Sunday, December 27, 2009


I got a new jar of vegemite for Christmas. It's been ages since I, in Oregon, or my mom, in California (mom is my faithful vegemite hunter), have been able to find it. One day I got online and almost ordered some from Texas or somewhere, but the shipping was upwards of twenty dollars. Now that little jar is sitting in a heavenly glow and a chorus of angels in our kitchen cabinet - next to an old jar, a years-old jar with nothing but a slick of lovely salt black coating its insides. There isn't enough in that old jar to make a fifth of a sandwich with - only enough to maybe stick your finger in and get sticky. But I've been unwilling to throw it out. Oh, vegemite lasts for years - at least that's what I've always figured since at some point in my childhood, far, far after we'd come home from Australia, we found a few jars we'd stashed somewhere, and we ate them.

It occurred to me this morning that I've always been this way. Like how I won't wear the sock with the hole in the heel, but I won't throw it away until I get a new pair. Out of nowhere this morning I remembered a story I wrote when I was pretty young, about a spaceman lost in space with no contact to the earth, waiting to be located and saved. Apparently in this particular time period, all the nourishment you need you get in pill-form, and the crux of the story is that the spaceman saves that one last pill, unwilling to take it, until, as luck and the twelve-year-old brain would have it, the day he finally starves to death, he is found. Triumphant music - open the pod - move the camera in close, to fall on, first, the dead spaceman and finally, ah irony, the one last pill.

It's funny that I'd write that cautionary tale to myself and still to this day be that spaceman.

It's also funny that I never realized, when I was writing that story, that really, with the length of time I had the guy languishing and starving, one pill probably wouldn't have changed anything much.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

snowflake windows

Just a few pictures of the Powell's windows I did for the holidays. It is so difficult to take pictures of windows, especially when you're embarrassed that you're taking pictures of your own handiwork and you sneak over early and do it fast and then run.

We got the whole Green Room covered with book-cut snowflakes this year. One of the fun parts was flanking the Weird Book Window.

Anyway: pictures.

Monday, December 21, 2009

[my hero]

My hero, meaning Dylan Thomas, because when I first heard this particular music, I'd never heard anything like it in my life, and it filled me up with a new kind of wanting to create. And my hero meaning my family, actually, even though they didn't write this - but I've always been proud of the substance and sophistication I've seen in my family, and our having a holiday tradition including A Child's Christmas in Wales seemed to illustrate this. But that's me, always proud of what I love, as if I made it myself.

There's a lovely film made in 1987 with Denholm Elliott and a great little actor named Mathonwy Reeves, which we watch every year. Now that I'm in Portland, it's become the decoration night tradition. Here's the text in full...


One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs. Prothero's first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor's polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

"Fire!" cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

"Call the fire brigade," cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong.

"They won't be there," said Mr. Prothero, "it's Christmas."

There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr. Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.

"Do something," he said. And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.

"Let's call the police as well," Jim said.

"And the ambulance."

"And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr. Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's Aunt, Miss. Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly, to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said, "Would you like anything to read?"

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

"Were there postmen then, too?"

"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."

"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"

"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."

"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

"There were church bells, too."

"Inside them?"

"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged town, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy under my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."

"Get back to the postmen"

"They were just ordinary postmen, found of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on the doors with blue knuckles ...."

"Ours has got a black knocker...."

"And then they stood on the white Welcome mat in the little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out."

"And then the presents?"

"And then the Presents, after the Christmas box. And the cold postman, with a rose on his button-nose, tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run of the chilly glinting hill. He went in his ice-bound boots like a man on fishmonger's slabs.
"He wagged his bag like a frozen camel's hump, dizzily turned the corner on one foot, and, by God, he was gone."

"Get back to the Presents."

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why."

"Go on the Useless Presents."

"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any colour I pleased, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknels, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons."

"Were there Uncles like in our house?"

"There are always Uncles at Christmas. The same Uncles. And on Christmas morning, with dog-disturbing whistle and sugar fags, I would scour the swatched town for the news of the little world, and find always a dead bird by the Post Office or by the white deserted swings; perhaps a robin, all but one of his fires out. Men and women wading or scooping back from chapel, with taproom noses and wind-bussed cheeks, all albinos, huddled their stiff black jarring feathers against the irreligious snow. Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers. Some few large men sat in the front parlors, without their collars, Uncles almost certainly, trying their new cigars, holding them out judiciously at arms' length, returning them to their mouths, coughing, then holding them out again as though waiting for the explosion; and some few small aunts, not wanted in the kitchen, nor anywhere else for that matter, sat on the very edge of their chairs, poised and brittle, afraid to break, like faded cups and saucers."

Not many those mornings trod the piling streets: an old man always, fawn-bowlered, yellow-gloved and, at this time of year, with spats of snow, would take his constitutional to the white bowling green and back, as he would take it wet or fire on Christmas Day or Doomsday; sometimes two hale young men, with big pipes blazing, no overcoats and wind blown scarfs, would trudge, unspeaking, down to the forlorn sea, to work up an appetite, to blow away the fumes, who knows, to walk into the waves until nothing of them was left but the two furling smoke clouds of their inextinguishable briars. Then I would be slap-dashing home, the gravy smell of the dinners of others, the bird smell, the brandy, the pudding and mince, coiling up to my nostrils, when out of a snow-clogged side lane would come a boy the spit of myself, with a pink-tipped cigarette and the violet past of a black eye, cocky as a bullfinch, leering all to himself.

