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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Give and take

Last week after dinner with new friends Emily and Kendra I was talking about my recent epiphanies about storytelling and the project I'm working on. Kendra told me about how once she was in the middle of telling a personal story to a group of people when one of her friends interrupted and informed Kendra that the story had actually happened to her (the friend). I hadn't thought of that scenario and what it would feel like for me to hear someone tell one of my stories. It most certainly would feel stolen, and I'd probably feel pretty bummed, especially if it was a good/important one. It's romantic to feel like all my experiences are innately unique and and that they belong to me.

I think that this is a tricky balance to consider-- to make sure that when I'm telling stories I'm not appropriating them greedily. I think that this can be avoided by really considering the emotions and details of the story, consuming them completely, ruminating over them, and then creating something new from them. I think there will always be problems for authors figuring out what it means to be an author. Last week in Art History we talked about whether it could ever be possible for a person to make art about an identity that is not their own-- for example, could a white man make art like Kara Walkers and it still mean the same thing?

I used to ask my tours similar questions back when I was working at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I would invite visitors to guess the gender of the artist for a selected piece. I'd say that generally if something was pastel-colored, textile or a small drawing it was assumed to be made by a woman, if it was a female nude, made of metal or a large painting it was assumed to be made by a man. We'd analyze the piece assuming that the guessed gender was correct, totally picking it apart. Then I would tell them that the piece was made by an artist of the opposite gender from what they had guessed (which meant that sometimes I lied-- but, whatever), and we would reconsider the piece with a new gendered lens. And then finally I would confirm whatever 'the truth' was, some people would always gasp in shock, some would just sort of tilt their heads and look at it one more time saying nothing, and then we would move on to something else. It was an interesting exercise because it opened up the can of what a woman could make vs. what a man could, showed that artists of either gender are equally bodied and talented, but most importantly, that the interpretation of a piece changed so wildly when considered made by one gender vs. another.

I read in a book called Memory and the Museum that the things people remember about what they see in a museum is not what's on the label, it's the personal reference that was drawn up from seeing it. For example, the the photograph resembled someones aunt, that a sculpture was ugly because of it being a color that the viewer hated, that a certain painting would look just fabulous over the viewers dining room table, etc.. I have a big critique this week for Dialogues and Practices this week and think that I will read my artist statement and then just ask my peers to tell me what they gravitate towards and why. Of course, my own stories are the propeller behind why I make my drawings, but I wont always be around, and it is my greatest hope that the images I'm making are vulnerable and accessible enough for people to look at them and get something out of them without having heard me say a word.

And of course, this necessary procedure of taking a story, making it your own, and then giving it to someone else is exactly the same procedure I'm replicating by taking an object, straying from its particularities by drawings and abstracting it and then showing it to someone else to see what they make of it. Just as I look at objects for clues of previous ownership, people will look at my drawings and make conclusions about me. I think that even if I am making a drawing from someone elses objects or stories, that by the time someone else is looking at my drawing of it, it will have become something else. So I think the answer to the question is no, a white man can not make a Kara Walker piece, a white man can make a piece that looks like a Kara Walker piece but is ultimately a white man piece. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My name is Mara Baldwin and this is how my conscience was born.

When I was 12 our family moved from urban New Jersey to picturesque upstate New York and I was able to rewrite my past for a new audience of highly critical upper middle class peers. These stories included amazing exciting things I did, elaborated on how intelligent my parents were and described with intensity any brush with fame or historical celebrity I could make up. In eighth grade I told my teachers that all my relatives were direct descendants from indentured servants on the Mayflower, which, of course, is only partly true-- I am every bit of European mutt as the next kid in the Ithaca public school system.

At some point it became clear to me that as the eldest child, the eldest grandchild, and the daughter of two parents whose personalities fixate on preservation and documentation of the past, it was my responsibility and duty to record our memories and hold them in the light. However, those histories are subject to permutation. Someone told me that it was recorded through case study and observation that the more times a person told a story, the more it changed. For example, if an individual was told a story they could repeat it more accurately a week later when asked to recount the details than they could if asked to tell the story after a week of recounting the story multiple times every day. Because when we tell stories we achieve authorship-- facts change, things are embellished or omitted-- the memory becomes less vulnerable and more performative.

There's one story in particular that I've been telling people since arriving in Ithaca 12 years ago. At some point I told so many people that I kind of forget that it wasn't true. But at this point, more people know that that memory occurred, than people that know that memory did not occur-- it has been proactively encrypted into the memories of all my friends who know that this thing happened to me. I just moved to San Francisco 3 months ago, and recently was interviewing with potential housemates, looking for a new place to live. At one of these interviews, I found myself telling this story, and realized how funny it was that I was telling it again, to a new community of people, in a place where no one knows me, and again, where I can completely rewrite who I am, who I was and who I'd like to be.

When I think about the process of telling people 'the truth'-- that this particular memory didn't really happen to me, I know that people would take it personally, feel hurt that I lied to them and maybe lose trust in the validity of my future stories. That's why I'm choosing not to out myself on the internet-- it feels like a more personal confession than that. I've been thinking about this hurt I could make people feel and how it relates to the coming out story-- how people can feel hurt to learn that a person is 'different' than how they seemed before. I think about this and how I never told my grandmother, Mimi, that I was queer, how I didn't tell my dad until 3 years after I told my mom. I wonder if I 'owed' it to them earlier and if telling selective truths/details about my love-life was the same thing as lying.

The problem is that gender is performative-- it's a kind of storytelling. We wake up every morning and put it on in one way or another to tell people visually, with our dress, body, and body language, not only who we are, but who we were and who we want to be. I've decided that I'm not convinced that I've ever lied about who I am, even in the act of telling a story about myself that isn't true, even in my attempts to 'pass' as an identity that I am not. Identity and memory are not factual, they're fluid. This is why I can feel acclivity to objects that aren't mine, to pictures that are not of me, to stories that are not my own. I think this is why people can fight for human rights even if they don't know what it feels like for their own to be in danger, why straight people should defend the rights of gays to marry, why a white middle-class girl can draw pictures of things she doesn't own to illustrate memories she hasn't had.

In 9th grade I read Rigoberta Menchu's book, I, Rigoberta Menchu. The book was written and published just before I was born, in 1982/1983 and Rigoberta Menchu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 at the ripe old age of 33 for its publication and her uncovering of human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces during the country's Civil War that lasted from 1960 to 1996.

More than a decade after the publication of I, Rigoberta Menchú, anthropologist David Scholl conducted a thorough investigation of Menchú's story for his 1999 book Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. While Stoll confirmed that Menchú grew up in a Mayan peasant village, which was visited by Marxist guerrillas and then attacked by the Guatemalan army, he also discovered that Menchú changed many elements of her life, family and village to meet the publicity needs of the guerrilla movement, which she joined as a political cadre after her parents were assassinated.

