8.19.2014

Excerpt From An Unpublished Essay: Lonely in Kino or The Long Stretch of Day. "Seri Originals"



Around the corner from the ice cream parlor that one could mistake for a puppet show stage, shallow and big faced and screaming out circus music, is the cafĂ© where all the Gringos eat chile rellanos and tamales and drink horchata because the floor is smooth and swept and the owner wears a clean apron and keeps her hair tucked away in a bun and has, by good fortune, straight off-white teeth.  The Gringos meet there in the afternoon and feel reassured because they have learned to tell time by the sun and learned to love tortillas and say Hola! to the fishermen who don't even nod from the shadows of the twisted trees, watching the Gringos emerge from their shiny vehicles.  
The Gringos love the cafe because it is in Old Kino, tucked in among "the people" and the shacks and sandy unpaved streets.  The building isn't different from any of the other aluminum shacks, but is pleasant with a pot of fake flowers hanging from a dusty beam and a two year old calendar nailed to the back of the door. 
            Sometimes a new Gringo is there, sent by the woman who runs the posada, and then they have new ears to tell all about Kino and how the Seri Indians used to live east until they were pushed to the ocean by the Spanish, and lived here on this beach until they were forced into the mountains by the Ladinos, and how they carved animal figurines out of ironwood and wove tremendous baskets until a Ladino saw they were making money and copied the designs and produced them in factories and sold them cheap with the label "Seri Originals" and no one knew the difference so the Indians themselves came into town, bought pack loads full, carried them back up to their villages and sold them for a huge profit to the Gringos who searched them out, looking for the real thing.



8.14.2014

Artist's Statement for Art on the Town Exhibit: Friday, August 15, Appleton Beer Factory, 6-9pm





Ever since I first heard the word juxtaposition, it has intrigued me.  Why is this concept so important that it has its own word?  It has always felt good to say it, with its many shapes and tones.  But only after I started this blog, at the age of 40, did I begin to grasp its power. 

Before I was diagnosed with a terminal case of whimsy, I spent years reading and writing short stories, hoping to produce the one that would get printed in The New Yorker. But I became stuck, squeezing all my creative energy down one narrow and rigid road.  It was depressing.  Here I had dedicated years and all I had to show for it was miles of rubbish. 

This is perfectly normal.*

Everything began to change when I saw a correspondence by Saul Steinberg printed in The Paris Review, illustrated with his drawings.  I assumed (wrongly) that he had written the words to go with the pictures or vise versa.  So, I inserted drawings into some of my own essays and felt the stirrings of something profound and confounding. 

I began to imagine a newsletter.  A friend suggested starting a blog.  Instead of repressing my terminal case of whimsy, I embraced it, making each day whatever I was inspired to make.  After two and half years of this, I realized that what I was making was a novel of juxtapositions.

Thank you for visiting @ A Terminal Case of Whimsy


*See “The Gap” with Ira Glass, a 2 minute 18 second video by frohlocke.






8.12.2014

Art on the Town, Appleton




This Friday. 6-9pm. Appleton Beer Factory.

Featuring excepts from a novel of juxtapositions.


Come on down and say hello.

And don't forget to bring a burning question.



8.11.2014

bug





Today a bug lands on me. Instead of swatting it off, I watch it, tiny and leaf-like, bright green, wide faced.

It crawls, spiraling around my finger, its feet tiny n's.  I think I detect it accelerating; a hint of panic, desperate to find a familiar surface?  When I finally put my finger against a tree, it steps onto the bark and freezes, hoping to fool me.

I poke it, and it scrambles a few steps and freezes.

I poke it again but this time it slips and falls right off the tree.  I gasp, attached enough to care even though two minutes before I was most likely to brush it off the moment I sensed it, unaware that there was anything to care about.

I'm in a panic to find it.

I do and am relieved.  I put my finger to the grass and it scrambles on.  I put my finger to the tree and it scrambles off and freezes.

