Sunday, October 2, 2011

Snapshot: The importance of Aunts

I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible, & I am sure of your doing the same now....Now that you are become an aunt, you are a person of some consequence and must excite great interest whatever you do.

- Jane Austen to her niece

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book review: Poetry and Inventing the Rest of Our Lives

Yesterday I read:

Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry (Orr) - a funny, thoughtful and innovative introduction to poetry (modern or otherwise). The author talks about encountering poetry as you would do when visiting a new foreign country,

...amble across the landscape, taking some time to visit some of the less obvious attractions as well as the racy ones, pausing to nap in a shady spot or to sample some of the local dishes, even the ones that smell like a wet dog. Like all foreign countries, poetry has customs and rules that should be respected, but you don't need to memorize the entire catalogue of local rituals in order to make the trip worthwhile.(p.xvi)

Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood (Levine) - notable for its concept of the "Fertile Void" described as that long slow deep breath during which we let go of old demons and demands and "begin building new dreams, one well-lived day at a time." (p.77)

The Painted Garden (Woodin) - pretty, gorgeously executed watercolors, and yet lacking ruminative depth. Perhaps this isn't fair since, unlike Vivian Swift, Woodin is a designer/visual artist not necessarily a writer or book artist. However she did find some good quotes such as:

Without an inborn love of natural beauty, no one will ever care enough about drawing to persevere. - Mrs. C.W. Earle (1887)

To me the meanest flowers that blow can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears

- Wordsworth

The best cure for loneliness is solitude.- Marianne Moore

or (my favorite):

Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.- Thoreau

Snapshot: Friendships that sustain us

Sex and the City has always appealed to me because, in spite of all the drawbacks, it focused on four women whose deepening friendship was the leitmotif of the show. Also, I appreciated that it challenged the Ideal Narrative (e.g., every person wants to partner up and have kids) and, even more so, that it critiqued how single people are treated as less than those who are partnered and/or with kids. Are there things I'd change/add? Absolutely. After all, that's why I write - to tell the stories I need. Meanwhile, I'll also take my tales of friendship where I can find them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book review: A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf

A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf

"I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it . . . . What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all . . . . I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection has sorted itself and refined itself, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life . . . ." p.13

"No longer can I summon up that [extroverted] energy . . . . Once I had a gift for doing this, and a passion, and it made parties arduous and exciting . . . . when I wake early now I luxuriate most in a whole day alone; a day of easy natural poses . . . slipping tranquilly off into the deep water of my own thoughts . . . and replenishing my cistern at night with [reading]." p.78

"The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom. I mean eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes . . . . Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that don't belong to the moment; this appalling narrative business of the realist: getting from lunch to dinner; it is false, unreal, merely conventional. Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry-by which I mean saturated? Is that not my grudge against novelists? that they select nothing? The poets succeed by simplifying: practically everything is left out. I want to put practically everything in: yet to saturate. This is what I want to do . . . ." p.136

". . . I think I am about to embody at last the exact shape my brain holds. What long toil to reach this beginning--if The Waves is my first work in my own style!" p.172

"Why all this criticism of other people? Why not some system that includes the good? What a discovery that would be--a system that did not shut out." p.183

"I am now at the height of my powers in that line [reading], and have read, with close and powerful attention some 12 or 15 books since I came here. What a joy--what a sense as of a Rolls Royce engine once more purring its 70 miles an hour in my brain. " p.187

Regarding Form (defined as: "the sense that one thing follows another rightly.")
"[Turgenev] wrote and re-wrote. To clear the truth of the unessential [his] idea that the writer states the essential and lets the reader do the rest." p.203

"A curious feeling, when writer like [Stella Benson] dies, that one's response is diminished . . . . My effusion--what I send out--less porous and radiant--as if the thinking stuff were a web that were fertilised only by other people's (her that is) thinking it too: now lacks life." p.207

". . . I should be who I mostly am: very rapid, excited, amused, intense." p.224

Snapshot: Lost history - no small bench by the road

"There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There's no 300-foot tower, there's no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn't exist . . . the book [Beloved] had to."

