Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Spot of Bother, followed by "River Journal" wonderfulness (a little Art Fair)

Word problem: An unnerving gnawing sound (scratching? no, gnawing) seems to be emanating from the front of your living room. You peek through the front door in the hopes that maybe the next door cat, who often guards your front step from harm, has adopted a new habit of scratching the door. The step is unguarded. You cross to the bay window, and in doing so, discover that the sound is coming through the electrical socket. Double take: the electrical socket.  A.) After a shining a flashlight into it (fruitless), what's the best course of action?
Bonus Question B) How long until the raccoon-of-diminutive-size/mouse/rat/wood-loving/electrical loving insects assume possession of the house? Please calculate in hours.

Check your accuracy! Solution (B) to be found at end of post. Upside down text used to prevent cheating. We advise against inverting your monitor.

Answer A.) Retiring to the study,* which feels especially nice, what with my sudden compulsion to move heavy furniture this weekend. I am now typing at the (too shallow, but quaint) antique vanity table, with my computer table behind me, holding a slew of sketches I did not wish to subject to basement dampness. And it's true, in this room, I no longer hear any gnawing.

*which also has electrical sockets, to be fair.

But before I continue to the intended topic at hand (yay! 55th annual Ann Arbor Art Fair started today, yay!!!) I can't help but wonder whether ditching the parrot a couple months ago was a mistake.
He was a last minute purchase on the way back from the Dominican Republic. Tourist trap gift? Yes, and I could see that. But STILL. He had wonderful tail feathers, just enough detail. He sat happily on a little perch in his own little hoop! Self-contained, but swingy! But more than that, you know what he had?
Character. Chutzpah. *I* am the parrot of the living room!
AND then one day, I noticed some mail underneath the parrot had little granular bits spread across the surface. A dusting, almost a film, of very, very fine white dust. The first day, I didn't make the connection. But after I had cleared it away not once, but twice, I looked up. And then I got on a stool and looked closer. And this is what I saw:
Lots and lots of little holes, pocking the surface of the parrot's perch. 
It was at that point, the parrot was sacrificed to trash collection and the (airport of) Dominican Republic was casually blamed. But what if that's not where it came from? What if it came from INSIDE THE HOUSE? Well. And no use, losing one's head, nothing useful to be done just now. Perhaps I could kneel by the socket and ask. But I fear a gnawing response: We are LEGION.

To wit: my study sure is nice!

And really, aside from the gnawing, quite a nice day! A visiting coworker treated my office to delectables from the Pastry Peddler -- I had no idea they were so good! aside from the expected flakiness, the chocolate croissant has a wonderful almond flavor to it. The chocolate itself is velvety smooth. Local folk, get thee to the Peddler!

Main attraction, however was Art Fair wandering during lunch. Last year I came close to burning out, but I have been wandering for 20 years or so, so it seemed strange not to nose around for new artists/vendors. Within the first part of lunch, I was shocked to find a new favorite!

Right over in the original section, by Rackham, Booth #A110
is Katie Musolff, from Stoddard, WI:
Her watercolors have a wonderful delicacy to them, without being precious. Her ongoing series is called River Journal (*I think), reflecting the natural world just beyond the windows of her and her partner's home. My favorites focus in on the painted object or series of similar objects (a beetle, a fiddlehead fern, a baby turtle, dead sparrow), with the rest of the paper left blank (but for maybe a penciled-in explanation).

I like so many of them individually, but their proximity to neighboring paintings only adds to their appeal. Would love many of them! The jonquils remind me of home, my parents always had a nice patch of them, and I looked forward to them every Spring. But then, the pleasing balance of the two stalks of purple flowers (called "Twins"), also so lovely. And the baby turtles! found in the garden when they dug up their new potatoes! There's a lot to love, here, of the quiet, true kind of art your eyes would be pleased by for years.

Musolff said she has supported herself as a full time painter for roughly a decade. She paints every day. Her father, a middle school teacher, showed her how to use pastels and watercolor when she was little -- and her father's father was also a self-taught artist. As a 6 year old, her parents set up a little space for her to work in and brought home "how to draw a cat! How to draw horses!" books...a nice beginning, no? See more work here.

Andy Fletcher, Musolff's husband and fellow painter, has fine landscapes in the booth right next to hers. When I asked him for a business card, he handed me one of the Original Art Fair postcards (Nick Wroblewski designed the poster this year!) with a handwritten note scrawled on the back:
Soooo, true, all his info, conveniently on the back, but no accompanying image to treasure in the coming year. The first one he removed from his pocket he hesitated over, glancing at me -- and then handed me this one. When I asked about this, he said, "more snarky, less snarky." I present as: less snarky.