I hated him on sight and sound, and would be about to put my dog whistle to my lips and blow him off the face of Christmas when suddenly he, with a violet wink, put his whistle to his lips and blew so stridently, so high, so exquisitely loud, that gobbling faces, their cheeks bulged with goose, would press against their tinsled windows, the whole length of the white echoing street. For dinner we had turkey and blazing pudding, and after dinner the Uncles sat in front of the fire, loosened all buttons, put their large moist hands over their watch chains, groaned a little and slept. Mothers, aunts and sisters scuttled to and fro, bearing tureens. Auntie Bessie, who had already been frightened, twice, by a clock-work mouse, whimpered at the sideboard and had some elderberry wine. The dog was sick. Auntie Dosie had to have three aspirins, but Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush. I would blow up balloons to see how big they would blow up to; and, when they burst, which they all did, the Uncles jumped and rumbled. In the rich and heavy afternoon, the Uncles breathing like dolphins and the snow descending, I would sit among festoons and Chinese lanterns and nibble dates and try to make a model man-o'-war, following the Instructions for Little Engineers, and produce what might be mistaken for a sea-going tramcar.

Or I would go out, my bright new boots squeaking, into the white world, on to the seaward hill, to call on Jim and Dan and Jack and to pad through the still streets, leaving huge footprints on the hidden pavements.

"I bet people will think there's been hippos."

"What would you do if you saw a hippo coming down our street?"

"I'd go like this, bang! I'd throw him over the railings and roll him down the hill and then I'd tickle him under the ear and he'd wag his tail."

"What would you do if you saw two hippos?"

Iron-flanked and bellowing he-hippos clanked and battered through the scudding snow toward us as we passed Mr. Daniel's house.

"Let's post Mr. Daniel a snow-ball through his letter box."

"Let's write things in the snow."

"Let's write, 'Mr. Daniel looks like a spaniel' all over his lawn."

Or we walked on the white shore. "Can the fishes see it's snowing?"

The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks round their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying "Excelsior." We returned home through the poor streets where only a few children fumbled with bare red fingers in the wheel-rutted snow and cat-called after us, their voices fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay. And then, at tea the recovered Uncles would be jolly; and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave. Auntie Hannah laced her tea with rum, because it was only once a year.

Bring out the tall tales now that we told by the fire as the gaslight bubbled like a diver. Ghosts whooed like owls in the long nights when I dared not look over my shoulder; animals lurked in the cubbyhole under the stairs and the gas meter ticked. And I remember that we went singing carols once, when there wasn't the shaving of a moon to light the flying streets. At the end of a long road was a drive that led to a large house, and we stumbled up the darkness of the drive that night, each one of us afraid, each one holding a stone in his hand in case, and all of us too brave to say a word. The wind through the trees made noises as of old and unpleasant and maybe webfooted men wheezing in caves. We reached the black bulk of the house. "What shall we give them? Hark the Herald?"

"No," Jack said, "Good King Wencelas. I'll count three." One, two three, and we began to sing, our voices high and seemingly distant in the snow-felted darkness round the house that was occupied by nobody we knew. We stood close together, near the dark door. Good King Wencelas looked out On the Feast of Stephen ... And then a small, dry voice, like the voice of someone who has not spoken for a long time, joined our singing: a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole. And when we stopped running we were outside our house; the front room was lovely; balloons floated under the hot-water-bottle-gulping gas; everything was good again and shone over the town.

"Perhaps it was a ghost," Jim said.

"Perhaps it was trolls," Dan said, who was always reading.

"Let's go in and see if there's any jelly left," Jack said. And we did that.

Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

feeding myself with beauty

This was my favorite string of words from Stephen's art talk. "...feeding myself with beauty." About his process, how he pulls into himself all the examples of what he finds beautiful, so that his subconscious can work on it, mix it through his soul, and then eventually ideas spring Athenalike, fully-formed, from his head. I think he gave a great talk - comfortable and smart - and as always, I'm left with more the memory of what it felt like, listening to him, than the specifics of what he said. I knew this would happen, so when he tossed out that line, I tried to memorize it.

I learned a carnival memory-act trick, once, from a juggler I used to go bird watching with. He said you assign the thing you want to remember to a spot on your body. This works nicely with small things, although I generally (wait for it) forget to use it. Of course I don't have enough body for all of Stephen's speech, so I chose to grab onto that one bit of phrase and see if it would work. I decided instead of using my own body, I'd use his. Later, after a lovely lunch and viewing Bob's great, little gallery show, and finally The Woman With the Veil, I looked at Stephen's mouth and remembered feeding myself with beauty. Which is what I do, so much, with him.

Friday, December 4, 2009


First Thursday was very nice. We were worried at first - arrived about 5:15 and found a parking spot on the corner just down from the gallery - and then discovered three open spots directly in front of the place as we were walking up: uh oh. It was the night of the Civil War, which - alright, I'll admit, I didn't know what that was before this year. The big game between the Ducks and the Beavers, and I have to say, at first thought, there's something incongruous about using the word War alongside dorky animal names like ducks and beavers. Although when you think about it, if the ducks and beavers decided to go at it, I'd probably not want to be in the forest.

When we walked in, I think we may have been the only ones. Other than Charles and Rebecca behind the desk, who said perhaps we could get up a right rousing game of bridge. Then people started to filter in, in dribs and drabs. And the other two artists in the show: Gwen Davidson and Ronna Neuenschwander.

The volume of people grew as the evening did so that eventually we had a pretty full house moving through the exhibits. Stephen was signing books. The gallery is selling the book he had made of his work, and it was sweet to watch him sign - and labor over the perfect inscription for Tom Spanbauer. I suggested "fucking novenas, man," but he thought up something better.

But what lovely - to watch people study his paintings. They don't just glance and move by, they study. Get right up close. Often smiling and laughing. I told Stephen later, when I'm at your openings, I feel proud, like I own you. I stand back and watch people look at your work and think, all of that is mine. It's not just the man and the art, it's the world he creates in that art. In a way, I feel like I own that world a little. The way you do when you spend time in Paris or Tokyo and forever that place belongs a little bit to you.

I hope he feels the same way, some day, when I finish this novel - that he's lived a bit in that world I've created of and for the both of us.

