Sunday, October 25, 2009

Like Two Birds in a Leek Garden

“Well that’s another piece of Seattle culture we can put in our pockets and take home,” Jennifer said as we walked out of the Seattle Bookfest admiring the purple slouch-sock boots of the woman walking in front of us through the front gate of the Columbia City Event Center which is a reinvented elementary school. Seattle Bookfest people feed on nostalgia for old general stores and lost tribal myths. They say they look not for streams of consciousness, but for little splendors to emerge from chaos (“it happens more often than you might think”).

We ate our dinner to the faint tinkle of Billie Holiday overlooking the leaf strewn street, watched carefully by the Frenchman at the Thomas St. Bistro (ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice). Looking up from my corner of that small place I could see myself reflected in the small round mirror across the little room and again in the reflection of the small rectangular mirror above my head, then again in the round one (and in my antique silver spoon). Outside on the street the Space Needle and the Sound were like an old man slowly falling asleep in a very comfortable chair.

If it were possible to be whoever we wanted to be in Seattle maybe I would be
Imogen Cunningham and Jennifer would be Morris Graves. Then I could write (as they wrote about Morris):

Now she comes from the Pacific Northwest:
A thin figure with alarmed eyes.
She is shy and skittish, aloof yet (you suspect)
ruthless in her opinion.
She is birdlike, on the horizon,
receding, private, mobile, and migratory.
She has the willful steely sentiment of a bird:
its fierce capacity to survive.

Imogen and Morris who haunt the Seattle Art Museum and the steep streets like Thomas St. give us reasons to keep looking at the landscape for the details which shiver our spines. To look around like Nabokov and think “a good laugh is the best pesticide” (and imagine that Nabokov’s laugh sounds like Regina Spektor).
Self-Portrait by Morris Graves. Photos by Imogen Cunningham

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Heedlessly Following Passions

The best fans of an art are those that are inspired to action. For these fans who we call amateurs (if not nerds, geeks, or groupies), art is not just pretty or fascinating, but stirring. And this is life at its best according to Michael Chabon – a Berkeley father of four. No one ever disdains the passion of the amateur athlete, the amateur writer, the amateur musician (we adore it to the point of destroying it). Such amateurs are the best critics, the only critics that matter. The cold professional or lazy blowhard doesn’t count when it comes to real life. Real fans are like John Updike writing Ted William’s swing into poetry, a video store clerk making movies like Quentin Tarantino, or like cultural critic Slavoj Zizek – a former post-Marxist politician who I’ve heard characterized as an excited drunk friend who doesn’t understand personal boundaries.

Michael Chabon says he had so many kids so that he could finally have his own fan club for comic books and 1980’s British Sci-fi TV shows. He and his wife are the stars of their amateur family and his kids are the fans – amateur critics who play along because they still believe their show is the best. There are lots of ways of pointing out the unreasonableness of this way of thinking, but summarily dismissing that negative work for a second, I think Mr. Chabon is a fan of the real, the surreal, the hyperreal, whatever, and feeling moved: Being creative rather than reactive is a much better way to live (better absolutely Deleuze says).

It was raining on Friday when Michael Chabon came to town. Matthew Coate wrote that he “thinks comfort is not comfort except in contradistinction to a chilly autumn rain.” And this is how I felt while I listened to Michael Chabon on the local radio show and as I listened him talk to Terry Gross in Philadelphia, but I couldn’t help myself, I’m a fan, an amateur writer even, and Michael Chabon wishes he could have been David Foster Wallace’s friend, he misses his kids when he is gone and his wife loves him best. I know its lame and I have no connection with Michael Chabon, I’m just a fan and he made me get out of my floral print chair and ride a crowded wet bus through the lancing rain like a bleary-eyed man after his first cup of coffee. I rode through the rain like cold water streaming down my face to see Michael Chabon and join his fan club.

pictures are mostly from except the one of him and his wife and the one of the book which are by Will Harper (?) and organizingthesoup respectively.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pale John Byler

John Muir said the lumbermen of Puget Sound were doubtful in color, slow of speech,
as if partly out of breath in 1918.
It was the hard work of surfeit destruction that trained their brains, the war for human nature,
moving giant trees over mountains like Werner Herzog in a rain forest
slogging along in resin stiff pants
the conquest of the useless.
This is the foppery pale John Byler caught himself in riding the hard rails all the way West
after what Muir called the rare "free roamer of the wilderness ... in contact with free nature in a thousand forms, drinking at the fountains of things"
Pale John Byler, an Amish flâneur wanting to live the tilted hat life before he died from his asthma in flat Iowa a dirt farmer and family man not hardly 40.
Robert Hass says in his poem “Iowa, January”

In the long winter nights, a farmer’s dreams are narrow.
Over and over, he enters the furrow.

