Thursday, January 28, 2010


One story Joe told me early on was about the morning his owner (meaning she owned the Thorougbreds he was training) was standing there when Celemente rode by on a white horse, called out, "Look at me, a black man on a white horse," and Joe shouted, "Yeah, jus like a fly in a glass a milk" and the owner almost fell on the ground laughing. 

He and Clemente had known each other for years, since Clemente came here from Puerto as a jockey, into his long years as an exercise rider and then, this last year, into his hot walking stage. 

This year, they had a fight because Joe would often sit in the Legend's Room at the track, but was too weak to walk over to the window to place his bets, so Clemente took the money, came back with the slips, which often didn't have the numbers Joe had given him, or thought he'd given him, or wanted to give him, or they were numbers that Clemente decided were better, or different because he'd forgotten or misunderstood the penciled scribbles. But Joe didn't have enough money to fool around like this, especially when he could a won 5, 6 hundred dollars, if, if only, Clemente had gotten the numbers right. That was it. 

And besides, Clemente really didn't want to notice how ill Joe was when he, himself, was suffering aches and pains from a terrible riding injury some years back that never fully healed since he wouldn't say in the hospital long enough. Or he had an ingrown toenail, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch. Hurts.

Joe often said, "Another wonderful day in Paradise," when we met at the rail. Sometimes he'd talk about his son, a wonderful kid, not many wonderful kids, really good, "never had ta 'it 'im, such a good kid, 'as good friends, don' do drugs, good kid, wants ta be in law enforcement." When Joe got colon cancer several years earlier, he prayed to be allowed to see Anthony graduate from high school, that's all he wanted, a few more years, jus' let me live ta see 'im graduate, God.

 When he struggled with chemotherapy, 38 sessions if I remember correctly, he carried a heavy backpack and walked everyday to build up his strength, played ball with his son, totally motivated by his desire to give this boy a childhood he never had, the guidance of a father he wasn't given because his father left the family and Cuba early on, went back when Joe was fourteen to get him from the school run by nuns where he'd been left when he was six or seven, took him Tampa, lied about his age to get him a Social Security card, put him to work at the track right away. Immediately.  

I've written down endless stories that Joe told me. They are far more interesting than I'm capable of writing in this blog. (I'm hideously critical of everything, most especially my own work, so if I say they're interesting I really believe it, that is if you are into vernacular.)

I was lucky enough to know him for the last year he was a trainer, to video tape him talking about his experiences on the backside, and then, when he was too sick to work anymore,  to be able to drive him to doctor appointments where I was allowed to accompanying him into the examining room and take notes. I was fortunate.

Before Christmas, Joe took us to breakfast at Santorini's in Revere, and showed me where he wanted his ashes scattered, telling me to make sure that his son knew this. Then he wanted to make just a little stop at Walmart to buy a truck for his friend's nephew because that little boy, so beautiful you couldn't believe, needed a present, what a beautiful little boy, it's Christmas. I pretended I didn't know why he stood in front of baskets of toiletries, asking which I'd chose for someone or other, maybe the orchid, maybe the rose? And I pretended to be surprised when he gave it to me, along with one of the shiny red bags he'd bought for gifts, just as we got to my car. "You won't take nothin', but I fooled you, didn' I?"

Sunday, January 24, 2010


It's seven. I want to crawl in bed with the dogs. For no particular reason. Tomorrow I start teaching one class in the afternoon, once a week. Soon, I have to make a decision about truly retiring. I've been limping along for five years, one class one semester, two classes the next semester and it's starting for the spring.

This weekend I got as far as I could with one project -- this long poemish thing about the racetrack, pages and pages and pages. Now it needs some images, but my old computer (without pentium intell or whatever it's called) will only accept Quark and it's very tedious to upload photographs into that program. My next problem. 

I looked at the video again, worked on the notes about the first rough cut (having made a vague cut myself, looked at the second rough cut many times, all of which has taken days, made notes on both), sent this latest level of decision off to the editor, a very smart young woman who lives in California and has a new baby. That was this afternoon after Orfeo, from LaScala, shown in a cold movie theatre this morning at 10. Staged by Robert Wilson, this most static, formal, elegant performance depended on the slightest gestures of gloved hands, as if the singers were initiating the slowest of mime performances, except an opera was laid on top of these subtly choreographed patterns. (I came dangerously close to falling asleep and the only sound I remember was the white face of Orfeo, his straight, black mouth, the heavily drawn brows right above his eyes, and the neat half moons drawn lightly in black above the brows. I also remember the beautiful black shading on the sides of most noses.)