In the book, Menchú maintained that her family was actively involved in fighting against their subjugation by wealthy Guatemalans of European descent and the Guatemalan government. She also claimed that her father, Vicente Menchú, had founded the peasant movement known as the Committee for Campesino Unity. Instead, while poor, it was uncovered that her father and family was relatively prosperous by local Mayan standards. During the late 1970s, when Vicente Menchú's daughter claimed that he was an underground radical political organizer, he was at home in his village of Chimel working with U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.

In her 1982 life story, Menchú claimed that she and her family had been forced to work as peons on a distant coastal plantation for eight months of the year, as millions of other impoverished Mayan farmworkers continue to do every year. According to neighbors, however, the family was sufficiently well-off to avoid this fate. Menchú also claimed that her father refused to allow her to attend school, on the grounds that it would turn her into a non-indigenous "ladino" who would forget her Mayan roots, but in reality, Catholic nuns supported her in a succession of schools until she reached the 8th grade.

In one episode in her 1982 story, Menchú claimed that her younger brother Petrocinio had been burned alive by Guatemala's military as she and her family were forced to watch in a town plaza. After interviewing local townspeople and reviewing contemporary human rights reports, Stoll concluded that Petrocinio was shot by Army-supported paramilitary groups, rather than burned to death and that Menchú and her family had not witnessed his death. However, Stoll argues that her 1983 story is not a hoax. The reason is that she in fact lost both her parents, two brothers, a sister-in-law and three nieces and nephews to the Guatemalan security forces.

In response to Stoll's findings, Menchú initially accused him of defending the Guatemalan military and seeking to discredit all victims of the violence, but later she acknowledged making certain changes in her story. The Nobel Committee has dismissed calls to revoke her Nobel prize because of the reported falsifications; however, Professor Geir Lundestad, the secretary of the Committee, said her prize "was not based exclusively or primarily on the autobiography". According to the Nobel Committee, "Stoll approves of her Nobel prize and has no question about the picture of army atrocities which she presents. He says that her purpose in telling her story the way she did 'enabled her to focus international condemnation on an institution that deserved it, the Guatemalan army.'"

When the book was first published, it was titled, "Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia," which translates to My Name is Rigoberta Menchú and this is how my Conscience was Born. I like this title for an autobiography because it admits that the personal story is just a prop for a larger dialogue. This is how I feel about the drawings I'm doing right now. I tell stories because they open me up to other people, and in my vulnerability, it becomes easier for me to talk to other people, for them to listen, for them to talk back to me. Our lies turn into dialogues which turn into memories.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Today I finally got my act together and hit the As-Is Goodwill at Mission and 11th. It's not the Portland Bins, for sure, but it has got its own set of rules which I found totally amazing. The section of warehouse is set up with about 20 bins, each about 7 feet tall with one half-open side, and 5 by 4 feet width and girth-wise. When I first got there, it was about helf-past, and I thought it was kind of weird how there were about 30 people there, just kind of waiting along the perimeter of the space. A small girl was sleeping in a makeshift bed of bathrobes and blankets, and each person was sitting on, perusing through or hunched their own mound of assorted clothes and fabrics.

After about 10 minutes of sorting and sifting, a worker came up to me and told me that I had to put everything back into the bin because a 'changeover' was about to happen. Then an army of staff turned all the bins on their wheels to face the gate so people couldn't take things out of them anymore, and then rolled them away. New bins were wheeled in, but curiously still, everyone was pretty motionless and just kind of waiting around, not even browsing at the visible contents of each bin as they were rolled in. It seemed strange to me, having been seasoned by the cutthroat behaviour displayed at the Goodwill outlet in Portland. When all the new bins were rolled in, a man came around and started yelling names out as he pointed to each bin. It was then that I realized that there were clearly rules that I didn't know, so I stepped aside and asked a few bystanders how it worked.

About every hour, from 7am to 3pm, names are called off a clipboard kept at the front desk in order of their listing and each person is assigned an unsorted bin. Those people ordain over the contents of their assigned bin, and no one can encroach upon it's contents until its overseer discards what they don't want onto the floor, at which point it's free reign. I was initially sad that I didn't get a bin-- it seemd like such a status symbol and I self-identify as somewhat of a thrift-queen. It felt strange to be demoted to foreigner status in a place that felt like my own turf. But going through the discard piles was really exciting too-- I felt like some sort of Radical Salvage Fairy, flitting about mounds of unwanted things.

I had gone to find stains, the more atrocious the better, having realized that very little of my clothing had stains woth rendering into drawings. What this proves is that I'm good at not dropping food onto my lap, but bad at not getting my pants caught in my bike gears-- my clothes may be unstained, but they are tattered and torn into rags. I left the As-Is Goodwill with a backpack full of lace and doilies, hankerchiefs, fur collars, scarves and little bundles of kids socks for 5 bucks. This picture is from one of the better stained things I found-- a great big blue stain, and some smaller crusty brownish/orange ones. I got to the studio at 7 this morning, took a break for the excursion described above, and drew sweatshirt fabric all afternoon for a new drawing about my dad. I had a few epiphanies about my project when I met with Allison today, but I'm too tired to geek out about them right now, so tomorrow, tomorrow, my friends.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lost not found.

How do you draw something that is lost? This is what I worked on figuring out today-- I made these drawings in the library during my shift. The glove I used for this drawing I found on Appleton during my bike ride to school. James came and met me in my studio today and we talked about the object I drew over the last few days and how they might be too easy. I agree, but I'm glad I made them because it was starting to feel too hard to just jump to the fourth step without some preliminary tip-toeing first. I unrolled some big paper today and hope to start something amazing.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I have the aquiline Costich nose, the Costich fingernails and am starting to get the Costich strawberry-colored moles too.  When Mimi was alive, she was very good at observing how my genetic composition was faring me.  Of course, after she died my family members started telling me that I looked very 'Wiseheart', that I was the spitting image of Mimi, and that I had always been her favorite grandchild for all of these reasons.

Everyone knows it to be true-- that we grow up and start unconsciously exhibiting the same behaviors and bodies as our parents.  I think about this a lot with this project I'm working on right now, because it was during and after grad school that my parents started raising me, and for the first time I feel like I can put my experience into a different perspective.  

