Site Meter Peculiar Susceptibility: May 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

I think this is beautiful

I want to be a simulation of a cape.

...even if I was a cape of chain mail.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Natasha, my tractor

Natasha, about whom I only feel very slightly guilty for calling the best dog ever, loved moving rocks.

Natasha, swamp monster

Within the first year we had Natasha we began to become concerned that hunters might mistake her for a deer - the way she moved through the woods, bounding and leaping over fallen trees, stone walls; the color of her coat, that kind of tawny caramel - and so we tied surveyors tape to her collar.

The dogs who come to live with my parents have quite the life - there's a large property with hills, streams, swamps, and obstacles of all sorts around which for them to roam. There's a menagerie of other animals with which they can play (sometimes this playing is more savage than others. To wit, in their first year with us the puppies killed Nora's bunny Jack. At some point the dogs killed a cat they found in the swamp - although, our parents only admitted this to us about a decade after the fact. And then there was the Great Bullfrog (Jerky) Massacre of 1997-2003. The dogs particularly enjoyed catching the big bullfrogs that lived in the swamp the beavers left behind. They would kill them, bring them up to the yard, let them dry for a few days, and then nomnomnom on them.)

One of Natasha's favorite, and most peculiar, pastimes was to run up the hill in the woods and hunt rocks. Big rocks. Rocks that were underground. In another life, she might have been an expert truffle hunter, but as it was she lived with us and found us rocks. She would sniff them out, dig them up, and push them down the hill with her snout so that the yard was often littered with rocks bigger than her head.

More often than not, you'd find Natasha in the yard licking and gnawing on one of her rocks.

tashi run 1
She's covered with rocks now. I know it serves a practical purpose - we wouldn't want anyone digging her up - but I like the literal inversion of the tables, her beneath and them above. Weight pressing down and up. I visit here at the end of my runs and walks and hikes, some awkward demi-Heathcliff.  (Don't worry - I don't actually exhume her.)

I know that there are many practical reasons my parents had for wanting a tractor - leveling and repositioning land for the riding ring, driveway maintenance, others that don't come to mind - but I like to think that they were inspired by Natasha's tireless rearranging of large rocks to do the same.

My parents went "tractor shopping" on every weekend for at least a year. It was part of what they do together as a couple. They have a whole routine of morning errands that usually incorporate feeding the bunnies at my mom's daycare center, picking up the paper from the general store, buying food for all the animals, and (at that point) tractor shopping.

During this tractor shopping year, my parents became increasingly convinced that I should marry the tractor salesman. It always kind of mystified me that they were seeing the same tractor salesman with such regularity that they could decide that he'd make a good son-in-law. But there you have it, they're very particular shoppers, my parents. They also have a penchant for selecting spouses for their children - the tractor salesman for me, the horse dentist (or, anyway, it's some man who has an equally esoteric equine-related job) for Nora, some linguist on TV for Patrick. They're regular Mrs. Bennets, my parents.

The urge to wed me off seems to have subsided along with the actual purchase of the tractor. They seem to be delighted by (in possession of minor injuries following) tractoring. To me, it seems as though they just move things around recreationally (although, arguably, my parents have a very labor-centered notion of recreation). (In full disclosure, I should admit to a deep abhorrence for lawn equipment dating back to the time in middle school that Sandy Mann showed me the toe he mowed off his foot. So, it's quite possible, I suppose, that the moving of things my parents do with the tractor is totally necessary, but that I am just too undereducated in the ways of lawn equipment to understand what's going on.)

At any rate, I prefer to think of the tractor as a kind of homage to Natasha.

In addition to being one of my favorite things to watch, this video shows rocks, do-it-yourself construction projects, and Natasha with surveyors tape.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

heft and hold shut your eye

Something changed for me the first time I looked at my world through a video camera. I've never been particularly good at remembering exactly when things happened. Sometimes I can piece it together based on cornerstones (many events in my life, for instance, are divided between Before Nora and After Nora), but really my memories are all kind of conglomerated.

I think this is partly why things like museums, archives, and libraries enticed me from a pretty early age - this notion of documenting things to tell stories to others, yes, but to your later self seemed like a good prosthesis to me.

It was my friend Sarah's dad who taught me first how to use a video camera. Cameras then (circa 1985) were heavy. It wasn't the easy eight ounces of metal and circuits and cables that comprise today's digital cameras—it was still the age of the Big. In the mid-eighties one wanted a ghetto blaster, not something called a "nano." It was Cadillacs and Jeeps, not smart cars and mini coopers. No. These things required a bit of muscle and a certain grasp on the skill of stability.

From a very young age, I watched classic movies, those films of the 30s, 40s, and 50s that some how or other always ended up telling the story of how to be a woman: when to demure, what contexts in which one should not wear one's gabardine, how to serve a Manhattan.

