Monday, December 21, 2009

Circle of Arts

On Thursday, I spent several hours reading my friend Andrew's novella and three short stories so I could at least have something to say when we met over breakfast on turns out, I had lots to say, and had a little trouble shutting up.  Occassionally, I forget I actually learned something in graduate school.  While I can't, apparently, apply this knowledge to my own work, I analyze other people's work with at least some minimal coherence.

On Saturday, amid the massive snowstorm, I ended up having dinner with my landlord, who has written some 25 books, including a couple of novels.  He kindly gave me a book on writing, Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande, copyright 1934.  I've only read the first chapter, but what is most interesting to me is how little has changed about the process of writing. Everyone has hangups and stalls and such.  Scanning ahead, she does have a chapter on the importance of a typewrite, but if I substitute in computer, I bet it will more or less apply. 

Mostly, however, I find that her it is, what, less than a week into this blog, and already, it's becoming what my father refers to a project of "great enthusiasm but limited duration."  Art, sure, it's why I get up in the morning.  But who cares?

Fine, OK, I do.  But that doesn't mean I'm not tired of the short, dark days, of shoveling snow, of accomplishing so damn little, one unfinished project after another.  Grumble. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Love that Guitar

When I was researching a character for the GodAwful novel, I interviewed a number of my guitarist friends to ask why they started playing the guitar.  Through chance, they were all men, several of whom I had dated, so a skewed sampling at best.  But to a one, each said they started playing the guitar, essentially, to pick up chicks.  Women dig musicians.  I was startled by this for some reason - I mean, I figured smart, talented people, the first thing they would talk about would be, oh, love of music, or some influential band, or a friend that played, or a musical family.  But, nope, it was all about the chicks. 

This didn't help me all that much, as the guitarist character I was writing was female, and I'm not sure that the groupie fantasy is as deeply rooted in the female psyche as it apparently is in the male.  I gave her a family member that she idolized, and that worked for motivation. 

But it brings up the idea of audience.  Those budding guitarists were all hoping that some future audience would groove on their art.  As a budding blogger, I'm hoping you'll be so smitten with me that you will read another entry. Or read to the end of this entry.  Or, ok, at least not send me flame mail.  My standards are lower these days, but part of me still things Fame! Fortune! Love!  or, ok, at least hot groupies.  It's not impossible.  I know someone (whom I won't name, since she'd kick my ass) who is dating a blogger that she met, yep, through his blog.  Which I also won't name, because, again, she'd kick my ass. 

Junk Art - The Ugly Mobiles, 1.0 & 2.0

Ugly Mobile 1.0 had the most interesting parts, that's for sure.  They included:
parts of a black metal lamp, broken guitar strings, the spiral cord of a phone chargers, parts of the inner workings of a mouse (computer, that is), 70th anniversay pin of the Soviet Union, a blue plastic turtle, the wire cap of a champagne cork, pieces of agate, amethyst and petrified wood, plastic beads, Mardi Gras medallions from 1990, metal towel racks, a plastic silver dollhouse teapot, yarn, paper drink umbrellas, magnets (including one that lights up), a broken compass with a frog design, a Canadian maple leaf xmas ornament, a homemade ornament prototype, a cloisonne bracelet, and seashells.   Sadly, I never got a good photograph (imagine!) but you get the idea. 

Ugly Mobile 2.0 is not as ugly, and has fewer parts.  The moral of the story might be symmetry and repetition are components of artistic design. Parts: black metal lamp parts (from UM1.0), crystals from a disassembled chandelier, the metal towel racks, plastic beads (some from UM1.0), goldtone bells, blue metal plumbing pipe, and a little guitar string. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Found Art

Currently, I'm all aflutter because I just found Fodor's Guide to Washington, DC and Vicinity from 1981.  Just to give you an idea: the pictures are in black and white and the Metro system map only has 3 lines.  The red line runs from Silver Spring to DuPont Circle.  And oh! the first line says: "Washington is a city which belongs to every American, yet it is the most un-American of cities."  Remember when you could say something was un-American without it being a slur?  Wow.  I remember this era, as I also remember when the Friendship Heights Metro and Mazza Gallerie was just a big hole in the ground up near the now-defunct department store Woodies.

