Jackson [Pollock] had said, “I am nature.” In her paintings, Lee [Krasner] recognized nature as within us, without us, before us, and after us. As a continuum. As a religion. Humankind formed a part of it, but not nearly so significant a part as it imagined. (pp. 631-632)—Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women (2018)
One of the most difficult things of all is not to have the painting be a depiction of the event but the event itself. That is the difference between great art and mediocre art. Most art looks like it is talking about something that happened some other place.—Grace Hartigan, quoted in Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women (2018), p. 487
Now, the linden, it turns out, is a radical tree, as different from an oak as a woman is from a man. It’s the bee tree, the tree of peace, whose tonics and teas can cure every kind of tension and anxiety—a tree that cannot be mistaken for any other, for alone in all the catalog of a hundred thousand earthly species, its flowers and tiny hard fruit hang down from surfboard bracts whose sole perverse purpose seems to be to state its own singularity.—Richard Powers, The Overstory, p. 72
Mamie Johnson remembers mid-fifties life on the road for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, in Michelle Y. Green’s first-person biography, A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson:
Sometimes that raggedy old bus would break down and we’d wear our muscles out before the game pushing it uphill. And we never knew if we had enough gas to make it from place to place, ’cause some of the towns we stopped in had “Whites-Only” gas pumps. That never made sense to me. Seems like if folks were so anxious to get rid of colored folks, they’d want to give us the gas we needed to get on down the road. (p. 86)
Cecil Taylor’s passing reminds me of my favorite passage from Craig Lucas, from scene 2 of Blue Window. It’s a good thing that I have a printed copy to refer to, because my recollection of the dialogue, from a production I saw 22 years ago, is faulty.
At a small gathering/party of friends, Tom has put a recording of Cecil Taylor on the sound system.
TOM. But I don’t know if you can hear it, but I mean, he’s literally rethinking what you can do with melody. He’s changing all the rules from the ground up.
* * *
TOM. Like a painter. He’s breaking it up, you know, and putting some parts of it in front of where they belong and he’s splitting up tonalities and colors, shapes —
ALICE. Splitting up did you say?
ALICE. No, I know, I was…
TOM. He’s literally challenging you to hear it, you know, rehear it. What is music?
GRIEVER. No, I know, but this isn’t like a famous melody? Or –?
TOM. Why not?
GRIEVER. I mean it isn’t like “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” backwards or something.
For some reason I always want to remember that as “‘Mairzy Doats’ upside down and backwards.”
Google, his mother says. The new new found land. Not so long ago it was only the mentally deranged, the unworldly pedants, the imperialists and the naivest of schoolchildren who believed that encyclopaediae gave you any equivalence for the actual world, or any real understanding of it. And door-to-door salesmen sold them, and they were never to be trusted. And even the authorized encyclopaediae, even them we never mistook for or accepted as any real knowledge of the world. But now the world trusts search engines without a thought. The canniest door-to-door salesmen ever invented. Never mind foot in the door. Already right at the heart of the house.—Ali Smith, Winter, pp. 192-193
And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That’s my suggestion.—Ali Smith, Autumn, p. 119
Pulling on our bootstraps, we discover that someone else made the boots and the straps, and fed and nurtured us until we were ready to pull.—Jeff Wilson, “The Path of Gratitude”
I don’t consciously avoid metaphors, or similes for that matter. If they don’t happen in my writing, it may be because I find the thing I am writing about compelling enough without comparing it to something else. Maybe I don’t want to introduce some completely different world or image. For instance, in the case of the cornmeal making little drops of condensation in the story “Cornmeal,” I could say, “like little nipples on the underside of the plate,” but then you introduce nipples into the story. Or dew drops—“like little dew drops”—but then you introduce the outdoor landscape. If I avoid metaphor, and if I have to think of a reason why, it may be that I don’t want to distract from the one thing that I’m concentrating on, and a metaphor immediately does that. It introduces some completely, even incongruous, other image and world. And it can work very beautifully, but maybe I don’t want to leave the scene of what I’m describing.—Lydia Davis, Art of Fiction No. 227, The Paris Review no. 212
Footnote of the month:
La tête d’un homme [by Georges Simenon] was adapted again in 1949, to lesser effect, as The Man on the Eiffel Tower. A clunky color spectacular starring Charles Laughton as Maigret, it is mostly notable for its location shooting in Paris, and for being directed by co-star Burgess Meredith, who took over after Laughton had the original director fired.—Jake Hinkson, “Georges Simenon: The Father of European Noir,” Noir City no. 22
This is what we so often find when searching for history—emptiness, quiet, acres of mowed grass. Battlefields where hundreds of men died on a single day become vast, pristine lawns, as lovely as a landscape by Constable or van Gogh, and historic birthplaces are so lovingly maintained that it’s hard to believe anyone ever lived there. Edith Wharton’s cellar becomes a gift shop. In the cemetery quiet of these places, all the clangor and hell of actual history—the smell of manure where horses were bedded, earth scorched from fire pits or cannonball explosions, the stench from bayonets ripping flesh—has been sanitized away. While preserving history, we remove it. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I’d rather see a beautifully maintained battlefield than a Wal-Mart parking lot. But that is what we’re doing while visiting historic space. It’s Versailles without the hideously overdressed and clownish aristocrats, a Potemkin village without the rotting slums behind the facades.—Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail (2015), chap. 16, pp. 215-216
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”—Matthew 5:21-26
RUTH. Is that places?
SAM. Sure, Ruth. Places.
RUTH and DEBBIE. Thank you, places.GLOW, s1 e7
Moreover, as anyone who’s ever owned a remote control can tell you, new technologies themselves are often infuriatingly unfindable, a problem made worse by the trend toward ever smaller gadgets. It is difficult to lose an Apple IIe, easier to lose a laptop, a snap to lose a cell phone, and nearly impossible not to lose a flash drive. Then, there is the issue of passwords, which are to computers what socks are to washing machines. The only thing in the real or the digital world harder to keep track of than a password is the information required to retrieve it, which is why it is possible, as a grown adult, to find yourself caring about your first-grade teacher’s pet iguana’s maiden name.
JIM. Woulda come to your aid there, only I’m dealing with a little, uh, issue.
RUSS. Oh yeah?
JIM. Piano I told ya about?
JIM. Didya ever… (lowers voice) … ever need a truss? Have to wear one of those?
RUSS. Uhhhh… Don’t recall.
JIM. Oh, you’d recall it if you did.
RUSS. Guess not, then.
JIM. Then you are a fortunate man.
RUSS. I hear you.
JIM. Bend the knees or suffer the consequences.
RUSS. Yup.—Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park, act 1