Walker Evans, Hale County, Alabama, Summer 1936 (one of the "killed" photographs from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men)

"so that the chairs, beds, bureaus, trunks, vases, trinkets, general odds and ends, are set very plainly and squarely discrete from one another and from walls, at exact centers or as near them as possible, and this kind of spacing gives each object a full strength it would not otherwise have, and gives their several relationships, as they stand on shelves or facing, in a room, the purest power such a relationship can have."

James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

in just two months i will pack up nearly all my possessions and send them nine hours north to be placed in storage. only the most necessary items will stay with me--and a few things that will be sold or sent to goodwill when i leave dallas in april. whether i meant to or not, i have planned six (nine total) months of embodiment of what i am studying--the utilitarian aesthetic of 1930s rural america.

i am ready.

for the last six months i have been craving a blank wall in my tiny apartment. i like small living spaces. i like the low financial commitment, the forced editing of domestic items, the cheap utilities, and the required creative acts that make it an enjoyable living environment.

but i'm tired of my things. i'm tired of the mental space they require. i'm tired of feeling like i'm carrying them on my back. i'm ready to pack them away and forget them.

i'm ready for a blank, white wall. and the echo of my feet on the hard, wood floor. for a rock and some weeds and carefully cut paper as inspirations for thought.

i'm ready for only a few clothing items to choose from. a limited number of shoes. a bag. i'm ready to clear my head and make room for creative ideas.

dorothea lange looked to migrant worker's domestic artifacts for portraits. when she photographed their stacked up stuff, she was photographing their faces. she was capturing their index. their portrait. i am tired of looking at my face in the mirror. it is cluttered with things i know too well and don't know well enough. i want to know the uncluttered parts of my portrait. and remember what is really there.


the narrow hinter side of destruction

"You think there is a door on the - hinter side of destruction?"

Susan Glaspell, The Verge

Claire is a new woman of the 1920's losing her grammar as she pours all of her power of speech into the plants she's creating in her house of glass.  Her plants will put an end to the "old pattern, done again, again and again" so that she can make new patterns--even as she creates new systems that will iterate again and again. The cycle continues.

But there is something useful here in the glass house made of Plato's patterns that stand "behind all life"--there are doors on the hinter side of destruction. Claire breaks things--husbands, daughters, lovers, Edge Vines, eggs, glass. She breaks them to see the fragments Humpty Dumpty's soldiers found impossible to reassemble.  [Imagine Dumpty post-defragmenting: a chimerical monster of shells, bowties, and caps.]  She wants to create new things from the fragments--to get through the destruction to the other side.

Today I dealt with something destructive that I haven't faced in almost three years. The destruction was done. It happened. It fragmented something in me that I thought was elemental. Indestructible. I was wrong. For three years I've lived in the narrow space between the destruction and the door I didn't know was there--the hinter side. It was a smaller space than I realized.

Today I learned there are doors where I once thought no escape existed.


tightly closed

Ultimately a photograph looks like anyone except the person it represents.
Every photograph is a certificate of presence.
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida

I want to photograph my grandfather—he carried shadows with him:  afternoon shadows of war and intense energy finally woven like a hundred strings into empty stares and forgetfulness.  I remember sweltering summers spent at the lake with him and my grandmother.  The Oklahoma days were punctuated by catfish catching, toad hunting and shockingly cold swims.  Numerous photographs of those summers survive, but without opening an album I can recall many of the images:  they are my memories.  There are also—albiet fewer—images of my grandfather when Alzheimer’s caught him.  His empty look tells me he is not there—he is his own index, his own wet breath on a mirror.  Despite his absence, the photograph and his body become "a certificate of presence"—a legal document verifying his ability to reflect light.  He would often leave my grandmother notes on the kitchen counter telling her where he’d gone—"Gone to the Boat Dock.  Me."  They were images of his "that-has-been."  Now he has-been and is-no-more, but his fragile index remains.  Like Barthes' Winter Garden photograph, I do not need to show a photograph of my grandfather to report who he was (closing my eyes is enough), nor do I need to photograph him to remember who he was.  For me, this index becomes the "air (the expression, the look)" of his face apart from his body, but inexplicably more important. 


