29 June 2012

THIS! 6/29/12

THIS! on June 29, 2012

1) American Motel by Eric Cousineau

This is a Kickstarter started by Eric to finish his great series of motel photographs. Take a look at the link and look at his work. He's offering great rewards and really deserves the chance to finish this project.

While you're at it, check out his website. He does weddings!

2) Tableau Vivant

And while I'm talking Kickstarters. This is probably one of the strangest, most beautiful things I've seen lately.

Sarah Small's project reminds me of turn of the century salon presentations. The tradition of tableau is weird and amazing. Here is a Huffington Post article about the project, which features a fellow CSF alum, Janie Martinez.

27 June 2012

Nox Equus

When the weather starts to get warm and humid I sleep less and what I get is restless and full of strange dreams. I wouldn't go so far to say that I start to have more frequent nightmares, but I definitely sleep lighter and remember more of them.

Recently I dreamt a long winding dream about a caravan of vehicles traveling somewhere. My family and I were a part of it. The dream held no clues of where we were going or why. Another dream involved working in a bar mixing up colored potions. The floor of the bar was dirt, and the stools and bar top were rough wood. The dream was mundane in its plot, but felt somehow ominous.

The lack of deep, restful sleep comes down to one thing. No A/C.

The air becomes damp and heavy, hot, it grows harder to breathe. Sleep becomes more difficult. Breath is shallow.

The Nightmare (1790) Henry Fuseli
Nightmare is a word with its base in Old English. The Mare is a goblin in Germanic folklore that sits on the sleeping person's chest and controls their dreams.

Henry Fuseli found the concept ripe enough to paint not one, not two, but four different versions of what is still his most famous work.

The Mare also was believed to ride horses until they became exhausted and in some cases died. The creature, which was always portrayed as female (naturally) was also responsible for twisting tree growth. These twisted pine are called martaller or mare-pine in Sweden.

Mares are also responsible for a strange matted-hair phenomenon known as the Polish plait. This is what that looks like:

Jagiellonian UniversityKraków, Poland

Take a long look at that thing. It is a 1.5 meter (METER!) long ball of hair, pus, blood, lice casings, dirt, and skin. Yes. All of that. On your head.

It was common in Germany, Poland, Denmark, England, France. Everywhere. It is a result of poor hygiene. In other words, unwashed, uncombed hair. Many would not cut them off because it was widely believed that it was an illness removing itself from the body. Some even actively encouraged their growth by donning special caps and rubbing lard on their scalps.

So yeah, I'm thinking about those things lately. Because nasty, humid, weather does bring to mind gross hair. Gross bodies. Dirty streets, etc.

And I certainly feel like something is sitting on my chest at night. Maybe it's my cat.

Drew Barrymore's soul belongs to that vaguely cat-shaped thing.

25 June 2012

Wherein I Use The Name Paul Giamatti Seven Times

Last night my boyfriend J and I were rummaging around our favorite local book store, Unnameable Books on Vanderbilt Avenue. Unnameable is about 2/3 used books and 1/3 new. They have the best poetry section of any book store I've been in in the city. It stretches over a whole wall and includes many harder to find titles and big name poets/publishers.

William Makepeace Thackeray,  happy
J found a great old copy of Vanity Fair that included Thackeray's original drawings and approximated the appearance of the first bound edition. It has a really odd cartoon drawing of Thackeray himself on the cover holding a Greek comedy mask.

On this trip I didn't pick anything up, but as we were checking out we did notice a copy of Henry James' The Golden Bowl by the register. It was face down and the back proudly displayed its Penguin logo and design scheme.

I've always loved Penguin's design. The use of out of context paintings and those black bars with simple elegant white and orange writing. Classic, simple and somehow evocative of the 'greatness' of the books they publish.

