4 art things from 2019

A photo of Lee Miller with her eyes closed and head flung back by Man Ray, circa 1930

Man Ray Portrait of Lee Miller – Flying Head, c. 1930. Paris Vintage gelatin silver print (Lee Miller Archives via WBUR)

In 2019, Critical Read published my article about Lee Miller, Man Ray, and Ray’s painting “Le Logis de l’Artiste” (1931). I pitched them after reading a call for “artwork biographies” and realized I had maintained some (not much, it turns out―thank God for libraries) knowledge about the story behind the painting from 2013, when I wrote and directed a short play about it in a friend’s gallery. This time, it was very special to correspond with Antony Penrose via email―and for him to say, when I sent the finished product, that it characterized his mother well.

The article will eventually go behind a $1.99 paywall (not yet, as of this publication). If it has, I encourage you to pay up―not to feed my ego, but because Critical Read pays authors 70 cents per word, fact-checks, and were wonderful editors. Here’s a bit from the intro:

As [Ray’s] apprentice, collaborator, lover, and muse, [Miller] often posed for him at the Paris studio that the two shared during their romantic relationship, which lasted from 1929 to 1932. Man Ray’s photography from this era made Miller’s face and body world famous. Yet one photograph in particular nearly didn’t survive: 1930’s Neck is a haunting view of Miller’s profile craning from the side, neck and face forming one ethereal, phallic column slanted against a void. Miller fished the negative out of the trash moments after it was discarded, and developed it in the same session, employing the bold cropping method she had learned from Man Ray to make a striking final product. Then she informed him that she was claiming it as her own work.

It was common for Miller to tease Man Ray, and even for their work to be misattributed to each other—such was the closeness of their professional and personal relationship. But on this day, a more serious quarrel than usual ensued. Man Ray threw Miller out of the studio, and when she returned, he’d slashed the print with a razor and pinned it to the wall, with red ink splashed across her neck. The following year, the same image of the neck appeared in his painting Le Logis de l’Artiste (The Artist’s Home), among other objects of the artist’s creation, in a pointed statement of ownership.

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Portrait Seventeen - after Ingres' 'La Grande Odalisque

“Portrait Seventeen – after Ingres’ ‘La Grande Odalisque'” by Dinorá Justice, 2018 – oil and acrylic on canvas, 30×40″

I managed one art review this year―the Peabody Essex Museum’s excellent Olivia Parker retrospective―but have been losing steam on these for a few reasons. One, researching and writing the Critical Read article took up a lot of my weekend work time. Still working a full-time job over here. Two, finding shows to review in Boston takes a fair amount of effort as there is no central listing page (like Glass Tire in Houston). Three, I’m unreasonably altered after truly wanting to buy a painting I saw in a press release (above), so much that I reached out to the gallery to inquire―a new thing for me.

Learning that the painting (comparable to the one pictured above, which was no longer available) cost $10,000 was, for some reason, like a trapdoor for my will to write about art. This doesn’t exactly make sense: I knew it would probably cost around that much, given its size. And I want artists to be paid what they’re worth, especially if a work will be hoarded in a private residence instead of a public venue for all to enjoy.

But receiving a definitive answer about what I can afford―that my visceral reaction did not make me worthy―enacted a clear split between the self who felt welcomed and engaged with the art world and the reality that no matter how thoughtful a review I write, no matter how much I “get” an artist (some very encouraging feedback I received for this review and this review in 2018), I still won’t be able to live with their art. Maybe my priorities have changed. Maybe I’ve shifted too far into a capitalist dreamland wherein I find less meaning in learning about and highlighting artists and more in what I can GET, feeling subconsciously entitled to it as an educated, privileged person and super duper sad that I can’t get it. It’s not rational or fair―after all, I didn’t start writing reviews so I could someday afford paintings―but it’s a gut feeling that’s difficult to ignore, particularly as I advance in my day job and have a little more spending money. I’m grieving the fact that I have this feeling at all, when I have so much (eg. the time to see and review art). But somehow, that “exclusion” is the straw that broke the art reviewer’s back this year. That, and having limited time because reviewing art doesn’t pay a living wage.

This is all said with no ire toward the artist, Dinorá Justice, or Gallery NAGA, which represents her―I hope I will have it in me to review her work in the future. Please buy it if you can afford it.

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The Frank case has so many polarizing elements: religious, racial, gender, class. It’s one-stop shopping for all the things your parents told you not to talk about in company. Mary Phagan was an oppressed worker, a child laborer toiling for pennies an hour in a sweatshop. Leo Frank was an oppressive capitalist industrialist. Jim Conley was a black witness against a white man living in the Jim Crow south in a time when life was hard for all blacks. Frank was a Jew and excited an anti-Semitism he didn’t know existed.

―Historian Steve Oney, quoted in an article by Aimee Levitt in The Forward (June 23, 2017)

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The cast of the Moonbox Productions’ staging of “Parade.” (Photo: Sharman Altshuler via WBUR)

I can’t hear the word “Atlanta” without mentally pronouncing it with drunken southern drawl à la the character Britt Craig in “Parade” during his big song, “Big News.” So naturally, when I traveled to Atlanta for the first time this year I seized the plane ride as an opportunity to re-listen to the “Parade” original cast recording. I’d first heard it in college, when you had to pop in a CD and listen to the whole album, so the entire thing is pretty much imprinted on my brain for better or for worse.

The show is a hard sell, which is why it’s not often produced: a musical adaptation of the trial and eventual lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner in 1913 Atlanta accused of murdering his 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan. Lucky for me, Moonbox Production staged it this month as a twisted holiday gift (read my friend Josh’s review here for more details about the show). Some issues with staging (Mary’s ever-present ghost was a huge misstep), but overall the production featured a fantastic cast, great choreography, and multiple haunting moments. I was, appropriately, a wreck at the end. Always a risk to see a production you’ve only listened to before―worth the wait.

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A favorite tune from Esther Rose’s fantastic 2019 album (h/t the Hype Machine weekly stack newsletter, which is essentially the only way I find out about new not-mainstream music):

May we always be changing in 2020.

 

Assigning Blame on Armistice Day

 

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Yeoman Serjeant Bob Loughlin walks through a mass of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA Wire – via ITV

I care about World War I in the way I do because I was, for three years, thrust into the role of British schoolchild. I was 12 when we arrived in 1998, 15 when we left, a year older than my classmates because I didn’t know Latin or French or anything at all about the Battle of Hastings. I was barely aware of the Great War not because we hadn’t gotten that far in history class, but because America takes no great pains to mythologize a war in which we barely participated, which did not devastate our continent, which did not wipe out or irreparably scar most of our population. My first year in school, I had no idea why we had to have an assembly at 11am, oddly timed during morning break. My classmates all knew it was for a moment of silence. Why don’t we have that in the US?

British imports like “Downton Abbey” have surely done more to educate Americans about WWI than our common curricula. I’m not sure this is a problem, as all countries will adjust their lessons to form their own national consciences; I can’t make a strong case for amping up WWI history when there is so much American history that hasn’t yet made it into our mythology and/or national shame. One valuable take I read this week was from MIT News, wherein Professor Stephen Van Evera discusses the value in assigning blame to countries and leaders who instigated global conflict. Most notable was Germany’s insistence on innocence in WWI, and the propaganda that perceived innocence produced: “[These myths] were devised and spread by the Kriegsschuldreferat (War Guilt Office), a secret unit in the German foreign ministry.” Seriously, “War Guilt Office.” Germans and Europe as a whole did an about-face after WWII, infusing responsibility and a common education among the people: “By enabling a rough consensus among former belligerents on who was responsible for past violence these historians and schoolteachers played a large role in healing the wounds of the world wars and making another round of war impossible.” In general, more straightforward self-blame in our national curricula would certainly be beneficial for all countries, particularly Britain and the US (hello Imperialism, hello migrant caravan, for starters).

But I meant to just write about myself, my own bland history in which I self-mythologize as a misplaced girl who internalizes the Romance and misery of an era and buttons it up with wartorn poetry. I remember the ocean of graves at the Somme as truly sobering, even for bolshy English teens. I remember at least one classmate crying. I wrote a fairly bad sonnet series about the whole ordeal in college, which I am too embarrassed to self-publish. My fascination in WWI, or at least the culture and era surrounding it, is one of the strongest imprints from that period. I never liked “The Great Gatsby” because blasé Nick Carraway dismisses the war as some boring activity in the first couple of chapters, before I could even get to the real brutish behavior. How fucking dare he, when this poem exists:

Final stanza of “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918, killed in the final days of the war)

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

Also killed in the final days of the war was the American Everit Herter, whose letters and diary I found in a grad school class about finding inspiration through historical documents. The poem is little more than a reorganization of his blunt, illustrative diary, an indictment of false hope. Sitting in tragedy for a bit on Armistice Day/Veterans Day seems like the most appropriate celebration.

Our Best Bet: Everit Herter’s Diary, June 9, 1918
By Joelle Jameson

It is far too cold to write letters.
One can barely hold a pencil.

I have to talk to peasants
to find where we are headed.
They have the same story:
they are ready to stop fighting
— but our paltry trainload
of a thousand men
looks more like a million
to them, and seeing train
after train pass through
has grown their courage
to a dizzying height.

They have no idea
how many we are, but find
the exaggerated estimatee
very cheering. I have noticed
groups in cafes — in the streets — everywhere —
talking: it’s always “les Américains” this,
and “L’Amérique” that. They see us
as their best bet, and our troops do nothing
to meet their hopes, besides acting
as walking columns of cash,
not knowing the value
of the coins in their pockets.
Wine and pastry every day —
a fearful combination, I might add.
In the streets, where women in mourning
are distressingly evident, children follow
begging for sou-sous. Quite
the fearful combination.

