Sunday, August 24, 2014

50 Works of Arts, Part IV

It's been more than a month since I left off on this list, where I name 50 works of art that have struck me and influenced my taste. Time to pick it up again! Here are the 30s:

31. “My Worst Habit” – Rumi
The poet Rumi is a highly influential Sufi (the mystical branch of Islam) poet who wrote about seeking spiritual fulfillment and being ecstatically in love with the divine.

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.

If you are not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Loving this poem reminds me how much I need art, especially literature, that comforts. Whenever my soul feels thirsty, I give it Rumi.

32. “First Love” – Stanley Kunitz
I tried to be choosy about artists who appear on this list multiple times, but Stanley Kunitz absolutely gets more than one slot. He chooses exciting words--I swear I can feel them in the tactile sense as I read along. Every time I read this it feels crisp and new:

At his incipient sun
The ice of twenty winters broke,
Crackling, in her eyes.
Her mirroring, still mind,
That held the world (made double) calm,
Went fluid, and it ran.
There was a stir of music,
Mixed with flowers, in her blood;
A swift impulsive balm
From obscure roots;
Gold bees of clinging light
Swarmed in her brow.
Her throat is full of songs,
She hums, she is sensible of wings
Growing on her heart.
She is a tree in spring
Trembling with the hope of leaves,
Of which the leaves are tongues.

33. “The Missing Piece” – Shel Silverstein
Actually, there may be more Shel Silverstein than Stanley Kunitz on this list because THAT’S JUST WHO I AM.

I happen to believe that good writing is clear and concise. It can be brief. It can be simple. It can be for children. As long as the words are powerful and hit the right notes, there isn’t an age limit on a good bit of writing. Especially when paired with art/illustration.

This is the first book I can remember loving. I love it more now that I’ve grown up a bit.

34. “Daytripper” – Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon
Speaking of words and images paired well together, I have never seen a better example than in this graphic novel. I get chills remembering this intimate, fantastical portrait of one character’s life and the days that shaped him.

35. “Danza de la Muerte / Dance of the Dead” – Federico García Lorca
There was a summer of my life when I read Lorca very deeply. I’m a little bashful with how much I can see his influence on my writing from that time. For one summer, I was dreaming about the Dance of the Dead…

Los muertos están embebidos, devorando sus propias manos. 
Son los otros los que bailan con el mascarón y su vihuela; 
son los otros, los borrachos de plata, los hombres fríos, 
los que crecen en el cruce de los muslos y llamas duras, 
los que buscan la lombriz en el paisaje de las escaleras, 
los que beben en el banco lágrimas de niña muerta 
o los que comen por las esquinas diminutas pirámides del alba. 


But it isn’t the dead who dance,
I am sure.
The dead have been buried and devour their own hands.
It’s the others who dance with the mask and strings.
It’s the others, drunk on silver, cold man,
those who grow in the cross of thighs and hard flames
those who seek the worm in the landscape of ladders
those in the bank who dry the tears
of dead girls

(This is only an excerpt, full text available here. Also, something very cool is going on here.)

36. “All About Love” – bell hooks
This nonfiction work (I think it’s categorized as Philosophy?) transformed me—as an individual trying to figure out the world, and also as someone who creates things. This book changed what I would like to create. It changed the lessons my characters in fiction would learn. It changed all of my conclusions.

I take notes on everything I read, but I couldn’t articulate, at the time, how this book was shaping me. These are some of my notes:

Love is an active force that leads the individual into communion with the world.


Love cannot save us but it can transform us.

Hmm, I think I need to reread this soon…

37. Casablanca
I loved this classic film as a child, as a teenager, as a college kid, as an ex-pat, and now, and forever.

I guess all I want to say is that I don’t think good characters (clever characters! funny ones!) need neat, happy endings, or true love. I don’t think they need to get what they want most for a story to have a strong conclusion.

But for all the gruff cynicism, they’ve got to have heart.

38. “Othello” – Shakespeare
I have never been assigned to read this play during any year of school; I tackled it the summer after sophomore year of high school, on my own.

