Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Horrible photographs of the last two drawings I worked on (allllll day today) in 2008. Above, all us Baldwin children as we looked every November of our lives, sitting on bleachers together. My mother has taken pictures of us with our (usually rotting) Halloween pumpkins every year, and has courageously allowed me to borrow them for a few months. Below, the epic stain on our kitchen ceiling in Ithaca, created just last week as a result of my father leaving the bathroom sink running while he was taking a shower. While taking a shower yesterday here in San Francisco I started admiring the grey spotting mold on the bathroom ceiling and am considering rendering it into another big drawing to go with this one.

Above all else, I hope that in 2009 I work on projects that I'm excited about, that I produce lots and lots of amazing drawings, that I sleep 8 hours a night, that I have good relationships with my new advisors, that I continue meeting new people and building a community in this city that still feels new. And then above all of those things I will pick up my penwomanship, will be a steward of self-care, and get my mother's fiddle re-strung.

Otters in the dark river

I've been going through old family pictures to get ready for a new drawing, thinking a lot about photographs and home, and when I read this last night I thought it was so lovely:

These are photographs of my children living their lives here too. Many of these pictures are intimate, some are fictious and some are fantastic, but most are of ordinary things every mother has seen-- a wet bed, a bloody nose, candy cigarettes. They dress up, they pout and posture, they paint their bodies, they dive like otters in the dark river.

They have been involved in the creative process since infancy. At times, it is difficult to say who exactly makes the pictures. Some are gifts to me from my children: gifts that come in a moment as fleeting as the touch of an angel's wing...
(***please forgive Sally here and read on)

When the good pictures come, we hope they tell truths, but truths 'told slant' just as Emily Dickinson commanded. We are spinning a story of what it is to grow up. It is a complicated story and sometimes we try to take on grand themes: anger, love, death, sensuality and beauty. But we tell it all without fear and without shame.

-Sally Mann on her own work, in Immediate Family, 1992

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Versus

These two pictures were lucky finds that I got in Portland, lucky because I found them on different days, in different drawers. All of this luckiness led me to have pictures of two sides of baseball game fans. I love all the white sunbrellas, the bored little kids, the deep shadows under the bleachers. In the studio right now, I'm piecing together photographs I took at home and I really like how the cutting and pasting encourages me to deviate from truth. On the drawing I'm doing right now I'm trying to figure out how much information is essential and how much can be omitted. In the pictures above there is no evidence of a baseball game besides the tall metal cage in the middle and the fact that people are sitting in bleachers to watch something-- you can't even see the field. For the drawing I just started, of a kitchen ceiling, I'm trying to figure out if I really need to include the light fixture and the place where the cabinets meet the ceiling, or if I can just let this huge drawing of a ceiling stain speak for itself.

I think (work with me here), that these pictures kind of summarize the editing process I enact when planning a new drawing-- I try to figure out how to illustrate a story without being literal (for example, without showing the baseball field), then I try to imply a tension (the facing bleachers) and figure out how to work with what's left, what kind of rules I want to make for myself, how to make something that's smart and interesting to look at. And let's be honest, I also like these pictures because I think baseball is a great sport, especially baseball in the 30's and 40's, when these pictures were taken. It's a game with so many contradictions-- it's formal with uniforms and rules and dirty with sand and swear-words, it's a slow game with fast-paced punctuative interuptions, it's two teams, but each player is incredibly vulnerable and alone when they're up to bat.

Monday, December 29, 2008

goodbye and hello

Yesterday, after 15 hours of being on airplanes, I finally made it to San Francisco, and it feels good to be back in the studio today. My good friend, Sarah Lipkin, is down here for the week from Portland so I've hit the ground running-- we woke up early(...-ish) and walked to the studio where I started planning a new (HUGE!) drawing of the kitchen ceiling stains from my house in Ithaca. There's a lot to do, a lot to worry about and a lot to be excited about too. And with the new year a mere 90 hours away it's also time to draw 2008 to a close.

I have a tendency to have existential revelations when I'm traveling on airplanes and this past cross-country pilgrimage was no exception. These experiences usually fall into the classification of life questions like, "I wonder, if the plane starts to fall out of the sky, if it would be better to watch it out of the window or to have the window closed instead?" I find planes pretty terrifying-- it's so much metal and skin hurling through the sky at piercing velocity. Arriving at any destination safely is rewarded with an incredible sense of mortal relief! The top picture is Ithaca at the end of the lake, with the inlet running south, the hills rising on all sides. The second picture is the sun setting towards the west on the other side of the plane-- beautiful!

Goodbye Ithaca, goodbye Mom, Dad, Papa, Will and Dennis, goodbye high school friends and Cayuga Lake and gorges and familiar streets, goodbye snow and yellow house on Salem Drive. I stole rags from our family's rag bin-- old scraps of towels, sheets, and memorable pieces of clothing. They seemed really important when I found them, and these are probably the largest volume of stuff I brought back here to San Francisco with me-- when I unpacked last night it was kind of embarrassing to discover I had just carried 10 lbs. of rags with me across the country. I'm reading a book Alice lent me called The Heart Line, a piece of fiction based in San Francisco and written in 1907 right after the big earthquake that knocked the city down. It's all about San Francisco's mediums and spiritualists and ghosts and good-for-nothing tricksters. Last night two characters discussed how San Francisco was a place where anything could happen, things that couldn't happen anywhere else in the world, a good passage to read as I barrel my way into a new year. Hello San Francisco, hello small room, hello graduate school and scrambly streets, hello ocean and fog and Mexican food and apple fritters, hello new friends and unfinished drawings.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

my half-birthday

It's my last day in town and I have got one unfinished drawing to show for the week. But (!!!!) I have so many new ideas and hundreds of photos in my computer ready to be translated into something better. The one drawing I've been working on was the one of all our pets together-- the picture below shows the general layout. Finding the cats was such a debacle, and Dennis and I ran all over the basement to get Spike and Einstein, the brother cats, sons of Missy.

I looked over the checklist I made for this week and found that I had done most of the things. Interestingly, the drawings I was most excited about (based on my parents belongings) are probably going to be put on the shelf for awhile. When I found the broken bowl from Spain that my father glued back together for my mom, I found it dissappointingly small and not really in so many pieces as I elaborate in my rendition of that story. It seems to me I should probably just buy a big old ceramic bowl in San Francisco, smash it into itty bitty pieces and then glue it back together myself. Now that would be interesting.

