#is art art
"Calder Shadows" at Venus Over Manhattan.
"Pure joie de vivre. Calder’s art is the sublimation of a tree in the wind."
M. Duchamp (1950)
Polar Vortex, II
To liberally riff off of Melville, it is a damp, drizzly February in my soul, and all I can do is live in Uniqlo heat tech and shovel homemade sour cherry pie in my maw. Last night, somewhere between the pie baking and the Veronica Mars reruns - yes, on a school night! - I tried to explain to Ginger “why I don’t believe in work being my life” (a.k.a. a principled defense of why I am lazy, lazy being a relative measure, the yardstick being my elitist, overeducated demographic), and the words “I believe in producing content” just fell out of my mouth. This, despite the fact that I had never had this thought before, let alone held it, swilled it, examined it. Now that there’s a day’s worth of distance between me and that particular speech bubble, I can see where it came from: the desire to reject the easy and passive nature of consumption, and to discipline myself to engage in constant deliberation, judgment, and selection. Or, to put it in Tumblr parlance, it’s easier to reblog and call yourself a curator, than to produce original content, which requires more than a de minimis expenditure of energy and actual risk, and this without even getting into whether that content is good or bad as a qualitative matter. OR, to be more specific, it’s easier to spend hours surfing “lifestyle blogs” than to try and articulate my thoughts about this week’s Moby Dick reading assignment. (More on that later.)
Of course, that being said, I just posted a bunch of quotes. Quoting: the Ur-reblog. But in my defense they’re quotes provoking original content…in my head. Like how do I navigate between the polar gravitational pulls of minimalism, “a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives,” and pleasure, which for me includes “the external finish of life”? Somewhat unexpectedly in the last few months I feel as if the ground has shifted under my feet and these tectonic shifts have created openings - and softness - in the granite-like certainty with which I’ve held my worldview. I don’t want to overstate it. The foundation is still there, still strong. But there’s questioning and probing and refining. Looking back at my journaling over the last year, I can’t believe how much fun I had, how carefree and weightless I felt, and I wonder how much of that had to do with being certain that I had figured it all out.
Here’s a quality I’ve never loved about myself: my lack of discipline. It’s why I run as much as I do. Running is possibly the only thing I do in my life with great discipline; I do it when I would rather be sitting at home, inert in Uniqlo heat tech and streaming season 3 of The Good Wife. But I believe that discipline, like any other quality of character, can be cultivated, at least to a certain extent, and so my solution has been to identify projects and pair with peer pressure, which has the added bonus of improving connectivity.
I think that’s enough original content for now. It’s still “February,” my skin is dry, and my hands are covered with paper cuts. Back to streaming.
"[F]ood is about pleasure and connection and sustenance."
"Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives."
"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive."
Childless adult, II
Hosting boozy brunch on a three-day weekend, brought to you by Marion Cunningham’s raised waffles (via Orangette), McClure’s spicy Bloody Mary mix, and Ella Fitzgerald on LP.
PS. GO NINERS.
"NY: You’ve both seemingly invented a new sub-genre: the immigrant-dystopian novel. Super Sad revolves around an affair between Russian and Korean immigrants, and On Such a Full Sea, set in a fractured America, takes place largely in a future Baltimore resettled by Chinese refugees.
CL: This is what I want to say: All immigrant novels are dystopian novels. They’re just not dystopias for most of the readers.
GS: Yes, because you’re dealing with an alternate society, where things aren’t working out so well.
CL: Where all the rules are upside down —
GS: Exactly —
CL: Where people don’t see you as fully human, where you don’t speak the language, and where all the conduct and practices are a mystery and maybe sometimes dangerous."
"Pigging Out with Writers Gary Shteyngart and Chang-rae Lee", NY Magazine
#enough about you let's talk more about me
#no money mo problems
TS recently asked me whether I had made any New Year’s resolutions and my response was typical (for me). “I don’t make New Year’s resolutions,” I wrote back, probably coming off a bit superior and, upon further consideration, a liar, as I am always making resolutions. Big redwoods on my birthday, modest saplings on New Year’s. Everything in between the rest of the year. It’s never a bad time to resolve to do something, unless you’re drunk in which case, yes, it might be a bad time. The self, after all, is a neverending project requiring constant maintenance and plans for growth.
Last year, upon turning thirtysomething, I made the usual set of resolutions. Something ambitious: make certain adjustments to my character. Something specific and concrete: run a sub-3:45 marathon. Something whimsical: memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Then I looked at my list. It looked like something I had written any time within the last five years. This struck me as very dissatisfying.
