Monday, May 31, 2010

excitement and lag-time

I have some exciting news:

A story of mine, "The Telescope," is being published in the seventh issue of Sybil's Garage. Sybil's is a very stylish little magazine, and its content tends toward the beautiful and strange (my favourite flavor of things to read!), so I am delighted.

(as in: do a happy jig and slide up and down the hallway in socks, delighted.)

This will be my first publication, and I find myself a little nervous about the whole thing. I wrote the story such a while ago and the lag-time between then and now is a strange sensation. It's like I did a performance nearly two years ago and it's only now that the light and sound of it are reaching the audience. Weird. But cool.

And, a friend of mine, the fabulous Keffy, has a story out in Fantasy Magazine. You should go read it. There's even a nifty little comment box where you can say how you feel about it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

talking to strangers

I used to hate talking to strangers. I used to be that shy girl who walked around people in big, obvious loops rather than face the possibility of having to look someone in the eye and say hello.

The thing is, you can learn amazing things by talking to people you don't know.

My sister and I spent Sunday talking to strangers. We've both been obsessed with the idea of encountering art in the ordinary world. Art should be a part of the ordinary world. Art is a conversation, after all, maybe edited and rarefied, but a conversation about us (me, you, the world) and how can we really engage in it if we only ever go to see it? Museums are fine, fine things. So are theaters. But how much are we missing if we put art in one box and our lives in another?

(Please read Gene Weingarten's excellent article, "Pearls Before Breakfast." It's about Joshua Bell, one of the best violinists in the world, and a Washington, D. C. subway station. It's also about beauty, perspective, and the way we dole out value in our lives.)

We've always liked buskers, and had been wanting to document the objects of our affection while simultaneously finding an excuse to get to know them a bit better. We finally did: BuskerSF.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

it's not original, but sometimes it's true

I (heart) San Francisco.
These fellows set up their tables along Market Street, on the rather unpleasant block between 5th and 6th. It's completely unexpected: a crowd of men playing chess, or watching each other play chess, everyone mostly silent except for the hands that fly out to click a piece down on the board or punch the clock. They seem like they belong in a park instead of next to a busy road where the streetcars trundles past and a homeless man in a safari hat patrols the sidewalk to the sound of Christmas carols spilling from the boombox that he carries in a bag over his shoulder (honest. do you really think I could make that up?).
Ice cream sandwiches at 'wichcraft. Crumbling chocolate. Mint. Gluttonous delight.
The Great American Music Hall is a gorgeous venue. It's red and gilt and decadent with just enough tarnish and grit that it feels like an actual place and not a flimsy set. My sister and I went to see the Evelyn Evelyn show here, and while they (and their alter egos, Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley) were excellent, Sxip Shirey is the one who sneaked up and stole my music-loving heart. I mean, when someone can make wonderful music out of taped together music boxes, harmonicas, a marble in a glass bowl, bicycle bells, pennywhistles, and hand bells, how can that not be magic?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

on reading science

I just finished a very wonderful book. I really mean that. It folded me up inside it, educated me, excited me, exercised my compassion and my wonder. It introduced me to ideas I had never considered and made my world more interesting by filling in the detail in places I hadn't bothered to look. It's also really, really, really well written.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It's by Rebecca Skloot. The history of cell culture, biomedical ethics, and people, in all their messy, brilliant, and ordinary glory. Oh man, but reading a good book can make me so incredibly happy!

I've been addicted to reading about science. It's a recently discovered pleasure. Several months ago, I had a conversation about taxonomy that lodged in my head and set off sparklers of delighted recognition. Here were so many of those things that I obsess over in dancing and writing -- perception, relationships, the understanding of things not ourselves -- but approached from another direction entirely. It was like studying a gorgeous sculpture for years, memorizing every minute detail of it, and only just realizing that you could walk around to the other side.

The particular of science is seductive. The astonishing and exact details that make the world more interesting to experience. The crazy beautiful shift from vague to precisely textured. There is no practical reason for why someone like me needs to know about telomeres or FISH, but learning about them is either like peeling off the surface of the world, or piling it up with layer over layer of intimate wonder, I can't decide which.

(Reading I've liked aside from the Henrietta Lacks book: Genome by Matt Ridley, Creation Revisited by Peter Atkins, The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat by Oliver Sacks.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

call me: exhibitionist

There are a whole bunch of reasons for why Hans Christian Andersen got it both uncomfortably right and incredibly wrong when he wrote up a story about red shoes. Right now, I want to consider this:

Have you ever said to someone, please, undress me? Turn me inside out. Look me in the eye for longer than is polite, or comfortable, or safe. Let's unfold those honest linens, the ones in the dusty chests piled under manners, niceties, the sheen of everyday. Diminish the distance to none. Let's have you be me and me be you, and we'll watch each other while we reach into this bag of shadows and pull out: a toad, a pebble, a long afternoon.

Put another way...

It's really difficult to lie and dance well. You're trying to say something without words, which are somehow easier because meaning doesn't have as much space to rattle around in when it's confined by words. It can't drift off, can't evoke quite as many unintended echoes. You can limit how much people see with words. Dancing well (at least, my current definition of well) is much more like inviting someone to see a clumsily edited montage of your entire life. You've done the best you can, but rogue fragments keep finding their way into the stream. They tell more than what you meant, though you're not sure how much. Your only defense is that the audience, the person with whom you're having this conversation, is (with any luck) being struck by astonishments of his own. Recognition and memory and all those things that make us feel anything when we experience some art, when we look at the (metaphorical) inside of another human being.