I have no clear idea what I'm going to do with this book, but it seems ripe with possibilities.  The truth is, most days, I'm not sure if I'm an artist-type person, or really just a garbage picker.  I'm thrilled by bizarre finds.  Another book on my shelf is The Secretary's Handbook by Sara Augusta Taintor and Kate M. Monro, copyright 1929.  I managed to wrestle a poem out of that one when I was in grad school.  Thumbing through it again today, I've come across gems like "Do not capitalize the word goddess when referring to heathen dieties."  To say the choice of examples are dated understates it. 

Both of these books are fascinating to me from a historical context, the changes in my hometown, the changes of the world of grammar, business, gender roles, etc.  FOUND, however, is a magazine built by people after my own heart: it's random scraps of paper that people find that hint at larger stories.  Doodles, napkins, parts of love letters, parts of hate letters, irate tenants and landlords, car denters, stalkers, you name it.  All that litter blowing along overlaps with other people's stories.  Consider, for instance, all the college love letters (among many other things) stolen out of my car when I was in New Orleans in 1994.  Now maybe they died unread by others on a landfill before they floated away during Hurricane Katrina.  But maybe someone (after hawking my radio and clothes for a small profit) read through them all, cut them up into a collage, made a mobile out of them, created a poem, had a performance art piece where they were all ritually burned, stole lines for their own love letters, or decoupaged them into a table.  I'm definitely not the only garbage picker out there, and I like to think they were recycled and transformed, refashioned into art, however temporary.

And that's just up, the story of Ugly Mobile 1.0 and 2.0 (and possibly pictures, assuming I can find them).   More evidence that just about anything can be art, depending on what you do with it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Inaugural Address

I've been thinking about blogging for a while now, the idea being that if I could write regularly in small snippets and in less of a complete vacuum, perhaps I'd grease the weasely wheels of my creativity.  The problem? With my gnat-like attention span, I couldn't come up with any particular obsession that I could stand writing about routinely.  I don't want to make all of Julia Child's recipes in a year.  I don't have an ever-expanding collection of Star Wars action figures.  I'm not technically adept in much of anything, so I can't discuss, for instance, the best lens for shooting at night or birthday cake candles.  My travel, for 2009 anyway, is over, so reflections on locations are out.  So, what could I talk about that interests me AND, we hope, other people?  Clearly, this should not include my journal entries, with whinings on family, career confusions, and failed romance (as a public forum, is seems wise not to reveal absolutely all, so former flames, you privacy remains safe.  For now.  Bribes always accepted).

Sitting on the Metro last night, on the way to meet an old friend and her daughters to check out the Natl Xmas Tree, I realized I was humming part of an old Ani DiFranco song I'd dug out recently, sifting through old cassette tapes.  The lines that kept returning: "Art is why I get up in the morning, but my definition ends there and it doesn't seem fair that I'm living for something I can't even define and there you are, right there, in the meantime."

Art. Specifically, the process of creating art.  I am not a product person.  This is a politely-spun way of saying very, very little of my own work is finished, and in order to keep creating I've made some peace with that.  This is another reason why a blog, something open-ended with no conclusion in sight, something with good entries and dull ones, something with (we hope) much less judgement involved than The Great American Novel appeals to me. 

This is the first entry.  It's a starting place only.  I hope this blog becomes a place to ruminate on my own specific projects - The Ugly Mobile, 2.0, various short stories that aren't finished, and the GodAwful Novel, ponderings on guitar lessons, explorations in painting and offkey singing; the specific projects of others - the amazing paintings on my studio walls painted by the late artist Karen Laub-Novak, the upcoming publication of my friend's Neil de la Flor's poetry book, the songwriting and performance by Arminda Thomas, part of Good, Greasy and Baked, and other creatives souls with whom my life has intersected, in person and/or through their art.  But beyond the specifics of Product, I'd very much like to talk about Process, how and why we create,  the rituals and rare, random descents (yes, a little Plath reference there) that inspire and confound.  I expect I'll talk about more concrete issues, novels and structure, about the difference between a poem and lyrics, but also more philosophical - the relevance of art today, poetry, music, visual, movement, personality, transformation and transliminial spaces, quirks, the physicality of art, the stalling and stumping, the wrong turns the led to right turns that led to blind alleys that lead to Oh My, That's Amazing, that is, the process of Artful Mistakes.