We may win the war,
like an army of locusts
which leaves France victorious
but ruined. God knows
they are sufficiently ruined
without our assistance,

and victory is still
a roseate dream
in the dimmest distance.

 

May 2018: You Have Named The Pigeon Perfectly

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Gloria Stoll Karn, “[Woman and bird],” watercolor and gouache on board, 22 1/2” x 22 1/4” (© Gloria Stoll Karn) via Hyperallergic

When you say to me, “I hate pigeons,” I want to ask you who else do you hate. It makes me suspicious. I once met a girl who was so proud to have hit such a bird on her bicycle, I swear, I thought that it was me she hit. I felt her handlebars in my stomach and now it is your job to feel it also. The pigeons are birds, they are doves. They are the nature of the city and the ones who no one loves. 

“Pigeon Manifesto” by Michelle Tea, from her forthcoming collection (but written in 2004), via The Rumpus. I liked it so much, I cut it up and used it as a monologue in my acting class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Bonus bird art (with an inspiring backstory, if you click):

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Photo by Meiko Takechi Arquillos for her and Wendy’s Snyder’s article, “How Japanese Women At Internment Camp Made Their Clothes Their Own,” via Angry Asian Man

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The aspect of reflection is present in every piece in the gallery, suggesting that your touch would leave earth-shattering fingerprints, or send ripples radiating over the surface. It’s enough to make you want to step lightly, to glide through their coolness in the garden-level gallery. But the message isn’t too slippery to grasp, not when [Lidzie] Alvisa is literally spelling out “EGO” and “REFLECTION” on her mirrors, or [Donis] Llago is painting some of the world’s most famous buildings. I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction to a show that appears, on its slick surface, to be so understated.

From my review of “Transparent?” at A R E A, featuring two Cuban artists who are also a couple. The curator, David Guerra, shared the review with them, and told me that one said “this makes me want to work endlessly.” So, it was a good month for art feelings.

Speaking of:

It is rare for a group exhibition as hip as “The Shaman Show” to feel so warm. Maybe it’s because iartcolony is the curators’ home – a building, they will tell you, with a surprising link to Shamanism. But it’s probably because their careful commissioning of new works has a specific goal: “to cure the village of jealousy and envy.”

That’s about a third of my 1,000-character review of The Shaman Show at iart colony in Rockport, my first review for Delicious Line. Jill and Bob are totally lovely, and the show has been extended through July 9.

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“The Flick” by Annie Baker
Stage play, 200 pages
2014

I missed “The Flick,” Annie Baker’s play about workers in failing movie theater, when it played in Boston in 2013, although I did get to see all three of her Vermont plays in 2010 (and reviewed “Body Awareness” for Blast Magazine). “The Flick” went on the win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014, despite being controversially boring to many NYC audience members. This wasn’t surprising to me, having seen the Vermont plays: “Body Awareness” and “Circle Mirror Transformation” are fairly conventional in their dialogue and pacing, but Baker wields silence like a pressure-washer in “The Aliens.” It reminds me of what Christian Cruz said in the 2017 Experimental Action panel in Houston: “the duration is the medium.” Apparently these audience members didn’t get the memo.

That said, one NYT commenter did question whether the Pulitzer committee just read the play, and didn’t see it performed—I hope not, because reading it, as I did this month, is a drastically different experience. You can skim over the long sections where the characters sweep popcorn in silence, instead of squirming in your seat, trying desperately not to check your phone in the darkness. But forget that—the play is great, and, as most plays are, a fast read. Read this interview with Annie first (and note how much she hates “Body Awareness,” which I would call the most conventional of her Vermont plays) to get in the mood.

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“The Plague” by PRAXIS Stage at Dorchester Art Project
Adapted from “La Peste” by Albert Camus
Directed by Daniel Boudreau

“The Plague” is another “endurance” performance of sorts, with the small cast barely addressing each other. They instead recount events to the audience, sometimes in unison speeches. A slightly boring affair, but important message—I was impressed with the actors, especially Dayenne C. Byron Walters as Dr. Rieux.

PRAXIS formed after the 2016 election “with the goals of linking theater with activism and producing plays that enter contemporary political crisis points and ongoing cultural conversations,” and they certainly succeeded in doing that in this production. I’m looking forward to seeing what these talented company members do next.

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“Cold Blood” by Astragales at ArtsEmerson
Directed by Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael

What to say about this—essentially it’s a bunch of mini-sets on a mostly dark stage with a bunch of cameras wheeling around, projecting the close up image on a screen hanging sort of in front of the cast. So, the screen is at the forefront, but you can still see the production “crew” producing the effects. The characters onscreen are, for the most part, the actors’ hands.

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So, this is what we see on the screen, while simultaneously seeing the crew. Photo via ArtsEmerson

There’s a haunting soundtrack, too, and a narrator detailing the course of eight different deaths. The book is drippingly French, dramatic with some misogynistic undertones in places (and why a cannibal, why), but I was so fascinated by the production value and practical effects that I barely cared. Take a look for the spectacle, if they come to your city.

 

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I can’t let this month pass without noting how much I loved Kitty Drexel’s review of the Huntington’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play “Top Girls” (which I didn’t see). The quick pivots remind me of Dorothy Parker’s theater reviews (not Dorothy-Parker-as-meme), if Dorothy Parker were an internet-literate disabled activist.

Highlights (links hers):

Congrats to the Huntington for finally get that permanent ramp set up….

Sure, we can try to have it all now, but the 80’s were unconscionably cruel to women who desired a career and a family. PR/Marketing still pits women against each other. There was no having at all. There was only Zuul.… 

Marlene (Carmen Zilles) is traditionally cast with a white women because England is so white that humans go there to complete the bleaching process… But, times are changing and today’s London is much more diverse. Zilles is such a compelling actress; it must have been difficult not to cast her.

The extra-special highlight came later in the evening: listening to old, white men make noises of discomfort during the emotional third act when Churchill’s sexual politics stop being nice and start getting real…. 

The cheap seats will watch backs, and lose some of the action but that’s what you get for being cheap….

New England is home to many talented actors. The Huntington hired only one of them for this production. Please consider this information when purchasing tickets.

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I feel these are the audience’s stories that I am percolating and pushing back out at them, but in a way that makes you question your own prejudice and perception and role in this society, in this world. Theatre is deeply political for me. Drama has got to mean something, it’s got to do something to you, it’s got to make you think.

—Irish playwright Deidre Kinahan in a fun interview for HowlRound

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No work of art, no matter how incisive, beautiful, uncomfortable or representative, needs to exist. Yet the internet — the same force that has increased awareness of social-justice movements — has hyperbolized all entreaties to our fragmented attention spans. It’s now as easy to see all the incredible and twisted ways the world causes suffering as it is to waste a couple hours scrolling through Twitter. The concerned citizen’s natural response is to prioritize. It’s why so many outlets seem to invoke moral outrage as a growth strategy — and why being told what you need to read or watch starts to be appealing.

“What Do We Mean When We Call Art ‘Necessary’?” by Lauren Oyler for the New York Times. A really fantastic piece, best coupled with Beth Pickens’ “Your Art Will Save Your Life.” It made me wonder if I’ve called something “necessary” in a review… google wouldn’t tell me. But I’ll be conscious of it going forward.

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Ours wasn’t just the righteous satisfaction of justice finally served, or even the hot joy of revenge. For sure, there was real pleasure in the prospect of seeing bad men suffer. But there was also another, less flattering kind of enjoyment, floating right beneath the waterline of consciousness. For all the great to-do, all the scandal and vindication, there were certain stars of film and televisionjust a select few, we told ourselves, a special clubwhom, in a week or month or two, once the fires were out, we would find it in our hearts to forgive. That’s a lie, actually. We wouldn’t forgive them. But we also wouldn’t stop watching their shows.

“Bad TV” by Andrea Long Chu for N+1. A long, extremely human take on #MeToo.

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A story about a bickering couple does not threaten the institution of marriage. Heart of Darkness might disapprove of colonialism, but it’s not an attack on empire itself. The book deals in strict dualities and reinforces the superiority of Western culture and ideas. Africa, its jungle, is what blackens Kurtz’s heart, and just in case you start to feel uncomfortable because you find yourself identifying with him, the supposed bad apple—the Lynndie En­gland of nineteenth-century Europe—Marlow, the novel’s cordon sanitaire, is there to make you feel better. 

“Comforting Myths” by Rabih Alameddine for Harper’s, exploring who gets to tell stories and who truly threatens the status quo.

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Please peruse this brutal, beautifully-photographed parade of the makeshift gas masks of Gaza.

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Image tweeted by Yousef Munayyer

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In 1922, [Man] Ray took ​Gertrude Stein and Picasso’s Portrait, which shows her seated perpendicular to Picasso’s portrait of her, with the painted Stein regarding the real one…. Stein had granted Ray the exclusive right to photograph her, but this arrangement—and their friendship—ended in 1930, when Ray billed her for his services. That base mercenary request was out of place in the prestige economy. “My dear Man Ray,” Stein wrote. “We are all hard up, but don’t be silly about it.”

“Gertrude Stein’s Mutual Portraiture Society” by Anne Diebel for the Paris Review. I’m always up for a reference to Man Ray being a clod (more later on why I am slogging through his autobiography, ugh), but it does make me consider how we barter as artists now, particularly from writer to artist. I wonder what a literary portrait would look like now… or is a literary portrait just a positive review? An homage through poetry? And what’s the exchange rate on those items?

