Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Syllabus: Home

Sex and Real Estate by Marjorie Garber
No-No Boy by John Okada
"No-Man's-Land" by Eula Biss
Songs by: Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, Sufjan Stevens, Chris Isaak, Pajo, Johnny Flynn, Joanna Newsom, Lucinda Williams, The Pernice Brothers, PJ Harvey, Sam Amidon, Sibylle Baier
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Poet in New York by Frederico Garcia Lorca  
The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
Artwork by: Amy Bennett, Andrew Wyeth
From The Most Beautiful House in the World by Witold Rybczynski
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates
Poems by: Frank Stanford, Brenda Hillman, Hart Crane, Kate Shapira, Walt Whitman, Juliana Sphar, Yannis Ritsos, Stephanie Anderson, Philip Larkin, Lyn Hejinian  
Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

dwell: At Home in the Modern World
The Money Pit

Field Trips: 
The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago and Frank Lloyd Wright's house, Chicago

Course Objectives:
Is this materialistic or what. Home v. House. Where are you from, is it an easy question to answer. Urban v. Suburban. Describe your bedroom. Is a place your place if you weren't born there. What does it mean to have a home. Home is where the heart is. Where was your childhood home and do you still visit it. Home is where you hang your hat, but what if you're multicultural, multi-city or town. What if someone stole your home. What's up with McMansions. Features of the new green home.    

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How Come Everyone Knows Everything I Don't

When I was a cheerleader in high school, we were assigned a football player who was the recipient of our secret "spirit" gifts. My football player, of course, had to have been the littlest guy on the team, probably playing offense for a few seconds each game. I was supposed to give this guy, from my small coffers of baby-sitting money, a gift each week during football season. I don't even know why I was a cheerleader to begin with; I would much rather have spent my Friday nights reading J.D. Salinger instead of jumping around in a mini-skirt, avoiding the bats that swooped the stadium lights of the football field... only to end up with demerits from my cheerleading coach because I wore the wrong socks or something.

I dreaded Thursday nights because I had to come up with something to give my shrimpy football player. For the first gift, I took some mints from my mother's handbag (purse she calls it) and stuck 'em in an envelope I decorated with quotations from Great Expectations. How embarrassed I was when I saw other cheerleaders giving their players cookie cakes and countless liters of soda. How did they already have a football gift-giving aesthetic?

How come everyone innately knows how to pretend to be an adult and I don't? It's really starting to piss me off. Take Midlake, for example. I'm so into their beautiful music right now. I've listened to "Roscoe" so many times in a row that it has surpassed "Decatur" (Sufjan Stevens) which was stuck on repeat when I was taking a bath. I even played Midlake for my old man's mother, who kept saying, "What is this beautiful music?" Everyone I talk to about Midlake responds with, "Oh yeah, they were really big last year" or something like that. Even my old man listened to them in the supposed last year and I wouldn't have known about them if he hadn't put them on when we were cleaning the house the other day. 

I'm here to tell you that I like Midlake. I read somewhere that members of this group are studied, which is totally sexy because rock 'n roll isn't all that complicated and it's a relief when someone makes it so. Layered, as they say. I don't care if they're already discovered because they're new to me. Am I some dumb impenetrable orb of a child because I choose discovery? Is this what I spent my whole life growing up for--to act as though I already know everything, like a cheerleader waiting for first down? Daylight is approaching, but I've been up long enough to know that every pillow in the house is uncomfortable. If I were a proper adult, I would've known which pillows were the good pillows.     

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Everything Can Sit Next to Each Other, Right?

A few nights ago, the old man and I saw Matteo Garrone's Gomorra and while I watched, I couldn't help but contrast it to Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders, which I'd recently finished a few days prior. One is pure gangster, pure killing and the other is gangsterish. Both films gesture toward their bigger stories through hybrid story-telling and blended collection of images. 

A surprising aspect--it's not the killing, the killing is expected--of Gomorra is that it is almost completely devoid of women. There's one gratuitous stripper segment (in which a stripper lap dances for a two-ton whale of a man, oy), a gaggle of young girls who only seem interested in talking to each other, and one woman who refuses to be forced out of her home by the local gang. (I won't say what happens to her.) As the men ruthlessly kill each other, marking their territories, and choosing sides, the few glimpses of women are so shadowed that I don't even remember the actresses faces. It's a weird point to make about gang and violent culture: it doesn't matter that anyone was born because eventually it will matter very little when they die.  

