Tina Escala at Burlington City Arts

This from the BCA Website: Robopoems is an interdisciplinary project created by Alm@ Pérez (Tina Escaja) that combines poetry, photography, sound, and technology that explores the intersection of robotics and humanity. Escaja creates interactive sculptures in the form of insect-like robots whose legs and bodies are engraved with bilingual poetry written from the robot’s point of view (using the artist’s original Spanish with English translation). Her creations resemble insects or spiders embodying the underlying anxiety and problematic relationship many of us have with technology. Through robotic sculptures and large-scale photographs, the artist emphasizes the existential exchange between robots and humans, correlating technology with art and poetics.

The exhibition is in the BCA Basement and that’s how Tina, AKA ALM@ PÉREZ  likes it, her clumsy, poetic robots lurching underneath the pipes and cables that enable the polished art space above, just as the exposed electronics are the inner workings of the spidery bots.

They move, they speak, they’re scared of us.

I haven’t seen the exhibition yet but I will: Tina is brilliant, innovative, always questioning. There’s a public talk Wednesday, April 17, 2019 6-7 p.m. at the BCA Center on Church Street.

NOLA zoetrope

The last time I was in NOLA – way before Katrina – I dismissed the city as a theme park. This time, I’m not here as a tourist. I’m in a real neighborhood at a residency established by the people responsible for the first Free Tibet concerts back in 1995, in a little house behind their own.

This is the Bywater, formerly the Upper Ninth Ward. It runs along the river bordered by the French Quarter and Treme. I stand in front of the levee looking up – I am beneath the river! Enormous freighters with names written in foreign alphabets crawl back and forth along the Mississippi. I climb the the steep rusty bridge over the freight train tracks and the levee and come back down to a pretty green walking trail called Crescent Park. The day is gowing hot. People wearing spandex ride fast bikes toward the French Quarter while others, heads down texting, are walking their dogs. Dogs are everywhere and they are lucky dogs because New Orleans has hundreds of dog parks made out of empty lots when the river broke the levees, buildings collapsed and eventually the rubble was taken away.

I ran into one dog today, in a voodoo supply store, a fat hairy dog riveted by something on a top shelf.

NOLA is a bowl in a swamp, where it seems the apocalypse has already happened. The survivors are in various stages of getting over it, standing up and falling down, like a Laurie Anderson song. It is a port – freight trains run along the commuter lines. it is commerce and joy, voodoo and nunneries, community and desolation. People on the street smile, they nod, they say,”how’s your day goin'” and sometimes they stop to tell you how their day is going. The clothes! Prints on stripes, dresses over shorts – this is a city that loves its skin. Po-boys are delicious, gumbo not so much, hipster cafes painted shades of orange behind shutters next to drink dives and one-stops, BMW’s with Jersey plates drive behind construction trucks and Havana Chevys and then there’s the Bark Market that sells pet supplies on one side and art supplies on the other. And the Death, Pharmacy and Chicken museums. An Improv theater in the Healing Center along with the food co-op and trance making supplies.

On my (white) side of St. Claude, soft bellied bearded men sit in cafes eating cake and reading novels, while on the other side an emaciated Haitian rides a stolen bike around in circles. The Quarter is a 20 minute walk away, as is Treme, as is downtown. It is a city of writers. Walter Percy lives on, his old writer’s group still meeting every Friday at a certain bar.

One wonders, where do the people who get pushed out go?  Houston?  Katrina didn’t do them in, they say, it was the government building substandard  levees and infrastructure, the broken pumps; it was America that almost killed them. NOLA, they explain, nodding wisely, is a blue dot in a red state.   

The cats, however stayed and multiplied.  You see them everywhere, in the stores, on stages, grooming their tails in art galleries, hunkered down on stoops, sneaking out of alleys. Always single, They patrol grocery stores, pose on cafe counters and have serious expressions. On every other porch there is a plate of half eaten food. They don’t need water because, as I said, NOLA is a bowl in a swamp.

My computer pings. It’s a weather alert but not for me: a blizzard is sweeping West to East across Northern Vermont.

Fiction wins

I’m deeply involved in a writers community in my city. It’s a Meetup group that has maybe 200 active members. When the founder disappeared (who knows the real story behind this), they (who are they?) formed a 501C3 that required a Board, so that was formed, and after their terms ran out, a second Board came forth but a year later almost all of them quit in a huff without telling anyone why, without a transition plan. Then a transitional team tried to form, but they too quit (what is it with quitting boards?) and now there is an emergency community meeting because we have to pay the rent.

