Sunday, September 30, 2007

Books I thought I'd love/lug forever...

I'm going through boxes of books. Books that had been dampened by a fire in my building and then neglected in storage for six years. I finally emptied the storage unit and the boxes ominously filled one and a half rooms in my apartment (who really needs a dining room?), I ignored them for another six months.

My high school age daughter told me that she'd really appreciate me going through them now so she won't have to inherit and toss them herself. I concede, it is time.

When I first got a job in publishing the pay was low and the free books a balm to ease the endless macaroni and cheese dinners and bring your own p b and j lunches. I worked at some great houses and took home some great books. I can hold The Old Gringo and think that I designed the interior of a Carlos Fuentes book--and I'm in my late-twenties again, working at FSG, feeling so proud of it, learning everything I can from the great designer Cynthia Krupat. And it is all good. But am I really seeing the mildewed, warped, and faded thing that is staining my palms?

Cynthia designed with a passion for ornament met with an equal passion for simplicity. In opposites colliding, great book are designed. In those days before desktops and Quark and InDesign... she'd photocopy ornaments and use those photocopies as the actual image on the mechanical. I remember asking her why she didn't use a better quality image, why not get a professional photo made of the 19th century sorts and dingbats? She told me she wanted the distressed look the photocopy gave it. That's when I realized designers play with their tools and invent their rules.

I designed or created endpaper maps for a lot of books. Didn't read all of them. I just loved the idea of owning them. A book, like a brick, put into a wall of my efforts. My apartment used to hold over 2,000 books. The books made me feel smarter just looking at their spines. Book lust is insidious, you feel as if you own a piece of someone's mind. But how many plots, histories, verses, and anthologies does one need shouting from the shelves?

I have come to see that a bit of clear wall, a place to hang a photo or painting, would be better than owning the monographs, how to succeed in..., or the unforgettable Encyclopedia of Mucosal Immunology. And the better books? Even there, isn't it enough to know I was busy for years without having to lug the physical remains of small creative endeavors? If poetry evokes the world with concision, my library too can pare itself down to what really counts. Besides, the books are still in the library or available on the internet. If I ever want to reread The Old Gringo, I'd rather have a copy that doesn't make me sneeze. I don't even remember the plot.

My household will soon be making contributions to Housing Works for the books that didn't get water damaged. You can buy them there.

I can always tell who is fairly new to working in publishing, they're gleefully taking the freebies home. Beware freebies, beware.

Friday, September 28, 2007

First of all

I went to a play last night.

Got out of work at 6. Cut though SoHo and the Village while the golden hour threw sky onto west facing windows. Reflections of cloud and brick bouncing onto the glass of other buildings. Sunset, cloud, edifice. A whole recursive cityscape.

I was listening to dance music on my old iPod that gets me walking fast, but not so fast I wasn't noting all the places that weren't. I last worked down here 15 years ago. Elephant and Castle wasn't there. Neither was Anglers and Writers. And then I was cutting through NYU and here what wasn't, goes further back. My mom used to take me to all her college haunts when we visited NYC. Sutters was gone long ago but I still remember the shock of eating my first eclaire, the creamy with all those alternating layers of crisp...

But to really go back, try seeing what can be done with Medea. The Dutch theatre group, Drood Paard (Dead Horse), at PS122, did a modern adaption that was unlike anything I've ever seen. No masks, no linear narrative. Just three members of the chorus restraining themselves from "acting" and commenting on what they cannot do as bystanders. The parallels to politics--2007-- were there but restrained as well. Surprisingly, much of the dialogue was borrowed from Pop lyrics. Even obscure lyrics. Beetles to Punk garage bands...I'm sure I missed a lot of them. But somehow it all worked, even with their accents--obla dee, oblah dah, life goes on. Medea emerges as dangerous narcissistic priestess and not mother of the year. But we knew that. Love, greed, treachery, promises, jealousy, bribes, and retribution. Murder of innocents. Jason is the shallow kind of guy that always has one good reason to leave his woman or overthrow a king. He wants. Shiny, shiny.

Less successful, my group felt, were the slide shows that divided the play. I was reminded of post modern poems that indulge in ekphrastic non-linear journeys...unless you can do it justice, don't do it. The slide shows weren't boring, but they just could have been so much more. They didn't play with visual language the way the dialog did.

My friend G. and I are going to start a writing group. I'm going write a 10 minute play. An exercise. At the very least, it'll help me to write better dialogue or dramatic monologues in my poems. It is so easy to get insular. The job. The things I am used to doing. Drood Paard's Medea reminds me that experimental theater really does take risks. And without risks, art gets tame.

I loved how the original passions and ideas of the play emerged despite all the stagecraft, actors, props, and sets that weren't there.