"Oh," said Stephen*,"He did that last year, too." Which lessened the funny, certainly.

*If you know some aspect of the Ann Arbor artist community, you'll also probably know Stephen. Retired high school art teacher, multi-faceted artist, grand connector of people, art lover of Chris Roberts-Antieau. It is only fitting that I overhear his distinctive voice within 20 minutes of being at the huge fair.

I am enthusing about Musolff's work, and he will go look definitely, but first he wants to know,"Have you seen Ed Brownley? (sp?) He has cereal bowls with serial killers on them. Go see Ed Brownley. Everyone's at the Ignatius booth.* Go see Jenny Pope."

I have yet to see Brownley, but am a little wary of the incorporation of serial killers for a humorous purpose. Appearances aside, I do like snarky, I do like dark, but that just possibly goes beyond. And would that really make raisin bran happier in the groggy morning? Hmmm.

*This goes without saying. Everyone's ALWAYS at the Ignatius booth, their hats are frickin' awesome, ranging from silly to elegant. 

Jenny Pope (booth A260), however, is -- and has been -- right up my alley: her reduction prints are boldly colored, many layered, cartoony and strong. Have liked her work for years. The Allover woodcut that I especially lust after almost feels like photoshop in its rich layering (which may come off as a slight, but is not not not) -- it is repurposed elements from another larger print around the partition corner; this fact I also love. I love doing the woodblock mashups! Pope is somewhat serious to talk to (maybe just wary, it is possible I can sometime come off as overly fanboy), with energetically curly red hair, wearing a sleeping baby in a sling.** She frames her most favorite monoprints and work, as many artists do. Pop psych question: another reason her prices are hard to find? Subconscious reluctance to part with them? Anyway, I second Stephen: go see Pope's booth. Check out "Pinetree Invasion," with its aggressive looking kiwi birds.

**On the outsider happy-making scale, practicing artist with young baby is up there with partner artists who either create their work together*** OR exhibit their work in neighboring booths. Happiness points for both.

*** see also: Butterfield Pottery's booth: Davin does the pottery and creates the glazes, Susan does the painting. The photos don't quite convey the rich, rich almost purpley blue.

That's about it, as I had brief time yesterday.

Also also:  If you have kids, you should check out the activity tent near the Belltower. It was rousing! Kids using rolling pins with 3d designs affixed to them to roll out patterned slabs of clay, beaming boys marching away with mysterious painted gold objects, industrious kids hunched over the Museum of Natural History table, creating their own little sculpy long-extinct whatzit skeletons. Seriously: there's a lot going on under that tent. 

Yay, requisite chalk art.
Lion emerging, artist on break.

Recycled glass art sculpture of Ruben Fasani booth A243, all the way from Buenos Aires
Arrrrrrggh! Arrgh!! I have as much gumption as the parrot! No bugs.
Surprise delight, on Liberty, almost to Main! Pleasing tiles from Lisa Muller. It's her first time at the fair, though she has been doing this for "oh, sooooo long, can you believe you can go to school for this? People let you go to school, so you can study this." I was in a rush on my way home -- but stopped. And bought. Pick up a wee sumpin sumpin.

All for now, time to shower and start the day beyond the house~~

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

You Are Cordially Invited

Good morning, Dear Reader, and Happy Wednesday!

I feel remiss. You have me over for dinner all the time, have no problem dropping me off at the mechanic's and lend me your ear/shoulder to cry on. What have I done for you lately? My boorish behavior is obvious. Therefore, on the occasion of this almost mid-Summer, please allow me to extend you the following:

I confess, I have been receiving this invitation for some time now, and have grown rather blase about it. The key thing to remember is this: while all offers are extended in their potential, only ONE can be the most likely at any give time. 

And while there may not be oversized glittery snowflakes wafting about, the over-functioning central air will force you to don cardigans and scarves in Summertime. Bring your reading glasses.

Have a blast! And You're welcome! Any stories/juicy gossip from your travels are welcome.

Monday, July 7, 2014


When the landscaper repeatedly throws in phrases like, "It's only money," during the initial estimate, it is worrisome. Upon your meeting, he tells you that you have *such a cute* phone voice. Luckily this doesn't cost anything, because otherwise, it's rather down hill from there.

It's a small yard. A wee yard. A barely need a mower! yard. It's an originally deceptive yard*, conjuring visions of a small but verdant vegetable patch, with neither so much space as to overwhelm, nor so little as to rob one of self-satisfied deck dining or coffee sipping. But gradually, while the ferns never take, the first optimistic Fall's plantings of tulip and daffodil bulbs are savaged by squirrels and gnawing scrabblers, and the ventured vegetable garden stays a wan, homely plot**, your initial yardwork go-getem slumps off somewhere and the much more dominant inside crafty kitchen person is astoundingly good at pretending the yard does not actually exist.

