Archive for art

Sea of Ice

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2016 by sethdellinger

Famous people I know I would be good friends with if we ever got to know each other:

–Werner Herzog
–Kiefer Sutherland
–Anderson Cooper
–Emily Wells
–Dave Eggers
–Joaquin Phoenix
–Rachel Maddow
–Adam Savage

Oh hey, Karla and I were in line at a store last week.  We were next to be rung out.  We were standing kind of arm-in-arm.   We looked at each other and gave each other two or three quick, successive peck kisses.  The man behind the register threw his arms up in the air and bellowed, “FOLKS!  There’s other people here,” at which point he motioned to the other people in line behind us.  Then he said something along the lines of “Stop that” although I can’t remember his exact wording there.  We were flabbergasted!!  We hadn’t even been close to making out or kissing in any excessive way–whatever that would be!  It’s fair to say my anger was intense.  Karla pointedly asked the man behind us, “Were you offended?” and he said “I’m too tired to be offended.”  We were silent while he rang up our items.  As we walked out I said a very mean thing to him, which I do not feel bad about.

Oh hey, watch this video of Kay Ryan reading her poem “The Turtle”.  I mean wow.  “Her only levity is patience,/ the sport of truly chastened things.”

 

It’s not something you really wanna think about very much, but what songs would you want played at your funeral?  I actually used to think about this a lot, back when I was much more sad all the time, but even now the topic will cross my mind every few months.  Naturally my selections have varied wildly as time goes on and my tastes changed.  For many years I held tightly onto “Light Years” by Pearl Jam being one of the songs played, but that finally slid off the list a few years ago.  And thank goodness–in retrospect I can see that would have been gratuitously sad.  Just way TOO SAD.  Currently I am going with “A Three-Legged Workhorse” by This Will Destroy You, “I’ve Been Asleep For a Long, Long Time” by Hey Rosetta!,  and “Brian and Robert” by Phish.  I recommend trying this exercise yourself.  I think you’ll find it is quite revealing, not just about your musical tastes, but about the entirety of your life.

Here is a (partial) list of things I would try to get good at if I had unlimited time on this Earth:

–playing the guitar
–hiking/camping/climbing
–painting
–the yo yo
–acting
–ice skating

Oh hey, I’m reading a book about the earliest art to depict the polar regions after human exploration had begun there.  It’s a truly intriguing topic and some of this art is just spectacular.  Somewhat realistic based off the descriptions of the men who’d been there but also rather exaggerated and mystical as the place was still one of imagination and perceived danger and death.  Check out “Sea of Ice” by Caspar David Friedrich:

309fried

 

 

Throwing Copper, Tenty-Went, H-Burg Gem, Ashcan Love Puck

Posted in real life, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2016 by sethdellinger
  1. I really want to write one of those entries I write about just 4 or 5 random things that are on my mind.  I’ve wanted to write an entry like that all day and yet, as I finally get the chance, I have sat down in front of the keyboard and have blanked on all the things I wanted to write about.  I figured if I just started, stuff would start coming to me.  Oh hey–it looks like Ed Kowalczyk is back as the lead singer of LIVE–that’s pretty extraordinary.  I mean this was a band that was SERIOUSLY BROKEN UP.  Like, much, much animosity. I would have ranked them very near the bottom on lists of bands that might get back together.  But it’s excellent news.  Whether you are into their music or not, if you see them live in concert it’s challenging not to admit they are one of the most electrifying acts out there. I never saw LIVE with Ed’s replacement–I bet he’s great, but like so many bands that replace the lead singer, it’s simply not the same band.  I can’t wait to hear more about what’s going on in the LIVE camp.
  2. Speaking of camp–have you ever gone camping?  Karla, the boy, and I camped out in my dad’s back yard last summer, but aside from that, I’ve never really been camping, like in the woods.  We were close to almost “getting into” camping last year, and then somehow it just faded from our view.
  3. I need here to give a shout-out to Harrisburg’s gem of a book store, the Midtown Scholar.  Although it is far from a secret, it also rarely gets the credit it deserves; this is a truly GREAT book store–as its name implies, it specializes in more academic or artistic fare, but it does have contemporary fiction, etc.  The store is truly enormous; the basement just goes on and on.  There is a quite good coffee shop, lots of places to sit, an outdoor balcony overlooking midtown Harrisburg, a huge collection of film, music and poetry books, tons of art monographs, and even a rare book room with books from as far back as the 17th century and a keen collection of art prints.  I could literally spend days–and thousands of dollars–there.  What perplexes me greatly is that somehow, I had never been there (and barely heard of it) before moving to Harrisburg; this despite the fact that it is about two blocks from the indie movie theater I used to frequent constantly when I lived in Carlisle.  All I can say is, I’m tremendously happy to have found it now, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone from the area who hasn’t been there.
  4. Speaking of art–I was in the Scholar for Small Business Saturday and found my first ever art book focusing on the Ashcan School of artists; over the past year it has become clear to me that this entire group of artists is really my true passion when it comes to painting (although I still have other loves, ie Rousseau, Vermeer, Eakins, etc).  But the Ashcans and their use of color, broad brush strokes that approached but stopped short of impressionism, and their tendency to focus on urban scenes as a means to reveal human nature–really speak to my core.  If you’ve never heard of them and have an interest in art, I can not recommend highly enough Googling the works of John Sloan, Robert Henri, William Glackens, George Luks, Everett Schinn, and George Bellows.  I love Maurice Prendergast but it is often debated whether he qualifies as “Ashcan”.
  5. I like ice hockey.

