everything and nothing at all

January 29, 2011

A week ago I couldn’t stop humming hymns. I don’t know how it started, but it was like someone pushed a button in my brain and out came all these old, wonderful songs that I grew up listening to and singing. I never thought about it at the time, but looking back I’d say that there were some very sweet and catchy tunes in the old hymnal. If any of you have been to an Episcopal church you know what I mean. This week I’m quite taken with a Sharon Van Etten song, One Day. It almost makes me want to cry a little bit.

I just finished watching he HBO mini-series, The Pacific, hoping to understand my dad better. And in some strange way hoping to be closer to him. I’ve cried a lot while watching it and wished desperately that I knew if my dad had kept his dress blues or his Marines dog tags, I would have spent more time in that horror show of his burnt out and trashed house searching for them if I’d known they were there.

Last night RU and I went to the Portland Art Museum to hear Catherine Opie give a lecture about, well, really her whole body of work. It was interesting and we were joined by an interesting mix of queers, museum patrons, folks looking for some intellectual stimulation, and maybe some folks feeling kinda nostalgic for the 90’s. Not that those are mutually exclusive groups.

I hate to admit it but I only heard of Cathy 3 or 4 years ago; for a big chunk of the 1990’s I wasn’t really paying attention to art. But I did see her retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2008. I think Cathy’s early series of portraits, which pretty much made her as an artist, are powerful, and I’m glad i saw them in person. Because the slides don’t convey the power of them. You have to be confronted by them in person. The photos in those series are big and aggressive and put into technicolor something that Mapplethorpe started. Those photos are like “boom,  mother fucker. We’re are here and we are fucking queer.”

I don’t think she’s done anything as powerful or as moving since those portraits. For for more intimate portraiture, I’d pick Nan Goldin. For social commentary, I’d pick Robert Frank or Lee Friedlander. Off the top of my head, I can’t say who I really like for  landscape, but I don’t find Cathy’s landscapes particularly compelling, except for the ice house series.  But I was still fascinated with listening to her talk about her work. In part because she’s funny and she’s smart enough to know how to work the crowd. Also, I have a certain personal affection and admiration for her because she’s unabashedly butch and talks about it like it’s absolutely no big deal.

But the landscapes aren’t really that interesting and overall are pretty forgettable. It’s her narrative about them that gives them meaning – what she was thinking or doing when she took the photos, the camera she used, the stories about her travels and sometimes what she was trying to accomplish by framing them the way she did. There was a lot of cliche in what she said, which I didn’t care so much about except that she tried to present it as a unique perspective, like taking a photo of the back of sunflowers and how that goes against expectation. The other thing that was interesting was just listening to the language of talking about art – pieces in conversation with other artist’s work, and football fields and strip malls as social landscapes, witnessing personal experience through portraiture. it was kind of like the performance of intellectualism.

I’m still an Opie fan though.

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hey mr dj

January 25, 2011

What happened to DJs being able to mix? You know the ability to overlay 2 tracks and maintain a constant beat? I’ve been to more than a handful of queer dance nights in the last year where the DJ’s got a super cool name, but can’t mix his or her way out a paper sack. And it sucks. When I go out I want to hear something I can’t play at home with my ipod hooked up to my stereo. So here’s my open plea to all those stylish guys and gals behind the console. Aspire to be something more, man. Practice. Put in the time, sporting some headphones behind a mixer. Seriously, learn mow to match a beat. You might even come up with your own original style of mixing that packs a club and makes all the boys and girls swoon over your flat billed trucker hat or your cool asymmetrical hair cut. You look hot. Now, play hot.  C’mon and aspire to be the shit; you’ll drink for free.

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January 22, 2011

I’m sitting at a coffee shop in Hood River working on some freelance web projects. RU has gone off to see the monks at the hermitage in White Salmon.

