Friday, February 27, 2009

What Jason's Been Up To

Were you wondering? He's totally worth wondering about. I squeaked with delight when I opened this first photo, super happy that he had taken a photo head-on, facing the challenge squarely, so to speak. A little moment of humorous courage. I especially liked that it made me imagine night-time in a dark apartment, Jason seeking the one spot of light that would give us a full shot of his mug. Maybe that isn't what really happened, but I don't care, it was what I pictured. All of these shots give us Jason as a character actor, I think, and I like that.

Like this one. Do I even need to say anything? I love it. The background, the whimsy, all of it.
When I opened this one, a little part of me wanted to weep. I don't know what Jason meant or was thinking when he took this one, but to me there is something so tender and melancholy about it. What is it about eyelids? Eyelids are so vulnerable. And that one stray piece of hair on his forehead. So good. I love that I don't know what his intention was here, or even if he had an intention. I don't know what the photo looked like to him, but I love that it transmitted so much emotion to me, rightly or wrongly. Not that there wasn't something tongue-in-cheek about it, there was that too, which is part of what made the sweetness of it so funny and sad at the same time.

Can't wait to see what I get tomorrow!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

So... so what?

Day two of the self-portrait exchange. I'm getting a little obsessed with this. I went out last night and meant to take my photo while I was out, would have been good too, the beet soup I had for dinner was so pretty and red, but I got too caught up in my conversation with Grant and forgot. So when  I got home, I took two photos and thought I was done, but once I uploaded them, I realized I wasn't satisfied.

Jason says a little difficulty in a creative endeavor is always a good thing, and this project is proving him right. I tend to think that it's impossible for me to take a photo in my apartment at night, since it's not the most well-lit space, and, of course, it's cluttered with treasures. But the more I just sit there and look around, the more ideas I have. Now I've got this process of upload, check photos, delete some, drag some to the desktop,  take some more, upload again, delete again, lather, rinse, repeat. Last night I took over a hundred photos, with four different themes, but in the end I think (I think) I liked the one above best. Can you see the globe light reflected in my eye? 

One thing I'm really enjoying is including pieces from my art collection. All the framed paintings and drawings that sit stacked on my kitchen table, leaning against the wall, now look like tempting props. I guess there's a good reason I haven't hung everything after all, isn't there? Here's another funny thing about this - I'm liking the detail of the photos, the detail of my face. Freckles and wrinkles and stray flakes of mascara. I kind of like looking myself in the eye. What's that about?


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anyway, that's what's up today.

I totally owe you a post about the weekend I had. Mercy, what a weekend. But since I can't do it justice now, we'll start with something else. 

Jason and I have a project this week. Photo exchange, one self-portrait every day, taken after 7PM PST. I realized recently that I need a new muse, and when I thought about who might be both handy and willing, well, the list came up short. I did take some gorgeous photos of Kristin last weekend, but she, like me, is disturbed by the intimacy inherent in having someone who knows you take your photo. Does anyone else get that? I totally struggle with it. I bet Kristin and I are not the only ones.

So, I'm still looking for the muse (watch out Kate, I have some good photos of you, and photos taken in the past that ended up pleasing me = high likelihood I will shoot you again) but you know who is really handy and around every day in my life? Oh yeah, me. So when Jason and I came up with our rules for the photo a day, and one of them was "photo must include something living", our subjects ended up being ourselves. 

We also agreed to email them to each other the next morning, and to take them after 7PM. We discussed whether we should have a limit on the number of photos we could take in order to get the self-portrait, and I'm glad we didn't agree to one, because it took me about 50 to get the one above, which I'm only okay with, not ecstatic about. One of the hardest things about the challenge is my self-imposed rule about flash (hate it), combined with my lack of technical knowledge about photography. Ha ha. I did TRY a few flash photos to see if I could stand them, but guess what? I couldn't. I also resisted the temptation to use the photo below, which I love. Maybe on the 5th day I could have, but on the first day, it just seemed too evasive, you know? 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Art Babies

It's a bird! It's a plane!

The boys had a day alone with their daddy a couple of weeks ago.

Instead of sticking close to home, so that he could follow the carefully prescribed sleeping and feeding schedule that I make myself a slave to, he took them to the Whitney with some friends.

They had a super fun time. Our friend is friends with someone who works in fundraising at the museum, so they all got to go in before the galleries opened.

Which led to this shot...

Thomas says... let's go check out some art Max!

I am sure that the floor was non too clean, but still, I love this picture!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Are they broken yet?

What? I'm not doing anything?

Not a whole heck of a lot going on here.