[ooh, and i wore the vintage dress lanaux gave me - and noni's pearls. i'll take any excuse to put on the old dog, of course, but whenever i step into the stephen world, a bit of elegance is extra warranted.]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Last week I was part of the second gathering of SHARE, a project started by my friend and fellow writer Kathleen Lane. Here's the description from the blog, which you can peruse here: "SHARE is a monthly gathering of artists. For two hours we work independently on the same prompt, then share what we've made." SHARE is managed by Kathleen and another friend and writer, Margaret Malone. Two smart, fabulously talented women who've put together something really unique and enriching.

One thing that makes it unique is the variety of art involved. This time around we had four writers, one musician, one sculptor, one screen printer, one illustrator, one painter, one artist who works with graffiti, and one woman described as an interdisciplinary domestic artist. You'd think it would be impossible to organize a workshop of all these different types of creativity, but it went really smoothly. Everyone worked independently for two hours - Chad, the musician, worked by computer with headphones on - and in the end the variety of art that came out of one little word prompt was amazing.

The prompt was TEMPORARY. It was texted to me two hours in advance like a secret password to a speakeasy. (Except that texting wasn't so possible in the time of the speakeasy and you weren't likely to find one hidden in a loft next to something called a 24-Hour Church of Elvis.)

Thing is, when I got the prompt, I was busy writing an email to the editor of the Pacific Northwest Reader and then going through my essay to take out the double spacing between the sentences - something he thought he'd asked for but hadn't, so I wanted to take care of it right away - which means I didn't really have a chance to roll the prompt around in my head before arriving at SHARE late because I also had the time wrong. Consequently, and not so consequently, I spent almost the entire creating period writing stray bits of rubbish and wondering why I ever thought I had the brain power to do anything creative in my life and why don't I just jump out this window right now.

Until something I wrote down clicked and I was fine again.

I'll let the SHARE blog speak for the great and varied pieces that came out of the evening, but I wanted to mention one element that was very particular. Shawn, the interdisciplinary domestic artist, brought a huge bowl of goldfish, from which she spooned two or three fish into a glass or jar for each one of us. She said these were to be ours temporarily. In the end, we could decide whether to keep the fish or give them back.

I had three - one completely gold, one a golden sort of white, and one mostly gold but with white at the bottom of the mouth. I remember this because I spent a lot of time throughout the evening picking up the jar and looking at them. Even writing about them a bit before I got a hold of what I was going to really write about that night. One of the interesting things that happened to me because of these fish was that I started to notice I had a lot of ownership attached to them even though they were only temporarily mine. For these few hours, they were mine. And as such, they were the best ones and lived in the best glass. I pitied everyone else for their inferior fish. Well maybe not, but mine were hands down the prettiest and did the best things. I watched one of mine hang in space, fins going hummingbird fast, and make tiny, jerky movements backward as if finding its own way to pretend it was moving forward, to own great distance, while it was confined. From this, I concluded that mine was an extra-intelligent, I daresay creative, goldfish. And poor Kathleen's three just bonked their faces against the glass like little fishy doofuses. There, I've said it.

But thinking about temporary while you have your temporary goldfish on the table in front of you does remind you of how temporary ownership really is. We hang a lot of security on ownership, yet in a way, every bit of it is temporary. Our ownership of our homes, our books and CDs and stacks of plates, the gardens we plant, the old letters we save, our relationships, our memories - all temporary in one way or another. The very cells of us, dying and regenerating so we're not even physically the same us in the end that we were in the beginning.

The other thing that happens to you if you have a glass of goldfish is that somewhere along the line you're going to almost drink it.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

stringing snow

The filament is invisible, but it's strung between the rows of snowflakes on the floor. The table is covered with strays awaiting stringing. One of the hard things about the process is finding a place in Powell's that has floor space for laying all of this out. Now, they're all strung and ready to go up in the windows on Tuesday. I like the idea of words, bits of books, falling in snowflakes from the sky. Then maybe you could catch them on your tongue and taste tiny stories.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Stephen's new show is up today. We celebrated this weekend with champagne and Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers films. Which is perfectly appropriate because, though Stephen's series of paintings is eighteenth century themed, the artistry has a Fred Astaire elegance and a Ginger Rogers flair. And anyway Stephen got to pick, and that's what he wanted to watch.

So eager to see the paintings up on the gallery walls. We're going to take a quick trip down when I get off work today. But the artist events aren't until December. Here's the information - and it comes from Stephen's website, which is also brand new. Have a look! Here's the homepage.

That piece at the top of the post? That's:

Monsieur le prince - acrylic on panel - 12x12 - 2009

and it already has a buyer. Huzzah!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

morning walk

For a year or so, I walked the same route to work every day. I called it the Shanghaied route. This was a superstitious ritual I started when I submitted my story for Portland Noir (because even though I don't believe in much of anything, I'm very superstitious and love to play games to make myself crazy). I wrote a blogpost for the Powell's website that better explains this particular neurosis, but the basic idea is that somehow I decided if I walked this way every day the story would be accepted. Then when it was accepted, I figured I'd better keep walking this way every day or the economy would tank enough to swallow Akashic Books up and a very fun publication with it. Then when the book came out, I figured I'd better keep walking this way or the incredible sales we were having on the book would stop.

This could go on forever. But when my essay was accepted for the Pacific Northwest Reader, I realized I could jump from one crazy superstitious ritual to another - yay! - and I was so clever that I set up the new ritual so that instead of walking one particular route, I would have to walk a different route every day. Because the essay is all about discovery, you see.

I'll admit this is kind of like the time when I was a kid and was fed up trying for miracles and said, "God, if you're real, do absolutely nothing right now," but I figure I can get away with it, because I am the God of this particular neurotic universe, and I get to make up the rules. And the rule isn't that I can never walk the exact same path I've walked before, by the way - I just have to walk differently than yesterday.

