Until The Glass Breaks

In the opening scene of the documentary It Might Get Loud, Jack White, on a farm house porch, cows grazing near-by, nails a wire onto a board, tightens it with glass bottles, and plugs it into an amp.  He slides out a riff, drags on his cigarette, and comments, "Who says you have to buy a guitar?"

tad neuhaus, diddley bow
joanna dane, vocals, shaker



Selections from a Guatemalan Journal, 1998. Livingston

George started walking with me as I passed through town.  I had told him I had something I wanted to ask about so now he wanted to help me out.  "What is this thing you are curious about here in Livingston?  What is your research about?"

"Do you know about the Hotel Flamingo?"

He didn't know much, having only lived in Livingston for three years.  He talked smooth Belizean English.  We walked along the beach.  He showed me his art; "La Buga" carved into coconut shells, hanging by a length of twine.

I stopped at my favorite bar which happened to be within sight of the Hotel Flamingo.  Enrique was there, that friendly heavy eyed man who runs the Hotel Garifuna.  We shook hands, happy to see each other.  He was sitting with Patrick, the skinny Frenchman (a functioning crack addict according to C.); a jewelry maker; an old white man, tanned with a gold necklace; and an ancient black man who I didn't recognize, whiskey on all their breaths.  Enrique bought me a beer.  We talked and Patrick shared a skinny home rolled with his skinny wife who I was sitting next to.

The afternoon was spectacular.  A big woman was dancing punta.  The old men were playing dominoes.


I Like the Idea of Books Too!

It was a scene I witnessed in La Crosse, Wisconsin last week
and I imagined it might be best expressed in a cartoon.

I like the idea of books.

But I didn't feel like drawing a cartoon
because all I wanted to do was read Cervantes.


Part Two: (The madness of finding Part One, years after writing it, and attempting to write Part Two. The madness of trying to recreate the voice the writer emulated while reading “The Yellow Wallpaper”, while instead reading "Don Quixote". The madness of the shifty voice.)

It is the curse of the supportive parents that their children turn on them and bite, precisely because of all they’ve done.  It seems that much great art stems from deprivation.  Look at Cervantes.  He was poverty stricken, wounded, imprisoned.  And from it sprung what many call the greatest work of literature, the first modern novel.  I strain trying to imagine what life was like in 1605, the year it was first published, and fail, though of course, all was essentially the same: We are mostly slaves to our emotions, full of greed and desire and jealousy and joy.
Normally, I wouldn’t be one to reference Cervantes.  But while bike riding in Madison with my husband, I wonder if perhaps there is a happening at Shockrasonica.  And because my husband is trying to make up for some rudeness at the beginning of our ride, he acquiesces, agreeing to return a half mile in order to swing by the house. 
Sure enough, the interior is aglow. We both recognize the saxophone player from Jill’s annual Christmas Eve party.  His bandmate wears a little pointed hat and taps on kitchen pot lids, until the hat falls off.  Then he howls and throat sings and parlays with a guitar.  At some point, I ask the man who is hunched over a book in the narrow front hall, what he is reading.  Something by Washington Irving.  He calls it research since he enjoys adorning his modern prose with old turns of phrase. 
Isn’t it strange that these writing styles come and go, that a voice is so intricately connected with its context, that to write in another era’s style today will be flatly rejected by even the savviest publishers?  Of course these thoughts come out a mess and the man most likely thinks me a fool because the closest I’ve come to reading Don Quixote, his favorite novel, is watching Looney Tunes, and I can’t even recall who played Don Quixote and who played Sancho. 
He, the man reading Washington Irving, is Kathleen’s brother.  Both share the house with Seth, whoever that is.  Kathleen seemed to remember me from the first time we stopped, months back.  She’s amazed that we happened to catch a show since they are rare, though the man on the porch who Andrew talked with said they have thirty a year.
He (Kathleen’s brother) recommends his favorite translation of his favorite novel.  I have nothing to say about various translations of any work, having neither the brain nor the patience to read Don Quixote once, let alone several times.  So I state the obvious as I’m so good at: That such an undertaking, translating a thousand pages of anything, is immense beyond imagining.  I say I hate to use the word “talent”, because it implies these monumental tasks are somehow effortless, whereas mostly, it just requires a lot of hard work. The man counters that there’s a great deal of hard work poured into mediocre novels.  How well I know that!
He rubs the fuzz on his head, and suggests that really, talent is everything, that it takes more than hard work to turn a mediocre novel great.  He taps his forehead and uses the word “germ” as he looks up, searching for how to define what it is that’s present in the mind of a person who can write Don Quixote. 
The next day I tell my mother-in-law about the conversation, and she says she just downloaded Don Quixote onto her reader yesterday, to take on the trip to Spain.  A sign.  I go home to pluck it from my shelf, a copy I bought for a quarter, a half dozen years back, intending to read it of course, but never knowing if I really would.  I see it is not the man’s favorite translation. 
I begin regardless. 

"Do you ever read really old books?" he asked.
I couldn’t remember a single one, always so foolish when talking with a very intelligent person.  How powerful, these slightest shifts of perspective.  From confident to crumbing in a moment.  I’ve heard it said that if instead of telling our kids that they did a good job on their math test, we tell them they are good at math, their performance improves by some significant percent.
Did anyone ever tell Cervantes that he was good at math?  What if Cervantes had a computer? How does such an array of editing and publishing tools change the words?  What trysts and parties and adventures did Cervantes miss in order to write Don Quixote?  What did the neighbors think? Was he a good friend?  What if he hadn’t ever been hungry, or cold, or poor?  How thin is the line between the madness of a character and the madness of the mind that created him?  Is there such a thing as free expression, being so bound as we are to our culture, our language, our land?


Summer Plans

I reached for the coffee grinder the first day of summer and suddenly I'd had enough of the tohuwabohu.  I spent the morning clearing the kitchen of all it's clutter.  Today, I cleaned the refrigerator, recycled the newspaper/magazine/school flier pile.  I have big plans to go through my drawers and to clean up the basement during the first heat wave.   My desk needs attention as well as my desktop.  How to manage all this data?

Of course, there's the painting, the album making, the fruition of the backyard art garden.  There's seeds to plant and holes to dig and an endless supply of grass to mow.  There's the house to buy and transform into an improvisational art space.  There's letters to write and presents to send and a lot of porch sitting to be done.  There's lessons to be planned and plans to make plans for the plans we have yet to make.

I open my sock drawer, ready to begin.  But decide to close it again.


Thoughts On Being Human: Things I've Learned So Far, Whether Long Ago and Forgotten, or Just Learned and Soon To Be Forgotten.

To be effective,
my attention must not be
too thinly

What I'm working on 
can turn out to be 
something very different 
than I thought it to be.

To get this done,
that doesn't.

Good enough is good enough.

Appreciating all art
makes all art better.

Thank you for your patience.