"What’s something that would be really hard for me to do?" I wondered out loud.
"Save money," Peter said, without hesitation.
"Ha, ha," I said.
I crossed off “Prufrock” and wrote “SAVE MONEY.”
So far I have drawn up a budget and memorized a quarter of “Prufrock.” So far, so good. Outside, the thermometer is dropping 50 degrees in 24 hours. The meteorologists are calling it a polar vortex. I call it flying back from California after the holidays.
One of my biggest indulgences has been spending a disproportionate amount of my discretionary income on the performing arts. Things I spent my money on last year, from most expensive to least:
- Sleep No More (theatre, kind of). The most expensive ticket by far but well worth it. Left me feeling like a giddy housewife on her day off, for reasons I may explain in the future. Also left with pocketfuls of candy.
- Harold Pinter’s No Man Land (theatre). My introduction to Harold Pinter. Based on this play alone, I don’t think I like him and his postmodern shenanigans very much. But I do like Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart. I probably should’ve just bought a ticket to the next X-Men movie and saved myself $75.
- Alvin Ailey (dance). From “loved” to “liked”: Petite Mort, Grace, Revelations. I loved the monochromatic palette of Petite Morte, which really emphasized the element of line - and it was so cheeky! Whereas watching Revelations made me feel like there was a whole world of meaning I was standing outside of.
- Monkey: Journey to the West (Chinese opera/Cirque du Soleil/animation/WTF). This might be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on a stage, which is saying a lot since I once saw a woman sticking various items in and out of her hoo ha during open mic night at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe. The only performance I’ve ever seen where reading the subtitles did not improve my understanding of what was happening.
- Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty: A Gothic Romance (dance). The lack of a live orchestral accompaniment lent a high school musical air to an otherwise excellent way to hide from my most loathed holiday, Halloween. Featuring vampires, secret societies, cell phones, time travel, and wonderful, gestural choreography.
- The New Yorker Festival’s Spy vs. Spy (panel discussion). This is the first year I’ve made it to the New Yorker festival, completing my stereotype as a limousine liberal. Hard to believe, I know. The coolest panelist wasn’t the dude who inspired the film Argo or the dude responsible for The Americans, but the dudette who used to run MI5. Like meeting Judi Dench’s real life counterpart.
- Teatro Grattacielo’s performance of Sakuntala by Franco Alfano, a.k.a. that guy who finished Puccini’s Turandot (opera). The story is stupid but the music is mouthwatering: lush, lyrical, heady, unabashedly romantic. I also love living in a city that can support the work of a small opera company who performs the libretto of rare Italian operas.
- Israeli Chamber Project (chamber music). I strongly disliked this, probably because they played three aggressively atonal works from the 20th C. But I loved being in Israel. So hold your fire.
- James Turrell at the Guggenheim (installation art). Like Flavin, it looks, and leaves you, cool.
- Bayside the Musical (musical). I wish these guys would stop spamming me. Otherwise, you definitely get your $10’s worth of 90s nostalgia.
- Bach Suites in the Dark (performance art): Possibly the best thing I saw (heard, rather, since the room is pitch black) all year, and one of the cheapest. Like being in a room with a breathy, barrel-chested horse: dark, velvety, powerful, and resonant.
- Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet (sound installation). Is it a coincidence that the other best thing I saw last year is something I heard? Nietzsche via Roddames would say no. Like church meets an alien abduction, in a good way.
- Punderdome 3000 (punning contest). Only in New York. Specifically, only in Brooklyn. Would I take it u-pun myself to watch this again? Nah.
So what have I learned from this exhaustive wracking of my brain and drying out of my contact lenses. One, how much money I spend on a ticket clearly has little or nothing to do with how much I enjoy a show. Two, I am a yuppie. Three, New York is awesome. So I guess I only learned one thing. But it’s an important lesson. SAVE MONEY!
#the prime of miss jean brodie
"Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life." I must not be at an impressionable age, because I was not so taken with Miss Jean Brodie in the prime of her life or her story, the last book of 2013. I will remember the book jacket, which effectively dangles the prospect of a betrayal among the Brodie set (though who does the betraying is not hard to figure out); the setting, a dreary Edinburgh not at all like the fairy tale city of my memories; the crafty shifts in tone, alternatingly satirical and menacing and sad; and the sense of the dust settling on a once towering, now crumbling figure who may have cast a long shadow over the lives of her girls but who was as flat and opaque a character.