Let's see, I took pictures of the carvings on the piano, of the huge coffee-colored stains on the kitchen ceiling, of the wallpaper, of the pattern on the china, of the yellow paint peeling off the side of the house. I think all of these things are as epic as the bowl, maybe more embarrassing, which usually means they're more interesting too. We'll see. It's my last night in town and it's 8:00pm and dinner still isn't ready (normal), my mother is horrified at what my brothers are watching on tv, the dog is eating all of the cats' food and I'm waiting for Hannah and Rebekka to pick me up and take me to Purity to get the best icecream in the world, (Bittersweet Chocolate). Oh! And this is important! I'm 24 1/2!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Thirteenth (and final) day of X-mas!


We had a great Christmas today, our latest ever (starting around noon), the least presents ever (pretty much every body got socks, lots and lots of socks), the longest lasting ever (it's 7:00pm, we're all still here, all still in our pajamas, all still waiting for dinner). I've done no drawings at all, but I feel great about it-- I think I was confused over what 'doing research' meant-- if I was trying to pump out drawings, really, I wouldn't be able to fashion up new epic Baldwin stories. That being said, tomorrow I'm drawing all day, taking pictures all day, and then heading to Kinko's with Mom to make photocopies of things I don't trust myself to take to San Francisco.

The top picture is the first ornament our family ever got, about 25 years ago. The second shows the effects of the economic recession on the North Pole.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

two tries

The digital era is constantly confounding me. I learned how to take pictures with a small plastic camera that my father got for free from Time Magazine from sending in some sort of rebate. He bought me film and I ran up and down Grant Avenue taking gray pictures with crazy light leaks. We would drop off the film and pick it up a week later and I would see what happened for 4 bucks a roll. The rule was to try to take the best picture you can the first time.

Since being here in Ithaca I've been taking pictures of friends and keep finding myself working with this same frugality. Sometimes I force myself to loosen up, telling myself that I can edit later... but here's the thing about that-- when I take 10 pictures of someone, they all just sort of start looking the same. And they become less precious. When I take only one picture of someone, it always looks great to me because it's the only one-- I love how their smile is crooked, their mouth is open, their hair sticking out to the side, their hat shadowing their face, their eyes looking somewhere else.

I like this picture because it's two tries at the same shot of Harry, Ginny and Bert. Each one is different and the print admits and celebrates their differences. Harry officiates, Ginny sulks and Bert mediates. When I found this photo there were a couple of other prints like it in the same box, and I thought they were so interesting because they begin to solve the failure of photography to tell the truth. Of course, this is a problematic thing to say, because what does truth even mean? Well, I'm not sure, but I guess that the problem for me is that with digital photography the person carelessly snaps and then edits the pictures down until there are only a few really good looking (read: predictably happy) ones left. And the problem with only taking one picture with an analog camera is that you don't see the moments before and after the picture-- that the person is posing more than they would for a digital snapshot. This diptych has both qualities-- the imperfection of film photography and the implication of time and fluidity of emotion evident film or a digitally shot series.

My grandfather is learning how to use his digital camera and showed my mother and I dozens of pictures this morning of his ladyfriend Mrs. Brain (Madonna) who sadly passed away this September. He hammered me with questions about what it means to be in art school, which made me feel like such a child. I wish that I could show him this blog, but I'm not sure it is manicured enough for approval from his generation. But I like it that way, and I like me this way, unmanicured and imperfect, my mouth open, hair sticking out and eyes looking somewhere else.

Twelfth day of X-mas!

My brothers and I gallivanted about with Papa in tow to stock my parents stockings-- hilarious! It's awesome now that we're older and Christmas isn't so expectational-- maybe I'm just speaking for myself here, but I don't really feel like my parents owe me Christmas presents, a feeling that I guiltily remember having. My mom and I are baking a pie and listening to
Clarence Thomas's "Back Door Santa." While my brothers and I were gone she sneakily baked all the cookies so we would stop eating the dough out of the fridge in the garage. Tomorrow is Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Field Guide to Getting Lost


Adrienne sent me an email yesterday about a book she's reading by Rebecca Solnit called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and I thought it was the loveliest passage. Here I am twiddling my thumbs in Ithaca, sorting through stale boxes, and thinking about what is inside of them, thinking about what is here, what it means to be here and what part of here is part of me and what parts of here I will drag 3,500 miles accross the country to continue thinking about for next semester. And here is Rebecca Solnit saying exactly what I hope to in far less words and far more beautifully.

"When I first began to write, I had been a child for most of my life, and my childhood memories were vivid and potent, the forces that shaped me. Most of them have grown fainter with time, and whenever I write one down, I give it away: it ceases to have the shadowy life of memory and becomes fixed in letters; it ceases to be mine; it loses that mobile unreliability of the live, just as the blouse ceased to be something I recalled being inside and became the garment worn by that unrecognizable toddler in the snapshot when it was handed to me. A person in her twenties has been a child for most of her life, but as time goes by that portion that is childhood becomes smaller and smaller, more and more distant, more and more faded, though they say at the end of life the beginning returns with renewed vividness, as though you had sailed all the way around the world and were going back into the darkness from which you came."

Eleventh day of X-mas!

Yikes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

In my grandmother's clothes


Last year while I was home for Christmas my mother had brought home a pile of my grandmothers old clothes from Long Island and wanted me to try them on. After much haranguing and bribery, I did, and my brother helped me take these pictures. These were clothes my grandmother, Mary Tuite Costich, had worn before meeting and marrying my grandfather, from her days of being a young single secretary in Manhattan. Our family watched Holiday Inn today (a Baldwin/Costich family tradition) and my brother asked during the beginning sequence-- did people really used to go out just to watch two people dance? My mother told him to ask my grandmother about it, who apparently used to go out dancing a lot when she lived in New York in the 1940's. It's fun for me to imagine my grandmother jitterbugging and kicking it old school, especially in the totally dame duds that have now been passed down to me. We did, of course, get rid of most of the clothes, but a few dresses we kept and are hanging in my mothers closet for us to rediscover another year.

Tenth day of X-mas!

I accidentally deleted the picture for today, so this one is going to have to do, a picture I took last year in Ithaca during Christmas. Last night before going to bed I realized that now that my youngest brother, Den-Den, has finally outgrown me, I'm the smallest in our family, the first time since Will was born 20 years ago. I wish I could say I started on the epic to-do list I made a couple of days ago, but I've been mostly comatose under a heap of blankets since getting here, still recovering from my 16-hour pilgrimage. Tonight I have a date with my mom and some photo boxes to try to find a single picture with every single person in our family (all 5 of us, all 4 grandparents) although she has already wagered that one does not exist. I think I would like to make some drawings of these 9 people together, since I comprehend their relationship with one another so proximate which is, of course, an incredibly self-centered and entirely predictable understanding of the geometry of family.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ninth day of X-mas!