The drawings I'm working on are object-based, but hardly nostalgic.  I'm drawing objects that conjure stories of how I learned about the feeling of disappointment when I was small-- how I disappointed my parents, how they disappointed me, how we were disappointed by our circumstances of being overworked and tired in urban/suburban New Jersey.  And I think these moments have shaped me monumentally.  When something disappoints me, sometimes I get terse, tight-lipped and stonily silent like my mother and other times I sputter and explode, wide-eyed like my father.  I don't think it is any coincidence that I started stealing things when I was 4 or 5 years old (I remember the first, a small glass bear from the elderly mother of one of my dad's friends, the second, a toy from Danny Meagher's house) around the same time my brother, Will, was born and when it started mattering that our family didn't have any money. 

Of course, when I look at pictures of when I was small I can see both things-- our desperation and our aspiration.  I like this picture because their family-ness is undeniable, but knowing how different my brothers and I are, I like to question all of the potential pursuits these people faced once they left their red-headed home.  I think I might start redistributing my photo collection or my own family photos back into thrift stores with stories (maybe fictional, maybe not) written on the backs.  

Saturday, November 22, 2008

No money, no matter.

A present from home came in the mail yesterday (to understand this picture, you should read my post called "Food, glorious food" from November 11th). I drew this today for a new series of drawings I'm working on.

My mom describes the first two years I was alive, while my parents were still in gradschool, as "We had no money, but it didn't matter yet." This is a lot like how my life is right now- and my brief flirtations with economic crisis remind me that the real world cannot be staved off long enough!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Last night a bunch of grad students packed into my car and we drove to Lake Merritt in Oakland for a dinner party at Linda Geary's house. Linda is the first person I really met from CCA to talk about my work, at a portfolio day in San Francisco last November. I had just started dating Randi and had gotten a week off from work to drive down. Jeanine and Candice helped me get my portfolio together, and I was feeling pretty sharp. I woke up the morning I was to drive down and couldn't turn my head without intense pain. I drove to the emergency room (haphazardly, since I couldn't turn my head) where they diagnosed me with a pinched nerve. They gave me Valium and Codeine and Vicodin and all sorts of numbers and I went home and slept for a day. I drove down to SF with an ice pack on my neck and shoulder and slept in my car in Lady Bird Johnson Sequoia Park. Or tried to-- the intense total blackness eventually got me to drive back down the mountain and I slept until the morning parked on the side of the highway next to a veterans lodge. Eventually I got down to SF, and you can probably guess the rest from there-- I met with Linda, saw the school and liked it. Now I'm here.

At Linda's house I re-met Larry Rinder, who curated a show I installed at Liz Leach's gallery in Portland. I was also introduced to an SF artist named Colter Jacobsen, who draws photographs once while looking at them, and then again from memory. Linda suggested I do an advising unit with him next semester, so I'm going to look into it and see if it's not too late to change around my schedule. I think the way Colter is drawing is similar to mine, but simplified-- which I really appreciate. Maybe I've got to make some more rules for myself to try to make all these projects more coherent. That's at least one argument of what I should do. The other one, of course the opposite, is just to do whatever the hell I want and figure out the whys later. Meh. I'm kind of into either idea and both-- everything's feeling sort of melty these days.

rough draft, first draft, scond draft

artist statement draft, november 2008

The objects in our lives shape who we are as we gather them into order and give them purpose. My work responds to this relationship between people and the things they own, how objects define a person's life experience and how they are in turn given value by the purpose they serve within that lifestyle. My role as an artist is as a storyteller: I use found and gathered objects as props to weave together narratives behind them and unveil the hidden social contexts behind their meaning.

I use drawing as a medium because it allows for the emotional capacity of memory without the tangibility of sculpture or verisimilitude of photography. Drawings have the potential to present a complex truth about their nature more vividly than the objects themselves because the medium admits the artist's head and hand. I draw on blank paper, with no context, in order to admit that the drawing is a drawing and to stage a conversation about the object as it is and not in relation to other things. Working in series affords me the same flexibility as oral storytelling because it allows me to consider different interpretations of the same idea.

My fixation onto objects with history compensates a disconnection I feel to my own. Loneliness and mortality are catalysts that inform what objects I choose to render and how I manipulate their rendering. By drawing objects I invite interrogation of what is missing. It is this dichotomy, of objects that exist only in the simultaneous absence and presence of another, such as holes, tears, fading, stains and wear that it the connective thread between all my work. This dichotomy also reflects my understanding of identity-- that we are equally shaped by all the things we are as all the things that we are not. In this same way, stories are told with intentional omissions, choice implies the possibility of multiple truths, and one of my drawings exists only in contrast to the shape of white paper around it. Evidence and existence are dependent upon the ability to be lost or absent.

Tight bundles

I'm thinking about doing some drawings like this scanned photo of the re-packaged bundles put together at Community Thrift. I got this one weeks ago, but haven't opened it up yet because I like how it looks so much. Since finishing that friendship bracelet drawing I've been working on this grahite drawings of plants growing around a monument (without the monument) and it's taking forever and getting graphite all over everything. So of course this means I'm constantly trying to think of other projects to be working on, as if I don't have enough half-finished ones to comlete already.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My soul is just a whisper inside of a tornado

So I took the plunge and committed to a new house, which I'll move into on December 1st. I'm getting pumped for living in a new place, in the Mission, and more in the thick of things. Genevieve is coming down here tomorrow from Portland and it'll be fun to do a little show-and-tell around the city, gossip about mutual friends and see her again after the 6 months since last being in the same place.

I've been working on this zine about all the places I lived in Portland and have been thinking about that really exciting head-space I go when I'm about to start over or try something new. It's exciting because it's fraught with potential and anxiety. It's been great with Timber and Pam in Bernal Heights, but it's time to try a new place and feel like I'm still choosing to be there instead of sticking around because it's familiar.

I met with Glen on Monday and we talked about this new artist statement that I just wrote and all the things it's accomplishing, confusing, overstating, and missing out on entirely. It's hard to summarize a body of work that has departed like a cancer from an original idea. It's hardly isolate anymore. Some of my drawings are about family history, some are completely autobiographical memory, some investigate the social construction of memory, some are renderings of what exists, some are rendered inferences of things that are missing.

I'm figuring out, more and more everyday, that authorship and ownership are diffused in the context of the world. How, when I walk into a thriftshop or garage sale there is an overwhelming sense of familiarity even if I don't know the people, what the things are, or care to invest in them. Having grown up, and up and up and up, and with two younger brothers, I have seen things that were once so entirely mine become so completely not mine and someone elses. Everything from Iowa, New Jersey, Ithaca, Middletown, Boston and Portland has the potential to be in someone elses home and, I suppose, has the potential to find me again in San Francisco.

