Sunday, July 20, 2014

50 Works of Art, Part III

21. “Paper Bag” – Fiona Apple
I’ll admit it, in my time I've made some mixed media art work inspired by this song. Something about thinking a “dove of hope” is showing some kind of sign, but “I thought it was a bird but it was just a paper bag” will always stand out to me.

(I promise the rest of this list won’t be such a downer.)

22. Videogum
Videogum was a TV/movies/pop culture blog that I was seriously addicted to until it lost funding this spring.

I blame the hilarious contributors to this site for completely destroying the way I communicate on the Internet. This blog was funny, bizarre, sarcastic, and more often than not, a source profound criticism and reviews of modern media.

To be completely serious, this blog’s series The Hunt for the Worst Movie of All Time taught me a lot about plot holes, dull characters, boring tropes, and what makes movies so laughably bad. I transfer these ideas to the fiction I write all the time.


23. “Dogfish” – Mary Oliver
To say Mary Oliver has influenced how I write is to put it mildly. Sometimes I have to scrap something I’m writing because it doesn’t feel like my voice—it’s like I’m trying to ghost-write her next collection. Oliver’s poetry is as easy to read as it is to breathe. The language resonates every time. And her observations and reflections on the natural world and the place of humanity within it hit hard, every time.

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.
If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.
And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?
I wanted
the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the 
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was
for a little while.
It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were,
huddled in the highest 
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.
Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?
the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.
You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to 
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
And anyway it’s the same old story – - -
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.
Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.
And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.
And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless 
future that is
bulging toward them.
And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,
they can do it.

24. “The Poisonwood Bible” – Barbara Kingsolver
This is a seamless work of art. I almost can’t talk about it without stammering.

I admire Kingsolver’s steely prose, clearly expressed vision, and the life she breathes into fascinating women characters. This is my favorite novel. Of all time. Forever.

25. The Kiss: Paolo e Francesca – Auguste Rodin
I used to walk to the Milwaukee Art Museum, alone, on the weekends, to visit a smaller cast of this sculpture (in the museum’s permanent collection).

The people locked in this kiss are out of Dante’s Inferno. Francesca is a noblewoman who falls in love with her tutor, and they’re both killed for it.

Why are stories of doomed lovers so appealing? I used to wonder (still do) if it’s worth eternal damnation for one moment on earth where you feel truly alive.

26. Julius Caesar -- Shakespeare
Reading this play in high school had some profound effects on me.

We read it out loud as a class sophomore year—no production or costumes or anything, we just took turns standing up to butcher our bits in front of our classmates. I was Marc Antony. A good friend was Caesar.

Outside of the classroom, I was dating someone I was crazy about for the first time. Couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, I just wanted to send him AOL instant messages at every time of day and night. He got me in trouble at school/with my parents. (It’s almost a Shakespearean trope, looking back.)

Oh, and, this boyfriend really liked to flirt with my friends in front of me. Including (but not limited to) the one cast as Caesar.

At this time, it felt like the ultimate betrayal. So when I got to read the following speech in front of my classroom, I felt so many feelings about friendship and betrayal and love and trust:

Yeah, I definitely quelled a riot that day. I'm basically my generation's Charlton Heston.

(Dear All Straight, White, Awkward 16-Year-Old Girls,
He isn’t worth it. Side with your friends.
Yourself in 12 Years)

I think (and kinda hope) I’ll never be able to feel feelings as deeply as I did then, ever again. I read a lot of Shakespeare at this time of my life and I felt very deeply connected to it. I’m almost scared to reread some of these plays because I’m afraid the spark won’t be there any more…

27. Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu

My copy of this is well-worn. I find the Taoist philosophy of balance to be immeasurably comforting. I couldn’t have said it better:

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

28. What is the What – Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng
This is a heart-breaking story that is also one of the most riveting books I’ve ever read. Dave Eggers consistently blows my mind, but what I always return to is the unusual blend of facts with literary devices that Eggers used to write Deng’s biography.

I saw these two give a lecture once, and they answered my question about this! The gist was: sometimes a real-life story needs to be retold, but there are no ways to confirm the details. So you wing it. You lean on literacy devices and flub the facts; the truth can still be conveyed.

29. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I've actually already blogged about how much I love Jane Eyre and have grown and changed with this story. I had this to say almost exactly three years ago (CREEPY BRONTE COINCIDENCE?!), and I stand by it:

I spent my Friday night at the Labia Theatre, geeking out at the latest remake of Jane Eyre. I have always loved that book--I read it when I was 13, and totally identified with young Jane's out-of-control passion. I read it again when I was 16 (for summer book club at the South River Public Library), and loved the creepiness of the Brontes' English countryside. I read it for a third time when I was 19, in a Women's Lit course, and our class discussed the way Jane learns how to tell her story, over and over throughout her life, until she is an expert at explaining herself and can control the outcome of any situation. (We also read Wide Sargasso Sea, and I loved the reclaimation of Bertha's voice.) And now I'm a week shy of 25, and it felt so comforting to see that familiar story unfold. (In this remake, I liked that the terror of the Red Room was included. That was always a powerful force to me.)

So there is it--new sights and familiar stories.

30. “you shall above all things be glad and young” – e e cummings

I am trying to remember how I discovered this poem, but I can’t! I always come back to it when I travel. To me this is about adventure and discovery. And love.

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young, whatever life you wear

It will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

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