For whatever reason, I don't 'hear' music. (My daughter's learning disabilities include a lack of auditory discrimination that not only effects her ability to sing, but also to distinguish sounds so she hears Dick Dan Dyke.) I see opera which is why I prefer the films in which there are many close-up shots, tight images of the singers, the heavy makeup, the shapes their mouths make. 

(I vaguely remember arias that I've heard twenty or thirty times, the beginning of Barber of Seville, for instance. I listen to Mozart and Bach because they are mathematical in form, though I don't remember one piece from another. Loud, fierce music is gets my attention, Afro-pop or Reggae, though I won't recognize the same piece in two seconds.)

"Police, Adjective," a Romanian film, was almost as slow as "Orfeo," with very little dialogue, a remarkable work about the slow corruption of official life, clever. And then there's Russell Banks, "My Book y Wook," which I thought was a fast-paced, dense, revealing autobiography by a fame-obsessed, former heroin-cocaine-alcohol-and-sex-addict-vegetarian, who is clear, but not particular accusatory, about the childhood that led him to this level of self-abuse and self-destructiveness and the luck he had in finding a manager who forced him into two forms of rehab. Since I don't know his work (as he said to an American audience, "I am famous in England, but I suppose it doesn't count if I have to tell you that."), I only appreciate the manic dialogue that he races across the page, tossing off quips.  

None of any of this, though I worked hard and tried to stay observant, ironed clothes, washed dishes, vacuumed, baked bread, none of it distracted from the fact that my friend, Joe, died. His ex called to tell me on Friday. It's not as if this is a surprise. He was unimaginably sick, as can happen with a diabetic who never really knew how to manage this disease and also ran into cancer along the way. But, I liked him. I'll miss him, this talkative Cuban Thoroughbred trainer who told stories starting with arriving in Tampa when he was fourteen, his father sending him to work right away at the track.

I've probably repeated the word remarkable fifteen times in this blog...remarkable "Skin,"(a film from South Africa about an Afrikaner couple whose second child appeared to be black, from a true story. It only received one and a half stars, but it was an impressive film,) remarkable "Orfeo," remarkable "Police, Adjective," but Joe really was pretty remarkable.


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Gym and Aging

A friend of mine has gone to the gym for thirty years and is now playing tennis. Her husband, who is nearly ninety, has never been much for exercise, especially the sort one does because 'it's more than good for you, it's essential for your long-term welfare.' It's probable that it would have been better if he'd heeded her example, but they'd only been married for fifteen years and have had a marvelous, respectful, gentle time together. And I'm convinced he's lived longer for that happiness.

But I am going to join something or other. 

Though I belonged to the Melrose Y for years, I let my membership lapse after I sprained my ankle walking down the icy front steps after an April Fool's snowstorm. 

Today I stopped at a place that's within walking distance, $99 a year, three floors up, perfectly ghastly to look at, with many treadmills which is what I want.

Now I'm weighing whether it would be better to go back to the Y, which involves a (rather tedious, slightly too long) drive and costs about $400. It does have a pool, assuming that I would swim again. Right now I'm just fixated on the treadmill since the ice, snow, my lack of walking (the dogs that often) because of my fear of falling, is undoing all that I accomplished this summer working on the backside.

So, I took my first step.....Perhaps I'm acting on this impulse to force myself into exercise because my friend is such a good advertisement. Or maybe because it's my daughter's birthday today. She's gone to New York because she teaches acting in New Jersey on the weekends, and would never let me write down how old she is, but it was a fair number of years ago that she was born....  

And I feel a little sad because that baby was so absolutely marvelous, and the little girl was such a delight. It's not that the grown woman isn't full of life, energy, promise and hope. And that having her around isn't as distracting as having fourteen dogs. 

But so much time has gone by. Where does it go? 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My cousin, Patsy

The other night, I found a message from my cousin Patsy on the phone. And I called her back. Unfortunately, we talk only about once a year, close to the holidays. 

My cousin Jacqueline and I were the youngest of the family. Pat and my brother were thirteen and sixteen years older. She would have been my role model, had my mother lived, since she'd so successfully moved into an important and interesting professional life in New York. Whenever I could, I looked at the fashion section that she edited in the New York Times Magazine Section, even though I rarely read the Times, never having enough money to buy the Sunday edition.

Often I'm sure that I've aged  into looking just like her mother, Marion, since I don't remember my mother, and my aunt is my model for family resemblance. I look at my blue eyes and see hers, my wrinkles and see hers.