For their 60th anniversary they have added the tag line 'The best books ever written' on their classics editions. That was 6 years ago. I've never noticed it before. It hovers on the back of the James right above the UPC. It looked like a ridiculous blurb that someone would paste onto a copy of Infinite Jest or Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It felt out of place and bombastic. Not like Penguin at all.

I picked up the book to examine the quote and realized that it was Penguin saying this about themselves and got a little grossed out. I give them credit for having the balls to put it out there like that, but still. Ew factor high.

While I was holding it a man came up startled and jokingly accused me of stealing the book. Saying, 'Are you taking my Henry James? Don't steal my James!' I laughed and turned to tell him that I was just  looking at it and the man was Paul Giamatti.

Two quick things. 1) I had noticed that Paul Giamatti was in the store with J and I earlier but I do not get silly around celebrities. They are people. I have waited on many of them in my days and have even dined with a few. They aren't that interesting, really. 2) This is my second odd run-in with Paul Giamatti. I feel like you have to use his whole name when talking about him. Some people are like that.

My first Paul Giamatti run-in was at the Met with my good friend H. We were there to see a fashion exhibit and had paused in front of a painting or photo, I don't remember, but we turned and there he was. Alone. Staring at the art in front of him. He looked sad. Maybe he's just a sad looking guy? I don't know, but he looked sad that day. Maybe it was because that John Adams mini-series was just out and getting bad reviews and his face was plastered on every bus in the city. H and I joked that we should go say hi and offer him a hug. We were very close to doing it but decided to leave for cookies and coffee instead.

Also. J had recently sent me this clip:

That, dear friends, is from the 2000 movie Duets. Staring...Paul Giamatti. Who I forgot was even in the movie until I saw him there. Also, Andre Braugher! Who's currently on that silly TNT show Men of a Certain Age with Scot Bakula and Ray Romano.

Thomas Hardy would take the book
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that J and I are currently in the mood for classic books. I have been reading Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. And I would be reading The Golden Bowl if I had run screaming from Unnameable with Paul Giamatti's book like I kinda sorta maybe wanted to.

22 June 2012

I forgot to mention that next month I will be Re-Reading Roald Dahl's The Witches. I would love you all to follow along or re-watch the movie.

I am also looking for guest writers to come aboard and discuss books writing, the culture of books, etc...if you have an interest comment here.

THIS! 6/22/12

THIS! on June 22, 2012


2) Scout

Scout is a program from the Sunlight Foundation that notifies you when congress or state governments are discussing issues you care about. You enter key words into their database and sign up an e-mail address.

Sunlight is, in general, a great organization dedicated to government transparency and citizen education.  Worth a look.

3) Nuns on the Bus

From the press release:

Catholic Sisters stand in solidarity with all who live in poverty, and we confront injustice and systems that cause suffering. We cannot stand by silently when the U.S. Congress considers further enriching the wealthiest Americans at the expense of struggling, impoverished families.

So what do these nuns do? They go on a bus tour from Iowa to D.C. to bring attention to poor families and how the Republican Ryan Budget would further hurt the lives of the poor in the US. There is even a section on their site on how the budget would hurt state-by-state.


That is a bedroom at the  Au Vieux Panier hotel in Marseille, France. The small hotel features 5 rooms that were given over to graphic design teams. The above was done by Tilt, a French graffiti artist.

20 June 2012

Re-Read : The Great Gatsby, Part 2

The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Scribner (1925)
218 pages

Read part one here.

I tend to focus on what books make me think. The associations I have with them. The Great Gatsby is tied to high school English class. I am reminded of discussions of the green light, wanting, metaphor. All in vague flashes.

Re-reading Fizgerald's most highly regarded work I was struck at the simple beauty in the writing. The cam painting of the idle and bored rich of New England. How the time period seemed less romantic and more doomed to failure.

Gatsby is painted in heroic language. He is monolithic, everything Nick wishes he were; rich, handsome, amazing war-time back story. Daisy is bored with marriage, seems to not even remember having a child, is mostly a child herself. Nick is a blank slate for these two to play out their odd romance upon. To heft the weight of morals at so they can get to doing.