It is remarkably sunny here and the temperature is getting up in the 50’s. It makes me think that when I’m  desperately missing the sun I should drive over here or better yet, a little further east, to The Dalles and get a dose of blue sky.  Today, maybe it’s less pertinent because I know it’s sunny in Portland too. But man, when the sun comes out in winter, I’m so gratefully psyched, even though it reminds me of how much I miss bright sunny days. I miss them in a desperate kind of way, sometimes so much so that I have to keep a lid on it. Or I’m afraid I might go a little crazy. Whatever you’ve heard about how much it rains in Portland, it’s true. And it gives it a damp and mossy kind of gothic feeling. I love how the sun pushes against the dark and chilling part of primeval. Even a cold sunny day can do it.

I’ve been wanting to post about a bunch of things that I’ve been thinking about, like gun control and queer culture and writing code and why some people call themselves DJs but can’t mix to save their lives and how L.A. seems so beautiful and hopeful and horrible and tragic at the same time. I’ve been thinking about empathy and and how hard it is to to show sincerity about real things and why I’ve been humming church hymns to myself. I guess it’s enough to note it for now and maybe I’ll come back to some of it.

Right now I need to decide if I should go for a walk or work or write.

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some things are permanent

January 18, 2011

Today is the 2nd anniversary of my dad’s death. I had to look at the calendar on my watch yesterday to remind myself. I didn’t want to miss it or miss thinking about him today. I wish I could talk to him again. Not that we ever talked very much, except when I went home and then I had to make a special plan to meet him at Starbucks or go out for Indian food or something like. He was a shitty dad, but a good friend to a lot of people and by shitty I mean that he was absent, not malicious. Anyway, there are a bunch of questions I want to ask him about growing up and the war and meeting his 3rd wife and this girl he loved in China.

I imagine that in the upcoming years I will forget to remember that January 17th is the day my dad died. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust I guess. Still, there is a part of my metaphorical heart that has always been hollowed out by his absence and even if I forget the date he, the  part that’s missing will always be there.

Rest in peace.


who would have guessed

January 15, 2011

After 6 months of riding the tram, twice a day, nearly 5 days a week, I’ve been noticing  it really doesn’t bother me any more — being up that high and enclosed in that space.  In fact, sometimes I enjoy the ride. I first noticed a shift back in November, when I stayed later at work than I normally do on a couple different occasions. It was dark when I rode down and it was so cool to look out and see the city all lit up.

While, I often still sit in on one of the little jump seats on the way up, I’m ok if I don’t. And if it’s a beautiful sunrise, I’d rather stand and look out.

On the way down I try to maneuver close to the back windows where I can stand at look at the skyline or the traffic or houses below us. Sometimes I like to look back at the hospital as we speed away from it, tracing the cable lines from there to where I stand hovering high over the ground.

This morning the wind whooshed up against the cabin and rocked it side to side. A guy stood beside me texting and two women stood in front of me holding on to to one of the few poles. And it was pretty amazing to me how much all of it was all ok.

I guess there is something about practice. Because I was so dang scared of heights. I’d get a feeling deep in my abdomen that felt just like “step back.” If I had testicles they would have ascended. For the first month, I hated riding the tram. Hated it. I’d stare at my shoes, stare at the floor, fold little scraps of paper I carried in my pocket, until they looked some king of modern origami. I hated when the tram slowed down right before it docked on the upper platform and it would seem to just hang there forever. But I just kept getting on and riding it. Sometimes, the change feels pretty amazing. I can’t believe willingness and exposure work.

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go ducks

January 11, 2011

Sure. Why not?! I’m not a big college football fan or a big Ducks fan, but I find myself checking the score and thinking it would have been fun to have gone some where and watched it, which I guess I still could. It’s not quite half time. I don’t have any green and gold though. Or is it green and yellow? I wish I had whatever it is, just so I could take a photo of myself decked out all Duckish and needle some of my friends, who seemed freaked out about the hullabaloo over the game – specifically all the accouterments of fandom.