Favorites, 2016

Posted in Rant/ Rave with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2016 by sethdellinger

Back in the old days of the Notes, I used to write a lot more about music, movies, and books, and I would every so often post updated lists of my absolute favorites of things.  Not due to any pressing interest from the public, of course–mostly just because it’s fun for me, and also because having such a blog post can be quite handy during discussions online; I can just link someone to the entry to aid in a discussion of favorites.

Of course this is not to be confused with my annual “Favorite Music” list, where I detail my favorite music released in the previous calendar year; these lists detail my current all-time favorites, which are (like yours, of course) constantly changing.

Looking back at my entries, it appears as though I haven’t done a big posting of lists since 2012, so I’ll make this one fairly comprehensive.  All of these lists have changed since 2012–some very little, some quite dramatically:

My top ten favorite poets

10.  Jane Kenyon
9.   Robert Creeley
8.  William Carlos Williams
7.   Sylvia Plath
6.  Billy Collins
5.  Denise Levertov
4.  E.E. Cummings
3.  Philip Levine
2.  John Updike
1.  Philip Larkin

My top 10 favorite film directors

10.  Federico Fellini
9.  Sidney Lumet
8.  Alejandro Inarritu
7.  Christopher Nolan
6.  Paul Thomas Anderson
5.  Alfonso Cuaron
4.  Stanley Kubrick
3.  Werner Herzog
2.  Alfred Hitchcock
1.  Terrence Malick

My top ten bands

10. This Will Destroy You
9.  My Morning Jacket
8.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor
7.  Radiohead
6.  Seven Mary Three
5.  Hey Rosetta!
4.   The National
3.  Band of Horses
2.  Modest Mouse
1.  Arcade Fire

 

My top ten music solo artists

10.  Tracy Chapman
9.  Ray LaMontagne
8.  Father John Misty
7.  Leonard Cohen
6.  Jim James
5.  Nina Simone
4.  Willis Earl Beal
3.  Emily Wells
2.  Paul Simon
1.  Neil Young

My top ten favorite (non-documentary) movies

10.  Citizen Kane
9.  Night of the Hunter
8.  Fitzcarraldo
7.  Magnolia
6.  The Trouble with Harry
5.  Children of Men
4.  Where the Wild Things Are
3.  The Thin Red Line
2.  I’m Still Here
1.  The Tree of Life

My ten favorite novelists

10.  Malcolm Lowry
9.  John Steinbeck
8.  Isaac Asimov
7.  Ernest Hemingway
6. Oscar Wilde
5.  Kurt Vonnegut
4.  Mark Twain
3.  David Mitchell
2.  Don DeLillo
1.  Dave Eggers

My top twenty favorite books (any genre, fiction or nonfiction)

20.  “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole
19.  “Slade House” by David Mitchell
18.  “The Terror” by Dan Simmons
17.  “You Shall Know Our Velocity” by Dave Eggers
16.  “Point Omega” by Don DeLillo
15.  “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell
14.  “Fallen Founder” by Nancy Isenberg
13.  “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde
12.  “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
11.  “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry
10.  “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers
9.  “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
8.  “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
7.  “Dubliners” by James Joyce
6.  “Letters From the Earth” by Mark Twain
5.  “White Noise” by Don DeLillo
4.  “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing
3.  “Your Fathers, Where Are They?  And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” by Dave Eggers
2.  “Into the Wild” by John Krakauer
1.  “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck

My top twenty favorite albums

20.  “Funeral” by Arcade Fire
19.  “Nobody Knows” by Willis Earl Beal
18.  “High Violet” by The National
17.  “The Battle of Los Angeles” by Rage Against the Machine
16.  “Swamp Ophelia” by Indigo Girls
15.  “Mirrorball” by Neil Young
14.  “Dis/Location” by Seven Mary Three
13.  “Abbey Road” by The Beatles
12.  “Graceland” by Paul Simon
11.  “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis
10.  “‘Allelujah!  Don’t Bend!  Ascend!” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
9.    “Kid A” by Radiohead
8.   “Strangers to Ourselves” by Modest Mouse
7.   “This Will Destroy You” by This Will Destroy You
6.   “Time Out” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet
5.   “Secret Samadhi” by LIVE
4.   “Infinite Arms” by Band of Horses
3.   “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire
2.   “RockCrown” by Seven Mary Three
1.  “Into Your Lungs (and Around in Your Heart and On Through Your Blood)” by Hey Rosetta!

 

My top five composers

5.  Philip Glass
4.  Cliff Martinez
3.  Hans Zimmer
2.  Felix Mendelssohn
1.  Carl Nielsen

My top ten painters

10.  Edgar Degas
9.  George Bellows
8.  Mark Rothko
7.  Johannes Vermeer
6.  Mary Cassatt
5.  Maurice Prendergast
4.  Thomas Eakins
3.  Henri Rousseau
2.  Andrew Wyeth
1.  John Sloan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Stuff I Want

Posted in Snippet with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2015 by sethdellinger

It is lately the generally accepted wisdom of the masses that one should not covet material items too much and you should spend your excess money on having experiences.  At least, this seems to be the generally accepted wisdom of my Facebook feed.  And I think I do fairly well with that; while there are certainly items I not only want but crave, I also spend a lot of my life having pretty great experiences.

All that being said, there remain some persistent bigger-ticket items that just call my name like a siren at sea, and I won’t deny it!  Perhaps it is an illness of our consumerist society, but dammit, there’s some stuff I want!  I thought it might be fun to put them here in a blog.  Please note this is just a fun exercise for me and not a veiled Christmas list.  As an adult I have never taken any joy in making out a list of things for people to buy me.  Some of these things have been bouncing around in my head as items I want for YEARS; I thought it might be therapeutic to get them out in the open.

In no particular order:

–OK, maybe in a SLIGHT order, just because this is definitely number one: Neil Young’s Mirrorball on vinyl.  It’s not my favorite album but it contains my favorite song.  Used would be fine but what I salivate over is the idea of a new, factory-sealed copy.  New copies on eBay generally go for about $100.

–I’m dying for a high-quality Philadelphia Flyers zip hoodie that goes light on the orange (but still has orange) and is heavy enough to wear for all but the coldest winter months.  Turns out all those criterion result in an expensive item.  Basically, I’m talking about this.  This would give me hoodies for all four Philly sports teams, but I don’t want to rush it and get a cheap version.  Hence, I’ve been sitting on this desire for almost two years.  I mean, who has $70 bucks for a hoodie?

–OK, I admit I have some fairly expensive interests.  I’ve been dying to get my hands on some first printings of collections of Philip Larkin poetry.  Now, this is a pretty specific area to deal in.  I am in no way talking about books actually called Collected Poems.  I am talking about the individual collections of poems AS THEY WERE PUBLISHED.  I would only be interested in them if they were FIRST PRINTINGS, which would mean they are hardcovers, usually being shipped from the UK somewhere, published in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  These titles would be:   The Less Deceived (1955, generally sell on eBay for $60-$150), The Whitsun Weddings (1964, goes for about $150), High Windows (1974, $90-$180.  This is the most desirable one).  There are some lesser collections: The North Ship being the most notable.  I do have a second printing copy of The North Ship, for which I paid $55 in a moment of weakness some years ago.

–I really want a pair of high quality Bose earbuds.  Please note earbuds, not headphones.  I like the crazy colors, too.  Specifically these.  I will never have the cojones to shell out the money for these.

