Thursday, January 31, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit

In honor of Molly popping her little bundle of joy out any second now, I give you another overdue edition of: Cool Hippie Shit You Should Really Know About. And today, it's a biggie:


Yes, the ancient Chinese tradition is no doubt worth more than a mere relegation to the wanky granola category, seeing as it has been around for thousands of years and practiced ad infinitum, but whatever. Earlier this week I had my first experience with acupuncture after being well-intentioned for literally years now and just never actually making it happen. And damn, am I glad I did it.

So my friend Llama is studying Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) right now and she recommended this stellar practitioner she'd visited, so I looked the lady up and booked my little gig, not really knowing what to expect. I've been restless and feeling "off" for a few months now, what with a lot going on in Real Life and whatnot, so it felt especially appropriate to get in there, along with some mysterious lingering health problems that Western medicine has simply failed to address holistically. So I went in with a full plate.

The clinic is in Glen Park (a quick Bart ride from downtown SF, where I live), a neighborhood that seems to be gentrifying slowly, filled with little coffee shops and neighborhood ethnic restaurants and a whole strip of alternative medicine clinics and used bookstores and whatnot. Charming. Reminded me a lot of London, actually (could've been the drippy grey day, though, too). I walked in and we covered the basics, and then settled into a "why are you here?" conversation that involved my health history, emotional status, eating and exercise habits, and whatevs. You know, all that shit the Western doctors really don't care about or have time for. The doc (who has degrees in both Western and Eastern medicine - sweet) then did this pulse diagnosis thing (don't remember what it's called, sorry) and pretty much hit the nail on the head in terms of what's deficient systemically. She used that to determine which points on my body she would emphasize with the acupuncture.

So then we rolled into the little room with a long table where I laid down (no getting naked necessary, bonus points there). We continued our conversation, all the while she's poking and prodding, and I'm thinking she's just preparing my body for the needles. About five minutes in, I realize she's already put the needles in - several in my ears (called auricular acupuncture), on the top of my head, at my wrist, on my feet and my ankle - and I hadn't even realized it. The beauty of lying there is that you really can't see the needles in your body, which eliminates the problem of freaking out when you see this shit poking out of your ears. It was wild - the points she chose, say, in my foot, according to TCM align with my spleen, and the points in my forehead, with my heart, and by manipulating the energy meridians at those seemingly externalized points, she began to move the qi ("chi") around.

Ok, stay with me here. I know all this talk of meridians and qi and whatnot can make people shut off. So she put a bell in my hand to ring if I got freaked out for some reason, cranked up the Chinese meditation music again, turned off the lights and left the room, where I was to chill for 25 minutes while my qi moved. It was not unlike the final savasthana in yoga when you lie in corpse pose and realign your body while the yoga settles in. If you have ever tried to be still and just lie somewhere for that long, you know how wiggly you get after a few minutes. We're not used to being still with ourselves. Now add in needles sticking out of you and imagine how much harder it might be.

In actuality, the time passed quickly. My mind and body were buzzing and I felt especially awake and peaceful and calm and not bothered or stressing about the million thoughts of things I needed to do that day. She came in after the alotted time, "unplugged" me, so to speak, and told me to get up slowly and take care all day, seeing as I had just had a medical procedure. I definitely felt a strange mellow punch-drunk kind of open feeling for at least 2 hours or so; kind of light and airy and fluid and clear-minded in an admittedly hippie-dippie kind of way. The qi was moving, yeah baby, yeah.

Based on the deficiencies we'd pinpointed earlier, she gave me a tincture-like bottle of Chinese herbs carefully mixed to address the certain things I'd wanted to improve in my body and my life. I've been taking 20 drops in room temperature water for 2 days now, and the effect has been remarkable: I feel calm and more positive and centered than I've felt in months. Granted, much of this may be a placebo effect at this point, but we'll give it time and see what happens. I'm going back again next Tuesday, so I'll give updates accordingly if the qi keeps moving.