Which is excellent in autumn because you can search for the best stretches of leaves. My goal this time around has been to write down each route I take and make note of where the beauty is. I have remembered to do this exactly two times.

Yesterday: down 20th - yellow leaves against black skeleton trees - to the edge of Couch Park. Left there, just before the park, and I have lots of color on both sides and a Cleopatra path to follow down to my favorite little mini-neighborhood where the houses are suddenly Victorian... or Edwardian... or. I don't know anything about the names of houses, but they're elaborate and out of place and the trees make a tunnel like the whole place is domed. Domed with bright orange-red now, and the sidewalks are orange-red, and the orange-red leaves lying against the cherry red Chinese maple are so beautiful I have to stop and turn back to look again.

Raining soft and the hood over my head obscures the edges of things so I have to keep turning the whole top of my body to see it all. Here, I realize I've picked up the Shanghaied route, which seems a little risky. Like maybe if I take the Shanghaied route my brain will tell me I'd better keep walking this way every day or, or, or. But no, it'll be fine, and in fact, maybe I should be so bold as to follow the Shanghaied route all the way down. Cross the freeway at Glisan. The soft rain becomes medium rain. Leave the hood on but get the umbrella up, turn at 13th where the street becomes pavement lined with loading docks. Wind so strong it's got both hands on my umbrella and pulling and I have to walk along the loading docks, under awnings - up and down steps - so I won't blow away. Cargo has red lights under its awning and a new weird pink roof covering like easter basket grass. And hanging underneath the awning, too, are papier maché baby heads in plastic bubbles.

I could take the jog to Everett and continue my Shanghaied route past Everett St. Bistro, but the rain comes sideways at me like wedding rice - pointy. So I keep going down 13th, along the backs of warehouses, up and down stairs, to keep as dry as possible. Could go all the way to Burnside this way, but Burnside is boring, so I turn at Couch. Duck under little awnings when I can. Past the smell of coffee at Peet's and on to Powell's, and I think, now that is a Portland walk. Nice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


A partial list of books I was forced to pass over while searching for white books for a Christmas display today...

Marked for Death
Already Dead
Devil's Bones
Never Suck a Dead Man's Hand

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

lonely living room

but still happy because all the paintings have been delivered to the gallery for the show!

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Don't press too hard on the French press.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Sitting on the floor in a meeting room on the fourth floor at Powell's, shoes off, stringing book-cut snowflakes on filament, and the sounds through the window were: first the ring of the streetcar, then, quiet, the music of the Orange Room entrance violinist, then, loud, a steady pound of rain on the roof.

Friday, November 6, 2009

great lakes reader

Thinking, today, of what I would have written, had I put together an essay for The Great Lakes Reader - one of a series that sprang from the publication, last year, of a great book called State By State. The original was an anthology of 50 essays, each on one of our states, a la the American Guide series of the Federal Writers Project in the 1930s. The Readers are like State By State, but produced by region, and written by writers who are also booksellers and librarians. Great Lakes is the first, and it's just out. (And full disclosure: about 70 percent of the motivation behind this post is shameless self-promotion, since I was lucky enough to have a chance to write an essay for The Pacific Northwest Reader, which comes out next year.)

[Powell's loved State By State so much we made a movie about it.]

Of course, had I written an essay for the Great Lakes Reader, it would have been Wisconsin, and it would have been circus.

So much good material:

Baraboo - home of the Ringling Brothers - and where I lived, in the carriage house of an old Ringling mansion. (And stored extra stuff in what was once a stall for an elephant.)

Delavan - birthplace/home of all sorts of circuses and circus people you've never heard of but also the place where Barnum got his show started. This was 1871, so it was called P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome. Love those old, ornate names. Here's another: P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger's Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United.

Madison, Milwaukee, Appleton - cities where I performed in all manner of shows - on fairgrounds, in one-ring tents, in three and even five ring arenas.

The Wisconsin Dells - wacky Wisconsin Dells, the Midwest's answer to Vegas for kids, where for years I worked summers in a little circus show and spun my lasso at a broken-down children's park called Storybook Gardens (and periodically had to fill in as Cinderella).

That's what's so neat about a project like this Readers series. A place isn't just a place - it's a million places. It's different for every person who sees it, smells it, steps through its streets. But. It isn't just a million places - it's one place. With its own flavor, its look and feel.

It's this duality that is so beautifully captured by State By State and the Readers. Wisconsin to me was band concerts on small town city squares, fried cheese curds at the Friday night fish fry, watching eagles in the stinging January cold, forty-minute drives to Madison following a trail of homemade signs saying "No Farms, No Future, Don't Widen Highway 12," beer and barbecues with old stag reels projected on the neighbor's garage door, and circus and circus and circus. I love that I can own this Wisconsin - but also glimpse the Wisconsin that belongs to someone else:

[An excerpt from "Life on a Wisconsin Lake," by Margie Petersen White] mother spent her last days of life floating on the lake. She had a brain tumor, and by the time August came, she could barely walk or speak. My dad would lift her into her floating chaise lounge, complete with cup holders in each armrest, and she would spend hours being rocked gently by the waves. The days were gloriously hot and dry and sunny, the kind of days you would want if you had only a few left on earth. The lake was perfectly behaved, it was deliciously warm, and the waves were neither too big nor too small. I don’t remember any pea soup that August at all. At the end of each of these last days, my mother would exclaim with utterly pure gratitude: “That was another ‘triple A’ day!”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

i have decided to start using the phrase holy toledo.

Holy Toledo!


happy living room, part two

Now, you may say, of course you love your husband's art, he's your husband - but keep in mind, I fell in love with this man's work before I ever met him. The first time I laid eyes on a Stephen O'Donnell painting, I knew I'd finally found what my eyes and my brain had been looking for, had been created to love. That's three times I've said love in two sentences, but I'm not going to worry my thesaurus over it, because what else can I say? I love love love

what this man does.

