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Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell

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Friday, August 31, 2007
by Charles Simic

When I first read this book I didn't know what to expect -- was it just a title, or was it possible that one of my favorite poets was going to take on the subject of one of my favorite artists? Was it poetry based on the work of Cornell? Was it criticism? I didn't really care because I like both artists so much I didn't see a downside. My instincts were correct! This is a delightful but slender volume if you are a fan of Cornell, Simic or both. There are poems and prose poems, sometimes just fragments of thought -- but it all adds up to a sympathetic reading of some of Cornell's most famous work.

When I think about it, Simic and Cornell slot very near one another in the filing cabinet in my brain. I don't know that I would have made the match myself out of thin air, but the connections between them are there and they're strong. (Not least of which is that they both are fluent in the language of insomnia, which I have always thought is not unlike dream-language. When you're tired enough, things get really weird and words fall away until you're left with not the thing itself (whatever that may be) but a symbol for the thing -- who better to express or explore it than a poet or an artist?)

Before I had the book in my hands and realized that there were photos included (there are!), I checked a couple of other books on Cornell out of the library so I could have some on-paper photo examples. As you might imagine, many have similar titles and I got ahold of one that was so terrible it almost made me cry. It was essentially a book on how to be a ten-minute expert on Cornell and by extension the surrealists. (tragic! and the pictures weren't even that good.) I have a lengthy tirade on this subject from which I will spare the internet, except to say that one of the problems with our current society is too many people are content with being ten-minute experts, or worse yet are content with leaving even ten-minute expertise in the hands of someone else. (See: current administration for an egregious example.) But if I'm honest I must admit that I don't mind being a ten-minute expert on things I don't really care about. For example, I would be content being a one-minute expert on the alleged art of Thomas Kinkade, whom I would be happy to know nothing about at all, except my grandmother loves him so for her sake I have gleaned some trivia. Cornell deserves much more thought and attention, and this book provides it in just the right and perfect beautiful words.

It is difficult to choose something to quote because they are all SO GOOD for so many different reasons, but right now I am being drawn to the title The Magic Study of Happiness, so that's what it will be.

The Magic Study of Happiness

In the smallest theater in the world the bread crumbs speak. It's a mystery play on the subject of a lost paradise. Once there was a kitchen with a table on which a few crumbs were left. Through the window you could see your young mother by the fence talking to a neighbor. She was cold and kept hugging her thin dress tighter and tighter. The clouds in the sky sailed on as she threw her head back to laugh.

Where the words can't go any further--there's the hard table. The crumbs are watching you as you in turn watch them. The unknown in you and the unknown in them attract each other. The two unknowns are like illicit lovers when they're exceedingly and unaccountably happy.

my imaginary glam rock boyfriends and other good news (august)

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Oh, I love it when a neutral day picks a side and becomes an EXCELLENT day. Like say, today. I was on my way to the wilds of darkest suburbia (Beaverton) and noticed I had voicemail, which turned out to be a call from the place about the thing! Long story short: I have an interview for Sept. 12. (could this take any longer??? don't answer that.) Anyway, my response in general is HOORAY!

I should have known today would improve because when I was out earlier my ipod played me 20th Century Boy by T. Rex (the titular imaginary glam rock boyfriends, august edition). I love that song! It makes me happy every single time I hear it. There's just something about the combination of raunchy joie de vivre and sincere sweetness which make it well nigh irresistible. (see also: the work of Judd Apatow, although there are fewer dudes in eyeliner. )

To sum up: Yay! And here's a video if your Friday is sadly lacking the RDA of T. Rex:

countdown to blackout

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Monday, August 27, 2007
1. I am waiting out the eclipse, which is TONIGHT. I know, I know, after midnight makes it technically tuesday -- but when I read "full lunar eclipse on tuesday" I'm not thinking in the middle of MONDAY NIGHT. (here comes one of those 'there are two kinds of people in this world' statements. There are two kinds of people in this world: the kind who consider it to still be monday night until they go to bed, even if that technically falls into tuesday morning, and those letter of the law types (like ASTRONOMERS, I suppose) who get some kind of nutty thrill from being technically accurate. Not that I don't get a similar thrill being accurate about other things, but this one day/next day thing isn't one of them. hmph.)