And Nick is racist, classist, and ultimately wishes he were vapid and having fun like these people he is watching collapse in front of him.

To say that Fitzgerald gives us a in detail death of a star. An implosion. The untenable world of the 20s could only collapse, and the resulting nova destroyed lives. But that final line about boats drifting "against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past" is a warning and prophecy. The collapse would destroy lives, but America would seemingly not learn the lesson. At least not the protected rich and soon to be rich.

Fitzgerald's writing is sharp, pointed and crystal. There is a reason this is his 'great' book. It is short and to the point. He doesn't mess around. He tells the story and gets out. I dislike every character in the book, but the plot and pacing are the best of noir writing. I'd say it'd make a great movie, but it has been proven a few times to not make a good film.

J.B. is on the case.
A movie can only hope to give us spectacle. While Gatsby is many things, romantic is not one of them. The affair is oddly cold. The dialogue cursory. Gatsby lives and breathes in descriptions, asides, pauses. Otherwise it's a potboiler about a death in a swimming pool. Which I'm sure was an episode of Murder, She Wrote. And that would make sense, there was another creation about upwardly mobile people meeting tragic ends set in New England.

The book needs to be inside Nick's head to work. The reader needs to be that slate Gatsby and Daisy draw upon so that in the end that feeling of universal awe is reached. That we as a country, as a whole, are drifting in hapless fear of the future and doomed to repeat our mistakes.

Re-Read is a sometime article where I go back and read a book from my childhood over and examine the threads that I find in my current adult life.

18 June 2012

Re-Read : The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Scribner (1925)
218 pages

As I write this the 7 hour 15 minute long staged reading of Fitzgerald's 'greatest' work is playing in London's West End at the Noël Coward Theatre as part of the annual LIFT Festival.

I mention this merely as a starting point. That this production, Gatz, created in 2006 by Elevator Repair Service, exists at all is telling of so much of Gatsby's allure. And of its failings.

We all know the story: Gatsby is a rich man, Nick is not. Gatsby pulls Nick into a world of opulence and wonder. Gatsby loves a married woman. That woman's husband is also engaged in an affair. It all ends terribly. Nick goes back to reality.

That is the trailer for the Baz Luhrmann movie, out this Christmas from Warner Brothers! In 3-D! Which begs the question: Why Gatsby? Why now?

In a recent Sellers post I touched on how I think our attraction to past eras of perceived glamor seem to coincide with periods of economic downturn. In that post I was focused on the Tudor period. I touched on 20s and 30s fashion making a comeback as well as the re-emergence of Dallas in that post. We have a strange cultural blind spot for certain eras; the 1920s, 1950s and apparently Tudor England.

Nostalgia overwhelms reality.

Tudor England was not sexy. It was political havoc and many (most) were killed in the process. And that is what is interesting about why we seem to be having a Gatsby moment. The 20s were dark, full of crime, and led to the Depression. The book is racist, classist, and sexist. The characters are unlikable, rich, white, and many die or end up in a sort of arrested development because of their wealth or 'position' in society.

So are we feeling like the 20s represent the early 2000s? Are we trying to explain our situation through the past? That's interesting because of how the book ends:

He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter - to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther...And one fine morning -

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

This is one of the greatest closings in American writing. I would argue this is why the book is still around. Why it is read and loved. This final passage takes what is a basic pot-boiler and twists it into a cautionary tale against vapid wealth, against nostalgia. We are held by our past and that hold will destroy us. In large or small ways.

I will go into my views of how reading this book now vs. high school felt in part two of this post.

Re-Read is a sometime article where I go back and read a book from my childhood over and examine the threads that I find in my current adult life.