I will say that my yoga practice that night after the morning's appointment was phenomenal. Loose and easy and strong and calm and so flexible. I'm told this is not unusual. Overall, I was struck by the doc's immediate ability to connect what was going on in several systems in my body with the emotional terrain of my life. Like, creepily so. An example: I've had some cancer scares in the last year (long story short, don't worry, things are ok) related to my skin and lymphoma and shit. Freaky shit. So, turns out that in Chinese medicine, the heart is related to joy, the spleen to the intellect, the kidneys to fear, the liver to anger, and the lungs to grief. Obvs. grief has been a big part of my life since losing my father. And, get this: turns out that in Chinese medical theory, the lungs open up into - ba dum dum - the SKIN. Hello. Holy wisdom. So unresolved grief = lungs = the skin. Wow.

And that's just one little example of the way TCM melds emotional and spiritual theory with physical manifestations. I came home late Tuesday night and read everything I could about this shit. It's pretty phenomenal. The Taoist emphasis on balance has always fascinated me and this is an extension of that. I could go on forever, but will leave it there for now, and say, if you have a chance to do some acupuncture, definitely give it a shot. Mine wasn't covered by my health insurance, and I doubt most peoples' would be, but if you can swing a session, I'd say, get in there NOW.

Here's a great website I found with extensive resources to get you started on TCM:

Monday, January 28, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

The sun finally came out this morning. Thank god.

The other night I saw Woody Allen's 1979 film, "Manhattan." Often lauded as his masterpiece, it's another in the long line of Allen films complete with mad NYC love, a nervous Diane Keaton, and Woody carrying a tennis racket around while prattling on (and on, and on) about himself -- oh, I mean, his "character." I'm sorry, I mean, I can see why people think this guy's a genius in some ways, in terms of having captured a certain moment of life in the NY intelligentsia of the late 1970s and making some admittedly astute observations about relationships and love in the modern world, but enough already with the neurotic analyst sex talk and the thinly-veiled autobiography.

"Manhattan" does win points for a seriously killer orchestral Gershwin soundtrack; all the usual standards are there and I found myself distracted by playing name-that-tune throughout the course of the film. The cinematography is often breathtaking and shows flashes of great ingenuity; the iconic shot here of Keaton and Allen under the 59th St bridge is hauntingly beautiful, for sure. And I dug the black and white aesthetics.

But Allen's relationship with the young Mariel Hemingway, whose character was supposed to be 17 at the time, now rings creepily true to life, years after Woody shacked up with his adoptive daughter Soon-Yi. It's hard to watch the film with that backstory informing the viewing. And I can't say I'm feeling the Keaton love. Enough flitting and hemming and hawing already! Nearly thirty years later, she's still pulling the same shit. The jig is up, Diane. It's called self-possession. Get some.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

The Times has a charming little piece on that pressing topic we're all talking about in the run-up to the first week of February. That's right: the hotness of Tom Brady. Or, "Tom, Eli and their chicks." (I love how they throw in the odd sociologist to qualify what they're saying. Schwartz is actually a pretty big name in the field. Her schtick about the quarterback being a thinking athlete is so right on.)

Super Bowl notwithstanding, there's also some little election going on or something? Yeah, doubt you've heard about it. Anyway, Super Tuesday's creeping up and with it, of course, the big California primary, among so many others. I watched the results flood in from South Carolina yesterday and was shocked at the decisive victory. Chelsea Clinton's been campaigning in the Bay Area a fair amount (she went to Stanford, you remember) and you'd think with her and Bill on the trail, it'd be a shoo-in, but I continue to be amazed at the powerful names throwing their weight behind Obama (and, in the process, giving Hillary a slap in the face). Oprah, of course, was one of the first; yesterday the Chron endorsed Obama, and then just this morning there's a piece in the Times by Caroline Kennedy endorsing Obama with the same kind of lingo people used in the early 1960s about her father. Whew.

All I know is, I wouldn't wanna be Hillary Clinton right now. Momentum really seems to have shifted, and possibly for good.  We'll see on February 5th. In the meantime, Tom and Eli are some mighty fine distractions.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

"Melancholy is at the bottom of everything, just as at the end of all rivers is the sea. Can it be otherwise in a world where nothing lasts, where all that we have loved or shall love must die? Is death, then, the secret of life? The gloom of an eternal mourning enwraps, more or less closely, every serious and thoughtful soul, as night enwraps the universe."

