Although I can’t get behind the unfortunate title, I’m very excited to have just discovered that Xiu Xiu has a new album.
I’d very much like to know who did the script for this cover.
Also here is a great track.
My mother’s side of the family is the type that has a motto. A seal, a crest, a family tree in calligraphy, dry and oft-folded, a clear and famous lineage. She comes from Plymouth, straight from Mayflower stock, a direct descendant of Governor Bradford himself. I’m enough Pilgrim myself that it’s only a mildly obnoxious stretch, I’ve decided, to say that Sarah Vowell has written a book about me.
My mother’s family motto is Frangas Non Flectes; latin for Break, Don’t Bend. From as early in my life as I can remember– no doubt this was my introduction to the very concept of a “motto”, perhaps even of “latin”– my father laughingly railed against the dreadful advice this motto offered. (My father’s family might have a motto itself, if anyone could trace them more than a generation or two into Irish obscurity, but I’d have to guess it would be “Leave Me Alone, I Am Going Into The Woods To Look At Stuff”).
“Imagine a tree,” he’d say by way of dramatic illumination, “that follows this motto. A little breeze comes up and what does it do? Oh, it breaks in two! Because it can’t bend!”
My mom would counter that he was missing the point, failing to understand the virtue of standing strong in one’s convictions and refusing to compromise. Probably my father would follow that with some colorful comments about uptight Calvinists. It was all good natured. The kind of heated, hilarious debate anyone would be lucky to grow up amidst. After all, family mottos; who actually has those? It never, you know, came to blows.
It did, however, come to carving.
When I was really young my father carved this amazing, heavy eagle sign, emblazoned by his proposed revision of the family motto. The weather’s taken the lettering off to a large degree, but if you could read the banner here you’d see writ boldly: Flectes Non Frangas.
Bend. Don’t Break. Indeed.
I bring this up not only to raise issues of Yankee intransigence and the joys of mixing lapsed Catholics and protestants in one small kitchen. And really, my mom’s motto is not as bad as it could be. I did some genealogical research and was delighted to find that other families have mottos like “Wars! Dreadful Wars!” and “When Plucked We Emit a Scent” (granted the latter was for the Rose family, but still). I bring it up also because I’ve realized that some people don’t know that I come from artist parents, and specifically from a father who carved and painted birds.
Me = fallen apple. Close to tree.
This eagle is not very representative of my dad’s work. My dad was meticulous to an uncanny degree, steady handed and empathic to wood in a way I may never fully understand. He worked with the most delicate of chisels and knives, fine-tipped Dremmel tools, thick reading glasses. The majority of his work involved individually carved feathers, beaks as fine as seashell, realistic claws curved brightly from believably-fleshed toes. This piece is comparatively chunky, simplistic, rustic.
So when my mom generously lifted the eagle down from its roost on her shingles and passed in on to me recently, I thought to ask her what inspired him to make a piece in this particular style. She pointed me towards John Bellamy. Or, as he seems generally and officially known: John Bellamy, Carver of Eagles.
Bellamy is an artist, who naturally never considered himself as such, who lived and worked in Maine and throughout New England in the late nineteenth century. In addition to making furniture and clocks and mysterious and esoteric Masonic whatnots, he’s most famous for creating these carvings for ships stems. Eagles grasping banners, always emblazoned with adages like “Don’t Give Up The Ship”.
While I think of this iconic eagle-clutching-dramatic-declaration image as something that’s just been around since the world’s inception, it seems that Bellamy was really the guy who established the tradition. He’s even quoted as saying: “There is one thing I can say as to this work of mine. It is original with me and never known or heard of until I produced it.” A great and ballsy quote, really, and something I’d like to be able to say someday about my own work.
It’s safe to say that my dad was using Bellamy’s work as the model for this eagle of his. And Bellamy seems a fittingly eccentric and incorrigible character for my dad (who once carved a collection of realistic, severed heads and mounted them on poles along his property line when a new house was built a bit too close) to feel kinship with.