Wild John Byler as a fresh flâneur from Middlefield Ohio (on left) next to a forest friend at their logging camp near Seattle, Washington, (woo-hoo!) c. 1920.
Unknown Smiley Vernon

The grandpa I never knew exists in stories I think I heard
He grew up on a farm in Iowa waiting for his mission to come knocking like a board member
He grew up on his farm in flat corn-fed Iowa a shy small man who never knew his father, wild John Byler,
He went to church only when he could be on time
He was waiting for his mission

The mission came like a stern man with combed hair and sent him to a dirt church in northern Minnesota
It was a frozen sod farm carved from trees with an outhouse at the end of a cold path of snow
where Smiling Vernon unleashed
Let his hair out wild like a crazy banshee in his moldering shack full of boys of curly hair
Singing to his brown cows his own made up songs

My grandpa Smiley Vernon who died while singing in his sleep,
went door to door like a Mormon on a mission
Like a Mormon missionary up and down the Little Fork River named by Fur Traders against Indians
only he was a crazy Mennonite (not an Amishman) who never knew his father, natty Seattle Byler,
not a shy man on time or not at all
but a man on a mission, no question

once he found a way to make his own songs he was Smiling Vernon
loved by all until his heart quit early
He was the grandpa who never knew his dad, the asthmatic lumberman,
A shy man until he found his mission
Then he sang a new song for his cows and ate bananas by the box

Friday, October 02, 2009

Our Hovel
According to Google's favourite dictionary a hovel is "a small, wretched and often dirty house." Our studio apartment here in Seattle is small. It is in fact often dirty. I'm not so sure about the wretched part. I suppose you can see for yourself. Here are some pictures from behind our door open there on the ground floor.

Right inside you will find the lady of the house. This is what happens when Darren finds a floor lamp on the street without a shade. You know, one thing leads to another. She freaked me out a lot at first when rounding a corner. Marilyn, we forgot to give that little monkey puppet to Eve. Sorry.

She always has the glow associated with a heart healthy diet (quality quaranteed by Kroger Oats)

Here's Darren in the kitchen with his culinary inspirations (Disney's Pocahontas, Gorbachev in a Louis Vuitton frame of mind and Kenneth Cole's Sikh representative).

There are no casual Fridays in this household.

In this exhibit, we attempt a blend of the ancient and modern, near and far (I've always thought my great grandmother was pretty).

Just around the bend Darren's great grandfather provides our ancestral connection to the land here by sowing his wild oats on a logging team in Washington state. Check out how big that tree stump (residual limb) is beside him.

While we're looking at the pictures anyway, this woman (on the right) pretty much captures how I feel during our frequent excursions to the YMCA.

Sufjan Steven's smiling family greets me first thing every morning. I think the baby is actually normal, it's just the way the paper was folded.

Here's one of our favourites from Found Magazine. I had never thought of Jesus as a forlorn schoolgirl before. Perhaps it's a classic case of constructing God in your own image.

I really love our bathroom. It makes me hungry for Easter eggs every time.

But you might want to watch your step on the way out.
On my way to work this week, I've been listening to an audio book by Alain de Botton who suggests that we decorate our living spaces with whatever our lives are lacking. For example, urban people who obsess about redwoods and whales and midwesterners with comfortable, calm routines who scatter 9/11 memorabilia (urban, chaotic landscapes) all over their houses. I'm not sure what our apartment says about us (I'm not even certain I want to know). But this is what happens when we drive across the country with what we can fit into our car and then try to construct a space out of what we can rip from magazines and scrounge from street corners.