-- Henri Frederic Amiel

Yup, another cheery one from me today.  I promise, I really do promise, that one of these days I'll get back on a rose-colored bent. But for now, yeah, sorry, you're stuck. And anyway, given how the media's been consumed this week with the tragic news about Heath Ledger's untimely death, maybe it's not so vastly inappropriate after all. Here in SF it's been pissing down rain for two days and is due to do so through the weekend, so with the cold and the wet, a little dourness fits in.

Just finished getting my grubby little hands on Eric G. Wilson's new book, "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy." The hardcover just came out on Tuesday, so I marched right down to the local indie bookstore to pick up my own copy after reading a few preview pieces and knowing it was right up my alley. And definitely - I think for any creative types in particular - it's a must-read, and a quick one at that. Equal parts philosophy, literature and psychology, Wilson's book explores the historical legacy of melancholia as muse, as source of creativity and birthplace of the arts, of music and poetry and painting and literature, falling on examples spanning Beethoven to Lennon to Coleridge to Springsteen to Joni Mitchell (and on and on).

Without romanticizing sorrow, he argues that to obliterate the dark and the difficult aspects of our lives (as the ever-increasing American reliance on pharmaceuticals threatens to do) would effectively eliminate a hugely important and essentially human part of being alive. 

It's a quick read, albeit one with alternately charming and annoying literary aspirations, and worth your time, really. I can see how some might criticize it as romanticizing the kind of depression that turned fatal for figures like Hemingway and Van Gogh, but I also think the book fills a need right now as a counterpart to the glut of positive pop psychology crap out there further encouraging that bland boring bloodness brand of American "Have a great day!!-ness" from which Europeans and Brits are for the most part blessedly free.

Wilson draws on just enough Protestant and Buddhist (and really, even, Taoist) themes re: the naturality and ubiquity of suffering, the complementarity of dark/light, sorrow/joy, pleasure/pain, and the inevitability of death to tie in a few theological angles, too. Much to my pleasure, even the Transcendentalists pop up: Emerson gets a few lines (not surprising, given that Wilson has apparently written a book on him in the past), as does Thoreau. Anybody who references HDT and his masses living their lives of quiet desperation just a few pages up from Springsteen's "Nebraska" album is all right by me.

Read the damn book.

Here's a link to an excerpt in the Chronicle Review:  In Praise of Melancholy

(Oh yeah, and I don't need to tell you that's Edvard Munch, "The Scream," 1893, right?)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Ugh, this makes me sad.

Today's Sunday Chron had a feature (complete with massive anonymous torso) on the increasing trend for men to get pectoral implants. Yes, you read that right: just like breast implants, but for men. Sigh. Once again the vanity score is being evened. And once again I argue that if this is supposedly "progress," a la the whole metrosexual thing wherein it's more socially acceptable for men to be narcissistic and self-absorbed, well, I don't want any of it. And once again the cultural emphasis shifts from doing and being to being seen: subject to object, across the board.  Equal opportunity objectification. Ugh.

It sounds from the article that the trend is generally located in the gay community yet, but I imagine that, like men's facials and hair products and what-have-you, what gains ground in the margins will then make its way into the mainstream as definitions of contemporary masculinity continue to shift.

This feels so indicative of so much of reality-TV, US Weekly-style culture right now, in a literal sense. Don't worry about whether there's anything underneath, don't worry about whether there's muscle or sweat or hard work or hours spent actually building up that temple that is the body you slog around in all day, everyday; just worry about what the surface looks like, what it appears like on the outside, unconcerned with the vapid vacuum (or silicon pad, in this case) you've got underneath.

Moral of the story: skip the pec implants. Lift weights instead, or climb trees, or swim in the bay, or whatever it takes. Just do something real. At least then you won't have to worry about the implant shifting and showing up, er, in your belly or something.

(And do you think it's really true that you can't tell they're fake? I feel like, well, you'd be able to tell...)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

The other day this woman came up to me and said, "Your hair is exactly like that lady's from Blade Runner!!"