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As women, we slowly learn, the greatest thing we are expected to do with our lives is love and be loved in return. No matter what else we might want to do, this is the height to which we’re expected to aspire. Men who love are enlightened beings, heroes of musicals. Women who love are just doing their job, what we were born to do. And so we hit the rose quartz ceiling.

“The Rose Quartz Ceiling: When It Comes To Love, Men Are Praised For What Women Are Simply Expected To Give” by Jaya Saxena for Catapult. Incidentally, I just bought tickets to see the new Moulin Rouge musical in July, for the exact reasons laid out in the intro.

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“As a faith leader, my moral duty is to speak in support of a woman’s sacred and constitutional right to make decisions for herself,” [says Reverend Millie Peters]. “Christian scripture tells of Jesus doing good and never judging nor shaming anyone. We are compassionate people who respect human dignity, and our responsibility is to speak for quality healthcare; a basic religious value.”

“The Religious Coalition Blessing Abortion Clinics Across America” by Caroline Kent for Broadly

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The Hot Spring at Lake Tecopa is an impermanent work.

The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.

A spring is not a pool but a process.

Heat is the method by which the water pulls us back into our bodies.

“Naked in Death Valley” by Claire Vaye Watkins in a non-fiction piece for Guernica. I should have known it was her, having read “Gold Fame Citrus.” She has a stake in this landscape.

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A quick poetry recommendation: “So Long The Sky” by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes. Mary is a poetic force of nature in the Emerson community and beyond — she was actually the grad student assigned to call me when I was offered a fellowship, to try to convince me to attend. Obviously, it worked. She was one of the first guests on my radio show way back when, and co-founded EmersonWRITES, where I taught playwriting. Now her first book is out, and it’s wonderful, traversing the world and family histories with an un-boring soft touch.

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Russ Tamblyn joined Twitter and I love it:

 

April 2018: Gym for the Soul

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“While You Were Sleeping” from Toni Hamel’s “Land of Id” series. Via Toner Magazine

 

Texas has signed a bill into law that prohibits the state institutions from contracting with businesses or individuals who are boycotting Israel. Seriously: you have to sign a contract that includes language asserting that you do not support the boycott. I guess it passed a few months ago, but it just came to my attention when a Facebook friend saw the language in one of his own contracts. He was freelancing was at the University of Houston, my former employerthey didn’t create the policy, but since they receive state funding, they have to comply. He’s in an ongoing lawsuit about it… the whole thing is baffling, since it’s so blatantly unconstitutional.

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“Dragon Lady,” written, directed, and performed by Sarah Porkalob
OBERON, March 22-24

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Sarah Porkalob (right) and her grandmother, Maria, titular “dragon lady.” Photo via BosFilipinos.com

I completely forgot to include this show in last month’s round-up, which is nuts because it’s kind of an unforgettable show. In this one-woman musical, performer/activist Sarah Porkalob hilariously and poignantly portrays at least 10 of her family members, framed by her grandmother recounting her past on the eve of her 60th birthday. Porkalob is a totally wonderful performer, physical and sharp, and the band lifted the whole enterprise to a new level. Do see her if she tours your town.

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I did 250 interviews in four geographic areas of the country. I didn’t know anything about the school-to-prison pipeline, so it all surprised me. I had to open up my learning curve about that. Everything I began to hear, including the language, was new to me. For example, I didn’t anticipate that, as I looked at school discipline, I would learn things about trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences scores, stress, how poverty affects not only emotional development but also cognitive development…. This play is meant to be what it is, a film, a work of art that I hope will excite people who have different resources and different kinds of abilities than I do to make a difference.

— Anna Deavere Smith on “Notes in the Field” in an interview for the Washington Post

On my birthday, I saw Anna Deavere Smith perform “Notes in the Field” at Boston College, a filmed version of which recently came out on HBO. In it, she performs as about 10 of the people she interviewed (the movie has more than the live version I saw). The live performance was more of a hybrid lecture, with Smith giving a conversational introduction to each different character she portrayed—no costume changes, no set pieces. She moved more seamlessly from character to character in the HBO version, aided by projections, costume changes, and even the odd musician (the characters were introduced with captions).

Whereas she had to ask the live audience if we had seen the video of Freddie Gray being beaten, shackled, and tossed in the back of a paddy wagon by the police—sustaining injuries from which he later died, including an almost totally severed spinal cord—in the film, we watched the video together. Emotionally and artistically speaking, that was the most significant difference. She says in the WaPo interview that she hopes the film can be used in classrooms—I agree that that could be a great place for it.

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You can’t force people to collect the “correct” art, of course…. as local gallerist Hilde Lynn Helphenstein told me, “Immediately in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the market made a clear pronouncement that it is still focused on work which is sexually exploitative of female representation.” Yet, is it really a shocker that the pretty paintings of pretty young ladies were snapped up faster than the [“Propaganda Pots”]?

“Who’s Afraid of the Female Nude?” by Michael Slenske and Molly Langmuir for The Cut

I’m not terribly interested in this article’s central question—”Can a male artist still paint a female nude,” I mean, isn’t that a rehash of “can men even talk to women now”?—but the exploration is a fascinating ride. Since part three is a quiz, presenting paintings and asking the reader to guess the sex of the artist (I got most of them wrong), the reader feels guided into a conclusion that genitals ultimately don’t affect representation in contemporary art the way the #MeToo movement might suggest. It seems like two different questions regarding the male vs. female gaze. But overall, the disorientation from one section of this article to the next is intentional. Interesting perspectives all the way through, nonetheless.

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Anne Bogart describes the theatre as a gym for the soul, where both artists and audiences practice empathy, but what does it mean to empathize? These two shows remind the audience that empathy requires work and that “to empathize” is an action, not simply some magical feeling that appears. 

“A Guide to Constructing Empathy” by James Wyrwicz for HowlRound, reviewing “Say Something Bunny!” by Alison S.M. Kobayashi and “Margarete” by Janek Turkowski. Both shows incorporate found audio/visual footage and reconstruct the lives of their subjects, with the writers/performers taking an active part in that construction. 

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Another pattern that I’ve noticed while observing other people—like white rock critics assessing hip-hop, men explaining women to themselves, or Torontonians who once visited Thailand debating the ketchup content of Pad Thai—is that people who aren’t marginalized in some way love appointing themselves the authenticity police of those who are, often with a passion and confidence that’s inversely proportionate to their actual knowledge. 

There is something about the word “real,” though, that hits me specifically as an autistic human. 

“Real Autism” by Sarah Kurchak for Hazlitt

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I realized that what I don’t like about this picture is the “equity” slide is accommodating for height differences. It is perpetuating the differences we are trying to address with equity are inherently biological. It continues this dangerous narrative that racial equity is “helping” people of color and communities of color because we are inherently and biologically deficient. 

“Can We Stop Using the Box Graphic When We Talk About Racial Equity?” by Heidi Schillinger for Fakequity. Just realized this article is a year old, but it’s still relevant!

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I don’t want to parent like I pick stocks. For too long, I think white kids like I was have been taught that equality is simply a matter of getting all the best stuff for people of color, or poor people, too, rather than reckoning with the notion that equality may actually require white, rich kids to have less. Even more, that having less might feel far better, less toxic, less distracting, less like there is a story underneath the story that no one is telling you. And it makes you feel kind of crazy and undeserving of all that has been given to you because, guess what, you kind of are undeserving — in the sense that no one in a just world would justify some kids having so much more than other kids. Except we do. Because we’re lost. And moving too fast.

“Stop Asking and Answering Other People’s Questions” by Courtney E. Martin for On Being. A good mix of stories here about parents’ school choices for their kids. 

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While death positivity takes many forms, a major tenet of this movement is the advocation for a “good death,” a death that is in line with one’s own individual values…. But it’s not always this simple. It’s true that categorizing any death as “good” is radical in our death-fearing society, but lurking behind this movement is a complicated disparity and dichotomy: A good death is often a privileged one, and the bad deaths — the violent, untimely, unexpected and patterned deaths — are disproportionately experienced by the country’s most marginalized people.

“Who Gets To Have A ‘Good Death’?” by Tessa Love for The Establishment

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The writers of The Lion King admitted to recognizing certain similarities between their tale and Hamlet, once they decided that Scar would be Mufasa’s brother. They even leaned on that similarity for a time while scripting before dispensing with it. But people still call out The Lion King for being an animated version of Hamlet, and argue the point constantly. Why? Because an uncle kills his brother for the throne and is eventually unseated by his nephew? It’s a pretty basic comparison. Plenty of stories do this kind of thing. Unless Simba actually struggles with madness, I’m not seeing much of a parallel.

“What We Mean When We Call Something ‘Shakespearean'” by Emily Asher-Perrin for TOR. Interesting piece in general, but immortalized because I hate it when people say that “The Lion King” is an adaptation of “Hamlet,” and Asher-Perrin is on the same page. Themes exist, people. 

 

 

March 2018: Spectacle, or Spectacular

EndNotes_Caregiver-1024x576

Illustration by Maria Fabrizio via STAT (more about the article farther down this post)

If I’m being cynical, Boston’s inferiority complex as a“top U.S. innovation city” is why we have a city-wide partnership between 14 museums and galleries called “Art + Tech”…. In truth, there is nothing to suggest that “Art + Tech” came down from local city government, no “presented by Mayor Walsh” or “made possible by the General Electric” tagline…. But why mount this initiative now, Boston, when new technology is so thoroughly interwoven into every aspect of our lives that we barely acknowledge it—and Boston’s personal art history doesn’t seem to be featured?