I watch it, then, loose interest.



8.07.2014

excerpt from an unpublished essay: "Lonely in Kino" or "The Long Stretch of Day" - MUSEO


Here in New Kino - where the wealthy from Hermosillo and the retired gringos build homes on both sides of the narrow road, houses surrounded with concrete walls topped with broken glass, houses dug into the beach, still and hollow, crested with satellite dishes winking at the sea - an old man with saggy eyes leans on an abandoned fence post, picking his teeth.  I stop to read a little wooden sign hanging on a wooden door.  MUSEO.  The man slowly crosses the empty street and asks me for five pesos.  He slips the coins into his trouser pocket, pushes the door open and returns to picking his teeth, leaning his head inside and raising his eyebrows as if he has never seen the place before. 


The museum smells like pesticide and the fungus that grows beneath the photographs of those Indians who used to live here, photographs of people wearing hats, standing on the beach, smoking in the wind, photographs of people who wove baskets as big as caves and painted lines on their faces from one earlobe to the other, over their wide cheeks and flats of their noses because that is all they saw - horizon and the long line of the ocean beach, parallel waves and the long stretch of their days.


8.05.2014

The Day Daddy Started Playing Banjo






I thought the kids would react the way they do to my banjo playing.  Instead, they said, about their daddy's playing, "We could get used to this."  And that was just a half hour after he picked up the thing for the very first time.  He scribbles notes in a journal he carries in his pocket.  That first day, he wrote 22 songs.







8.03.2014

Observations from the Shores of Crystal Lake




Look how often, the man in the lead, the woman and children following.  I was angered by these types of things in my teens and twenties.  I stopped shaving my legs and insisted on competing with the boys.  Even as a kid, I let my big brothers nearly brake all my fingers playing mercy because I refused to give in.  I picked a fist fight with Tony Angelino and was always ready for arm wrestling. 

In Carnot, Central African Republic, I knew a prepubescent Lebanese boy who lived in a household of macho men and spent his days as clerk, perched in a dark corner of his uncle's store.  One evening the men bet Fadi that he couldn’t beat me in an arm wrestling match.  Young Fadi jumped at the chance to prove them wrong.  He was stronger than I thought, for being so scrawny.  Still, I beat him.  The men howled with delight while Fadi flew into a rage.  For a while I continued to stop by the store to say hello.  But he never talked to me again. 

These days, I am happy to let my husband lead.  It frees me up for these practices that most interest me.  Like following the flight of a white bird across a backdrop of lake pines all the way around the shore and up into the blue until its wings are indiscernible from cellular specks that float on the surface of the eye.  There is a half moon in the morning sky and a dragon fly and a ground squirrel digging in fallen leaves.  A car door slams, a child’s voice rings.  Crows call their desires. 

A very fit old woman jogs along the shore, a flock of seagulls rises like a curtain and whips around before settling back in.  Once, I spent a day by myself, pregnant in Kino, Mexico while my husband attended a graduate school seminar.  I walked from our hotel to town along the shore and later wrote an essay whose name I can’t remember but where seagulls were prominently featured.

We watch a grown man loping down the beach like a child, waving his arms and groaning, chasing the seagulls into flight while his old ma and grandma holler from their lawn chairs for him to come back this instant.



8.01.2014

Rediscovering Niki de Saint Phalle



One decade ago, we were in Switzerland to scatter the grandparents ashes, smuggled across the ocean in shoe boxes.  I bought a souvenir at the Tinguely Museum, a book with all handwritten text and a photograph on the cover of a shining mosaic rising out of the trees, a sphinx-like black empress with giant breasts and sparkling blue hair.  The Tarot Garden by Niki de Saint Phalle.

What an amazing hat she wears!  

I remember looking at this book stunned not just by the boldness and the whimsy, but the sheer volume. How could one woman possibly do so much?

Now I understand it differently.  