I suppose I found the mention of Othello’s race/appearance/nationality intriguing, but what truly struck me was Iago’s jealousy and machinations. I resented this character, strongly, at that time.

This play gave me a visceral reaction. I knew it was a tragedy going in, but it still broke my heart. It came into my life at an age where I could really experience emotional investment in a work of fiction and also question why or how. And ever since, I have been determined to use words in ways that evoke some sort of strong reaction in readers.

39. Pablo Neruda
I am not picking just one work. Don’t care. It’s just too difficult.

Neruda spills lush, living words on every page—in the original Spanish, but even translated into English. No one knew more about love, or beauty.

Here I came to the very edge
where nothing at all needs saying,
everything is absorbed through weather and the sea,
and the moon swam back
its rays all silvered
and time and again the darkness would be broken
by the crash of a wave
and everyday on the balcony of the sea
wings open, fire is born
and everything is blue again like morning.

Or! From “Pacaypalla”:
Errante amor, retorno
coneste corazon fresco y cansado
que pertenece al agua y la arena
al territorio seco de la orilla,
a la batalla blanca de la espuma.


Wandering love, I come back
with this heart both fresh and wearied, belonging to water and sand,
to the dry spaces of the foreshore,
to the white war of the foam.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You mean I don't have to wind the film?!

I love taking pictures, though I know very little about how to do this. My technological history is pretty pathetic, and I swear it was never purposefully ironic!

I went away to college, and even studied abroad, with a five-pack of disposable cameras. Yes, 35 MM film cameras. No zoom, brutal flash, no settings at all. You want to zoom in? Take a step closer.

These are all things I captured on film. The pics are grainy and blurry, but that's how these scenes looked in my memories too:

Cape Town, 2009.

Madison, WI

Home from the Midwest, at Evelyn's, New Brunswick, NJ. 2010?

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee, WI

Observatory, South Africa. 2011

I got my first digital camera at the end of 2010. (I swear I had not been living in an Amish community up till that point. I'm just a late bloomer.)

But I could capture LIGHT! And depth! And still-life wasn't blurry!!

Finds at Madison Farmers Market

South African graffiti

Sea Point, South Africa

Chicago, IL

My first digital camera was a hand-me-down. I got a new point-and-shoot digital camera for Christmas 2012.

When I get the chance to play with or borrow a real camera, I take it. And then worry that I don't know what I'm doing, because I'm not used to working with something with a lens cap, let alone options for shutter speed.

Ah well. Experiments, below:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

different parts and people

This summer I have been mindful of all the different parts and people in New Jersey that have shaped me. That I belong to. That feel like coming home.

It's not just the block I grew up on.

For instance, a huge part of who I was from the ages 13-18 was based on the first four No Doubt albums. I had a certain crew in high school that must have been this band's all-time biggest fans.

Sometimes, a decade later, you lounge around the pool playing every CD in its chronological order of release (we used to live and die with scavenging CDs and singles from used disc stores, and now the technology is antiquated), sipping sangria, singing along.

In the last week I've also attended County Fair--my third year in a row of attending for work... but also for fun!

There is comforting in the familiar, in having the same events mark each season.

But home still has much to teach me! This week I decided to write down the new Spanish words I learn and to keep quizzing myself on them. A shopper's search for shampoo led me to translate some words from the marketing world from English:

Loom bands remain popular with kiddos at work; letting them teach me this craft nine months ago was such a fun move:

A final thought: This is what summer 2014 looks like, to me. I was tabling for work at a fantastic community farmers market and was next to a family-run clothing business. I fell in love with the hand-embroidered shirt, below.

Flowery headband from County Fair. They are IN this season. And it seems to fit whatever aesthetic I'm going for here. (My aesthetic = No human has never loved another human the way I love Frida Kahlo.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours.

I love moments of remembering the magic of childhoodthe things I once took for granted and then lost along the way. I took a long walk through my hometown this morning, snapping photos as I went.

Starting point: Yields from backyard garden, a point of pride.

I'm going to get this out of the way: growing up, I walked through a lot of cemeteries.