Needless to say, it’s a great honor for me to have inherited this eagle. It’s seen better days, having hung happily out in the elements for decades, and though I like the way the weather’s aged and altered it, I plan to restore it a bit. Jay and I will be combining forces– his knowledge of repair and preservation and my hand lettering and feathering skills– to repaint the motto and fill some cracks, stop the rot that’s bitten into a few spots and bring back the brightness of feathers and eye.
It’ll be a great multi-generational collaboration, and a great coming together of all sides of my family; my pilgrim mom, my yankee dad, and my Italian husband-to-be.
I hope that Flectes non Frangas, a motto re-appropriated and adjusted and modernized, will hang well in our less-than-traditional home. An overseeing, inspiring mascot to all or our flexible, unbreakable undertakings. Right?
I just met some deadlines. Met ’em head on. No one’s as surprised as I am that things came together as well as they did.
Much of what made up my to-do list over the past month was the usual glitter and debris; appointments and web launches, commissions and training sessions and about a hundred things I’ve already forgotten that I did.
I also finished a 160 hour contract design job which required me to commute about 3 hours a day and work in an office. I realize that even finding this noteworthy is a sign of my completely ridiculous and decadent freedom. I haven’t commuted, nor sat in a desk chair (any chair, really, I’m on the floor right now) regularly in over five years. It was a change. As was the need to wear a badge in order to return from the ladies’ room to my desk.
Simultaneous to said contract job, I finished a 48″ x 60″ painting and shipped it off to Thinkspace for the February 12th opening of “Fresh”, in which I’m flattered to be featured. This whopper of a piece is in freight transit as I type, and tracking predicts it’ll be in the gallery tomorrow afternoon. I’m really proud of this piece, proud of the brute force with which I wrestled it into my truck during a veritable sub-zero nor’easter, and also somewhat disoriented by how quickly it came (out of me) and went (out the door).
Oh elk painting, I hardly knew ye. I hope ye aren’t smearing in any way, as ye may not have been totally dry.
It’s taken a lot of momentum to pull everything together recently, and as I shake myself out (and bang myself against a river stone or two, like good old fashioned laundry) I’m really interested in how best to maintain this momentum, carry it forward into my new, next, as-yet-undefined projects. As well as a wee little twinge of frenetic, dyspeptic stress here and there, the kind of deadline-dependent projects I’ve just finished demand a kind of focus that I find really soothing, constructive and somewhat new. The past month has reminded me (and not just because I couldn’t leap from my cubicle without someone noticing) that you can truly only do one thing at a time, and that it’s best done deeply, without distraction, and until it’s done.
Right now my studio looks like this:
Ready and willing, blank and waiting. I may need to finish this bottle of wine first and I may need a little while to sketch, but I really do intend to keep up the forward roll I’ve recently set in motion– making choices without undue doubt and lollygagging, responding to ideas with action rather than double-thought, and finalizing projects decisively even without the imposed deadline of a particular opening.
Oh next paintings. I hardly know ye.
I’ve lacked the time and impetus for writing lately; but rest assured (I tell myself more than anyone else), my energies have still been marking and remarking, sharing and creating each day… Just creating more in paint than in adjective, as I’ll continue for the next couple of weeks until this is done.
But let’s keep aloft the tradition of recommendations.
Monday night, I actually sat down on the bed and watched a movie.
It’s been ages since I watched a movie– an entire, narrative picture. I have no television. In the summer, I can’t watch a thing. And the occasional streamed HBO episode on the laptop serves as more than enough entertainment on winter nights. Lately, having found nothing to match last year’s investment in The Wire, I’ve eschewed serial life and have only watched a few food-related documentaries like Food Inc (do), the Future of Food (definitely do), the Botany of Desire (do) and Our Daily Bread (nah… don’t).
Nonetheless, I’m pleased that I marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day by taking the time to watch a movie. I watched Milk (and just now I’m realizing that this, too, is essentially a documentary, but at the least there is acting and dramatization and, therefore, at least a li’l somethin’ to carry me away, to escape into.)
