Thursday, February 26, 2009

All those layoffs everywhere

Yeah, the bad news just keeps on rolling. Where are all the unemployed baby boomers going to go? Some huge tent city Woodstock for the creaky hippies? Can you see them starting communes in abandoned office parks? Will they sell old apple iPods from carts? Will they achieve flower power by moving off the grid and recycling, as in living under the underpass and snacking on dumpster scrapple?

When I recently went to a networking event for media types, so many of them were skilled, smart, well spoken and unemployed. And, not just the boomers. Gen X, Gen Y, and whatever else you wanna call them. Smart people with no paycheck.

Newspapers folding, restaurants closing, bookstores shrinking, and the luxury shopping emporiums fading into the gilded age of three months ago. At least my dog doesn't know what is going on. Open or closed, hired or fired, what does a hound care when the curbs and fire hydrants smell just as, uh, sweet.

I wonder how many edible garden veggies I can grow in my window?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Post Pierre Bonnard in Adobe Illustrator self-portrait

The question is, what to take from Bonnard? His boisterous colors, centering around a clementine orange? His willful yet selective disregard of perspective? His devouring of pattern? The way the scene is not clear for awhile, things resolve from a blur into a disquieting narrative hint. His relegating people to outlines, unresolved shapes, on the edges?

Well... working in adobe illustrator, I don't have the benefit of oils, and my "rules" forbid shadows, gnarly brush tips (increases file size too much), and gradients. I'm looking for an illustration style and process that I can use for sales to stock houses. So I picked color. And paint outside the lines. Bonnard it is not. But maybe more trips to the museum are necessary.

The show, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is worth seeing. So many of the paintings were new to me. And he lived a long long life, painting, drawing, all the time. These are from his later years. Deprivations of war and loss and age add gravity to the flood of color. Impressionism all grown up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Adobe Illustrator self portrait 2

My father suggests I make myself look too old. I think it safe to say my father still sees the child, and I see some of my father when drawing my self-portrait.

Starbuckswars, or the benefits of a home officeship

Can you imagine Han Solo writing poetry or designing graphics at that intergalactic cafe? The one filled with multinational species with hyper animated expressions and tenticles. Nah. And yet, here we are.

I'm at my local Starbucks. Crowded, as usual. But add to this that one older gentleman is using his laptop to watch something without headphones. In French. La Vie En Rose just came on over the jello toned medley on the Starbucks sound system. Usually white noise but not when laptop and lyrics are competing in a language that nags my ear with the one word in ten that I recognize.

I believe I came here to concentrate. What I have learned is how the posters on the phone booth, just outside, are changed. A van arrived, a youngish guy in a hoodie got out with rolled paper and a drill, he took the frames off the two ends, carefully pulled free the translucent rigid white backing, placed them gently on the pavement, took the old posters into the back of his truck, and in movements balletic from repetition, spun, unfurled the new ads, pressed them against their support, lifted that into place against the glass, kneeled, screwed the frames in place and stepped into this coffee shop. I looked up again and he and the truck were gone.

I could not actually hear the drill, but I felt as if I had. Not to mention the several conversations in English over cell phones with words like anyway and um popping into my peripheral ear.

The older gentleman is using a magnifying glass to decode his keyboard while discussing something with himself. No, oh god, he is singing along with Jacques Brel. I think my socializing hour is over.

I'd like to thank the Academy...

for putting on a great show. Very classy. But apparently I haven't been going OUT to the movies, I haven't seen ANY of them in a theater except for Wall-E. What does that say about me? Don't answer that. Save the movies, attend the theaters. And attend musicals as well. And while I'm at it, three cheers for the triple threat that is Hugh Jackman, singer, dancer, actor, and now MC of the decade. Not to mention adept at playing the superhero wolverine. Didn't he look lovely in a tux?

Wrote 2 poems this weekend. Watched 6 hours of how-to videos for Dreamweaver and Illustrator. I wonder if I will start to dream how-to nightmares? "So, we left the monster here, behind the basement door, now! you look at this panel of guns to your right and pick the one that is third from the left, for PC users that's the one that is 4th from the right, so, now! you can see that you need to aim the gun as the door..."