{*to the unobservant, or easily fooled}
** baffled visitor: "You seem to have a ... fork patch. What's with all the plastic utensils?" Thank you, person. It was one of a million good online ideas. Easily mark your rows of beans and lettuce!...Unless things grow sparingly at best, and then it just looks silly.
With respect to larger yard projects or routine care, you are apparently immune to periodic self-shaming (your yard vs. other yards), motivation helpfully illustrated by Hyperbole and a Half. To wit: the grass has mange, nothing you would like to grow does so; though trash trees skyrocket, ivy slithers up walls, a vine pursues its master plan of toppling the birch tree; and moles and wombats inhabit the undergrowth. What can you do? Short of doing it?
"toll service" bill from Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company
Call someone, naturally. Plus, you can then also feel pleased for having called someone, as if it were the task itself. Ahem: I have almost made it so!

And that would be that, if your wallet was robust and also begging to be weeded. Perhaps pruned for its own good -- it may look sparse initially, but the money it will grow back, and much, much better than before. Now this, he does not promise. The landscaper pushes for what I'd "like to spend," which I try to push back on, but then opt for the lowest rung in his tiered budget ladder. He energetically gestures to what will be done in the front yard, and the story sounds great but already seems like a lot; I urge him to check out the back yard. And ohhhh, there's so much he'd like to do! And it would be cool, definitely. But the de-jungling: it's a lot of work. Which I get, and do not do, and have not done.

I shut down the initial estimate, which is three times higher than my rung. who said I would climb up there?  At this point, he observes, "You know, the home equity loans, those are really good, and you can just fold it into your mortgage payments." He nods to himself, "Yeah, I think that's a good way to go." He continues that the woman down the street was quite good at getting a fine rate, I could consult with her about it...I reiterate money, he returns to the prospect of a loan;  the manner with which he broaches it, returns to it, it's as if indebtedness is a soothing and welcome prospect for his clients. It's kind of fascinating, this estimate, because I actually think it's equal parts landscaper wanting to get past the initial grunt-work in order to create a harmonious space/reflect a vision AND concerted up-selling, at the most cynical end, merely herding me as sheeple to a nicely tunneled path to a much larger chunk of change. Hmmm. In any case, not spending that much money, no sirree.

And so, there was a second more palatable estimate from another source. And it is true that less was promised and the end result will be less dreamy, but hopefully the pruning will be liveable on all levels... Yard rescuers scheduled for tomorrow, barring a repeat of the afternoon monsoon today. Possible yard recovery, possible backyard swamp.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yield, Merge, Other Random Directives

I fancy a good sign. I mean, on the literal SIGN tip (hanging above a store front, a nice visual taste of the potential goodness inside) I love strong graphics, a well executed font, a fine color palette, cool names, good grammar. A good sense of humor, if available* Out in the physical world, a business sign, naturally, is limited to its name (plus, possibly a motto), though once you get to billboard level, you can span your thoughts out a bit, letting people know that "Jesus is the ONLY way to God" or, more to my taste, as one Canadian board suggested (white letters, black background, two words): "Try God." That seemed reasonable enough: why not try? And then we sped past, on a return trip from Buffalo to Detroit.

{*Rarely includes punning hair salons.} 

On the mundane side of life**, I also enjoy encountering small dashed off notes from others, brief random scraps -- and will happily suspend disbelief to read them as signs from the universe. Passive signs, active signs? The former is more probable if either is likely. Will I make important decisions based on a favorable seeming indicator? No, no... but really it is the exercise of observation that is key here. And to clarify right now, I am thinking of actual brief written communications, as opposed to randomly occurring acts which carry whispers of mysticism...a spontaneously combusting bush, or a three-bunny run***. So, I am perhaps s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g terms out of a sad need to blather. Either way, behold a few recent favorites:

{**It's a big side.
***in which one runs past not ONE, not TWO, but THREE rabbits in separate front yards in the predawn hours! Obviously this bestows good luck upon the running observer and is a clear indicator of a fine day to come. Rest assured.}

Type: Personal
Purpose: Extending help / control in absentia

Birthday present note from Mom
I love explanatory package notes from my Mom. My repeated favorite is the following post-it, which is reserved for the occasion mailings -- a birthday or holiday package, wherein gifts are carefully packaged in the same space as utilitarian items like dish washing gloves of toothpaste. Post-it on latter items: THIS IS NOT A PRESENT. Let there be no misunderstanding here! Lest the dish washing gloves are tempted to get uppity, this explanation draws the line in the sand. No ribbons for you. But you, recipient: You have special things coming in this box, as well. Don't dismay over the plebian dental cleaner.
In this case, I saw the box note. Hard to miss, as this wrapper exhibits liberal tape usage under all circumstances. However, had I lost my way, the other side had a nice reinforcing message. Curious about the contents, aren't you? I certainly was. It was a lovely, delicate Summer sweater, nestled in tissue paper. I did not see that the unveiling would have been ruined with wrongful box opening, but that just may indicate my own lazy observation.