I wrote about a few venues in the “Art + Tech” initiative for Aeqai this month. The review is more positive than the intro cited above, but I can’t get over my initial reaction, surely stemming from my own personal Boston hang-ups.

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If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the bean’s verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices.

I LOVE the “bean war” happening between Chicago and Houston right now. The above is an excerpt from bitter Kim Janssen of the Chicago Tribune. This article in the Houston Chronicle is a good print-friendly distillation of the barbs, and two funny Chicago protesters picketed with #notmybean signs last week.

While the Chicago bean is better for selfies (I even have one somewhere), I like the Houston bean better as a piece of art. Public art, anyway. I say this from a very safe distance.

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“Skeleton Crew” by Dominque Morrisseau
Huntington Theatre Company, closed March 31

“Skeleton Crew” is the third most-produced regional play in the 2017-18 season nationwide, and it’s easy to see why: great writing that features four affable characters enduring a depressingly American experience. The auto factory (door stamping, specifically) where they work in Detroit is slowly approaching complete closure. I thought the female half of the cast—Patricia R. Floyd as Faye, union rep and crew matriarch mere months away from her retirement benefits, and Toccarra Cash as Shanita, a heavily-pregnant model-worker—shone particularly brightly. Wilson Chin’s slowly disappearing set, with car doors on conveyors hanging above the main break-room action area, was also a highlight. Check out Josh’s review on Talkin’ Broadway for more.

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“And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy” by Adrian Shirk
2017, Counterpoint Press
Memoir – 261 pages

Adrian Shirk’s book is a memoir guided by the lives of religious women throughout U.S. history, highlighting the weirdness and survivalism inherent to woman’s American existence throughout the past 250 years or so. Mary Baker Eddy, Flannery O’Connor, Sojourner Truth, and Marie Laveau intermingle with her troubled brother, an independent, letter-writing aunt, and Shirk’s own tarot-reading, church-going, chain-smoking self as she journeys back and forth across the country. I enjoyed the journey, though I was admittedly more interested in the historical figures and her personal interactions with their histories than the author’s own chapter-long stories. The book also isn’t a great choice for someone looking for more typical, popular memoirs—while Shirk’s artful prose is clear-cut, there isn’t a tidy narrative, no defining moment, no clearly stated truth. That’s part of the point, though, and I appreciated the book as an exploration, and a celebration of overlooked women mystics through a personal lens.

To illustrate Shirk’s tone, treatment, and research, here’s a bit about Linda Goodman, who wrote the first astrology book to make the New York bestsellers list:

[Goodman] wasn’t writing about astrology in 1953, so what was it? Metered poems or short stories? Perfecting her top-notch copy? Coming of age in postwar America, during the years women were being filtered out of the workforce and into the suburbs, into a domestic ideal most closely resembling the Victorian era, I wonder if she knew in advance that shed have to write something larger than life, that in order to do anything professionally creative, she’d have to make a spectacle of herself, or be spectacular. 72

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“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
1963, Harper Collins 50th anniversary edition
Novel – 244 pages

I remember the older cover of this book vividly from my high school library, where I had free periods as a senior. I think I was a little afraid to read it, since I knew that the author had committed suicide. It felt invasive. But, I probably would have loved it then, as I loved it now, despite its sickly sheen; Plath’s prose is a total joy, deftly, innocently leading us into incredibly dark depths. I certainly would have read it differently in high school than I did now.

I can also see why it’s been labeled “the female catcher-in-the-rye.” The comparison between the two books makes me think of a film article I read a few years ago, “‘Bird Man’ is ‘Black Swan’ for Boys.” Although Holden and Esther are roughly the same age in their respective books, unlike Michael Keaton and Natalie Porter in these films, their woes feel like a similarly gendered handling. It is the thirst for authenticity and—in “Bird Man,” anyway—the quest for exceptionalism that drives the male protagonists to madness/suicidal tendencies; with women, it’s a loss of self, a disappearing.

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After Richard Linklater’s Slacker became an unexpected box-office hit in 1991, every major studio in the United States dropped untold amounts of money trying to clone its success…. These films relied, without exception, on two crucial tropes: the cynical cool of rejecting ambition and popularity, and the mopey, tortured Gen X man-child who embodied that cool.

“You’ve Reached the Winter of Our Discontent” by Rebecca Schuman, part of her “The 90s Are Old” series for Longreads

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There are fans who seem to think Rick’s horrible behavior is justified because he’s cognizant of the damage it does and the cycle of self-loathing that attends each bout of emotional abuse. A charitable read on the sitcom, however — and BoJack Horseman probably does this better — would find an argument against taking such dour satisfaction from one’s moral indifference. At their best, both BoJack and Rick and Morty attest that you don’t get points for merely acknowledging how you’re a bad person; you also have to try to change. 

“‘Rick and Morty’ and the rise of the ‘I’m a Piece of Shit’ Defense” by Miles Klee for Mel Magazine

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When we study our participant before planning an Odyssey, we take many approaches. The first is a questionnaire that takes hours to complete…. Next, we conduct phone interviews with the friends, family, children, parents, coworkers, lovers of the participant, after which we go on retreat to spend a week as a team thinking deeply about our subject. We drink their favorite beverages, watch their most beloved films, listen to the albums they get nostalgic over, and even try to dream about them. The goal in this process is to fall in love with them. Yes, they are a stranger to us, but when someone is that vulnerable with us and we have the energy to give them our undivided attention, it is surprisingly easy to become enamored.

“What I’ve Learned from Turning People’s Hopes and Fears into Private Immersive Performances” by Ayden LeRoux for Electric Literature

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Writing, to me, has always been the duty of anyone in proximity to culture…. Words can be our tools for building the architecture of cultural memory, and art without the written word is like a protest without its organisers. Inciting changes requires commitment. And so, I show up, sometimes as a sheepish writer and sometimes as an interviewee. Since the beginning of my career I have been taught that it is an honour and privilege to record and be recorded, but sometimes I dream about how different the questions could be.

“why we need to radically need to rethink the power issues of the art world” by Kimberly Drew for i-D

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It is difficult to admit making a mistake, dear celebs, but this is an insufficient reason to double down on a mistake when it poses a true mortal danger to people in the sex trades. Time is running out as this bill gets closer to a vote in the Senate, threatening to isolate people already at the margins and deprive them of the means of doing their work safely. Now is the moment for celebrities to give up the fantasy of saving “Jane Doe” and do the hard work of seeing and listening to people in the sex trades as fully formed, complex individuals who have actual names. 

“If You Care About Sex Trafficking, Trust People in the Sex Trade — Not Celebrities” by Alana Massey for Allure. This was published on March 7, and unfortunately, SESTA passed in the senate on March 21. The negative consequences Massey and many others predicted are already happening.

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Ostaseski remembers Agnes as a woman of quiet determination who smoked Camels and kept the pack tucked into the pocket of her short floral apron. It’s tempting to try and imagine her at the moment she fully comprehended the minefield she was about to traverse with both men on her shoulders, while also carrying the grief of a wife and a mother. She stood out to Ostaseski. He trains those who care for the dying, and is interested in the role that family caregivers like Agnes play in the health care setting — how ill-equipped they can sometimes be, and how our culture and medical system might remedy this shortcoming.

“With the help of a loved one, a family finds what is essential in the end” by Bob Tedeschi for STAT. Side note: I loved the illustration for this story, it’s the featured image for this post.

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People justify video game bad behavior … by invoking the pseudo-scientific notion of “blowing off steam.” While I do find what is called the “catharsis hypothesis” to be more than a little troubling, I also find video games to be an effective means of temporarily eschewing real world concerns…. But the PC game A Mortician’s Tale (2017), in many ways, is the opposite of catharsis. In it, you assume the role of a recent funeral direction graduate tasked with operating a mom and pop funeral home. 

“R.I.P.: A Mortician’s Tale”  by Lee Matalone for The Rumpus

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Much of science fiction deals with imagining dystopia. I’ll talk about why that is later, but I strongly believe that, at this moment in time, we need to remember that one of the highest callings of science fiction is imagining utopia. I don’t mean starry-eyed visions of a fairyland that drops out of the sky. I also don’t mean a static society built on some fundamental irony like panopticon or the suppression of free will. I mean honest, earnest engagement with the question of what a better world looks like.

“Instructions for the Age of Emergency” by Monica Byrne on her blog. I’m smitten with this longread/keynote address and the future vision it presents.

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In March, my bi-monthly blood donation coincided with the Bleedin’ 4 Amina blood drive, organized by the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. Beloved co-host Amina has endometrial cancer, and while the blood donations obviously don’t go directly to her, they do help others in need. I’ve been donating or attempting to donate  since the Pulse nightclub shooting (after years of thinking I wasn’t eligible because of living abroad), and went on St. Patrick’s Day this year. I was dehydrated, so it took longer than usual, but thanks to persistent technicians, I managed to fill the bag. If you’re eligible, consider donating, this month or anytime!

A pink rose with beady eyes and fanged mouth drawn on

February 2018: The President of Love

A pink rose with beady eyes and fanged mouth drawn on

Angela Deane via The Jealous Curator

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That horror [of Sandy Hook] cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch.

Ann Friedman shared “Our Moloch” by Garry Wills, originally published in NY Magazine in 2012, in her recent newsletter in light of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. Sacrifice. I can’t stop thinking about it in these terms, now. God stepped in to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. Can’t see guns, the NRA, or GOP doing that anytime soon.