2. I'm not sure I can stay awake. Maybe I'll set my alarm like I used to do way back in the day when I would get up to watch Friday Night Videos (which was quite scandalous since I would take careful note of every video played so I could share the bounty with my friend who had stricter parents that did not allow her to watch television on Friday night. The scandal was amplified because I would give her the recap in church. Pastor: fire! brimstone! there'll be no butter in hell! Me: Prince!!!!! eeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! My Friend: eeeeeeeeeee!!!! My Friend's Mother: silent, disapproving look. but she's not surprised since my father is 100% heathen, and my mother is suspect for consorting with said heathen. My Friend will have to read extra uplifting literature when she gets home. I will read Trixie Belden.) (We didn't have cable.)

3. Or maybe I should just go read my book. I'm reading the new Michael Chabon, and it's SO GOOD so far, but I'm not very far into it and I have to take it back to the library in 3 days. crap! 2 days.

4. Or I could write up one of the two books I've been meaning to write up. They're hard for different reasons, so I've been putting them off. (one I love a lot, and the other one I respect but didn't really like.)

5. the full moon is taunting me right this VERY SECOND by shining like headlights into my window. (or a headlight, I suppose, for the solar system's biggest motorcycle. ... or I guess the biggest one I can see from here. Or maybe it's just a car with one light. Or... I'm just going to abandon this combustion engine thing right now.)

6. I almost wish it was overcast because then I could go to bed without seeing any of the eclipse and feel like it was out of my hands! But NO. Ooh, it's behind a tree now, but that doesn't really count.

7. I am working a new freelance job that is about 20 miles from my house. I haven't had to drive that far on a regular basis in a long time. The work is varied and interesting, although not something I would want to do forever and ever. The person I'm working for is going through a horrific divorce so there is a lot of free-floating stress around.

8. OMG! I am having the most terrible urge to color coordinate my bookshelves. What has happened to me? This is the most preposterous idea in the world (said old, pre #8 me), but... I've seen several bloggers discuss it (Crazy Aunt Purl and SundryBuzz are two) AND I've seen it in a couple of magazines, and it is shifting from 'that would never work for me' to intriguing to drop-everything compelling. (flickr Rainbow of Books pool here.) I think since so many of my books are shelf dependent anyway, it's not as big a project as it may sound. I would probably do it shelf by shelf rather than EVERYTHING. (most of my shelves are fixed height, so certain books have to go in certain places whether or not that's where I would ideally put them.) If I actually go through with this mad fancy, I will take a picture. I have watched a ton of those clutter-clearing shows and always get pissed off when they suggest getting rid of books (usually so they can put some stupid vase or something in the bookcase)... HOWEVER, when I did my main purge a year or so ago, I did find that there were many books I was keeping only out of habit. Not that that has to do with much, I just thought I'd throw it out there. Blame it on the moon.

9. Speaking of which, I have mostly retired my Moon Grudge. Or let's say I have forgiven but not forgotten. (you know what you did, anthropomorphic moon!)

10 10 10 10 for everything everything everything everything

11. I can almost make my own eclipse if I pretend that the earth is in the shape of a plum tree. I'm sure it is in some religion or another.

12. this blog post is turning vaguely religious! What's up with that? I blame the nostalgia in item #2. I really am getting old!

13. oh, good grief. It's only 12:30 and I'm acting like it's four in the morning. (the time stamp for this post is inaccurate because I opened this thing before midnight so it would look like a monday post. I may be sneaky, but I'm not subtle! [note to self: develop more subtlety. suavity. savoir faire. tsunami. sassafras. sarsaparilla. super-powers. usurper-powers. sangfroid. siegfried and roy. ETCETERA.])

14. I made a crazy tower of runner beans this year in the garden (instead of morning glories) and it has TIPPED OVER! I need to get out there with some rope or bungees or something, but I'm afraid it will be dead so I've been avoiding it. What will undoubtedly be its downfall is the fact that I haven't been watering either. The problem is that the vines grow to 30 feet (did I think they'd really get that long? no I did not.) and my crazy tower of recycled tomato cages only goes to about 9 feet. It's top heavy. (actually, I think it is entirely rescuable, and I can in fact see that the beans are now crazy huge and probably really stringy. I deserve stringy beans for my neglect, however.)

15. hey, guess what! still no eclipse. I'm not even sure (for sure) what time it's supposed to start.

16. $%#@ing plum tree. I am going to have to go OUTSIDE. oh, wait -- I just have to move the chair a little bit. ha ha! take that, plum tree. Disaster averted!