I had a dentists appointment today and am REALLY hoping that the boys got Eugene's teeth - straight and impenetrable. Unlike mine - which look all good on the outside, but are actually the fromage suisse..

I had to have two fillings replaced. Not so painful - the drugs are good - but the smell of your teeth being ground down, not to mention the taste in the back of your throat... Nope, I do not wish that on my little boogers.

In the interest of their tooth preservation I 'brush' their teeth (8 each!) every night with little fingertip toothbrushes. It's a pretty funny game. I try to brush and they giggle until they decide to see how hard they can bite my finger.

Then they giggle some more.

It's school application season here in New York. Or rather, school acceptance season. So I have been receiving daily 'advice' on how to prepare the boys for school testing.


All of these funny things are happening to get me in touch with how big they are... How OLD they are... If eleven and a half month old babies can be considered old. Basically, everything conspires to tell me that now is the time when I could start messing them up.

For life.

Okay, maybe not quite yet.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Maybe I Just Needed Some Vitamins

One of my mentors and I were talking yesterday about the best advice he'd ever received. "Contemplate form," his mentor had told him. Contemplate form.

His response, he said, had been "Oh gee, thanks," and I can understand that. What does that even mean? But then he explained that his mentor was reminding him to seek things that are a good in themselves, like a statue, or a painting, serving no other purpose than to be beautiful, good, pleasing. Certainly there are other meanings or experiences to have of art, but when it comes to restoring the soul, art in service of the Beautiful is the best.

It was serendipitous that he happened to mention that this piece of advice led him to the National Gallery in DC. The National Gallery is one of my favorite places in the world for seeking the Beautiful, and as he described an afternoon he spent contemplating a favorite sculpture, I thought about my time there in front of the Rothkos, how satisfied sitting on the little bench in front of them made me feel. All filled up, like I was doing something that fed me completely. One of the things I love about Rothko's paintings is that, to me, they are pure experience. They don't represent anything other than themselves, they don't take me anywhere other than into the colors and shapes themselves, as a place to be, to rest. They resist any other way of relating to them.

Today, it was easy to be happy, for the first time in a long time. Driving home from my board meeting, I had a lot of thoughts about that. One of them was this - Kristin used to have a Pinto. She used to have a Pinto and when she wasn't driving the Pinto, she was sometimes riding her bike around Santa Fe, in a big flowy skirt with no shoes on. That's how I remember it, anyway. And the other thing I was remembering about that, was the feeling of witnessing her being that person, adventurous, independent, and beautiful. It's a pleasure to think about the time when she was new in my world, when we were just getting to know each other, not even consciously realizing that we were determining what role we would play in each other's lives for years to come.

Some relationships, of course, never quite find their feet. They take work, or adjustments, or are uncomfortable and just never quite fit right. Sometimes that's a good thing, and that work serves your soul in some way, makes you some better version of yourself. But there are other friendships in which I primarily feel blessed, where I find moment after moment of contentment, of realizing that there is really no other place I would rather be. Not that I don't still get distracted even in the presence of those friends, that's how I am of course, fragmented and human. But there are times when being with a certain person is so clearly a good in itself, serving no purpose or end other than the one in that moment, and it doesn't matter whether we are sitting in a garden or driving in the car, or going to a concert or just staying home. The experience of that moment is that the friendship itself is a place to be, a place where I find myself reminded that humans, like art, have their own way, independent of action or activity, of being a good in themselves, and of representing the upper-case-B Beautiful.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


red things ::: Beast of Burden followed by Piece of My Heart ::: cooking ::: Chris Hadley ::: someone else cleaning my place ::: clothes for KH ::: not talking ::: spreadsheets ::: next weekend ::: Tami ::: white pajamas ::: a ponytail ::: green shoes ::: Elvis telling me he thinks of me as so cheerful ::: rhubarb pie ::: elbow-length cashmere gloves ::: Wren, Ella & Wyatt ::: hot water ::: Yiyun Li's story, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers ::: being picked up at the airport by someone you love ::: mail from the twins ::: the name Ryan ::: Katherine's chicken soup day two

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Just Some Of The Things You're Gonna Think It's About, If You're Me

playing the radio loud in the car :: making things :: talking to strangers :: sitting on the couch listening to music :: taking pictures :: appreciating good food made by someone else :: giving things away :: outfits that don't suck :: taking the waiter's advice :: learning :: long drives :: being there in a pinch :: pranks :: jokes over text :: the kind of conversations that make you want to sit closer :: christmas lights :: giving advice :: listening to the truth about yourself :: sitting at the bar :: field trips :: showing up :: taking a walk with no destination :: going somewhere new :: trust ::

My contribution to economizing

A small selection of the things we threw out from the old apartment... not including books.