Friday, February 20, 2009

Self portrait in Adobe Illustrator

I figured I'd get the handiest model in the apartment to pose for me as I attempt to gain some fluidity in using Adobe Illustrator. Hmmmm.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sarah White poetry reading fantastic

My friend Sarah White has gotten really good at reading her work. Not that she wasn't good before, she is after all a retired professor of French and always well spoken. But with several new poetry books under her belt, her life settling into Manhattan, more good attention from the poetry world, and some good karma, she just gave a fantastic reading last night in the Soho20 art gallery with imaginative artwork (watercolor pieces assembled in layers and charmingly iconographic) by Elizabeth Bisbing in happy sync with Sarah's creative energy.

Sarah has a shock of white hair, athletic grace, and an expressive face that rapidly leaps from wry, intelligent, sad, to deeply humored by life. As does her verse. Here is my sketch of her reading...

She read from her recently published books Cleopatra Haunts the Hudson and her chapbook on spouses (mostly made up) of famous characters talking back Mrs. Bliss and the Paper Spouses. Her newest project, still in the nimbus of creation, is a challenge she borrowed from the French writer Raymond Queneau, from his book Exercises in Style, where one small scenario is told 99 different ways. In the '30s Queaneau had been inspired by the variations on a theme in a performance of Bach's The Art of Fugue and applied it to story telling. Sarah has taken the variations into her own rich poetic kaleidosope. She isn't using a story with a beginning middle and end, this is a slice of life, as if watching Mrs. Dalloway for an hour in her home... and then watching her with 3D glasses, vaulting her into parallel universes--some known from childhood, or sending her to a Kafkaesque office block... Sarah is using various verse forms, letters, quizzes, alternate points of view, focusing on different objects or actions, and having much fun. She says her book will have about 50 versions. Word play, sound, and sheer intelligent joy runs through it.

I think I want to write one too. Pass me the Queaneau.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

That Facebook 25 Things About Me conundrum

I've got nothing against the zeitgeist. I too hunger for an iPhone I can play like an ocarina and am using Twitter for no better reason than it was there and kinda cool to be an early joiner.

But sometimes I have a grumpy anti-popularity reaction. For instance, in Facebook, people are sending around lists of 25 random facts about themselves and asking the recipient to write their own and send it on to a bunch of folks asking them to do their own and send it on and on and on. Which has the ring of a chain letter, except in this case, a chain self-revelation.

I am mostly enjoying the 25 things people send me, sad, funny, amazing, and touching facts that acquaintances want to share. But after getting "tagged" too often to count, I am going to say it once, read 25 random blog entries if you want 25 random blathers about me.

If they insist, I will come up with a concise and speedy 25 Things in two flavors:
Reduced: 2.5 Things About Me (at 10% of original list, a huge time saver)
Shavings: 25 Words I Like (which also functions as a list poem)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking for inspiration (and software mastery) in coffee grounds

If people can read a swish of damp tea leaves, I can read the grounds I pour out of my French coffee press. They are especially clear against the brushed metallic rim of my drain. Lemme they clearly spelled out: "splat!"

I attempted to learn new and valuable skills in my dreamweaver and illustrator programs. Splat.

I HAD THE MOST FRUSTRATING DAY! I'd try some of the new fancy things in Illustrator and crash the program. Splat. I'd try some of the things that are supposed to make websites function better and was buried in an avalanche of menus and check boxes and jargon. Splat-splat.

I drew some more on my sample illustration I plan to submit to iStockPhoto... it looks like the splat my cat hurls from her front end. Splatity-splat-splat. I could not make any of the advanced stuff happen for me! Argh. Knowing what looks professional and being able to do it are, apparently, not possible on a splat day.

I was finally reduced to watching free how to use Adobe Illustrator podcasts on my laptop at Starbucks. To cheer myself up I went back to some beginning lessons and nodded enthusiastically along with the demonstrator--because this part I already knew--while I chewed gum and wore my very uncool big headphones. People cleared out around me. And my Starbucks is very very crowded. My big splatness was a force field of keep away, she's CRRRRAZY. The coffee grounds had better have a good prognosis tomorrow or I switch to instant. Please, send me a cup of instant learning or a new brain. All forms of delivery accepted.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The businessy part of freelancing

Here it is, the awful truth, the business of running a business involves job skills that are just learning to crawl.