Type: Personal
Purpose: Providing Context/ control in absentia

"No pitcher"
I recently went to the Potters' Guild sale and was mooning over the work of a favorite ceramicist, Brigitte Lang. I visit her work more than buy it, so I did my usually hovering thing. A handful of  whimsical looking pitcher-type pieces drew me in, as did their emphatic labels: "No pitcher / Vase!"
The visual of bouquets taking on a slanted, asymmetric shape was interesting and I wondered whether that fed into Lang's decision to make the spout outsized.

"Ohhhh, yes. Those were the first spouts I did, but they do not pour well. I did not want people to be disappointed!"

Lovely work, all the same.

Vase (yes, vase) also newer Lang design, flowers courtesy Javier
Type: Public, Religious
Purpose: Community management. Heaven-sending, devil banishment

Javier and I saw this sign in Bay City, during a spiffing bed-and-breakfast weekend (Webster House, love it, love it, if I post pictures will supply link). As a non-exercising heathen, I was simultaneously amused and shamed by lack of (physical) exercise. This was moments before the surprise sighting of Confederate flags lining a few front yards (Javier,"WOW, I feel welcomed!").

Type: Public
Purpose: Post-meal mystification. Pay-the-bill prompt, passing "in bed" heh heh heh reactions.
If you happen to be with Javier, the fortune cookie may spur him to say something along the lines of, "You know the fortune cookie isn't even Chinese, it's Japanese. Someone brought fortune cookies to native Chinese people and they were completely confused, like "pfeh, who would put paper in a cookie?" I assume that reaction was followed by, "...wait.This isn't a *FORTUNE*~~"  I think I saved this fortune b/c it feels ominous. I'm only what's left?  I remember as a teenager thinking about how much we define ourselves in opposition to societal forces (or parents or governing structure or what have you), but in this cookie's Venn diagram, there's no overlap between myself and the rest of humanity? Is this a poor translation of something more useful, or is it possible some actually subscribe? Very odd.

Fascinating fortune cookie research here.

Type: PSA
Purpose: Confidence inspiring. Balm to human suffering
Secondary: Reducing panic in elevators, with small, calming light
New York, New York
Featured in the bank of elevators in the stately Wyndham New York Hotel, this button cheered me each day of my short stay in the NYC (Auto Show). While I understand that the message only applies when lit up, its potential was still bolstering. Please keep in mind, in the midst of your darkest hour, this little white button may suddenly spring to life! You may not realize, and you may not feel it, and true, you may never see that lit-up button* but HELP IS ON THE WAY.   

*Serious design flaw. Can only be viewed inside the elevator. They should have thought that through.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Spring stroll, a little Water Hill

Oh bright, shiny dining room!...or not, but it is, at least, less dark than my study. The table lamp dimmed and gave a minor crackle, followed by a loud *pop* and then extinguished. Disconcerting. It has one of those strange coiled light bulbs that supposedly last forever and a day, but forever came rather quickly and now it needs to cool off for a bit. So how're you? Any tornado sightings? We had a warning in our area, around 4 PM which succeeded in distracting several of us to varying degrees, including our Russian colleague sitting across from me (visiting from one of our other offices), who inquired whether this was a frequent occurrence. Our answers descended into anecdotes that failed to reassure; she arched a single eyebrow at each of us in turn: it's possible that at this point, she has written Michigan off entirely.

Other than that? Not much excitement, though with the relatively sudden warmth (see also: tornado), most of us have emerged and are noodling about a little more...

A right waif, with her little ukelele
I made it to the tail end of Water Hill Festival, a local neighborhood-generated music festival of local talent performing on front lawns. Maybe 40-some acts, crowds of pedestrians with strollers and dogs and some teens and more middling folks, and toddlers swinging about until they fall down. Also, a few cars inching along, with drivers who forgot about all this, muttering to their steering wheels. Beautiful day for it! My first time attending, and sadly, since I headed back from Detroit a bit late (a lovely weekend with Javier), I only caught a couple acts. I had earmarked "Magdalen Fossum" as a past years' favorite on my wee printout, but didn't know much more. She appeared to be young-young-young, but I eventually decided she was probably a super-young looking college student. Nope! She is, in truth, even younger -- 13 or 14.