-Toni Morrison, World Magazine (1989) interview in which she spoke of the absences of historical markers that help remember the lives of Africans who were enslaved and of how her fifth novel, Beloved, served this symbolic role. See The Bench by the Road Project - a memorial history and community outreach initiative to address and redress this absence.

Snapshot: Toni Morrison describes one of my homelands

Truly landlocked people know that they are. Know the occasional Bitter Creek or Powder River that runs through Wyoming; that the large tidy Salt Lake of Utah is all they have of the sea and that they must content themselves with bank, shore, and beach because they cannot claim a coast. And having none, seldom dream of flight. But the people living in the Great Lakes region are confused by their place on the country's edge--an edge that is border but not coast. They seem to be able to live a long time believing, as coastal people do, that they are at the frontier where final exit and total escape are the only journeys left. But those five Great Lakes which the St. Lawrence feeds with memories of the sea are themselves landlocked, in spite of the wandering river that connects them to the Atlantic. Once the people of the lake region discover this, the longing to leave becomes acute, and a break from the area, therefore, is necessarily dream-bitten, but necessary nonetheless. It might be an appetite for other streets, other slants of light. Or a yearning to be surrounded by strangers. It may even be a wish to hear the solid click of a door closing behind their backs.

- Song of Solomon
Toni Morrison

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Art notes: New Latin American Jewelry

Seattle is not a bastion of visual arts so the Bellevue Art Museum's exhibit Think Twice: New Latin American Jewelry is a rare treat. Note: this blog post is a mix of my notes and text from other sites and reviews. Please see end of post for places to go for more information). Also the BAM website has images of many of the pieces mentioned below.

The exhibit was divided into three sections:
History, Memory, Tradition
A Knack for Invention and Seeking
Expressing Identity

It included artists and artisans from South America, Mexico and the Caribbean whose innovation and imagination electrified the exhibit. Of special note is their use of jewelry as a commentary on heritage, struggles, religion, violence, gender, politics, spontaneity, economics, values and even drugs. I found the materials, ideas and resulting jewelry both impressive and inspiring.

Here are some of the artists featured and their pieces:

Maria Paula Amezcua (Mexico) Altar Itinerante, 2007, a two sided necklace of brass, glass, cotton, collected materials. She call this a "mobile shrine" – one side a protective shield of winged hearts (symbol of San Miguel Arcangel) and the other an astonishing dense series of tiny retablos containing text/images/memories. The exhibit notes say that it represents "Amezcua’s thoughts on Catholicism. The front of the piece is the outward, public side and the inside is the personal pagan inheritance of the native people that was never given up; that which is in their blood." I'd extend that to also include the experience of colonized peoples as well as Mexicans who suddenly found themselves in the USA (surface USA but still Mexican - "we didn't didn't cross the border, the border crossed us").

Alejandra Hernandez Montoya (Colombia) Urn, 2007, a spectacular ring of earthy (not shiny) silver with a deeply inset rutilated quartz. See BAM website for photo of this piece which I find difficult to describe in words.

Martacarmela Sotelo (Mexico) Roots, 2010 a necklace made with pieces of Nopal fiber (one for each state in Mexico), stainless steel wire coated with nylon exploring the increasing movement of the Mexican people throughout Mexico, the USA and the world.

Valentina Rosenthal (Chile) Invisible Cities - a necklace made of items recovered from the rubble of neighborhoods destroyed by recent earthquakes (in this case: recovered wood and plaster rosette, silver, bronze, nails, mirror, steel cable)

Teresa Margolles Ajuste de cuentas - a photo and small installation made from gold, window shield glass, diamonds referencing skyrocketing Mexican crime. Margolles collected glass from criminally caused car crashes then mixed the glass with diamonds - looking at which of the two is really precious.

Alcides Fortes (Cape Verde & Mexico) Olvides de la RevoluciĆ³n a necklace made from discarded tombstone memorials, small oval porcelain and copper portrait medallions of a family assassinated during the Mexican Revolution.