If the thread of my work is the concept of positive and negative space, in that existence is directly dependent upon the fact that an object doesn't not-exist, then the concept speaks much more largely than the nature of things. It's about this weird space between me and you as visual interpretations of each other-- it breaks down the idea that I am the seer and everything else is seen-- it's that weird trance babies enter when they see their own hands and bend back in on themselves.

Of course, when I start talking like this, I lose track of all the different components, which I suppose makes sense because I'm talking about how components are losing their separateness. My writing starts to read melty and high. But I'm not. So it's important to bring it all back home to say that perhaps this project is about adaptability-- the idea that we are formed and affected by our environments in both a physical and mental way. Physical in that we define objects in relation to how our bodies use and perceive and feel their presence, and mentally in how we define ourselves (our identities, who we are) by how our bodies and daily routines use those objects. "I am a carpenter" also means "I am passionate about woodworking" and "my house is full of tools" and "my friends ask me to fix things for them all the time" and perhaps "I used to be a sculptor, but this makes me more money" or "my father was a carpenter" and perhaps even"I hope my daughter will be a carpenter."

So I'll say it again: I'm 24, and I've been moving moving moving around my whole life. This informs why when I enter a thriftshop it feels both new and familiar. I don't have a lot of things, I do have need for them, I used to have things, I do have things I don't need. I define my need, my need defines what I need and makes me needy. My need changes as I move from one place to another, as the people in my life change, as those people themselves are changing, as I change them, as they change me, as I am changing too.

Monday, November 17, 2008


I finished this drawing today at 12:28pm after my advisor, James, stood me up. Fortunately, and only because he stood me up, I was able to finish it before meeting with one of my other advisors, Glen, at 1:oopm. I felt pretty awesome. I'm sorry the pictures are so... grayish-purple. Better lighting, coming soon!

Thirty years after Jonestown

Tomorrow is the 30-year anniversary of the Jonestown mass-suicide in Guyana performed by the Peoples Temple. Yesterday on the way to school I had biked by a gas stations to get a soda and saw a story about it on the front of the newspaper. When I got to my studio I started doing some research on it and was shocked at how I had never heard of the incident, having half of my family from Indianapolis (where cult leader, Reverend Jim Jones, began his congregation) and having moved to San Francisco 2 months ago (where the Peoples Temple flourished in the early 70's before exiling to their compound in Guyana). I wound up reading articles and watching clips on Youtube for 3 hours and then watched a full-length documentary.
The story is intense/confusing/non-linear/climactic as perhaps expected, but something about it continues to feel unsettling. I think that it's that I could imagine myself getting on board with Peoples Temple if given the choice-- everything they were about was progressive and noble (a multi-racial congregation of activists committed to anti-racism, positive self-esteem, local agriculture and sustainability, community, socialized medicine providing for the poor, elderly and sick...). It's also just so sad to me that people were so unhappy and economically/socially desperate that they had to look outside of themselves, their family and community for acceptance and support. The story is troubling to me too because the congregation felt persecuted in Indiana, moved to California, and then to Guyana, and I want for their utopian vision to have been realized... but here's how it ended:
On November 17th, a congressman had flown to Guyana with a camera crew to check in on the community to make sure everything was consensual at the request of concerned family members in the US. On November 18th, 1978, the congressman escorted a handful of Peoples Temple followers who wanted to go home to an airport, many of which were attacked by gunfire as they boarded the plane. Around the same time, Jim Jones urged the habitants of Jonestown to prove their loyalty to him and their cause. Over 900 people drank cyanide-laced flavor-aide and perished in the jungles of Guyana as a revolutionary act against the CIA and the rest of the world. Tomorrow a memorial is taking place in Oakland, because many of the annonymous bodies, unclaimed by their families who were afraid of the stigma of being associated with Peoples Temple, were buried there. In fact, the reason why they are buried in Oaland is because no other cemetary in Marin or San Francisco would accept them.
Honestly, you should just check it out yourself. Here's a link to the PBS documentary, which you can watch for free online:

The 30th Annual Anniversary Jonestown Memorial Service

"Remembering to Love and Honor the
Sacred Life of 305 Children and the 919 Lives Lost At Jonestown".
Oakland, CA November 18, 2008 @ 11:00 a.m.

Evergreen Cemetery
6450 Camden Street
Oakland, CA 94605

Sunday, November 16, 2008

as in, I'm dreaming of a ____

Hooray! We bought a plane ticket to fly me home for Christmas where I will do exciting things like go to the dentist, visit the endocrinologist, make smoothies and Baldwin-style omelettes, watch Holiday Inn and White Christmas and type on my dad's old typewriter. I haven't touched snow since the horrible slushy dusting in Portland 1 1/2 years ago or seen it since driving through Mt. Hood this past April. I have a lot of pictures of people sledding like this one-- I think the very not-white white is lovely and the looks on peoples faces are always sort of guilty/naughty/gleefully wicked.  

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Liberation Front Headquarters : Studio #6, Hooper 3

New photos from the steeply-priced battlefront of San Franciscan thrift shops. There's one store in particular that I think does an especially shameful lack of haggeling over prices-- a major component of the experience of buying things used. Awesome second-hand purchases landmark my memories from the past few years-- the time I bought 90 ties for 15 bucks in Boston, the time I found all the parts of a 100 year old wooden bed frame for 20 bucks in Portland, a seemingly infinite amount of old lady slips at 15 cents a pop in Ludlow, VT. 
But for me, acquiring things goes beyond the consumerism and I'm always excited about expanding my collections with deviance or coincidence (read: shoplifting and free piles).   In Portland I started telling my friends I was liberating objects (as opposed to stealing), but I realized that this was problematic validation because I was actually just taking them from one dark unloved existence and entering them into the annonymity of another. This was a big part of why I thought a blog might help the polemics of owning a photo collection-- that photos are for seeing, and that no one was seeing mine. 

Friday, November 14, 2008


Last weekend in Los Angeles our class went to this really bizarre (in the best way possible) place called the Museum of Jurassic Technology. It was refreshingly not-"LA," by which I mean dark and not concrete. All of the exhibits focused on some sort of antiquated science, like potions and elixirs, early microscopes, mirror tricks and strange theatre set designs. In one room small dioramas of trailers and trailer parks had been constructed. They were totally gorgeous-- the dioramas were made to look like the whole chunk of land had been extracted-- the roots of trees dangled through the bottoms. In the center of the gallery had showcases with personal collections from trailer-park inhabitants-- doilies, salt and pepper shakers, bandanas, etc.

