Category Archives: Memoir

Much of my writing is either memoir or deeply based there. Here is where it gathers.

French Diversion

We interrupt this regularly scheduled holiday for some work.

Pawn scheduled these holidays last spring, prior to taking a new job. Then, during the summer, discovered that a conference, who’s topic is quite important for this new job, would be ongoing in Lyon, France, right smack dab in the middle of said pre-scheduled vacation. Being a good team player, Pawn offered to break his break and journey off to the conference.

A Eurostar trip to Paris Gare du Nord ensued, followed by a quick stumble across town to Gare de Lyon, and from there to Lyon, via the TGV high-speed train. These trains run full out at about 300 Kph, so make pretty good time. All in all, however, it’s still over five hours of travel, not including the connections.

The conference was good, weather was damp and in the low 60s to lower 50s F, which wasn’t too pleasant. I didn’t get to really enjoy much of Lyon, as my cold came raging back, along with aches & pains, stuffy head, coughing, sore throat; the whole shebang. But I did get to spend some time wandering about.

As written to friends, and lightly redacted, here’s a few contemporaneous accounts:

In any event, when I packed to come down here for the conference, I tried to edit a bit, and only bring what I absolutely needed for the three days here.  I’ve got the London flat for the duration, so I didn’t have to schlep everything here.  I have more power adapters than I need, since I now have dedicated UK versions of power supplies for my phone & computer.  I typically only need maybe one other adapter, and, since I suffer from sleep apnea, I also carry a flexible-plug power cord for the APAP machine I use to sleep with.

Well, and this is the first time this has happened in 20 years, I somehow managed to edit out the European-plug adapter for the APAP machine.  Oops!  Of course I arrived after 5pm on Sunday, so no shops open to sell me the proper cord.  A mostly sleepless night ensues.  The other end of this cord is a standard IEC-320-C7; a two-prong thingy.  So after my early conference sessions, I search online, looking for a shop nearby that might have one.  Finally alighting on the search term “electronique” I find a smattering of locations.  One of them is Tedd Connexion, and I go for a nice walk through the Lyon business district to get there.

Well, Tedd Connexion has some fancy-schmancy audio gear in the windows, including Onkyo receiver with IMAX decoder(!), some stranger-than-B&O speakers, Sonos gear, etc.  I wander in and start browsing whilst the salesman finishes a hushed-tone conversation with a client.  I find the cable I’m looking for, as well as several other power and other cords.  The boxes all have two, three, and four digit labels on them, but no € symbol, so I assume these are SKU numbers.

Finally the salesman finishes with his client, and turns his attention to me.  I explain my lack of command of French, and in his own broken English (who am I to complain?) we converse.  I show him the plug-end I am looking for, and he shakes his head.  “Non, we do not have this cable.”  “But I see one right here,” I correct him. “Ah, yes, but this is a, how you say, Powerful cable; very powerful.”  “By ‘powerful’ I assume you mean ‘expensive’,” I retort, noticing the tag which reads “269.”  “Yes, powerful; expensive.”

Ha!  He directs me to an electrical goods shop down the street, which is closed (only two hours open on Mondays) so I search online again, walk another mile, and find a shop with exactly what I want.  A 1 metre cord for €3.90!  I didn’t have exact change, but the sales clerk was happy to take the close approximation I did have.  Now I can go take a nap, and catch up on the night’s sleep I missed.

And another, the next day:

…since this visit to Lyon was mostly just added on to the London trip, I didn’t really put much effort into it.  I booked everything in a flurry, months ago, when it was decided that I’d attend this conference, and then it was out of sight…

So I’ve just got my bad-movie French — please, thank you, excuse me, etc. — and had made zero plans to do anything outside of the conference.  Now part of that is that the conference does actually have evening events, until 9pm most nights.  But I’m not one for that “networking” stuff, so I don’t bother attending those, by and large.  Also, with this cold and the sleepless Sunday night, I’ve not really felt like hanging out with people.  Add to that my self consciousness about my lack of preparation, language wise, and I’m mostly just staying in, watching Peaky Blinders

I did try watching French telly, but an awful lot of it is dubbed American shows & films!  Sacre bleu!!

Today I went to the very first Keynote address, which was actually a “fireside chat” with Linus Torvald (inventor of Linux), which was good, and then came back to the flat.  There weren’t really any other sessions of interest to me.  (Tomorrow I have a pretty full day, so I don’t feel too bad about this.)  Instead I did some work which I wasn’t able to get done prior to leaving, so when I return, I’ll have a softer landing.  Then I went for a long stroll, found an actual French bistro for a late lunch — Affaire Du 6 — where I had a lovely prix fixe meal with an entree of quiche aux moules with a small salad, and a plat of poulet du creme with potatoes.  It was all soooo gooood.  I didn’t have wine with it, you know me, but the waitress brought me a small glass of Liquoer de Mandarine with the check.  Total cost?  €18, or $19.99.  Bravo!

