Tag Archives: the arts

lightness

Have you ever started a post and thought, Nah, this is really not substantial enough. (?) The idea that everything needs to have the utmost weight can be pretty counterproductive — at least when it comes to blogging, which in the long run seems to do well with the occasional sense of lightness.

So in the vein of lightness, this post is partly to show the cover of the first edition of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems. Dickinson’s poetry was, of course, extremely lighthearted. I think one of the original blurbs for this book was “In these pages, the glass is always half full … of delight!” And okay … probably not, though it isn’t at all uncommon for her writing to have this whimsical approach to wisdom — like, isn’t it funny to be wise in this particular world?

I was surprised by the kind of craftsmanship and design that went into the cover of something published in 1889. While this particular publication of her work featured tweaks to Dickinson’s poetry she didn’t sign off on, the cover really does evoke a sense of her poetry. Flowers that are a bit wilted, but hanging on.

I think she was a great writer, but I don’t think all of her poetry successfully communicates beyond herself (and not just because of the difference in vernacular from the late 1800s and now).  Some of her poems are probably a bit more tentative than others, and yet they’ve all been around long enough to be part of the canon and blindly esteemed as Literary. Apart from that, it’s pretty cool that someone can be a great writer and not always be great at creating work that clearly connects with people.

A Meaningful Correspondence (with Feral Cats)

Felix,

Your arrival at the end of our Neighbors as Correspondents orientation was a welcome one.  I know things got a little quiet, but the thing was–everybody else had already worked out who they would be writing to.  Also, if I may say, you and your friend both looked like you tried to pet a Tasmanian devil.  This probably had more to do with your reception than your friend’s notion that you were the attractions in a new, more twisted kind of art gallery–one in which you might be “snarked at for sport.”

I am glad that this feeling didn’t spoil his appetite — the platter he took with him when he left ensured that no heavy leftovers had to be carried home — but I was a little hurt until I realized you did put your email in the drop box, and that the two of you had tried talking to people before he got loud.  You walked out just after him, so maybe you could hear the conversation becoming more lively than it had been.  Though I was unsure if most of the people who turned out would put down their smartphones down long enough to write a solid piece of correspondence, I’m confident that they had something to text each other about for a little while.

And, well, my mother always said I’d do something really good with my life.

Anyway, I’m not really familiar with your area, so I’ve decided that I will be your neighborly correspondent.  I do have one already, but I’m sure I can manage.  With the little free time that people generally have, the reason Dustin and I put together this initiative was in the hope of really communicating with the world around us.  Where I come from, the world felt smaller and larger at the same time–particularly when it came to how big what was considered local was, and the people you knew in that space.

Elise

***

Elise,

I think if either me or my friend petted a Tasmanian devil, then watching the other one be mauled would probably mean a lot of head scratching — and a slow but surely reached conclusion not to pet that Tasmanian devil after all.

I was surprised to get your note, as, beyond the invitation to come in at the entrance, I thought you were as stone-faced as anybody else there.  I figured maybe it was obvious that I thought you might be local.  If you’re not from here, that seems to be an insult.

Maybe dropping in on our way back from the hospital wasn’t the best idea.  But after Sam and I managed to pry away the claws of the feral cats that had lunged at our chests, I told myself that I would do something else that was different, with less of a possibility of cat scratch disease.  The flyer I saw for your ‘Neighbors as Correspondents’ program fit the bill.  Who couldn’t use a little more meaningful correspondence?  Well, not Sam apparently.  But after waiting a half-hour for his cousin, who’s a nurse, to tell us that we and our cat scratches would probably be fine, Sam figured why not if it was close enough.

We’re working a few towns over in this place that seems like it could be where you’re from.  It has a golf course that keeps me on during the peak seasons as a groundskeeper.  The closest residential street has a lot of feral cats that frequently find their way to it, and they seem to be multiplying.  The head groundskeeper went to this local animal shelter about getting that under control.  But the shelter is understaffed.  They told the head groundskeeper that they’ll spay and neuter any cats he’d bring in, then they instructed him in the first and last part of trapping, neutering, and returning.  I think it maybe gave him a strange sense of purpose.

Keeping the ground pretty for a few people isn’t always that involving.

Oh, wait.  Maybe I should tell you what feral cats are, in case you don’t know.  Any house cat that hasn’t been around people for a long time becomes feral.  Got it?  Good.  They — not the animal shelter — say the same thing happens with people.  I’m not really much of a cat person, but there’s this ugly, beat-up looking one that used to hang around the concession stand. The guy who runs it was chasing it with a golf club once, and I snatched the club away and told him to leave it alone.   After that, I found a mouse tail at the door of the groundskeeper shed, and the thing was watching in the distance.  I’m not sure, but, as gross as that was, it may be a lot for a cat.