This has been going on for months, and now half of us who used to be copasetic in community don’t speak to the other half: being writers, we started sending each other overly long, acrimonious, analytical and philosophical emails and neglected our own novels.

I unapologetically fled. I was able to get out of town to a residency where I determined to convince my novel to forgive me.

I’m thinking of something that happened to a famous writer whose name I’ve forgotten. She tells the story of having thought of writing a novel about – I’m quoting from Amazon here – “a researcher (female) who sets off into the Amazon jungle to find the remains and effects of a colleague who recently died under mysterious circumstances.” But she never wrote it, and in due time her idea went away and settled in the brain of another writer, Anne Patchett, who actually wrote that story, which she titled “State of Wonder”. These writers met and kissed.

This story of course sounds too good to be true, but even if it isn’t, there’s a lesson behind it, which is more less that there are only so many ideas floating around the universe and if you don’t write your novel, someone else will.

Clueless Murakami

Before starting Murakami’s huge (970 pages, good lord) new novel Killing Comentadore, I read Men Without Women, a slight book of short stories told to the narrator Murakami by men, some of whom are friends, others acquaintances, all of whom are currently living without women.  Some of them care, some of them don’t, and some are suicidal or dead, but what they have in common is that they are more or less clueless about the women who have vanished from their lives. The Murakami girl is either a superhero (1Q84) or she disappears never to be seen again.

Taeko Kono is one of them. And she’s nasty:

Moby Dick and Me

Kavanaugh won. The deficit rose 17 percent. Mitch McConnell says he’s concerned, but no problem, we’ll just pay for it by cutting entitlements.

I’m reading Moby Dick.

In high school,  I read to where QQ squatted in a cold fireplace with a wooden doll on his head, causing Ishmael, watching from their shared bed – now there’s a story untod –

to conclude that no religion was more interesting than any other because all was chaos and “it is better to sleep with a cannibal than a drunken Christian.” I agreed with both conclusions and brought the book straight back to the library. Reading Moby Dick was not then cool.

Forty years later, I picked it up on the night of September 11th. This time, I read all the way to the end. Savoring the metaphors, instructions, alliterations, the mood swings.  The book obsessed me. Ahab was the fury sacrificing the ship for revenge in swirling metaphors. The imagery was so potent, so contemporary, so driven that I spent the next three years painting them.

My images were of submerged cities where inhabitants sat in restaurants  eating at tables while whales watched through broken glass. I have to say no book has inspired me like this since. September 11th 2001 was insane, and so far an anomaly, except for Donald Trump who could be the Ahab of our century.

This time around it occurs to me that Ahab is, in some infernal way, as much  the hero of the book as is the whale:

He asks Starbuck, “how can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” and answers rhetorically, “To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white wale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun it it insulted me.”

This statement is appalling and yet it is profound. While Ishmael is content to explore without malice a ride on whatever spiritual vehicle he encounters, Ahab is the personification of defiant despair beyond comfort. The whale is his personal personification of evil, to kill the whale is to purify humanity from radical evil. If there be an evil God, then the way to freedom from that evil is to “thrust through the wall” that is the white whale.  So his obsession is not only for revenge, but also to learn for himself if God be evil, even if he fails and learns nothing.

And he knows he cannot succeed alone. Like any totalitarian power obsessive, he is precise, and he accomplishes his goals with various strategies, i.e. winning over Starbuck’s “soul and mind” – that is, subjecting the ego to a mob  obsession, gathering a military and prophet (Fedullah and friends), pretending his motive is mere capitalism,  giving his men heroic significance in his campaign to purify the world of evil. And in moments of rage and sniffle, he demonizes the entire wet world…”Panting and snorting like a mad battlesteed that has lost its rider, the masterless ocean overruns the globe” and anoints himself and his ship as the vehicle worthy of plunging into this chaos.

What a line.

.

This is, of course, the argument of totalitarianism,  in the mid 19th Century as Europe headed towards reactionary nationalism that would explode decades later,  and is resonant today as our world slips ever deeper and deeper under the weight of kleptocratic oligarchies.

 

 

 

A nasty little Trump clone planted in “our” Supreme Court

You noticed the twitch, right? Left upper lip triangulating towards the nose, eyebrows arched and rapid eye blinks? Looks like a snarl, but of course, it’s not, because our nominee is just a regular beer drinking basketball playing judge who went to YALE.

Susan Orleans once said she was sick of old dead white men. Too bad, because new ones keep getting born.