So there’s my French interlude. Yesterday, Wednesday, I returned on the late train (arrived St. Pancras 21:30) following my 15:00 session. It was a good conference, a poor effort to enjoy Lyon by Pawn and now it’s in the past, and I can at least say that I’ve been to France, and that the best damn croissants I have ever eaten may be found in Lyon, in the little boulangerie downstairs from my flat.

Haptic Memories

Of Pixels and Voxels and nervous messes

In 1995 I was employed in exhibit development at Discovery World, a museum of science, economics and technology. My job led to my involvement in several vastly different technologies and scientific fields, from hydraulics and lasers to electricity and health. One particularly interesting piece of technology with which I became involved was a “Haptic” interface, called “The Phantom.” Haptic, from the Greek, means touch, and the Phantom was intended to provide the user with virtual sense of touch via a single finger tip.

It looked much like a miniature architect’s lamp, an arm with several degrees of freedom, terminating in a thimble-like cup at the end, which, in turn, was attached to an armature governed by priceless little motors and sensors. The entire design intended to allow the user to move their finger as freely in space as any of their other digits, until they encountered a virtual obstacle. This might be something as simple as a simulated piece of paper, or sandpaper, or perhaps something more complex, a billiard ball, or banana, a wrist, or a wrist with a pulse.

Via the thimble, the controlling computer system could convey texture, viscosity, pressure, vibrations, movement — the entire range of things we can feel with our fingers, albeit not heat nor cold nor the pin-prick of pain. But one might pluck an invisible guitar string, and feel its harmonics, or palpate the back of a virtual patient.

My group were unsure just what we would have the device simulate, nor how we would allow a visiting public to interact with it, given the inherent fragility of the device (and the largely reckless tendencies of the public). But as this was very new technology, having just been invented a year earlier by an MIT grad student, there was a scholarly conference about it, held near MIT, in suburban Boston, and I was to attend. In fact, when I received my conference credentials I was pleasantly bemused to see that I was credited, on MIT stationary, as Doctor Nic Bernstein. Doctor indeed!

Upon arrival at the conference assembly I was greeted by a curious assortment of engineers, scientists, investigators, doctors, physicists. Oh, and a three-star General from the US Army; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the same people who invented the Internet. Other than myself, and a geologist from Australia, everyone else there was, in some way or another, in the pocket of this General, something I pointed out during our plenary introductions. At the next meal break, said General sought me out as a dining companion. How, he needed to know, was I not also on his payroll?

There were several obvious implementations of the Phantom being discussed, such as a medical school using them, along with surgical dummies, to help physicians learn proper technique for administering epidermal injections & draws.

The Australian geologist was working with seismic stimulators to probe for deeply buried oil & gas deposits. This being done by amassing the vast amounts of three dimensional data produced by seismic stimulation — essentially carefully calibrated “shakers” attached by outrigger arms to long, low trucks, like massive insects, which would slowly advance along a grid work, shake the ground a bit, raise, advance some more, lower, shake, etc. Once a full grid had been worked, and the data assembled into a three dimensional model, the investigator would probe through the data, feeling his or her way along veins of ore or into voids filled with gas or oil; each substance represented with a different virtual viscosity.

During a field trip to the labs of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry corporation, a friendly scientist showed me the system they were developing to help orthopaedists feel their way around (“appreciate” in the parlance) the knee joint of a prospective surgical subject, prior to wielding an actual knife.

Here’s how it was done. The patient would receive a scan — PET, CAT, MRI, whichever technology would best image the tissues involved — and the data would be loaded into a computer model. Rather than the pixels (Picture Elements) we think of from the two dimensional world of television or video, or printing, this data were rendered into Voxels, Volumetric Elements. In addition to the X, Y, & Z coordinates of a datum, there was also information on the density of the matter, rendered to the “viewer” as viscosity or resistance. A doctor could thus feel around the back side of a kneecap, for example, to appreciate the condition of the soft tissues there (if any remained), such as cartilage or muscle, each rendered in a different haptic manner.

It was fascinating. This was 1995 remember, long before these sort of things were depicted as routine in movies and on telly.

At a remove

Lunch today, 12:45 or something like that.  Sitting at a duce and just tucking into my meal.

A young couple are seated at a four-top nearby.  She slender, Asian, angular.  He buff, scruffy, hipster-ish.  They sit and glance at their menus.

I return to my meal.

Something catches my eye, a movement or something.  I look up.

He, on my left, has his right arm outstretched.  His hand holding her lower jaw.

She, on my right, is crying, sobbing.

His hand is holding her lower jaw still, as if by doing so, this very act of agency revokes whatever guilt or role he has in whatever has induced this tremble.

Her head is rocking, oddly.  Her sobs, though dampened by his right hand’s grip on her jaw, still rack her, and constrained in one axis, her head heaves in another.  How does he feel about this?  Is he responsible?  Has he just dumped her, for example, or just what?