After a sleepless red-eye through Philly, several flight delays and then switching onto a plane to Binghamton I am finally home, incredibly tired and surrounded by loveliness. My brother, Dennis, has finally surpassed me in height, and the kitten I saw last time I was home is now a precocious gentlecat. The shower still leaks, the bagels are still impeccably wonderful, the god still barks a lot and it's as cold as a middleschool dance floor. Merry Christmas from David, Denie, Will, Dennis, Missy, Spike, Einstein, Credo, Cisco, Kringle, Chumley and myself.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

the birds and the bees

I spoke to my parents the other day to get ready for a new drawing that I've been thinking about for over a year. My mother sent me a copy of their wedding invitation the summer before last and I thought then (and still do) that it was so lovely-- the insects and flower are my father and mothers graduate dissertation topics respectively. The story goes that after my parents were hitched they went to Latin America to help eachother with field research. They took my fathers collapsible kayak and paddled down a river until the water shallowed so much that the river bed scratched holes in the bottom of the craft and my parents were submarined. They pulled the kayak and all their things to the side of the river and my father hiked barefoot through a field of poison ivy. A sidestory here: when he was a kid, my father had not been allergic to poison ivy, and had been the brunt of many Indiana summer-camp dares to rub it all over his face. Decades later and he had his first allergic reaction, unfortunately, all over his legs, on the bottoms of his feet, and between his toes. Usually when this story is getting told my father emphasizes how horrible and itchy he was, but underscores how he had helped save the day (David Baldwin, family martyr). My mother usually likes to talk about how incredibly unsexy it was, them being on their honeymoon and him being rashy from the mid-thigh down.

I asked my parents for the scientific names of the things they studied since I was having a hard time getting images on my own. There is, as it turns out, an incredible variety of milkweed bugs-- but my father studied Oncopeltus fasciatus solely. For years I've been telling my friends that my mom studied a flower called Silene ecbalium, but on the phone she corrected me, as no such plant exists. Her dissertation was about a plant called Ecbalium elaterium, and then she studied a plant called Silene latifolium when we lived in New Jersey. I had morphed the two (incredibly dissimilar) plants together, which sounds like good premise for a drawing-- what would Silene ecbalium even look like?

Eighth day of X-mas!



Friday, December 19, 2008

coming around third, sliding into home...

and then, while I am there:

-drawing of the mom's bowl that dad glued back together
-rubbings of the pie safe and the upright piano
-find and collect old unsent letters and postcards
-find pictures of entire family (which include all 4 grandparents)
-interview family members
-try to take one picture with all 6 cats and dog
-gather trolls for troll-king drawing
-find the apology letter dad sent from UU church
-find things with stains
-take pictures of ink stains on dad's sweatshirt
-picture of Mr. Popaduik?
-picture of Baba-Gee and Didi-Ma?
-find old journals
-find old books for project: The Super Joke Book, Ferdinand, Watership Down, How a Baby is Born, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Masaii Mara, Diary of Anne Frank, I, Rigoberta Menchu, Dear God, It's Me Margaret, Just So Stories, Edward Doty book, Anatomies...
-go to Pastimes, Ithaca Bakery, Farmers Market, Ludgates, Wegmans
-gather small plastic animals (ask Dennis first)
-check out old family shoes in the garage
-find baseball mit
-get hair cut at Chez Rachetta
-find and connect with Rebekka, Hannah, Rachel, Lauretta, Seth, Lauren, Zachary, Ms Gergely
-walk out to lighthouse, Stewart Park, Cascadilla Boathouse, train tracks
-get sample of forsythia bush
-take pictures of dad's college blanket
-draw mom's rock pick
-start sorting with mom in basement
-watch old family movies
-watch Holiday Inn
-get family recipes (Fig pudding, Mimi's chili, mom's tortilla & cookies, etc...)
-photocopy dad's picture of the giant harp
-the box of mica?
-the tape recording of the sit-in?
-dont forget this! Mimi's handbag!
-interview Papa
-visit Grammy in Center Moriches
-hug parents frequently
-drive around with brothers, get pizza, talk about parents


These pictures are from past homes-- the top one I took of Will when he was about 4 and I was about 9 when we lived in the small green and white house at 10 Grant Avenue, the bottom one is from the tri-color duplex at 520 East Main Street. Today when I was looking at the second picture I saw, for the first time, my father's college blanket hanging off the back of a chair in the background, which was weird because I had just included its discovery in the very long list above. My grandmother, on one of her visits when I was in highschool, rearranged my bedroom without asking and I got very upset with her when I came home. My father didn't know what to do, sympathizing with my feelings but also recognizing that my grandmother was 'just trying to help.' Then he founf that she had put this blanket into the goodwill pile, and all hell broke loose. Total Baldwin family meltdown. Words (not nice ones) were thrown and my grandparents went to a hotel, refusing to let my father drive them to the airport (they were leaving the next day). The funny thing about this part of the story is that they took our car. I dont know how, but somehow we pulled through that one and everyone still loved everyone else. The real point of the story is that you don't mess my fathers plaid wool blanket from college, yet another sacred vessel of Baldwin history.

Seventh day of X-mas!

Well, I don't really have much to say about this one, except that it says on the back that this picture was taken on Christmas Eve, testament to how parents have to work harder at the whole Santa conspiracy once babies turn into kids and start remembering things and asking suspicious questions. Also, I'd like to see that kid stand before we put him on the bicycle. Just saying.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rewind & Remind

I spoke to a highschool boyfriend, Tim Simrell, yesterday on the phone. The last time I saw him was in August-- he and Seth Bernstein called and woke me up and we took a midnight walk together through the cigarette suburbs of Ithaca, NY. I'd been thinking about Tim because of my project and a memory I want to make a drawing about. The winter of my freshman year in college, Tim's grandmother had fallen and hurt her hip and his grandfather was having hard time taking care of himself. The couple had lived in a small cottage at an elderly community called Kendal At Ithaca, and moved into the main building until they were in better health.

