!!!) and took in a lecture by international children's theater sensation Tasmanian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer. Haven't you always wanted to know a Tasmanian playwright? David did a workshop with him last year that really opened up stuff for him creatively, so he was eager to hear him speak. Fin gave a great talk about emphasizing the "what" of playwriting over the how or the why -- really, this could apply to the what of any storytelling endeavour - a sort of call to arms to be true to the story and to let it go where it needs to go. While I was listening there were all kinds of great sentences that I wanted to capture, but I brought nothing to take notes. Alas. Still, I found it an inspiring reminder of the importance of story. And I liked that he used storytelling within his speech about storytelling. And when I met him afterwards, he kissed me on the cheek, in the Tasmanian style.

Here, David sums it up nicely from his angle.

Saturday night I went on my own to see Iceman Cometh at Ensemble. Second time this spring I've gone to the theater by myself. I find I like it. A really energetic production of a play it is rare to see. I had the passing thought that my parents should do a production at their bar, but maybe that would be mean. It also occurred to me that this play is the root of David Mamet's entire career. Surely, someone has written a dissertation about this or something? Also ran into several people whom it is also rare to see, some of whom admit to reading this blog. Hello, people!

And Sunday, my family gave me Mother's Day goodies of eggs Benedict, kid-made earrings (two-pairs!), and a trip to Perry for the windiest soccer game ever played.

Also, I slept in both mornings. Wonder. Then the working week started back up, and I am as underslept as ever.

Reading: The Dillard book I'm reading is simply amazing. I will go into greater length when I can. I am so grateful to have had it recommended to me.

Writing: Back to the every morning at 5:30 thing, successfully Monday and Tuesday.

Dinner: On Sunday, I cooked for the first time in ages. Roasted cabbage paprikash with egg noodles. Monday night pizza was spicy Hawaiian (ham, pineapple, minced banana pepper).

Soundtrack: Not being a big mainstream country music fan, I was a little surprised to fine that I really enjoyed Vince Gill on Prairie Home Companion while I was driving kids around this weekend. He has a Western swing band called the Time Jumpers that really swings and jumps.

Random thing: Puffball the cat discovered the top of the cupboards over the refrigerator -- about 8 inches below the ceiling. It is a perfect cat-sized wonderland. He spent 10 minutes rolling around up there this morning, chirping and putting his paws on the ceiling.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The usurping banana seat and pants in the afterlife

My bike was a clunky blue three-speed, but oh did I long for a seat like this.
This seat would make any girl glamorous and invincible and strong, but at what price?

This morning, O put on pants which looked to be 2 sizes to small for him. At first I told him we would put them in the giveaway "pile" (a euphemism for a slatternly variety of randomly tucked away bunches of outgrown things that need badly to be consolidated so that they may in fact be bestowed on someone else before humanity stops producing children). Then I realized there was a big hole in one knee, so I told him we would throw them away. He argued that ripped jeans are popular, but I insisted. (Yes, we could've saved them for some noble reuse project, but I have several of those "piles" as well, so you and your crafty self just need to step back, OK? Jeesh.)

Before we put them in the trash can, he wanted to kiss them and thank them for being his pants. I made the pants talk back and thank him for letting them fulfill their purpose. It was a beautiful, heartfelt moment, and so much healthier than my own tragic guilt when as, what an 11-year-old? even younger? I did the unforgiveable and replaced my 3-speed's standard-issue blue saddle seat with a much longed-for purple striped banana seat. A banana seat! It even had sparkles embedded in its beguiling stripey vinyl skin! I felt so badly for that rejected saddle seat that I barely allowed myself to ride my bike once i had the banana seat. Honestly. And think how the poor banana seat must've felt.

O then tried to put on another pair of pants - also too small and also beginning to split and the knee. Again the thanks and goodbyes. And then, O said, "That's good. And now they can go be pants for children in the afterlife. ... because as pants they are dead too."

Reading: Started reading Haroun and the Sea of Stories to the kids, after the squabbled over Michael Chabon's Summerland (O's pick) and the first of the Diana Wynne Jones Chrestomanci books (Z's pick). I have wanted to read Haroun since it came in 1993, and I just have never gotten around to it. As O astutely observed, "So that means you've been wanting to read this book since you were 22."