17. you know what I hate? I hate when people set their blog for just tiny RSS previews instead of the full text. 9 times out of 10 it does not whet my appetite for more, but it does irritate the hell out of me. I'm probably not really that irritated. the moon is making me exaggerate. (note how I am shirking responsibility! and wondering if I will wake up early enough to edit the hell out of this post in the morning since it almost certainly will make less sense by daylight, which is much more sensible than the light of the moon. everyone knows this.)

18. I have been thinking about one of my old stories. I kind of want to get it out and read it again, but then I worry that I'll get freshly frustrated and shove it back in its metaphorical drawer. (I believe its actual location is in a notebook in a box, and of course somewhere on this computer.) I think maybe I need to think about it a little more. There was a lot I liked about it, but it had a major, MAJOR problem.

19. I have Blame It On the Rain by Milli Vanilli stuck in my head because of my stupid blaming it on the moon ways way up there in nos. 17, 8, and others I'm sure. I should open iTunes and see what else I can blame it on. (only canada! what's up with that?)

20. Ooops! I got distracted there for about 10 minutes, not that you would know. I was thinking about illustrators and the fact that I seem to be coming across Russian themed things everywhere lately. (not in a big way, just a little bit here, a little bit there -- but I'm noticing it for some reason. Russia, Russia, Russia sounds a lot like Marcia Marcia Marcia when you say it my way.) Here's a link that combines them both: Carson Ellis's painting of Kresty Prison.

21. Maybe the eclipse really IS tuesday night...

22. plum tree difficulties AGAIN.

23. Oh, hey! I processed the audio book of the new Michael Chabon the other day and it is read by Peter Riegert. I have had big spongy-hearted love for him since Crossing Delancey.

24. I am going to start a haiku banjo band called the Plum Tree Difficulties.

25. I know what's going to happen: the eclipse will finally start, and then it will go as slow as molasses. If it were 9PM,I'd be all "oh, the wonder of nature! shine on you crazy diamond, you." but at nearly 2 AM I am less patient.

26. Impatience is a problem for me. I think maybe it's because I think about everything for a million years before I reach any conclusions, so once I finally do arrive at a conclusion, I'm done waiting. Unfortunately, the waiting is usually not done with me. (hee hee. Now I'm starting to sound like The Sphinx from Mystery Men: "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." "Before you can learn to train, I must train you to learn." "He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.")

27. I think that's a good sign that it is TIME TO STOP. I'm going to go put on proper eclipse-wear and see what's what.

Tuesday daylight edit: I typed #'s 25-27 sitting on the floor under my desk because the moon had shifted, and then I went outside and sat on my car in the driveway to see the final bit. (well, the part where the moon turned all dark -- I did not stay awake for the whole moon re-emerging thing.) It was beautiful and I'm glad I did it, even though it put me at risk for the Total Lunar Eclipse Driveway Hatchet Murderer, whom I've never heard of before but that doesn't mean he's not out there.


agent 99

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Friday, August 24, 2007
Aw, yeah! I just sent a last-ditch, hail mary email (also known as Boo Hoo email #2) before the weekend to see if I could shake any information out of the people who were holding my test scores hostage and... IT WORKED. I heard back right away (shocking!) and the news was not bad. It turns out that the letter they sent to me was returned because it had the wrong address. (my guess is that it was addressed correctly but delivered to the idiot 40 year old Think They're Still Frat Dudes across the street who drink beer in an inflatable kiddie pool in the middle of the dandelion meadow in front of their house. Do you think they would be reliable letter re-directors? Me neither.)

ANYWAY, they have just concluded interviews with people who scored 100, and they'll soon be setting up interviews with people who scored 99. People LIKE ME! Woo hoo!!!

Now I have to go bake chocolate chip cookies and figure out what to wear to a party. I've had worse days!

true story

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Thursday, August 23, 2007
butterick 6173

Today at the library I wore a crazy dress that looks like I made it out of a tablecloth stolen from a picnic in the park. (it is A True Fact that wearing a garment such as this one can make a good mood better, improve a marginal mood, or at the very least arrest a bad mood. FACT! I'm telling you, it's like prozac on a hanger. It can even cheer other people up, believe it or not.) Anyway, despite the dress, I was still in kind of a shitty mood because of course I haven't heard anything official about my test (although a little bird told me I passed), I had an almost flat tire so I had to go take care of it right away which made me late, wah wah wah. I could go on and on, but just read the past 5 or so blog entries and you'll get the picture. Even though people were being kind in their usual way or saying they liked my dress or expressing surprise that I can sew (I worked for a number of years in an industry where sewing was considered to be a basic fact of life, like breathing oxygen) and generally being the all-around good eggs they are, I was still feeling compressed and tetchy. I was pulling books for the paging list (which was HUGELY LONG and had pages left over from yesterday) and kept finding myself right in the way of this little old lady. This often happens when people are browsing; usually I just go to another aisle and mark my place so I can go back, which is what I did this time. Only no matter where I went, there was this woman with her freshly set hair and sensible pantsuit, and I was always seemingly right in front of what she wanted. I scooted around the corner AGAIN (because even in a bad mood I know that patrons absolutely have the right of way in a library) thinking sweet jesus lady, I am getting out of your way as fast as I can! She finally caught my arm and said "it's so nice to see someone wearing a dress. You look very pretty."