I try to appreciate more "modern" art, but I guess my brain is as rooted in the past as Stephen's is. And is as thirsty for beauty.

The Toilette of Medusa, 2003
acrylic on panel

A piece from that first show I saw. All dichotomy and loveliness. And a straight shot, from the eyes, down into Stephen's soul, his longing for beauty.

Stephen's art does what the best kind of art (whatever it is) does: it creates a world. What could be more intimate than stepping into someone's own world - and what could be more satisfying than finding that world so exotic and so familiar, so lush and beautiful, so sad and funny, so happy, so droll.

At our wedding, a friend (and opera singer) sang a piece by Gabriel Fauré called Rêve d'amour, and the last line is,

I will make a nest where your heart can rest.

In this particular nest, I am resting in a chaise longue with a glass of very good champagne.


Which is to say: Stephen's new show, Dix-Huit, opens Tuesday, November 17, at Froelick Gallery.

714 NW Davis Street

It will be up through December.

Le Flegmatique
from Les Humeurs
acrylic on panel

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

it's snowing books

The holidays are upon us. Or, anyway, they're upon me. Have been for some time, but they're really upon me now. It's the beginning of November (wasn't it just June?), and I have to have all of Powell's City of Books ready for the holidays by Thanksgiving. That means four window displays for the entrance, one display out on the Mezzanine, coordination of decorations throughout the four-floor store (ooh, three-way rhyme), and my favorite - snowflakes, snowflakes, snowflakes.

I had the idea last year to take some damaged books and cut paper snowflakes to hang in the windows. It worked out really well, and we're wanting more this year. So far, I've cut / gathered 187 book-cut snowflakes this time around.

Here's a picture from last year with sadly a lot of glare - but it's the least glarey I've got. Trust me - it looks cool. The snowflakes that are intricate and perfect? Those ones are probably Stephen's:

Monday, November 2, 2009

wild things part two

At first I didn't want to like it. Because Where the Wild Things Are was a favorite book, and I didn't want any of that magic tinkered with.

Then I wanted to like it. Because I was visiting family in California and my nephew Maxx (10) and my niece Zoë (5) loved it.

Some wild things...




Had to put my brother in there. He just fit so well.

When I didn't want to like it, I thought maybe I'd end up liking it, and that'd be a nice surprise. When I started to want to like it, I was afraid I wouldn't and then what would I say to Maxx and Zoë?

In the end, I had some mixed feelings, but overall I did like it. In a lot of ways, it has a light touch, which made me feel taken care of, since one of the things that is sweet about the book is its light touch. The portrayal of the wild things, to me, felt so real and so regular. There was something charming and engaging in the regularness of these monsters. And how that regularness blended with wild-thing-ness so that you could have

[did i mention? spoilers.]

Carol talking like an adult human, emoting like a child, and suddenly saying he might just eat his feet off.

What I didn't like as much? How Max runs away rather than letting his imagination create a forest out of his bedroom. Especially how he scales a cliff a la adventure movie to get to where the wild things are. And how the film does not end on supper that is still hot - which is the apex of the book's poetry.

On the other hand. I did like the very last moment in the film - getting to watch Max just watch his mother sleeping - which does encompass all that "and it was still hot" says, and more. That is a beautiful moment. And one that, again, is done with a light touch. The Max in me still wants to stomp my feet a bit about the departure, but because it has its own poetry, I'm happy with it.

Another lovely moment? Max under his mom's desk, plucking at her tights as she works.

I'll just mention one other moment and the thought I had watching it. When Max is running from Carol, and KW tells Max to climb in her mouth and hide in her stomach. Not at all in the book, of course, but this felt so Sendak to me. Not only because it reminded me of the part in We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy when the moon saves the kittens by carrying them in its mouth, but because it contains that same kind of elegant fiendishness that I've always loved in Sendak's work.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lovely paintings propped up along the couch in preparation for Stephen's show, and a manilla envelope from Harper Collins on the table next to my computer.

This is a happy living room.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

and it was still hot

So, of course I had to do a window display at Powell's for Where the Wild Things Are. It was one of my first favorite books and one of my longest-standing favorite books. I have to say, I worry about enjoying the film (which I'll be seeing today with Maxx and Zoë, as I visit down here in California) because part of what is beautiful about the book is its perfect spareness. I know, I know, I know - that was the book, this will be the film, and they're different things, and I should try to make room in my heart for both, but you don't understand how important this book and Maurice Sendak are to me.

Years ago when I first started considering getting a tattoo someday, my first thought was, hmm, should I go with Max and the moon during the wild rumpus night or Mickey in his dough airplane in the night kitchen?

Let's see if I can remember the titles of all the Sendak books I own (written and illustrated by or just illustrated by)...

Where the Wild Things Are, Mickey in the Night Kitchen, The Sign on Rosie's Door, Outside Over There, Some Swell Pup, The Love For Three Oranges, We Are All In the Dumps With Jack and Guy, Pierre A Cautionary Tale, A Hole is to Dig, the Little Bear books, Higglety Pigglety Pop or there must be more to life... I bought the memoir Sleep Demons for the cover which he illustrated (but good book!), Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, The Green Book, Lullabies and Night Songs, Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water, The Nutcracker, Kenny's Window, Fly By Night, The Cunning Little Vixen, No Fighting No Biting, What Do You Say Dear?, What Can You Do With a Shoe, Frank and Joey Go To Work, Swine Lake, Dear Mili, I Saw Esau, The Miami Giant, Brundibar...


And that's just a fraction of what he's written and illustrated. Once I was lucky enough to visit the Rosenbach museum in Pennsylvania to look through their amazing collection of Sendak illustrations and dummies and writings - excellent.

I must admit, in the first book I wrote, I shamelessly plagiarized Maurice Sendak.