She has a lovely honeyed voice, with a nice little warble to it, utterly charming. I took a video shot of part of her rendition of Blue Moon, but crowd patter and my own lack of practice don't really do her talents justice. Luckily HuffingtonPost has a great article on her-- listen to  Fossum's version of Imagine here.

a bit of crowd, but a lots more behind us
with requisite drummer. he kept his rhythms quiet, but less so the adolescent who joined him

Another ukelele enters the picture


swoopy roof action

Saxophone action, with the Moaning Frogs
An online blurb about The Moaning Frogs -- a young saxophone septet -- made them out to be goofy fun and they were. When I strolled up, they were in the midst of a dixieland-cum-polka sounding piece. This was followed by America the Beautiful, which nicely sequed into This Land is Your Land...They proudly unveiled a jazz mash-up composed by one of their own of Charles Mingus and Booby Timmins, called Mingus Moanin. A close with the crowd rouser "Hail to the Victors" (University of Michigan sports fans abound) and they called it a day.

Somewhere in between the two acts, I chanced upon a rickety table at the end of the driveway, with a woman and two guys seated behind their wares: drawings, paintings, and glass. The swirly glass "peace pipes" lined the front of the table and were clearly the focus, but I was drawn instead to several small glass eggs. Did they take credit cards, do they have square? Noooooo, they were just TALKING about that, noooo. They alternated between looking bored and hopeful. This wasn't an event with crafts or art outside of the music, so it was more of a my-friend-lies-in-this-house-what-could-it-hurt move on their part. In a few years, who knows what this festival will look like? I am told that the crowds have grown substantially from just the year prior.

The two rightmost -- so sharp and clean!
The glass maker (Gidian Maker) agreed to my sending a check in the mail; and before the week was out a wee box with lots of bubble wrap arrived at my doorstep. And aren't they lovely? An inner voice groused: Yes, yes, very nice, but did you really need them? Don't you have enough stuff? No and yes. A new friend enthused about the house that she and her husband just closed on -- and the experience of walking through the empty rooms, with absolutely nothing in them. Her description almost made me feel wistful. Also a sense of distance: oh, that? that's another country. It's difficult to remember the last time I felt that in relation to a home -- both that sense of pure potential and freedom of space. My living spaces always feel full. Plus, I'm kind of a magpie, my head gets turned, especially by things people have made*.

Modified cartoony crown inside
 {*"and books," Javier would likely say, were he here. But he's currently en route, probably ensconced in some podcast or other. That, or he's already parked out front, but has been sucked into emails or twitter on his iphone. This is not unusual.

Sample texts:
me: Hey what's your ETA? Where are you?
Javier: I'm in your driveway.}

Obviously, the experience of art is not in the buying. But I'd be lying if I didn't admit to an impulse to own. As specious as that is, right?
But in terms of justification, it's an easy sell... rich, an entire world...

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Boy vs. Monster: Boy evolution.

Disclaimer: from a few weeks old. But not expired! No freshness pack, no sell-by date!

Oh-so-thankfully, everything seems to be waking up. WEMU is playing old crackly songs with saucy lyrics (how big are the biscuits, how sweet the honey, whose jelly roll?), tiny birds are plashing about the pseudo swamp of my back yard, and Javier has been plotting out play rehearsals by pacing between bedroom, living room, kitchen; bedroom, living room, kitchen. I picked up my Cakeasaurus picture project again, after a long dormant period.

Have been carving one block, like so:
though now suddenly, with the nice weather, I no longer wish to carve in the basement...
And more, importantly to carrying it forward, I have been playing around with the look of my  little boy character. During the entire length of this project, I have waffled about him. And he's important, so how can I start carving any woodblocks, when he's up in the air? He's too young looking, or too old; or his neck is too twiddly and snappable, his moon eyes too cutesy. So many issues, you have no idea!
initially the middle guy was the ticket. But then again: no.
But I think I'm getting a bit closer.
He has undergone many iterations
 I still like the below version of him in bed, but so far he has not fit into the rest of the images
he's wide awake, when he shouldn't be. Like so many of us.   

Red-handed cake theft, with prior boy character
And now an updated sketch. Aside from a needed ear shift, I'm liking him. His hair is closer to that of Robert Smith's than most young children, but being a former Cure-head, I'm okay with that. (The skinny Staples cashier clerk: "Hey is that your drawing? He looks kind of Anime...") I was surprised to find that having his arms hanging down actually contributed better to a sense of shock then the prior pose of hands raised to partially shield his face.