This goes on.  I eat a few bites, but I do not look away.  She is unaware of my gaze.  He might be, I don’t really care.  I don’t care if he knows I am watching whatever it is he is doing to her — comforting, silencing, cajoling — I am not afraid of his reaction to my involvement.  I keep watching.

A drop, a tear drop, falls from her face and I imagine I can even see the splash as it hits the table.

She, in perfect profile, is not looking at him.  She is looking up, and to her right, so her gaze escapes my own.

He, likewise in profile, is alternately staring at her, and staring at the table.

She winces.  She squints her eyes and I see the tell-tale folds in the corner of her eye.  Another drop falls.  The table seems to shake as it lands.

He looks down, drops his arm, he is disarmed.

She shrugs and says something, but I cannot hear. I don’t care to, either.  This is pantomime to me.

Just as he raises his arm to once again grasp her jaw (whatever compels this act??) the waitress approaches.  They both miraculously collect themselves and order.  She a fish fry, and shrimp bisque.  He, a sandwich with fries.

The waitress leaves.  I am willing her to offer a napkin, a tissue, something with which this young woman, Asian and angular, sad and dripping, may dab at her face.  I am willing it, but I am powerless, acting at a remove.

Fog Horn Memories

Out in the bay, the fog horns are sounding, their long, low, throaty wails echo lazily off the high rise buildings of Yankee Hill.  Occasionally they are answered by a ship asea, like some love lorn animal seeking its mate.  These horns bring back such fond autumn memories for me, of my childhood growing up on Hackett Avenue.

Every fall we would build forts from the leaves, my brother, sister and I, and shoot up the neighborhood from the safety of our burrows within them.  We had few firearms.  Our parents were pacifists, as it were, and housed Students For McCarthy one election, and supported our efforts on behalf of a certain Senator four years later.  But this time of year out would come the rat-a-tat-tat mechanical plastic machine guns — M16 or AK-47, I could tell you not — and we’d dust off the old cap pistols from the cowboy and Indian sets.

Upon settling in the house on Hackett, in 1966, my father went exploring at Boerner Botanical Gardens.  The rose gardens there being modeled after Queen Mary’s Rose Gardens at Regent’s Park, London.  He loved those roses, and was determined to find some which would acquit themselves well in this climate.  He selected some Florabunas, tho he didn’t know it yet.  He wrote to the chief grounds keeper, describing the flowers he wanted, and their location within the grounds, and received back by return post the specifics and where to buy them.

The graft roots in hand, the next season he planted them along the front walk; a line of thorned sentries to guard against stray pets (and their clumsy owners).  These florid red roses would all be gone come October nights, of course, but their skeleton were perfect structural support for the siege walls of our leaf forts.  To this we would add cardboard boxes dragged from the curb, and branches felled by those city crews who waged war against the Dutch Elm Disease which was to decimate, many times over, the ranks of our formerly cathedral-esque streets.

From the safety of our forts, under a sanguine, weighty and magnificent hunter’s moon, we waged war against our foes, real and imagined.  It may be the Smirle boy from down the street, or the Clarks, two doors to the south.  Maybe the Litzaff kids would venture our way (always ill advised) but we would hold them at bay, our rat-a-tat rifles springing to life under our seasoned command, our incongruous tri-cornered hats perched on our heads.

As the years crept by, however, those accouterments were first joined then supplanted by the various bits of Vietnam war paraphernalia which found its way to our house, from the rummage sales of the veteran-students who lived amongst the families on our street.  Along with this gear came a growing realization, too, that the very thing that our earnest student house guests — and even ourselves — were protesting about, war, was what we were playing at.  Gradually, then, the games of war fell away from us.  The great piles of leaves in the front yard went back to being prospective mulch in my mother’s compost heap, and our attentions turned to the unlikely election of one Senator McGovern to the Presidency, hoping to put to an end this reckless and ridiculous war which even in our little corner of Milwaukee one saw evidence of.

There had been the marches, of course, the uprisings at the university, and as the body counts on the nightly news began to crack into our childhood consciousness we were soon in full confrontation with the weightiest of issues, and our childhood was ending just as our political lives began.  We carried on an English tradition of Guy Fawkes Day.  We kids would fashion an effigy out of newspaper, leaves, old rags and paper bags.  My father would choose the political scourge of the day from the cover of the Saturday Review, Newsweek, or the rotogravure and plaster it onto the paper-bag head of our Frankenstein Guy.

We would load the Guy into the Radio Flyer wagon and parade him around the neighborhood on November 5th (which conveniently fell near to election day) and sing our little song, “Please do remember on the fifth of November that poor old Guy Fawkes was reduced to an ember!” then our plea, “Penny for the Guy, penny for the Guy!”  For Unicef, of course — Even in such dark celebration we maintained our liberal political correctness.  When we returned home we would place the Guy on the fire grate and commit him to the pyre.