I can only imagine it was from one f these films that I got it into my head to walk across and back the room with Webster's Collegiate Dictionary on the crown of my head. I usually took some kind of a teetering, tentative sort of a path across the floor, arms never coming to a complete rest at my sides before they would leap back up to the edges of the book. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the best volume to have selected: it was heavy, thick, hard-covered, and, most importantly, its binding was broken, which made it slide around unreliable, some Buster Keaton spoof. But, at the time, it was the choice; I wanted desperately for it to lend a certain gravitas to the activity. You see, I was earnest even then. I was very keen to be taken seriously.

So, I had some degree of practice at stability. Nonetheless, video cameras then were heavy and unwieldy. You had to heft them up onto one shoulder and hold your neck just so, pressing one eye shut and the other to the viewfinder. It was a lot of coordination for a 6-year-old to manage.

Bob Cook was a natural teacher, storyteller, and community builder. These roles are perfectly exemplified in the way he taught me to use a camera. It was a method of connecting with people (could he tell how shy I was?) that seemed easier than holding a conversation. It was an initiation to and well-defined role within a group (documenter), a role that he often gave to any newcomers we happened upon. It was a way to approach our lives with a narrative orientation.

I've been recording things more these days. Clips are short (a drawback of digital recording) since I don't have an external hard drive and the quality is poor, but I have wanted keenly since Bob's death to make a better record of my days.

Here's Patrick at Real Art Ways the other night:

Here are the sounds of the majority of the spring evenings of my life:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"I can't get out."

I've been seeing these darlings all over this spring.  When I walk down the block each morning to my car, they hop along side me, the social little things.  (Of course, this perceived sociability could have something to do with my neighbor's newly seeded lawn...)

still lost pet bird finds a crown
the birthday card the beautiful and talented Jillian Vento made me, called "Still Lost Pet Bird Finds a Crown"

If you read these musings regularly, you may remember Still Lost Pet Bird. I still think about her everyday. I thought about her this morning as I was reading Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey:

I was interrupted in the heyday of this soliloquy, with a voice which I took to be of a child, which complained "it could not get out."—I look'd up and down the passage, and seeing neither man, woman, nor child, I went out without further attention.

In my return back through the passage, I heard the same words repeated twice over; and looking up, I saw it was a starling hung in a little cage—"I can't get out—I can't get out," said the starling.

I stood looking at the bird: and to every person who came through the passage it ran fluttering to the side towards which they approach'd it, with the same lamentation of its captivity—"I can't get out," said the starling—God help thee! said I—but I'll let thee out, cost what it will; so I turned about the cage to get to the door; it was twisted and double twisted so fast with wire, there was no getting it open without pulling the cage to pieces—I took both hands to it.

The bird flew to the place where I was attempting his deliverance, and thrusting his head through the trellis, pressed his breast against it, as if impatient—I fear, poor creature! said I, I cannot set thee at liberty—"No," said the starling—"I can't get out—I can't get out," said the starling.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

It works because we wonder ourselves into it

by Faith Antion

It keeps making its way to the surface, these days, some or other configuration of the idea that our sympathies can be gained (as viewers, as readers, as spectators in the world) when we sense a kind of transfiguration or threat to the human body.

I touched on it weeks ago, when I tried to suggest to my students that part of what's at work in Dorothea Lange's photos of migrant farmers (at least for me) is the immediate queasiness I feel when I see another person's bare feet in dusty dirt. I can't help myself - my throat instantly constricts and I grab the nearest glass of water, the closest bottle of lotion.

dorothea lange
by Dorothea Lange

It reared its head again, this idea, as we were discussing an excerpt of Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. In it, Barthes starts to investigate the structural elements of several photographs from rebellion-torn Nicaragua. I decided I wanted to find out what would happen if the students looked at a long series of photographs of their choosing.  For whatever reason, a bunch of the students ended up looking at photos of people with deformities - a child with its brain encased in a thin membrane that is an outgrowth of its scull, children with limbs that grew backwards, men so emaciated by Chernobyl-induced cancer that the students wondered if what they saw was a trick of the camera.  We wanted to, or at least I wanted them to, establish a system that would account for the responses we feel to bodies in pain (even as I write this I'm aware of the complexities of creating such a system, of manufacturing such a "we").

Kooza contortionists - where do their organs go?

I think there's something to the idea that when we combine the sympathy we feel for other human bodies with the threat of injury we imagine to our own that results in a very compelling kind of fascination and repulsion.

As a note (I wonder if this is at all interesting), this post has been sitting in my drafts for days and days, weeks, really. I've really struggled to let it go because it feels unfinished. There's a lot I still want to say about regarding other people's pain or potential pain that I can't quite properly verbalize at this point. But I've decided just to relinquish this post. What the hell - it's a blog; I can always come back to the idea again later.