Well! And so it is: time stops at the moment of discovery, there is a hush; and then a rush forward, as everything catches up.The Sunday, certainly, is rushing forward. The 8th annual FestiFools parade is happening in less than an hour in downtown Ann Arbor ~~

~~ And then Compatriot arrived, we went off to find a parade spot, and life rushed forward, as often happens... Off to work.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Productivity in Sleep | Beware, Snooze Alarmists

"Birds on a Tree," Chris Stiles
The New Year's life overhauling impulse came a few months late this year. It's scattered across several areas, which seems to be a recipe for failure, so to what end, really? But, I suppose it comes down to the establishment of better daily life habits which would, if embraced, coalesce into a new brass penny of a life, with more creativity, more respite, more fitness, and connection. Write your checklists, start your engines: Go!

The last few nights, I have, indeed, managed to get to bed early. Sad that sleep does not automatically follow. I used to sleep easily, nap at the drop of a hat: book tented and fallen askew, sofa warm, the surprise of evening in a moment. No. Yesterday I would get up and write for a good solid hour before work, and arrive at the office already feeling accomplished! Woo, yay me! Or rather, the radio came on at 6 AM, and I hit snooze on my phone for two hours (no trouble sleeping after a snooze alarm, nope, rarely-if-ever).

The snoozefest was richly spent, bouncing between a dream narrative where a stranger took over my life by stealing my cell phone at a bar (13 of his henchman later arrived at my family's house over Christmas, and sat silently in whatever room my family members were in; somehow, their clogging presence announced that life, as I knew it, was over); a helpful sub-dream convinced me I was, in actuality, already awake and busily writing a blog post! (so no worries, good job!); NPR's reporting of the tragic mud slide in Seattle, WA met me when I surfaced, reminding me that if life truly overtook me, it would be more than a lost cell phone and reduced seating options.

This morning, no dream thievery, but again, snooze alarm was well used. From the snoozing --  a smashed, waterlogged camera, and the promise of two parties, one work-related and the other, a sprawling neighborhood affair. This American Life's "Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About" includes dreams among its forbidden number -- but if you agree, you have already abandoned this post, so. That's about it. Hopefully, this is the beginning of incremental changes which will slowly build momentum into a new life...


At left, my unintended splurge after I wandered into one of Ann Arbor's long time galleries, Selo | Shevel, which has been slowly closing over the past couple months.  Hard to not feel vulturey, under those circumstances, nosing around a moribund business; and yet, especially two-thirds of the way through an abominable winter season, it's nice to have that little bloom of potential, something that was out of reach and maybe has come a bit closer. I prefer the series name on one web site, "Ghost Wood Birds," though the ghost part was not echoed by the artist's site. I had walked past versions of these, in Selo | Shevel's always imaginative windows and loved them. This one was perched on a shelf high above the register; I peered at it from behind mostly empty shelves, from varying angles. Like so many of Valerie Mann's bird wall sculptures, the shadows cast were almost as important as the piece itself.

Nice to hear the birds outside, even though it still snows. Comforting and hopeful to have these birds inside, in their bleached bone silence. Birds: porcelain | Wood: manzanita

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Tables Have Ears

Last week had an underwater feel to it. Not drowning, but a bit floaty, discombobulated. Part of it, I'm sure, was due to a small outpatient procedure I had done midway through the week. "You're so *lucky,* they're not putting you under!" Lucky - yes, in that it certainly signals your needs are far from dire, and that bounty can not be overemphasized. During past periods of high-density diagnostics, I was simultaneously panicked/grateful for the the efficient, no-nonsense kindness of hospital people/ and wondering over the fellow patients who clearly had much more to contend with. But really, though I'm slightly less chicken than I used to be, I'm fine with a few dead hours of lost time, to wake up to a brightly delivered, "she's waking up -- You're ALL done! Everything went fine!" But no dice this time around. I was tagged and braceleted and put my clothes in clear, labeled bags; numerous people briskly introduced themselves, asked if the surgeon had talked to me, and then disappeared. A magical warming blanket ($250 line item? $600? not sure about its magic level) was tucked around the edges of the bed. After being asked so many times about the surgeon, I wondered what battery of questions awaited. After an hour or so, a spry, elderly man showed up: "Are *you* the one I'm looking for? I hear you have a *thing*," his gaze slid past my face to the more important body, "and oh you *DO*, we'll take care of that" and then he was off. After that I could respond, that yes, I had spoken with the surgeon.