The students behind the Never Again movement are mostly theater kids, and there’s been some good writing about that (on blogs and in the New Yorker). And now seems like the right time for some Gawker-ish rudeness, and there’s always a discussion to be had about mental health in schools.

Seriously though, do you get Ann Friedman’s newsletter? (I found the rudeness article there, too.) I’m becoming increasingly dependent on newsletters for reading recommendations as social media becomes less and less palatable. WTF Just Happened Today (news), Jocelyn Glei (creativity/productivity), Submittable’s Submishmash, Literary Hub… all chock full of good (or at least informative) stories and delightfully devoid of internet commenters.

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A line I wrote this month: “In 2018, who even does a double take at a 51 ¾ x 84 inch close-up of a hairless mons pubis?”

Read more about “HARD: Subversive Representation” in my review for ÆQAI , up through March 9.

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I wrote a LinkedIn post for the first time, which is really just a little link round-up of a few cross-professional lessons (including one of my Lunar Cougar interviews): “But Isn’t This Supposed to be Fun?” A Few Widely Applicable Career Tips from the Film Industry

Click for the cute critter-on-video-camera picture I found, if nothing else.

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One way we judge the values we’re experimenting with is via exposure to their consequences. We all need to know how others feel when we treat them one way or another, to help us decide how we want to treat them. Similarly, an architect needs to know what it’s like to live in the buildings she designs. When the consequences of our actions are hidden, we can’t sort out what’s important.

“How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War)” by Joe Edelman. A comprehensive, heartening how-to guide for fixing social media.

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Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content…. It’s like if The New York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see. The worst part is that as an artist, it feels like your own fault. We’re used to a world where if you put something out there that’s good, people see it and share it. But that’s just not true in this world. 

“How Facebook is Killing Comedy,” an interview with Matt Klinman by Sarah Aswell for Splitsider

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“Hack your way to success.” “Meet the right people.” “Become a business superstar”…. What is missed in all of this is the mindset of craftsmanship; that one’s expertise and deliberate focus on one’s craft is actually the primary driver for success and not some crapshoot of a series of hacks.

“Craftsmanship ― The Alternative to the Four Hour Work Week Mindset” by Daniel Tawfik via Medium

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Nostalgia has a dark side. There is a toxic fetishism for the past in America, a yearning to return to a time before everything got so damn complicated. America seems always to believe the past was a purer time. This is of course bullshit; the past only seems purer because we don’t know it anywhere near as intimately as we do the present, and purity cannot survive intimacy.

 “In the Dark All Katz Are Grey: Notes on Jewish Nostalgia” by Samuel Ashworth for Hazlitt. Great long read with a “Dirty Dancing” hook.

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The debates over so-called “color blind” and “color conscious” casting have been heated in recent years, especially when a theatre’s decisions do not align with a playwright’s wishes…. More often, however, the shoe is on the author foot, so to speak. What should you, as a playwright, do when a theatre does ask if they can depart from your character descriptions, leaving you to determine how color- and gender-conscious the play must be?

“Conscious Casting and Letting Playwrights Lead” by David Valdes Greenwood for HowlRound. An thoughtful discussion that doesn’t come to any hard conclusions about this hot-button issue, but takes an interesting, playwright-centered approach.

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January is typically a month when even the most adventurous New York theatregoers brace for the unexpected at the many theatre festivals that coincide with the annual convention of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. I was struck this year by how many works of theatre I saw in January that used words (if they used them at all) in unorthodox ways.

“Do Words Matter on Stage?” by Jonathan Mandell for HowlRound. The whole “plays vs. film” argument is that film is more visual, while plays are dialogue driven, but the new works discussed here turn that notion on its head. It’s good to remember the visual, spectacular capability of plays, and the in-person jolt that films can’t provide.

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We often tell students to write what they know, but in practice, our classes teach them to write what we like. Instead, we ought to be helping them write what they want to read.

“Don’t Make Students Write What You Want To Read” by Michael Noll for the Pleiades blog

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As social practice has increasingly aligned itself with specific community activism—just as it tells you (also increasingly) what to think and how to feel—Bilal and Postcommodity embrace the gray areas thrown up by human behavior through the wider, longer lens of conflict. Their work doesn’t resolve in any pat way…. They make themselves almost painfully vulnerable to interaction and people’s very mixed reactions to the work. The lack of self-righteousness by these artists is—in our era of Instagram egoism, slick self-branding, and market-driven art (even market-driven ‘political’ art)—pretty dazzling. 

“Swimming With Sharks”: Postcommodity and Wafaa Bilal in a Sea of Hammerheads” by Christina Rees for GlassTire

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They fueled each other’s creativity, but Shigeko Kubota’s substantial legacy became overshadowed by her husband’s equally formidable work…. “Even when I did my own stuff, people said, ‘She imitates Nam June.’ I found it infuriating. So I headed further in the direction of [Marcel] Duchamp. When Nam June went populist, I went for high art.”

“How Shigeko Kubota Pioneered Video as a Personal Medium” by Karen Kedmey for Artsy. Another good (but basic) Artsy profile of a female artist I hadn’t heard of: “The Unlikely Success of Edmonia Lewis, a Black Sculptor in 19th Century America.” 

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I know several women who easily ignored the grim warnings, who used The Baby Book purely as medical reference. Not me. In those dark winter weeks after giving birth, I became increasingly gripped by the story’s central conflict: Mama’s desires are dangerous; Baby is vulnerable. 

“The Baby, the Book, and the Bathwater” by Heather Abel for the Paris Review

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The possibility of enormous ice caps melting, releasing pressure, and contributing to volcanic eruptions remains. And with the world warming and glaciers disappearing, the possibility of powerful eruptions to come is growing. 

— “Volcanoes Get a Kick from Climate Change” — Michael Tennesen for Hakai Magazine

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“Red Clocks” by Leni Zumas
2018, Little, Brown and Company
Novel – 368 pages

Hadn’t heard vaginas referred to as “red clocks” before, so I appreciated the yonic cover illustration here. But now I like the term, as I liked this book and its five central charactersyes, I count the fictional 19th-century Arctic explorer, Eivør Minervudottir, as a central character. She is the research subject of one the book’s four speakers (“the biographer”each speaker has a label), and excerpts from the biography-in-progress separate each speaker’s chapters.

Each character navigates a near-future where abortion has been made illegal, and the impending “every child needs two” act prohibits single parents from adopting. The biographer, a single high school teacher, desperately tries to conceive via artificial insemination before the act takes hold. The daughter, one of her students, seeks an abortion. The mender, a “young crone” who has separated herself from society, is jailed and tried for allegedly performing an abortion. And “the wife” deals with the middle class trappings of motherhood we’ve come to expect from novels like thisthe ones that hang their stories on complex (read “unlikeable”) female protagonists.

When the voices become too many, Eivør’s hardship in the wilderness is grounding. When the characters evade confrontation that would make for a more explosive storyline, Leni Zumas’s sentences and research save the day.

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“Some of Us Did Not Die” by June Jordan
2003, Civitas Books
Essays – 320 pages

Abridged feelings: every person should get a copy of “Notes Toward a Model of Resistance,” and the immediate aftermath of 9/11 feels like so long ago.  Probably a book I should buy so no one reserves it out from under me at the library again.

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“Priestdaddy” by Patricia Lockwood
2017, Riverhead Books
Memoir – 352 pages

It is hazardous to read “Priestdaddy” in bed with another person who is already asleep, as it’s hard to contain your laughter. Beyond that, I would often just *have* to wake up my husband sometimes because I knew he would appreciate some loopy anecdote or wordplay, namely about dad rock or pooping your pants while on a hunting trip. But “Priestdaddy” is not a run-of-the-mill check-out-my-nutty-family memoir; Lockwood’s poet heart makes sure of that.

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“Nomad Americana,” a new play by Kira Rockwell
Fresh Ink Theatre Company at Boston Playwrights Theatre

Love seeing new plays from Fresh Ink, and “Nomad Americana” had some beautifully rhythmic scenes and an especially wonderful performance from Khloe Alice Lin as Stormi Echo, the younger daughter of the nomadic Echo family. But the play is pulled thematically in a few too many directions, and a lack of tension makes some storylines fall flat. Super enjoyable characters, but I think this one has another workshop left in it.

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Last week, it was my great honor to be elected President of Love, a tradition that began in 2014. I ran on a platform of reforming the love-bank, and abolishing all love-debt on an annual basis. It would be a bit too ambitious to propose a gold standard of love. Still radical, though, to admit love’s currency, and how much we have in circulation.

 

January 2018: Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places?

FakeWeatherHR

“Fake Weather” – photograph by Julie Blackmon, via Robert Klein Gallery. January was rough, weather-wise (six days in a row under 20 degrees), but I still don’t miss Houston heat.

 

A few months ago, I mentioned to a friend that it’d be nice to start a poetry memorization/recitation group. I want to go to the next level with poems I love, to carry them with me all the time. A different way to approach a poem, to really pay attention. She held me accountable for the idea, and three of us met in January with our first poems. I chose “Questions of Travel” by Elizabeth Bishop (the title of this post is a line from it), which I frequently cite as one of my favorites.

What did I learn/realize anew? Mainly  that “Questions of Travel” is LONG, lacking a regular rhyme scheme, with Bishop’s trademark somewhat-impenetrable phrasing. I found myself dying to reword a few of her lines, and might have accidentally done so in my recitation. I realized how easily I skipped over the bits I’m ambivalent to (“Three towers, five silver crosses”) to get to the parts I like (“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?”). I think most readers are loathe to admit how much we end up skimming even our favorites, both poetry and prose.