Um, this is that lady.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Reading about Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was not only a badass poet and shared my birthday (it's a sign) and won the Pulitzer Prize but among other things was supposedly crazy charismatic and wild and bohemian and, in the words of one Julie Burchill from an article I read in the Guardian like 5 years ago, a "lusty Jazz Era dame," all Greenwich Village and cigarettes and poetry and lovers and bobbed hair and anti-establishment deliciousness,

but I have to say, 150 pages in, I have yet to catch but glimpses of this rogue, because so far it's generally Maine and Vassar and overwrought letters to her mother and boooring and I'm trying really hard to stick with it and wait for the dishy stuff to hit, because if the lovers and the addictions and the wildness don't come soon, I'm about to throw this bio with the killer photo on the front out the window and switch to something a little more racy, in spite of my lingering high hopes for achieving literary inspiration by diving into the story of yet another rockstar woman writer with great style and a brooding nature to whom I can fancy myself akin.

That is all.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

strange how my thoughts lately tend toward a certain letter

  • art deco (that blue-green)

  • athleticism (did you see the maverick surf contest coverage saturday? exhilarating, ridiculous, remarkable)

  • abstract (art, thoughts, angles)

  • arugula (dressed in balsamic vinaigrette with bleu cheese crumbles, spiced walnuts and dried cranberries)

  • adrienne rich (activist poet, general badass and teenage inspiration for yours truly whose poems are bubbling up in my consciousness of late)

  • adultery (10 years next week since the monica scandal broke)

  • absurdity (the real truth?)

  • anti-climactic (a wash of a golden globes ceremony sunday night)

  • alternative (music, reality, lifestyles, medicine, roads taken)

  • alpha males (hello there)

  • ambiance (preferably low lighting, earth tones, thanks)

  • artifice (ugh, it was bad enough driving through the marina the other night, let alone even thinking about going to the matrixx fillmore. seriously, they turn you away if you're a dude and you're not wearing a collar? disgusting. not my scene.)

  • adbusters (subvert the dominant paradigm, culture jam, wake up)

  • aloofness (implies depth)

  • angularity (helena bonham carter + johnny depp / sweeney todd = holy cheekbones)

  • aging (hello grey hairs, what??)

  • antithetical (to the whole point of anything, to being, to breathing)

  • absolute (silence, certainty, exhaustion, confusion, clarity, vodka)

  • art as refuge (solace, sanctuary)

  • atonement (golden globe for best drama and best score, pleasant results all around)

  • ariel hsing (12-year-old ping pong prodigy and all around rockstar, see here for deets)

  • absinthe (v. hot right now, ridiculously trendy underground drink moving into the mainstream; see also bar in hayes valley)

  • absence (where does one begin...)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit

Several people over the years have pushed this book called The Four Agreements at me, telling me it had changed their lives and inspired them and blah blah blah on this basis of this ancient Toltec wisdom. And in spite of it looking like a quickie little read, I've never gotten around to finishing it. So when this morning's Chronicle had a feature with its author, Miguel Ruiz, I thought, well, great, here ya go.

The article starts off being all about making change in your life and keeping those resolutions and whatnot, which is fine given that my resolutions at this point are pretty much blown. And I stayed conscious until about halfway through, when the cliches just really started rolling in. And then it just became soundbite central. Check this:

(Interviewer): What do you love about [the unconsciousness of a near-death experience]?

(Ruiz): Everything! It is just like being alive ... I love everything. I love football, I love soccer, I love cars, I love girls, I love my house, I love myself, I love everything!

Dude sounds like a dumbass. I'm not reading that shit.

Miguel Ruiz, in "Finding My Religion" (SF Chron)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Have you heard of the monkey mind?

I've got it, uh, on the brain lately. Been revisiting a lot of old Buddhist themes in my work, and the little concept of the monkey mind has been swinging around in my consciousness.

Basically, the "monkey mind" is a Buddhist term describing the way our minds rush and run like little monkeys, swinging from thought to thought a la the way the little guys at the zoo swing from branch to branch, never standing still, always bouncing and turning and twisting and swinging momentum from this thought to that, never staying in the present long enough to be still with what is.

