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:

 

March 2018: Spectacle, or Spectacular

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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!