When I popped in this movie I hadn’t registered how appropriate it would be for this holiday. But it certainly was. Freedom fighting and the struggle for the simplest of civil rights. Sacrifice and humor and assassination and hope. Some horror, sure. It’s hard to watch the hideous ignorance playing out on the screen as Californians in the increasingly distant past battle against the overturning of a law that would prevent LGBT people from being evicted or fired on the basis of their sexuality; all the while, in the supposedly enlightened present we like to congratulate ourselves on having built, a similar fight goes on over the simple right of marriage. Ugh.
So yes. A movie. Well worth watching. Plenty of things happen in it that you weren’t there for, never saw, never heard about. Or at least need to be reminded of over and over again.
I grew up on a Cape Cod cul-du-sac road, a road that was newly cut through the glacial boulders and orange clay soil in the early 1980’s when my parents and their four neighbors built their modest, clapboarded houses on what was once farmland. Being farmland, our newness was hemmed in on all sides by old, old infrastructure and evidence. Long obscured foundations in the woods were suddenly identifiable in the spring when the chives of erstwhile gardens sprung up in brightly greening squares, seemingly isolated streams were equipped with herring ladders or sluices for controlling the flooding of the cranberry bogs and seemed to my quivering and maudlin kid-senses like likely places to find the bodies of unknown, lost men. And there were bogs at the end of our street, vast kidney-shaped lowlands thick with leaves that looked like coffee beans when they died and dried, bordered by shallow moats full of slime and bullfrogs and for most of the year, until the week or so in late summer when the bogs would be flooded and the berries threshed free of their bushes by Mexican migrant workers on mysterious and diesely amphibious vehicles, the red globular bodies floating to the flooded surface in a crimson blanket that would then be collected by more dark, yelling men in hip waders while I watched from behind the trees near the non-corpse-clogged sluice.
Next to the bogs was the sand pit, and the sand pit called to me like a tall, crumbly siren. It was probably 70 feet high, and had been gouged right out of the hilly neighborhood with backhoes and bulldozers over the years, the seemingly endless reserves of sand there dumped into open trucks and spread around the cranberry plants to do whatever it was that a blanket of sand could do for cranberry plants, or hauled off by the DPW to be used on the roads. It was, in a sense, a working mine, a great vein of valuable resource like texas tea or virginian coal, a cash crop of grainy, tawny dirt. Around the top of the pit, trees leaned in surprise, their roots curling back in modestly at having been exposed from below. The requisite Cape Cod boulders dotted the pit’s face, some of them clinging to the top in cliffy formation and some resting near the bottom with gullies of disturbed sand patterns in their wake.
The pit was deliriously high, quiet, and fun. As kids, we’d sometimes go there in groups but more often approach alone and stumble upon each other in what had been solitary and generally dubious pursuits. Sometimes the Anglin brothers would throw rocks at me from some hiding place at the top of the pit, the long arc of the falling stones making them way more speedy and scary than they’d have been directly out of the Anglin’s chubby hands, and I’d yell something dull and aghast and destined to bring me only more abuse- like “you shouldn’t EVER throw stones at PEOPLE!”- cringing immediately at the nasal and schoolmarmy sound of my voice. I’d scramble up the pit, here easily scaling an old and solid rise of sand, there losing my feet up to the backsliding ankles as the loose wall let go beneath me, picking my way with fantasies of Lewis and Clarkian exploration and mountain goat deftness dancing in my head and probably fantasizing that I was being shot at by snipers and bound and determined to rescue some manner of trusting damsel at the top of the pit- maybe Stacie Ellis from down the street who had glasses so thick that she was almost incapable of walking without holding her hands out in front of her but which I, imperturbably healthy and therefore a jealous fan of all medical anomalies and appliances, thought made her sexy. I’d lunge, get a handhold on a large rock to support myself only to have it come loose and pitch past me down the slope, smaller rocks skittering after it like baby ducks to a fast mother.
And from the top, of course, I would throw whatever I could throw, watching it elegantly arc cross from the round blue sky and fall past the evergreen horizon and hit the ground with a little cloud of impact, knowing that there was something important to be felt in a place so big like this, watching an elegant arc of a falling thing. I’d leap, freefalling only ten feet or so until I’d hit the sand and skid with it, the movement of the inevitable avalanche making it unnecessary to take any more steps on my own, sliding and invariably losing my footing, falling on my ass, hitting my shin on a jagged something.
