Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Photos + Paul Scholes

I've been meaning to put up these photos, particularly since V-Day has passed and many of the windows in South Philly have begun to change over to the next great holiday, St. Patty's Day. I don't have any of those yet, but I do have some gnomes.

And a wretched little calico caught behind a torn screen.

Here you go. This is love.

And hearts growing in a flower box, fertilized, I guess by love.

I admire the lack of symmetry here but don't much care for the stuffed hearts with faces on them.

A celebration of hearts.

Okay, and this is Piper, Padhraig and Carrie's cat, in their window. He looks very noble.

Here is his butt and an action shot of Paul Scholes preparing to leap up to the window.

Isn't he a pretty boy?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Wherein I Become a Nurse

I had a vivid dream last night that I was a RN at this very busy hospital. My first job was to get this transient-looking guy prepped for an organ transplant. Unfortunately, I lost him--I mean, like I couldn't find him. He ran down the escalator and out of the doors. In the dream, I remember thinking, "Of course I'm a nurse! Why didn't I think about this career before? I love nursing!" But then I woke up and remember my days as a volunteer candy striper and how most of the time, we just did things like carry sputum or shit samples to the lab in clear plastic vials. I'm sure that nurses do other things, but don't they also have to clean up vomit and take swabs of icky things and see people feeling bad. I think in my dream, I also realized that I was in the ob/gyn track. I'm sure that all of this is a deep psychological response to the fact that I now know of three women younger than me who are all three months pregnant and having their babies in August. So, "nursing" might have multiple connotations. It's fine. I'm TOTALLY fine with it!!!!!!!!!

I also dreamed that I was teaching my writing class and I said something very snide (not a big stretch), and one of the students got really offended (a girl from a previous class, not the current one. She's very nice and mild-mannered in real life, so she would've never reacted in real life the way she did in the dream). And then, I dreamed that Dan was giving a yoga massage to a guy I had a crush on in high school. I don't know what a yoga massage is exactly, but don't worry, the dream didn't progress beyond light petting.

In my art history class on Tuesday, I learned a lot of stuff about the Muslim faith and the architecture of mosques, none of which I have retained. Mostly in class, I write notes about my other classmates, one of which is a very boyish-looking young girl who always falls asleep in class. But then, I had a disconcerting moment where she appeared to be taking a picture of me from across the room with her camera phone. Did I make that up? It might have just been something in my life of vision, like this other woman's funky water bottle, but it made me feel invaded (even as I was writing about her in my journal). I might do my final project on the French performance artist/photographer/writer/feminist, Sophie Calle. Can't decide. I'm going to check out some books on her from the Fine Arts Museum later today. Here are a few examples of her work. When I have some more time, I'll try to detail the kind of pieces she creates. Really interactive and interesting, though you might not be able to tell that just from these photos.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writing class

We read an essay by John Gardner before the writing class last night about interest and truth--how a writer must find what she loves or is obsessed with and write about that. We talked about how Mary Gaitskill's stories are always dark and twisty and uncomfortable and how Tim O'Brien writes again and again about Vietnam (we were also discussing his story, "How to Tell a True War Story," which you really should read if you haven't already). I think it's an important question to ask about stories--what do you love? Because sometimes, I'll read a student story from that class and not understand the impetus for it or not see the writer in it at all. It happens in every class. I mean, truthfully, I don't know most of the students very well. I don't go home with them and sit in their living rooms and talk about books or call them up to chat. But we had one story in the fall class that seemed really far from the writer's possible realm of experience or maybe it was that I couldn't imagine what the writer found interesting about the piece. I can't quite recall what the details were. Lots of times, they'll want to try on different voices or genders, and that has varying degrees of success. It's hard to do, and I find myself sometimes more irritated when white men do it--write a whole novel in the voice of a woman--because I am sexist and I think they have enough of our stuff already. But it does seem weird when you get a story from a 65-year old man written in the voice of a twelve year old girl. It almost never works, because the old man peeks through, "I sat quietly reading my book of poetry by the goddamn lake."

In the current class, we have two men and the rest are women. We went over a story last night that a woman wrote in the voice of a young male. I thought that overall, it was pretty consistent, but one of the guys in the class pointed out a couple of places where he was like, No way a guy would think like this. It was helpful to have the male perspective--like, oh, right, okay, a guy may not phrase something in just this way.

I have art history class tonight. I am hoping to learn something amazing.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Not Write a Novel?

I went to a Philadelphia Noir event at the Rittenhouse Barnes and Noble last night--wasn't sure if it would be a reading or just a discussion or what. It turned out to be a book signing. There were like 8 of us contributors sitting in a row behind a table of books. I believe exactly one girl stopped to talk to us. I don't know that she bought a book. But it was still interesting to hear the other writers chatting. Many of them have books out on their own; one woman I talked to writes historical fiction and seems to be doing very well with it. Another guy bragged about how his novel was rejected from a huge publishing house because it was just too literary and good. And then a third was checking his book sales on a laptop and reporting good returns. So, what is wrong with me? I don't know why I can't seem to just commit to writing a longer work. I have my thesis from grad school which is a novel, but it needs work. I have sort of an idea for a character and story, but I haven't written anything yet.