But before that, all back through our young histories in Milwaukee, living as we did by the water, were the fog horns, those stoic sentries of the water, those siren guardian whose unflinching, signal wails would guide the ships to safety and away from peril.  As a youngster my favorite nights were those with the still cloak of fog heavy in the air, that Hunter’s Moon a mere smudge in the sky, and my mother and I reading bedtime stories to each other — H.G. Wells most often, but C.S. Lewis or others, too — as the fog horns wailed in the back ground.

After the last chapter of the night, my mother would pack up the book, tousle my hair, and tuck me in with a wee peck on the cheek.  “Go to sleep now,” she’d say, “and no staying up with that flashlight!”  Such admonition was hardly necessary, though, when the fog horns were sounding.  I would burrow deep into my covers, pulling them as high up around me as I could, and imagine myself at sea, with those taciturn fog horns wailing, the waves crashing, the rocks threatening, and my own future uncertain with peril.

Much of this memory comes crashing home this year — the foggy fall, the political currents, and the timely (it would seem) death of that brave Senator from my past.  George McGovern probably never had any chance, back then in 1972, but to my young eyes and to those of my siblings, he was a hero.  My politics were forever forged in the furnace of Vietnam, the 60’s, the races riots and body counts and fair housing marches and assassinations.  But it was those childhood nights of echoing fog horns which forged my soul, in the dark, under the covers, the words of H.G. Wells still resonating inside, feeling safe under my parent’s roof and wrapped tightly in their love.

Send me a picture of something Baton Rougian

I went on a mission to find something, “Baton Rougian.” Just what that may be escaped me, but I thought the first line of attack might be to find some genuine nature to photograph. Not as easy as it sounds down here.

I asked the client. “Oh I would go Downtown, to the casino, ‘Belle of Baton Rouge.'” she said.  “There’s that place there, arbotarium…no arbortari..” “Arboretum?” I offered. “Yes, that’s it. That’s were I go when I want to take some pictures.”

A little more discussion, and she said “Yeah, I would never go outside.” “Oh, so it’s an indoor arboretum?” “Oh yes, it’s just too hot to be outdoors!”

Okay, scratch that. I’m not going to a casino to take pictures of trees under glass, and try to pass that off as Baton Rougian!

My first destination, given that all I have so far seen is highways and hotel, was the Waddill Wildlife Refuge. Wrong! Closed Sunday and Monday, so that’s out.

Next up? “BREC Frenchtown Road Conservation Area” a few miles further east. Oops! Strike two! There is a rather permanent looking sign explaining that Louisiana is closed (as far as I can tell) until further notice. You can call or visit some offices, during very proscribed hours, to request permission to visit.

Oh well. At least along the way, I found much to admire about nature in Louisiana. It is certainly hardy. Despite all the indignities mankind seems to hurl at it, it just keeps slogging along. There is an air about things here, everything seems so… verdantly disheveled.

There were plenty of interesting views along the way, but given the prevalence of signs proclaiming, “Posted!” “No Trespassing!” “No Parking!” I decided discretion is the better part of valor after all. More so than in any of my foreign travels, I feel I cannot say for sure that the locals and myself share a common idea of civil behavior and other such norms. I do not mean to impugn the Baton Rougians, but I am not really in Baton Rouge, after all, but actually out of the corporate limits, in the backwoods (in a sense) and this is their turf, after all, so I just slink off.

Now, back at the hotel, after an hour or so of searching for nature, outdoors, that’s open… I gave up. I bought a screw-top bottle of Pinot Grigio (no corkscrew) and settled down to rest and catch up on news, etc.

Moving Things

Back in 2009, Pawn saw a piece of art which was particularly moving. Days later, he brought friend L back to see it, and she, too, found it moving. Finally, on the last day of the visit, he met up with new friend A, and she convinced him to buy it. Shortly before leaving for the airport, Pawn returned one last time to the Crypt of Saint Pancras Church, and uttered the fateful sentence, “If you can figure out how to ship it to me for a reasonable price, I’ll take it.”

Short Stories in crate

It took several weeks, but the intrepid Claire Palfreyman, maker of said artwork, found a shipper worthy of the task, and Short Stories, Volume 1, was on its way across the Atlantic, safely ensconced in a custom made crate, protected from buffeting. Shortly thereafter it was installed in Pawn’s state-side offices, and he has shared an office with it ever since. Pawn LOVES this piece of art, and is proud to have it in his collection.

Short Stories, Volume One 2009

Also on that last day in London, May of 2009, was fortunate enough to meet Claire, creator of Short Stories and to have a brief chat with her. Upon returning this year, I reached out to see if she would be up for a visit, so that I could see her other work, and chat about art. Yes, and yes, and today that happened.

I hopped the train, first the tube to Paddington and then the Heathrow Connect to Hanwell, where Claire and Charlie, her Parson’s Jack Russell, met me and led me to her home. We chatted over tea in her lovely kitchen while she told me of her current craft projects, built around her We Make Here classes, “Workshops where you meet, eat and create” as her website touts. We discussed her ceramics work, of which Short Stories is but one component, and about how art moves life just as life moves art.