15 June 2012

THIS! 6/15/12

THIS! on June 15, 2012

1) St. Bart's

St. Bartholomew's is an Episcopal church on Park Ave and 51st Street in New York. Last year they redesigned their official logo and introduced a unified design plan that is beautiful.

The logo is based on the letter-work on the outside of the church itself, which was designed by architect Bertram Goodhue. The new work was done by The Original Champions of Design with lettering by Jesse Ragan. There are a lot of details of the brand on the St. Bart's page at their site. This is also the best name for a design firm ever.

St. Bart's also has a pretty great music series featuring choirs from around the world. They also have a modern art outreach program and a theatre that stages non-religious works.

2) Alison Bechdel

If you haven't read Bechdel's great Fun Home or Are You My Mother? you should. The 'mother' from that second title was my high school English teacher. These books are beautiful, sad, glorious studies of growing up and the strangeness of parent/child relationships.

13 June 2012

Dust Jacket : The Thirty Years War, Pt. 2

Designed by: Jill Breitbarth
Painting by: Feodor Dietz

Read part one HERE.

I went over the history of the war and the players in part one. There I touched on the image. How it plays with the central figure in black. Now I want to focus on the image and how it draws me in.

In Breitbarth's crop of the Dietz painting, the man in black takes center sage. The sky is shortened and what we see is a man about to hit a horse. Behind him are faces, watching intently. Are they an audience? Is the man in black the good guy or are they? The ambiguity alludes to the strange politics of the war itself, but the image is one that fascinates.

A lone warrior against unbeatable odds. No matter who is the 'good' and 'bad' one man against what appears to be an army are not favorable odds.

And this scenario crops up in dozens of films. Each time in almost identical ways:

The idea of the lone avenger. The ultimate underdog situation is hard to resist. Oldboy and Kill Bill are examples that are numerous. Look at most action films and this situation will come up at least once. Of course war would look more like this:

Without Orcs.

The David versus Goliath ideal is a natural draw. We want a savior, a sentry, someone who against all odds will come through. It doesn't matter who is good or bad really, we want the thrill of what will happen. The suspense. The idea that someday that lone warrior may be us.

That man in black will attack the man on the horse. The crowd of faces will stand for a moment in disbelief. Depending on the outcome of that initial face-off, that man in black may face that crowd. And it will be epic.

11 June 2012

Dust Jacket : The Thirty Years War

The Thirty Years War (2009)
Designed by: Jill Breitbarth
Painting by: Feodor Dietz

This book is 1024 pages of gigantic. It stands out on the shelf. It is larger than life. How does one cover that?

This cover was designed by Jill Breitbarth. She is the senior designer at Harvard University Press, who published this book.

Harvard's over-all design structure has won numerous awards under her supervision and she has also won awards on her own as a designer.

Breitbarth frequently uses paintings for her cover designs and seems to favor the extreme close-up.

These covers tell complete stories.

That shot of the empty back seat and Presidential Seal tell you all you need to know about JFK and Dallas in one cropped photo.

The play of light on the knee and corner of a book on the Tagore tell you that you are in for a thoughtful, literary, and personal journey. Important visual clues delivered without you even noticing. Things that will be called back to within the pages.

A recent series of Stephen Jay Gould books that were designed by Sam Potts form a larger image when tiled. This is Breitbarth's idea expanded upon. The world in close-up, literally:

Her choice of painting for The Thirty Years War cover is a painting by Feodor Dietz titled, Duke of Friedland at The Charge of Wallenstein. It was painted in 1839. It conveys in one shot the total war that Europe was plunged into.

Dietz was a German painter of battles and historic scenes. He lived 1813-1870. Dietz studied and later taught in Karlsruhe. He decided to join the army in 1870 at the age of 57 and died later that year in the Franco-Prussian War.

The painting is of Albrecht Wallenstein on his horse attacking some doomed man in black. Due to his rank in the military he was able to obtain independence for Friedland form Bohemia in 1627. Friedland means Free Land in German. The duchy only lasted until 1634. Wallenstein died that year, a victim of his ambition and Ferdinand II's political machinations. Those politics were also a huge part of the Thirty Years War.