Did spending more time with the poem make me fall in deeper in love, as with the staring-at-a-painting-for-30-minutes exercise? I think so, ultimately. I found much more to enjoy in the fourth stanza than usual (“Never to have studied history / in the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages”), perhaps because before I would be racing through it to get to the lovely ending (“Should we have stayed at home / wherever that may be?”). I still count it as one of my favorites: questions of travel, and whether a person changes depending on their surroundings, are all the more relevant in our hyper-mobile society.

That said, I’m going short and rhyme-y in February. /pulls out “Selected Stevie Smith”

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I recently listened to the Arthur Miller episode of “You Must Remember This”—part of the podcast’s Hollywood Blacklist series that aired in 2016. I love “You Must Remember This” and its host/producer, Karina Longworth—essentially everyone who has listened to an episode does. She turns a not-insignificant amount of research on “Hollywood’s first century” into extremely palatable, lunch-hour-length episodes. Her approach is both loving and journalistic, but she doesn’t hide her progressive leanings when appropriate, and while she gives her subjects their due diligence in research and fact-checking, she doesn’t hesitate to name their bad behavior. In short, it’s a loving podcast that does not necessarily invite nostalgia-induced hero worship.

This episode covers most of Miller’s career highlights from before the Blacklist. I learned that he had vowed to give up playwriting altogether if “All My Sons” wasn’t a hit (I think it might be my favorite of his). When that play was a critical and financial success, he took a job in a box factory so he wouldn’t lose touch with the working man altogether (he lasted one week). Then, he built himself a writing shed, determined that he wouldn’t be allowed to write more hits until he had earned another manual labor merit badge.

But since this particular series focuses on the Hollywood Blacklist and HUAC hearings, there isn’t as much real estate for Miller’s relationship with Marilyn Monroe as there is for his soured friendship with Elia Kazan, besides the fact that Miller received much more attention from HUAC because of his ties to the most famous woman in the world. Longworth does note that there is much more to that story, and Miller’s mistreatment of his second wife in both his written works and real life, and I guess I got a lot of that story from this story the next day:

A #metoo banner on a red background, with the T in "too" as a wooden cross, and a depiction of Marilyn Monroe is tied to it, with flames beginning to consume her.

Now there’s a lead image. Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway for the Daily Beast

Some coincidence—it’s only because I’m behind on the podcast that it coincided with #MeToo movement, and this article by Maria Dahvana Headley. The headline does most of the work: “Him Too? How Arthur Miller Smeared Marilyn Monroe and Invented the Modern Male Witch Hunt.”

Headley’s article is a feminist deconstruction that has a different thesis than Longworth’s Blacklist episode, so they’re not exactly comparable and neither deserves blame for the way they covered Miller. But one aspect that was not present in the podcast episode was the parallels between Monroe and the character of Abigail in “The Crucible”: the 17-year-old who has an affair with John Proctor, then vengefully accuses his wife of witchcraft. This mirrors Miller’s own torn feelings, as he fell hard for Monroe to the detriment of his own marriage. (He stayed married for years after he fell in love with her, as she conducted her own affair with his then-friend Kazan.) Headley’s analysis is a prescient one. I haven’t read “The Crucible” in years or ever seen it onstage, but Abigail’s villain-hood, as a hysterical spurned temptress who would “ruin” the life of a “good man” in a series of calculated, vindictive maneuvers, is incredibly apt in light of the #MeToo movement, and men’s bandying about of the term “witch hunt.”

In the past 20 years, feminist readings of “The Crucible” (with or without reference to Miller’s real-life parallels) reveal Abigail as a victim (raped, dismissed from her position) who is mistreated by the writer in his characterization, as is Elizabeth, the “frigid” wife. Abigail also makes me think of other female villains throughout history, both fictional and real, including my favorite temperance preacher/hatchetator, Carry A. Nation. The ways that disenfranchised women find and wield power—so often under the guise of “virtue,” the only acceptable label for them—is often not palatable, to put it lightly.

That’s about as far as I’m willing to analyze it without re-reading “The Crucible.” Instead, I will re-read Lindy West’s “witch” take from last October: “Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch, and I’m Hunting You.” 

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“Gold Fame Citrus” by Claire Vaye Watkins
2015, Riverhead Books
Novel – 352 pages

For a long time, I was fixated on a Californian landscape that I’d never actually experienced. That fixation hasn’t changed since my first visit last year, maybe because it’s culturally mythologized so effectively. The difference, now that I’ve visited, is that I have an unearned attachment to the Romantic wasteland of gold, fame, and citrus. Those are the three reasons people go to California, according the characters in this book.

So that unearned attachment is probably why I liked the story so much, though the author’s style was aggressively Literary at times. The apocalyptic, fantastical, and painfully simple break-down of society in the face of environmental catastrophe pulled me right in. I was as fooled as the main character, Luz. Definitely recommend—but you will feel sandy for days afterward.

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“Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor
2010, DAW
Novel – 432 pages

Why yes, I did find this on the same “climate change apocalypse” reading list as “Gold Fame Citrus.” Okorafor also writes young adult fiction, and I think the only reason this book isn’t classified as YA is because of the amount of weaponized rape that occurs in this futuristic depiction of war-torn Sudan. The thing is, you don’t realize it’s the future until characters start stumbling upon ancient desktop computers—tribal warfare and theocracy is definitely something most readers will associate with the past, not the future. The presence of magic and countless twists and turns kept my eyes on the page, though it’s easy to become disoriented on this sprawling journey. I love the main character, Onyesonwu (which means “who fears death”), and her stubborn strength. Not to mention the fact that she’s a powerful-but-doomed sorceress who can transform into animals and bring people back from the dead.

I kept thinking how this book might be adapted as a film or miniseries, and which of the harsher elements they might have to cut, both for length and content. Then I saw that HBO has optioned the story, and George R.R. Martin will produce—so [Eeyore voice] I guess they’re keeping the graphic rape scenes. It is central to the plot and the main character’s identity, though. I’m sure I’ll be tuning in to see how they interpret the journey.

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“Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit
2014, Haymarket Books
Essays – 130 pages

I think that most of Rebecca Solnit’s now-huge fanbase came to know her through this book, or at least the titular essay. I had never actually read it before (although I can’t really claim to have liked her “before she was cool”—I saw her speak at a whim at UH in 2014). For my money, the best essay in this book is the one about Virginia Woolf, which also appeared in the New Yorker: “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable.” Great notes on criticism, the “tyranny of the quantifiable,” and the value of uncertainty.

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Choice articles/essays:

“Forgiving the Unforgivable: Geronimo’s Descendants Seek to Salve Generational Trauma” —Anna Badkhen for LitHub

“Swing Low, White Women” – Brigitte Fielder for Avidly, on the pink pussy hat placed upon a statue of Harriet Tubman during this year’s Women’s March

“The Women the Abortion War Leaves out” — Michelle Oberman for The New York Times

“Caseworkers, Stand Up Against Racism in Child Welfare Or Be Part of the Problem” – Alan Dettlaff, dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (probably my favorite UH college), for YouthToday

“Letter from a Target-Rich Environment” – Barrett Swanson for Guernica

“Watching Delores O’Riordan Dance on Yeats’ Grave” – Laura Passin for Electric Literature, in what is both a tribute to the recently departed Cranberries singer and Ireland’s rich tradition of history-reclaiming woman poets

“What a Year of Grief Taught Me about Monuments and Memorials” — Ric Kasini Kadour for Hyperallergic

“An Evening of Immersive Theater with the Dead and Dying” — Adam Dalva on an immersive theater version of James Joyce’s “The Dead” for The Millions

Letter to a Young Poet (the whole of your body is a vibing wire) — Patricia Smith for The Scores, as part of their “Letter to a Young Poet” series

“A Eulogy for the Headphone Jack” — Charley Hoey on Medium

“Materials, Man” —Austin Kleon’s blog, on how an artist has to love her materials

“Is There Such a Thing as a Good Book Review?” — Elisa Gabbert in her writing advice column, The Blunt Instrument, for Electric Literature

“Improving Ourselves to Death” — Alexandra Schwartz for The New Yorker

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I did go to muddy Cambridge Common with “several thousand” others for a Women’s Rally on January 20. Not quite as magical as last year’s Austin/Wendy Davis/Sailor Moon excursion, but heartening nonetheless. My best photo is of a sousaphone wearing a pussy hat:

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Dreary day, but the band brightened it up.

 

 

July – December 2017: A Piece of My Mind to Feast Upon

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“Winter is for House Mice” – Illustration by Amy Jean Porter via The Awl (click for her lovely short accompanying essay)

The Ghost of Christmas Present’s admonishment of Ebenezer Scrooge was eerily prescient this Christmas, as the GOP’s “tax heist” passed to thunderous applause from the rich. (This analysis breaks it down pretty clearly.) I wonder if lawmakers detected the slightest hint of irony as they gathered with their families for Christmas, with healthcare at the middle of it: these newfound gains will be literally forged on the backs of the poor—especially children like everyone’s favorite urchin, Tiny Tim.

SCROOGE: Tell me, spirit, will he live?

GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT: I see a vacant place at this table…. if these shadows remain unaltered by the future, the child will die.

S: No, say he will be spared.

G: If these shadows remain unaltered by the future, none other of my species will find him here. But if he is to die, then let him die, and decrease the surplus population.

S: You use my own words against me.

G: Yes. So perhaps in the future you will hold your tongue until you have discovered what the surplus population is, and where it is. It may well be that in the sight of heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child.

Watch this clip from the 1984 George C. Scott/Edward Woodward version (the best version) for the two most righteous bits of this ghost’s visit, if you want Ignorance and Want to haunt your nightmares:

A lot to do this year.