I had to laugh! Here I was, once again, making assumptions that were 180 degrees wrong AND I made a nice old lady run all the way through the fiction section. You'd think I'd have figured it out by now.

The tablecloth dress is view A of the pattern above, which goes together fairly easily as I recall (it's been a while since I made it). For my dress I used a turquoise-y blue fabric for the front, and this insane print with fruit and flowers all over (tableclothy) for the wrap part. I used black bias trim like in the picture. As much as I'd love to wake up one morning with the perfect vision of how to acheive a streamlined casual yet sexy elegance, I always seem to find myself, when not wearing jeans, saying things like "I'm sorry my skull skirt got glitter on your upholstery." But, you know... SKULL SKIRT! I am helpless in its thrall.

cookie monster blue

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Monday, August 20, 2007
I passed a girl in the park today with cookie monster blue hair and I was seized by an overwhelming desire to ALSO have cookie monster blue hair, even though I am really too old to have permanent cookie monster blue hair and honestly, the wig is too itchy for everyday. So, today I have imaginary blue hair! I am typing this with blue hair! It's very Marge Simpson, but not. (the photo is from a halloween false eyelash test.)

This weekend I did normal weekend things like assemble flat-pack furniture, continue to stare at the empty non-news containing mailbox and try to clean my bad mood away (partially successful. I should have got the wigs out!). But the most exciting thing was probably the hummingbird rescue. Busby brought me a present (he does this muffled meow until I notice that he's got a mouse or bird or whatever in his mouth, then he lets it go as I start shrieking for him to go back outside. This is apparently the height of feline hilarity). This time the bird promptly flew to the top of the very highest window. A 6 foot ladder, a towel and a lamb's wool dust thing on a stick were involved in the rescue. I am happy to say that despite some blood-- caused by the cat, not me-- the hummingbird flew away under its own power.

I got some news that is neither good nor bad for me regarding my job application, but I immediately latched upon it as a terrible omen. Someone else who took the test apparently scored 100% and has already been called for an interview! There are a couple of reasons why this may not pertain to me at all: 1) he is already employed by the system and therefore it is less of a production to get him moving 2) he got 100%. I think I did okay, but I know I didn't get 100%!

Anyway, today marks two weeks since the test and I still haven't heard anything, so I need to start transitioning into 'I probably won't hear anything' mode. It's disappointing, but there's not really anything I can do about it. Of course it's possible that since it's the county I need to be less literal with the two-week window, and if I REALLY want to stretch it, I could say that since my last name is near the end of the alphabet, maybe it's taking longer. But that last one feels more desperate than hopeful, so I think I'll skip it.

Ooh! I just remembered my other weekend activity: writing letters to Salon's advice columnist that I will never send! I recommend this if you have a problem or situation that say, your friends are sick of hearing about and you need a fresh angle. It helps me tremendously to see if I can lay it out in a way that will make sense to someone who is not living in my brain. I always go through a period where I think I am totally sending this so that I might benefit from the oddball but kindly wisdom of Salon's Cary Tennis!, but not before I panic and think what if someone I know reads this and can tell it's me due to excessive parentheses or eyeball seizures or whathaveyou! I will die of mortification!, so then I have to go through and try to neutralize the language and take out all the exclamations or pretend that I am someone else entirely with a very similar problem and it turns into this whole other thing and then I realize that I no longer need to send it and the pulpy bits of my problem settle back down to the bottom of the glass and I can get back to doing whatever I was doing before the advice columnist compulsion was upon me.

the mystery of my bad attitude

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Saturday, August 18, 2007
Mystery of the Yellow Spine

THE CLUES (found while using a magnifying glass and blue roadster convertible/sweater set or narcotics/deerstalker cap, depending on your position on the Nancy Drew/ Sherlock Holmes detecting spectrum):

1. empty mailbox

2. 5 day sinus headache

3. worry that I expect too much or not enough

4. messy desk

5. list of things that are not urgent, but are starting to press

6. the absence of all creative thought

THE ANALYSIS (conducted in a clubhouse or bathrobe or at 80 mph):

1. waiting gives me more time for worrying, which leads to the Bad Attitude because I am trying to be above all that worrying bullshit. ( Is there no book called Being Above All That Worrying Bullshit For Dummies? Because I would read it!)

