Sunday, June 27, 2010

My muse is not ethereal

I have realized my muse is not the Grecian gowned demi-goddess who frequently stands me up. No, my more constant muse takes a seat on my shoulder as I begin typing. He is a rather solidly built old man with a mustache and bifocals. Once comfortable, he pulls out a golden pen and starts his crossword puzzle. He occasionally looks at what I'm doing and says in a kindly rumble, "er, might want to reword that" or "have you looked that up? No use making up the facts." When I am having a particularly bad day he can't resist saying "I could have written three chapters in the time it took you to do that one paragraph." And then, when I want to flick him off my shoulder he says "you can do it, I believe in you! Keep writing."

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Joining The Artist Class

This recession is hitting a lot of people hard. I'm luckier than many, at least I'm getting work. But I have to count dollars and spend drastically less on vacations, new clothing, haircuts, theater, movies, meals out, and home decor. My daughters have more spending money than I do...and it feels weird to not be able to treat them to things. Worse than that, I can't afford health care, haven't been to a dentist in two years, and really worry about stray bricks, buses, or diseases bopping me. We are having to live on less than half the income we made two years ago.

I was reviewing the sad math of income vs. expenses and it suddenly hit me: why am I paying so much to stay in my very nice upper middle class apartment? I am no Edith Wharton heroine. I don't need to convince you that I am from a family of social note.

I called my friend Deborah. She said, "why not just accept that you are part of the Artist Class, and live accordingly?" Indeed. Why am I paying 68% of my gross income in rent (mortgage & maintenance)? When you look at income after taxes...I am paying a crazy amount of income to live here. What's left over isn't enough to survive in Manhattan, one of the most expensive places to live.

This made me sad for awhile, I love this place...but do I love these walls more than I love living a full life? No. I am looking at how friends live the Artist Class. They have apartments with diy shelving, an overflow of books, quirky but not expensive decor, funky art, furniture of no special value decorated with throws and pillows that you might buy at a street fair...hey wait, that describes me! The only difference is that they are not living in a ritzy building that has been designated a landmark and houses lawyers, doctors, real estate tycoons, TV stars, and top level academic bigwigs.

Unless our combined talents suddenly earn us gold, we will be moving within a year...

The Artist Class. Hmmmm. Maybe I'll find a place to live that has a better view, some light, and more space for my light box and easel. And I have always wanted to visit Italy, all it takes is a change of address.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fruity-G Octo-leaf

The G meister is reaching out to his fans with 8 loving palms. Watch out octo-moms, guard your sprigs!
He's growing so fast on solstice sun he's gonna need a new mod pot pod to thrive! 

His new video, "Eatin' the Sun Juice," features Fruity dancing the photosynthesis with the Purple Clovers. Some bad fusion with this Irish band of bulb cloggers and the pit stompin' fruitster. Fans awaiting tour!

Order your Grapefruit Power Tee here once we get the resident designer to make one.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reading, Chocolates, Reading

I have my addictions, you have yours.

I start out in withdrawal. Irate, jumpy, focusing on negative probable futures fueled by negative actual bank balance... Then I take the object of compulsion--a book--and semi-recline on a pile of pillows. Water and some fruit or chocolates are in easy grazing distance, and after looking at the title page I begin to read. If I am lucky the first paragraph or poem is so good I stop thinking something like this:

"Hmmm, Garamond the usual choice, but here it is handled nicely with the subtle caps and small caps of titles, great white space, and that interesting dingbat next to the folio--is that one of the ornaments from Jenson?"

If I'm no longer thinking like a designer, I'm reading, and actively shaping the author's world in my mind.
An hour later, the plate of strawberries is gone, the water cup empty, and I resurface. I'm calm, relaxed, excited by the story or craft, and most importantly, not snarling.

I didn't have time to read today. Hear my roar. Snort.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mermaids and Other Living Things, or the 2010 Coney Island Mermaid parade

This year I was armed with not one but two cameras. A tiny point and shoot Canon and my trusty old Nikon D70 with a cheap telephoto lens. This lens is persnickety and occasionally growls, stutters, and refuses to focus for reasons I can't fathom. No matter, I got plenty of good shots anyway. And what wouldn't fit in the telephoto, got shot with the Canon. The elephant, for instance.

Last year I analyzed why my snaps were not as good as the photos by pros. I mean apart from the obvious about vocation and skill. I decided it is about getting right into someones face, something I feel shy about, but with a telephoto you can be close and far at once. Sort of like Skype.

This is a point-of-view exercise. I could take general shots of the whole scene, but that is akin to writing a dull poem about parades and neither the viewer or any particular parader is brought into focus. So my best photos showed a strong contrast between systems (ie: signage at odds with costumes) or narrative moments that both reveal my fascinations and the subjects expressions. So many of my poems need to be rewritten because the "I" is not clear.

As expected, BP was given plenty of coverage with oil-slicked dead mermaids and angry signs carried by tiny children.

My daughters Natalie and Caitlin, with friends Krysia and Bianca, wore their spandex and marched despite the very hot day. What a bizarre mash up of visions passed by. Creativity and crassness--ah, Coney Island.
Natalie (green), Krysia (blue), Caitlin (blue/purple), Bianca (pirate)

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Creativity Manuals

Lately I am designing and laying out a book about creativity. It is a paying job. It is a well meant book, full of examples and research. And I can understand why people want, and need, books that give them permission to express themselves through the arts. If I have any religion, it a feeling that the muse sometimes shows up, takes possession of me, and skews space and time while doing so.