It was about the size of a business card, and the cover was a piece of cardboard. Inside were a few tiny pages of cut-up newspaper which I stapled together (or possibly had Mom staple together). There were illustrations throughout. The text went something like:


It was Haloween night.

Wiches was flying.

Black cats was peeking.

Gohsts was string.
[I think that meant stirring]

And it was still dark.


I don't know exactly how old I was when I made that book - five? I can't imagine I ever would have mixed up my wases and my weres like that, but I guess I did. The And it was still dark was a direct steal from the last sentence of Where the Wild Things Are (And it was still hot). Apparently I didn't care if my plagiarized line really made sense. I think that even at that time I must have understood somewhere in my child's brain that the beauty in Sendak was in not only the story he created, but the music and rhythm of his words.

one more picture of the display. but only because the first has too much glare and the second is at an angle and i can only claim to have one good photo if i average the two together. the graphic, by the way, is not a blowup from the book but my own little send-up, created on adobe illustrator and gimp.

Friday, October 23, 2009

lovely sound of wild parrots out the window in the morning.

watching baseball in the family room with mom and dad.

studying, with maxx and zoë and frank, the ways and the natural habitat of the snerfaladerf

(and the doodleflork).

this place has always been home. for so long, no matter where i was, no matter where home should have been, this was home. what wonderful - to be here now in that period of my adulthood in which where i live is home too.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

the top (and the rest) of virginia woolf's head. part two.

This one goes out to the lovely Xtine who asked that I give a before and after to show what I did to Virginia Woolf's head.

OK, so don't get excited. There was very little photoshopping in this operation. I just needed a complete head of Virginia Woolf for something at Powell's, and all I could find, in keeping with Powell's policy on where we can attain graphics online, was a photo with the tip cut off.

exhibit a.

So, here she is with the top of her head painted back in with the simple, simple process of using the clone brush.

Also, the photo was quite small, so after I restored the top of her head, I had to figure out how to blow it up without ending up with nothing but pixels. In Adobe Illustrator there's an application you can use to basically trace an existing image. By tracing the photo, I got this...

which definitely doesn't look photo-perfect, but it'll blow up much bigger and I figure it'll look like some cool arty effect I've applied. Here's a closeup so you can see what it looks like large.


OK, then I applied some color to it

and - wait for it - here she is in her final incarnation

as part of the grand campaign of famous literary figures from history coming together to sell Powell's t-shirts. Here's a bonus. Chekhov, Poe and Angelou joining ranks to support the cause.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


I usually forget just how much the world is full of words, but once in a while: a morning moment standing in the shower looking at shampoo bottles and then my towel, hung over the top of the glass shower door, a tiny tag sewn in, then the tag sewn into my robe, the scatter of letters all over my tube of toothpaste, and I find I can't stop noticing that there are words everywhere.

terrycloth haiku:

wash once before use.
machine wash with like colors.
no bleach. tumble dry.

Everything talks to me. My tweezers say: Trim. My brush says: Goody. The outlet on the wall says: Follow directions. Test monthly.

Oops. OK, I'll try.

Shampoo bottles are bragging all the time like those kids in high school who gush about their popularity just enough that you can hear the desperate inside their words:

"Nature's boredom-banishers, including clarifying Florida Grapefruit and invigorating French Peppermint, give ho-hum hair a refreshing burst of enthusiasm, while mounds of frothy lather sweep away the clingy deposits that drag hair down and leave it lifeless. Limp, lazy, lackluster locks get back into the swing of things, shine again, take on a totally fresh, new attitude."

Walk through the house, past bookshelves and bookshelves, the painting in the hall with Stephen's name on it, into the kitchen where wide, naked spaces like refrigerators have to get crowded with words. A Cinema 21 film schedule (from last December). A magnet that tells what we can recycle and what we can't. A dry-erase board where Stephen wrote "Do good." (And my brother wrote "monkey.")

A yellow sticky still stuck to the door jamb with a quick cartoon portrait of José and a note to my brother, taking care of him while we were away once, years ago: Don't forget my pills.

Make a little something to eat (tiny words on tiny stickers on red and yellow peppers) and go in the back to sit at the computer and look at words and tap words out on fast fingertips. Next to me on the wall is an old map. In big words: View of the center of Paris taken from the air. Smaller words: Seine. Ile de la Cité. Zero in: Boulevard Henri IV. Zero in: Square H. Galli. Zero in: Ruines de la Bastille.

Take a trip out of the city - drive under green freeway sign and green freeway sign and green freeway sign to a place where you can angle yourself to see nothing but sand and sea stretching to forever - and still. Lovely words.

This one says I [heart] U JASON

And right next to it: a love note of a different kind:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

summer baby sunflowers for an early autumn day.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

look down

The other day I was getting close to the end of The Dharma Bums (audio book - with a reader whose voice is too polished to play beat poet), and Japhy Ryder suggests to the narrator, “Try the meditation of the trail, just walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by.”

You shouldn't put yourself into a trance walking down city sidewalks to work in the morning, but you can certainly watch your feet as you walk to see what you can see. And what I saw:



Brick sidewalk raised in gentle waves by underneath tree roots

Pavement with a scatter of yellow leaves

Blond cat and one meow

Small flat metal discs in the pavement that hide pipes that lead down to secret places

[OK, passing a bar - look up or you'll probably see something gross]

Pavement that's a smooth almost-white

Pavement that's a spread of tiny pebbles

Asphalt the color of campfire ash, painted white lines, painted yellow lines

Pavement in a long, clean ribbon but broken by one square with names carved in by stick or finger

Wet shoe prints walking

Moss growing up through cracks in pavement

Hopscotch chalk lines in faded colors

Pavement painted with the brown-gray imprints of old leaves

Manhole covers embossed with roses

A small, perfect heart drawn with blue crayon

One tiny feather-shaped leaf up on its end and twirling in the wind against the pavement.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lovely skishshshshsh of rain on Powells' roof. Portland is my town.