Band of Outsiders is just as much a tale of film itself and the influences of film making as it is a tale of love and crime. Odile serves as the innocent titillated by the large sum of cash in her aunt's house. The gangster bits, Arthur's tomfoolery at being shot at the beginning of the film foreshadows worse events to come, worse approaches as the crime becomes more harsh, more real. There is a tongue-in-cheek nod to American gangster movies, but the film still maintains its own shift to brutality when we learn Arthur is desperate to steal because his family is desperate for the money. As the three characters dance together in the Madison dance scene, they are all together yet apart, silly yet seriously keeping step to time, and involved in the "what plan?" plan that is doomed to fail. 

Band of Outsiders I want to watch again for Anna Karina's enchanting run through Paris suburbia, Franz's lovelorn looks, for the run through the Louvre, for the film's multifacetedness. I leave this film with something to put together, something to understand about character. After Gomorra, I leave knowing that senseless killing is senseless, that it's always a little unexpected and stupid, that it's apparently never going away.  



Monday, March 23, 2009

Farewell, Battlestar

Thank you, hulu, for providing me with some fairly decent sci-fi; I don't have a television. I guess I'll have to go back to reading books and writing poems now that Battlestar Galactica is over. This is what my life will be without:
  • Robots punching robots.
  • 6 and Baltar tension.
  • Projected 6 in Baltar's mind, including sexual tension and the time she picked him up off the ground when he was getting beaten by marines.
  • Col. Tigh, total babe. Michael Hogan, total Canadian hippie babe.
  • Gaeta is good. Gaeta sings prettily. Gaeta incites a revolution.
  • Starbuck, a cigar-smokin' lady pilot.
  • Dr. Cottle, the lovely Grumpy Gus and great man smoker.
  • Starbuck loves Lee. Starbuck loves Sam. Starbuck experiences weird kidnap sexual tension with Leoben. 
  • Dear Chief: you were one of the best actors on the show. You made an awesome union leader.
  • Helo: good to see you on Dollhouse. We still call you Helo in our house. 
  • President Roslin's smile.
  • Loved the way everyone looked so "military" in the beginning.
  • Adama battle speeches. Psych.
  • Baltar lives!
  • All Along the Watchtower.
  • We don't trust Zarek. Let's make him vice president. He looks oddly familiar...
  • Geez, remember Billy?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Syllabus: An Introduction to Film Noir

The Big Sleep
Double Indemnity
Asphalt Jungle
Touch of Evil
Sunset Boulevard
Out of the Past
Shadow of a Doubt
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or The Man Who Wasn't There

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
Others, TBA

Course Objectives:
Femme fatale: explain. What happens in light that can't happen in dark. Is everyone a liar. What is the path of the caught man. Betrayal: elaborate. Does the noir style transcend time--film v. video. Is it film noir if it's in color or during the day. What about names. He wouldn't be in this mess if she wasn't such a bombshell. Diary of a camera angle. What would you do to uncover the truth about yourself. Who's the bad guy. Why does the lead role always fall for the wrong woman. Can a man represent all the clashes of ideas within the world, all at one time. What about film noir not filmed in Los Angeles. Is this a genre about crime. What about Hitchcock. If it's not low-budget, is it film noir. Who's innocent now. Who's dead.     

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Something Weird This Way Comes

Amy Bennett's artwork is something I've been following for a few years now. She had studio space in my neighborhood at Smack Mellon and I shyly spoke with her a few times during open studio tours. During my last trip to L.A., I stopped at the Richard Heller Gallery to see her work, which wasn't up yet. They very kindly let me look at one of her paintings from her new series, At the Lake. It was interesting seeing a painting in a wooden shipping crate with styrofoam and tissue paper all over.

In her Neighbors series, Amy Bennett's paintings laugh at the normal and carry a hearty does of death humor (so sad it's funny). Some of them are overhead views of a neighborhood and some of them are floor plans of houses with figures. All of them have excellent titles that contribute to the way in which they explore the theme of home--through the uncanny, the uncomfortable, the awkward, the seemingly perfect. For example, in the painting, "Exposure" a couple is having their picture taken in front of their yellow house. They do not see a naked woman dancing or watching them through the cracks in the fence, by the pool in her backyard. Recently I noticed a story line between two of the paintings. In the first, "Every Second Counts," a couple is carrying someone to a car. In the second painting, "Paying Respects," same house, two people are standing in the rain, about to go inside, and the house is surrounded by cars. The funerary sense is real and it's absolutely stunning that Amy Bennett can spark so much storytelling in these scenes.