When I came home from college during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, Tim and I would go to their small house to feed their huge long-haired cat. On one of these visits I was sitting on the couch and put my hand on some sort of glass orb, which Tim told me to flip over. On the bottom side there was a sticker with his initials: TWS. Years before, his grandmother had given Tim and his sister, Lindsay, sheets of these round stickers on which they were told to write their initials and then put them on everything that they wanted to have someday. Once he told me the story, I started looking on the undersides of objects and furniture and, sure enough, almost everything had a tag with either LMS or TWS written on it.

This was two years before I would lose my first grandparent, and Tim's story may have reminded me of their mortality. I mostly just remember feeling really sad. I have always had a hard time in old folks homes-- when I was little our girlscout troop would go sing Christmas carols at one and I would just cry and cry when we were supposed to shake these old strangers' hands. Six years later and I find myself thinking about that story still and wanting to make a drawing about it. I called Tim to ask him what his sister's middle initial is, and we briefly exchanged talk about Ithaca, mutual friends and plans for Christmas.

When I got off the phone I thought it would be funny to play mixes given to me by Tim, but none of them would play, having been scratched into disuse long ago. It would feel really weird to throw them away-- mix cds have the emotional stature of mix tapes, but once they get scratched they are pretty much the ugliest and most useless things to hold on to. This picture is of the only three I think I have left-- the rest were borrowed by friends, left at old work places or lost at college parties a long time ago. Rough Cut is the first mix cd I was given, and I remember bringing my brothers boombox into my room and playing it over and over again trying to decode its meaning. The Mara Sessions is full of Sim Redmond Band, DMB and Ben Folds Five songs. Rewind and Remind was sent to me at college after we broke up for the first time in October (for about 14 tragic hours). I talked to Adrienne last night about them-- how they're so weird and plastic with their Sharpie-scrawled messy handwriting accross the fronts, and how maybe that makes them perfect subject matter for a drawing, where I get to hold them in the light one more time before finally throwing them away.

Sixth day of X-mas!

For our family, putting out Christmas decorations is pretty much the last thing we do to celebrate besides opening presents-- the Baldwin/Costich family likes to stroll into the holiday at the very last minute. I used to absolutely disapprove my parents seeming lack of care, but now I think it's pretty amazing. Our tree is usually some wonky bargain bin tree bought on Christmas eve-- we turn the patchiest side towards the wall. We forget how to put the tree's trunk in the base every year, and usually wind up tethering it to the curtain rod to extend the lives of our ornaments and cats for when they climb up into it. And, every year, my dad misjudges the height of our living room ceiling, which is now scarred with scrapes from the tree-tops of past Christmases. I love the sound of the tree hitting the ceiling, the climax to lots of family bickering over whether or not it is going to. It's usually this day that the droves of stuffed animals come out, our stockings that Mimi knitted, the ridiculous festive mugs with candy cane handles, the Santa pez, the Christmas music archive-- I mean, I could go on and on and on. How did we get this much Christmas stuff anyways-- we, a family who pretends to forget that Christmas is coming until the last possible day? I pity the families who actually celebrate it "appropriately," starting the day after Thanksgiving-- they must feel anchored to their basement storage with their mountains of Christmas kitsch. Breaking family tradition, I found myself oddly preparing for Christmas today-- I unbashfully sang "Santa Baby" as I biked through the Mission and to my studio this morning, and I'm proud about it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

windows to windows

I had a strange day, and took this picture in Doron's studio, which is the only thing I made today worth looking at.

Read Dali's surrealist lips

I've been doing some research today on false memory and autobiography in order to generate a list of good books to include in my current project. I came accross a whole mess of articles about how Dali, along with so many others, has written a memoir called The Secret Life of Salvador Dali that is absolutely littered with false narratives and permutations of actual events. A lot of press and public opinion reported feelings that Dali was a pretty sick and evil man to have intentionally lied about his life, which I thought was really interesting. I mean, look at the guys paintings-- did they really expect a chronological and dry rendition of autiobiographical events?

According to one article (although, if this project is teaching me anything it is to doubt the sanctity and truth of things that I read) Salvador DalĂ­ once wrote the following, "The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant." Isn't that lovely? Who can hate a man who writes such eloquent things, even if he does make psychedelic paintings?

One of the funniest parts of my readings on Dali was the criticism on his 'feeble attempts to validate his own sexual impotency by attributing them to Freudian analysis of his own childhood.' First of all, it's amusing to me that everyone seems to know that this painter had such a hard time in the sack. Secondly, the story that Dali claims stunted his sexual performance was one describing his father leaving an illustrated medical book on the family piano, open to a page on venereal disease in order to scare his sons' pants on. I understand the critics incredulity, but find their nastiness directed towards Dali totally warranted-- I mean, everyone tries to make sense of their insecurities by evaluating the past through their incredibly selective memories. I think that I started stealing things when I was little because my brother Will was born, but that doesn't mean I was stealing things because he was born-- the two events just coincide, and it makes sense to tell them together. Autobiographies are a weird genre, and, I'll say it, perhaps an impossible one. Maybe autobiographies are the most true for the person who wrote them.

Fifth day of X-mas!

I put this image on the front of the Christmas cards I gave to my co-workers last year. On that very same Kinko's visit I also photocopied some of my drawings to insert in the front and back covers of my CCA application. I want to know, was this really the cutest and most attractive picture these parents had of their child, Shiela Jeanett, age 5? I also want to know the story about that enormous mangy pink carnival poodle. I've been having strange dreams this week-- this morning one in which I was consulting with newborn babies about what they wanted their names to be.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This old thing?

This morning I had this incredibly visual and tactile dream in which I was sitting with a huge pile of every single piece of clothing I once wore. One by one I took them out and told the other person in the room, a kid from Wesleyan named Dan Zolli, the worth of the piece of clothing according to an algorithm founded on emotional and historical importance, whether it could be used to make a quilt or if I knew someone who might want it. If there was a good story or memory, which there usually was, I would reenact it as best I could. I woke up the first time this morning around 9:00am but had this strange half-conscious quasi-dream for another two hours before finally kicking myself out of the warm blanket burrito that is my bed these days. It's been 'freezing' in San Francisco (read: totally reasonable weather in which you have to wear a windbreaker), and I keep having to remind myself what a rude awakening it will be upon arrival to Ithaca, NY unless I quit being such a sissy and buck up.

I got this picture yesterday at The Apartment after hanging out with Kerst and Deanna and going to see Milk at the Castro Theatre. It's a picture of a strange sort of lineup-- a whole bunch of household things laid out. I think it's interesting because you can't really tell if they're coming into their ownership after being received at a bridal shower or something or if they're about to leave their ownership and into a garage sale or charity collection. My mom has implored me a couple of times over the phone to help her start routing through the basement and start getting rid of things. As my dream this morning helps express-- this notion, of getting rid of things, is kind of terrifying for me, especially since I have this new invested interest in looking at them to reinterpret our family's narrative.