Monday, September 28, 2009

an evening with coco

Excellent reading last night at Powell's City of Books: the fabulous Karen Karbo with her book The Gospel According to Coco Chanel. It's shelved under self-help, I think, at Powell's, but to me, it leans more toward biography. Is it self-help in the form of biography or biography in the form of self-help? That's some nice wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, there - and ultra elegant sheep's clothing, of course. At the reading, Karen called it "riffography," and I think that's the perfect kind of biography for a woman like Chanel. Because she may have had her ups and downs, her goods and bads, but we're not reading about her to luxuriate in her personal tragedies or bad habits - we're reading about her because deep down there's a part of us that wants to be her.

Be stylish, be big personality, be confident, be great wits, be comfortable in our skins.

The book is also very funny - and so was the reading. Karen is a great reader - has great timing. And there was a slideshow! Or powerpoint. I don't really know the difference. But there were pictures!

I like pictures!

[Seriously, did Coco ever do cigarette ads?]

The powerpoint show was framed with droll captions and sometimes tragically funny pairings of photos from Coco's time and ours.

After the reading, Karen took loads of really great questions and gave us loads of detailed answers. And was very attentive to everyone as they lined up to get books signed. My bonus for the evening was Diane Ponti, also there for the reading, so it was great chatting afterward, and great meeting a very nice writer who studies under Karen, and one person knew another person in the crowd, who knew another, and we had a nice, little group waiting in line for Karen.

Of course, me being me, I wanted to dress up for the event - something semi-demi-quasi-pseudo-reminiscent of Chanel. I consulted the book for guidelines - blacks, beiges, jackets, cardigans, sleek lines, nothing barrel-like or bubble-like... Then I consulted my very own built-in Chanel - Stephen - for his eye and expertise. He said, hmm, the jacket's not going to look good with the. And that cardigan's not as good as the. And pointed and said, how about this? I said, "Great, and it's beige! Coco loved beige!"

Stephen said, "That's not beige. That's tan."

So apparently all my life, I've never known what beige means.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I need Stephen.

Well, not the only reason why, but it's pretty important.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

torn asunder

I follow a blog called The Old Foodie, which gives you, once every weekday, a bit of food history and a recipe, sometimes an old menu, and always neat musings by the blog author (blogthor?). Beyond my fascination with history-through-food, I also get a great kick out of the lovely twists of old language I get to read in her snips of nineteenth century cookbooks, eighteenth century food-writings and the like.

She's in my blog follow list, but you can check her out here.

Today's topic is an Irish potato cake called boxty (or boxtie), and I thought the explanation she included from the Dublin University Magazine of 1854 contained some fabulous bits of old language. I've bolded (emboldened?) my favorite parts...

"In the formation of potato starch the fibrous portion of the tuber, when separated and squeezed from the watery part, was mixed with coarse flour or oatmeal, and by the addition of a little kitchen stuff or butter formed into a cake popularly known in the vest as boxtie, and in the south denominated “buck bread”, “Scotchy”, or “stampy”. This was so much admired, that the children in country parts used to make a grater out of the side of an old tin can, by punching it with an awl in order to rasp lumpers for a feast of boxtie. If we have reserved to the last, the potato-cake, made by bruising with the bottom of a tin porringer, two cold well-boiled potatoes, and mixing therewith a pound of the finest flour, the yolk of a fresh egg, a print of butter, and a sup of new-milk, the whole being well kneaded then pounded with a rolling pin, made into a cake five eighths of an inch thick, cut into squares and diamonds, baked on a griddle, and when properly browned and mottled, each piece torn asunder like a muffin, and a bit of butter slipt in to melt in the interior, and then eaten at tea or breakfast but particularly at the former, it is because it was the most widely disseminated, and universally admired form of potato-eating known to all tea-drinkers and cup-tossers from Cape Clear to the Causeway."

Of course, it's just my own modern conception of the language, but I love how an unassuming little potato cake can be torn asunder. As if the poor thing was rent limb from limb by an angry mob of cup-tossers.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


I chose the goat cheese and caramelized onion. Years ago, it would have been the peach and berry for sure. Years ago, on the road with the circus, it was a long day driving with nothing but circus music on the stereo, or a long day under a tent, hot under the wig and makeup, knowing I couldn't really make them laugh, and then in the off-time, nothing to talk about but the circus - but in the evening late, maybe eleven, finding some plastic-booth-breakfast-anytime coffee shop at the edge of a truck stop for limp iceberg lettuce salad and my heart hungry for cherry cobbler. Ice cream sundae. Blackberry pie.

Blackberry pie, Noni's specialty, when we picked the berries in July in Virginia when I was nine.

Chocolate mousse in a wine glass with lush unsweetened whipped cream at my mom's French restaurant.

Or in high school when I discovered there was a candy machine and I could blow dart sugar into my system anytime I had fifty cents on me.

Here I am forty now, and I choose the goat cheese and caramelized onion.

It occurred to me this morning - and I should preface this by saying I worked like thirteen and a half hours yesterday and then slept six, which may be a way of life for some people but for my puny brain it tends to set off punchiness and delusions of grandeur. But it occurred to me this morning that for most of my life, I've been very immature. OK, that’s not what occurred to me this morning – I’ve known this for a long time. Tom Spanbauer once called the novel I’m writing a bildungsroman, even though it’s based on the time when I was thirty five. No, what occurred to me this morning is that my rate of maturity is directly proportionate to the rate of my lessening interest in sweets. Which really didn't happen until these last few years.


Now lunchtime after the morning of my post and thinking about pie makes me think about something else. It's not just maturity that's different now [and I want to go on record and say I realize I'm not actually that mature]. But the other thing is some certain personal fulfillment. Some sense of self that wasn't there before. Some vague but all important something that a big velvety, cocoa-sprinkled slab of tiramisu was never a perfect substitute for - but, in all honesty, it was a pretty good consolation prize

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plus I won a pie!