The process of making art is sometimes just as interesting as the final product, if not more sometimes, and Amy Bennett's process is a fantastic example of this. For her Neighbors project, she built a miniature diorama of a suburban neighborhood and these served as a model for the paintings. I hear she's done the same for her At the Lake series.    

Saturday, March 14, 2009

You Drink Too Much And Go To Sleep Too Fast

I stare out of my bedroom window quite a bit--my desk space is near there and these sleepless nights of late are killin' me. I've developed a connection to the Manhattan Bridge. Let me say that if skyscrapers are supposedly considered phallic, I hereby declare bridges vaginal, an open legged thing. I'm in the middle of watching Claire's Knee and can't help but note the feminine beauty of bridges. They're like a city's short skirt. 

I used to think the Brooklyn Bridge was the one to throw your troubles over and it still is; it's built of stone and the bends. The Manhattan Bridge, however, is painted blue iron and the suspension cables are white. So what protrudes into the sky is of it? The first sentence in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend reads, "In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures on it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge which is of iron, and London Bridge which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in." I too seem to be of disreputable appearance of late, floating between two bridges, the one of iron solid and alluring. Sorry Dickens, I'm all modern.

I know when the seasons are changing because, besides the obvious, the Manhattan Bridge lights go off at 3 in the morning instead of 2. (You know you've stayed up too late watching old Buffy episodes when...) In the summer, the lights don't turn on at night until 9. It's always a little magical, the way they dimly twinkle at twilight, not fully on until the sky has fully gone to wolf. Sometimes friends stay over well past dinner and it's so fun for me to watch people looking at the bridge, jumping a little when the lights go out.

I leave you with some photos I've taken throughout my years next to the Manhattan Bridge. 

A foggy afternoon:

When someone films in my neighborhood, the bridge is lit up with blinding stadium lights:

Looking like a postcard from the 1950's:

End of summer, approaching rain:

Shh. Quiet while we're workin':

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Smear Some of This on Your Face

Almost two years ago, I stopped wearing make-up. While teaching a unit on food and food-related policies, I stumbled upon an interview with Stacy Malkan, who wrote Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry. Malkan reveals gross facts about beauty products, how many of them contain byproducts of petroleum and traces of plastics. Malkan also discusses the Cosmetics Act of 1938, which was the last time the FDA passed regulations concerning beauty products. If you live in an EU country, rest assured that the EU has very specific laws regarding what chemicals are allowed in beauty products and as recent as 2008, went so far as to pass a ban on certain chemicals found in hair dye and sunscreen.

The harm these chemicals cause is difficult to detect since problems like cancer and infertility or difficulty with getting pregnant have more than one cause--pollution, genetics, age, etc. What has changed since 1938, among other things, is that the unregulated beauty market doesn't solely affect women anymore; the average person draws from at least 12 products a day. (I liked discussing this when I taught Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, two characters whose bathing habits are related to their boys-will-be-boys freedom. Remember how Tom Sawyer tries to remove his wart?) If you're curious as to what contaminants are in your daily products, go to the Cosmetic Safety Database

I often reminisce on a conversation I had with a fellow waitress I knew while I was in college in Arkansas. Noticing her healthy glow, I asked her what skin products she used. She responded by saying that she puts her boyfriend's sperm on her face at night. She went on to tell me how sperm can be stored for later use, in the event that one doesn't have fresh product available. We laugh. We think is this for real? Because it's funny that the rest of us are satisfied with oil and small traces of poisons.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Syllabus: The World of Pirates

Reading List:

A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates by Captain Charles Johnson
The Pirates Own Book: Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers edited by the Marine Research Society
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down by Colin Woodard
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
Pirate Utopias by Peter Lamborn Wilson

Articles concerning current Somali pirates

Talk Like a Pirate Day, September 20th

Captain Blood

Field Trips:
Pirate Soul Museum, Key West, Florida
Wreck of the Wydah, Cape Cod, MA

Course Objectives:
What rules do you chose not to follow. Describe the structure of democracy on a pirate ship. What about women. What is the difference between a pirate and a privateer. What is pirate code and did it ever exist. What was daily life like for a pirate. Who became pirates and who didn't. Why are pirates so fascinating. Is it true that who controls the seas rules the world.    

Monday, March 9, 2009

Avenues Are for Bikes

The New York Times recently ran an article written by biker Robert Sullivan, who postulates that if New York City bikers would just be nicer, more bike lanes and legislation would pass in our fair city. It's like a suburban contract, except in the city. After he relates how difficult biking life USED to be, he commences pooh-poohing bikers who don't stop at stop lights and who ride the wrong way down one-way streets. He sights a common complaint among non-bikers: bikers ride too fast on the Brooklyn Bridge. I know it may surprise some pedestrians and tourists, but bikes are meant to go fast, especially down inclines. 