Fourth day of X-mas!

Oh god, my brief encounter with the 80's are coming back to me. I remember cracking up when I found this picture in Portland-- this baby seems to know something that we might not even begin comprehend.

Monday, December 15, 2008

teeny tiny pictures

I love small pictures-- really small pictures. Every little bit is so intentional and important. Here at CCA, I've noticed that whenever a photographer is getting critiqued, our peers and teacher are always pushing them to 'go bigger.' I guess I understand this, and in most cases would agree-- but I think that often people employ larger size to compensate for poor composition. The printmaking professor at Wesleyan, David Schorr, once told our class that the easiest way to check one's composition is to hold it in front of a mirror-- if it looks good both ways, then it's good. This theory obviously has more heft in a medium like printmaking where the production process is founded on reversal-- but I think the point of Schorr's adage is that a good composition can look good no matter the direction, size, color, etc. If it's a good picture, it'll look good when it's small too-- after all, the source of photography is traditionally small (the negative) and anyone who has taken darkroom photography knows the skill of looking through rolls and rolls of small rectangles for a gem of a photograph.

My 11th grade English teacher, the fabulous Rebecca Gergely, once had us write short stories that were under 500 words long. Then we edited them to under 200 words. Then 100. The point of the exercise was teaching us how to be intentional, to show the weight of words, the importance of choice, the skill of being allusive. What's the expression? A picture is worth a thousand words? Could I push a new slogan, that a dozen good words can be worth a thousand words? Hmmm.... not as catchy, but maybe you get the idea.

For these small pictures of people, because I can't really tell what their faces look like, I find myself paying more attention to the posture and body language of the figures. In the teeny tiny landscapes I stop searching for the specificity of where that place is and start noticing the formal shapes and emotional undertones. Their smallness invokes a sensitivity in me that I'm less likely to employ when looking at something that is large. Kerst and Deanna told me that at SF MOMA there is a project from the 70's/80's where an artist asked for photographs from peoples wallets, blew them up and printed them huge for the museum context. I'd like to see these and think about how the size aggrandizes or dimishes them, or if it just changes them into something else completely.

Third day of X-mas!

When I was small, there was a fleeting window of time where my parents invested in The Christmas Card as a way to reconnect with all their old friends from grad school. And then there were a few years where we were swamped with cards from these friends and their young families, which were hung up in the kitchen of 520 East Main Street. And then at some point, sadly, we were excommunicated from the Christmas Card Contingent because it had been years since my parents had sent them out. We might get 2 or 3 now, which usually live on the fridge until the summer or whenever they fall off and licked and ripped to shreds by the cats.

I think the problem, at least for us, is that as families get older, the visual element of the Christmas Card becomes harder to obtain: teenagers are unkempt and unsatisfactorily dour, college kids are busy with school, post-college kids are far away. The one family institution that my mother has ritualistically continued is The Pumpkin Picture, always taken the week after Halloween. There are 25 of them now-- the visual progression is marked by the addition of siblings after the first 5 and 10 years, plateaus at three children for another decade, and then in the last 5 pictures begins to dwindle (now it's just Dennis and Credo the dog). I want to start doing some drawing experiments drawing the fronts of photos, probably ones of my own family and as I was laying in bed this morning thinking about what I would do in the studio today I wondered whether a single photograph exists of my entire family (Mom, Dad, Will, Dennis and myself) with both sets of grandparents (Mimi, Papa, Grammy, Grampy). I'm not sure-- this might be a funny project for my mom and I while I'm at home.

Also, I just realized that I started these postings a day too early, which puts me in a ridiculous situation-- there might just have to be 13 days of X-mas this year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

the other side


I finished this drawing today! Well, maybe... I might fill in that hole in the middle, but I have to get more pictures.

Second day of X-mas!

This woman looks like my grandmother, Mimi, but let me tell you, my grandmother would have been quick to rrrrrrrrrrrip her style apart. First of all, the white shoes after Labor Day (unacceptable!), and the unabashed lack of stockings (vulgar!). Next, the forest green Lazy-boy (gauche!), the rose-patterned carpet (tacky!) and the fake white Christmas tree (hideous!). Personally, I love this womans tart body language, especially her crooked little mouth.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On suffering, on volume.

I was reminded of my temporality yesterday when I found out an incredibly kind man named Terry Toedtemeier died, someone who I had briefly worked with while I was in Portland. He was working on the publication of a book of old daguerreotypes made by Mormon photographers during the Gold Rush and mass exodus to the American West, but also worked as the Curator of Photography at the Portland Art Museum and showed his own photographs at PDX gallery and Blue Sky. He collapsed immediately after finishing a lecture in front of 150 people because his heart had stopped.

Once when I was in high school I was sleeping over at Liz Sholtys' house and we started talking about dying. Liz confided in me that she had a feeling she was going to die in her thirties and I felt immediately comforted by this having shared the same prediction for years. I'm not sure if I still think this-- if I do, I'm not anticipating that day with dread like I used to. It would be interesting to talk to Liz about that conversation and see what has changed for her-- our lives have since veered in different and productive directions. Liz opened a home for street children in Pune, India and is raising 12 little whippersnappers as her own. I moved to Portland, worked and lived in a slew of places and now am in San Francisco drawing 40-50 hours a week.

When I was 7 I sometimes would get swept into a panic right before bedtime that I was going to die in my sleep and my parents, probably feeling like them forcing me to go to bed would be like forcing my execution, would let me stay up reading until I wilted on my own. Those hours of me sitting up in bed reading by myself after the rest of the family had gone to bed represent the kind of productivity that I aspire to fill my life with. When I think about someone like Terry Toedtemeier, whose life was so completely rich and full, it reminds me of that potential for my own. What Liz and I are doing is different kinds of preservation-- Liz is enabling kids to grow up safely and make histories of their own, I am fixated on learning about the family that predated me and hope to make images that will start memorable conversations for the people looking at them.

I don't mean this to be a depressing posting, but this whole semester (or really, since I was very small) I've been thinking about my own fear of finality and suffering and still haven't quite figured it out yet. My grandfather woke me up this morning at 8:00am with a long and confusing cellphone call from Indianapolis to tell me he's decided to come to Ithaca for Christmas. I tried to spell my new street name to him for at least 4 minutes before he finally got it: F-O-L-S-O-M. I kept saying things like "you know, like the prison?" to which he would classically respond, "WHAT? I THOUGHT YOU SAID IT WAS AN APARTMENT BUILDING." It will be nice to talk to this grandparent while I am at home, a man who has always been a pretty silent guy, but whose deafness and wisening and suffering has now caused him to be so exuberantly LOUD.