In her studio, Claire shared sketches of work both realised and not, as well as stories of the late, missing partner to Short Stories, and a photo of this poor, ceramic soul. I admired the maquettes of work planned but not (yet) made, and, back in the house, some beautifully realised works.

Some more chat, and a lovely stroll, with Charlie along, back to the station to wait for the train back to London. I treasure making friends abroad. Claire was an artist whose work I bought, but after an afternoon of chat and shared appreciation of the role art can play in our lives, I’d like to think she’s a friend, too.

Friendship, and thing which move us, is also at the heart of tonight’s entertainment, Port Authority, at the Southwark Playhouse Vault. If there is a theme to our shows, last night and tonight, is of hidden vaults, dank and beautiful in their decay. Last night it was Old Vic Tunnels, under Waterloo Station. Tonight it was the vaults under London Bridge Approach. Southwark Playhouse has been using this space for some time, so it is not as “fresh” as OVT, but OMG what an atmosphere!

Port Authority - Southwark Playhouse

The play, by Irish playwright Conor McPherson, is entirely constructed of long soliloquy, a McPherson trademark. It wasn’t that long ago that both X and I saw The Good Thief, presented by Theatre Gigante, with Malcolm Tulip in the sole role, making a 60 minute address to the audience seated around him in the pub, as though he were merely talking to friends and acquaintances. Tonight we watched as Dermot (Ardal O’Hanlon), Joe (John Rogan) and Kevin (Andrew Nolan) each, separately, and with no regard or even awareness for each other, told us of those with whom they were close, loved, idolized or ignored.

Kevin is a young man, telling us of his first attempt to fly the coop, and of the woman he loved, and the woman he shagged, and of the difficulty of maintaining that distinction, all whilst following his mate’s bands and drinking to blinding excess.

Joe is an old man, living in care, who has a secret, well almost a secret, with which he has lived for over 40 years. He knows he is near the end of his allotment, and he knows his God will judge him (He knows), but he has a totem now, a keepsake, which speaks to him of a road not taken.

Dermot is a likeable buffoon, a poor, pitiable man whose life takes an unexpected turn, and then doubles back to leave him just where he was. His life has been full of these types of turns, but he hasn’t even realised it until he finds his head falling, falling into…

Well then, that would be giving it all away, wouldn’t it? No, the text is too good, the acting too real, the space too perfect and the production too effing well done. Go see it yourself!

New York – Ides of April Edition, 2010

Sun shapes on stairway

“Are you an artist too man?”

The question came innocently enough. That was James, our erstwhile bartender, after learning that I once knew Carri Skoczek, yesterday at Clem’s.

“Was, I was an artist.”

“What you mean, ‘was’? You don’t just stop being an artist. Maybe you aren’t making any art, but if you’re an artist, you’re an artist.”

“I was a lighting designer,” I told him. “You can’t just pick that up and do it anywhere, you know. You need a stage, and performers, and lights, and…”

“Ooh, I get it. Yeah, you kinda need a lotta help to get that done, doncha.”

“Yeah, you need a lot of help. I make art that needs a lot of help, so I don’t make art anymore.”

“That sucks, man. Shit.”

Okay, that was yesterday, and doesn’t really belong in today’s gazette, but it’s here for a reason. To whit: today we went to the American Museum of Folk Art. This lovely little institution, tucked in next to MoMA and The Modern, hosts one of the nicest collections of naïve, folk and self-taught art around, and although they have precious little space to show it in, they do so in a loving yet erudite manner.

When I look at this kind of art, I find myself always pondering the question of motivation, drive, inspiration… This seems inadequate to my point. Let’s try this; when someone grows up and goes to art school and starts to make art and exhibit it, or perform or what have you, it seems that there is a path, a trajectory, that gets them there. The motivation and drive are clear. For the self taught, the naïve, there is no such path. These are just normal work-a-day people who feel some compulsion to, at the end of a long day laboring over a plow or a broom or a stove, they decide to pick up a paint brush, embroidery needle, or what have you, and start making art.

I never “made art” in the sense of making a durable thing – painting, print, etc. – which one could take away from the experience and hang on a wall. I made art which was of its very nature ephemeral, transient, fleeting. My art was formal, in that it sprang from formalized structures and norms, it followed rules, to some extent, and it had a place in history in so far as it was informed by those who came before me, and was crafted with the tools and instruments available to me in my time. The naïve artist, on the contrary, is working out of time. Their work is singular and apart. Or, at least to my uneducated and impressionable eyes, it seems so.