Anyway, the head groundskeeper got enough of a tiny budget on this project from the golf course to pay a few more people to help out.  The prospect of less golfing with cats running across the green is that powerful.  Thus the return of Sam, who had quit working as a caddie.

When it comes to catching feral cats, the number of traps are limited, and the thing is, in a small area crowded with cats, some of the others eventually see other cats getting trapped.  We’ve brought about seven back from the shelter, but the only thing the cats hone on is the being trapped.  After one day in which no cats were trapped, the head groundskeeper started trying to catch them with nets.  Reluctantly, we did the same.  And, well, the cat that I had to pry from my chest seemed to be coming to the aid of a gray one that I was trying to help Sam get off his chest.  Also, it was the ugly, beat-up looking one.

I know for some people, the most important question here is if the cats were hurt.  And to them I’d say, no, the cats weren’t hurt.  But some feelings were, I think.  And Sam’s don’t count so much in that instance.

As for his being loud before, I don’t really think he was.  I know noisy, and he just happened to talk with feeling when no one else was.  If that was something that was automatically loud, maybe parts of both our notes would be in caps.

Felix

(Trying my hand at fictional correspondence. – David )

Business is business

© Robert Pinero and me _____________________

When I was young, I did the typical thing of going along with my mother when she went grocery shopping.  I never really noticed the way she’d try to stay within a limited budget until the time a cashier was ringing her stuff up, and she was short of the total by one cent.  This was in a chain store she went to all the time, but the cashier wasn’t about to let her slide with that one penny.  Nowadays I find myself thinking that the silver lining of this is that she would never had to walk past the cashier and feel like she’d been a charity case.  But that’s just cynicism on my part.  While I’ve found that very few people really ever do anything for someone else without some sense of personal gain (if only in standing), I can’t disavow the notion that not letting someone slide on one cent one time is pretty bogus.  It’s also, at its most simple level, just business.

I also recall going to a corner store once in a while, and my mother having to put some trifle back for being short a few cents, and the guy behind the counter insisting that the few cents didn’t matter.  And for the sake of someone else, someone who’d never in a zillion years ask someone to give her even a few cents was okay about that–because, to the guy at the corner store, the loss of a few cents to someone who wasn’t trying to chump him off was genuinely trivial.  He did not expect a parade out of it.  For him, business was not business minus any semblance of human consciousness.

This particular decade has certainly seen a strong resurgence of that minus-human-anything kind of business.  That’s certainly the most profitable kind, because, if your business is a part of something that millions of people utilize, little cents add up to lots of zeroes behind dollar signs.  So taking people out of the equation as anything beyond walking wallets is optimal.  Like those guys on Wall Street saw it.  And, of course, that way of thinking has really ensured a better world for everyone . . .

This profit-maximizing kind of thinking extends itself well beyond the businesses people must use to get their basic needs met–all the way to the arts, where the idea of coming up a little short is supposed to be different.  The arts all have their own measuring sticks when it comes to what’s good and what’s not, but, at a certain level, subjectivity is a mark on all of them.  Subjectivity–being a human consciousness thing.  So the more business-driven art is, the more its qualities are measured in currency.  Currency ends up driving all the art that’s put up and heralded in front of you as art or literature.  The value of any piece needs to be at level as such that being a cent short is out of the question, and in an arena where currency isn’t just about the literal monetary kind, the value of an artist’s background and demographic also come into play.

It’s just funny; you grow up being taught many works of art that, for all of their virtues, don’t usually engage you all that much.  And even when you don’t love them, you can maybe see what someone else saw in it enough to bring it to light.  The fact that such things abounded lead many people to think that completely catering to the lowest common denominator, mainstream or otherwise, wasn’t the bottom line with art.  I think about writers and artists whom were published decades ago whose backgrounds and subjective lack of appeal to mainstream currency means they’d never get much off the ground these days–and, as far as a percentage of what was being put out there, they were still only a tiny bit of art-related industry output.  But still, their lingering presences on the printed page speak to a time when art as a business wasn’t quite so soulless–or maybe when there was enough for folks to let their souls be stirred a little beyond business.  Nowadays, creators have to know how both they and their works are measured, unless they’re naturally such that they have/are exact change for what they’re going for.

I’m not the biggest fan of The Sin City movie that came out in 2005, but a character had two good lines that stood out to me, and forgive me if I’m paraphrasing them: “These are the all or nothing days.  They’re back.”