 

The new face of a Supreme Court judge, the Brett.

The twitch bothers you, right? You wonder about the odd facial tics, the tongue in his cheek, the tears squeezing out when he’s talking about football camp. Like how old is he? The pursed lips, staring eyes. He looks like Mr. Potato Head on crack, a raving teenager someone should send to his room.  Something really weird in the mouth. He wants to talk over everyone, shout, make his sniveling points and go home for a beer.  You think this guy is having some trouble with the truth. The judge is a liar and a smooth one, the kind that deflects questions,  knows the value of a righteous rant and above all deserves the job because, well, he is Brett.  He was born for this job of a Supreme Court Judge! Mamma was a lawyer, Daddy kept up his calendars. Didn’t his very own daughter ask to pray for the woman? That woman who is destroying his life by her accusations which no way should be investigated? Somebody screwed that lady up but wasn’t me. A guy without blemish, gosh, everyone has told him so, even women have remarked on his fairness, and all he wants is a FAIR PROCESS that will get him the career plum he absolutely deserves. If it doesn’t, it’s because of the conspiracy: “Thanks to what you on this side of the aisle have unleashed” ….. I may never be able to coach again. Jesus. Never mind that we don’t want this guy as our coach,

Is he not showing us what a despicable judge he will be? Consumed with paranoid, partisan rage. The ranting Lear. Weren’t you the were the pornographer on the Starr team who asked Bill Clinton if he’d stuck a cigar between Monica Lewinsky’s legs? The guy denying a refugee the abortion she begs for? Your body isn’t yours, woman, it’s mine.

Yes, Brett. You blew it for me, but you’ll likely be nominated because you’ve spent the last four days being briefed at the white house by Donald Trump. Be my Donald clone on the Supreme Court. The judiciary is MINE. the house is Mine. the FBI is Mine. Congress is to do MY bidding, We are not going to vet your character because character is, as we know, overrated; what is important is stopping the other side from usurping our power. The entire Republican party just wants to stay in charge by lurching behind the flapping feet of a contemptible, stupid, illiterate, blasphemous, raging pitbull even though at any moment, in a bad mood, he will kick open the doors to the zoo and blow you away by lions, even though he’s a disaster and you, by impliction…..

When I first began to comprehend how Empire that rises inevitably falls,  I thought, OK, that’s not so bad. Let America back off already, it’s time. I thought we were making progress, spreading horizontally towards decency. That our goodwill, incredible resources, diversity, and astonishing landmass would let us settle into becoming a generous place to live and flourish. We had only to let go of our exceptionalism, learn how to spread the wealth, give up the myth of The Greatest Military Power On Earth because really, it is ugly.  I thought we would shake off the oligarchy.  That the Empire would fall gracefully as a landing seabird when its time came. 

What fools we are, spooning around the soft spines of this dream, hoping to keep warm and dry while out in the real world, our elected raging, paranoiac spews seeds through our laws, courts, safety nets, decencies, hope, and here’s one more fungus ready to fatten himself off of me.

Faulkner and Life

 

“Because if we in America have reached that point in our desperate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what reason or what color, we don’t deserve to survive, and probably won’t.” …William  Faulkner, in his 1956 Paris Review interview.

So have we? Reached that point? School shootings, separating immigrant kids from their parents, starvation? The highest infant mortality rate of any of the 27  wealthiest countries? #17 in education? Is our culture desperate?

“Life is not interested in good and evil. Don Quixote was constantly choosing between good and evil, but then he was choosing in his dream state. He was mad. He entered reality only when he was so busy trying to cope with people that he had no time to distinguish between good and evil. Since people exist only in life, they must devote their time simply to being alive. Life is motion, and motion is concerned with what makes man move—which is ambition, power, pleasure. The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.  …William  Faulkner, in his 1956 Paris Review interview.

Moby Dick and Us

1 of 7 Stella Moby Dick prints at Anders Wahlstedt Gallery, NYC,

“Extracts”. 1993 1 of a series of prints exhibited at Anders Wahlstedt Fine Art, NYC

Moby Dick has inspired visual artists always and these prints are superb. I think it’s the language, the way images roll through the story. Like water. Like whales.

I opened Moby Dick the day the towers went down on 9/11 and spent the year making 100 wax prints, painting over images appropriated from the web. Seeing Stella’s “Extracts” pings my heart – where he used lattice, I used images of the towers’ twisted grid. My city was freeze-framed under water,  images of whales watching diners through broken glass.