Carolina Hornauer (Chile) created a series of brooches made from resin, cedar wood, cashew lacquer, eggshell, silver, citrine quartz. I especially liked how she incorporated sections of old pictures frames - reconstructing them to create something new of something old - new stories, new contexts. She include the picture frame along with the brooches - as if the pieces of frame had broken free and grew new parts.

Laura de Alba (Mexico) Love Handles a necklace made of recovered drawer handles and yarn (each painted in vivid color). "Her pieces seek to cause surprise and pleasure. De Alba recovers all those materials...leftovers of furniture, buttons, toys, and medals are carefully organized on substrates of weaved, knitted or knotted textile 9re-examining] notions of value and shift our perception of the worthless."

Claudia Cucchi (Brazil) - orange brooch and ring made of perspex (similar to plexiglass or lucite) covering photo negatives or (to great effect) orange peel.

One piece was inspired by the "mamio" quilts of the artist's home country Suriname. These quilts are often made with scraps of ‘pangi’ material (the plaid fabric that traditional Maroon people wear in Suriname).

There was a necklace of tiny glass vials left empty for the wearer to add what small items carried meaning for him/her. To my delight, one of the vials contained a colorin bean (those gorgeous beans that are bright red with a black spot that ones sees in Peru)

Caio Mourao (1933-2005, Brazil) Anti-Jewel (1959) a rough hewn necklace of silver, gold, hematite. "Mourao was one of the major instigators embracing ancient techniques to create jewelry that is defiantly Brazilian. His daughter currently continues his work." More of his work.

- Additional images and information and a blog review.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book notes: Labor's Last Stand by Jane McAlevey

There is a strong correlation...between red states, right-to-work laws, an overall worse quality of life for the average worker or poor person, and a more hostile climate for progressives, from environmentalists to civil rights activists. The average worker in [an anti-union/anti-worker] state earns $5,333 less than his or her counterpart in a pro-worker state. Twenty-one percent more people lack health insurance. Late last year, immigration advocates anticipated Arizona-like measures in twenty-two states, eleven of which are controlled by Republicans. Of those, seven are right-to-work states. Not surprisingly, three that are not—Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana—are where the attack on government workers’ unions is the strongest.


Liberals and progressives don’t understand why, in poll after poll, Americans support Social Security, Medicare and money for their local parks and other services but oppose “big government.” If we want to close the gap in the often bimodal results of polling, we don’t need more polling: we need well-trained and highly skilled organizers who can help facilitate conversations among next-door neighbors and co-workers. We have good “framers.” We have smart policy wonks with big degrees who can write good policy. We have lawyers to defend the policy. And we have no one in any serious way out talking with Americans about this crisis. It’s organizers who help people in large numbers to come to the self-realization that things aren’t working and that it isn’t their fault. Good organizing is really the only way that workers, the unemployed and the poor can overcome the impulse to blame themselves for the crisis they face. Yet liberal foundations often balk at funding such efforts, believing that it won’t add up to policy change and channeling money instead to policy, legal and “communications” work.

Unions and progressives need to return to engaging large numbers of people in one-on-one conversations. Unions should kick-start the campaign by sponsoring and unleashing the biggest Union Summer program of all time and pay student interns, and unemployed rank-and-file workers, to work with union groups and nonunion allies in a mass education campaign that seeks to change the narrative from “We all go down together” to “It’s time to return to the American Dream we all deserve.” Unions must stop pretending to be engaging the base by setting up call centers or buying cellphones for their members. Foundations must stop pretending that unions don’t matter, and that messaging strategies can overcome America’s cultural norms of extreme individualism. Real conversations, where people have a chance to understand the war that is being waged against them and the power they must build, are the only thing that will save us.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Snapshot: Oxford by Jan Morris

"This is a stippled city--'towery city and branchy between towers,' as Gerard Manley Hopkins thought, 'cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark charmed, rook-racked, river rounded'."

Jan Morris loved the Bodleian Library (pp.149-153) - "a vast and baffling organism" humming with knowledge and home to untold numbers of manuscripts, scrolls, charters, etc. as well as the many books - some requiring two people to remove them from the shelf."