I think - no, I know - that most of us "get" this. How many of us lie awake staring at the ceiling grappling with the kind of insomnia that reeks of questions of the future and ruminations on the past and cameo moments from our lives revisiting us at the most inopportune of times (say, when we have to be up at 5 the next morning). For me, as an introvert and someone who's always lived in her head, I work constantly with trying to tame the monkey mind. Sitting on the bus, watching the storefronts on Polk St. whiz by, I so easily lose myself in thoughts of "what if?" and "well, ok" and "oh shit" and "what was that?" And suddenly we find that we're no longer living in the present; we're so busy being caught up in analyzing what happened yesterday with that dude at the hardware store or who will win the South Carolina primary or what the hell is the name of the color of that paint I meant to pick up that we lose any and all awareness of where we are or what we're doing or what's going on right in front of us.

Yoga, of course, and the meditation that is a concomitant part of it, represents a constant effort to still that monkey mind, to slow it down for a few minutes or even an hour if we're lucky, to cease the swinging and the thinking and the rushing and to just let the thoughts blow by like tumbleweeds while we stay rooted in our breath and let our churning minds turn off for awhile. It's a struggle, of course, but that's the point, because suddenly after 90 minutes of sanctuary from wondering whether we'll win the hearing or whether I'll need that umbrella tonight or whether he'll walk into the bar, we're able to walk out the door and maybe apply that presentness to our regular doings, be they work or play or whatever.

I've been learning this lesson a lot over the last six months. Long story short: we've had a helluva legal battle with our landlord over some rent control schtuff that has essentially called into question whether my home of the last 4 1/2 years will remain so; through the course of hearings and petitions and attorneys and appeals and more hearings and more uncertainty, it has been all I can do to keep my monkey mind from swinging wildly from this branch to that, and will we lose and what if I have to move and where will I put my sleigh bed and what about my yoga studio and what about the lawyer's fees and hmm wasn't that opposing lawyer hot and did I catch him looking at me when he thought I didn't notice and yes I do think so and no don't be ridiculous and oh! if we just had something to rest in amidst all this uncertainty.

Chaos. Rushing. No stillness. And the thing I've learned, after a final hearing earlier in the week and what looks to be at least some temporary closure (and the great news that for the time being there'll be no moving to come), is how much energy we waste swinging with those monkey thoughts, and how important it is to step back and tame them and use techniques like yoga and meditation and watching the breath in order to keep our minds from simply running off the rails in the midst of uncertainty. And that that stillness, that taming of the monkey mind, is something we can rest in, in spite of any and all uncertainty.

(So there, hot lawyer. But, uh, you can tame my monkey mind any day you please.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey

I have such a love-hate relationship with the Times Thursday Styles section.

You can stumble on the shallowest of the shallow, most days, all talk of handbags and Botox and laser treatments and other bullshit. And then, other weeks, you get delish stuff like this, under the label "Beers of the Times:"

"A Taste For Brews That Go To Extremes"

Incidentally, the winner of their little extreme beer taste test? 90 Minute Imperial I.P.A., from Dogfish Head itself (based in Milton, DE), which I just drank a mad pint of when I was out with Mrs. D in Rehoboth a week ago. Good brewery. Love that the Times picked up on it.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit

Holy weirdness.

So last night I posted some random crap about a C-list celebrity and musings on another. Went to bed. Another day, another dollar.

Woke up this morning to 46 hits already, all before 8 am. Now, mind you, that is not normal. I have no pretensions about this blog thing. It's certainly not about any kind of, well, being read or anything. It's more about really, really hating the phone but being too far away from most of my old friends and family to really keep in touch decently so here's an alternative that doesn't involve actually ever having to have a conversation. Um, yeah. Sorry. So I usually get, say, 10 hits a day, 3 of whom are my siblings, the rest of whom are random college or high school friends here and there, with maybe a few little google search results for "in the nude" or "sunbathing raw" wherein people are undoubtedly directed to my site for the "raw" subject headings only to be sorely disappointed by the utter lack of nude ladies sunbathing topless. Whoops.