The way I've been living places has been in this same sort of pick-up-and-go way ever since leaving home for college. I mean, I'm not even sure I can count the number of times I've had to siphen through the things I own according to their worth and weight. Doron gave me a book on clutter the other day and I was border-line offended-- I dont really percieve my relationships with my belongings as one of owning clutter. I embrace objects with little value, but I'm also ready to send them off to someone else when the day comes for me to move again. I've been living on a trunkful of things for 6 years, and there's no putting down roots now-- who knows what will happen once I finish up here at CCA. In fact, I secretly yearn for the day I get to drive accross the country again with a loaded car, picnic basket and nice person sitting next to me. Of course, there's also a hope to find the stability of a place (someday someday someday) to put things for forever. I can only hope that the Lesbaru holds out until that day, when it can finally kneel its rusty hubcaps into the ground and resign.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

one plus one equals two

My parents got married and kept their names the same. This was an interesting thing that was hard for me to explain to my friends when I was growing up in New Jersey-- why they shouldn't call my mom Mrs. Baldwin and why they should call her Ms. Costich. . We moved to Ithaca when I was in middle school and there were a lot more moms who had chosen to keep their maiden name. When I was in high school my mom told me that my dads mother (Mimi, see above, in white) had heckled her secretly with letters for years, explaining with loopy cursive why my mother could and should still change her mind to become the next Mrs. Baldwin. My mother politely declined the advice.

I think a good caption for this photo would be 'and then the two remained two.' I've always thought the expression 'then the two became one' was a sort of horrible idea of what marriage should mean. Marriage might entail the melding of possessions and memories but, in this writer's opinion, shouldn't mean the eradication of individuality. I'm coming dangerously close to entering my diatribe about why I'm so fascinated by my parents lives before meeting one another as a feminist re-visioning of family history, so instead I'll just say, hooray for my parents! 25 years ago on June 18th they tied the knot and held on tight. Check out the death-grip my mom has on my dad's hand in this picture.

From the left, to the right:
Papa, Mimi, Dad-bo Baldwin, Momboda Costich, Grammy, Grampy

Sincere thanks

Marriage has been a hot topic in California for the past week since Prop 8 passed, which will ban same-sex marriage if we let it happen. I'm 24, so my thoughts on my own marriage are totally abstract-- do I want to be a wife? Do I want to have a wife/husband? I mean, Ihave no idea. But of course, I think the IDEA of a wedding is terribly romantic and wonderful, and they are happening all around me to people I've just met but really like a lot. Welly just got married to her partner last week. Clare is getting married in the summer in a yellow dress. I think it's important to underscore the real problem here, which isn't about marriage at all-- it's about the majority making laws to exclude a minority, which is a dangerous move for a supposedly democratic justice system.

I found these pictures on different days, but these two weddings had the same church, same photographer and apparently, the same guest list. In turn, both couples got the same sauce pan from Edith and Clarence (read the text, which I've re-typed below). How ridiculous!


Edith and Clarence,
Thank you so much for the darling pan.
Thank you,
Tony & Gerry Garcia


Thank you for the sauce pan. As soon as I learn to cook we will both enjoy it more. Come and see us.
Kenny + Dorothy

the pencil, unveiled

I found this pencil this morning in the Safeway parking lot at 16th and Bryant on the way to school. I've been working on a few graphite-dominant drawings to break out of my watercolor rut and it seemed sort of celestially appropriate to find this pencil because this is sort of how I feel about graphite sometimes. I still have my sets of pastels and charcoal from Drawing I & II in college, which have been out of commission for 4 years. I suppose there's something romantic about messy powdery art sticks that get all over you and your clothes and coat the inside of your lungs, but I like to set personal boundaries with my art materials. Here's the skinny on pencils, compliments of wikipedia:


The archetypal pencil may have been the stylus, which was a thin metal stick, often made from lead and used for scratching on papyrus, a form of early paper. They were used extensively by the ancient Egyptians and Romans. The word pencil comes from the Latin word pencillus which means "little tail."

Discovery of graphite deposit

Some time before 1565 (some sources say as early as 1500), an enormous deposit of graphite was discovered on the approach to Grey Knotts from the hamlet of Seathwaite near Borrowdale parish, Cumbria, England. The locals found that it was very useful for marking sheep. This particular deposit of graphite was extremely pure and solid, and it could easily be sawn into sticks. This was and remains the only large scale deposit of graphite ever found in this solid form. Chemistry was in its infancy and the substance was thought to be a form of lead. Consequently, it was called plumbago (Latin for "lead ore"). The black core of pencils is still referred to as "lead," even though it never contained the element lead.

The value of graphite was soon realized to be enormous, mainly because it could be used to line the moulds for cannon balls, and the mines were taken over by the Crown and guarded. Graphite had to be smuggled out for use in pencils. Because graphite is soft, it requires some form of case. Graphite sticks were at first wrapped in string or in sheepskin for stability. The news of the usefulness of these early pencils spread far and wide, attracting the attentions of artists all over the "known world."

Although deposits of graphite had been found in other parts of the world, they were not of the same purity and quality as the Borrowdale find, and had to be crushed to remove the impurities, leaving only graphite powder. England continued to enjoy a monopoly on the production of pencils until a method of reconstituting the graphite powder was found. The distinctively square English pencils continued to be made with sticks cut from natural graphite into the 1860s. Today, the town of Keswick, near the original findings of block graphite, has a pencil museum.

Wood holders added

It was the Italians who first thought of wooden holders. An Italian couple in particular, named Simonio and Lyndiana Bernacotti, were believed to be the ones to create the first blueprints for the modern carpentry pencil for the purpose of marking their carpentry pieces; however, their version was instead a flat, oval, more compact type of pencil. They did this at first by hollowing out a stick of juniper wood. Shortly thereafter, a superior technique was discovered: two wooden halves were carved, a graphite stick inserted, and the two halves then glued together—essentially the same method in use to this day.

American colonists imported pencils from Europe until after the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin advertised pencils for sale in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, and George Washington used a three-inch pencil when he surveyed the Ohio Territory in 1762. It is said that William Munroe, a cabinetmaker in Concord, Massachusetts, made the first American wood pencils in 1812. This was not the only pencil-making in Concord. According to Henry Petroski, transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau discovered how to make a good pencil out of inferior graphite using clay as the binder; this invention was prompted by his father's pencil factory in Concord, which employed graphite found in New Hampshire in 1821 by Charles Dunbar.

Munroe's method of making pencils was painstakingly slow, and in the neighbouring town of Acton, a pencil mill owner named Ebenezer Wood set out to automate the process at his own pencil mill located at Nashoba Brook along the old Davis Road. He used the first circular saw in pencil production. He constructed the first hexagon- and octagon-shaped pencil cases that we have today. Ebenezer did not patent his invention and shared his techniques with whoever asked. One of those was Eberhard Faber of New York, who became the leader in pencil production.