2. allergies and the freaking barometer mean this is not the time to be offhand or forgetful about claritin.

3. I don't know. Maybe the thing to do is to think about what I really want. Work harder. Think bigger. Stop tripping over little things that don't really matter.

4. I believe I have tipped over the, uh, tipping point in how messy is okay with me.

5. maybe I should write down this list instead letting it take on freakish proportions in my brain.

6. Wah!

THE CONCLUSIONS (arrived at while listening to that bore Ned Nickerson drone on and on or in a dining room with assembled suspects, or perhaps while gardening or gossiping with the vicar):

1. there is nothing I can do but wait (goddammit).

2. take the pill! Keep track of when I can take it again and take it again!

3. Think Goethe Thoughts, like this one: Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

4. I need to make a cleaning list and do things that are on it! But I think I should maybe start backwards from my normal routine if I hope to get any further than my usual stall-out point.

5. Make another list. I'm usually not very paper-list oriented, but special times call for special measures.

6. oh, get over it already!

(don't fight it) feel it

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Still no news on the thing. ("the thing" sounds better to me than "test results" which seems vaguely medical, even though in this instance it isn't.) Monday I was having big anticipatory OMG-palpatations since there was an envelope in the mailbox from the agency in question, but it was from a completely different and unrelated area about a completely different and unrelated thing. d'oh! All that accelerated heart-rate for NOTHING. But that is obviously just part of the process and I'm trying to be... well, zen would be a pretty hilarious description of my efforts not to freak out, but that's my ideal. I have a feeling I'm going to have several more days to practice. Breathe in, breathe out.

In I Do Not Believe His Reasons Are Entirely Sentimental news, I think that the Alexander Hamilton & Sam Cooke Crime Fighting-Democracy Forming -All Singing -All Dueling Variety Hour may have to be on Showtime due to mature content. Due to reasons best described as "I accidentally left the 4th disc in the case," I hadn't been listening to ALL of the Sam Cooke collection (The Man Who Invented Soul) I was recommending two weeks ago. That has since been corrected! Disc No. 4 includes a live set from the Harlem Square Club -- it is amazing how different some of the songs sound in front of an audience. The studio recordings are smooth (but not boring), lovely, joyful. If the lyrics are at all questionable (like the filthy Shake, Rattle and Roll*, ), they're at least somewhat stealthy because he sings them pretty straight. Not like it's a particularly tricky code to crack, but there is room for plausible deniability. Whereas the songs recorded in front of live audience are so gleefully raunchy -- even completely innocuous lyrics are delivered with such unforced but supercharged sexy charisma you either have to turn away entirely or surrender. The album advises (Don't Fight It) Feel It, which sounds pretty reasonable to me. (ooh -- that would be a much shorter show title than the AH&SCCFDFASADVH!)

* can you believe Wikipedia mentions the Huey Lewis and the News version, but not the Sam Cooke version? Does that seem right to you?

not quite plumb

| On
Monday, August 13, 2007
on the bubble

1. I am tired. My obligations lately have seen me up early and to bed late. (I must acknowledge that many of these have been fun, so I'm not complaining about the stuff, just about the tired.)

2. Waiting is not my favorite thing. If it were, I would be having the time of my life right now! Anyway. It's been a week since I took that test, and results should come sometime this week. waitwaitwaitwaitwait.

3. I miss Farscape! I miss that it was serious and silly and often both at once, I miss John Crichton's leather pants, I miss Aeryn Sun kicking ass. I can't think of anything on television right now that I look forward to in quite the same way as I used to look forward to a new episode of Farscape. (edit: I added pictures because it hardly seems right or fair to talk about John Crichton/Ben Browder and not provide a photo.)