When we moved last year there were lots of boxes of books.

Enough that the movers felt they needed to comment on it. And especially for an apartment the size of our old apartment.

I justified it by saying that they were books that I would re-read. And, you know what? That is what I am doing now.

I don't make any claims that I read great literature - I will leave War and Peace to you, darling, - but it is interesting to re-read something that you liked ten or fifteen years ago and see how time and life have given you a different perspective on something you once loved.

You may love it again, but for different reasons.

You may wonder why you loved it in the first place. In fact, you may not be sure that you actually READ it in the first place.

Anyways, that's what I am doing for the family economy. Re-reading the books of my early twenties.

At least until I have time to go to the library.

Things I Love - part who knows what

171. My new old Polaroid
172. The fact that when I'm sick, friends come out of the woodwork to help me out
173. Driving Lake Washington Boulevard
174. New winter coats
175. Girls' getaways
176. Pranks
177. The idea of using a film camera
178. Getting to go to this place with Kristin
179. Katherine's chicken soup (believe me, I don't need to have tasted it to know I love it)
180. Moleskine's city books
181. My new couch
182. Having even just one sentence for a new story
183. The future
184. Giving Kate bath bombs
185. Reading the New Yorker on airplanes
186. When people love something I knitted for them
187. Earrings my mom gave me
188. Watching GG with Ali
189. The movie Stranger Than Fiction

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Couldn't Say

I've been trying to have something to say here, but it's not working all that well. Februarys might just be like this. I'm trying also to find a way out of it, more light, more warmth. The conservatory in Volunteer Park, a walk through Seward Park, hot beverages, warm clothes. But something about February makes me go blank, empty. On Friday I saw so many of my favorite people, and still, there I was, conversationally inept with the people I like to talk to most in the world.

Which is why Mike's dialogue class on Saturday sounded like an oasis to me. Afterwards he said he taught it by trying not to bore me, but of course he never even came close. In the beginning he asked us what we wanted to know about dialogue, and I wanted to say "How not to make it suck," and then "How to make it show up." I just needed to think about people talking to each other, see it, hear what that might sound like. He had us think about what drives peoples speech, what's behind it, and about the ways and reasons that we don't say what we mean, or talk sideways to each other.

But if you find yourself saying, "I don't want to talk about it," as I have been lately, then dialogue dries up, gets reduced to the functional. In class we did an exercise - half the group was given a slip that said something like "profess undying love" and the other half, a slip that said "leaving someone/don't love you anymore," and told to write that speech. No one knew what anyone else had been assigned, and afterwards, one random lover read their part, juxtaposed with another random leaver. People talking sideways to each other, and it worked.

I was a leaver, and couldn't find those words. I kept thinking about the scene in Closer (which has brilliant dialogue) where Clive Owen's character comes home from a business trip and is greeted by his wife who is about to leave him. She asks if she can draw him a bath, he asks why she is dressed if she just bathed. It's all sideways, or underneath, but you can feel everything that's coming as she pours water from the tea kettle into mugs.

I was also thinking about the Updike story, A&P, which I've talked about here before, and how that first-person narrator makes the story all dialogue in a way, but how the whole thing hinges on the manager saying "Girls, this isn't the beach." The first time I read that story, I was in high school, and my favorite english teacher loved it. I didn't get it really, what was so great about this pretty average-sounding guy watching these girls come into a grocery store in their bathing suits. I think sometimes dialogue that is so right is hard to appreciate, exactly because it's so right. It seems ordinary, though now it's clear to me that the voice in A&P is an extraordinary one for being captured on the page so perfectly. And now I see how gorgeous it is, the way it's just this musing until the whole thing kicks off with that line, like a swimmer pushing off the side of the pool.

In the end, I did come up with something because of the exercise. Not a speech, just a little scene. One that ends with two lines of dialogue.

"I'll know it when I see it."
"Like pornography."

Perfect for the break-up story I've been thinking about.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Umm? Geniuses?

At eleven months the boys are so very clever...

And athletic

We are all doing pretty well - boogery noses aside. The boys are sleeping through the night regularly, cruising all over the couches and living room, babbling non-stop, playing peek-a-boo with abandon, and clapping like little maniacs.

And I think it is obvious who our little show-off is.

I am finally getting something resembling sleep. Yay! And I have been able to go snowboarding three days. Which is kind of the first time since the boys were born that I have gotten to do something recreational and just for ME!