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Art reviews for the second half of 2017:

You Might Not Like Your Reflection in “Windows on Death Row” – A traveling exhibition featuring the art of death row inmates. I struggled with this one.

Character Studies in a Post-Cultural Revolution China: “Chinese Dreams” at MassArt – A bright, sharp-edged show featuring a variety of media that gelled effectively—both as exhibition and history lesson.

Eddie Martinez and Contemporary South African Prints at Wellesley’s Davis Museum – Eddie Martinez’s mandala paintings were the highlight here, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the small hallway of South African prints. I wouldn’t normally go outside the T for an art show, but this one proved to be worth the trip.

Math is Hard, and Beautiful (In Context): The Concinnatas Project at Krakow Witkin Gallery – I was determined to visit a gallery instead of a college, and found this fascinating little show at Krakow Witkin, a fantastic space with a friendly Mr. Witkin present to discuss the art. I mostly love this review because it features Paul waxing poetic about math at the end. Read it, if only for that.

The Half Hour Hold: Subjective Stare-downs with Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston – Reading Jeanette Winterson’s “Art Objects” (essays, 1996) was one of the more pleasurable experiences of 2017. In my last full week of underemployment, I took her up on her challenge to stare at a painting for an hour, even though it turns out I can only manage 30 minutes at a time. But I did manage to fully fall in love with one painting at the MFA that I would have barely glanced at otherwise.

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Almost all of the plays I’ve seen in the second half of this year, with the exception of Houston-bucket-list-item “Tamarie Cooper’s Merry Evening of Mistakes and Regrets” (I guess past years have been better), have also been reviewed by my buddy Josh Garstka for Talkin’ Broadway, so I’ll link to his more comprehensive, eloquent takes.

“Men In Boats”
SpeakEasy Stage Company, September
Written by Jacklyn Backhaus

This play chronicles John Wesley Powell’s expedition of the Grand Canyon—but the playwright mandates that all actors must be women or non-gender-conforming individuals. While the characters face dire circumstances, I found it impossible not to feel jubilantly (dare I say) buoyant during their energetic navigation of the “river” and Jenna McFarland Lord’s cool set. (The creative team are all or mostly female, too, as far as I can tell from their names.)

My main takeaway, though, is that this play would be, with very minor cuts, PERFECT for a Girl Scout troop to perform. The action is straightforward, the props minimal, the language often appealingly anachronistic. Plus, it’s outdoorsy, and a fun way for girls to place themselves in a written history dominated by men. Bump-set-spike, scouts.

“Merrily We Roll Along” 
*Huntington Theatre Company
Music by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth

I basically wept throughout the entire show: I could never review it objectively, not after my constant consumption of the soundtrack throughout college and my current quarter-(or is it third)-life-crisis as someone who isn’t quite living her art dreams. This is also the age, it seems, when you start to realize how many friendships you’ve lost over the years. I left the theater insisting we have a homemade performance so I can play Mary.

The only slightly disappointing thing that stands out now, a few months later, was Charlie’s entirely-seated performance of “Franklin Shepard Inc.” I love this song, and the actor was great, but why was he directed to sit in what should have been a high-energy nervous breakdown? It should have been more of a foil to the more low-key songs it’s sandwiched between. Still, I was dancing in my seat.

*(Josh’s colleague actually wrote this one, I forgot because we went together)

“A Guide for the Homesick”
Huntington Theatre Company, October
Written by Ken Urban

Pound for pound the best play I’ve seen this year. Its two actors, McKinley Belcher III and Samuel H. Levine, do a tremendous amount of heavy lifting while managing not to bludgeon us into a stupor. Read Josh’s full review for more on the story and premise.

“Sense and Sensibility”
American Repertory Theatre, December
Written by Kate Hamill, from Jane Austen’s novel

Josh has some great lines in his review about how this production’s staging and light energy sheds the bulk of Austen’s “Masterpiece Theater” trappings, so refer to that, and take the fact that I was incredibly bored by halfway through the second act as an optional footnote. That was probably the point when the “dizzying” conceit of characters hurling each other about on the wheeled scenery stopped meaningfully reflecting their inner turmoil and confusion and became rote. I was reminded of the A.R.T.’s presentation of “The Tempest” a few years ago, which incorporated very cool effects and music while ultimately managing not to elevate the story in a meaningful way.

I am apparently the only one annoyed by thisif Kate Hamill can sell tickets to female-driven dramas by refreshing staid classics (she’s also done “Pride and Prejudice” and “Vanity Fair”), more power to her. And the actors were of course wonderful. I can never deny Nigel Gore, especially if he is wearing purple tights.

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Two articles on art, social media, and call-out culture:

While contemporary white authors are allowed to freely write complex, misanthropic characters into their work without incident, writers of color consistently confront culture cops who take issue with the portrayal of those characters in a diverse context. But what is a story without evolution of character anyway? Who is a character, really, without flaws? What’s the point of writing if not to tell some basic truth?

—From “Why Culture Cops Are Bad for Writers of Color” by Daniel Peña on Ploughshares Blog

I thought of Peña’s excellent blog post earlier this week when I read Artsy’s op-ed about the art world’s year of sociopolitical controversy“Don’t Equate Today’s Culture Wars to those of the 1990s” by Isaac Kaplaneven though they cover different media (visual vs. literary). Here’s Kaplan’s set up:

In 2017, a recurrent call to ‘take it down’ echoed throughout the art world. It was a year in which a handful of artworks provoked outrage for what critics, largely on the political left, deemed to be an exploitation of marginalized peoples’ suffering…. This call to take down work for being offensive (to put it very reductively) elicited quick comparisons to the ‘Culture Wars’ of the 1980s and ’90s, when conservative politicians tried to cut off government funding for exhibitions featuring artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano whose art dealing with queer and Christian subjects irked their religious sensibilities.

The “culture cops” are, though, very different between both of these articles. Peña talks about writers of color facing backlash for creating nuanced, perhaps unlikable/bad-influence/villainous characters, while the visual artists in question are either white or do not belong to the same ethnic group as the one they are “using” in their work. We can’t pretend that context and consequences don’t exist, especially when the artists involved ostensibly bank off marginalized people’s suffering.

Sam Durant realized that after meeting with Dakota elders, and ultimately agreed to remove “Scaffold,” and pledge never to recreate it. His interview with the L.A. Times is well worth the read, and illuminates the controversy in a less nebulous way.

Kaplan’s article doesn’t land on an answer about whether the art should or shouldn’t be removed—it focuses on the facile, unproductive comparison to conservative censorship 20 odd years ago, which is worth examining. So it is disheartening to see Facebook commenters who obviously didn’t read/process the article, parroting that all “censorship” is bad, waving away context and history.

Speaking of:

Social media is designed to keep us trapped in the present and devoid of history.

—Clive Thompson in a fascinating, unrelated analysis on This.org.

DEVOID OF HISTORY. How will we learn?

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More reads on relationships, feminism, class, and creativity:

Who actually wants to experience trauma? As Weissman writes, “one’s own place in the hierarchy of suffering has much to do with one’s professed ability to ‘feel the horror.’ A person’s intellect and moral fiber are measured by the degree they have come to ‘endure the psychic imprint of the trauma.’”Also known as: moral performativity. Non-witnesses want an authentic relationship with trauma; witnesses wish they never had one. 

“Hell is Real” – Leah Finnegan in one of the better Leah Letters of 2017


You say the problem with the phrase “happy wife, happy life” is that “it implies that marriage is not an equal partnership.” But it’s worth bearing in mind that the truth about marriage is that it often 
isn’t an equal partnership, despite our good intentions. The institution has a long, ugly history of placing women in “a secondary position.” And let’s pause to recognize that it is hard for both men and women to notice this.

“Mixed Feelings: Happy Wife, Happy Life” – Mandy Catron for The Rumpus


Male bumblers are an epidemic. These men are, should you not recognize the type, wide-eyed and perennially confused. What’s the difference, the male bumbler wonders, between a friendly conversation with a coworker and rubbing one’s penis in front of one? Between grooming a 14-year-old at her custody hearing and asking her out?

“The Myth of the Male Bumbler” – Lili Loofbourow for The Week


The lineup of celebrities who appeared in the promotional video for the Democratic Convention struck a weird chord not only with conservatives but also with anyone who was actually hungry for a “fight song” against the entrenchment of a political machine that has left them without access to jobs, health care or education. Why should anyone being buried in student loan debt automatically assume that the stars of 
Pitch Perfect are fighting for the same things they are?

“A Resistance Led By Celebrities Will Always Be Bullshit” – Anne Orchier for L.A. Weekly

If you went to boarding school and are bankrolled by your parents, own it, and be honest about your privilege: don’t think donning an Adidas tracksuit and tweeting about going to Greggs for lunch is anything other than offensive and embarrassing.

“Privileged Kids Need To Stop Fetishising Working Class Culture” – Dawn Foster for Huck Magazine

A few years back, I spent a summer in Houston acting like I had money. Then I fell in with some white kids who came from money. I guess you could call it a scene. All gallery openings and coffee bars and stage-dives. We’d flit from club to concert to loft to bed, occasionally stopping to take stock of the time. Or at least I did. Because that shit was brand new to me, very nearly alien, a reality so divorced from mine (black, Caribbean, Baptist, middle class), that I couldn’t help feeling threatened by it, and enticed by it, very nearly always wondering exactly how far it could go.

“New Money” – Bryan Washington for The Awl’s year-end holiday series “Fakes.” Read the whole series, it’s fantastic.