Joseph Dixon, an inventor and entrepreneur involved with the Tantiusques granite mine in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, developed a means to mass produce pencils. By 1870, The Joseph Dixon Crucible Company was the world’s largest dealer and consumer of graphite and later became the contemporary Dixon Ticonderoga pencil and art supplies company.


Modern pencils are made industrially by mixing finely ground graphite and clay powders, adding water, forming long spaghetti-like strings, and firing them in a kiln (thermally insulated chambers). The resulting strings are dipped in oil or molten wax, which seeps into the tiny holes of the material, resulting in smoother writing. A juniper or incense-cedar plank with several long parallel grooves is cut to fashion a "slat", and the graphite/clay strings are inserted into the grooves. Another grooved plank is glued on top, and the whole assembly is then cut into individual pencils, which are then varnished or painted.

Color of pencils

The majority of pencils made in the United States are painted yellow. According to Henry Petroski, this tradition began in 1890 when the L. & C. Hardtmuth Company of Austria-Hungary introduced their Koh-I-Noor brand, named after the famous diamond. It was intended to be the world's best and most expensive pencil, and at a time when most pencils were either painted in dark colors or not at all, the Koh-I-Noor was yellow. As well as simply being distinctive, the color may have been inspired by the Austro-Hungarian flag; it was also suggestive of the Orient, at a time when the best-quality graphite came from Siberia. Other companies then copied the yellow color so that their pencils would be associated with this high-quality brand, and chose brand names with explicit Oriental references, such as Mikado (renamed Mirado and Mongol.

Not all countries use yellow pencils; however, German pencils, for example, are often green, based on the trademark colors of Faber-Castell, a major German stationery company. Pencils are commonly round, hexagonal or sometimes triangular in section.


On January 30, 2008, Ashrita Furman, 53, unveiled his giant $20,000 pencil - 76 feet long, 22,000 pounds (with 4,000 solid pounds of Pennsylvania graphite), after 3 weeks of creation in August of 2007 as a birthday gift for teacher Sri Chinmoy. Longer than the 65 feet creation outside the Malaysia HQ of stationers Faber-Castell, it will be transported from Queens, New York, to the City Museum in St. Louis.

The metal band used to mate the eraser with pencil is called a ferrule.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

food, glorious food

I found myself telling this story about my mother today. When I was small a marketing campaign on television started for this food product called Kids Cuisine, which was a oven/microwave prepared meal made by the diet mega-company called Lean Cuisine. All I remember about the commercials really are the really excited pandas imploring me to convince my parents to get one for me the next time we were at the grocery store and they were having a bad day. So I did just that, and my mother let me get one that featured chicken nuggets, carrots and peas, and some sort of warm caramel apple nut concoction. I held it, thawing, in my lap while we drove home. The trepidation was incredible. We got home and my mom opened the box and we looked through the clear plastic at my soon-t0-be-unfrozen meal. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Mom, it's not right.
What do you mean, it's not right?
It doesn't look like the picture-- there's only three nuggets, not four. And they're small.

My mom then taught me my first lesson in activism, albeit rooted in consumerism. We drafted a letter of complaint to Lean Cuisine expressing our epic disappointment and culinary fury. We took a picture of the meal next to the picture on the box. We developed the film the next day and put all the parts of our claim in an envelope and shipped it away. I remember realizing the discrepancy between what happened when my mom got mad at me but still loved me and when my mom got mad at Kid Cuisine and glowered at the frozen food section of the grocery store for years.

My father and I also had a shared experience of outrage with the Burger King in Somerville, NJ. We ordered a burger, asked for it plain, the way prissy 5 year old girls like it, went home and were greeted by chopped onion/pickle/tomato/lettuce/mustard/mayo goulash melting into the bun. This kind of activism was of a different genre-- less pacifist, more riotous. We went back to the Burger King ('we' meaning, my dad driving, and me strapped in a booster seat) and demanded burger justice. We made a big scene about checking the burger for untainted bun, and asked for a kid-size milkshake in repentance.

I guess the reason why these stories are important are because they were small, silly, little moments, but punctuated a childhood of being generally complacent with food and consumerism. They were also bookmarks in the chapter book of how one can act when feeling jilted by people in charge. I never asked for Kid's Cuisine again, I always made sure to be articulate when ordering and describing what I wanted/needed, I knew it was okay to throw a scene sometimes, that pictures and people sometimes lie, and that my parents were teaching me things that had taken them a lifetime to learn.

Monday, November 10, 2008

PDX + MMB= bff

Hey Portland friends!
Coming soon (well, I'd give it a month, realistically) to an alternative bookstore near you!
a d.i.y. journey through my 2 years of post-graduate habituation in PDX
includes, but not limited to:
6 buildings, 28 housemates, 5 cats, 5 hermit crabs and 1 amazing mouse who saw it all
please pease please write and remind me things or suggest a title to

Working hard v. TTH

There was one day around this time last fall when Nathan and I were preparing for Art Basel at Elizabeth Leach Gallery on a Monday when the gallery was closed. Candice was womanning the gallery bulkmail in the front of the gallery and Randi had come in to help her. The greatest part about working on Mondays at the gallery was getting to go to work looking like a total scrub-- that particular day in holey corduroys and an old white t-shirt. Interestingly, I remember getting complements from at least 4 different people that day, including Randi, telling me that I looked GREAT. It made me consider whether I should start every day by rolling out of bed and onto my bicycle.

Sometimes I feel like I could do this with my art practice too. By which I mean, stop trying so hard. It often feels like students who work themselves to the bone are the ones that get pummeled in critiques, while students who show up late to their critique with drool dried on their face to show their mediocre 5-minute paintings get infinite praise. It's totally the romantic idea that a true artist can do just that-- spit on a canvas and sum up all of the worlds problems. I know that I am not this kind of artist, and if I tried to be, it would be HORRIBLE. I think there is an important distinction to be made here-- there's a difference between working hard and trying too hard. If I tried to work less hard you'd be able to see it-- my trying. Some people don't try to be lackadaisical-- it's just how they are, and that's how they make art the most genuinely. I am anxious, hard-bent and nose-to-the-grind-- and my art would probably look horrible if I didn't make this part of how I am part of the process of making things.