I never take those Facebook quizzes. Once in a while I want to take one just to see if the grammar in the questions is as horrible as in the little snippets you see when one of your friends takes one - but, no, I never take one.

Except one time I took one. A bunch of my Dangerous Writer friends were taking the Which Famous Writer Are You [or some such] quiz, and everyone was coming up with Kerouac, and they were having such a fun time laughing about everyone coming up with Kerouac that I wanted to be Kerouac too. So I took the quiz.


I think I read On the Road in high school. I say that because I was supposed to read it and I remember putting my eyes down the pages, but I don't really know what I got out of it. I think what I got out of it was bored - but then again I was in high school and if it couldn't make me cry like Of Mice and Men, I probably wasn't really absorbing much of it.

But I have a little library where I get audiobooks for my walks to and from work. This time around I came upon The Dharma Bums. And funny - listening to it, I hear little bits of my own sound. Some ways of using language, some forms of rhythm that sound good in my head and come out on the page. I'm not reeeeeaaally comparing myself to Kerouac, but after that quiz, it was fun to cut in on my walk to work that first day and say aloud, "Oh my god, I really am Kerouac."

Here's a passage I liked enough on my walk yesterday that I had to transcribe it...

"But now I was three miles into the industrial jungle of LA in mad sick sniffling smog night, and had to sleep all that night by a wire fence in a ditch by the tracks, being waked up all night by rackets of Southern Pacific and Santa Fe switchers bellyaching around, till fog and clear of midnight, when I breathed better (thinking and praying in my sack) but then more fog and smog again and horrible damp white cloud of dawn and my bag too hot to sleep in and outside too raw to stand, nothing but horror all night long, except at dawn a little bird blessed me."


Why are my dreams so stupid?

I need better writers.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the top of virginia woolf's head

I spent a tad bit of my morning reconstructing the top of Virginia Woolf's head.

I include the picture here not because I'm so durn proud of my quick photoshopping skills but because Virginia Woolf has such a fabulous face.

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/11 reading

On September 11th (this September 11th), Stephen and I were part of a big audience at the Powell's on Hawthorne, listening to some great writing about the first September 11th.

When asked if I wanted to write a piece for this reading, I thought, what could I possibly write about my experience of that day that would be unique or interesting? Here's an excellent essay for you. I watched it on TV. I talked to my mom on the phone about it. I watched it on TV.

Well, the writers who stepped up to the plate showed me just how far flung the theme of that day can be. How writing about an experience that so many people had in fairly the same way as you did can still produce such unique stories and points of view. How that day, and those towers, could mean so many different things to different people.

Kevin Meyer

Elizabeth Taylor

Colin Farstad

Tom Spanbauer

And as a little photo bonus - here's the group preparing before the reading. Tom's buried, but he's in there.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

number four

See happy Mr. Umbrella Man.

See why he's blowing his party horn.

Friday, September 11, 2009

constructing a time traveler girl

As I was growing up, I always loved time travel stories. In fact, when I was a teenager I once wrote a novel about a time traveler. It was so stupid. It was about this guy who


maybe I’ll use that.

With the whole hubbub about the Time Traveler’s Wife movie, I decided at Powell’s to stage a window display that highlights other time travel books. Like Finney’s Time After Time, Wells’ The Time Machine, The Accidental Time Machine, A Wrinkle in Time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (hence my earlier post)… My favorite is Slaughterhouse Five.

I loved loved loved

putting the graphic together. First because I got to emulate some excellent old silent movies I’ve been watching lately – those sci-fi epics with the great, elaborate costumes and sets, all kooky and constructivist. Metropolis, of course, and then there’s Aelita, Queen of Mars. Look at those great head-dresses.

Oh, I loved loved loved

that movie.

Here’s a detail of my time traveler girl in her time pod about to be blasted off to some monumentally exciting time period in the future.


To construct her, I used images I found on the websites Morguefile and Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Here’s the original girl, courtesy of photographer Julianne Hide – she’s the model as well.

To put together the main part of her space suit, I used a photo I found of a pair of weird metal somethings on the deck of the Queen Mary. I have no idea what they are.

They got smoothed down her torso as a sort of bodice, and then one was used, mostly in its intact state, as a sort of accessory to wing out over her arm. Because - well, you know, all futuristic sci-fi costumery has to have something like that.

For the other extras on her time travel suit, I found a gear from some piece of machinery and a coil from a wrought iron fence.

And her intrepid adventurer's helmet? That's the Sydney Opera House.

For her time travel pod, I used mostly very simple objects. A wine glass. A stack of coins. One of those tall silver cups they give you with your chocolate malted. To all of the objects I used on the girl and her pod, I gave some grain to make it look more like an old photograph.

In looking for a coil for her costume, I stumbled upon the crowning glory for the piece. This is called a magnifier tesla coil. I have no idea what it's for other than making lovely Frankenstein lightning shoot out in all directions, but I realized I had to have me some cool electric rays for my time machine.

And that thing just under the lightning and capping the wine glass time travel pod? That's the top of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Islamic temple built over the rock where supposedly Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, Solomon built the First Temple, and Mohammad ascended to heaven. It was built in the seventh century.

Which seemed like a cool bit of cosmic to include in my time machine, although once I had it in there, I realized it pretty much just looks like some upside-down mixing bowl.

One last piece of show and tell in this display graphic. A great constructivist photo-montage from 1932, with Lenin presiding like Godzilla over the masses.

Note the electricity pylon, which I used in my piece.

The project was great fun - and now I know that if I can get a wine glass, some coins, a milkshake cup and the top of the Dome of the Rock, I can go back in time and be way cooler in high school.


picture attributions: julianne hide, sin_magic / lake steele, mecookie / michael, betta design / francisco martins, tesla1000 / clintLightning