–You might not guess it to look at me, but I love shoes.  It’s just that the shoes I love, which are very specific stylistically, can usually be bought very cheaply at many local retailers.  But it turns out, there are expensive versions of the shoes I like (apparently they are Chukkas), and I will never, ever be paying for them.  But look at them. Look how pretty they are.

–I don’t often feel a need to add many DVDs to my collection nowadays, although I will still add one here and there as I see more movies I fall in love with or as classics become available.  However, there is only one movie that I feel is causing a gap in my collection by its absence.  That movie is They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and it has been out of print on DVD for so long that new copies are very scarce.  Here look at this: a new copy of the DVD (not Blu Ray) on Amazon costs $100. You can see at that same Amazon page that used copies start at $20, but those are listed in acceptable condition.  I certainly do not mind used copies of DVDs but I balk at acceptable.  Some second-party sellers are offering New copies for $50.  Worth it but of course I can’t spend that on a single-disc, non-special edition DVD, no matter how badly I might want it.

–I love using the Roku to stream entertainment to my television.  In fact, we already own two of them.  However, in our new home, our wifi is terrible and it is a problem we don’t seem able to solve (we have been relegated to streaming Netflix via our Blu-Ray player, which is Ethernet cabled).  The thing is, I love Rokus, and the ROKU 3 has an Ethernet port.  Would this be an item of great excess?  Yes.  But I neeeeeeeeed it.

–My art book collection would basically be complete (for now) with the addition of a HIGH QUALITY, comprehensive, hardback book on Henri Rousseau.  I’m having trouble finding one to link to online, but the kind I’m thinking of is generally not cheaper than $60.  Failing that, I would settle for a framed print of The Dream (no smaller than 32×24) or The Snake Charmer (preferably 40×30).

See, I don’t ask for much!  I also like experiences!

These Secrets Are Being Recorded

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2015 by sethdellinger

My love and I just took quick day trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Museum of American history.  She, like me, is interested in most anything, although I must admit I funneled our decision toward that particular museum because I find our nation’s history particularly interesting.

There were people everywhere.  In this day and age of technology and immediacy, I must say I was surprised by the size of the crowd; and they were people who did seem to genuinely want to be there and were quite interested in the whole affair.

We started out on the third floor in the exhibit highlighting our nation’s many and varied armed conflicts.  We were tickled by some of the astonishing items on display from the Revolution and Civil Wars (Washington’s uniform!  The furniture from the surrender at Appomatox! Lots and lots of rifles!).  We took our time perusing the extensive collection.  There were even plenty of items from such footnotes as the War of 1812, the French and Indian War, and our conflict with Mexico (including Teddy Roosevelt’s San Juan Hill uniform).  Then a World War I display–tanks, bombs, more guns, and more of the same in World War II, including some amazing photographs of “nukes”.  By the time we got to the Chinook helicopter that flew missions in Vietnam, we looked at each other, seemingly reading the other’s thoughts.  “Do you want to move on?”  I asked.  She replied, “I’m just tired of war.”

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It’s an interesting time in our country, for sure.  Things seem to be getting a lot more “liberal”, which is good.  I recently told a friend I could sum up my political and social philosophy just by saying “I want to make sure everyone is alright”; apparently, this is a liberal ideology, and so be it.  I’m not afraid to put a label on it.  It is what it is.  Whatever that is.

At times when our nation goes through divisive growing pains like this, there is always a very vocal group that just wants everyone to get along.  “Why can’t we all just believe what we want and leave each other be???” they bemoan.  And it’s a lovely notion, even though it’s complete horseshit.  I don’t want anyone thrown in jail for thinking gays can’t get married or for pushing for the continuance of institutional racism, but I don’t want to just let them be.  What kind of complacent, docile, horrific world do these people want?  They’d rather the boat didn’t rock than actually stand for something.  Rock the fucking boat, you motherfuckers, rock the fucking boat.  I’d rather live in filth than in a land of complacent hatred.

And why is it that the people who most frequently tell you to read your history books are the ones who clearly have never read anything at all?  Doo-Doo, Dee-Dee.

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We live next door to an artist.  She doesn’t know we know she’s an artist, but we know.  A little sleuthing and a little circumstance led us to the knowledge.  She has a garage full of huge canvasses that look surprisingly like Mark Rothkos (I thought they were Rothko paintings at first).  Immense color fields, oranges, deep blues, with smaller squares of blacks and browns in the middles.  And a large, unfinished sculpture in wrought iron of what looks like a male ballerina, mid-adage.  I want to talk to her about it.  I want to name-drop Mark Rothko.  I want to tell her I love John Sloan and Auguste Rodin.  But I’m not going to.  But maybe she’ll catch me wearing my Rousseau hat.