Niki de Saint Phalle married young, became a bourgeois mother, and suffered a nervous breakdown, realizing she had become what she had always detested.  

Grandma Ga married young, became a bourgeois mother, and ran off to Switzerland to have an affair, her love for Max so overpowering, that after they were married, she carried a small vial of acid in her purse to throw in the face of any rivals.* 

Niki de Saint Phalle took up painting, drawing, mosaics.  

Ga took up making a myth of her torrid love affair with Max.

*Upon reviewing an incomplete essay "Harriet and Max", I now see that it was not Max but rather her first husband John who had inspired such jealousies.  And so it goes with myths, evolving with every telling.

++++++++++

Niki de Saint Phalle writing in The Tarot Garden:

Early on I chose Tonino Urtis to be the head of the crew, even though he had no experience; he had been an electrician before. I have always used my instinct in my choices, not my brain, and very often these choices proved right. I then asked Ricardo Menon, my personal assistant, collaborator and great friend who had come with me from Paris, to find me a ceramist. A few days later Ricardo presented me with Venera Finocchiaro. Venera would become the ceramist of the garden. It was total immersion. She lived at the garden and responded to my asking her to do new things in ceramics that had not been done before. The magnificent work she produced speaks for itself. She has several assistants, the main ones being Paola, Patrizia and Gemma. Sometimes the whole crew would be up at the ovens working too. After Venera left, the crew continued with the ceramics.




7.30.2014

Afternoon's Work


I can see the fluttering of two monarchs in the neighbor's garden.  And because I want to be the type of person who crosses the street to look at monarchs, I force myself to get up and cross the street.  I stand, doing my best to take notice, but I'm anxious to derive some kind of meaning from the noticing so I can go back across the street and write about it, which means of course that I'm not noticing at all, but rather thinking about what I should be noticing, and then thinking about how to write about what I'm not noticing because I'm too busy thinking about what I should write.


When a car comes by, 
the two monarchs flutter up 
and around before settling back down. 
Their bodies are fuzzy black 
with the cleanest white spots, 
a body builders dream body, 
all chest, legs thin as veins. 
Its proboscis throbs, 
probing the mound of a black eyed susan, 
its body convulsing with the afternoon's work.  
Its wings open and close.



7.28.2014

What I Learned About Being a Miner From the Quincy Mine Tour, Hancock, MI



Drillers worked in groups of four, all related.  One man stood against the rock, holding the near yard-long bit to his shoulder. The three others swung sledges, while the first gave the bit a quarter turn after each hit.  If they were good, in a twelve hour shift, they could drill three holes, enough in six days to fill with powder, blasting the rock small enough to haul up.  When their candle flickered out, one man had to trip his way through the pitch black tunnel to the supply room, hoping not to break a leg or fall down an open shaft.

When the mine grew deep enough that it took the men over an hour to climb down to work, management installed a lift that dropped the men at twenty miles an hour.  At it's deepest, Quincy was 92 levels.  It was over a hundred degrees at the bottom of the mine and steamy, even in the dead of winter, so the men had to go to a dry room to change out of their sopping clothes and cool down before going out into the snow. 

If you weren't killed by a fall or collapse, you went deaf or were electrocuted or developed black lung. Seems fair to assume that there was a significant amount of seasonal affective disorder, depression, trauma.


At the end of 1800's, air compressed drills allowed two men, and later just one, to do in a day what four used to do in a week.  But these advancements proved to be even more deadly.  The miners called the drills "widow makers".  From time to time, the men went on strike.  

In 1913, in the midst of a massive walkout, for Christmas the strikers organized a party where dozens of people died, including many children, stampeding from the dance hall, down the stairwell.  The facts beyond that are only speculation. Some say someone yelled fire even though there wasn't one. Some say they died in the crush because the closed doors opened in. But there's claims of photographs proving the doors opened out, that the strikers were trapped because someone outside had tied the doors shut.