I’m kind of amused by their discomfort, which I’d attribute, at least in part, to living in Bloomington for 3 national basketball championships, and a couple close calls. But also, my uncles and grandfather watched a fair amount of football and growing up, I loved the Steelers, the Vikings and the Packers. Vince Lombardi dressed just like my grandfather did, which I thought was pretty cool and for a while there was nothing I liked better than seeing any team beat Roger Staubach and Dallas Cowboys.

The other thing I thought, was oh well their loss. I mean my friends. Being a sports fan can be as fun as getting dressed up for Halloween or watching a season’s worth of old Star Treks or going to a ginger rally. I don’t really care that much, although I am streaming the game.

I guess the truth is that since I moved out here, it’s not been as fun to be a fan as it was back in Indiana. It’s super hard to watch IU basketball games, as Dave knows. I ended watching the Colts in the Super Bowl by myself. I guess I need to become a soccer or a baseball fan. Pro basketball is too expensive and too ego driven and growing up with IU bball, the pros was never my thing, except when Reggie was sinking all those threes and trash talking Spike Lee. Man, that was fun.

Ducks are down, but here’s hoping for a rally.

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la woman

January 7, 2011

ru rock star

Originally uploaded by proteanme

There’s a couple of pics of RU in this batch that turned out pretty good.

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striking gold

January 6, 2011

While I’m not a voracious reader, I do read  a lot. And in the last 10 years there’s probably a handful of books that once I’ve finished the last page and closed the back cover, I’ve felt compelled to evangelize them: The Botany of Desire, Lonesome Dove, The Lost, The Sandman Series, Disgrace, Maus, The Cold Six Thousand & American Tabloid, Blade Runner, and His Dark Materials. Ok, that’s more like two handfuls over the course of 12 years. But anyway, in any given year, I’m much more likely to evangelize an essay or a short story or a poem. I read a lot of this kind of stuff and I think the possibility of greatness is maybe more achievable in these abbreviated forms. It’s the same way for me with music. I can usually come up with 20 really great singles at the end of the year, but I’m hard to pressed to list more than 2 or 3 whole records that are so great they compel me to say “you gotta listen to this.”

So I feel like I got away with something or got a great surprise when right here at the end of the year I read two books that I can’t say enough about, except go read them. They are that great. I already mentioned A Visit from the Goon Squad, but I want to add on to what I said before. Because it’s a very rare book that when it ends, I want it to go on for another 50 or 100 pages, and not because there was anything wrong with the ending, but because I want to keep reading about the characters. That’s what happened with Goon Squad. I got to that last page and I was like “please don’t make this end.” For a couple days,  I kept trying to explain all the characters and their interlocking stories to Rachel, because I wanted to keep them alive. Jennifer Egan pulled off this brilliant mix of heartbreaking humanity and dark satire. Read it; you’ll see.

The other book is Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. I raced to the end of that book. I had to find out hat was going to happen to the characters and to see how the story unfolded. I tore through over 500 pages in about 3 days. I was hooked like a junkie. I’d heard that it was an ambitious book and I was worried that it was going to be this heady, idea laden tome, where the characters and the story got sacrificed for exploring ideas about freedom, but Franzen struck the right balance between the aesthetic and the ideological approaches, a feat that has escaped many, if not most, of his contemporaries. It’s kind of an epic story and part of me wants to proclaim that Freedom will surely be one of the great American novels, but that sounds corny, so I’ll just say I wanted to to say it and leave it at that.

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wrap it up

January 5, 2011

When the year ends, I’m not much for projecting out into the future. No grand pronouncements or prognostications here. It’s never been my thing. I do like to reflect back though, to take account of the things I’m grateful for and note any trends.