First Day of X-mas!

After a rigorous and totally distracting editing process, this will kick off the first of 12 fabulous Christmas pictures from my photo collection, chosen for their high saturation of x-massy vibes and in anticipation of my 25th on this planet. Our family puts up a Christmas stilllife on top of the piano every year-- but it's comprised less of white angels like the one in the picture and more of carol-singing stuffed animals and Santa trolls.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Those that helped

Today was the last day of my first semester of gradschool. I got here, moved twice, took some classes and made some great drawings. I'm so so thankful to have met such great new friends and would like to give special shout-outs to Georgia, who helped me get settled, to Allison for being sympathetic to my incessant whining, to Anna for helping me get some perspective, and to my mother for being such a devoted fan of this blog and everything I do.

I look forward to next semester and a new slate of advisors and classes. I'm sticking with James Gobel and picking up advising units with Tammy Rae Carland, Kate Moore and Colter Jacobsen. I'm taking Queer Theory with Tina Takemoto, a drawing seminar with Keith Boadwee and a craft-focused Dialogues and Practices class with Allison Smith.

I've been so surprised to hear so many grad students planning on not making any work over the break-- this is not my plan. When I go home I hope to draw the shattered bowl my mother bought in Spain that father pieced back together in New Jersey, do rubbings of the piano that's followed our family for 25 years, look at old family pictures and take new ones. I want to hang out with our 6 cats and overweight terrier, watch White Christmas with my mother, find old friends and make drawings about all these things. I think I'd like to make drawings of myself with all my childhood crushes-- Keith Haring, Roald Dahl, Maculay Culkin, Danny Meagher, Chuck, Owl, and Mr. Popaduik. I'd also like to check out some old family videos (still on VHS!), inspired by my friend Ashley Saks, who has been recreating old family movies for her thesis.

It's been a tough semester but I'm still pumped to be here and think I'm making good work as I continue to push the envelope of what drawing and memory mean to me. I'd like to thank annonymous snapshots, thrift shops, micron pens, this blog and my watercolor set for continuing to always be there.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Notes from Nan

Stories can be rewritten, memory can't. If each picture is a story, then the accumulation of these pictures comes closer to the experience of memory, a story without end.
-Nan Goldin

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

flowers for kerst


December 10, 2008

Today, 11 years ago, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. Here's that story:

In eighth grade I was on the modified swim team with Coach Miller and my best friend Rebekka Grohn. I started losing weight, my hair was falling out, I drank whole gallons of milk with dinner. I think everyone just assumed that I was 'growing.' At Rebekka Grohns 13-year old birthday sleepover, 8 other girls and I ate yardsand yards of Twizzler as we bounced on the first trampoline I had ever bounced on, drank sparkling grape juice and pretended to get drunk in a hot tub, ran yards around the house in our bathing suits and watched Event Horizon until it got too scary and we went to sleep. At some point, probably half way through my 4th coke of the night, a girl named Heather Jarrow remarked on how much I was drinking and told me that when Kelsey Hotchkiss (not present that night) was diagnosed with diabetes she had been drinking a lot too. Kelly McAree told Heather to shut up and that it was her turn to pick a Truth.

So that night I was slumber partied into the corner in the Grohns' dark basement by 8 girls in sleeping bags. Every time I got up to go to the bathroom (we're talking 6, 7 times here) I had to crawl through the blackness over people, and struggle up the modern Finnish stairs, and sneak around Kelpo the golden retreiver to get there, all in a sleepy bladder-bursting delirium. My dad picked me up in the morning and I told him about what Heather Jarrow as we drove down Triphamer Road towards home. He told me not to worry.

So three weeks letter I went to my physical with the cold-handed Dr. Uphoff and it was determined that my blood sugar was abnormally high. I was told to fast that day and the next morning my mom drove me to the hospital to get blood drawn before school. At the end of 1st period with Mrs. Kaplan the intercom requested that I report to the office where my mother was waiting for me. I pretty much knew that I was fucked as I walked the funeral procession to my locker to get my coat. My mom drove me to the doctors office where Dr. Uphoff told me that she was about 99% sure I was diabetic. I was 100% sure I didn't want her or my mother to hug me, but they did, and after they left the room to talk about what needed to happen next I started bawling in the arms of a small boned and wide-eyed nurse. As I left the doctors office one of the cool eighth grade girls named Nikkia Wharton was sitting in the waiting room. I said hello like nothing was wrong and my parents rushed me out the door.

At my house my parents floundered around and tried to help me as I packed a duffel bag in a catatonic state. We weren't sure if I was allowed to eat, but my dad decided I should be able to eat whatever I wanted since I was going to the hospital, so we stopped at the Ithaca Bakery on the way and ate pretty siently, making occasional lopsided jokes.

A nurse at the hospital told me I had two choices: I could learn to give myself shots or she would teach my parents how to give me shots. When you put anything like that to a 13 year old, the decision is pretty easy. I was there for three days and allowed to wear my own clothes. It was actually pretty awesome-- watching movies all day, thinking about my sucker peers sitting in their desks at Dewitt Middle School. My friends visited and brought me cards signed by droves of 8th graders I didn't even know, which was kind of fun. Nikkia Wharton wrote that she wouldn't tell anyone that she saw me crying at the doctors office and Jessica Robertson likened my experience to Stacey, a character from The Babysitters Club.

Eleven years later, I'm still here, still diabetic, and still not that great at it. Sasha and I were going to go to a lecture last night with psychologist Jessica Bernstein(who only meets with Type I diabetics) but I had to miss it because of the horrific traffic coming over the Bay Bridge after work in Oakland. This lady's theory is that telling people that the idea of 'control' is unrealistic for a disease that fluctuates daily. She also believes that suffering makes people stronger. Anna likes this story because of its glazed intensity and thinks I should make a zine about it. We'll see. I picked this picture for today because it's a self portrait from middleschool in our house in Somerville, NJ at 10 Grant Avenue. It was taken in 6th grade and foreshadows the rough patch to come. It's eleven years later and here I am in grad school, in San Francisco, working at the library and getting ready for my last crit of the semester. Last year, for my 10 year anniversary, friends and I celebrated with a dessert party. Today the plan is to do some homebody baking with a new friend. It's been a pretty good day--two people dropping books off told me that I look great this morning.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mean Girls


Today James Gobel asked me, about 20 minutes into our meeting, "Are you a nice person?" to which I replied immediately, "Oh my god, no, not at all." And then, "I mean, what does nice mean?" And then, "I mean, do you think anyone is really nice all the time?"