Soon enough another person was glancing me and the wheeled bed off assorted walls, against unmanned wheel chairs and into the intimidating brightness of the surgery room. More people, more masks, clipboards and beeping. The needles bite more than the advertised "just a few little bee stings!" You angle your head in the direction of the seated woman who is tracking your vitals, though you can't see her in any case. Obviously, she is your lifeline, should nastiness surface; she has professional-grade soothing patter on tap.

Meanwhile, the surgeon and his team are waiting for the anesthetic to take hold; the one who is drumming a riff on your leg is also talking about a 72-hour barbeque pork recipe that is in process at home. "Sign me UP!" says an unseen woman, "So you like to cook, but your wife, doesn't, right? Luuuuucky wife!" It's true, his wife sees it as a hassle, but him? He finds it totally relaxing. And: he just got new toys. A blow torch ("ooOOooo, creme brulee??" the feminine voice coos. No, he clarifies, more for charring meat.) And liquid nitrogen, he'd love to try that out. No one in the room knows what he's talking about. I want to pipe up, "Riiiiiight, like Ferran Adria~~" but then I'd need to lift my head and they don't really want me to move. I also have a nagging sense that it's a mild breach. Their conversation floated above me; I listened to them from beneath layers of sterilized fabric and crinkly paper. It's odd, these scenarios where you're simultaneously a participant and yet somewhat invisible. Stick to the script and all will be well. But maybe this is more reflective of my playing into it? Maybe some sassier, fiercer people are all-personality, even in the surgical round, breaking in, tossing up sarcasm and dark humor: I am not just a patient! To think, though, that many people have that experience every day, through a job, or frequently, as a condition of a society's organization around class or gender or race, is pretty sobering.

{{{Compatriot-specific message! -- don't read the next paragraph. After that, fine. Everyone Else: as you were. }}

This also called up a vivid memory of having oral surgery as a teenager; the surgeon and his assistant were above me, to either side. Between the reflective light and the eyeglasses of those leaning in, I could watch what they were doing. The surgeon was cutting into the roof of my mouth and removing neat glistening rectangles of tissue. It was distressing and mesmerizing. Meanwhile, they were discussing yachts: different sizes, whose they had been on, at what level their owners maintained them. My eyes bounced between their faces, until it grew tiring or stirred panic. Blood, gums, yachts, Summer weekends.

The juxtaposition of mundane conversation with drastic-feeling circumstance was, instead, the so-called luckiness of being awake. It was at once mildly irritating and oddly reassuring: their expertise, their confidence levels were such, that they had to do *something* to help pass the time.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Welcome, Weekend! Plus, a Play Worth Your While

Well, I write this in a state of distraction, because it's Thursday (HOO-ray!), I was, "hmm, Michael Imperioli as a bigamist-with-a-ponytail on Rake?," and then (forgive the hopping), now there's triple lutzing but no twizzles, and I shall be going to bed earlyish, because last night was full of theater and dazzlement and sleeplessness.

But! the theater! If you're Michiganish and are going to see "The Suit" at the Power Center Friday or Saturday night (closes Saturday! best to nail it down now), lucky you! Stripped down stage set (a handful of chairs (brightly colored), a garment rack, a table), four beautiful, talented performers and three wonderful musicians, whose music weaves through the monologues, dialogues. A mournful accordian wonders onstage, a trumpet summons New Orleans, a guitar is nimbly strummed and plucked. Love, betrayal and carefully kept garments, set against the backdrop of later apartheid era South Africa (based on a short story by Can Themba, who wrongly predicted that the beautiful tale would make himself and his wife both rich; it was instead banned, and he eventually died from complications from alcoholism). Sounds heavy, I know. But it is surprisingly light, in its experience. The cruelty, yes, is as fresh, and intimate, as the hope of beauty. But beauty there exists.

****Inside (well, in Sochi), Bolero, beautiful landings, but the legs are getting tired: a triumph for Carolina Kostner of Italy!  Outside: THUNDER SNOW.WHA????. Michigan, we give. we surrender.****

When the female lead, Nonhlanhla Kheswa (playing Matilda), first breaks into song, it was the first-best present of yesterday. She started in Lion King on Broadway at 16, so no wonder, but we (partner-in-crime/Javier) didn't know that. Watch the first video here, for a lovely snippet from the performance. Could she be more beautiful, more composed?  Numerous presents followed. I have seen *so* many fantastic shows since taking up with the ever-so-busy boyfriend last January, but this was definitely close to the top. The story was deceptively simple, as the best stories often are: and the pared down actualization of it had the feel of the best folk tales and story books. Poetic, multi-faceted, true.