It was thus that I gazed upon the self-made personal art collection of Henry Darger, on display at AMFA, which shows over 80 pieces of this significant 20th century self-taught artist’s own works which had hung on the walls of his tiny hovel in Chicago for the 40 years he lived there. It is a departure of a show for this museum, which holds the largest collection of Darger’s work in the world. I am used to coming here and being confronted with rooms of his mural sized hallucinatory fantastical ramblings, paint and tracery works, filling the whole of one or two floors of the museum. Not today, now it is these small, 16” x 20” average, pieces. Why? I wonder. What led this man, who worked 10 hour days in Catholic hospitals, sweeping and mopping, to then return home and write 4, four, 15,000 page epics about his fantasy world, backed by thousands and thousands of paintings?

Anyway, I don’t mean to dwell on this anymore than I already have. I just wanted to share that I realize that there are many reasons people make art. I know that people will probably chide me about this post, like, “Duh? Don’t you get it man, people want to make art!?!?” Yes, I get that. It is just the scale, sometimes, which causes me to ponder this. I guess. Whatever.

I can’t make my art, or I gave up on doing so, in the face of the challenges I faced. These people, these people whose work fills AMFA, likely never even felt that challenge, they just knew they wanted to make art, and they did so. They likely would have regarded me and said, “Huh? What of it, get off yer arse and express yourself!” The thing is that I do, of course. I express myself, now, in words rather than stage paintings. I use the tools of metaphor and simile instead of lekos and fresnels. I use a word processor instead of a light palette. I still make art, I guess, but I paint my pictures in words rather than those fields of light and shadow and color and smoke.

Runaway Vampires

Pawn just read this over at the Gray Lady:

Kristen Stewart, the 19-year-old co-star of the “Twilight” blockbusters, plays a New Orleans stripper in “Welcome to the Rileys,” which also stars James Gandolfini as a damaged businessman. Mr. Cooper noted that Ms. Stewart also has a noncompetition entry: in “The Runaways,” directed by Floria Sigismondi, Ms. Stewart plays a young Joan Jett.
Sundance, With a New Leader, Hones Its Indy Edge –

Pawn has a warm place in his heart for Ms Jett.  Not only for her great contributions to Rock and Roll music, but for her stand up performance back in Iowa during the 2004 Presidential campaign.  As I journaled then…

Jeneane Garofalo is in town, as is Joan Jett. They are doing a show, kind of an Iowa Perfect Storm USO show to thank and bolster the Dean faithful. Seems that just one floor up is a meeting of the Young Republican’s Caucus Organizing Committee. You have to ask yourself if the facility scheduler had thought this through or not. Anyway, once the YRs find out that the Dean people are downstairs they take a vote of the organizing committee and have a unanimous vote of seven yeas (I’m not making this up, the head of the organizing committee boasted about it on TV) to go down to the Dean rally and do what they can to disrupt it!

Jeneane Garofalo addresses the crowd (photo courtesy

This is unreal, these guys have taken compassionate conservatism to a whole new level! They head down to the rally, armed with Bush/Cheney campaign signs (so there is no doubt who to blame…) and start trying to inspire a melee. The Dean folks simply block the B/C signs with their own, not a tough task given the numbers involved. There is a large contingent of Planned Parenthood folks and “Stand Up for Choice” there as well, which further skews the balance of power.

No one is taking the bait, however, no one is rising to fight, nor do anything other than try to block the B/C signs. Then, Joan Jett starts to play the National Anthem. This is apparently too much patriotism for the YRs and much like the effect of Slim Whitman music on the Martians in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, their heads simply start to explode.

Well, okay, not exactly, but it’s almost the same thing. One of the more compassionate conservatives decides to give Ms Jett a really good shove, while she is playing. Our portly protector of family values seemed to have misjudged his target, however, as Joan (about one third this guys size, and more than twice his age) shrugs off his shove and then comes back swinging. She manages to land a few good ones before Dean people separate the two.

Joan Jett immediately after the altercation (photo courtesy

This is all captured by several TV cameras, including that of Joe Jensen, the guy who trained us on Friday. This is a lead story on all of the local news. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Okay then, the gloves are off in the Republican camp at least.

I haven’t rushed out to see the Twilight films, but I can’t wait to see Miss Stewart in The Runaways.

Me and D – A Work In Progress

Harvest moon

Harvest moon

The maps of our childhood are the maps we most easily forget, or so it seems to me, looking back.

When I was a kid I ran through the gulleys and ravines of Lake Park as though it were my own back yard, which it very nearly was. My best friend D and I knew those woods like the backs of our hands and we spent almost every afternoon there after school. My home was five blocks from the park, D’s was two. The amount of trouble that two young boys could get into in that park, without their parents ever knowing, was manifest.

A full moon in October, a Hunter’s Moon, meant forts made from great mounds of fallen leaves, reinforced with strategically placed tree limbs. While our friends might be attending Hallow e’en parties to which we were not invited, we were busy devising new strategies for conquering the world, or defending our Emperor’s hold upon it.