The complete danger of all this wasn’t lost on my parents, who immediately but without much passion or policing banned me from visiting the spot. Not willing to stoop to actually following me on my scuttlings around the neighborhood, my father decided to outfit me with a custom-made cautionary horror story that he hoped would lead me to avoid the pit of my own accord. In tones both distracted and ominous, chewing the wet end of an unlit cigar, he muttered “Well, after what happened to Greg there…”. He went on, at my none-too-enthusiastic urging, to explain to me that my brother Greg, of whom there was no evidence in our one-child house and who’d never been mentioned to me before in my more than a decade of life, had died as a gory, crushed and sandy corpse, rocks in his hair and sand filling his now-silenced throat, when the sandpit- the very sandpit I’d been playing on- had let go beneath him. My dad, having told his story, squinted upwards at a circling hawk, lost in thoughts of his dead son and the dismay at having sired a daughter apparently destined to go to the same sandy grave.
I probably twisted my lips a little, but said nothing. Over the next years, Greg’s name would come up with some regularity as an example of What Was Going To Become of Me, and his disappearance grew more and more storied and surprisingly coincidental with whatever me own sins were at the time. It would seem that Greg and I were, indeed, of remarkably similar stock– his comeuppance was just more severe than mine, so far. Greg died in a fiery wreck as a result of not wearing his seat belt. Greg was sent away to military school and disowned by the family, and was probably by now serving somewhere overseas, tattooed and hardnosed and old before his time. Greg died by choking on his own vomit in a drunken stupor after smuggling Jim Beam out of my father’s liquor cabinet in a juice bottle (I used a Veryfine fruit punch vessel). Greg died in poverty after not living up to his potential in high school, and Greg, my father would say, spitting a bit of tobacco to the stone driveway with a thinly veiled smile, died by catching his death of cold when he refused to wear a raincoat.
At the time of the sand pits, my dad’s warnings served only to increase the feeling of escape and soaring solitude that I felt atop my cliff of sand, throwing, and big ideas. They also served to make it the Place Where All Things Wrong or Secret Must Be Done, and the pit was where, among other things, I set ablaze my first C graded math quiz, smoked my first cigarette (while squinting skyward at a circling hawk), burned my newly-punk arm with a lighter on the anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death in hopes of feeling something vast, burned my first D graded math test and, having gotten pretty interested in all of the burning, set light to a few dry sticks, watched them rapturously, ignored a change in wind direction, set my flannel shirt on fire, tore of the shirt and put it out by throwing it to the ground in front of me, knocked over my original burning sticks, watched the sticks light the dry fall grass which in turn lit more grass, marveled at the speed of flame as an entire bog-adjacent hill went up in flames, ran, watched the volunteer fire fighters from the next neighborhood come and extinguish with buckets what had become something like a quarter-acre inferno, and later returned quietly to the sand pit under cover of smoky, bitter dusk and buried the charred flannel shirt in a deep hole near the top left hand edge of the cliff.
Mostly, though, I came to the sandpit because I knew it was the place to be. I sat, amazed at my own stillness, watching the changing light of seasons and seasons of skies, watching the white spark of airplane wings as they passed heavily and seemingly below me in the thin and proud air of my high perch. I would stand and, in the only place where I felt both intimately connected to the history of the land and without an observer or critic, would raise my arms over my head and become a stone or a tree, noting the date in my head and wondering where I would be in ten years and whether or not I would remember the color of the cranberry leaves on this day, a decade earlier. And I screamed, letting my own echo pour down over the pebbles and into the moats, the air moving out of me like smoke. Some days my yell would float up and away like a stringless kite and I’d throw my head back to watch it. Other days it would swoop down and set fire to the hills and I would hide and watch them burn.
The trouble on the flagship Providence.
The trouble on the hurricane barrier.