And I rather like that invisibility. No need for public exposure or whatever. So imagine my surprise to find the above-mentioned 46 hits by 8 am, and then some 80 by 4 pm, and now, at just nearly 7 pm, over 100 already for the day. WTF. Turns out somebody still living in 2006 googled a certain American Idol runner-up I mentioned ever-so-briefly yesterday and somehow hit my lowly little site. And promptly posted that shit on some Idol fan forum or other where apparently hundreds of other people with nothing better to do spend their workdays. Because holy shit. Little did I realize there were so many people in the Philippines who loooove Ms. McPhee. But apparently they do, because they're all trolling Idol sites following silly links to dinky little pages like mine.

Hilarious. And pretty freaky, actually. I'm hoping it slows down because I secretly feel waaay exposed - no one's really READING this thing, you know, just the sibs, and they don't count, right?! I will say, though, lesson learned about mentioning the random celebs who pass through my little watering hole. No need to pop up on random fan forums. And, um, apologies to any and all readers who came here hoping for dish on glorified karaoke singers and instead stumbled upon unedited ramblings about death and Joan Didion. Slightly different target audience. My bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

Ok, can we talk about a few things, please?

First of all, Katharine McPhee (of American Idol runner-up fame) sat at my bar tonight. Random. Girlfriend is lovely, doe-eyed, but a kind of ghastly pale, as well. (BTW, she has good taste in wine - points for that.)

Secondly, um, Vince Vaughn. So apparently Vince has been in town filming some cheesy new romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon for the last few weeks. I have, of course, been watching patiently out of my peripheral vision for his strapping 6'5" silhouette to stroll into my bar so that, according to my carefully thought-out plan, he can then sit down, swoon with adoration and sweep me off to LA where I can be his paramour and spend the rest of my life churning out leftist propaganda while he makes the occasional blockbuster with Owen and Luke. Any day, now, really, I guarantee it.

But in the meantime, I picked up the DVD of - wait for it - "Old School" over the weekend. Yeah, I know. There was a time in my life I wouldn't have even considered wasting two hours of my life on that shit. And I would've told you so, in more explicit words. But now, I tell ya; I don't know if it's the aging or the mellowing or the chemicals in the water, but I fuckin loved it, loved Luke and Will and the bad cliched pathetic crass jokes and the Peter-Pan-Syndrome crap and the predictability and the gratuitous physical humor (uh, Will Ferrell doing rhythmic gymnastics, anyone? Or, uh, all of them busting out a Pomalink-esque dance routine on the basketball court? To die for).

But especially Vince. I don't know what it is about the guy: his looming height, his cynical satire, his confidence, his sharp delivery, who knows; but the dude is All Man, and I can't get enough of his films. Even the half-assed shit, of which there is a lot, of course: Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers and Starsky and Hutch and the like, all of which I somehow feel I shouldn't really enjoy (not exactly heavy intellectual workouts going on here, people), but I'll be damned if I don't find them to be so smart and clever and astutely socially perceptive in spite of their shallow facades. Especially in Old School, with its uptight joyless women aching for suburban dystopias (hello, world!) who long to tie down their prey and keep their men sober and bored and chained to white picket fences, I can't help but identify with the thirty-something masculine desire portrayed here to break away from that handcuffed life and be loose and easy and laughing and just fuckin not so concerned with wallpaper and breadmakers and all of that bourgeois domestic shit. And I think that really is the social critique that lies at the heart of the film and of this genre in particular.

And how can you not love that? Add Vaughn's iconic "Swingers" role to his turn as Wayne what's-his-name in "Into the Wild," and that's it. Signed, sealed, delivered.

Now if he'd just walk through that door...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Last night the storm broke just long enough for me to march downtown to the MoMA for a quickie. There are three big exhibits closing in the next several weeks that I've been meaning to catch for months now, and the moody weather made an easy excuse to stop in.

(Um, also, I wanted a reason to wear weird shit and a floppy hat and red lipstick and pretend at bohemianism.)