My father raised rose bushes, right at the front of our yard, hard up by the sidewalk. In autumn the leaves from the mountain ash in the yard, along with those from the silver maple on the verge, piled high behind the windbreak that the rose bushes provided. Behind that natural Maginot line we would build our forts, year after year. They were durable affairs, reinforced with fallen branches and cardboard boxes from Diet-Rite Cola or Friskies Cat Food or what have you. We would lay in repose with our clakety-clack toy rifles and Cub Scout canteens, ready for whichever invaders may try to lay waste to our hamlet.

One year D pilfered a pair of walkie-talkies from his older brother, Dan. We talked to each other in our fort as though we were but part of legion. The rest of the platoon were just around the corner, ready to aid us at a moment’s notice. We were both pacifists, I’ll have you know, but we were too young to realize that that meant we weren’t supposed to wield weapons. You know how confused things can be at that age.

I was still trying to sort out my feelings about Alfreda Leiderböhm kissing me at Carrie’s Hallow e’en party when D and I were torn apart by the exigencies of school and family and life. As an adult I have seen films about the Nazi era in France in which families are torn asunder and they never fail to make me think of how my leaving Mr. C’s 8th grade classroom ultimately spelled the fatal turning point in D and my relationship. I went through high school in the next 3 years, while D slogged along, according to plan, and graduated high school about the same time I was dropping out of college.

Life was so simple back then. It may be a prosaic pronouncement, but it is also quite true that the world we face as 13 year old boys is nothing compared to what we will face the next time we have a chance to assess our self worth and place in the world, which may not come around until we’re 21 or 35. My epiphany came at 13, when my father passed away. D’s father took me under his wing and tried to fill a gaping hole in my life (something I didn’t realize for years) while, simultaneously, D’s parent’s marriage was falling apart.

When D ran away from home, a couple of years later, I didn’t really understand his complaint. He had two parents, after all, and they seemed nice enough to me. I lost a father to death and a mother to perpetual mourning, so what, exactly, was his beef?

Neglect, that was his beef. I only understand that now, with a wealth of history behind me.

Walk in the moonlight across empty roofs
Relish the moonlight’s embrace
sing the song of the sun to his face
fall down the drainpipe to the road
trip on the gutter
do as you’re told

Dance in the midnight, waltz in the dark
while others lay sleeping, serenade the park
have a mad affair, a tawdry rendezvous
long after twilight, a real lark
sing your song
mouth your words
pass silently abroad

We didn’t ever have words like those. We wrote, though, thoughtless little boy larks of prose which we would submit to our teachers as joint works of fiction. In fifth grade that was enough to win over our teacher. She could care less that we collaborated on our work, that she got only half as much work as we were supposed to turn in – it was of such high quality, and consistently so – that she graded us as though we had turned in two full, long assignments.

London 2009 – Epilogue – Rose Garden : Coda :

Flying high above the western coast of Ireland seems as good a time as any to start to write the epilogue of my most recent pilgrimage to London; Succour to the soul.

In music a coda is a little slice of notes, typically central to a main or secondary thematic element, which you are informed will return, come back, later in the piece. The double dots, the colons, at each end of the phrase, warn the musician of this fact so that when the time comes she will know where to return. In the software world this is called a loop, a subroutine, a goto. A little bookmark which allows the interpreter or compiler to keep track of the various nested functions and operations which all play into the symphony, the programme, the life upon which the guiding hand of fate has fallen at this moment.

My life of late has been replete, resplendent with coda in all form. The rose garden, for the purposes of this essay, shall be our outermost coda. In programming terms it is our “main loop.” An “Object Oriented” programmer would refer to this as the “event loop.” (and aren’t we all a little object oriented these days?). In musical terms it is our over-arcing theme. Then there is the magical East End, its currents run strong in this musical programme which has accompanied my life these past four weeks; a life lived within the confines of that tempo of weeks; discrete units of life upon which the fates have chosen to act, separating each part and portion of my life from the next, so better to orchestrate the melodies and harmonies, the building crescendo and the diminishing decrescendo, which comprise our souvenir symphony in four movements this past month.

There are those galleries, theatres, neighbourhoods and parks to which I return, again and again, in little loop-de-loop flourishes within the greater piece, little musical cul-de-sac; programmatic tight loops which allow for some minor variable to be recalculated or some sum to be tallied. These are the elements which make the life interesting not just for the subject (or is it object) but for those who choose to look over the virtual shoulder and pour over the digital entrails left in documentary form upon the ether which now constitute such a large portion of our record.

But are there not some other, more subterranean coda? Have we not my return, again and again to the East End, site of my father’s upbringing? My incessant desire to revisit his formation, his formative era to find his epoch. Isn’t there, too, the repeated loop-de-loop of my own little operas, my own cycles of being. There are so many little loops and coda here that to draw a map wouldn’t we end up with the tracings upon my soul of so many curlicues we would have the psychic equivalent of a Dryden Goodwin photo?

Whilst one is within the score of this souvenir symphony, within the source code of this peripatetic programme, one quickly loses the perspective necessary to perceive the tight little nests or sprawling cloverleaf interchanges of cause and counter force, of motivation and reaction, of intent and sentiment which all either choreograph or dance to the music of the month gone by.