In a posed photograph full of tough dirty men, there is a single row of softer ones in suits and bowlers and one stern woman in frills, wrist bones to jawline, a billowing black skirt and bountiful hat.  Who are these people, no different from any of us, except how the straws were drawn?  Each with his own set of loves and struggles  A family, a dream, a home.



7.15.2014

Jenks


I spent a lot of money one year, flying out to San Francisco to take a four day writing workshop with a famous editor.  My first hope was that I would be discovered, though I'd never admit that to anyone.  My second hope was that I'd learn what was wrong with my fiction.  

Here’s what I learned about Jenks.  He was a small man with a penchant for drinking, a fancy San Francisco house, a famous writer wife and a profound and consuming love of reading.  After applying to the workshop, he called and talked with me, in a detailed and thoughtful way about the two writings I had submitted.  I felt special but it turns out he does that with everyone who applies, a number I’ve now forgotten, though big enough, I remember, to stun.

Jenks had edited an anthology of American short stories with Raymond Carver.  We were assigned to read a number of stories from it for class discussion.  It was an impressive collection.  

After discussing published work, we discussed each other's.  Everyone wanted to make a good impression.  Jenks wanted a fiery conversation.  But of course, everyone was being very polite.  Jenks stirred it up, attacking the story I liked best, a period piece about a colonial girl.  Jenks said it was trite, that he'd seen a thousand such stories come across his desk, and that a writer's time is worth more than that.  A few fell in line with Jenks, irritating him even more.  "Isn't anyone going to defend it?"  

One older man said that he thought the sex scene was well done, infuriating Jenks, who declared it clichĂ©. (Interesting to note: In an earlier discussion, I had said another classmate’s story of a girl and a boy falling in love while on horseback read like a Harlequin Romance.  Everyone, especially Jenks, thought my comment out of line and too harsh.)  

casually turned my comments on the colonial girl story face down.  I had read it twice, noting how I thought her word choice so beautiful.  (At the time, nothing mattered more than word choice.)  And such a powerful sex scene! But here in class, I couldn't bring myself to say anything.  Could I have come this far and still have such bad taste that I couldn’t see the obvious? As Jenks searched the class for someone to speak, I dipped my eyes.

Am I remembering it wrong, or wasn’t this the woman who had made a feminist critique of one of the stories, triggering in Jenks an anti-politically correct rant?  Was this really a bad story, or did he have some deep-set beef against women? Weren’t all the stories he liked best by the older men in the class? What was his relationship with his mother?

Regardless, the writer was upset.  These were the first several chapters of a novel she was very serious about, having dedicated much time, researching, outlining, writing.  I wanted to defend her, but I feared that Jenks would think me a fool.

Fortunately, it was lunch break.  I scrawled, “I’m sorry I couldn’t say it in class, but I still love your writing,” and I hurried over to slip it into her hands before she bolted.  Her face was hard, her eyes red.  She did not come back after lunch.

Even so, by my private conference time, I was feeling optimistic.  The class discussion of my other story had gone surprisingly well.  Jenks had said it was unusual and publishable.  Not great, he added, but fine.

So I must have been visibly crushed when Jenks said my other story wasn’t worth pursuing unless I completely changed the focus, maybe turning it into a trickster story.  The main character was too much of a bitch, he said, so we don’t care about her.  

“Is this based on a real incident?” 

Of course I said it wasn’t, even though it was.  Jenks said that I looked disappointed. I denied that too, saying thank you, it’s very helpful.  Mostly though, I was frustrated that he didn’t say this about the piece during our discussion on the phone before the workshop began.  If he had, I would have reworked it or submitted something else.  Of course, I had no idea how hard it is to know the most helpful thing to say and when it needs to be said.  

A long time before, I had heard a piece of advice about becoming a writer that was puzzling: It's most important to be empathetic.  It took me a long time to admit that the story I submitted to Jenks was a revenge story, that I had once worked for a woman I had no empathy for, and the result was a bad piece of fiction. 