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You try so hard at things in life that mostly will never matter.  Will anyone care, after I am gone, how close I got to my ideal weight?  How close of a shave I managed to get, how many points I racked up on my grocery store loyalty card, whether I had all the Arcade Fire albums on vinyl?  (I do).  Holy moly.  It seems so cliché and trite but I just try to be better everyday than I was the previous day.  Nicer and more caring and less selfish.  And it is so hard and it never gets easier.

But still.  I don’t want to gain my weight back, and I do LOVE my Arcade Fire vinyls.  Life, it sure is complicated.

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One thing I know to be true: it was a lot easier to like the Philadelphia Phillies when there are awful back when they had powder blue uniforms.

The Lock Just Keeps Spinning

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by sethdellinger

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

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I’ve been watching a lot of cable news lately, but I don’t necessarily think it’s good for me.  I’ve just become addicted to it, as I’ve been known to become addicted to just about anything from time to time.  I suppose it must just be cable news’ turn.  I mean, there is plenty that I like about it.  It really does inform you, and depending on what you’re watching, you usually learn about stuff you might not otherwise be following, like that shit in Iraq.  CNN is the way to go.  Typically they’re gonna tell you about the stuff that’s important, not just the tabloid stuff.  But regardless, most of it is rot.  You’re better off reading newspapers.  Please read newspapers.  They need you, and it’s still the best thing going.

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I’ve recently come across two different poems about turtles that really floored me.  It makes sense that turtles would make such rich poetic subjects: ugly, slow, and capable of withdrawing entirely into themselves.  They’re just begging for the poetic treatment.  The first is “Turtle” by Kay Ryan.  Watch her read it here, and the text of the poem is here.  The other is “To a Box Turtle” by John Updike.  Watch me read it to you!  Right here:

To a Box Turtle
by John Updike

Size of a small skull, and like a skull segmented,
of pentagons healed and varnished to form a dome,
you almost went unnoticed in the meadow,
among its tall grasses and serrated strawberry leaves
your mottle of amber and umber effective camouflage.

You were making your way through grave distances,
your forefeet just barely extended and as dainty as dried
coelacanth fins, as miniature sea-fans, your black nails
decadent like a Chinese empress’s, and your head
a triangular snake-head, eyes ringed with dull gold.

I pick you up. Your imperious head withdraws.
Your bottom plate, hinged once, presents a No
with its courteous waxed surface, a marquetry
of inlaid squares, fine-grained and tinted
tobacco-brown and the yellow of a pipe smoker’s teeth.

What are you thinking, thus sealed inside yourself?
My hand must have a Smell, a killer’s warmth.
It holds you upside down, aloft, undignified,
your leathery person amazed in the floating dark.
How much pure fear can your wrinkled brain contain?

I put you down. Your tentative, stalk-bending walk
resumes. The manifold jewel of you melts into grass.
Power mowers have been cruel to your race, and creatures
less ornate and unlikely have long gone extinct;
but nature’s tumults pool to form a giant peace.

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You may have noticed, on various and sundry platforms of social media, that I am losing weight (again!).  There will, of course, be a larger blog entry devoted to the subject once I hit a certain milestone, but I wanted to stop officially ignoring it on the blog.  So yes, I am once again losing weight.  If you’re a long-time reader, you may recall we’ve been down this road once before.    I’ll stop short of saying I’m a chronic “weight bouncer”—I’ve only done the up and down once, now going on twice—and I do think I’m going to be able to maintain it this time, seeing as how I actually do enjoy the “lifestyle” one must switch to in order to stop gaining the weight back.  I don’t want to go into too much detail, as the first of the “milestone” blogs on the topic should be coming soon.  But if you’ve noticed that I’m a little more energetic, happy as an idiot, and generally manic lately—this is the main cause.

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I don’t like, any more than you do, the way that things in our culture seem to have gotten so divisive.  Everything appears to be very “black and white” or “us vs. them”…either you agree with me, or I hate you.  All issues divided into two sides—usually liberal and conservative—so that most critical thought is now not required; you just have to know what team you’re on.  I don’t like it any more than you do.