crochet communion and other words written in stitches

i never understood my grandmother.  she lived with us off and on (while i lived at home off and on) for a few years.  often she was in the way, apologizing for not being in the way, or looking on in such a way to make us all think she was going to get in the way very soon.  there are many things about my gran that i never tried to get my mind around, and many things i simply couldn't.  i came from her, but i never connected to that part of my past.  when i tried to chat with her i couldn't  get past the tired stories and complaints.  she loved to read, and so i'd buy the thickest history tomes i could find.  she devoured them.  i wanted to talk about what she'd read, but her tired stories were the only ones that surfaced.  even after a library's worth of books, she couldn't stop talking about the slights.

when i was quite young in an effort to connect with me she tried to teach me how to crochet.  we began with a tiny little needle and some floss-like yarn.  doilies were on the menu.  but doilies were not my thing, and my hands weren't deft enough for the tiny needle and thread.  i gave up quickly.  it seemed like an antiquated craft of a bygone era--i had stuff to do, and blankets could be bought in stores.  what did i need hand-work for?

several years ago my gran died.  i loved her--she was my grandmother.  but i wanted to like her.  i wanted easy laughter, bits of unsolicited advice, and moments of matriarchal compassion.  right before she died she sent me an apology for the time we'd just spent together--it had been unpleasant and she knew the inevitable was upon her.  her words were rough and kind--she was a washer-woman and the words of a washer-woman were all that would do.  she died a few days later.

i never had a chance to reply to her letter--my response was written, but never posted.

a few years later i came across pictures of some beautiful crochet work--brightly colored swirly hexagons in mustard and green and turquoise.  i was enamored by the even stitches and rich colors.  i wanted to learn.  as i looped the yarn around the needle and the hexagons began to take shape i thought of my grandmother.  she wanted me to do this--to pass on the language of evenly tied knots that talk about family and home and loss and relationships.  as the blanket took shape i began having a conversation with my gran for the first time in my life.  no words were spoken.  no words were needed.  

as i work with her needles and fresh yarn, every stitch i make is a moment with her.  i accept her apology.  she forgives me.  she tells me about her childhood in west texas.  i tell her of my adulthood in north texas.  she admits her fears.  i admit mine.  i come to terms with my grandmother's inability to communicate with me because i have found a way to remember her--not for what i wanted her to be, but for what she was:  a woman whose washer-woman hands knotted a language of beauty her mouth never could.

i think i like my gran.  we are more alike than i knew.


for those who are UnKnown--after beckett

"you weep, and weep, for nothing, so as not to laugh, and little by little . . . you begin to grieve."

endgame, beckett

sometimes you cry because you're supposed to.  at funerals.  at sentimental love scenes in movies.  when you fall on your bike and scratch your face.  when your heart is broken.  when you're three and you can't find your mother at the market.  you cry.  you may even weep.  you may burst into bawling because it's what you do.  you get that tightening in the back of your throat.  the tingling in your nose.  the welling of tears that threaten rain.  and the tears teeter on the edge of your lower lid.  and you resist--which only makes it worse.

and you hope someone will make you laugh.  you hope there will be a witty joke or a happy remembrance or an arriving mother or just a distraction to stop the ensuing weeks of rain--the tingling in the nose.  you want something to divert the tears.

and then you laugh.  you laugh well.  and you think that will stop the tears.  it does.  for a moment.  but the laugh has made the tears fall.  and somehow the combination of tight throat and laughter that rises from your middle has caused you to cry.  and the dam breaks.  and you find your nose running and tears running and you're chuckling--or smiling or guffawing.

and then you are silent.


and if you give the silence time, you wonder.  you wonder at what you are.  at why you are crying or laughing.  or both.  and if you give it long enough, the silence lets you ask questions.

and so the match begins.  and in only a moment you have asked enough questions to fill a thousand-thousand books.  and sometimes you have the courage to wait for answers.  sometimes you're not afraid of the silence into which the emotions have hurled you consentless (or senseless or spent).