4. Speaking of television, why isn't there a show where Alexander Hamilton and Sam Cooke fight crime? It's perfect! they both died too young and were both very charming and smart and popular with the ladies. Singing! Dueling! The Department of the Treasury! Sweet Soul Music! What's not to love? I would watch it. (I would WAY rather watch that than some show about wedding planners or America's Next Top anything. Or another Law and Order. Unless it was Law and Order: Charming Brilliant (but Dead) Rascal Division starring Alexander Hamiltion and Sam Cooke.)

forgiving fred: dissolving an irrational grudge

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Saturday, August 11, 2007
I have been slacking on my Watching a Lot of Movies and Blogging About It summer project. I'm so far behind! But what better way to get back into the swing of things than a post of healing and forgiveness? That's right, it's finally time for me to let bygones be bygones and forgive Fred Astaire.

Last spring I watched Ninotchka for the first time and fell completely in love. (Garbo laughs! And made me laugh.) Shortly thereafter I watched Silk Stockings and was promptly infuriated. (I didn't realize Silk Stockings was a musical remake of Ninotchka until I saw the back of the DVD case. I have since learned that it was a remake of the stage show that was based on the film, much like Hairspray.) Silk Stockings, watched within a week of Ninotchka, was a HUGE disappointment to me. It wasn't just sauteed in wrong sauce, it was made of frozen wrong sauce that hadn't been thawed all the way, sprinkled with grated american cheese and served with a side of sub-par Cole Porter. I focused my wrath on poor Fred Astaire. Not fair, I know, but I was so offended SOMEONE had to pay. His character was such an asshole he was easy to choose. The unintended side effect of my Crackpot Outrage Plan was that it started leaching my joy out of dancing movies in general -- this is a problem because a) I like musicals b) I'm trying to save my irrational grudges for when I'm really old (then I'll just be eccentric instead of edge-away crazy). I needed some Remedial Movie Musical Therapy, and I couldn't just take the easy way out and watch Singin' In The Rain or Hard Day's Night 100 more times. I started picking up Fred Astaire movies at the library when I'd see them. This wasn't hard since my library system has a huge movie collection and my branch circulates a lot of material.

The first was Flying Down To Rio (Thornton Freeland/ 1933), which ... apart from beautiful clothes and some lovely dancing didn't really sell me on the Wonder of Fred. He was still an asshole, and I still had (this is so un-generous, I am embarrassed to admit it), "Ha! Serves him right!" thoughts whenever I remembered that awful commercial where his image was animated to dance with a vacuum cleaner. (further FDtR redeeming factors beyond the clothes and the dancing: the art deco styling and the name Dolores del Rio.) This was not to be my breakaway Redeeming Fred movie, but I would persevere.

Next, Irving Berlin's Easter Parade (Charles Walters/ 1948): Fred Astaire plays dancer Don Hewes, looking to make a big splash after his ambitious partner Nadine Hale (Ann Miller) leaves him for her own Ziegfeld show. He says he can replace her with any girl; as you might imagine, any girl turns out to be singing waitress Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), who is scrappy and sweet but can't tell her left from her right. You don't need a degree in psychology, a copy of Pygmalion OR a natural talent for fortune telling to see where this is headed. It was charming though. Peter Lawford is extra suave (in a non-slimy way) as the rich feckless himbo friend whose sole purpose is to hang around falling in love and being decorative in restaurants. This movie triggered a small Fred Thaw in my heart, partly because he actually STEALS A TOY from a kid at the beginning (during Drum Crazy). ha. So, he's still kind of an asshole, but that's just the starting point and not his whole character. He's been dumped and then forced to make good on a drunken boast without breaking Judy Garland's heart; some bad behavior getting from here to there is understandable. (although he stole the toy before any of that started.) Not surprisingly, I like the Judy Garland songs the best and the Fred Astaire dancing the best. (they each can do the other, but it's pretty clear which is the first and natural inclination for both.) As is the case with many musicals of this era, I can't think too hard about the creepy, paternalistic "Daddy knows best" overtones to the romance or my head will explode. Instead, I'll close my eyes and think of tap dancing.

To end this bout of Fred Astaire Musicals, I watched The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli/ 1953). This was the true test for me, because of course I saw Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse together first in my unbeloved Silk Stockings. It passed the test, because it wasn't until I was watching a second time that it even occurred to me that they were the same couple. This was definitely my favorite of the three Astaire movies I watched this go 'round. The dancing is spectacular (I love the cheer-himself-up Shoeshine number at the beginning) and I like the show within a show within a show aspect, although I like Singin' in the Rain better. (Is this Show In a Show framing device to make it easier on viewers who are uneasy about people bursting into song at the drop of a hat? Is it to make it easier to cram in many different styles of songs? Is it because there's no business like show business (oops, I mean That's Entertainment of course) and it's fun to sing about? I think at least that many reasons, probably more.) There is a crazy broadway producer (I can't think of a movie I've seen where the producer/director is presented as anything other than an absolute lunatic. Twentieth Century, I'm thinking especially of you...), there are montages, rehearsals, taking it on the road, lots of color, lots of costumes, lots of singing, lots of dancing!