But there seems to be, to most people, a thought that this is a terrible deviation from some Golden Era of American discourse.  That, not long ago now, everyone just kind of got along and accepted divergent opinions and engaged in a spirited and lively debate of the issues, before saying, ah, forget it! and heading out back for a barbeque.  This fever dream is made possible by the fact that nobody actually knows anything about our own history, and is cursed with the widely-held human belief that all things have just recently been much better than they are now.

Things have, of course, never been like that.  We’ve always been a country at one-another’s throats.  That’s because the issues that we disagree about are pretty fucking important and are not trifles.  If the biggest debate in America was chocolate vs. vanilla, I’d say some of us might be overreacting, but we debate about matters of deepest morality, life and death, and core philosophy.  If you’re not passionate about these things, get out of the ring.

The division seems more pronounced now that we’re on the internet all the time.  The biggest factor that plays into that is that we routinely interact with many people who we would previously not have been interacting with.  Before the internet, we just naturally and gradually gravitated to people of like-mind.  Now, we, in small ways, interact with dozens of people “on the other side” daily, which can cause little internet skirmishes which then, in turn, feel larger and more intense than real-world interactions, because we can’t gauge how the other is talking, as well as these skirmishes taking place in front of our 300 or so “friends” and remaining to view long after the words have been said.

The ease with which these divisive interactions can occur has given rise to something even worse than the “cultural division” itself: the everything is hunky-dorey crowd.  This “crowd” includes just about everybody.  We’re all so tired of having these online skirmishes with people with opposing views, almost nobody engages the argument anymore.  Nobody wants to appear “divisive”.  Everyone wants to make sure they are “accepting of other people’s views”.

The bottom line I’m trying to get to is this: I keep an open mind about things like calamari, the official naming of snow storms, and the future of the designated hitter in professional baseball.  But I’m an adult now, and I’ve thought a lot about my core beliefs, and I don’t have an open mind about abortion, gay rights, gun control, or even—yes, even the existence of a higher power.  I know what I think about these things.  Not only that, but having an open mind about these things would make me a man of feeble constitution.

Get rid of your open mind.

 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS JOHN SLOAN PAINTING????

sunset-west-twenty-third-street-1906

 

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If you know me (and I think you do) you know that, obviously, I am a man with a ton of opinions.  Well, one of those opinions is that these things that pop up on social media as “photo challenges” are some of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen.  If you’re not familiar with them: they propose to be “30 day photo challenges” that list a thing you’re supposed to take a picture of once a day for thirty days.  First off, if you need a “challenge” to take interesting pictures of the world around you, you’re not interesting.  Period.  Secondly, the items in these challenges are never even remotely challenging or creative.  It’s like, “Day 1:  Selfie.  Day 2:  Food.  Day 3: Car”.  Really?  You spent time creating this, anonymous internet user?  How dreadful.

So, I thought I’d make an interesting one! Some things here are interpretable, whch, again, makes it interesting.  For instance, “Birth” wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a picture of something being born.  You decide what it means. If anyone actually wants to give this a spin, let me know, I’ll put it into a dedicated blog entry so it’s easier to reference.

Actually Interesting Photo Challenge

Day 1: An animal that you want to take home
Day 2: 
Gum
Day 3:  Something Upside-Down
Day 4:  Paint
Day 5:  How you’d like to be perceived
Day 6:  How you feel inside
Day 7:  Something you hate
Day 8:  Birth
Day 9: A chair
Day 10:  The passage of time
Day 11:  Something you love but can’t have
Day 12:  Space, area, void
Day 13:  Underneath
Day 14:  Scar
Day 15:  Home
Day 16:  Your bathtub.
Day 17:  Work
Day 18:  The ground
Day 19: The sky
Day 20: Between the ground and the sky
Day 21:  What you believe
Day 22:  Utensils
Day 23:  Lights
Day 24:  Transportation
Day 25:  Idealized
Day 26:  Action!
Day 27:  Water
Day 28:  Unattainable
Day 29:  Before you were born
Day 30:  Celebrate

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Life, and all that stuff, is sometimes too interesting to bear.  What I mean is, it can be very cyclical, or circular, or appear to be laden with damned meaning.  See, I’m a man who doesn’t believe in much.  I mean, I believe in science, and form and order amidst the chaos, but not in any Fate or creator or grand design.  Just rules and laws that govern the movements and the heat of things, basically.  So when life seems to have plans, folks like me sit up and take notice.  Not because it’s changing the way I think—I have thrown away my open mind—but because coincidence or happenstance on any large sort of scale is just so unlikely.