and you wait.


and there is time.  there is all the time you have to wait.  to go about your business while you wait.  to live in a state of waiting silence.  to listen.  to not be afraid that the players have forgotten their lines or forgotten to show up or forgotten.

and in the silence you remember grief.  grief that smells like wet and shoes and salt and cotton candy.  and because of the silence you give in (or you resist).  and you grieve because the volley of questions is unending or the volley of answers are unsatisfactory or the volley of silence is unalleviated.

silence.  silence.  silence.  silence.

take off your shoes.  your hat.  look around you.  measure the space.  find its edge.  sit or stand or walk or dance.  listen to the sounds--sometimes it sounds like words.  sometimes it sounds like babble.  sometimes it sounds like weeping.

but wait.


"do not climb on toads"

evidently, someone of great import is being quoted on this sign.  and because of the profundity, these things should be posted somewhere other than this sign which stood so near said toads.

and please, if you're having bowel trouble.  well, you know. . . don't use the water feature.  however, if you're not--go right ahead and use that water feature.

the toads won't mind.  really.


. . . or what I will call a reflection on dismemberment

I am more than nominally intrigued by the dismemberment motifs in the Bakkhai and Oedipus the King.  People lose arms, legs, hands and (most notably) eyes.  What is it about the loss of such integral appeditures that Euripides and Sophocles were so fixated on?  In both plays the apex of tragedy begins its sweep upward at the announcement of Penthus's limbs being torn off and Oedipus's eyes being gouged out.  We respond (how could we otherwise?) with disgust and untenable curiosity when the horrific events are announced.  We are at once revolted by the conjured images of our imaginations--How could a mother do that (rip and tear and shred bare-handed) to her son?  And how could a son do that (Oedipus-like) to his mother.  And then gouge out his eyes?  And at the same instant our curiosity is unconstrained--How much blood did Penthus have in him?  What did Aguae look like when trance-like she began the frenzied dismemberment of her beloved son?  At the moment of action, what was the "look" in Oedipus's eyes?  What did he see?  And what is the wrenching sound of dismemberment?

As the true tragedy of the plays is revealed--a stew of hubris, god-ignoring, and fate--the disgust and curiosity is in some small way satisfied.  The lament of Agaue and Kadmos is more wrenching than the imagined sounds of the dismemberment--they too are being dismembered while their own disembodied limbs lie strewn across the stage.  The cure for the curiosity is more potent than the curiosity itself.  No need to see Oedipus in the self-mutilating act--his tearless cries at the sound of his daughter's sobbing is enough to satiate our want of eyes.  

We have seen enough.

And maybe, if we were watching, something in us has lost a limb too.


o the sparrows (with apologies to fortinbras).

maybe it was the sparrows.

maybe it was the ecphonetic O.

or maybe it was fortinbras' fault (when you can't blame bill gates, blame fortinbras).

last week after class i did not take the interstate home.  i intentionally avoided the most efficient route.  my car turned left (sans premeditation, predetermination, preordination, or election) when i wanted it to turn right.  as my car habitually neared the familiar route, i decided to listen to my right-turn-self in a moment of action and eschew the interstate.

i defy augury.

i also defy the interstate.

in the moment of decision, i wondered if this habit-defying action would really change anything.  would i get in a wreck not intended for me?  would i pass something or someone that would alter my perception of the world so much that i'd never be the same?  would i run over a wooly worm that would have otherwise survived if i had run over a beetle on the interstate, and this said beetle's great-great-grand beetle would eventually (butterfly effect-like) cause the destruction of mankind?  have i seen too many movies?  the extrapolations are endless.

what if (dangerous isn't it?) claudius had allowed hamlet to go to wittenberg?  would it have been action enough to get him out of denmark and distract him from revenge?  would he have been off packing his bags trying to decide which vintage t-shirts to take, and which ones to leave behind when ghost-dad made his appearance? would rosencrantz and guildenstern (or was it guildenstern and rosencrantz?) have stayed home because hamlet wasn't there to behave erratically and force their invitation?  would polonius have continued blathering empty axioms until ophelia ran off to become a carny (tragedy indeed)?