This is something I try to remember when my ideas start spinning into complexity-- that maybe I'm making the ideas try too hard (tth). It's usually better to work hard on a simple idea. So after working on a couple of projects with multiple components I'm going back to my roots--drawing the backs of small photos, like the one in this picture. Man! It's so awesome to be making drawings that are, like, 2 inches tall. For now, I'm taking out the words to get rid of the narrative and keep it simple. See that scribbling in the original (on the right)? It covers up the words "My boyfriend" as in "My boyfriend Frank Rose" who is pictured on the front and is probably about 7 years old. Awesome.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I went to Los Angeles for two days with the CCA MFA graduate class of 2010. Everything I knew about LA previous to going was pulled from my extensive research: the L Word, Clueless and Beverly Hills Cop. I was totally unprepared. We flew out Friday morning, went to all the MOMA's, a few galleries, Farmlab, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, LACE, etc... I have no idea why someone would ever want to live in LA-- I saw 3 bicycles the entire time I was there. I looked at a map with someone who knew what was going on and was shocked at the sprawl-- that city is going to kick itself in the ass someday for building with no sense of sustainability.

The trip was nice, but it's even nicer to be back and working again in the studio. I'm sad to have missed the SF Prop 8 rally on Friday-- I heard there were helicopters! Today I started some new tiny drawings of the backs of photos to get them out of my system. I got these pictures from Holly for my birthday this past summer along with a whole album of amazing lesbian softball pictures. Not LA lesbians, but my oh my, what style-- yeah ladies!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gray and Grey, we assess

The blog has been going on for two months now, and it's time to assess what's going on with me and my art and my writing and all of the intersections between these three things. Tomorrow I'm off to Los Angeles for 36 hours of teenage ridiculousness with my Dialogues and Practices class and will be out of the studio for two whole days, which is sure to feel shocking for us all.

So what are my feelings on gray and grey? I spoke to Linda and Allison today in my studio about my work and I really liked something Linda said. I've been trying to figure out what the hell it means to be drawing objects to make drawings that are not about objects. Linda reminded me that abstract work doesn't mean that you have to draw wildly like Pollock, de Kooning and all of their peers and contemporaries. In fact, I'm not even sure if I CAN draw like that. My drawings are abstract because they're not of a real space-- objects are drawn on white paper and are often exagerrated out of the context of what they actually are, by size, shape or quantity.

So I'm working in this in-between space and it feels really good-- the endless spectrum of grays/greys that I wrote about in my very first posting back in September. I love it because everything I make winds up being connected by the fact that they are not particularly one thing or another. I like that they can't get pinned. The grayness is like so many other things too-- like the fog in San Francisco (says Claire), like queerness, like being uprooted and 24, like the emotional and physical push-and-pull of being in school and needing to make money, like the constant state of being stuck between your history and your future. It's been a good week for me and I'm excited to get back from LA and keep on keeping on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Junior prom, 1959.

Obama's win is bittersweet for me since gay marriage is on its way or already there to getting banned in the state of California. I've been thinking about my posting from a couple of days ago in which I recollected all the elections I can remember-- specifically about my memory of the one when I was in 11th grade. It's true that it felt like I didn't care-- but I think the feeling could be better described as it felt hard to care or I didn't know how to care. I was 16 and had just started dating Becca but most certainly was not gay. The past president had seemed to do a pretty good job playing his saxophone with a daughter around my age and a cat named Socks. I was awkward as the girl in this picture, minus the light blue taffeta and pumps, plus a huge red messy backpack. I also didn't realize that being dorky (like Al Gore, and myself) doesn't equate someone with being a loser. Because, you know, in retrospect, Al Gore is pretty freaking cool. I think the switch from not caring to caring probably happened when I really started knowing what I was supposed to be caring about in my life, which was clarified when it seemed in danger of being taken away. My junior year of college, the year of the first election I voted in, happened right after a summer of helping Seth work for GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocacy Defenders) in Boston. This morning I spoke to Rebecca briefly at the studios before getting to work-- she was optimistic that things would turn around, that the ban would be challenged and dropped. I'm still confused about what 'Yes on Prop 8' really means and what will happen now. It's time to do some research! To the books!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

sneaky previews

Today and I continued working on various projects to get ready for a critique tomorrow-- here are some close-ups, albeit bad ones (I'll figure out lighting someday soon so I can start documenting work and progress like a real (gasp!) professional (gasp-gasp!).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow= big day.

The first election I can remember was Clinton v. Bush. I was in Mrs. Nowak's third grade class in Somerville, NJ. There was a blue mailbox down the hall which we filed by on our way to the cafeteria and dropped our ballots in. I don't remember who won in our third grade election-- mostly I remember Mrs. Nowak telling us that 12 students' handwriting were so bad that their ballots had been counted as illegible and were disqualified. So the results were debatable.

Then in 7th grade I had just moved to a new city, Ithaca, and it was Clinton Clinton Clinton everywhere and even though the students were invited to vote in a school-wide election here too, most of us were just pissed that we had to miss the first half of lunch to wait in line because 2 of the school's 3 voting booths were broken. But I remember the feeling of being in the booth was awesome.

Then I was in 11th grade and 16 years old and some of my classmates really cared. To be honest, I didn't really. I was in AP US History and remember thinking that Bush II didn't really seem so bad and that Gore seemed like kind of a big loser. I didn't express this opinion, however, in fear of being equated by my classmates with the only vocally pro-Bush student in our class, a Jew for Jesus who dressed goth.

So at some point in college I guess I started caring. Not a whole lot, but just enough to know that things had once been better and that I was queer and female and neither of those things were particularily celebrated or defended by the presidential administration. I voted at an old-folks home in Middletown, Connecticut, got my "I voted today" sticker and wore it proudly.

Now I'm here in a city and state that's overwhelmingly Democratic-- last night at Dia de los Muertos the skeleton procession kept cheering "O!-ba!-ma!" to the music and it was amazing. I think that this election I realize for the first time what voting means and what kind of convictions go into voting. My mom told me she can't speak to my grandmother (pro-McCain/Palin) until after the election results come out. No matter what happens, things are about to change. Tomorrow I will wake up early and walk down the street and vote at the fire station. I'll drive to work in Oakland and work on my zine at the gallery and then come back to San Francisco to work on some new drawings. I'll go to El Rio for the Pissed-off Voters party and be with my new community in shared celebration or remorse.

Dia de los Muertos, San Francisco, 2008

A new year, a new city, a new experience. The pictures fail to show what last night was about. A procession began after speeches about peace, community and Obama. It snaked through the Mission, past near where the shootings happened two months ago, through residential neighborhoods, around corner stores, down Mission Street and then back to Garfield Park. All sorts of people, little kids, old folks and everyone between, all dancing in the streets. In the park, my friend Rio was one of many who had set up a participatory altar. There was music all night, shadow puppets, amazing costumes, warm-colored candlelight everywhere.