After I'd done a lot of self-portraits, 1972-73, I went on to take more out in Port Washington where we grew up. I love this image of Marion, my daughter, me and the vacuum. I hear Marion, "Lissie, don't show my hands. Please, don't show my hands." She worried that they weren't the hands of her youth, but I find them comforting since they so much resemble the way my hands have become. I remember Krissy asking, "What happened to your beautiful hands? Where are your thin fingers?" That was twenty years ago, when we were eating dinner with Nance in Tucson.

Recently I had a dream in which I was nude, wearing only high heels, standing on Mackey Avenue outside of Marion and Roi's house. Workmen were sanding the floors and one told me that I could stand on the bed in the guest room and vacuum away all the dust I could reach from there. In the hallway, a tattoo artist was creating the most gorgeous shawl, robins egg blue and silver lettering, perhaps in Japanese, across the shoulders and down the back of a man who did martial arts. After he got up to shake out the pain, and sat down again, I felt his foot against mine.

Monday, January 18, 2010

a ride through the car wash, a long Sunday

I knew Sunday was going to be a long day, so I decided to take the dogs to the car wash on Saturday as an outing. Bogie isn't entirely pleased that Tulip appeared from nowhere in June. He was used to going everywhere with me and doesn't realize that, in spite of this annoying small dog sticking her nose into everything and barking too much, he still goes whenever and where ever I can take him. But he likes the car wash and I could take him there, at least, since he wasn't going to the opera movie, the poetry reading or to sit in Dunkin' Donuts with my poetry mentor on Sunday.

And I decided to take Happy along, Krissy's dog. She's a slut of a dog and will eat anything and go anywhere except for walks at night. Car was the first word she ever spoke. Three dogs and me, riding through the car wash.

I felt compelled to wash the car because I was picking up a fastidious friend. She has an  elegant sense of design and notices curious details which  makes it interesting to go on outings with her. I always learn something, see something new. Unfortunately, I have the terrible habit of keeping a good bit of clutter in my car and, recently, the outside has been decorated with bird droppings. In the past, she has driven us wherever we went, but now they are down to one car and I've been obliged to drive. (She is a far better driver and knows the best ways to get anywhere, which are never the ways I'm used to going.) 

The first time this task fell to me I was so intimidated that I had the car detailed, inside and out. It looked so surprisingly clean that she asked if I'd gotten a new car. But when I picked her up recently, I hadn't done a thing to improve the appearance of my old-lady-tedious-brown-gray-Toyota and she noticed.

I'm not sure that this excursion to the car wash, which involved a long wait in an angry line of drivers all of whom were anxious to get ahead of me, was worth the trouble. Tulip was so frightened by the noises -- water streams, all those suds, the slapping apparatus and the large buffers -- that she crouched near the brakes, missing the whole spectacle. (I took photos so I could show her later.) And the car was so dirty that there was still debris spotting the front hood after the washing, not that this mattered all that much because splats of bird poop appeared by Sunday morning when I dumped Bogie and Tulip downstairs and went off to see Orfeo, a filmed version from LaScala.

Only the 'feed' to the 'server' wasn't working. "What," another friend said, "there are no reels, no film?" The friend that I'd driven mentioned that in Italy or France, there would have been a general uproar over such a long delay, but this audience sat with patience for the hour it took for those young folks managing the technical details to give up on the whole thing and announce that there was no hope, that this opera would be rescheduled, save our ticket stubs, and we'd be given a free ticket for a different opera in the new series. Our small contingent made hissing noises when a woman stood up, announced herself as a lawyer, and offered to sue this struggling non-profit theatre if our money wasn't refunded instantly. $17!

Since I had a couple of hours, I went to Feet of Clay where I continued on with my small job, photographing the goings-on for the website. I used to clean the glaze room, a thankless job that involved a lot of bending and swearing about why people never bothered to clean up around the glaze bucket they'd used, didn't wipe the wall that they'd splashed. Recently I was supposed to mix slip, but whoever did this last took off with the directions. So someone decided that, since I'm a photographer, I might provide images for the website. On Tuesday night, I took over 100 photos and got 15 decent images. That's not a bad ratio in poor light.

One of the feature poets reading at the monthly Brookline Poetry Reading spoke about the pools of blackness outside of his back door, one of those poetic references that always drives me wild because when I open the door, it's to let the dogs out (I usually walk them) and I see Maria in the kitchen next door, doing the dishes, and Carlos just leaving the room. Their daughters must be in other rooms that I can't see into. 