Before we all said goodbye, Jenks suggested that the most valuable things to come out of his workshops are the relationships that we form with other writers.  He encouraged us to stay connected and read each other’s writings.  I made a quarter-hearted attempt to stay in touch, but I knew it wouldn’t last.  Rather than bonding with the other writers, I'd spent my lunch breaks walking around San Francisco and my evenings out with my brother and friends.  I don’t remember the names of anyone in the class.  I hope that woman whose story I really did like found a way to use Jenk’s advice as a launching point, whether she defied his critique or embraced it. 


When I came home, I was too overwhelmed with everything I’d learned to immediately return to working on short stories.  Instead I spend the summer cutting and pasting paper.  In the fall, I put everything I had into a short story I had started before the workshop.  It’s my favorite.  But I was never able to write another. 


7.11.2014

My First Office



There was a tree we liked to climb on Howard Street.  The bark of the trunk was slick where Bee had once rubbed a full tube of chap stick thinking that might keep out the girls we didn't want in our club.  That was back when chapstick came in tubes big as cigars that hung from our necks on vibrant colored string.

The branches formed offices where we perched for club meetings.  I, being the youngest, always had the lowest office in the tree.  For a long time one summer, I couldn't climb across the gap between the three lowest offices and the two highest ones.  It required a big step, a long ways off the ground.

I stood many times at that juncture, the older girls egging me on, only to chicken out.

And then one day I got brave and did it.  The older girls cheered and I sat in that office I had long coveted, quivering with delight and relief.


7.07.2014

Wife and Husband: The Boring Truth



The wife is in a good mood for weeks, and then the lice are back.  So she gets a little grumpy and the husband says he's concerned about her mental health which drives the wife crazy.

A husband recovers from a state of dangerous paranoia.  The shrink tells the wife that it's her job to bring in the husband the moment he shows any signs of regression.  So every few minutes the wife asks, "Are you feeling paranoid now?", which makes the husband feel exactly how one would think it would make the husband feel.

Then, she meets a man who she thinks has cerebral palsy, until she realizes he's just really groovy.

She has a minor surgery that leaves a 2 inch scar across her adam's apple.  She can tell, people are disappointed when she tells the truth about how she got the scar.  So she asks her husband, the writer, to write her a better story.

The next night, at a dinner party, the husband tells his story about how his wife got the 2 inch scar across her adam's apple.

The story is:

A.  So shocking that it throws the party into a chaos that subsides only after a visit by the police.

B.  A beautiful tribute to the wife's best qualities and sensibilities that inspires applause and admiration for both the husband and the wife.

C.  A work of utter nonsense, causing one guest with asperger's to laugh hysterically and everyone else to whisper that perhaps the husband is indeed slipping.





7.05.2014

Ode 875


matt turner, electric cello
tad neuhaus, bass
joanna dane,  Kaossilator





This elaborate bungle
Of quivering termites,
Determined hoard,

Each mound a mite
each mite a block
each block a thought.
Each thought, a rupture
Of undulating verve.

Rejoice! this elaborate bungle
Kansas prairie,
Chloroform carpets,
ancient puzzles,
commingling fortress of
pungent heat *
* rotting,
dying,
 enduring =
All,
Chicken,
Termite,
Grass,
Earthworm,
Bursts of breath
From the depths
Of mitochondria,
Each 
an elaborate bungle
of elemental

Hydrogen,
Oxygen,
Carbon,
Phosphorus,
Nitrogen,

Our very threads,


Rejoice!
That thick blanket of universe
surrounding each photon
of each nucleus,

We are all but

equal

vibrations

of

the

same

everythingness

of speckled chickens
stuttering sentiments
of
- blither blather -
{or whatever it is they are capable of thinking}
their premature and nude heads,
pocked with the beak marks
of
some
flustered
cock.

Rejoice!