He proposes four simple tasks bikers should regard, but once again, someone needlessly shakes a finger at bikers instead of adding to the dialogue of how we could replace the current crummy system with a better one that is clean and safe for all of us in the city. (He suggests wider bike lanes separated by barricades.) We could all learn a thing or two from Copenhagen, where the wide bike paths are supposedly so safe that bikers don't wear helmets. As you can see in this video, Copenhagen's bikers aren't being cut off by a driver's last minute decision to double-park in the bike lane nor do you see any bikers flying over open car doors, something that has put more than one friend of mine in the hospital. I don't mean to point out the obvious, but the safe bike lanes have contributed to a decline in car traffic. 

Since we absolutely must wear helmets, my old man and I recently stopped at Bobbin Bicycles, a small London bike boutique. Their classy helmets are designed by the Japanese company Yakkay and can turn the average bike commuter into someone fit to ride English saddle. How about it, Mr. Sullivan? Maybe if we bikers looked better, people would like us!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Penis, Finally

The real star of The Watchmen is Dr. Manhattan's penis. In these times of political centrism and gratuitous female nudity, The Watchmen surprisingly confronts the male frontal. Appreciation still abounds for Huey Lewis' schlong in Short Cuts, a brief encounter with Scott Glenn in Personal Best, and Glynn Turman's interrupted blow job in a The Wire episode. These encounters with the netherlands, however, pale in comparison to Dr. Manhattan's glowing penis, unfortunately hidden under black briefs when he takes on gargantuan form. Why must that be left to the imagination? Silk Spectre II, what is the fuss about? You get to have sex with two or more forms of your own boyfriend and he divides himself so he could simultaneously be with you while solving the world's problems. Who cares about fully having anything, when the thing is blue? Talk about demanding. 

By the way, it flaps.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Syllabus: Literature of Dystopia

Reading List:

1984 by George Orwell
A Totality for Kids by Joshua Clover
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Pause Button, among others by Kevin Davies
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Time Out of Joint or A Scanner, Darkly by Philip K. Dick
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
"The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson
"Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut
Farrenheight 451 by Ray Bradbury
Critical Writings by F.T. Marinetti
Garbage by A.R. Ammons
Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra

Soylent Green, Gattaca, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Escape from New York, Them, 12 Monkeys, City of Lost Children, Blade Runner, Firefly

Course Objectives:
What is the world becoming. What did we want it to become. What do we do to make the world better. Why is it so obvious what is going wrong. Who do we blame, how to we stop it, why is it so ungraspable. How is the future always the present. How are past views of the future different from present views of the future. What is the future. How far away is the future. How does the future look different from our past, our present. What is the perfect future. What is the cost of perfection. What is the government's role in our future. How do we balance our government's role in our daily lives. Insert technology for government. Insert money for both. What is balance.   

Monday, March 2, 2009

My Beautiful Monster

No one agreed with me when I said this at Korean Karaoke night a few years back, but a person's hands reveal what he or she plays. It is very easy to tell when someone plays the piano--flat yet round tipped fingers and stretchy webs. My former cello teacher's fingers hold nearly everything as though it were a cello neck or bow--tea, chalk, my coat. Most cellists have a very defined C shape in which they grip everything. Guitar players have this to a certain degree and if you don't believe me, ask one you know to hold a flashlight. During grad school at Columbia, I used to sit on a bench somewhere in the middle of what I thought was the visual arts floor of Dodge Hall. There I noticed for the first time that when painters talk with their hands, their hands tend to make air squares. Many poets I know emphasize what they say with air circles. All of this is very general, of course, but very specific to my newest obsession: Francis Picabia, dada painter and poet. His collected book of poetry, I Am a Beautiful Monster (MIT Press) is so astoundingly astounding. This book accompanied me to all of the cities I recently traveled and I am lucky to pair my reading with the paintings; this is a kind of sex. He says, "A dangerous and enticing wind of sublime nihilism," and he says, "in my authentic life/ if it's possible/ I am sure/ material necessity/ brings good luck." Is the laughter mine alone? I found myself the only one snickering next to his paintings. (It's okay, this happens in movie theaters, too.) Anyway, I wonder what I would know by Francis Picabia's hands, if he did the circle thing or the square thing or something of both.