The Dunkin' Donuts, where I was meeting George, my poetry mentor, is on the other side of the earth, so I left the reading early. This meeting was very important to me. He has very little left-over time, especially now that he's teaching full time. And has been generous enough to read this long poemish thing that I wrote about working for a couple of hours every morning on the racetrack this summer. Last time we met, we reviewed 70 pages. When I got back home, Krissy said, "You just met with George. Aren't you happy?" But I just wanted to go to bed, filled with a strange disappointment that he'd been so encouraging. (Oh, that circle-eyed-monster-dog-0f-my-unconscious that wants to defeat me was furious!)

George knows that I don't like compliments. (Actually, I don't think that he does either because when I tell him how grateful I am for his support, he says the Greek equivalent of 'oh, pshaw.' 

We sat there looking at his suggestions for the last half and talking a bit about this upcoming election for Ted Kennedy's seat in Congress that may, just may, horrors, go to a Republican. 

And instead of working on editing that project, here I am, laboring over this long blog....  distracting myself from practical work...  flying these words out into space.... 
 Aren't we humans curious?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kemper and Me

A couple of nights ago, Kemper and I talked about the direction this video might take. Or rather I asked for his opinion. Though I was very pleased with the first rough cut that Elizabeth Hesik did, I was balking at the second. It covered the territory of my long relationship with Kemper up to the time he found me again when he came to Boston to do some filming at MIT and realized that I was teaching photography there. Why does it matter that I hadn't become the failure that it appeared that I was intent on becoming, I thought/think? Isn't this going too far? Isn't it more curious that we remember that formative year, when I was a sophomore and he was a senior at Bard, when I got pregnant, had an abortion, we got married, I left him.

No, he said, that's not the story. It's the fifty year friendship that has skittered along in varied ways. That's what's interesting. (I'm not entirely certain that he thinks anything is all that interesting about my project, but am very grateful for his willing participation.) 

But, I said, we remember things quite differently. He speaks eloquently in the video about the role of my father and step-mother, who were willing to help us in any way they could, but insisted that he tell his parents, quite rightly (a grim experience) he says. I, on the other hand, hardly remember anything about their intervention except that I'm certain we got married because my step-mother, Mari, believed that anyone who had sex was in love (hardly the case at Bard in 1060-61.) No, he says, we made a pact with the devil, talked it over, decided that we would do this. I don't remember anything about that, but I do remember that a young woman had died from an illegal abortion about that time and that's why I couldn't be driven in the dead of night to the wonderful doctor in Pennsylvania who safely and kindly helped so many out of that situation. He thinks that we talked to illegal abortionists and decided not to take that path under any circumstances.

After we hung up, I decided that he's probably right about the direction the video should take. It is interesting that we lost contact several times (in fairly dramatic circumstances) and he found me again. And that text-over-lays could indicate our different memories of that one year because I think they're important/curious. 

Since I'm positive about the death of that young woman, I looked it up in Google and found that on January 21, 1961, Vivian Grand, a 23-year-old New Yorker, died. Dr. Mandel M. Friedman had taken her body to an undertaker in Queens who became suspicious. That's how the fact that he had performed an abortion was discovered. The sad irony is that it was also discovered that she had never been pregnant. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Conceptualizing, Organizing

I basically understand how to sequence black and white photographs in order to build up a stronger statement. At least those images that contain humans. I'm basically not interested in landscape or cityscape. I'm invested in what's conveyed in body language, the slump of the shoulder, turn of the head, expressions of the face and body, gestures. And, of course, I'm make assumptions based on the culture I've grown up in.

I intuitively do a fairly good job of understanding, without adding the layer of conceptualizing and verbalizing (intellectualizing), what's going on, how to chose the images that convey the meaning I, the photographer, want. I've done this for 50,000 years and taught it for almost as long. What I pass along to students seems to make sense, most of the time. I enjoy the surprises when they're trying to 'say' something with a group of photographs that has nothing to do with the way most people would 'read' them. The work of the fellow from Tibet particularly amused me, and so did his ability to understand messages in other student's work that no one in a million years would get. (Students read a lot into their work that we just won't understand by those dumb, flat, black, white and gray things that are pinned to the wall.)

But I don't understand how to edit, sequence, a video. This is a whole new ball game. One really interesting woman, a video doctor, talked for two days about how to make a trailer, the preview which sells the idea to the grant makers. She was marvelous. One exercise was for all of us in the audience to join hands and rock back and forth. This was, if I remember correctly, a physical marker so that we could remember that the tension in a documentary video should see-saw to keep the viewer interested.