For instance, clients that tell me the check is "in process" and months go by...
The impossibility of charging friends or family the full rate...
Backing up and organizing finished jobs and discovering all external hard drives are full (new one on the way).
Creating a system for organizing raw materials: type faces, design ideas, color palates, inspirations, my photos (as in stock for myself)...
Finding good imaginations to bounce ideas off of because I am only of one mind.
Updating my website, business card, and samples.
Finding new clients.
Managing clients.
Watering and fertilizing my imagination with museum trips, lectures, chocolate truffles, and studio visits.
Oh, yeah, putting into effect a health and fitness program for my single employee (which at the moment involves eating my way through a large bowl of clementines and apples and a planned walk with the dog).
Asking my steering committee which direction I want to take the business, as in where do I get the most jollies and how do I get more of that?
Research (the easy part, internet a black rabbit hole of time).

Bed risers demystified

Who know there were so many ways to lift a bed off the floor? The new trundle bed I got is just a bit too short to fit the thick comfortable Sealy mattresses I bought for my daughters. No flimsy thin mattresses would do, not when they had become nearly adult sized in middle school. And then, adult sized, they scampered off to college and I Had To Do Something with the remains of the bunk bed.

"Buy bed risers," a house savvy person told me.

There are adjustable ones, mahogany ones, ones that clip to the bed frame, ones that can grip a wheeled foot, and even ones that look like robot legs so you can scare yourself at night wondering what menacing sci-fi movie extra is lurking under the blankets.

Don't for a second think that I have now become a house beautiful person. No, I proudly maintain my too many books and clutter motif. But I do now know about bed risers. And it doesn't involve true levitation, which I was kinda hoping for, it is platform boots for bed legs.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Coraline in 3D total delight

I know some folks might not do their Valentine's Day date at a movie where you have to wear thick black glasses that made you both look like Buddy Holly. And in my case turned me from "4 eyes" to six eyes. This in no way took away from the romance. We shared a large bag of popcorn, drank one soda with two straws, and occasionally just had to look at each other in wonder. Because wonder is the main feeling we came away with.

I sat next to two woman who were also big Neil Gaiman (writer of original book) and Henry Selick (uber talented director/animator) fans. I ooohed and aaaaahed in simulcast with them. The one in the middle was amused by the sterio effect of our exclamations. And she, it turns out, is a magician. We agreed it was fitting that both kids and people our age were there. One little boy took to calling out Coraline's correct name when other characters would assume she was a Caroline.

The whole movie, from opening titles to the bonus 3D bling-bling sign off at the end of the credits, was so completely visualized and imaginative that I was hitting an imaginary remote wanting to slow it down and see how they did it!

Yes, there were a few things that could have been a bit better. The set up with the parents in the beginning was good but a few more lines of dialogue, setting up the parallels to come, would have sharpened it up. Coraline is a girl who is neglected by parents when they are under a deadline to finish writing and editing copy for a gardening project. But who is afraid of her growing up? Coraline, her mother? Both of them? Events prove these fears find plenty of forms.

Ah well, a few quibbles in an otherwise FANTASTIC movie. The restraint in how to use the 3D was brilliant. The other world felt more real, in edges and heft, than the real world. That beguiling too good to be true place that typified American spending the last decade.

I loved the music, the thousands of touches, the gleeful parallels in whimsy and malice between worlds, and the wonderfully expressive faces and gestures on the characters. Must see it again. Selick is a genius.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spring makes a surprise visit to Big Apple

I had my teeth cleaned. The dentist's office is right next door to where my husband works. So, with the clean white smile of the pure of gums, I met him for lunch.

Luckily the graduate center cafeteria had a chef's special--salmon, risotto, and asparagus--that both of us polished off with pleasure. It was so good to be sitting there having lunch with Jim. Something we used to do almost every day, now made new by scarcity.