So I stomped into the lobby in my tall old Pippin hooker boots and the first thing I saw was a black ceiling fan suspended from the high ceiling by a single cord, pummeling itself around the space above our heads, propelled solely by its own momentum. Two feet taller and I would've been smacked in the face. It's part of the Olafur Eliasson exhibit, which is a whole sensory experience unto itself, all sounds and smells and strange materials blasted onto walls and set up haphazardly in the middle of rooms.

The Jeff Wall photography exhibit was the one I've been itching for most, though, so I headed there first. Wall is a Vancouver-based artist who marries the feel of cinema via the use of backlighting, etc. with the look of photography, painstakingly constructing images that look as though they've simply been shot by a camera but which in fact take hours, sometimes days, to put together.

Wall's works are huge, spanning whole walls, and they're bleak and desolate in quiet yet vivid ways. My two favorites were "A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai)" (above) and "Some Beans" (right). "Wind" (1993) is inspired by an old Japanese drawing (hence the "Hokusai" in the title). Wall often uses literary and artistic predecessors as inspiration for the worlds he builds (as he does with Ralph Ellison's character in The Invisible Man).

"Beans" (1990) reeks of the 30s to me, all Art Deco blues and melancholy lighting and minimalist energy. Wall has a parallel work - same shot, minus the beans - with an octopus sitting on the other table; I love the juxtaposition of the absurd with the base in these two pieces.

Joseph Cornell is the other major artist featured right now. Cornell was a mid-century character: Surrealist (a la Dali), totally introverted, reclusive, really, this collector of small treasures who put them together in shadow-box type pieces and curiosity cabinets. His works hum with themes of nature and death and beauty, a strange mix of spirituality and celestiality in the midst of material and found objects. His "Hotel Eden" (1945) is here to the left, and "Tilly Losch" (c. 1935) to the right.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Officially my first post of 2008, and with it, 40 mph winds and a blustery winter storm wailing at the bay window out front. Northern California is getting its winter after all, and it's due to hit in the next several hours. Hunkering down is the plan.

Which is fine with me, after a week or so on the opposite coast. Good times, good brews (cheers, Hearn), good long walks on the beach. Wisdom gained in the course of the long weekend:

1. WaWa is king.
2. Rehoboth is better in the off-season, in an empty echoing hushed chill sort of way.
3. The ball drops and the new year begins whether you are ready for it or not.

So back again, then, in California, with luggage sprawled all over the place and a crispy tree clinging to its last few moments of glory before it all crashes down in the form of an ugly awkward drag down to the sidewalk and a new year that with it brings new resolutions and fresh starts and all that shit that's supposed to inspire us. I, of course, scrawled out my resolutions on the flight home (all 72 of them, per usual) and while many of them remain the same year to year (floss every day, practice yoga 7 days a week, cut back to a bottle of Jack a day), a few have scrappily clawed their way to the forefront this year.

And one of those, perhaps the most pressing of those, is writing. Surrounding myself with writers, losing myself in the writing, producing more consistently on the outside instead of just marinating in it here on the inside. Two big deadlines for Jan. 31 and Feb. 29, which will be kept secret in the event that I fail shamefully, and a reboot of sorts on the whole writing project.

And a part of that is coming home to the writers whose careers drive me. One of those is Joan Didion. A cool, brisk native Californian who's made her name as a political journalist, essayist and fiction writer, she's a rock on the scene and generally a badass. Had read bits and pieces of her work here and there, but Didion's 2005 prize-winning turn, The Year Of Magical Thinking, really brought me into her camp. A memoir of death and grief on the sudden loss of her long-time husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the accompanying spiral into terminal illness of her daughter, Quintana, it opened up the subject of grief to me as a noble and honest and commendable topic that needn't be relegated to fiction or genre work, but is instead an integral part of the whole "being alive" thing that fuels literature.

Jonathan Yardley of the WaPost revisted Didion's late 60's work, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, last week. His article here ("In a Time of Posturing, Didion Dared Slouching" offers a good glimpse at Didion the writer.

NPR had an excerpt in October 2005, when Magical Thinking came out. It starts:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.

Find the rest here.

(Have you broken your resolutions yet?)