and then there's fortinbras.  lest we forget the formidable viking lord of revenge, he's always doing something:  marching, defending honor, sending captains off to chat with kings, revenging, this and that. if hamlet had gone off to wittenberg as planned, fortinbras would still have arrived to revenge his father's honor.  ergo, claudius dead.  ergo, a bigger stack of bodies.

so what?  moody hamlet turns right towards wittenberg--avoiding the proverbial butterfly.  there's always fortinbras waiting in the wings to do the deed.  claudius gets revenged.

i went interstate-less.  i missed the crucial beetle of world destruction.  no worries, fortinbras was in the car behind me--i saw his norwegian complexion in my rear view.  i got a new view, however.  i looked at the city in a new way.  i saw the surface streets.  i saw people i'd never seen before at a stop and go 45 rather than 70.  and now rather than non-active habitualness, maybe the habit-breaking act makes the next one easier.


revisions, reflections, refractions and the bold brew of the day

one semester down.

hard to believe i've been at this since august.  it seems like a few weeks ago that i showed up like a first-day-preschooler with a proper book-bag and a little lunch.  i was terrified.  admittedly, i still am.  however, i have an ounce more courage than i did four months ago.  for what it's worth, much has been shoved into my tiny little brain, and the results are as yet unknown.  so, in the spirit of my tiny little brain (is there a spirit in my tiny little brain?), here is a grocery list of the damage:

1.  i have never been very disciplined.  this is changing--not in the traditional sense.  the less i have to choose from, the more room my brain has to create.  so, i keep my clothing options narrow, my grocery budget low (so i have only what's on sale to choose from), and my daily activities simplified.  this is an experiment.  it may be faulty.  but i have the luxury of such simplicities right now.

2.  revision.  revision.  revision.  it never ends.  and when you think you've revised enough and you go to deliver the paper (that you hope christmas-story-like will receive the A+++++!), you discover you used an "an" instead of an "a" and you rue the moment you stopped revising.  the illusive perfection girl-slaps you in the face.

3.  don't be fooled.  it isn't as cool as it sounds.  trust me.  a phd in aesthetics is just putting one word on the page at a time.  have you ever travelled out of the country to an exotic or remote locale, and expected to feel totally different when you get there?  and you don't?  and there are still people there, and they remind you of the people in the not exotic/remote locale?  that's what it's like.  there are still people there.  and most of them are pretty average.  i am not alone.

4.  don't be fooled again.  you can be lonely anywhere, and you can be content anywhere.  don't believe the lie.  it's not about circumstances.  it's about faith.  faith overcomes a multitude of circumstances.  i am pummeled with the verse:  "this is the victory that overcomes the world:  even our faith."  stunning.  everyday has been overcome already.  faith in Christ instills courage.  the only kind.

5.  i feel refracted.  direction changed.  check.  altered.  check.  the light is hitting me in all new ways altering my vision.  i feel pulled in by the depth that leaps off the canvas.  i am incapable of escape.

6.  don't buy the pike place.  buy the bold pick of the day.  pike place sucks--it tastes like brewed bug backs (there is extensive research to back this up).  one needs a strong brew that burns all the way down when one is spending so many hours reading.  bold brew makes for efficient thinking.  pike place just makes you jittery without all the fun.  resist pike place.  it is the dark side.