I think one of the things I like best about this one is that Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) starts out as a faded movie star hoping for a comeback -- he's got a lot to prove, which means he's actually vulnerable. One of the early scenes that I found funny yet touching was when he's so worried about dancing with the glamorous Gabrielle Gerard -- he's too old, she's too tall, their styles don't mesh, fuss, fuss, fuss. Of course she thinks that he doesn't have any respect for her kind of dancing, that he thinks she isn't good enough, fuss, fuss, fuss. I know it's corny, but this little bit of dialogue when she was rushing to explain that she did like his work (while inadvertently insulting him right where it hurts) cracks me up: "heard of you? I used to see all your pictures when I was a little girl! I'm still a fan -- I recently went to see a revival at the museum." (all of this while he's surreptitiously trying to measure if she's taller than he is.) Ha! So cheesy, but so funny. I think what makes this pairing work in my mind (rather than the sketchy one in Silk Stockings, or even the Don/ Hannah relationship in Easter Parade) is that they both need and help each other; they are more or less equals. It's not a case of him lifting her out of the gutter and making her over into his dancing dolly. Separately, they're each talented, but together they're fantastic. They are better together than apart.

So, I guess that brings my unnatural Fred Astaire grudge to an end. (I won't be watching Silk Stockings again anytime soon, though.) There are still many, many musicals I have yet to see, so if anyone has any particular recommendations, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

(Relatedly, The Sartorialist recently concluded a Fred Astaire vs. Cary Grant Style Battle series, with experts on both sides weighing in. It's a lot of fun -- passions run high! The link above should take you to the first post.)

august appropriate

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Thursday, August 09, 2007
Port Orford Yellow (with dandelions)

Fun Fact: Charles Simic has been named Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress!

Fact Devoid of Fun and Almost All Interest: while I was looking for a photo to put with this post, I found this fire hydrant picture which I was going to REJECT (as dandelions themselves to illustrate a poem about dandelions seemed a little on the nose in this instance) but then I noticed that I uploaded it to flickr on August 9th exactly two years ago, so I acquiesced to coincidence.


We were fabulously lucky.
We became dandelions.
Before we were even born
We kept wishing to be dandelions.
Next we found ourselves traveling
Out of the great unknown.
We rode down in a train
Sixteen coaches long,
We sat prim and proper
In our golden yellow dresses.
Others came as black widows,
Little monkeys, and red birds,
And of course many ants,
Snuggled together and looking glum.

Charles Simic
from Hotel Insomnia

gnome directed weekend project

| On
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Over this past weekend my sister had the brilliant idea that we should do something (beyond endlessly bitching) about the miserable upholstery on these Heywood Wakefield chairs. I love the set itself, but it was covered in dreadful 80's plaid fabric that was starting to give me eyeball seizures. EYEBALL SEIZURES. Clearly, measures had to be taken immediately! We set upon this task with the determination of people avoiding other projects, even though it meant walking backwards through the Not Yet Two Weeks Old and Therefore Full of Crazy People Ikea to get to the fabric department. We had measurements, but no real zeal for figuring out exactly how much we needed. Educated/wild-ass guesses were made. ("why not six yards?" "why not!")

here are some photos to document the project. (which, astonishingly, is FINISHED.)

that plaid fabric is so hideous!
Here's the nasty old fabric with the original groovy 40's fabric underneath. Photos really don't do it justice. You might be thinking that's not so bad... but trust me. It was! There was no salvaging the original fabric. Only two of the eight cushions had it to start, and it was pretty well coming apart. We took off the hideous plaid husk and left the bark cloth, but wrapped it up in batting before putting the new fabric on.

6 yards, 8 cushions
I liked this fabric because I thought the black would look good and loved that it looked nothing like the previous fabric. (bonus: it sort of looks like poppies and giant squid having a decorative battle.)