After thanking the chef we strolled to the bargain store, I bought a pair of tights for 2.99 and they were very careful to give me my penny change. Jim had to go back to work. A quick tour of the handbags at Lord & Taylors proved that vastly expensive on 50% sale is still expensive... I next went to the Midtown branch of the public library which has the best collection of current and science fiction and treated myself to some promising titles. For free. Behind the famous research library, with its stone lions and much of the building shrouded by repair walls, I discovered I'd wandered into an alternate reality. The sun was shining. It was 65 degrees. I found a chair and shucked my down coat. I read in the sunshine as people, no doubt some of them very famous and unrecognized by me, entered and left a huge white tent covering most of the lawn. Is it fashion week? Is the library starting a literary circus with genre clowns and poets balancing on line breaks? Men with nicely cut and gelled hair smoked cigars while saunting in a daze. Women engrossed themselves in discussing office politics and flicked crumb offerings to the iridescent birds. I read and let the sun touch skin that hasn't felt sun in months. Even more than the chocolate, I felt delight thread into me. Oh how I will enjoy this Spring when it comes. Then the sun was hidden by building spires, as if a fan had flicked open with a chill breeze. It was time to go. I went. The whole rest of my day a little brighter.

Cat sitting

Yesterday my neighbor Bianca showed up with three cats, one of them snarling, which we stowed in my daughter's bedroom. Only for the day, while Bianca's walls got painted. She was bemoaning the fact that the landlord had insisted on replacing her brilliant hues with white. Just and only white. No more bordello red hallway. No more lime and turquoise. But with a name like Bianca, Karmic joke?

All day long the dog and cat that reside in my place approached the bedroom door and made small noises at the three cats inside. I felt as if it were a game show. Who is that mystery guest behind the closed door?

It is the 5 month anniversary of quitting my job and going freelance. I am surrounded by small furry beings and deadlines. And feeling pretty good about it all. Go figure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm high on hot chocolate and so can you

I had a great studio visit with Kathy Konkle. She showed me how she researches and builds art for her stock art business. She was incredibly generous and clearly a very focused person. She is a "diamond" artist over at iStockphoto, which is a hard place to get to, it means she sells in the top 200 out of many many thousands of artists. Kathy lives in the East Village and the walk up tenement reminded my of my three years living in Jim's place on East 90th...the tippy floors, the bathroom off the kitchen, and one long shotgun of rooms.

After having my head stuffed with enough information to start several of me working, I headed home. A block away I found myself on a corner with a Starbucks, an enticing if pricey cafe/bistro, and an even more expensive place called "Chocolate by the Bald Man." Who could resist? It had great sinage, the interior promised chocolate in every form from solid to liquid to airy conceptions and the logo was charming. Besides, I hadn't had lunch. A lovely guy behind the counter told me the Italian hot chocolate was the signature drink and he gave me sip tasters of the dark and milk chocolate. I couldn't decide. Really, what crack isn't good to a crack ho? So he offered to mix them. And he did. All the while making me feel like laying down on the counter and letting him pour every ounce of drink he could make into my face. I also bought a chocolate filled croissant. "Ten seconds in the microwave," he smiled, "and 5 minutes at 350° in the oven, best warm." Indeed. I gave him a dollar tip for making me feel like a million bucks.

I am now in the bliss and somewhat increased heart rate of a true overdose of chocolate. I made it as far as a Cosi on the way to the West Side subway entrance. The gray day now seems a happy sort of pearl hue, the sidewalks have developed a bounce, and my future shimmers, or is it simmers, with theobromine and tryptophan. It seems to me that I should absolutely follow Kathy's advice and turn doodles into clip art and start the long slow process of becoming a diamond member myself. A doodle a day she told me, and in a few months it will pay a small bill, in a few years it will cover most of your rent, and in ten years it will be your retirement money. Hmmm. More chocolate please.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Houseguests lovely but I wanna see Coraline

I had a lovely visit from friends Binnie and Doug. She is also a poet. Nice to find another person who enjoys reading poetry dating a friend of mine.