The painting shows us a man celebrated and destroyed by the same event. The close cropping makes us believe the man in black is the protagonist. And he may as well be, either way the events of three decades will come down on him. Hard.

Side note: Karlsruhe is the center of justice in Germany. It was at one time the capitol and was built from the center out, forming around a large palace and grounds. Washington D.C. closely resembles the layout, it is rumored to have been modeled on it.

Follow along in part two, where I talk about Kill Bill and black knights.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

08 June 2012


THIS! on June 8, 2012

1) Symphony of Science

John D. Boswell has taken bits from science shows and strung them into kinda amazing new age-ish electronic songs. Auto-tuned Bill Nye? Yes.

What started out as an awesome one-off project has grown into 15 songs/videos. A vinyl release from Jack White, a free compilation album, and also to #2.

2) PBS Digital Studios

PBS has launched a new digital experiment. Collaborating with Boswell they have made the above video. From their press release:

When we discovered video mash-up artist John D. Boswell, aka melodysheep, on YouTube, we immediately wanted to work together. Turns out that he is a uge Mister Rogers Neighborhood fan, ans was thrilled at the chance to pay tribute to one of our heroes.

Best of all, this is the first in a series.

3) Capuchin monkeys reject unequal pay

Release! 6/8/12

Release! on June 8, 2012

This comes out June 19th from Bloomsbury. The book is about Isabella Walker who enters into an unhappy marriage in 1844. She kept a u and explicit diary about her infatuation with a neighbor. When her husband Henry discovered the diary he took it as truth and sued for divorce. The resulting trial was scandalous and absurd.

This was out Tuesday from Crown. I'm a sucker for thrillers. On Nick and Amy's fifth anniversary Amy goes missing. What follows is a strange brew of whodunit and romance. The book alternates pov between Nick and Amy. Probably a great vacation book.

You also might want to check out our new Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's most recent book, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation of the Mississippi Gulf Coast (University of Georgia Press 2010). Here is a PBS report on her:

06 June 2012


Today is a reprint of a random poem form the archives. I've still deciding what to do with Wednesdays until I have my short story ready to go.

In light of all the people eating each other. Here, is Zombie from October 2009.

Zombie 10/30

Tracing ourselves we reinvent the wheel then fire

We reorganize our closets by season then color

Gravity only exists because we start recognizing its existence

Our eyes roll endlessly as we talk about our newness

Blood in out and over they say lick their wounds lick

This circle is for believers only this other one is for something else

04 June 2012

Sellers : Bring Up The Bodies

Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Date: 5/8/12
432 pages

Historic fiction is nothing new. Shakespeare did it. The Iliad and Odyssey are a sort of historic fiction. The idea behind Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize-winning book Wolf Hall and this newly released sequel is nothing to get excited over.

What is interesting is that we seem to be culturally interested in the Tudors. In the Renaissance as a whole.

What is it that fascinates us? That leads us to create TV shows like The Tudors and The Borgias. Movies like The Other Boleyn Girl (which tells the same story as Bring Up The Bodies) and Elizabeth.

For me this time represents the first real breaks between church and state. Henry VIII broke with the Vatican and formed the Church of England. He set the stage for the Anglican church to be formed. In the process showed that Rome did not have to have sway with a country. That its wealth and influence was not the proverbial alpha/omega of ruling.

This idea that governments could run without the will of a Pope and thus also without the will of a god was shockingly new. Perhaps more so than is credited to it. Of course England still had the divine rights of kings for several more centuries and it really wasn't until very modern times that the monarchy gave over all control of government to the Parliament, but the germ of the idea was there.

Following Henry VIII we have Elizabeth I, who fascinates us for being a strong woman when that wasn't entirely looked well upon. She remained unmarried, she ruled sternly, she oversaw the budding of the British Empire and did it all while wearing insane clothing.