This has been on my mind today-- this morning I got an email from someone I lived next door to during middle school. She had read my blog and a posting I wrote waaaaaaay back in October about the 7th grade girls in our neighborhood, of which there were many. She apologized for having been hurtful and it was very sweet and made me think about that time when meanness high and self-esteem was low. I was certainly astounded by this meanness last summer at Farm and Wilderness, where even Quaker girls spit fire. My favorite story is one where a 9 year old told the camp director she wanted her to die. They were sitting in a minivan on the first day of camp. After seething for about an hour, her parents huddling outside the car on the dirt road, the kid finally got out of the car, took her swim test and proceeded to have a great 4 weeks.

I'm going home in less than two weeks and have been making lists of things to remember or get while I'm there to bring back to SF for new drawings. Before going to camp this last summer I was going through my old desk drawers to find stationary to bring with me and was confounded by the number of letters and postcards I wrote in grade school but never sent. Some of them are as simple as "Dear Jillian Bittel, The Grand Canyon is awesome!" while others dabble in emotional complexities I can't even begin to describe here. What's interesting about these postcards and letters is that they create performative spaces for the people writing them-- small little stages where words are chosen to direct and shape how someone else will perceive their authors experience.

Certainly this relates to the email I got this morning-- I hope that this girl knows that I've hardly seethed and conspired against her for having not been the nicest to me in middle school. To some degree, I could probably write her an epic thank-you letter-- one day I showed up to school crying after a tragic and lonely walk to school and it was that day that Hannah Kohut asked me if I wanted to sit at her lunch table. My story hit an elbow, changed directions and now here I am.

The email was short but lovely because it basically said, "I'm sorry that girls are mean, and that we were girls, and therefore mean." I'm sure I have droves of these unwritten letters I could and should write-- to ex-friends, ex-partners, ex-coaches, ex-teachers, etc... It's weird and kind of wonderful how virtual communities like The Facebook enable this sort of reconciliation, where one can offer and accept 'friendships' without the danger of mincing words into dramatic pulpy confessions, pleas for repentance or notifications of acceptance. If you're reading this, I invite and implore you to post your own comments, stories, and apologies here. This morning I told James that I think I could write whole encyclopedias of apologies. Guess what he said. "That sounds like a good idea for some drawings...."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

the freakin' weekend

Let me just say that Friday evenings have been my favorite part of being a student at CCA. Dialogues and Practices lets out and students spill out of the studios into the courtyards where all sorts of hilarious gossiping, talking, sharing, and eating happens. Inevitably Conrad and Sean are riding their scooters around, dance parties and art openings are planned and considered. And this is how the weekend begins.

What I'm getting to is that this weekend I didn't really get that much done. Friday night I went to the Dream On! opening at Mission 17 and then the Elbo Room with Maggie, Erika, Hillary and Conrad. Then we headed down Valencia and went to El Rio to meet up with other CCA kids for Klea's birthday. Saturday I spent the whole day coloring a 2" x 7" strip on a new drawing. The. Whole. Day. Last night I met up with Michele and we walked over to Julia and Arielles house for what turned into an embarrasingly 'Wesleyan' party. This morning I slept until I woke up without an alarm clock and then started drawing a new book drawing: The Little House by Mara Baldwin. Then I biked off to see Alice's work at A.Muse gallery (18th and Alabama), and stopped by Community thrift on the way home where I got the goodies scanned in the picture above.

I have two big pre-cut pieces of paper that I'm considering new drawings for. Ideas include one giant tangle of Silene Ecbalium and milkweed bugs (the subjects of my parents dissertations in grad school), the backs of all my smallest school pictures laid out one next to the other and a drawing of all the small random plastic/metal/stone/shell/bone/fiber/wooden bits I've been cllecting for the past two years.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Some books by Mara Baldwin

So I started working on a new series of drawings catapulted into existence by my recent musings on storytelling and stealing. I've decided that if I tell a story, it becomes mine, which doesn't negate it's simultaneous existence as someone elses. So I'm drawing books whose stories I feel have shaped me or that ignite some sort of memory for me-- but I draw them with my name instead of the authors name. It's a little gimmicky, sure, but I like that it's funny, that I'm still drawing objects, but that I'm admitting in the drawing that it's an act appropriation and a construction of truth. Right now I'm working on one that will be called Millions of Cats by Mara Baldwin. I'll draw that joke book I wrote about a few days ago too-- that drawing will be called The Super Joke Book by Mara Baldwin.

Here's where I'm still conflicted: I'm not really sure yet how far it can go-- for example, would a drawing called The Diary of Anne Frank by Mara Baldwin, be interesting or just offensive? I'm not sure. Because surely that book shaped me monumentally when I read it when I was 11, and the reason why it resonated with me is because it is 'just' a diary of a girl. However, because we know what happened to Anne Frank and 6 million others is why an appropriation of it might be offensive. It's an example of how my sameness and my otherness with someone elses story are conflicting. It's complicated.

The Grayandgrey Complaints Choir


Last week while at the Capp Street Coop a group of people were talking about how strangers tend to gravitate towards the same topics of conversation to get to know one another. Emily told me that she read a case study where two groups of strangers were brought together-- one with a conversation where people shared what they liked and the other about what they hated. In a survey, the strangers who had only talked about things they disliked reported that they felt a closeness to one another than the other group reported they had not experienced.

At first, I thought that this seemed kind of strange and sad, but have decided now that it makes a lot of sense why this would have happened. First of all, my relationship with things that I love seems sacred-- so to find out that someone has a common interest would probably dredge up some deep rooted defensive feelings of competition and scarcity. If I find out that someone shares a distaste with me, there is no panic in that at all-- to share a lack of interest is not competitive-- it's solidarity. Today in class Ted Purves played some clips from Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, whose current project collects the pet peeves and angst-ridden pleas from communities, compiles them into songs, and then has local choirs sing them in public venues. You can check them out here http://complaintschoir.org/, and here are two amazing youtube productions:

Helsinki: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATXV3DzKv68
Birmingham: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w84qzHdEms&feature=related

This is a great project because, well, it's hilarious, but more importanly, it bonds communities by showing that individuals are not alone in their discontent. This is totally related to the same sort of yearning that I wrote about a few days ago. I think that this is why most of the memories I share with friends and through my art practice are usually dedicated to moments of disappointment and discontent-- one, because it's funny, and two, because it's such a transparent way of becoming vulnerable and open to people without feeling like you're sacrificing a part of your identity. And certainly it underscores how identity can be shaped through experiences that have not felt right. I feel like my own personal string of romantic relationships and friendships has been a steady progression of me figuring out what kind of person I am and what is right for me. When I discover that a certain kind of relationship doesn't work for me, it's a wealth of information that helps me figure out what might work better next time.