But I want to see to Sellick and Gaiman's Coraline movie. Soon please. I can't wait much longer. In 3D. With those two talents, plus the teams of people working with them, I am sure I will love it and need a copy to join my Nightmare Before Christmas... With the added delight that the 3D glasses will look nifty over my progressives.

When dinosaurs roamed and posed

It is most pleasant to try to figure out how to build illustrations in the program adobe illustrator while watching huge shrieking dinos duke it out in the long ago. So big and so dead. And I have opposable thumbs and a wacom tablet. Take that pre-bird thingies. I can imagine you, but you can't imagine me.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Searching for Helen Carlson

It's odd.
I have this google gadget that shows me how many people visit my site and what they're searching for when they land on it. Most soon realize my blog entries are not what they were searching for and flit away.

But I do get searches for a "Helen Carlson" that lead to my entry about my mother. I would like to think there are still people out there that remember her as a friend, a cousin, a sister, a teacher, a lover, an enigma, or even as the sarcastic neighbor who mowed their egos with her tongue. She was twitchy with energy, smarts, humor, and rage. Lovable or detestable, but not easy to forget.

But unforgettable also requires people with active memories. And here is where the ponderous wheel of time erases generations and collective memory. Mom died in 1975. Much has happened since then...including the deaths of her parents, cousins, friends, and even some of her students. Yes, I'm the obvious person to write something about her, and I did some of that in my first book of poetry and plan to do more in a memoirish novel. But as she keeps moving back and back and back into long ago I find myself wishing I wasn't practically the last person alive who misses her. I'm her daughter which is huge and also rather limiting, god knows we are all more than the sum of our children's perceptions of us. I'd like to know the other stories about her that I will now, never get to hear.

Luckily my father has included her in his autobiography, I have that and I'm grateful for it. But are there any more of you out there? Please share the stories.

Majors and minors

I remember the year I had to declare my major. I was a wreck. I'd come in as a "talent" (my SATs weren't spectacular) and discovered I didn't want to be a fine arts major in the department I found myself in. The Stony Brook art program was, at the time, in the grip of abstract zealots; my desire to learn the passe and practically recidivist subjects of perspective, anatomy, and color theory caused the professors to throw up their collective hands and label me a failure--no worse--ordinary! The shame. I crawled away from gallery shows featuring piles of dirt, ennobled by buzz word artist statements. Malarkey. I escaped over-ripe malarkey.

I decided to major in reading books. I understood that English majors were expected to produce reams of intellectual crap but it was better to explore well written books attempting to use my wits and scholarship than to paint blobs and write statements of blobbism. I knew gazing at the lint I picked out of my belly button just was not going to teach me as much as studying giants like Virginia Woolfe, Chaucer, Lord Byron, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, William Yeats, and Alexander Pope.

So imagine my surprise when my daughter Caitlin told me she is thinking of majoring in English, minoring in studio art. She was kinda sheepish about it. Told me she didn't want to be copying me. But...there it was. She really enjoyed the English classes. They challenged her. Even though the only B+ she had gotten in many years was in the English class she took last semester...

Yeah, I said, it took me awhile before I got the hang of writing those English essays. But once I did, I clearly got it: a couple of professors were soon accusing me of plagiarizing graduate school papers! Ah well, Stony Brook in those days was not known for reaching out to its students. Sink or swim. If more of them had actually taken the time to talk to me they would have known I'd written every paper myself. And despite it all, I loved being an English major.

My daughter will have a far better entry into her major because she is at a small private liberal arts college where they pay attention to every student... With an adviser, for instance. I know she will enjoy the class discussions and all the "ah hah" moments. She will learn to think, discuss, and write convincingly. The reading will also teach her far more about creative writing. It is all very cool. What is it I'm feeling? I think I'm smiling.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

When you know it, you know it.

I was struggling to design the cover for a book of experimental poetry, In Ways Impossible to Fold, by Michael Rerick, that has been described as:

"Every idea in this book is a fold understanding how to increase area and flexibility within apparent confines (as in pop-up books). As scale shifts, large and small scale blossoming, the heart, the pulse—moments fold and unfold in a dance of patterns in which we and everything that exists participate, as impossible as that can seem. Consider how some folded material retains obvious memory of having been folded: creases, pleats—perhaps even when evidence is far more subtle, some evidence of having been folded imprints what has come together, every word marking mechanisms of encounter." --Thylias Moss


So how do you illustrate that?