For me, 2010 seemed mostly to be about relationships – making new ones, catching up with old ones, deepening existing ones and very sadly, ending others.  I don’t like to talk much about those things here, good stuff or not so good. It feels too private for public airing. Still, when I think about where I spent a lot of  my time and energy this last year, I think  of people, which seemed kind of impossible this time last year as I was still in the thick of the numbing grief of losing my dad. And especially in light of that, I want to say “thank you” people of 2010. I think of all of you more than I tell you and I will try to be better at that.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff that happened in 2010 that I’m grateful for, like finding a new job, putting up a hammock on our deck this summer and having a birthday party that people came to, learning to ride the tram, learning to cut my hair, and graduating from the IPRC’s writing certificate program, going on vacation to San Francisco, Palm Springs, Indiana and New York, putting together my chap book, The Animal Keeper, doing my first reading, and helping my friend A.M. teach a writing class, taking 6 hours to drive back from the Oregon country Fair, spending a couple weekends on the Oregon coast and traveling around almost a whole week in the Oregon outback. And not just because I want to contradict myself and talk about people, but more because I want to be true to my heart, I’ll add a short list of names here: RU, Lowen, Katherine, Maggie, Martha and Mom.

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my l.a. story

January 3, 2011

It was a bust – going to LA. At least kind of. And it all seemed so good on paper. We had a free place to stay. Our tickets weren’t over priced. Dear friends were in town and the record rains had mostly let up. We did  a bunch of research before we left. There were promises of great food, good art, interesting sites and the potential for some relaxation.

It started out nicely, as noted below. And even though RU’s phone died on our second day and then she got saddled with a lemon when she bought a new one, it was more nuisance than anything else. It didn’t put any real dents on our day trip out past Pasadena to tour the Huntington Gardens and the LA County Arboretum and take a second look at LA’s new Chinatown.

That night my stomach started hurting, but I figured I was having too much coffee and shouldn’t have had ice cream for dinner. Go to sleep I told myself – tomorrow promises to be sunny. Instead I woke up sick at 2am, didn’t go back to bed until 7am and then spent the whole next day and night lying down, sleeping on and off, reading and watching a couple bad movies. I barely drank more than a glass of water in 24 hours. And couldn’t eat more than a couple crumbs of a rice cake. I tired to not notice that I was missing the nicest day of the week, weather wise.

After that, I really never got fully back on my feet and RU and I struggled to make the right choices about where to go and what to eat and what to do for the rest of the week. Everything seemed kind of off even though we did some cool things, like we went to Venice Beach and walked along the canals and it was amazing to see inside some of the houses — they looked like something you’d see in a magazine. We didn’t stay out as long as I’d have liked and I had to walk slowly because I still felt crappy, just like I did when we went to Griffith Park one day and back up to the Observatory the next.

We tried to go to MOCA and LACMA but we’d not paid close enough attention to their schedules and they weren’t open when we went. We tried to go the Getty, but the line to park was insane and we left. We did get to to see the Hayden Tract development project even though we didn’t know what it was, when we went to visit our friend’s art studio. And we got to see a couple of our friend’s sculptures, which was a treat.

We had lunch at a hip LA top 100 place on Highland and went for a slow walk on Melrose. We took our time making our way back to the car, taking side streets and looking at houses, killing time before going to a movie. Sadly, we’d not checked the parking sign in front of the restaurant and when we got back our car had been towed. We spent more money getting the car out the impound and dealing with the associated ticket than it cost us to rent the car.

On our last night, we tried to go to dinner with our friend at a cool Korean izakaya. We didn’t get his texts that it was a bar that allowed smoking. We were late getting there and by the time we found the place, he’d already eaten and then the person two tables over lit up a cigarette and we had to leave because the smoke was too much for RU. Our friend bid us farewell and good luck in finding some where else and we went to another place that we’d read about but were turned away because it was closing. We finally ended up at the place we’d been before and after two days of barely eating anything and shuffling around town I didn’t still want to be sick and I ate too much food. Come the middle of the night I felt nauseous. Again.

It was beautiful weather when we left. Cold, but clear and sunny and hardly any smog. We drove around some. RU had a nice breakfast and I tried to eat a bagel. The flight home was uneventful. We read bad magazines and slept.

Coming home, our house looked so nice to me. And I didn’t mind being in Portland at all even though it was way cold.

Oh, I did read the one of the absolute best books I’ve read in a long time. Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I could not put it down. A brilliant and moving novel.

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