"One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full."
I wonder if that’s true. If there is in fact a prime, the prime, of one’s life, however one defines it (a command over life?). And if that prime is something that really benefits from real time recognition, though I imagine it is, like the love of one’s life, readily identifiable in the retrospective examination of an entire life.
Randomly, I really regret ridding myself of my copy of The Razor’s Edge, signed by David Mitchell.
#death comes for the archbishop
Although I didn’t hate My Antonia quite as much as I loathed Ethan Frome, I disliked it enough to send Willa Cather off with Edith Wharton into reading exile for the next decade or so. But toward the end of James Wood’s How Fiction Works, tucked like a diamond in the rough of the chapter in which he’s jumping the shark, he offhandedly mentions that Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop features “some of the most exquisite pages ever written in American fiction.”
Death Comes for the Archbishop is a great novel. I wasn’t expecting this, this simple, stately, beautifully moving portrait of a missionary, Bishop Jean Marie Latour, sent into the New Mexico wilderness by a trio of cardinals in Rome seeking to govern the new diocese, and of his friendship with his vicar, Father Joseph. The portrait is done with prose as deliberate and economical as calligraphy - just a few brushstrokes, but what fine and graceful lines!
[Father Valliant] rose and began to pace the floor, addressing his friend without looking at him. “But it has not been so bad, Jean? We have done the things we used to plan to do, long ago, when we were Seminarians, — at least some of them. To fulfill the dreams of one’s youth; that is the best that can happen to a man. No worldly success can take the place of that.”
Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.
# of books read: 20 (19 either by women or about women)
Best book: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Best film: Hoop Dreams (runner up: Before Midnight)
Best art: a tie between The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff at the Cloisters and Bach Suites in the Dark at the Goethe-Institut
Best thing I ate: the hummus at Abu Shukri in the Arab Quarter of Old Jerusalem
Best adventure: a tie between my mideast travels with the brother, and Ragnar
Races swam/biked/ran: 2 marathons (DC + NYC), 1 Olympic distance triathlon (NYC), 1 century ride (Montauk), 1 ultramarathon relay race (Ragnar ADK)
Skills attempted: meditation (fell asleep), pottery, various DIY projects around the home
Cities visited: Toronto, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Boston, Washington DC, Los Angeles
Poems memorized: 9
This is the year that I:
- Rang in the new year with clam pizza in New Haven, CT
- Started watching the Niners again
- Became a lawyer, appeared in court, filed briefs, wrote laws
- Moved back to Harlem
- Central heat/AC! in NYC!
- Hacked the Met and Slept No More
- Drank, a lot, often in public (NY Phil on the Great Lawn, Met Opera at Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the steps of the Met, twice on a schooner, and epically at Fish & Game and again at Highlands)
- Finally made it into the jury box, though not on the jury
- Met Mulder & Scully!!!!!!
Next year I resolve to: drink more water.
#slouching towards bethlehem
Joan Didion is a badass, or at least she plays one in Slouching Towards Bethlehem. There’s something so cool, so self-assured about her writing that even the stupid shit that San Francisco junkies say and do starts to seem cool by association when she writes about them. Or maybe its her photograph on the cover of the secondhand copy I bought from Book Culture near Columbia U. The photo, which is in black and white, shows a model-thin Didion in a slouchy scoopneck tee and no makeup, eyebrows arched and expression unreadable, an ashy cigarette balanced between two fingers of her right hand. (Hey kids, smoking is cool! Buy some basics from the Gap!)
All the essays strongly evoke a time and a place: California in the 1960s, New York in your twenties. All the essays come off a little blurry, as if told through the soft focus lens of nostalgia or the pot haze of a group home in the Haight. The best essays (Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream and, of course, Goodbye to All That) have a story anchoring them, the worst (On Morality) are bloggy: honest, but self-indulgent and aimless. A few are interesting messes, not very intellectually coherent but potent (the titular Slouching Towards Bethlehem, On Self-Respect). A harsh wind blows through them all, usually the Santa Ana of her upbringing and mine, as if warning of something more ominous to come.
I used to worry that I had waited too long to read Didion, that I should have read her in my twenties. Happily, I was wrong. There are some sentences that would not have rung as true then as they do now that I’m thirtysomething with some serious regrets under my belt. Like this one:
[P]eople with self-respect have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things…[they] exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve…the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life…