I looked at photos of origami, of folded paper art, of modern art light and shadow abstracts, of close ups of accordions, dancers, and at buildings mid-demolition blast. None of them got the feeling. Then when I was perusing deeply buried pages in Shaun Tan's website I found this astonishing painting that was an assemblage of found objects, including a locomotive engine formed from flattened tin cans and in the tin was painted the landscape behind the viewer. This was it! Talk about art folded into art folded into the stuff of the world. Luckily, Tan gave permission to use his painting. Here it is. I am glad to say the poet likes it. Whew.

What I'm reading

Next to my laptop, their covers beguiling me away from work, are Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters and Shaun Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia.

Kelly writes spooky unpredictable stories that defy any attempt to marginalize them in genre or PhD dissertations. They're literary, they're fantasy. Think Alice Munro clog dancing with Stephen King. Her own list of subject matter covers it:
  • A phone booth in Las Vegas
  • Aliens
  • Unhelpful wizards
  • Possibly carnivorous sofas
  • A handbag with a village inside it
  • Tennessee Fainting Goats
  • Dueling librarians
  • A statue of George Washington
  • A boy named Onion
  • Pirates
  • An undead babysitter
  • A nationally-ranked soccer player
  • Shapeshifters
  • An unexpected campfire guest
Shaun has written and illustrated his patchwork homage to the suburban mindscape.

Strangely enough, Tan was tapped to do the small illustrations for Link's book and even weirder I happened to be at the World Fantasy Convention, in a hallway hovering near Tan, when a tall thin glam editor practically fell to her knees begging Shaun to do the spot drawings--I say begging because the words included "beg" but she was camp and regal about it--I believe the very ones I'm enjoying in Link's book. This kind of small coincidence makes the cost of going to such conventions feel necessary. In a bookish way. Yes, I viewed the conception of these spot drawings.

Of course, I was fearless enough to invite Tan to join my group of friends for dinner at that convention and he did. He is smart, well read, well spoken, and thoughtful. So if this makes me disposed to like his work, I admit a bias. Luckily Tan is so good at writing and drawing that his vision of suburban weirdness simply shines. His collection of stories, lavishly illustrated in a multitude of his styles, gives him a chance to play with magic realism in every possible way. My favorite may be the one about what happens to all the unpublished poems in the world. Told with scraps of paper with different handwriting and fonts, it lyrically balloons and finally disintegrates in a rain that scatters and pulps all those lost efforts. These scraps become accidental verse littering streets and lawns. He notes "no one will be able to explain the strange feeling of weightlessness or the private smile that remains long after the street sweepers have come and gone." Pretty much what I hope strangers walk away with after reading my words. And if that isn't poetry, what is? So yes, go get a copy of Tales from Outer Suburbia, meet the water buffalo that points to fortune, the exchange student from another planet, and the alternate realities that lurk around the sharpened corners of the suburban landscape.

Kelly writes so well I wish I could just borrow her brain. Borrow, not eat. She makes me want to pay attention to the odd thoughts and visions that hover between sleep and waking. She's mining them with finesse. Here's to Link and Tan. Or Tan and Link. Yum. Yum.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

16 hour shifts

OK, I don't usually work 16 hours straight, but yesterday was a humdinger. Started work at 8 am and finished by 2 am the next day. Sheesh. Sent in my files, gave myself 10 minutes to unwind, and was surprised at how many people were up and twittering and blogging and facebooking at that hour. People, get some sleep!

Welcome to the freelance life. When work pours in, I'm working hard. When it isn't, I get to read while popping dark chocolate covered marzipan bon-bons into my mouth. Lately I haven't been eating much chocolate. Which means, in this econcomy, I'm lucky.

So what do I think of the job switch from art director to she-who-wears-all-hats now? It is almost a half year. I am still much happier. But some points to consider in the freelance life.