I said NO PLAID!!!
Busby helped, as is his habit. This is his contribution to the whip stitch.

you can have it when I'm done
I'll move when I feel like it.

happy birthday or ELSE
The gnome candle kept us on task under constant threat of a cudgel beating. (actually, the gnome is unrelated to this project, but was on my camera. I believe he is part of a musical set -- he's the conductor for the Gnome Orchestra from HELL.)

fabric left over
six yards was a good guess! this is how much fabric was left over.

ta-da! Not perfect, but so much better than before!

practicing acrobatics
Dash demonstrated immediately how much better the new fabric is for showing orange cat hair. (What is up with his legs? doesn't he look like he's put together backwards, like some mad-scientist experiment gone awry?)

testing my patience

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Monday, August 06, 2007
I have finally completed the test portion of The Job Application. Of 551 applicants, 60 were randomly selected to take the test. I got to take mine (with 9 other people) this morning. I should get my scores in a week or two. The people who score highest on the test will then go through an interviewing process, and if one manages to get that far and references check out, a position is offered.

I know that patience is a virtue and it does me absolutely no good to get in a twitter about the typing section, of all things... but I am a nervous mess nonetheless. I was the second person to finish which worries me! did I miss something that all those other people (but one) caught? ... my brain will race around like this for at least two hours. My hope is that it will all shake out shortly and I can go back to Cautious Optimism because it's nicer there than it is here in Pointless Worry.

I, for one, welcome our August overlords

| On
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Well hello, August! A month ago at the start of July I was wishing and hoping for some fun and I am pleased to report that it totally worked! My July was full of fun. Don't get me wrong -- there were challenges; some ongoing, some taking the express elevator from Fresh Hell, but you know, c'est la vie. They were tolerable, especially when cushioned by fun. I'm so lucky! Consider this list of fun events: contest-won Chris Isaak tickets, free Roller Derby VIP seats (truly, the only way to go), free Blues Festival passes courtesy of someone I don't know very well, Pink Martini tickets (also free because they were a birthday present.), ETC. And that's just Event Fun! So for August I'd like to continue the fun and add a serving of forward motion on things that have been idling for the past many months.

I've decided that any incremental improvements are to be celebrated -- it's either that or go completely insane. I had a small but salient realization today: I might as well be optimistic because I'm always secretly hoping for the best anyway. So why not enjoy thinking IT COULD HAPPEN instead of preemptively torturing myself with all the reasons it might not? (preemptive self-torture is a particular specialty of mine. A wise friend once told me "your protective coating has spikes on the inside!" which I thought was ridiculous until I realized it was true.) I mean, I'll be disappointed if what I'm hoping for doesn't happen in any event -- preparing myself for the worst only makes me think about The Worst that much more. (The Worst is never far from my mind, for despite being an optimist I have an overactive, often alarmist imagination.) Nothing ever goes as fast as I think it should, which is weird because I always think of myself as inherently cautious. Anyway, I'm ever endeavoring to enjoy the right now of it all. I'm not saying I will be successful, I'm just saying I will try.

One of the most exciting things I'm practicing my new philosophy on is a job I applied for about six weeks ago. It's a county position, so the bureaucracy involved is 1000x our normal earth bureaucracy -- but it ties in directly with some of my longer term goals so it seems worth it. And I am making incremental progress! 2 weeks after initially applying I got an email telling me that I "Meet Minimum Requirements." (effusive with praise, these govt. types. ) Just yesterday, the last day of wonderful July, I got a letter in the mail saying I had successfully passed through one more flaming hoop: I meet minimum requirements AND was selected in a random lottery to progress to the next level of the application process. Woo Hoo! Next step: stick my head in a lion's mouth. Updates as warranted.

And now, some links for the start of August:

Something to look at: If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger is an outstanding photo blog. I just came across it a couple of weeks ago and have quite enjoyed poking around and discovering amazing images of things I didn't even know I wanted to see! (film stills, ephemera, culture)

Good Songs For Summer: It's tricky business recommending anything because god knows everyone will insist on having their own opinion (even when they are WRONG!) but... where was I? Oh, right. I have been listening to (among other things) The Man Who Invented Soul box set by Sam Cooke and M. Ward's Transistor Radio. I know they sound good other times of the year, but they sound REALLY good when it's hot outside and I have a cold drink in my hand. Bonus: they somehow magically drain away the urge to beat wrongheaded people over the head with a flip-flop. If the random urge to beat people with flip-flops is a problem in your life, I recommend that you give these records a try.

Change Is a Blessing Dept.: This post by Jennifer Crusie really resonated with me. Her life is changing in big and exciting ways, and she articulates that wonderful feeling when you realize not only is everything going to be different, but everything is going to be fine. (even if it is a chaotic mess -- it will be fine!) For someone (like me) who desires but fears change, it was reassuring.

(lovely lazy susan quilted wheel of fortune image from : Turtle Moon.)