It's not all that exciting, and yet it is.

Just This Sometimes

I had so much to say with that last post. Not as much now.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Everything We Did Together Was Fun

I always get good photographs when B and I take field trips. I write more with him around too, truth be told. It's often been that kind of friendship for me. On Saturday we went for a drive, found ourselves at a sandy overcast beach, me with two cameras and B dragging huge pieces of driftwood to make letters in the sand. I took photos through the viewfinder of my old Polaroid, trying to get a good shot by balancing the two different lens, the two different points of view.

When you take this kind of photo, you can get focus on either the person you are looking at, or the lens through which you are looking at them, but not both. While I was trying to get it right, B was going back and forth with his treasures, moving things, covering ground fast with those long legs of his. I would get focus for a moment, then he would move out of frame before there was even time to work the shutter. I should have realized I was trying too hard, but it is typical of me to think that a task is always about me doing it better, following his movements more closely, handling the camera more quickly, for example, applying more will or concentration. I have a problem with that, too willful. It is not always better to apply more force. Sometimes that only results in breaking things.

At Super Duper Exclusive Book Club on Friday night, we were talking about will and faith, in the context of long friendship, and marriage. The book we read for this time was Feast of Love, by Charles Baxter, and we talked also about Closer, and Reservation Road, which I haven't seen, and just generally the difficulty of it all. The beautiful part of the conversation though, was the thoughts everyone had about longevity, and the confession from the married women that part of longevity had to do with knowing, in the most frustrating times, the times when you just feel exhausted by the work of the relationship, that it is not all up to you. Sometimes this means the other person is the person who brings the energy to the relationship, the enthusiasm, the faith that everything is going to be okay. But there is a third thing too, a life that the relationship itself has, an energy, a will of its own that works on both people.

And this applies to long friendships too, and we talked about that, the ebbs and flows, the way the best friendships, the most important relationships, have that life of their own. Maybe you have times when it seems that boredom or anger or frustration is telling you the relationship has run its course, but then it surprises you, and whether you mean it to or not, the friendship has revived itself, set off a spark in you that leads to something better, to a set of beautiful photographs, or a piece of writing you wouldn't have had anyway or just some happier way of seeing each other.
That's not to say that everything is meant to last. Another problem I have, what to hold on to, what to let go. I hold on to too much, I know that about myself. I'm thinking about that, have been asking lately, what's the basis for a friendship, what makes you decide to stick around, what do you want to be loved for, and how do you want to love? I don't expect answers, really, not definitive ones at least. Those questions also have a life of their own, and change as I do, and depending on how things turn out. At the moment, I'm trying to listen beyond my own assumptions and old ideas about how all that should work.

There are a lot of things that keep you from seeing beyond the lens through which you are trying to look. Insecurity, fear, past grievances, drinking. There's a reason why they call them beer goggles, right? Intoxicated, you become all lens, seeing only your own way of seeing, you don't see the object of your sight, do you? But that's another story, and not one for this place, now.

The photos I like best through the Polaroid lens are the ones where what is seen through the viewfinder, and beyond it, is in focus. Those were the hardest to get, and only started to work once I stopped trying so hard. It's obvious, really that it wasn't about me trying to track B with the lens, but about waiting until he came back in the frame. But I'm not that good at holding still, at being patient. It's something I keep reminding myself of, a topic that I am finding more and more ways to talk about and explore. Beyond that, all I can do, is wait, and hope that a kind of faith shows up, one that will quiet my need to always apply my will, or to think that I know how the picture is supposed to turn out.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Where Is This Love?

Have you seen the movie Closer? Kate, Lindsey and I watched it the other night. I warned Lindsey ahead of time - "It's dark," I said. "It will not make you feel good." But we both wanted to watch it, so Lindsey said "Let's do it!" and we forged ahead, with our popcorn, and hot buttered rum and Swiffer the cat on their big old couch.

Closer is a liar's movie. One of the characters is a photographer, which, I am starting to suspect, is always a dead giveaway that the whole thing is about writing, in some way or another. Then of course, there is the fact that one of the other characters is a writer. The other two? A stripper, and a dermatologist. At one point in the movie, there's a great scene where the dermatologist thunders at the writer - "Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood! Go fuck yourself! You writer! You liar!"

Kate and I both laughed at that bit - "You writer!" Beautiful.

The first time I saw Closer, I was in love. This made it so hard to sit through people torturing each other with their obsessions, cheating on each other, then extracting the details of the infidelity so that the torture is just that much more distinct. Unencumbered by love now, it all seemed so interesting to me, while Lindsey squirmed in her seat and said "This is so uncomfortable to watch!"