I biked by Garfield Park this morning on my way to work to see the aftermath-- there was nothing. All the altars dismantled, the grass impeccable, the streets totally quiet. It almost seemed like it might not have happened, which is pretty incredible and cathartic and part of the point. It's time to go back to school/work/life/dreaming/hurting/hoping/dying. I'm left feeling great about all of these things. I want to learn how to play a snare drum so I can hit it in parades. Next year, next year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Day of the Dead, Portland, OR, 2007

A throwback to times past-- so many of these people are in different places, all are doing different things.  Emmet and Sarah are in Portland, getting ready to leave.  Emma has driven across the country.  Sally started nursing school.  Kristin has moved back and forth from Portland to the Bay Area at least twice.  Danny and Jade broke up, got back together and moved to Berkeley.  But for that one night we got together in my small cramped studio in Portland, listened to music, drank beer and made food for our grandparents.  

Dust to dust

This is an excerpt from Tom Spanbauer's book, Now is the Hour.  Main character Rigby John Klusener is 17, Mormon, living on his family farm in Idaho in 1967.  He is in love with the farm hand, a Shoshone named George Serrano.  George's grandmother, Granny Queep, has just died.  The book begins and ends with Rigby John chasing George Serrano to San Francisco.  The picture is one I took in Idaho while driving out west 2 1/2 years ago with Zachary, suitable because we didn't yet know the drama that would unfold in our relationship, the lives we would begin on a new and foreign coast, and having shared and our high school hometown and handholding in the small city of Ithaca, NY.

     Back at Granny's house, the giveaway was just that. Every pot and pan of Granny's, her coffeepot, the pewter cups, every stick of furniture-- her bed, her box spring and mattress, her sheets, her pillows, her table and chairs, her sewing machine, the picture of the flowers, the armoire, all the linens and blankets in the armoire, Granny's tunk, all the Pendleton blankets in the trunk. Bonanza's Pendleton blanket. The kerosene lamp. Granny's new refirdgerator. Her green enamel Majestic stove. The curtains on the windows, the curtains under the counter of the sink. George's bed, his dresser, the round mirror on his wall. The blue glass ashtray.
     The chickens, the eggs, Granny's two bales of straw, the porcelain pans hanging in the barn.
     Everything. Even the two lightbulbs.
     The tipi was dismantled, the canvas rolled up, the poles stacked onto a pickup, hauled away.
     As people left, taking with them Granny's worldly goods, George stood where the tipi had set, next to the smoldering fire. In his hands, a big roll of dollar bills. He peeled off a dollar bill for every person. George saved the last dollar bill for me.
     By sunset it was just me and George in Granny's empty house. The light through the windows on the shiny floor. The places where her pictures had hung. The stovepipe, crooked, hanging down. The scrapes on the floor where the table and chairs had sat. The four dents that had been her bed.
George walked through the rooms, close to the walls. He touched everything he could. When he got to the electrical box next to the front door, George opened the metal door, reached in, and unscrewed the fuse. He put the fuse in his pocket, then closed the metal door.
     Then out of nowhere.
     Would you get the broom for me? George said.
     The broom? I said. There's nothing left.
     It's in the back of your pickup, George said.
     In the back of the pickup, an old broom, its bristles worn down to a fist. And a suitcase. One of those old kinds of suitcases, leather, that look like a valise.
     George swept the house, every corner. The little pile of dust he swept up, we picked up with our hands. Carried the dust out to the smoldering fire, threw the dust onto the fire.
We made sure all the doors and windows were open. In the middle of Granny's room, George took my hand. His hands weren't shaking. George in his Italian suit, his white shirt, his Italian shoes, and cotton socks, the red tie tied around his bristly head.
     I took my porkpie hat off. Adjusted my red tie. My hair was bristly too. My Sunday shoes were scuffed, my suit pants were bagging out, the suit jacket wrinkled, the burned iron spot on the collar of my white shirt. Underneath, my crusty shorts and a three- or four-day-old T-shirt. I was ripe all right, but not the worse for wear.
     The Shoshone prayer from George's lips was soft and high and sounded like Idaho. Silver and gold in the sunlight, wind in the poplars a high sigh and scratch, dry June grass. Heat lightning storms in the night sky. Pickup trucks backing up and a pine box bumping down into a grave.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Uncle Mark Costich

This is a picture of me, very small and nervous, and my uncle, Mark Costich. I probably saw Mark less than ten times when I was a kid. After he died in 2004 my family went to his house to sort through everything left in his absence. It was a lot more than they had expected. My uncle 'bought and sold used furniture' which really meant that he bought used furniture and sold pot for money. Over the course of his adulthood in Boston he slowly and systematically filled a 15-room house with things, every room packed wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor.

My mom was struck with a strange kind of sadness over the experience of going through an impossible mountain of his stuff. Obviously, her sadness was invoked because he was her brother, but also because it seemed to her that his consumption and accumulation was an empty attempt to fill other vacancies in his life. One room in Mark's house was filled with used books, still in the paper/plastic sacks they were once purchased in. The intention to read/learn/invest/embetter was there, but it had never been realized. The idea of an empty life occuring inside of an overwhelmingly full house is contradicting and compelling. The story of Mark's house initiated my own dialogues and considerations over how ownership, collection and evidence play a part in my own mortality, identity and memory. Tomorrow is Dia de los Muertos, a holiday which, since his death, has always seemed the most appropriate way to celebrate my uncle's tragic, darkly comical and eccentric life. My mom wrote this list for me three years ago while I was working on my thesis in Connecticut:

Mark Costich’s Obsessions-Possessions List
[All items found in vast quantities in his house in East Boston]

1. Bags: tote bags (most from bookstores), duffel bags, gym bags
2. U-Haul rental company packing boxes
3. Bookshelves
4. BOOKS (10-15,000)
5. Dunkin’ Donuts cardboard carrying trays
6. DD.s Styrofoam coffee cups
7. Chinese food carry-out containers
8. Zip-lock bags: all sizes
9. Steamer trunks: the bigger, the better
10. Basis soap
11. Black umbrellas
12. Black jeans
13. Black Gap cotton crew socks
14. Men’s XL cotton turtlenecks (black or navy)
15. Ceramic statues: the uglier, the better, all sizes—animal motif prevalent
16. Keys and key chains
17. Knives: all sizes, shapes, degrees of potential danger
18. Tools: hammers, screwdrivers, saws, wrenches, sets of tools power tools
19. Toolboxes: most of them not containing the many tools that were found throughout the house
20. Workgloves (mostly brand new and unused)
21. Phones with answering machines
22. Junk mail
23. Lumber
24. Homemade wooden tables (practically big enough to perform surgery on an elephant)
25. Furniture: assorted, no matching sets, odd pieces
26. Matchbooks
27. cars
28. Tweed jackets
29. Framed and unframed prints, mostly of historical theme or owls or human females
30. Iron doorstops, reproductions