The book is a volcano of inspiration. What is it with us and the whale? We hunted, dismembered, idolized and ate. A tremendous price for our unchecked population as we gorge ourselves on the earth’s resources.

Rereading now with the Burlington Writers Workshop lit group. Joyful! Overwhelming. Capricious. Universal. Scary, all of the above.

Rachel Cusk et al vs Don Quixote

After coming to the end of the delicious, rapturous, repetitive, raving, magnificent most-engaged-knight-in-the-entire-world Don Quixote, I’ve become obsessed with Rachel Cusk’s trilogy; Outline, Transit and Kudos. She’s the anti-Cervantes, the “dissociate artist for a dissociate age, asking from the back seat; ‘is this real life?'” So writes Patricia Lockwood in the London Review. Like so many others, I started off disliking her, and still do, but I read on.

Probably it’s the Voice. It drones seamlessly from one person’s story into the next, commenting when it feels like it, then going on to the next like a distracted, OCD dog. The voice is monotonous, without nuance. At times, it’s indistinguishable from the person it’s supposed to be conversing with. You get the sense that the Voice listens, but that it can only respond to what mirrors itself in the teller’s stories. When the Other Voice, the one telling a story (mostly men strutting their stuff) stops for breath, the Cusk Voice comes out like the cuckoo in the clock, presents its rebuttal, or its insight, which are at times so embedded with “it seems to me” and “in a kind of way” and “perhaps” as to be unfathomable, pretentious, as if ones point of view is the only proper response to a story being told by someone else.

Lorrie Moore says this: “We see that we are experiencing a presentation: a midair collusion of storytellers and pronouncers. Faye’s voice and those of the characters she encounters sometimes merge—and that is the point. However underperforming our lives may be, the stories of them are always performances. Faye makes statements that seem to announce the book’s narrative strategy: “I was beginning to see my own fears and desires manifested outside myself, was beginning to see in other people’s lives a commentary on my own.”

The Voice is hypnotic. I’m mesmerized. Cusk is traveling, and her fellow travelers are as mundane as mine are.

I’m also reading Sigrid Nunoz, The Friend, Houellebecq’s Submission and I’m paging through Karl Ove to see if it’s possible to  commit to The Struggle, which I’ve been saving for when I’m convalescing from flu. Strangely, I find no pleasure reading these authors. With some exceptions, mostly their sentences ring pithy as hammers banging through rock, stripped of imagery, lacking sensuality, self-involved with their own drama. And yet, and yet – they are driven, relentless, trance inducing.

I came to Cusk late because along with Sheila Hati and Claudia Day  (whose recent article in the Paris Review begins with “I wrote the first draft of my novel Heartbreaker in a ten-day mania in August 2015” – I’m supposed to want to read this?) she was part of the New Motherhood, what it means, what price you pay, how to write a novel with children hanging from your clothing sucking your blood. I admit that the topic doesn’t interest me, I simply don’t care;  the topic brings out the worst in me, the me that says, Yes, giving birth is a big deal, yes domesticity is the death of freedom, yes, it is the birthing of the death of another and yes, it’s also a big deal to write a novel while a mother. Yes yes yes, there are consequences for everything, get over it, find something else to write about.  Aside from Patty Smith and Keith Richards, who have a ball writing about their =interesting, demonic lives, I can’t think of a memoir worth writing.

What it boils down for me to is this: Everything in life is someone’s drama, and eventually, unless it is transformed into language, paint, color, rhythm, movement, conversation; story; into beauty, it feels like just one more voice  grinding away in the background with the clothes dryer.

Which, if you’re DeLilio, or Robert Altman and maybe Rachel – well, drone on.

UBU ROI, our nightmare

We’ve considered him stupid, moronic, evil, incompetent, mad, racist, misogynistic, a pedophile, self-aggrandizing, lying, stupefying,  narcissistic, character flawed, disgusting We’ve mocked his hair, his ties, his mouth, his little fingers, his wife, his children , his bone spurs, his deal-making, education, university, his gold leaf, his diet, the elevator, his advisors, cabinet and his lack of a dog. We call him a clown and we make Ubu Roi his avatar, Pere Ubu, Alfred Jarry’s surrealistic joke of a dictator who wants to be the king of Poland. That play so horrified its audience, it closed the night of its premier, but this performance has lasted over 500 days to become a national – no, a global – nightmare.  

At this moment, his most despicable action is holding hostage immigrant children to get his way – he wants his wall, and Congress is figuring out how to give it to him.