But... so many books on creativity use too much paper validating their approaches in science. Or offer such detailed step-by-step recipes that I sometimes feel the message gets lost. Cheerleaders don't have footnotes. Muses don't fly on wings of statistics. My favorite books inspire me to create by example. Give me Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town, and Annie Dillard's The Writing Life. There are more. Brenda Ueland, Ray Bradbury... But what makes each of them effective is the author's ability to take me on the journey with them, and to be there when the muse strikes their prose into unexpected and exhilarating swoops.

And when the less inspiring manuals tell me to contact my inner child or accept that I'm so Special because I'm so Very Sensitive, I shrug. The truth is I write and draw because it feels good. I like wrestling with words. I like making lines and smudges. Something happens when I allow myself to play. It could happen to you.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Trouble With Mermaids

I am planning to go see the Coney Island Mermaid parade on Saturday. My daughter Natalie and several friends are already turning yards of green and blue glittery spandex into tails, fins, and artfully placed seaweed.

Yes, it is a totally campy event. The interpretation of sea life is incredibly broad. Some go burlesque, others literal, some whimsical, sweet, many funny, there are dedicated groups performing street theatre, bands, and inventive use of used subway cards and plastic bottles. This year I expect to see some oil-glopped birds and spewing BP rigs marching as well.

I mentioned I was going to the parade to an intellectual friend.

"You like, uh... mermaids?" Said in the voice of someone who just doesn't get it. That ellipses of disappointment. Somehow it is assumed that writing poetry makes me prefer reading literary criticism over attending a parade. Give me the parades.

Even in Provincetown, the Fairy Parade, with all it's tawdry winks and nudges, was pure magic to the little kids waiting to be noticed by the entrancing beings who glided by aglitter. I am sure small kids and big will be awed at the mermaid parade. I may even get a poem out of it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Voices from 1976

My second cousin Mark Forman likes to restore tapes and convert them to the digital age. Music...and spoken word. I had no idea what his hobbies were until this week when he sent me an 18 minute tape of an interview he had with my grandmother 35 years ago.

I burst into tears listening to her voice. It all comes back. I forwarded the digital mp3 file to my daughters with this note:

In 1976 I flew back to New York from Minneapolis because I could tell my grandmother, Rose Bernstein Zuckerman, was starting to get a little forgetful, a little lost. I was 20. She was 80. My mother had died two years earlier and going Far Away had seemed like a good way to cope. It wasn't.  I hadn't liked the twin cities much at all. Too damn cold. And the weather was worse. I was happy to get back to Stony Brook and Brooklyn.

My 2nd cousin Mark Forman taped an interview with Rose, he was 21. He wanted to know about her father (his and my great-grandfather Joe Bernstein) who sold booze during prohibition. He was writing a screenplay about rum runners. As you can tell, Mark was eager to hear that Joe was a tough and wild gangster (on the prowl with guys whose nick-names ended in "the horse"), but my grandmother said that wasn't quite so. She had a point. He was a liquor salesman who had been thrown into the black market.

Rose tended to see her father in the glow of her own tastes, her version of him was far more elegant, refined, and uh, white-washed, then the versions her sisters told. But even so, here are some family stories. In my grandmother's cultured voice. Now you can hear what she sounded like too.

Imagine her serving Mark with the delicate spode china I now have. She would be wearing her Chanel No. 5 perfume. Just a bit. The round table in her living room would have a starched and elegant tablecloth embroidered with something seasonal, fall leaves or spring buds. The view through her apartment window would be of Brooklyn single family houses with tiny lawns, she lived on the tenement side of Newkirk Avenue. Her dentures don't quite fit properly. Her voice gets more Brooklyn when she gets excited. But she pronounces my name, Claauuuuuudia, just as I have told you she did. Very grandly.

Here, meet your great-grandmother.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

John Waters on a purple chaise longue examined in the bookish park

When I was a Long Island high school girl, the druggie kids, that wilted in back of the gym, enthused about Frank Zappa, The Stones, Hendrix, John Waters and Pink Flamingos. They whispered about Water's gross-out cult film that was traveling across campuses faster than streaking and beer-fueled free love. I wasn't doing sex, drugs or rock 'n roll so I didn't hear, see, or know what they were talking about. I was taking my PSATs. What did I know about the weirder side? I read Jane Austen and drew medieval style manuscript pages. Men in dresses? Queer men? Put it this way, I had a crush on a gay kid and hadn't yet figured out why he didn't want to kiss me.

A little time goes by. And there I am sitting in Bryant Park, ready for John Waters to totally SHOCK me. What I didn't expect was for him to utterly charm me. He was hawking his new book, Role Models, just out from Farrar, Strauss & Giroux. Paul Holdengräber posed as Water's shrink and conducted the interview with musical asides and witty sparring. John Waters was brilliant about his creative process, the choices he has made in life and friendships, and his pandering of his quirks, from sartorial punk elegance to truly odd sections of his 8,000 volume personal library. The book is an exploration of people who inspire him. I drew and wrote... and waited on line (thanks to Flash Rosenberg and Len Steinbach urging me to go ahead) to get his autograph on book and my sketch. He actually put on his glasses to see my drawing. I did draw the mic with a bit of creative license. My friends just sort of sighed when they saw what I'd done. Even Waters gave a thin dyspeptic smile. Why is it when I try to get a bit shocking all it elicits is eye-rolling? Ah well, maybe society gives only a few permission to be outrageous and the rest of us--we only achieve a whimper of outré.