Monday, July 27, 2009

Art in Seattle

The mechanical woman in our GPS keeps telling us “you have arrived” in such a flat emotionless voice that we are starting to believe her positivism. Last Friday as we drove home under a crescent moon our windshield filled with rain like tears, an orange sky, the Olympics stretched out like a homemade slinky right in front of us. We spent the evening at the Bellevue Art Fair looking for art that was true in its own quiet way: tree trunk sculptures, transparent glass figures with haunting expressions and missing brains, rubber skins molded by human mouths, alternate universes for miniature aliens made of gold, and more Nick Cave sound suits, since as Deleuze says: “Art preserves, and it is the only thing in the world that is preserved.” The Bellevue Art Museum, is Seattle’s Brooklyn Museum, only without the large obsession with Hudson River School paintings. We like it a lot.

Otherwise, Seattle is “waging a war on cars” according to Elizabeth Campbell, a local anti-biking mayoral candidate with a gift for noting positive developments. “They put in bikeways that get in the way,” she said, referring to current city planners. We tried out some of those bikeways a bit last night (walking our bikes down hills that were too steep). We tried not to get in the way and yet be brave like actual travelers. And we did fine, all the way down to the Gasworks Park, a retired oil refinery, where the ducks hide their heads in their feathers, little Chinese girls flap like birds, and kites fly high.

We watched a couple struggling to sail a little yacht in Lake Union and squinted when the sunlight reflecting off of the buildings downtown was too bright, over-exposing our eyeballs and making everything light. Thankfully, we might not have our own yacht or our own bicycle built for two, but we have two bikes and we can ride them together just fine, funny helmets or not. Next weekend we are going to throw a Frisbee at the park up 15th Avenue and admire the little redwood grove by the stream and the dogs which howl in harmony with emergent sirens.

"Preserve" by John Grade and "Untitled (woman in lace)" by Judy Hill

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Coloring Outside the Lines

My old home in Ohio seems to thrive with children these days: nieces and nephews now, who fill the old space with new worlds and clear sounds. Walter Benjamin tells us that “because children see with pure eyes . . . it is something spiritual. Children are not ashamed, since they do not reflect what they see.” They do not need yet to fit their experiences into categories of feeling and judge them moral or not like Kant, so each experience, each imagination is brand new and full all the way down. They can paint like Edvard Munch and Paul Klee without knowing, they can burn their way through classic literature without interpreting.

Our friend Oliva tells us that “the only reason we give things to children is so we can borrow a bit of their joy.” We take children to the zoo to watch them enter animal worlds, we give them baby puppies so they can enact free-form cuddling and other slightly inhumane stunts, we give them small blankets which they call “bweebies” or some such thing so we can enjoy watching them stroke the special corner on their faces and protest any infringement of their ultimate property. We tell them stories which they take to be true and true absolutely. It’s enchanting in its simple sympathetic magic: dams in a creek like a hyrdrologist, tee-pees in the backyard like a wildman, barnyard noises, and wrestling matches for cheering spectators like little men; and we give ourselves over to it hoping a little piece of it will sink into our own souls.

The Chinese word for experience, jingyan, implies a test of woven fabric which produces a warp or fraying. For the Chinese, experience, produces an object and a subject that has been changed by time. Last weekend I spent 20 minutes looking at hand tools at an Amish hardware store thinking about my friend Harlan who restores thrifted Old World chisels and planes hoping that authentic work will offer a trace of meaning, will give up a space for telling the story of the tinker, the weaver, the scraper and carver. He handles his tools like a child with precious toys rescued from rusty trash and the world of plastic. One time when Harlan’s daughter Eve (the mother of nature I guess in Hebrew) was smaller than she is now he told me that he wonders at what she is seeing in her yet un-reflective eyes. I imagine it was something like what the Surrealist Franz Hessel said about the philosophy of the flaneur: “We see only what looks at us. We can do only . . . what we cannot help doing.” This is what children are good for: giving newness and grandeur to the mundane, showing us objects wrapped in stories back their truth.

Monday, July 13, 2009

In Seattle

I’ve liked Iron and Wine ever since my friend Danielle and her husband Devin introduced it (along with many other things) to me a few years ago after an evening of stories of Tibetan adventures and Japanese pancakes of potato, onion and cabbage covered with wasabi mayonnaise (I think). Devin mentioned that he liked the sensibility of singers who play their own instruments and do their own harmonies. Individualists, I think now, who treated their vocation like Kierkegaard (one true thing) and wrote like Nietzsche, thinking all the time that existentialism and extreme facial hair was cool. Sam Beam said as much last night about his songs of graffiti on the gates of heaven and sour milk flowing into the mouths of rivers and a general manifesto calling on unity for the “beards of the world.”

Now we live in Seattle and I still like Sam Beam’s Iron and Wine, his singular poetry and voice. He is a cheerful man with a wedding ring, hair split down the middle. A short man with smiling eyes and a small mouth which tilts back for the high notes. His songs and guitar are quiet and dense with precise images and thunked arpeggios. He rings around his words and weaves them, worming into your brain like a true thing you didn’t know. He is an original man.

So now we live in Seattle next to a vegan clothing store, we own a GPS, and bake our own marinated tofu. It’s a good and simple life and we work our endless days into texts, spoken and caligraphied, and housebound invalids who are still valid. We live from farmer’s market to farmer’s market, polish our debts like shackles and chains, and enjoy our occasional creeks and cradles. Once in a while we see a man or woman king, a maker, who makes out new ways of being strong and active and cheerful. It's cherry season, what else can we want?

Here are some music videos said to make tears.

Photos by Oslo in the Summertime and KM Photography

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Waqas Ahmed
We’re going to live in Port Townsend Someday

About 20 years ago in a little town in the pines 100 miles south of here Kurt Cobain told us where bad folks go when they die. Bad folks “go to a lake of fire and fry, and we don't see them again until the Fourth of July.” Last night we made our own quiet campfire between huckleberry trees right where Juan de Fuca’s Strait meets Puget’s Sound and listened to the rockets and crackers hiss and scream all around us, like devils set free to writhe and wail in their senseless fire. Echoing from Mount Baker to Mount Rainier a succession of loud farts were loosed to roam the woods, suck up the air, and scare the deer.

Jennifer thinks we crawled out of the water right at Discovery Bay in Port Townsend. She thinks the seaweed looks like salad, the driftwood looks like fruit-shaped rocks. We sat on the rocks and collected cobwebs and read fantastic poetry while drinking at Better Life Through (BLT) Coffee – admiring the Amish cheese they advertise on their menu, the perfectly bruised fruit at the Co-op Grocery.

So far we don’t feel like we’re from the Northwest, but we do see lots of things we like and dislike. There are plenty of reasons to produce rage like Kurt Cobain’s: bad folks with no jobs, deep cold like you feel no where else, listlessness, Navy bases, boredom, rusting killing machines, senseless noise at campgrounds, lethargy, tyrannical landlords, dirtbikes, dirty boots, and the list goes on. But we’ve been here long enough to watch the snow melt on the Olympics and apply for memberships at the Seattle Art Museum. We’ve walked the old growth forests in the mist and rode our bikes along bluffs high over the Sound. Its wild country for our tastes and that suits us just fine.