1. despite the lure of wearing jammies all day, it is not such a good idea. Makes answering the door to UPS or the plumber at 4 pm awkward.
2. very important to get out every single day. Housebound body is housebound mind. Really, just a walk to the library and back sends precious oxygen and ideas into my brain.
3. must set aside time to R&D--my master plan to get more creative and write and draw won't happen if I spend every single hour designing websites and books.
4. am going to buy a crock pot. I can start doing this passive cooking thing. Set it up in the morning, activate timer, make food. Got any good recipes?
5. must stop listening to CNN all the time. Need some music, some happy on the airwaves. NPR? Gypsy bands? Just less about tanking economy and gloom to match the February skies.
6. see friends more.

Monday, February 2, 2009

100 yard dash into history

My cousin Rob always throws a super bowl party. He has the perfect place for it, his living room is dominated by a pool table and lit by beer logo lights. I go for the family reunion. Rob's friends, after all these years, are just extended family. But this year, I mostly watched the game and asked my husband to explain what was going on since I really, really, don't know much about football. I will admit championship games have more zing.

He didn't need to explain a thing when James Harrison, the Steelers' linebacker, made his 100 yard score into super bowl history. Harrison bounced off every attempted tackle and ran even faster. Someone was screaming. It was me.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lyric Scenes of Russian Life in Opera

My friend Sharon took me to the Metropolitan Opera House Friday night where I was treated to the incredible best that this town can provide in live performance. It amazes me that in three hours of singers singing, musicians playing, lighting people lighting, and innumerable others doing their jobs, that all I noticed going wrong were two very small stumbles caused by long skirts when walking up the tipped stage and one actress promenading who held her skirts rather too high exposing all of her pantaloons.

The opera, Eugene Onegin, is based on a novel length mock-epic poem by Pushkin. Tchaikovsky composed some of the most beautiful music he has written. He also shifted the tone of the original poem from ironic to more sympathetic for most of the characters, especially Tatiana. She begins as a bookish shy girl and becomes a strong woman who has to make practical, not passionate or literary choices. I loved the scene where she is restless with her nurse and soon writing an ill-advised love letter to a man she has just met. Her girlish crush is as insubstantial as the sliver of the crescent moon above her. Karia Mattila sang and acted that scene to perfection.

It comes as no surprise that Onegin rebuffs Tatiana's offer of love in a rather superior tone. She shrinks into herself in shame.

The scenery was absolutely minimal, great walls of light, and the first act, set in a country estate off in the sticks of the steppes, featured a floor of leaves that was swept into clearings suggesting rooms, states of mind, or the work of harvesting. Perfect.

The voice of Lenski, played by Piotr Beczala, a neighbor and minor poet engaged to Tatiana's giddy sister Olga, was particularly affecting. Poor guy, he writes her verse she can barely bring herself to read. She is vain and bouncy, not deeply in love. The catalyst is the disdainful and thoughtless nobleman friend of Lenski, Onegin (played well by Thomas Hampson). He meets the sisters and bookish Tatiana falls in love. Bored and angry that Lenski is subjecting him to a stuffy provincial dance, when he expected a simple country dinner party, he fatefully exacts revenge by flirting with Olga. It leads to a falling out between the men and a demand for satisfaction from Lenski. Lenski's scene before the dual, his monologue on the waste of his life and fate of his love, was so beautifully sung I had tears in my eyes.

Bang bang. And for once the dying opera star was not able to sing through consumption or bullets, he staggers and dies.

But it doesn't end here, the story is really Tatiana's. In some ways it is a feminist story, a realistic story. She doesn't kill herself or die of grief. No, she makes an advantageous marriage, and unlike her sister, she is able to appreciate the love of a good man even if she feels no great passion for him. And what sweet revenge, when the more humbled Onegin meets her in the capital and falls in love with the poised woman she has become, she is able to send him on his way much as he did to her long ago.

I love being at the Met. From the chandeliers being drawn up as the lights dim, the gold and crimson of walls and seats, the terribly discrete subtitles on the backs of the seats, to the small pleasures of watching others at the intermission, and finding ourselves on a Friday night among the younger women there. Thanks, Sharon, for sharing this fine evening with me!