I can't get enough of this, on either end. It's a pleasure and a thrill. It's as much fun as running around in the rain, singing "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" at full blown, ridiculous volume. Trust me, I know.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"please love me"

In a corner, a woman dances. She is all lush curves with hard edges that slice through at unexpected moments. Meanwhile, another woman stares at you. "Fuck you," she says. She says it again, and again. She repeats it in permutations that drive themselves, quite skillfully, from a statement to a scream. Two women wrestle, and it is difficult to tell whether they are fighting or holding each other up. A man tells stories, just a fragment of each. A man undresses himself and dances with a woman, and it is such a magnified portrait of intimacy that it reduces everything else in the room to an almost suffocating hush.

On Wednesday, I went to the world premiere of "Please Love Me." The artists responsible for the evening are all people who I know and like and whose work I admire to the utmost. They are: Alex Ketley (choreographer), Les Stuck (musician/video artist), Christian Burns, Andrea Basile, Joy Prendergast, Kara Davis, and Malinda Lavelle (dancers, all). The project is partly an attempt to detach dance performance from its usual setting in a theater and wholly an examination of honesty and emotion. It provokes. It's not the kind of thing that you can settle back and just look at. It doesn't hand you a tidy list of rebus-like meanings. It demands that you converse with it, that you respond, that you see things through a lens of your own making -- everything filtered by your own emotions and your own history.

There were things that didn't work for me. For a piece that is meant to be mobile and seen out in the world as opposed to in the confines of a theater, I thought it was oddly sealed off from its surroundings. The particular space (a gorgeous room with black ceilings, pale walls, and narrow pillars) seemed to have no effect. Much of the movement was oriented toward a single "front," so certain things -- gestures, facial expressions -- made me feel like I was being left out.
But, mostly, it addressed things that I am mad about and crazy for. It moved dance, an art form that can be so refined and abstracted, toward a refreshing level of the human and mundane. "The meaning of life," says Kafka, "is that it ends." Isn't that cheerful? But if that's the case, shouldn't art rip you open? Shouldn't it ask you to feel something other than placid admiration? It should give you depth, since there's nothing it can do about length.

(if you want to go see this, and you really should, future performances are listed at the website)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

april reading

Notes on a Scandal
by: Zoe Heller

Incredibly disturbing. That's pretty much my reaction to this vastly intelligent, extremely wicked book. It's sordid (though not quite in the way I expected), and it creeps around inside your head, taking out embarrassing things that you're almost certain you hid away in a drawer. Oh, and it's also really, really well done. It's told from the point of view of an older woman, a lonely teacher who imagines that she is recording -- honestly, faithfully -- the facts of a devastating scandal. Except that the deeper I fell into her story, the less I trusted her. She began to frighten, horrify, disgust. All of the virtue she presents begins to peel away, and still I balance on this razor of sympathy, quite sure that I'm not getting the whole story, but almost believing her anyway.

A Conspiracy of Kings
by: Megan Whalen Turner

The fourth book in a series for young adults. I'd like to call it pseudo-history, or pseudo-fantasy, except that sounds insulting and I think these books are incredibly well done. I normally find books about battles and political maneuvering dull, dull, dull. Reading about sword fights is something that I loved as a teenager (had a brief obsession with swashbuckling, induced by an overindulgence in Dumas), but now leaves me cold. These books make me want to read about made up politics, made up history, and made up battles, and they do it with clear, workman prose. They do it by playing a card that normally makes me want to strangle the writer, but they are so good at it that I enjoy the game: the characters tell you the story, but they deliberately keep you in the dark. I don't know how she does it.

The God of the Hive
by: Laurie R. King

My very favourite mystery series is about Sherlock Holmes and his wife. The first book (The Beekeeper's Apprentice) is a gorgeous, delicious slice of brilliance. The following books are all fun romps, really well put together puzzles that don't disappoint when you get to the end--the nicest kind of story for reading in bed. This one was unusually fractured, and unusual in that it took away the usual thrill of a murder mystery by giving up its villain very early. By sacrificing that, the book is able to offer the excitement of watching a story burn up from both ends. All those horror movie conventions of yelling at someone to not go into that dark room apply.

Fight Club

by: Chuck Palahniuk

OK, so you must know how the movie adaptation blows your mind. It does it so very cheerfully and baldly that you start to feel bad for your own misguided expectation of conventional reality. Sorry, you say. I should've known. At least, that's how I felt the first time I saw it. The book is much the same. Except that you're seeing it from inside, so the shuddering of reality is much more claustrophobic because you've been building up the world inside your head and then -- wham!-- you've got it all wrong and turned inside out, and that dizzy feeling that comes from looking at one of those optical illusion pictures, right at the moment when it turns from "An Old Woman With an Enormous Nose" to "A Young Woman Looking Over Her Shoulder," jumps up and down on you with entirely unsympathetic glee.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

round and round and round

You know how a song gets stuck in your head and you catch yourself singing it in the shower, in the car, while standing in line, while waiting to fall asleep, while listening to something else and wishing you could hear it over the repetitive insistence that has infected your brain? Well, I've got two lines laying siege to my brain.

My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow.

This is not even a song. I can't even blame a catchy tune. My brain won't let it go though; it's an idea made for wallowing in. Something gnarled and wonderful and insidious spreading hidden in the dark. I think of parasitic, paradisaical tubers.

I am contemplating a trip to Europe in the summer.

And also a trip to Mendocino to see the pygmy forest.

Or maybe I shall pack my car full of swimsuits and sun dresses and drive to Mexico, or stuff my trunk with hiking gear and go up to Canada.

I believe the onset of warm weather ignites wanderlust.