Next Tuesday I'm going to a lecture up in Marin being given by Jessica Bernstein, a psychologist practicing in Oakland who meets exclusively with Type I diabetics. Her lecture, which is sure to be controversial, talks about how the Western medical model of control is unrealistic and emotionally traumatic for people with Type I diabetes, a disease that is not contracted and not treatable-- making it seem like you were kind of arbitrarily hated on by the celestial authorities.

What Bernstein emphasizes, and which I believe, is that the Western medical system teaches people to be fearful of suffering and death, the same way we are taught to fear making mistakes. But I've found that having a livable disease like diabetes or surviving through a terminal prognosis can be incredibly strengthening, in the same way that a mistake can get clarify what a success is, in the same way how people can bond over common dislikes and then use their solidarity to enact change.

If you're interested in this lecture or know someone who might be, you should let me know or pass along the information! Sasha and I will be driving up there and there's space in the car. Here's the information:

Taking “Control” Out of Diabetes
Time: December 9, 2008 from 7pm to 9pm
Location: Mill Valley Community Center
180 Camino Alto Street
Mill Valley, CA

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Creative time

The last posting took me back to this really distinct memory from third grade. Every day in Mrs. Nowak's class we were forced to write creative sorts of things in these journals for 30 minutes. No drawings allowed, only writing. Then we handed them in and got checks, check-plusses, or check-minuses. Long story short, I pretty much thought this was the dumbest thing ever, and the pressure of having to write something creative in under 30 minutes made my pencil sweat in my 8-year old hands. So I started copying jokes out of a joke book, word for word, which I kept hidden in between my lap and the front shelf of my desk.

All was well and good until one week when I wrote a joke deemed 'too mature' by Mrs. Nowak to be credited to a third grader, even to a creative plagiarist like me. My desk was checked during recess and I had a stern-talking-to afterwards, which of course made me hate that 30 minutes of my daily routine even more. It was explained to me that copying jokes out of a joke book was not good use of my creative time, especially if the jokes were about a drunk guy wanting to get with a pretty lady. That same day a boy named Shandu Pointer also got a stern-talking-to for drawing 'his girlfriend' over and over in his journal, a tall stick figure with pointy nipple-less breasts (he showed me later). Take it from me, Mrs Nowak, it doesn't get much more creative than that. There are graduate students here at CCA who only aspire to such mastery.

Q: What can you put in a bucket to make it lighter?

A: A hole.

This is the crotch of some pants I borrowed from Conrad, who borrowed them from his friend, Jeff.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Proud Fifi keep on rolling

Last night I packed up my room and this morning I moved to my new house. Welcome to life in the too-fast lane. Since I had no furniture to put my clothes into, I biked to 1)Salvation Army 2)Community Thrift 3)Thrift Town and then finally 4)Mission Goodwill where I finally found a shelf for all my various and sundry things. I'm exhausted but excited to sleep in my new house tonight. I have a curtain! And an uncreaky bedframe! And hooks to hang things on!

I found this photo (and these two little footprints, printed on small laminated pieces of paper) in a beat up scrapbook at Community Thrift after determining that there was no dresser/shelves for a duffel-bag bound girl like me. I stood in line to pay for it because I was in the mood and when I got to the front this surly dude looked at me like I was crazy when I showed him what I wanted to buy. I reached into my pocket, found a dime, and we decided without words that 10 cents seemed like a pretty good price to settle on for a photograph of a hamster in a ball. The question is, is it Fifi, or Pierre? The back of the photo says 1976, so I'm thinking it might be their great-grandparent. The rest of the scrapbook was full of relatively uninteresting poodle pictures.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

New books

I'm supposed to be writing a paper that contextualizes my artmaking into art historical theory and dialogue. That being said, these are the books I took out from the library today.

Ends justify the Means

So, I've been thinking about stories, my own, other peoples, ones that have been told to me, ones that I forget who told me, ones that I've made up and told, ones that I've never told. I think it's time to do some drawings about stories. I've started doing some really official research into the last page of childrens books (read: I go to libraries and look at the last page of kids books). Sure Robert Olen Butler, a good story may need a yearning main character-- but what about the end? Does the storyteller owe an ending with bravado, come-around, and conclusion? The counter argument to the idea of a story ending is that in real life, stories don't ever really end. But if we could just drop the idea that stories have to mimic and follow the limitations of reality for a second, I wonder what the politics and poetics are when the storyteller approaches the writing or telling of their Last Page of Yearning. That being said, and with no conclusion at all, I bid adieu and leave you with this last page from The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf, a personal favorite about a pacifist bull in Spain. The End.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On yearning

Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain, writes in his book, From Where you Dream, that the most important thing in a short story is that you must have a character that yearns. In entertainment fiction, this may manifest itself in simple terms, such as, I want to solve the crime, I want to sleep with that man or woman, I want wealth, power or to drive a stake through a vampires heart. In literary fiction the yearning is just at a different level of desire: I yearn for self, I yearn for an identity, I yearn for a place in the universe. A good story is propelled by a characters complex desire and need, in the least selfish form, for something intangible and out-of-body.

A Short Short Theory
by Robert Olen Butler

To be brief, it is a short short story and not a prose poem because it has at its center a character who yearns.
Fiction is a temporal art form. Poetry can choose to ignore the passage of time, for there is a clear sense of a poem being an object, composed densely of words, existing in space. This is true even when the length of the line is not an objectifying part of the form, as in a prose poem. And a poem need not overtly concern itself with a human subject. But when you have a human being centrally present in a literary work and you let the line length run on and you turn the page, you are, as they say in a long storytelling tradition, “upon a time.” And as any Buddhist will tell you, a human being (or a “character”) cannot exist for even a few seconds of time on planet Earth without desiring something. Yearning for something, a word I prefer because it suggests the deepest level of desire, where literature strives to go. Fiction is the art form of human yearning, no matter how long or short that work of fiction is.