I did think of a title I like for a short story, but it's already been used by a romance novelist: "Such a Pretty Face..." And it would be about an overweight girl who keeps being told this by everyone. "Oh, you have such a pretty face..." Dan told me this morning that a recent beauty pageant winner was stripped of her title because she was deemed to have grown too fat. Could this be true? Let's look it up. Yes, it appears to be true.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dark Little Story

The last issue of The New Yorker has a dark, uncomfortable Mary Gaitskill story in it. Though most everything she writes has this sense of ick underneath, this one struck me as particularly disturbing. It's about a father who has homicidal tendencies that he's passed on to his little boy. The narrator relates how when he was fourteen..."I started getting excited by the thought of girls being hurt. Or killed. A horror movie would be on TV, a girl in shorts would be running and screaming with some guy chasing her, and to me it was like pron. Even a scene where a sexy girl was getting her legs torn off by a shark--bingo. It was like pushing a button." It's utterly convincing and so you feel like you're getting a peek into the mind of a sociopath who also really wants to be a good father, and really doesn't want his son to have the same lurid attractions. She also makes him seem ordinary in a creepy way. The narrator explains how he lives in two different worlds. The rest of the paragraph does this: "My mom would be in the kitchen making dinner and talking of the phone, stirring and striding around with the phone tucked between her shoulder and her chin. Outside, cars would go by, or a dog would run across the lawn. My homework would be slowly getting down in my lap while this sexy girl was screaming 'God help me!' and having her legs torn off. And I would go invisibly into an invisible world that I called 'the other place. ' Where I sometimes passively watched a killer and other times became one."

Reading the story caused me to look differently at the men around me on the subway. Is he a killer? Is he fantasizing about raping someone and cutting them up into little pieces? Is the guy behind me capable of wrapping a rope around my neck? Because you never know, though those people exist--child molesters and killers and animal torturers. So, does that mean it's good fiction if you carry it into the world around you? Or sensationalistic?

We were talking in the writing class last night about how unfair the publishing world can be; how known names will be taken way before the unknown. A Mary Gaitskill story will certainly be published before one from a student in my workshop, maybe no matter how good they are. But in this case, I think it's because she's an arresting writer--I don't know that I could write something like this and make the character seem human and even sympathetic. If you want to see for yourself, you can find it here. It's called "The Other Place."

And thanks to Leigh Anne for telling me about Portlandia, the new comedy series on IFC starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater Kinney fame. Here's a clip I love:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Noises I Don't Like

I realize that I am sometimes an irritable person. I have certain peeves that make me crazy--and most of them have to do with mouth noises. The other day in my art history class, I just saw a girl chewing gum with her mouth open, and I felt irritated. I couldn't even hear her chewing; just the suggestion of audible chewing made my skin crawl. And she chewed the gum for the entire class (2 hours). I can only chew gum for like 3 minutes before I lose interest and have to spit it out, so it's hard for me to understand someone who has that kind of stamina. I also don't like the sound of teeth on fork tines (Dan knows this b/c I had to tell him to stop doing it), or the sound of open mouth food chewing in general (Luke does this b/c he's young and b/c he almost always has a stuffed up nose). Or the sound of someone talking on her cell phone right next to me on the subway. Or the sound of someone hocking up a loogie, followed by the sound of him spitting it on the sidewalk. Why do guys think this is okay? And it's always guys--you're probably never going to see a woman walking down the street who suddenly projects a chunk of snot from her mouth.

By the way, if you click on the picture, you can see many more chewing gum sculptures. That is my present to you today.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Next Window Holiday

Around the neighborhood, we have gone from holiday windows to V-Day windows. Here are just a few examples, taken on my way home from the gym. People really do seem to spend time on these.

Detail of the teddy bear.
The twin thing seems to be a standard way to go--good for symmetry, I guess.
Pretty standard. I wonder if the person who put this up worried that the window watcher wouldn't be able to read the whole banner?

And this is a cat I saw in the window one morning on my way to the subway.

Mean Kitty

This morning, I took a moment to document the mean/nice/purring/hissing essence that is Emma Carol. Here are the results.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I Learned This Week in Art History

Well, we were focusing on the Buddhist and Hndu eras in India. I learned that the real Buddha was from a royal family and he was kept inside the castle walls of his father's house until he was in his early twenties when he escaped outside and realized that there were things like sickness, old age, and death. This caused him to realize the first tenet of Buddhist, Life is suffering. He ran away to help others, fasted, and became a spiritual leader. Or something like that. I don't know where we get these Western images of Buddha as a fat and happy smiling man, because I guess in real life, he was thin. The top knot you see on many of the sculptures of Buddha stands for the extra wisdom he carries. Sculptures of Buddha from ancient India often show him sitting on a lotus flower because in his very first sermon under the Dog Tree (?), he made the comparison about how something so beautiful such as a lotus flower could grow out of the muck of a mud pond--so, even humans have that capability to improve themselves regardless of their origins.

More importantly, I learned the origin of the meaning of Dan's brother-in-law's dog. Shiva is the name of one of the three Hindu gods (the other two are Vishnu and Brahma). Shiva stands for destruction, though the Shiva I'm speaking of (the dog) is white and timid. The god Vishnu can take many forms such as the blue Krishna and also Buddha and Jesus. Here is a dancing Shiva on top of a dwarf, surrounded by a ring of fire (see illustration).

We learned that many of the sculptures and structures in India were carved directly out a mountainside--these really ornate and beautiful temples where you can circumambulate (from left to right) in prayerful meditation. There's an undergraduate student in my class who spent most of the time dozing, but snapped awake when the teacher was talking about the Taliban destroying one of the Buddhist ancient sculptures in Tibet in 2001 because they were considered idolatrous. She snapped awake then. I'm not sure she was even born when that happened. She wanted to know if anyone tried to stop them. Yes, they did. She fell back to sleep. I think she must have a late night job of some kind.