Take, for instance, a story from my life.  When I first got sober, I was 25 years old.  This was a little over eleven years ago.  I went to live with my mother and her husband in a small town in New Jersey.  This was the first time I’d lived anywhere outside of Central Pennsylvania.  This small town in New Jersey was relatively close to Philadelphia…maybe an hour, I think?  At any rate, it was certainly the closest I’d ever lived to a big city.

Eleven years may not seem like that long ago, but I was inhabiting a very different world back then, and I was also a very different version of me.  I drove a 1983 Ford Escort, named Earl Grey.  This car was a bona fide piece of shit, and it broke down with an alarming regularity (chronic fuel pump issues).  I had no cell phone.  No GPS.  When I wanted to go somewhere I’d never been, I printed out MapQuest directions and read them as I drove.  If I needed to call someone, I found a payphone and retrieved my list of phone numbers, hand-written on a sheet of paper inside my wallet.  It was interesting.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  I drank a lot of Red Bull and wrote poetry almost every waking moment and listened to Pearl Jam like it was my job.

I had a very close friend who I’d been through the addiction wringer with.  She had a similar problem as I did, and we’d gone to the same rehab, and really just been to Hell and back together.  She had landed in a Recovery House in Harrisburg, PA.  After the tumult of the end of our addictions, we now felt very far apart.  Recovery Houses don’t allow you much leeway with visitors and phone calls.  Remember, this is also before everyone was texting and Facebooking (it’s even before MySpace).  I missed her very much.

She did manage to e-mail on occasion, and, ill-advisedly, we planned for her to sneak out one night.  We would meet in Philadelphia.  We were going to walk South Street.

I drove old rickety Earl Grey the hour to South Street, paging through my MapQuest directions.  I drove right past South Street at one point and just decided to park as soon as I could.  I found a spot and hopped out of my car.  As I walked away, I realized I might later have no idea where I had parked.  I got back into the car and grabbed my journal, the sacred notebook where I wrote all my poetry.  I looked around for a landmark and wrote it down, and put the journal in my backpack.

I met up with her and it was glorious.  I treasured being in her company, if only for a night.  I don’t remember what we did on South Street.  I don’t remember what we did at all.  But it stands as one of the more significant nights of my life, on my long road to becoming the current version of me.

A week or so ago, I decided to go back through some of my old journals and see if I had missed anything of value, any pieces of writing I could turn into something good.  I never did get around to it, but I threw the two oldest ones into my backpack, planning to look at them the next time I came to rest in some park.  I promptly forgot about it.

This evening, I was riding my bike through what is now one of my favorite sections of Old City (technically, the neighborhood known as Society Hill).  I love this section for it’s old houses, churches with expansive, historic graveyards, and shade-dappled side alleys.  I came to one of the more significant landmarks to me, the house that Thaddeus Kosciuszko lived in when he lived in Philadelphia.  Kosciuszko is my favorite revolutionary.  I feel deeply connected to him across the vast gulf of time.  The version of me from eleven years ago wasn’t yet even interested in history.  He would have had zero interest in this Polish freedom fighter’s house.  But I certainly do now.

I recalled, tonight, how the last time I was in the house, the park ranger had told me the woman who owned it and rented it to Kosciuszko was buried in the cemetery across the street.  I have spent some time in that cemetery before (American painter Charles Wilson Peale is buried there, and so is George Dallas, who was Vice President under James K. Polk), but I thought I’d wander through again and look for her grave.

It didn’t take me long in there before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t remember her name, and my iPhone’s power was getting too low to make Googling a wise choice, so I decided to leave and ride my bike elsewhere.  But as I stepped onto the sidewalk, the shade of sense memory hit me.  I’d been here many times these past six months, but perhaps never at this time of evening, in this kind of mid-summer air.  Suddenly I wondered it I’d been here before, long before.

I sat my backpack on the ground an hurriedly opened it, finding the oldest journal.  I looked at many pages before I found it, scrawled in my own unmistakable hand:

4th St., across from St. Peters Church

I craned my neck at the cemetery gate above me, and sure enough:  St. Peters.

Sure, maybe no big deal.  So what, this is where I parked that night?  If I moved to the city, it stands to reason I would pass by the place I parked that night, eleven years ago.