I just wanted to think about why we do what we do. What parts of it are worth doing, which parts we should find a way to let go. In Closer, a lot of those questions revolve around the truth, and what knowing the truth means, and where it has value, and where it destructs. At some point in our lives, haven't we all done this when someone hurt us - wanted to know the last little detail, thinking that it would tell us why? The image of the heart belongs to this movie so perfectly - the dermatologist not just being a dermatologist but a surgeon, someone who knows well that an intimate familiarity with the facts of that fist wrapped in blood will do nothing for your understanding of what we think of as the workings of the heart. Those things will not be dissected. In places, the film flashes forward in time, big jumps with the characters switching partners, without showing us what happened in the time between. Everything about the dialogue reminds us that we would not have known any more about the reasons had we seen the intervening scenes, because there is something deeply capricious about the characters making the choices.

In the advertising campaign, the tag lines for the movie was "Those who love at first sight are traitors at every glance." and "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking." In a pivotal scene, the writer says to the stripper character "I fell in love with her, Alice," and she says back to him "Oh, as if you had no choice? There's a moment, there's always a moment, I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it, and I don't know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one."

That's a line I've thought of from time to time since the first time I saw the movie, and was only one of the reasons that I found myself identifying with the stripper character. Kate and I ended the movie satisfied, maybe because we were able to find some comfort in the two characters who were not artists, and who were, ironically, the most willing to lie for love.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

We Had a Lilac Tree Together

In writing circles, the subject of crying is a difficult one. That is, what do you when a character cries? How do you tell your reader that is happening? Tolstoy doesn't concern himself with subtlety in this, or if he does, it does not show in translation. Natasha sobs, Petya's eyes shine with tears, the little princess weeps. In something written in english, in 2009, those words would be a bit cloying, overwrought. Recently, we read something that left us in awe of the masterful way a narrator's tears were handled, where another character calls our attention to it by noticing.

Even when you are fighting it, you can see it in someone's face when they are watching you, and see you close to tears. Especially if that someone is sensitive, and loving, and doubly so if they are someone who has spent years loving you, no matter how long ago those years were. This has happened to me twice in the last two days. It isn't so much that I've been unhappy. Some tears are tears of vulnerability, a depth of emotion that expresses itself in blushes and in my case, unfinished sentences, overused indefinite articles.

But if I think my heart is my strongest muscle, it is only because I stay there. I believe in the transformative power of that discomfort, that even sadness can be a warming of the heart that makes it more malleable, more ripe for reconciliation. He thought I didn't want to see him. I thought the same. Then I saw him anyway, and was glad I had. I used to bring branches into the house in spring to bloom, and wear aprons, and buy cookbooks and dishes and glassware. And believe it or not, I cooked. Soups from memory and homemade pasta, irish soda bread and indian food. The hard parts were not all.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My Heart Is My Strongest Muscle

Six-word memoir by Shanna Katz. Four lady brunch by South Shore Middle School.

Long day.

9:30 AM - meeting
10:00 AM -meeting
12:30 PM - meeting
3:00 PM - meeting
4:00 PM - meeting
6:00 PM - meeting
7:00 PM - meeting

Latte, cornbread, sandwich with lox cucumber cream cheese, banana, salad, chocolate cookies from Edison's bakery, more salad, cocoa, tea. The Cold Ones, the beach at LaPush, unvested options, new target identification, integrity, intention, lost love, reconciliation, fulfillment, motivation, hope, Groucho's, Jafco, more tea, always. So much more.

Speak to me.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

I Thought We Had More Time

There were fields of snow geese in the Skagit Valley this weekend. Other smaller birds migrating too, making patterns in the sky that swooped and changed, like shifting patterns of lace across the sky. I pulled over, and took photos of course. The little camera still wasn't up for it, where's the high speed setting on that thing? I'll figure it out. But I didn't figure it out Sunday, and that was fine. It was satisfying just to watch, and to take pictures not knowing how they would turn out, since however they did, they'd be something to look at later.
I've been thinking about what makes something, or someone, interesting. I take photos of power lines, of grey skies, of the sun hidden behind clouds. These are things I always like, am always interested in. The shape of birds in the sky satisfies me. Pam and I took a trip to the Oregon Coast together once, and on the drive out, through tall evergreens, winding roads, fog in the dark, I commented on how much I loved it all, how it was my favorite landscape. "Really?" she said, genuinely surprised. She didn't feel the same way, said that her favorite landscapes were big skies, wide views. Just different. Who knows why.