7.  never stop.  work everyday.  find a routine and stick with it.  find a space and claim it.  some days creativity will occur.  other days will be a failure--or they will be perceived as a failure--they are really preparations for success.  wait.  wait for the ideas--they will eventually come.  but you will have to work very hard with little success before they come.  and when they come, you'll wonder why you didn't think of that before.  never stop working.



there are days.  all sorts.  this is one of them.

today i am stuck.  there are no proper words to write about the zillion things i must before the 9th of december.  yesterday i was creative.  i was steady.  i worked for 7 hours straight, and completed something.  i was rashly productive.  today i am dry and distracted and want to eat an entire loaf of bread chased by a pot of coffee.  i want to sleep or watch simpering movies or do both at once or neither at all.

i wonder if this is the day i ran out of something to say?

so i'm afraid.  i'm afraid this day's failure is the result of all past failures and the harbinger of all future failures.  and i am faced with several options:  do i accept the days failures and write them off as part of the process?  do i let this day's failures be the root of tomorrow's?  do i allow the fear to consume me?  do i keep forging ahead in the remainder hours of the day?  do i just let it be for the day and call tomorrow a new day?  i'm fairly certain letting this day ruin the rest of them is a bad idea, however, this is the option that seems inevitable today.  so, instead, i'm trying to face the fear.  call it what it is, and hopefully move forward.  tomorrow.

because i fear today is lost.


dorothy made me do it

after assigning ten books and numerous essays last week, my professor gave us a brief instruction for reading the aforementioned books:  (and i paraphrase) "when you come across something in your reading that makes you think:  stop.  if it is on page 23, don't read the rest of the book.  stop and think about what you've read.  if you have one good idea all semester, you have succeeded."

so, my goal this week was to have one cogent thought.  thankfully, i had a couple. however, i'm not sure if any of them constitute "one good idea." they are more like a few good amoeba-ideas.

today, i decided to run my errands on foot since the heat broke, the skies opened up, and it felt like greenville (sans the abundant farie rings i hear tell of).  it was one of those soggy days that keeps you attempting to breathe under water.  good for the skin.  good for the grey cells--keeps them lubricated.

one of the essays i read this week left me thinking: "translation: literature and letters" by octavio paz.  ironically, it is a translation from spanish, so it makes the reading even more faceted.  the essay speaks not of the impossibility of translation (even though he acknowledges most scholars believe this impossibility exists), but of the unique outcomes of translation, and the act of creation which occurs when a text is translated. his use of the term "translation" begins to broaden as the essay develops to the point where he proposes that "no text can be completely original because language itself, in its very essence, is already a translation:  first from the nonverbal world and then because each sign and each phrase is a translation of another sign, another phrase.  however, the inverse of this reasoning is also entirely valid:  all texts are originals because each translation has its own distinctive character.  up to a point, each translation is a creation and thus constitutes a unique text."

ok.  that's the background.  my point is to establish that his use of translation is not only referring to a dictionary in hand, linear, reproduction of a text from spanish to english; but an understanding of a text even in one's mother tongue.  the explanation of what we mean by a phrase requires the use of another phrase (another paraphrase of his idea--if you're following this: a phrase to describe a phrase that was originally a phrase!  a translation if you will--have i lost you?)

well, now that we're all relatively on the same page with this paz fellow, here's the interesting part:  (he quotes an englishman quoting a frenchman--we're marinating in irony now): translators "should make themselves invisible behind the texts and, if fully understood, the texts will speak for themselves." and here's where i make MY point: performers of all types are translators of text.  when an actor or musician steps on stage, he or she is translating a text for an audience.  going back to mr. paz's (consulting my strunk and white) text: "each translation is a creation and thus constitutes a unique text." the goal of a great performer is to make him or herself invisible, and allow the text to speak for itself.  all the while, embracing the act of translation as an act of creation with the outcome of a uniquely personal text.

this is not deconstruction in its pejorative sense!  i can't help but think of dorothy sayers and her thesis that all humans are creators because we are the product of The Creator.  this thesis is the soul of WHY we "translate" as humans.  it is the beautiful symmetry of secular and sacred at the heart of all truth.

now i shall ponder the epic mysteries of dorothy's journey through oz.  i'm sure to find something there.


book lists and other things that make my head hurt

my book list has come in.  now, when my ship comes in.....we'll save that for another day.

for those of you that might find this of interest (for those that don't--humor me will you?  i'm a pathetic mess here in big D, and i'm just looking for some affirmation):