I just received the second rough cut of the video of my ex-husband (the briefest marriage in recorded history) and I talking about an abortion I had when we were in college, 1960. (We married after he graduated. I dropped out of school.) So, here's the problem. She, Elizabeth, is a very good editor. She pulled together a disparate amount of footage a colleague and I had taken of a friend of mine, eighty-nine and from Guyana. And I need her to do that with this piece because it's too complicated for me, too interwoven a story of these two old folks talking about what happened 50 years ago before abortions were legal.

In this latest version, she's allowed the viewer to follow a longer arc of our lives, the disappearances (of me) and the comings back together. That pushes the idea that I did become capable, even successful, forward. What I think (at the moment) that what I want is more of the fallacy of memory, an emphasis on the way these old people remember differently about those formative events, and something about how their opinions about it differ. But I am obsessed with memory. Is that an adequate justification for this video?

The video is already too long, 44 minutes. How long would anyone watch two heads talking (with some relief of photographs, etc, superimposed)? Probably 25 minutes. Just the story, please. I asked for some revisions after the first rough cut and it stayed the same length, and took on more about the later paths our lives took.

So, I'm trying to understand how each segment functions. How it pushes A VERSION of the story forward. It's easy to get what we're saying. In the beginning I transcribed all of that, laboriously. What I find, ironically, is that I have to ignore what our faces convey. Mine is always quite forlorn unless I'm actively gesturing or smiling. His is usually rather neutral and he has the voice of a television personality. It's not that he doesn't sigh, or look into the distance, but that he conveys a more stolid appreciation for the historical facts. And it's probable that I look as if they ran me over, which they actually didn't. I'm still here, working like a demon.

So, for the last two days, I have been editing a version which is more along the line of differing memories. Not that I think this is the right way to go about this, but because I want to check out my gut instinct -- which dog knows, may not be the right way to go about this. That's why she is editing it.

I've watched her second edit three times, taking notes about what I think each scene conveys. And I'll watch it more. Take out my notes about the first edit and watch it more. And put what I'd done into a DVD and watch it more, making notes. And then I'll hope that three people I trust will look at this second rough cut and compare it again the way I organized the material (assuming that much of what the editor has done will remain) and help me decide whether it's a good enough of story to just see these two seventy-year-olds talk about the past in different ways, the ways their childhood's and the abortion, effected them. And, of course, I need the editor's opinion about whether, should I decide that's the way to go, focus on the abortion and then our each falling into having children with different partners is enough to make an interesting documentary.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Corsets and Right Angles, Elisabeth's Blog

My hope was to write a blog that spun off one of Elisabeth's entries (I should have a reference to her blog here, shame for not remembering the correct title of it. It's not enough to just give her name. How will you find her in Australia?) about corsets (by which she meant the outline, something I've never been able to consider, much less make notes about) and a right angle (which has been invaluable, literally, for helping students trim photographs (that might be uneven because the very expensive four-blade easels that they used to hold the photo paper in place were out of alignment) before mounting them. The blog also referred to her thesis, "life writing and the desire for revenge," shame, trauma, rage. 
     (And actually, I'm quite sure she was writing about the T-square that her father made. I've handily transformed it into a right angle.)

Life writing. 
I have not only been consumed by life writing, but obsessive about life photographing. And my reasons for the writing were, undoubtedly, though not often acknowledged, the attempt to scrub out shame and speak about trauma. (The possibility for rage was dampened so long ago that it would take an additional forty years of therapy to find it and I just don' t have that kind of time.) Since no one was noticing what was happening to me when I was a teenager,  I'd like to alert them about all the ways that they didn't protect me and how I fell into harms way as a consequence. The fact that everyone is dead or too old to care about what my problems and experiences were doesn't dampen this urge. I don't even bother fooling myself that I am involved with memoir writing in the name of others who have experienced trauma, neglect, who have grown up in alcoholic homes, though I'm so aware of how many of us there are, having been comforted by Alanon meetings where I hear stories (without having to fix, help, aid or advise anyone,) that comfort me with familiarity, (in a way I was never in therapy) into understanding how deep early deprivations and confusions run, how long they last.  