I, as the sole soul to have experienced this little portion of “reality” am left now, at the altitude of 30 thousand feet, to look back down through the mists and clouds of memory to the patchwork fragments left behind in act, deed and word, and try to reassemble and reassess what really happened over the past four weeks. More important, however, than what really happened is the question, thus far unasked, what does it mean?

There is, of course, much meaning within these coda, these loops, these cul-de-sac. The tea leaves, the rose petals, the leavings behind through which we must dredge. The rose garden, then, has many constructors, initiators, events, notes. We started our little trek in London with a visit to the rose garden, X and I. We marvelled in the rich blooms gracing that May Day, and admired even those bushes still in bud and not in bloom. In our repeat, A and I on that penultimate evening in London, visited a rose garden which was at once the same and different. Yes the bushes were the same, they were the same ones which captivated my father as a child and as a young man, for that matter, but the blooms were different, nearly four weeks later. We, I, saw two little snap shots in time as the swooping of this souvenir symphony took us around once again to the same garden but displaced enough along the time line, the Z axis, as to see an entirely different visual feast. To dine, as A might have it, on a different flavour of visual food.

The dance within that rose garden, the parrying and dodging, was not that too just another repeat, another coda? There is little in our modern lives which is truly new, so many variations on the themes that are our lives. Add a new ingredient, a new foil or foible, and we have a new circumstance but is it truly a new reality?

Nearly twenty years ago I penned a reflection on reflection. I documented my tendency to document. My “Letter to the reader” set forth my observation that my incessant observation of my own life, for the purposes of later writing it down, had lead to what I dubbed “Documentary Living.” Was I not now, in reflecting on that reflection, simply adding a new coda to the coda? Creating what in software parlance is called an infinite loop? Is this the classical snake eating its own tail, and will surely lead to no good end…or no end??? Or is this merely recursion, recursive – to write over…or to overwrite???

X was the original reader of that particular letter; X with whom I visited the rose garden on day 1. I discussed it on day 24 with A, who was intrigued by the epistemology of my record, and then returned to that same (or was it different) rose garden with her on day 27. Did I close a loop or create an echo, a reflection? I then wrote about that visit to the rose garden with A, thus creating another loop or another reflection? Has an error condition arisen? Must I abend? Is a reboot necessary? Or have I simply imposed a Fibonacci series upon the equation, turning the endless loop into a spiral? A golden section?

These currents are treacherous, are they not. In 1927 a young Alec Bernstein, whilst swimming in the waters off Dover was caught in treacherous currents and nearly swept out to sea. 82 years later his son returned to that place and while staying clear of the waters was caught in the currents of air and nearly blown off the pedestrian pier. Returning to London those spirals of fate, those echoes of history, those reflections and reverberations through the timeline continued into the galleries of Whitechapel where a young Alec had played as a boy, and learnt as a young man, surrounded by one of the most turbulent eras in art history as the modern age was born just down the street and to the right. What was the future for him is treated in historical retrospect for me. He looked forward and I look back along the same skein of historical yarn, each knot along that invisible thread representing for him a future possibility and for me an historical certainty.

“The theme of the trip seems to keep returning to migrations, minglings and explorations.” wrote X on Day 20, then stateside, upon reading another entry in the continual diary. Indeed, yet another set of loops and coda, as I migrate back, again, to my birthplace, and back to the rose garden, and back to the Up Market and back to mingling with new friends and new surrounds, old stomping grounds become newly familiar avenues as I explore those streets and mews that Alec once explored. I retell stories of family lore to a new audience, but are the stories made new when heard by new ears?

Last year the trip to London began with a painful memory, a memory with which I had lived for over thirty years without ever speaking or writing about, and not just writing about it but publishing it in a forum where it could be read by anyone. It ended with a frightening dream on my final night in the Big Smoke, which left me moving through the flight home like a zombie until I wrote it all out in the air over Nova Scotia and posted it, as I always do, to that great psychotherapist in the ether, my blog. Thus revealed, naked to the world, I hoped to cleanse myself of whatever guilt I felt over the emotions which had laid buried for so long.

This year, as the final day approached, I felt a building trepidation of that particular coda; I did not want to relive the psychic torment of that dream and the draining effect of writing it all down. That cathartic coup-de-gras never did come. I slept well last night. So was I free of the demons which led last year to such a painful disruption, a jarring of the snow globe, a skip in the record of my souvenir symphony? No, for in the absence of that loop, that coda, I was left to examine all those loops and coda still remaining. It is the exception, so it would seem, which proves the rule.

Batteries wane, and so do I. I shall set this aside, then, and put the computer back under the seat in front of me. When I am home again (another loop?) I will extract this little piece of the owners manual of my life and once again put it on display for you, the reader, to ponder, in yet another letter. Another coda. Another loop. But I do regress…