The Poetics of Space

some look more manageable than others; some look more interesting than others; and some make me clutch my hair in abject terror (hence the head hurt).  the last book on the list looks to make my heart sing.  i started reading it, and although my virtual dictionary has had the champagne smashed over its bow, my heart started to sing (even if tentatively, and with the accompaniment of a sluggish, hot dog fingered bass player).  but imagination, phenomenology, housework, and logos are weaving themselves into an anemic harmony that might become a one hit wonder.


when you step out your front door

last week i stepped out of my front door (well, actually it was my garage), got in the drivers seat of my car, and followed a blue and orange rental truck for 18 hours on its way to dallas, texas.  all the way here i wondered why i would leave friends, a barn-get away, familiarity, and a steady income to enter into this unknown.  besides the obvious (going to school--again), there is a good answer: because if i didn't, it would be wrong.  i've not felt so sure that something was so right for so long with so many reasons to say no.  i'm not very adventurous, i'm terrified of meeting new people, i'm afraid of everything, i don't generally live on the edge financially (when i reach 5,000 in my checking account, i'm broke), and i frankly wasn't interested in going to school again.

for the last few years i became discontent with my career (yes, i have a career--weird).  i was ready to quit and get a job at starbucks.  i wanted to do something--anything--different.  a year ago i went to peru, and survived 10 days in or near the amazon rain forest.  i took a backpack.  i took very few showers (and when i did get one it was cold). i slept on the front porch of a school perched out over the amazon river right by the "bucket" (feel free to ask me about the night all the used toilet paper ended up in my bed). i was hungry, tired, dirty.  it was the happiest i'd been in years.  nothing i needed mattered anymore.  i went to sleep one cold night on the front of a dirty boat, and woke up to the sun rising over the amazon river and pink dolphins arching out of the water.  everything i needed i had in that moment.  and it was enough.

so i decided it was time to suck it up.  i would like my job--no matter what.  i would do the very best i could--no matter what.  i would work hard--no matter what.  i would put aside my fears and complaints (against everyone and especially GOD) and excuses and i would suck it up.  if i could live out of a backpack on the amazon and like it, why couldn't i do my job and like it?  if GOD could call me to peru for 10 days and give me courage and joy, why couldn't he call me to teach and give me courage and joy?  it made perfect sense.

i started liking my job.  it didn't happen overnight.  it happened though, and i didn't realize it.  i was too busy working.  so i applied to school in a field i never imagined possible for me, to a program that was clearly beyond my reach.  i didn't believe it would happen, and neither did anyone else (thankfully, they didn't tell me that until later), but i was content with that because i liked my job.

so here i am back in peru.  i have my backpack (it's got a little more in it this time around), and i might wake up in the morning with toilet paper in my bed.  but this is where i am today, and it's where i'm going to continue to suck it up and enjoy the journey.  because who knows, maybe tomorrow the sun will rise and there will be purple dolphins.  and that will be enough.  and it will be all i need.  and i will be thankful for the simple gift of this opportunity.



i promise, i won't bore you with anymore of these pictures, but i had to show you the planter i got to harness all those little things that make a mess next to one's bed (books and pens and lip balm). more importantly, i am 32 years old, and i still wear my retainer (especially since i'm going to the dentist tomorrow...one must look one's best you know)!

a little secret for you (don't tell my brother): i just started flossing on sunday so i wouldn't have that icky bleeding at the dentist tomorrow (oh how i despise flossing). do you think i can fool him?


nightly bookend

before i went to bed the other nite, i decided to quickly take a picture of my bedside table (i think a bedside table says much about a person--it's the things that happen right before one goes to sleep and right after one wakes up that bookend your daily tromp). my bedside table configuration changes daily (i'm thinking of taking a picture every nite to see the progression), and this evening proved to be telling.

this picture represents the two things i'm working toward in the next few weeks/months:

first, pray for china during the olympics...the persecution is staggering. to get one of these bracelets go to voice of the martyrs. for a small donation to a great ministry (thanks mom), you can have one too.

second, yes i'm seriously considering it: vote for someone who can't possibly lose (even if the popular vote is for someone else). He is sure not to disappoint.