     My father displayed anger by putting a knife down on a plate in a way that was audible. 
     He had easily skipped a grade or two in the one-room school house, graduated from Miami College or is it University? in Oxford, Ohio, and went on to get his PhD in math at the University of Chicago. Later on, after he married my mother, he would find the academic setting so competitive, that he settled into working at the International Statical Bureau until late in his life when his third wife convinced him that he should teach again, coaxed him into writing a text book on probablities and they became landed immigrants in Nova Scotia so that he could teach advanced students at Dalhousie in Halifax.
     I've always had the insidious idea that having a PhD would  help assuage my deeply ingrained sense that I'm not educated. But my first and only choice of college was of a free-form school where I could follow my vague inclinations without imposition of stern requirements. I hated requirements. Math? I failed high school algebra. A science course? History? Social Sciences? 
     Bard allowed me to skip all that as did the Goddard Adult Degree Program where I eventually, at least, got a college degree for my year and a half of two-weeks in residence and six months of vague work (writing the memoir, taking photographs of my daughter, learning the technical aspects of photography.)   
     I suppose that we're all given a list of weak areas, of nagging possibilities, and gifts along with deficits, and somehow pick and chose which we will concentrate on as we wend our way along. Had I been willing to attend a conventional university, I would have honed different skills. But nothing in the six years after my mother died set me up for making that decision when I was a teenager. So, I live with the nagging consequences, working around them, but also haunted by the deficits. I applaud Elisabeth for being the first female in what sounds like a large family of academic brothers to get a PhD. To have taken up the challenge. And to enjoy poking around in such a marvelous topic! 

     It's hard for me to recognize what I might be capable of organizing. (Though I'm quite good at taking people to appointments with doctors and making notes about what they're too frightened to understand.) I think I let the chaos build around me so that it supports this deep-seated belief that being disorganized, not able to easily find the most elegant way of completing a task, is a major fault. 
    After my father, who was completely inept at intuiting the wiles and deceptions of humans, had created great chaos in (our) lives, quit his job at ISB and started a business advising Japanese businessmen about the new acrylic fibers, I helped him collate the handbook he'd written, pages spread on table surfaces so that we just walked around, collecting them, one after another, in order, efficiently, without wasting motion or time. I thought of that this summer when I was scrubbing water buckets, how it took me weeks to notice that putting flat side of the bucket against the wall by the water spigot would be something my father would have done the first instant he was charged with the task. He thought about/understood space, tangible objects, mathematical concepts, about order, about precision and logic. 
     But so did Harry, a sixty-two-year-old trainer who grew up on a farm down south and probably never finished high school. He used economical ways of lifting, hauling, scrubbing, washing, moving and riding. It was always a pleasure to watch him, as it was to watch Boogie, a groom as old as Harry, who conveyed a zen-like state when he rolled leg wraps and brushed fleece. 
     (Growing up with a precise, abstracted alcoholic certainly did teach this person to stay alert for clues about the precarious choices adults made.)

     I'm far gone in the free-floating way of thinking. I follow a vague thought, allowing tangents to take over, to see what happens. I call this process, a good term to hide a multitude of inabilities and sins. Trying to use Elisabeth's clear-headed blog as a template was a mistake. It would have been better, actually, had I chosen one or two words and chewed at them. Then, on another day, taken up a few more. I bit off more than I could swallow and it wasn't as much fun as rattling around. I was comparing my writing to hers, as I went along.............   Oh, what a trap........

     Aren't we human animals interesting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Thanks, Elisabeth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

About Beauty

In the last two weeks, I found this box of notes, diaries, papers in the attic. Or rather I braved bringing it downstairs and looking at some of the writing. That is because I had taken out a memoir that I'd worked on for years, with all seriousness, pulling in dear friends to read it, to make comments. Oh, I was so determined that it would see the light of day.

I've found a letter from my daughter's father in the box. It sounds like him, a very abstracted fellow who was immersed in the writing by, lives of, European and Russian male painters. He had written me from Europe, a letter I don't remember receiving, but one which must have been thrilling. It was just interesting enough, the names of cities he'd seen, the mention of a dinner he had just eaten, the German Shepherd, Basil, scratching his fleas in a corner. It's written on heavy paper, probably from a drawing tablet, in his distinctive scrawl and ended with the word love.

When he got back from Europe, and moved into my apartment on St. Marks Place after I'd invited him for dinner (that was the old I'll-just-never-leave-after-one-visit-decision-making of those days) and I got pregnant, there was no more signing his letters with love when he first left us when Krissy was less than a year old. (He would leave and return many times before my third and best psychiatrist helped enough for me to withdraw from my obsessive need from what I truly believed was a relationship.)

I would not then have said how entranced I was by his physical presence. He had the body of a dancer, a beautiful smile with a slight gap between his front teeth, high cheek bones (from a Cherokee grandmother) and light tan skin (from a white grandmother), a spread of freckles across his nose. I loved to look at him. I still do, in my mind. We couldn't have been more ill-suited and he couldn't turn into a person who would ever help me and our daughter and my delusion that he would be a successful artist when only Romare Bearden was recognized at that time was so misplaced that it's laughable. (He wasn't the only male artist in my small circle of friends who drifted off rather than provide for a child.)