Also, heard part of the interview with Claire Messud on Fresh Air and fell a little bit in love with her. I didn't read Emperor's Children (like Haroun it is in that towering to-read pile on the nightstand of my mind), but now I want to spend an extended weekend reading that and the new book, The Woman Upstairs (which being about an unfulfilled artist in her early 40s has a certain frisson of dread for me), and whatever else I can jam in.

This is what my fantasy life consists of, really. Checking into a hotel with a pile of books and some decent wine, and doing nothing for days on end but reading, sleeping, and ordering room service. Occasionally I would watch a movie or go for a swim, just to change things up. If you have an interest in bankrolling this project, please send me a personal message.

Writing: I am cultivating a new romance with my practice, stealing time for trysts, thinking of each other with longing at inopportune times.

Dinner: Hummus and pita chips and cheese and oranges and raisins in the car on the way to Z's soccer game in farflung wherever (the field in the midst of an apple orchard in full bloom - a bit surreal).

Soundtrack: The Kinks' "20th Century Man"

Random thing: I wore two charm bracelets today - one made of cheap bronzey alloy with an airplane and a hot air balloon and a teardrop pearl that I acquired as a young teenager b/c it was part of my new wave armful of bracelet thing, the other made of gold with an enameled elephant and a key and a pig and two dogs and a sailboat and, gasp, a golden bear, which belonged to my grandmother when she was a teenager and which she gifted to me when she saw me wearing the other.

Friday, May 3, 2013

DeFoe, Dillard, and roasted asparagus ravioli

I knew nothing about Jay DeFoe until 3 weeks ago.
Now, I am a bit obsessed.

Last weekend, I went to New York for work (I apologize if I did not contact you will I was there. I was busy most of the time). The city without children, even for a few brief hours, is a gift, and that is not to say I don't like being in the city with Z&O. They are wonderful travelers and delight in a big city, but as an ex-New Yorker I felt so free and connected to myself while at large in the city.

I got to see the Jay Defoe retrospective at the Whitney (which I had read about in the NYer and wrote about recently). I had a funny moment walking across 55th St. when I realized, "Hey, that show I read about and have been thinking about for two weeks, it is happening RIGHT NOW in THIS CITY. I can go see it!" So I did.

Defoe's "White Rose" painting is the center of the exhibit and it has a compelling story (took 8 years to complete and then only finished when she had to move out of her studio and a hole had to be cut in the wall to get the monumental thing out), but it was not my favorite piece. I preferred the large, highly textured paintings hanging near it, which had some of the same intensity and grandeur, but more motion and even humor than that huge life/death vortex (I call it that because of her own descriptions). I also liked some of the photography and interesting repetitive imagery from later in her career. Overall, it was a very spiritual show. Go see it if you're in town and you like chewy abstract art.

Reading: On recommendation of a friend, I recently began Annie Dillard's For the Time Being. It is odd and associational and I like it very much. On her own website, Dillard describes this book, thusly: "In For the Time Being (1999), as in Holy the Firm, the narrative fills in a grid. The true-story topics in each of seven chapters are "birth, sand, China, clouds, numbers, Israel, encounters, thinker, evil, and now." It tells many short journalistic stories, and a few long ones: Hasidism, Teilhard de Chardin and fossil Homo erectus, the formation of sand, the critical importance of the individual in a world of almost 7 billion individuals, and the absurdity of the doctrines of divine omniscience, divine mercy, and divine omnipotence. I quit the Catholic Church and Christianity; I stay near Christianity and Hasidism.
Knopf, 1999." Hoping to read more this weekend.

Writing: meh

Dinner: Inspired by two dishes I had in NYC last weekend - a beautiful mushroom ravioli topped with more mushrooms and a light cream sauce with slivers of some hard, mildly sweet cheese floating around at Maison, and a lovely, understated spaghetti with ramps and preserved lemons at Lupa, I made a dish of (frozen) cheese ravioli with roasted asparagus in a meyer lemon-butter sauce with slivers of gruyere. I am queen of the universe.

Soundtrack: I've been reacting positively to moody, atmospheric, down-tempo electronica lately.

Random thing: I realized today that the quality of light is changing not only because of the angle of the sun and all that, but because there are leaves, which cast shadows. In the winter, we lack shadows, along with everything else that is good about the growing season.