I live near a few. And there was once a time when I couldn't drive a car or work a job or three, so I walked everywhere I wanted to go. Graveyard walks have been necessary, sometimes. Sometimes they make for great shortcuts. Sometimes they were places to be quiet and alone.

First stop, Belorussian cemetery. Always heavily gated/fenced in. We never cut through here, making it more appealing...

Across the street: Washington Cemetery. A long, hilly walk.

The railroad tracks that cut through town. I was forbidden from walking or biking around them--too dangerous. But whenever they crossed the road we used to skim for pennies flattened by trains on the tracks. Finding a Railroad Penny meant a lucky day--it was as precious to us kids as finding some smooth sea glass.

A newer pleasure of mine: espresso.

Galāo = espresso in steamed milk = delicious

It was a hot, dry day and people sat outside the cafe at tables with umbrellas. When those filled up, they lined up chairs along the wall of the building. People sat for hours talking, smoking, and getting hot coffee refills. It felt like I was on Long Street, Cape Town, on a glorious Sunday afternoon.

Place. My sense of place, my feeling of attachment to a location, is one of the strongest, clearest emotions I can feel. It absolutely drives all my creative outputs. I once wrote a love letter to Madison, WI, and it's still one of my favorite bits of writing.

I used to live next door to this church. I have a distinct memory of standing here, looking up, and telling my father that it was the tallest building in the world. (I was four.) He told me he worked in New York City, and buildings existed there that were 10 or 100 times taller. I told him I didn't believe him.

Nothing so jarring as the sight of an abandoned school:

No stickball, you hooligans!

Home. I've been thinking about home, what home means. What I'm supposed to be doing here, learning here. I don't have an ultimate answer, but it gets a little clearer every day.

It feels right that I got my contributor's copy of Cactus Heart 8.5 in the mail this week, and saw this in print:

Photo: I get these brief, ecstatic moments of clarity where I know, I just KNOW that New Jersey is my destiny, and all I've ever been meant to do is write about home.

These moments never last long. But they look like this:
I also CANNOT stop listening to "Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels)" by the Arcade Fire.

It's the song I've been trying to sing! (Yes I am crying right now!)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stay Awake Through Summer Like We Own the Heat

Happy Birthday (Week) Caitlin!

First stop: dinner at Goldie's in Asbury Park, for vegan meals with a Latin flavor. And so much ambiance.

Another night out in head-to-toe Goodwill.

From there to Porta for all of the dancing.

Wobble baby.

My favorite parts of the weekend were the more offbeat moments. After a late-night run to Wawa for sandwiches, we took a moment to listen to this song by Brand New, sitting in the car in the lot of our motel.

This band was everything to folks who were teenagers while we were teenagers, at this location on earth. Jersey kids grew up to Brand New.

I can't hear this music and not feel instantly transported back in time. I have memories of shouting these lyrics with dear friends from high school. And now, when I meet people for the first time and find out we share this music history, we immediately start spilling our guts to one another. Brand New speeds up and deepens new friendships.

Funny thing: When I actually was 18, I skipped this track consistently. I knew I did not want to be 18 forever--I hated being 18! This song made me feel like I wasn't good at being 18--why was everyone have so much more fun than I was??

It did feel like those days would last forever. Instead, time flew by. Life threw some wicked curve balls and weird, unexpected adventures. But recordings of this album don't change. We can return to them, to measure where we've been.


Night faded into morning. We woke up in Asbury Park.

It's not like anything was going to be better than Porta, so we got more Porta, for brunch.

Last night's wristband at this morning's brunch. Also, this chick loves NJ.

We were going to lay out on the beach, but a friend had some car trouble after we parked, so we put down towels and blankets in the grassy knoll of the parking lot. It was a fine spot to get some sun, and FREE. Don't judge us.

And we were soothed by the irregular sounds of soundcheck at summer stage of the Stone Pony.

Growing up in New Jersey has absolutely shaped my relationship to music--all of my memories of this state are tinged with it. (The first time I went to The Stone Pony, I was 16. My parents took me to see Bruce Springsteen. SHALL I GO ON?)

I have never felt more Jersey. Or proud.