The daughter is truly beautiful. I catch myself looking at her as she ages, as her face gets more taut, but still alive with a very particular sparkle, the belief that it's all good, an ability to get up when she's knocked down, a gift for being a wonderful teacher.

I don't actually think that physical beauty is all that important. And I think it does a lot of damage. Had Krissy's father been pudgy like his younger brother, had the skin color of both that brother and their father, he might not have been treated so gently at Bard, not have gotten what his father considered were those terrible illusions pressed into his head by that impossible school, gotten so far above himself that he flew off into wherever, breaking contact and breaking hearts.

And my beauty was terribly damaging since I had no ability to say no to anyone man who wanted to sleep with me. In those early days, just before and then as the sexual revolution started, I was vulnerable to demands, unable to set boundaries, giving myself away hopelessly, a problem that so many psychiatrists were slow, very slow, to help me resolve. Though, from all outward appearance, I had come from a privileged background, a large suburban house providing those general comforts, the chaos which my highly educated father created once my mother died, left me without foundation. And the dreadful need to spiral downward. 

Would things have been better if I'd been homely? I think they would have on some level, though my destructiveness would have still been there. And I wouldn't have had that particular daughter with that spectacularly beautiful man and, and, and, and....

The irony of this photo is that it was taken up at Krissy's grandfather's in the Bronx, in his neat living room with plastic on the chairs, next to his Christmas tree. We lived in a loft on the Bowery, cold and dark with low ceilings and wavery floors. Krissy's father had built a cabin in the back out of pallets he'd found on the street, stapled on plastic sheeting, hitched up a wood burning stove, made a bed from an old pullout couch. Krissy slept in my mother's laundry basket set on a small table. When the room got hot, I took my sweater off. The fire was fed by wood he collected from the street and cut up with an electric saw.

The loft was large, the windows were in front. He had about six or ten feet of light and that was where he drew. There was a washing machine where I washed Krissy's diapers and a stove. He often sat on a chair next to it, leaning into the oven for warmth. It was horribly cold that winter after she was born in January. I went back to work after a week or so and he took care of her, though I later found earplugs. She began sleeping in the morning, waking up when I got back from work, falling to sleep late.

I still remember the sound of her feet scuffling in her plastic bottomed sleepers after she was old enough to hold on and walk around the large table, probably our only piece of furniture beside the bed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Beauty Does Matter

I delude myself that beauty doesn't matter. And, in my environment, it doesn't. I do like light, but other than that need, I don't much care and I'm pretty incapable of making an attractive home for myself.

But on some level what I consider to be beautiful is important. And Tulip was extremely fetching before she went to the groomer. Now she's pathetic, reduced to gray skin, haunting eyes and no character. Krissy almost cried when I brought her back, having said I was insane to have want to take her in the morning. Just give her another bath, add conditioner and wait until spring. Why does it matter that she's matted and getting more so by the minute?

But I'd taken her to the vet, gotten a sedative, made my decision, given her less than a quarter of a pink pill and drove the forty-five minutes it takes to get her to Sarah who said there wasn't any hope but shaving her down. And it's winter. Should I take her away and wait? "No, you've already given her the pill."

She still likes the snow. And still barks at the cat. But she's not the same dog having lost volume and sparkle. Krissy says that by Valentine's day she'll look better.

I will go on at greater length about beauty in another post. Right now I'm in too much shock, having lost my gorgeous, funny looking carpet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Inside of a Dog"

Without thinking about it, I took a break from my beloved blog. No brain power to find anything interesting to say though I very much wanted to spin off of Elisabeth's recent comments (and will sometime) about order, discipline and corsets. 

Quite by accident, caught inside almost solidly for three days (I need to go out everyday! dreadfully), I kept working on a memoir I'd started (for the third time) seriously in 1994 and the devil got me to take a box of old papers down from the attic. And then got me to read some of it. Actually that was a very good thing because these diaries and unmailed letters relate to what I'd been editing and the addition of segments definitely enliven the text since I remember that time as a dull blur, biding time. 

A great deal of what I'm now working with was written when I was supposedly cataloguing maps in the Geology Library at Columbia. I was twenty-four. And not even given a guide to how to do my job. How crazy is that? I walked down a stairway to the map room, flat, gray, metal files, thousands of maps, a  couple of small windows and a little flat desk, a chair and plenty of time to write notes about myself on folded sheets of paper. To make matters worse, I'd been reading Camus! It's barely possible to figure out what I might have been trying to say -- about gossip -- sparked off an entry in his Notebooks II.  