Goodbye to Joelle’s Houston

 

h-town 2We moved from Houston back to the Boston area in early August: before the hurricane, before the world series. Unexpected and serendipitous (everyone’s okay). After trying to write about leaving Houston in a few different ways, I figured that all I want to express, really, is a series of memories and forever-affiliations I will have as my own crummy personal souvenir. 

F*** You, Houston’s Awesome

Mosquito bites have finally faded
I no longer brace myself for cockroaches in empty beer cans
Excessive sweating is reserved for biking up hills
I’ve moved from Houston back to Somerville

Farewell, sweet lizards skittering on mangled sidewalks
Oranges and avocados on the landlord’s tree
Goodbye Gene Wu and Sheila Jackson Lee
Goodbye Wendy Davis and her good emails
And Jef Rouner, who I will still read, and breathless theater critics, who I won’t
Marvelous art scene sliding by on oil money

Goodbye rodeo and the wasted Astrodome
When I heard about the rodeo I joked about children riding goats
Then learned that they actually ride sheep (mutton busting)
Goodbye any opportunity for my hypothetical future children to be thrown from a sheep
Safely, to appreciate animal husbandry from a very specific point of view
The view from the back of a stumpy woolen escapee
Goodbye shiny new light rail that is better than the green line
And tense raids to check fares because there’s no turnstiles
Bus drivers who stop at McDonald’s to get a coffee while the passengers wait
And wave to people they recognize, in case they need a ride
Goodbye well-meaning men who slowed down, genuinely concerned that I was walking
Because no one walks in this neighborhood, something must be wrong

mutton busting

Mutton busting

Shoutout to dog families stopping traffic in East End and Third Ward
The mutt wearing a child’s rugby shirt that chased me on my bike that one time
Migration patterns spectacularly glooming city skies
Grackles with their wide-open beaks in baked parking lots
That scary taco raptor should be the Texas state bird
I’ll stop reaching for the feral cats next door
Pink nose, black nose, mom cat, Mr. Moustache, Mr. Bibs
Bandit cat, dreamy cat, friend cat, basic tabby, feral gray
Running like water in the streets that flood every time it rains
Flashing affection like the stoplights that always go out in a storm

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Grackles on the train platform

Goodbye, aggressive pride in place
So much that the title of this poem is a clothing brand
Goodbye al-fresco dining in winter, crawdads in a kiddie pool in March
Hose flowing in washing out to flat streets, claws waving
Goodbye dead downtown and transcendent queso
Gayborhood where our queer Spanish landlords added “NO HUSTLERS NO PIMPS” to the lease
Farewell ice houses with your basketball hoops and sandy ground, dogs running free
We have actual ice on our houses here

Goodbye Shasta, superior live mascot, and your birthday meat cake
Shotgun houses with backyards, bracing yourselves for developers
You could fit at least two luxury units if you pave over every inch of soil
Goodbye to the normalcy of non-white bosses and non-white spaces
Goodbye phantom of bilingual education
Goodbye blue island in a red cesspool
Hello taxes, my favorite joke to “let the whales marry”

Hello winter I’m not tired of yet
Numb legs and wet leaves, burning torso barreling down the bike lane
I can’t wait for snow, what’s wrong with me? I want it so
I’ll snatch the heat from the downstairs apartment
Let tears of shock stream when the cold air hits
Goodbye streets on a grid, hello architecture

Goodbye meritocracy—big Texas talk
(It’s the best state, just ask a Texan)
An illusion, I know
But a sometimes convincing one. I see your businesses, young women,
Your getting-it-done, putting-it-up
Fuck you, Houston’s awesome
New security, new career
Launch pad to combat gatekeepers here
I’m not the only person who has said so
Back now to close friends and bus routes I still remember
God, it’s good to be back
If I can get through the feeling that I’m not who I was
When I last lived here
It will be very, very good.

Part 2: Houston haunts I will always treasure—not a best-of list, just retracing our most well-tread paths.

Restaurants
Barnaby’s on Fairview, especially for $2 wine/beer night on Tuesdays
BB’s Tex-Orleans Cafe
Torchy’s Tacos (Heights)
Ninja Ramen
Down House
Brasil
Ninfa’s on Navigation
Flakey’s Pizza

Food trucks
Waffle Bus
Moon Rooster Tacos

Bars/Ice Houses
Moon Tower
Lei Low
Poison Girl

Cafés for working
Mercantile Montrose
Ahh! Coffee
EQ Heights

Cafés for eating and getting out
Blacksmith

Café that is more of a vehicle for cat snuggles than coffee
El Gato Cat Café

Cookies and hugs
Crumbville

Arts Organizations
WriteSpace
Houston Scriptwriters
DiverseWorks Gallery

Best haircut
Ciao Salon

Best building sign
Birth & Death Records near the Blood Donation Center

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It’s hard to tell, but these letters are sunken into the concrete. Always struck me as weirdly cool and creepy.

Plays (scroll down here)
“The Nether” – Alley Theatre
“The Hunchback Variations” – Catastrophic Theatre
“Intimate Apparel” – University of Houston
“The Judgment of Fools” – Horsehead Theatre Company

Art exhibits
School for the Movement of the Technicolor People
The Propeller Group
The City

Most treasured piece of art acquired
Refresh zine

Best feral cat
Pinknose

pink nose black nose

Pink Nose and Black Nose

Second only because he disappeared/got adopted: Friend cat

friend cat

Friend cat allowed pats, so he *must* have found a home.

Cat I respect most and am most worried about
Dreamy cat, who is looking worse for wear every time he wanders back

dreamy cat

Dreamy cat as I remember him

June 2017: The Pixel Forest

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Collage by Sarah Gerard, accompanying her excellent “Mouthful” column on Hazlitt

This summer, the MFAH continues its series of grand-scale, immersive exhibitions. Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish brings together two mesmerizing works newly acquired by the Museum. Under the direction of the artist, these light-based and video-based installations transform the vast, central gallery of Cullinan Hall into a cosmic journey through time and space. —MFAH website

My review: I’ve been having a lot of fun imagining the entire internet as “the pixel forest” since experiencing this exhibition. Except, it’s much more magical to get lost in this installation than the internet.

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“The Pixel Forest” with “Worry Will Vanish” playing in the background, by Piplotti Rist

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Even more dreamy than the pixel forest? The Propeller Group at Blaffer Art Museum, as they rebrand communism, journey beyond death and write a cross-cultural narrative for Vietnam. I wrote a full review for Aeqaiand I really did hear a song from “Miss Saigon” on the way to the show.

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Still from “The Living Need Light, The Dead Need Music” – film by The Propeller Group

 

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“Homebodies: Coverature” – gut-punch comic by Arwen Donahue on The Rumpus:

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From “Homebodies: Coverature” by Arwen Donahue via The Rumpus

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What do many lone attackers have in common? Domestic violence – The Guardian

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Why eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts would hurt rural Americans the most – Hyperallergic

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On the one hand, I can certainly appreciate why a comedian might look at the score awarded to their latest comedy special by a particular publication and complain that it’s a reductive way to summarize years of their work, and yet I also understand why an outlet like The A.V. Club—one which is in the business of art criticism—might not see it as a huge stretch to attempt to evaluate comedy using the same metrics that they apply to other art forms.

Hershal Pandya for Splitsider

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After 49 days, the cat couldn’t take it anymore, bit his tongue, and bled to death on [his owner’s] grave. Leave it to a cat to take the most metal route to death.

—Louise Hung for The Order of the Good Death

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And then she said something that kind of blew my mind: “You know, [Mary Magdalene] was the first one to whom our Lord appeared on Easter Sunday morning. In that time, a woman’s witness was worth nothing — so that Jesus would choose to appear to her and say ‘go and tell the others’ is huge! Of course, they didn’t believe her, but Jesus was making a point about the importance of believing women.” —Anne Therieux for The Establishment, speaking with Sister Bernadette and other nuns about feminism and their calling. Consider my mind also blown.

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“In Other Words” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Memoir
2016, Alfred A. Knopf

I think that my new language, more limited, more immature, gives me a more extensive, more adult gaze. That’s the reason I continue, for now, to write in Italian…. When I began to write, I thought it was more virtuous to talk about others. I was afraid that autobiographical material was of less creative value, even a form of laziness on my part. I was afraid that it was egocentric to relate one’s own experiences. In this book I am the protagonist for the first time…. A little like Matisse’s “Blue Nudes,” groups of cutout, reassembled female figures, I feel naked in this book, pasted to a new language, disjointed.  215-6

Jhumpa Lahiri’s memoir of life in another language — Italian — is a work of art in itself. Lahiri is most comfortable in English, but also speaks Bengali with her parents, and began learning Italian later in life. This memoir was written in Italian, with her original text flowering from the left side of the page; employing a translator removed temptation to revise or correct.

The book is a beautiful exploration of identity, intention and vulnerability. Her ruminations will resonate with anyone who has studied another language:

When I read in Italian, I’m a more active reader, more involved, even if less skilled. I like the effort, I prefer the limitations. I know that in some way my ignorance is useful to me. 43

Behgali is my past, Italian, maybe, a new road into the future. In both I feel like a child, a little clumsy. 157

Beckett said that writing in French allowed him to write without style. On the one hand I agree: one could say that my writing in Italian is a type of unsalted bread. It works, but the usual flavor is missing. 179

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Last but not least: I’m so happy that Sasha Velour won RuPaul’s Drag Race! Loved this “magical bitch” all season—all of the final four queens were fantastic, but I’m glad an art weirdo has been crowned. From the sound of this article, she is going to do great things.

sasha velour