But a moment in acknowledgment of the further presents, by no means limited to this highlight: Jordan Barbour, as the friend of our male protagonist, Philomen, sang one of the most unexpected -- and to my mind, best -- renditions of "Strange Fruit." I do not say this lightly. This is a song I never want to hear singers other than Nina Simone or Billie Holiday perform. People overestimate themselves, throw vehemence at an already powerful song, and butcher it. Barbour, however, sang it softly, conversationally; as if encountering it for the first time, but knowing it to be true. I got to speak with him afterwards, and he said this was a song he and Peter Brook have continually gone back and forth on -- he had to pull back from prior training, to sing it simply, to "let the words of the song be the guide." He said they had just, um, intensely discussed it over the past week. And moreover, through their global tour, across all the musical numbers, they vary it constantly: maybe it would be sung a capella, or with trumpet, or, or, or. Such agility, for both the actors and musicians alike.

****Sleep break.*************************************************************************************

So anyway, if you count yourself lucky, you should be in the audience tomorrow or Saturday night. We're more likely to regret what we haven't done, rather than what we have, right? And this includes opening yourselves to these life-giving works of art, whether performance or quietly (/not so quietly) hanging upon a wall.

Visit an official take from the NYTimes here, but maybe if you're going to see this weekend, don't look! SO nice to be more surprised, right? 

Random bonuses:
  • "Meadowland: Stolen Jazz"  Kheswa and her Martians, lovely weekend soundtrack
  • Acting reel for Ivanno Jeremiah, who plays Philomen, to Kheshwa's Matilda
  • Plus his twitter account, not because if short, epic brilliance, but OMG check out his photo backdrop! Scroll down! Period dress or Alice in Wonderland? Please tell me. I'd take it either way. 
Happy Friday, All! Has everything frozen over? Does my snow boulder still block  the foot of my driveway? Are there charts in my near future? Magic 8-Ball says: Yes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Unseasonable Spot of Green

Snowed again last night and from what they say, the polar vortex is coming back around next week. I was all devil-may-care today and wore only one -- ONE --  set of thermals! ...and then huddled resentfully at my desk, glowering at my powerpoints beneath my red knit hatandscarf, because the office was colder on this slightly warmer day. The hatandscarf is nice in that it's kind of like a sweater, but better, wrapped as it is over your dome and covering your ears, cushioning you from the harsher realities of life. Plus it has three pompoms. You needn't tie it beneath your chin. Perhaps you merely loop the long scarf ends across your neck, free to dangle behind, which they will, (clever pompom weighting, also tastefully red); or tie at the nape of one's neck: this is also fine. The hatandscarf* may not lend an air of sophistication, nor convey the often useful Back the fuck OFF, but then again, it may also indicate that you're a little loopy, mildly off-center and so perhaps it's better not to bother you on that score.

*A brief selection of remarks uttered to me in relation to the hatandscarf:
  • "So then we -- could you take that OFF? It's kind of distracting, we're inside now." -- Javier
  • "What the hell kind of papasmurf thing is that on your HEAD?" -- coworker, as if irritated by the hatandscarf's existence, though it by no means impacts his existence.
  • "Maybe the new rule should be that when your coat is off, that comes off, too." -- Javier, who is fond of laying out new game plans.
  • "You know, from across the room, I really didn't have a sense of the *length* of the scarf...It's kind the Lorax, you know they make the *thneeds*, maybe you could get on that ~~"** -- different coworker. **To which one is compelled to reply, "Everyone needs a thneed!" thus immensely improving the work week.
Which all to say, I was first plowed INTO my driveway, before being plowed OUT OF my driveway, the Pennsylvania contingent went without power for a good many days, thank heavens for the astounding Olympians whose amazing strength, dedication and inspiration we bask in from the (relative) warmth of our living rooms; and goodlord bring on the warmth-but-not-the-floods.

Time for a break from (our) reality. This break brought to you by: the Domnican Republic:

If you are hereX, you're standing in front of the remains of the first hospital in America (built 1503-1508)

from across the street it looks something like this
 Atlas Obscura has a little background here. No old beds, no implements to be seen...Only walls and arches, framing sky.
                                             The most fun to be hard is when you walk
                                                       beneath the pigeon archway
A shadow of things to come
                                   the far side of the hospital ruins...

and to your right and above you is a wall, with many nooks
and in each nook, a pretty green parrot.
Aratinga Parakeet? Hispaniola Parrot? Unclear.

Just beyond is another whitewashed church
with a high relief Madonna and child

looking up the hill, with the church to our right. Oddly this felt somewhere between Philly and New Orleans
Notice for the eucharist
white church front with sky blue sky
Madonna behind a grated window
The lit votives and money were below the frame. Deposit here, your hopes and dreams, your wishes for loved ones in epic health battles. Set your worries carefully down, if you can; and may the grace you need find you.