But the way that it came to me out of the blue, the way I had that journal on me, which was extraordinarily unlikely, the way I’d never noticed before that this was the place.  It has been long ago enough now that it’s starting to feel like deep past; I felt my younger self there.  I felt her younger self there.  I saw me getting out of my Escort, completely oblivious to Thad Kosciuszko’s house a half block away, not caring, not caring, not caring.  And life is crammed full of these bizarre cycles, these glances-back, these cosmic happenstances.  Like combination locks clicking into place.  But then the lock, it just keeps on spinning.

I sure do like blue skies, clear wide-open blue skies and the wind on my face.  Getting tan.  Getting tan is like taking the outside world into yourself and then shooting it back out.  And all those vitamins and good vibes.  Also I like movies.  I like watching movies in air conditioned rooms while sweat dries on my skin.  I like rice with salt on it, and dogs who smile.

 

 

 

 

Where Did You Go, Where Have You Been?

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2014 by sethdellinger

Where did you go, the you that was there before?  The you that I tried so hard to be like?  You’ve settled in now, haven’t you?  Settled in for weekdays, Pampers, “the grind”.  You’ve all-but disappeared into it.  And that’s fine.  So have I, in my own way.  I look at the cubicle-dwellers, the 9-to-5ers, the mortgagers with judgment.  I judge them for a life spent in the cattle chute, but I’m the same, in my own way.  I wake up to an alarm five days a week, dash my utility bills off monthly in tidy little envelopes, take extra long showers and even bubble baths to de-stress from the rigors of a world I can’t even begin to understand.  I’m in the grind, too, in my own version of a cattle chute.  You were beautiful once, even more than you are now, supple like sand underfoot right after the wave withdraws, and I’ve never been a model but I had that nice little six-pack of abs and that 90s-era skater hair.  Who could forget the smell of your own hair in my face, your feet akimbo in the air.  We must have been dank and gorgeous like John Sloan’s Wet Night on the Bowery, everything akimbo in the air and musty and frivolous.  But who could look back and want that time again?  There was so much pain and we didn’t know a damn thing.  Who wants to not know a damn thing?  But then we wake up in this world, in this present-tense, and wonder where our beauty escaped to.  How did it siphon off?  We’re always so safe here, so comfortable.  When was the last time you felt real danger?  It is important to feel real danger.  What proof have you that you are alive?  What new horizon can you actually imagine, aside from the top of your stairs, or the local pizza parlor?  Dammit we were gorgeous but now it’s just about not forgetting umbrellas and digging out of debt.  Who ever heard of digging out of debt?  Does the field mouse understand what an interest rate is?  How about the barn owl, how much does it know about 401(k)’s?  What in the world is going on here?  What does any of this have to do with living?  Remember once, you and I were racing each other back and forth through my parents’ front yard–I guess it would have been my front yard, then, too.  And it kept bothering me when you would beat me because I was young and an idiot and full of the uncertainty of a scared animal.  I hated that you beat me again and again but I tried not to show it.  Then we laid in the grass and kissed deeply and for a long time, everything about our bodies sweet like warm milk just out of a cow’s insides.  Then we laid there and looked into the blazing-bright sky and, as young people are known to do, talked about the clouds, and what they looked like, and what held them there.  And then I asked you, Am I the funniest person you know?  I needed you to say yes to that, without any pause, but you didn’t say yes, you were honest, and it killed me inside.  Oh to be that young when such a small thing mattered so much.  Who wouldn’t love to hear, nowadays, near the midpoint of things, that you were the third funniest person you had ever met.  What a compliment that seems now!  These bits of personal fire are rare now, rare like two sweet bodies laying in the country grass, rare like paid-off debt.  Down the chute, down the chute, we all just keep going down the chute.  And what can we do?  Try and hop off?  What are the options?  Become a vagabond, wander the cities and towns, begging for whatever work there is and move on, like Richard Kimble searching for that one-armed man?  Or move to some commune–assuming they still exist–and paint or grow potatoes but also share your washcloth and help raise other peoples’ bratty kids?  No thanks.  The cattle chute’s the only way to go and still have your own place to poop every day, and there are so few comforts in this animal life as it is, you’ve got to keep the ones you’re able to find.  So slide, slide, slide we will.  But damn if one doesn’t miss the days before you knew you were on the cattle chute, the days with your hair in my face, where did you go, where have you been?

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