Medici family crest.
The Borgias of course are a scandalous rich family from Spain. Who ran things. All things. Two of their family raised to the Papal Seat. They openly fought with the Medici and Sforza. They were Dynasty, the actual meaning of that word and the actual TV show. We like them because we like soap operas, and real life ones even more.

We also like wealth and power and you could safely argue that in times of economic instability we cling to these images of ultimate stability. The great families that ran this show for centuries and didn't care who was stomped along the way.

OG Collins-ish.
That TV show, Dynasty, aired in the 1980s. A time of severe economic uncertainty, great divides between have and have not. Other shows of the time were Falcon Crest , Dallas. It is very telling that Dallas is back on our TVs this year. Women's clothing is starting to look a little Joan Collins-ish and we have looked back to 1400-1500 for inspiration.

In a similar fashion we are also looking back to the 1920s. Though filtered through the 1970s revival of the jazz age and the nostalgia for that time. The Great Gatsby film opens this fall and many fashion designers clearly took the styles as inspiration for their recent fall runway shows. The 70s were quite obviously a time of political, economic, and cultural strife. What does it say about us that we go back to the hard times over and over?

Sellers is my attempt to examine what books are topping the best-seller list and why. To talk about and understand the trends in popular writing.

Milky Way

This is based on Beldam.

And this is the final poem-a-day. Thank you for the support over the years.
I will continue to post on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Milky Way 6/4

From the center of the universe comes the sound of screaming
crying calling laughing being born

Like the beacon on a lighthouse pulsar booming airplane over your house at night

That sound is not the sound of god the sound of fairies
of believing or not

It is the sound of hearts beating of universes on track to collide

The bleeping spinning glory of it all is giving in to the swirl
while denying the pull to jump into it

Breathe, etc.
Take that beacon hold it follow it around to the back of the lighthouse

Take a look out over the charred remains of Krakatoa see the boiling oceans
the sudden growing son of the volcano

Know that this is a continuum and that you are merely point twenty billion and something

On that dark side of the lighthouse is the jungle unexplored
take that first step into mirrored darkness

03 June 2012

Get Shot

This is based on Tout.

Get Shot 6/3

I have been obsessed with motion
with the mechanics of walking

That tree limb creaking in the wind
is the visual of the bone in my leg

My toes are buds

In motion - slowing
          I have been obsessed with slowness
with deliberateness - with the act of -

A fist will open into lemon daylilies
spattered with brown liver-spot eyes

My ears are clouds
          listening to the sound of bird wings

I fall into bed and it is slowness
the blankets are feathers wrapping

That scrape against the window
is the finger of a dogwood - of death

02 June 2012

01 June 2012

THIS! 6/1/12

THIS! on June 1, 2012

1) Thieving Irons

The second album from this really really good Brooklyn band is available for pre-order on iTunes.

Here is the video for their latest single, Poison.

2) Leafcutter Designs

Get a loved-one a tiny letter or package. I sent one of the tiny cards to my Mom one year for Mother's Day. You can add your own message of about 25 lines. I would keep it to about the length of a tweet.

The packages are things like marbles, buttons, dice or an esc key form a computer.

Adorable and odd. And cheap!

3) Roominate

This toy allows you to design, build, and decorate a dollhouse. The best part is that you also get to wire it for electricity. There are TVs, fans, lights, all sorts of things to add with basic wiring skills.

The designers have launched a Kickstarter. They have two weeks left on the campaign and have already made twice what they were asking. The best part is that it teaches skills that are incredibly useful and often overlooked in our modern education system. Their vision statement is perfect:
We aim to bring more women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Early opportunities to be inspired and encouraged will help girls welcome their potential as tomorrow's technology innovators.


This is based on Black.

After 6/1

A chamber burned - click

     click -

A gun brought into the room
left on the table screaming
for hands around it