I lived in a place where, during the long nights awake, I could look out the industrial windows (where I once noticed a bullet hole plugged with a gummy bear) and watch the man who worked the night shift at the metal annodyzing factory downstairs. He did pull ups on the open doorframe sometimes, facing out into the black Pawtucket train tracked night, smoking a cigarette, back-lit by his room of steaming vats and churning machinery.
I swung on a swing in Uruguay made out of a giant chemical drum.
I saw someone blow an entire sushi roll worth of rice out of his nose as the result of an ill-timed sneeze.
I bicycled in Ithaca, Vermont, California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut where, on a steep incline, I saw a cow giving birth.
I sat on top of the Biltmore roof, near the buzz of the giant, red sign, and watched the rush hour traffic helicopters hover in the dusk. We had Corona Light and I wanted not to go up there anymore, not one more time.
I saw fireworks reflected in the eyes of someone I loved and finally confirmed what I’d always suspected; that beloved people’s eyes are shinier than those of average people.
I helped take my father off of life support. I waited in his room, looking out at a strange Boston hill that appeared man made while he took his last labored breaths, and looked for birds. During this time, for some reason, the unnatural sound of his breathing mixed with the hiss of hospital machines and became, in my head, the nighttime sounds outside of a small cabin in a bayou, or perhaps a reedy backwater near Key West. I could see the porch and the black water so clearly — crickets and peepers — and sent him there.
I saw Nervous Cabaret play three times, each show wonderful but none quite as transformative as the first.
I saw Gogol Bordello play several times, and will never need to again.
I came home in sopping wet from some dismal corner near Wes’s Ribhouse at 5 in the morning and you would have thought I’d gone swimming in my clothes but it wasn’t that.
The repeated trouble in the rest areas.
We bicycled over the canadian border. Only far enough to take a photo near the sign; about 5 yards. Turning around to re-enter the states we were stopped by a customs agent who was intent on asking us the full gamut of migratory questions, including “how long have you been out of the country?”(“About 45 seconds”) and “Are you bringing anything back into the country from Canada?” (“Just good memories”), even though he’d seen us pedal by the border less than a minute before.
I learned how to do a burnout.
Standing next to the Battleship in Fall River in the middle of the night, we started to plot a way to get onto the military submarine moored by its side. Suddenly, from out of the tense dark, a speaker crackled and an alarm swelled. We ducked and spun around, a futile search of the black decks for uniforms or lights, thinking we’d been caught. Then a voice joined in with the loudspeaker’s wail, stating without much passion “This is a drill. Fire. Fire.” in an unmistakably southern New England accent. Within moments we heard a sort of rustling, that became a drumming, then a thundering and murmuring and from within that giant battleship that lies in torpid slumber through all seasons there came pouring hundreds upon hundreds of small figures. Boyscouts. They’d been having a slumber party.
I got engaged.
I broke at least three leases on bad terms.
JBC and I shared a kayak off the coast of Captain Cook, late in the day, after returning from Hilo where I’d climbed to the top of a tall, arched road bridge, barefoot. I’d made a cell phone call from the top just to leave a voicemail from a place one had never been left before, and young samoan kids below had danced around and yelled “Can you hear me NOW?” up at me like tiny Verizon spokespeople. In the kayak JBC and I were a great match, as we were both captivated by the mission of ramming the other kayakers at full speed, rather than looking at the cliffs from which servants had once fallen, sacrificed to their jobs of installing the bones of dead royals into the stone face.
I bought a house.
My parents, in their garden early in the morning of September 11, 2001, saw fighter jets leave Otis Airport base and bank too hard, too low. The sonic boom made them drop to their tomatoes, and they thought they should go inside and see if any special news was on television.
I saw a man in leather pants drop something from his pocket when he walked into the club and when he stooped to pick it up I identified it: a can of tuna.
Biking up a steep hill in San Diego JKC broke his rental’s chain, and in sympathy I hopped off of mine and for the rest of the day we got around by standing on one pedal and pushing along. Like scooters.
I got my hoop earrings caught on my scarves more times than anyone could be expected to count.
Hang on. I’m just getting started.