There's a stack about an inch and a half high of these dense pencil writings and I'm determined to type out all of them so I make informed choices of what might be useful. Or maybe because I'm punishing my present self for whatever woes I might have by so fully dosing myself with who I once was! Or maybe this is what sensible writers do.

At first I was just skimming the pages, lighting here and there, plucking out a useful paragraph. That was pretty easy. Then that damn devil got me tricked into excessive transcribing. It takes an hour to rewrite three days of my map room musings, pages folded within pages, sometimes dated, sometimes numbered.

But yesterday I met with my poetry mentor. I'd been waiting for him to look over what I'd written about my mornings on the track this summer. He's enormously busy and the manuscript is long.... and it snowed, so one meeting was cancelled. But now I can start back on that, adding a bit more, trimming a bit, giving a bit more breathing space between sections and adding photographs. 

I'm working so hard that it makes me anxious. Or at least I think I'm anxious. It's hard to tell. I'm reminded of a story that my ex told me about a medical meeting he went to, hearing a doctor say that he'd just taken a valium, so he must be nervous. But that twenty-four-year-old was continually writing about how soon death would come, how withdrawn and isolated and invisible she felt, what would she have done except hide until the end. That certainly adds impetus to the present.

And I've been reading "Inside the Dog," a really interesting book about the umvelt of these domesticated animals. And I saw a hawk! Outside the bathroom window! I was so lucky to catch it there, on that tree branch, waiting for something. I was so excited that I ran downstairs and woke up Smith who I knew had to see it. I couldn't let him miss this rare event. This is, maybe, the third hawk I've seen that was relatively close. The last was just outside the window of my ex's house, when I was writing at my desk. I was just as excited now as I was then. 

Friday, January 1, 2010


Whooie, am I glad it's over. It took me a few hours this morning realizing that it really is over. I was sorely tempted to remain seasonally depressed, but it's almost noon and I know it's over. Happy New Year, 2010! We have well over 335 days before those of us who don't love this season go under again.

(This is a pinhole image of the toys I found in the garden, when I dug, left by the children of my first tenants who used to play out there. They were the most rag-tag family, who paid the rent in weekly installments. She would come up the backstairs, knock on the door, and hand me money.)

By now, I'm thinking of what I can do. At midnight, I was holding Bogie, who was shaking inconsolably, from all the fireworks let off up and down the street. Tulip barked during the loudest of them. At eight this morning, when Krissy came upstairs, I had fallen asleep again, after reading "Inside the Dog," an interesting book I was trying to finish when I woke up at six.
(This pinhole image is of a little silver pitcher that was a wedding present when Kemper and I were married.)

When I was in New York for my birthday present to myself in May, I stayed for a few nights at the apartment of Susan's friend, Shelia who has a fine dog who she cooks breakfast and dinner for. Those meals are supplemented by bones that she happened to put on the bookshelves when they were sufficiently gnawed. I fell in love with the bones and imagined doing pinhole images of them, so I took a package when I left.

(This pinhole image is a colorful Mexican mask and a tiny Mexican figure. I wrote about my father in the accompanying text.) 

Now I'm hoping that Krissy will stop by Shelia's place to get more for me when she's in New York on weekends. Pinhole is actually quite easy. I have a trusty shoebox camera, put fiber paper in it, expose for nine-twelve minutes, race upstairs to develop the photo paper, check whether it's a decent paper negative, etc. I love the images that I did years ago. Each has text about an association with the object. 

I imagined collecting a lot of bones for these images...that would have text...some sort of text. Lends itself to thoughts about death, doesn't it? But, maybe not.

But this morning I was thinking about all the mementos that I have on two small shelves. They are deserving of pinhole images and text since no one would ever know what these important talismen mean. But making paper negatives take a long time. Could I do them as digital photos? (My macro Nikon lens isn't working properly or I'd take them in film. Should I have that repaired?) Import them, make a small book of images and text in Quark? Would that serve the same purpose, be easier to manage if not as beautiful as the black and white silver prints? But where would I show those prints if I made them, my eternal problem? 

Oh, well...two last bits...Our collective advice is to avoid Avatar! It is not worth the price of admission. Oh, horrible, horrible and horrible.....Chris, a bright fellow, missed a crucial bit of information so he found it more confusing, as well as boring. Krissy, normally very astute, missed the clue given in the first four minutes of the film that tells you how the villains will be defeated at the end which is a long, long, long time away. I understood it all and wanted to leave. 
And Elizabeth, if you do have a blog, please let me know the address. I can't find it by clicking on your photo.