Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sugar Sphinx

Artist Kara Walker Draws Us Into Bitter History With Something Sweet

Kara Walker was barely out of art school when she won a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, in 1997. Back then, her early work shocked audiences in part because her murals looked so charming from a distance. Black paper shadow portraits of colonial figures seemed to dance on white gallery walls; but lean in and you'd find your nose pressed up against images of slavery's horrors — mammies, masters, lynchings and sexual violence.

In other words, Walker is used to filling a room. But this spring she was asked to fill a warehouse — the abandoned Domino Sugar factory in New York. It's about to be leveled to make way for condos and offices, but before it goes, Walker was asked to use this cavernous, urban ruin for something special.

Walker took me on a tour of the show a day before it opened. The factory is covered in sugar — it almost looks like insulation or burned cotton candy.

"It's a little bit sticky in some areas ..." she said. "There's sugar caked up in the rafters."

I was so busy trying not to get molasses on my shoes that when I turned the corner, I was stunned. There in the middle of this dark hall was a bright, white sphinx. The effect is the opposite of those white-walled galleries; a dark space and a towering white sculpture made of — what else? — sugar.

"What we're seeing, for lack of a better term, is the head of a woman who has very African, black features," Walker explained. "She sits somewhere in between the kind of mammy figure of old and something a little bit more recognizable — recognizably human. ... [She has] very full lips; high cheekbones; eyes that have no eyes, [that] seem to be either looking out or closed; and a kerchief on her head. She's positioned with her arms flat out across the ground and large breasts that are staring at you."

Walker has dreamed up a "subtlety" — that's what sugar sculptures were called in medieval times. They were a luxury confectioners created for special occasions.

To understand where all this is going, you need look no further than Walker's teasingly long title for the show: "A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant."

I know, it's a mouthful. But Walker has this wide smile and as she sweeps her hands around in broad gestures, white tides of sugar dust ripple at the edge of her feet — and she sells it.

"It was very fun and childlike to, you know, have your hands in a bucket full of sugar, or a 50-pound bag of sugar, throwing it out onto the floor," she says.

She's doing what she does best: drawing you in with something sweet, something almost charming, before you realize you've admired something disturbing. In this case, that's the horror-riddled Caribbean slave trade that helped fuel the industrial gains of the 18th and 19th centuries; a slave trade built to profit from an insatiable Western market for refined sugar treats and rum.

"Basically, it was blood sugar," Walker says. "Like we talk about blood diamonds today, there were pamphlets saying this sugar has blood on its hands."

She explains that to make the sugar, the cane had to be fed into large mills by hand. It was a dangerous process: Slaves lost hands, arms, limbs and lives.

"I've been kind of back and forth with my reverence for sugar," Walker says. "Like, how we're all kind of invested in its production without really realizing just what goes into it; how much chemistry goes into extracting whiteness from the sugar cane."

Walker went down a rabbit hole of sugar history, at one point stumbling on some black figurines online — the type of racial tchotchkes that turn up in a sea of mammy cookie jars. They were ceramic, brown-skinned boys carrying baskets. Those were the size of dolls, but Walker's are 5 feet high, some made entirely of molasses-colored candy. Fifteen of them are posed throughout the factory floor, leading the way to her sugar sphinx.

The boys are cute and apple-cheeked, but they're also kind of scary — some of the melted candy looks a lot like blood.

"I knew that the candy ones wouldn't last," Walker says. "That was part of the point was that they were going to be in this non-climate-controlled space, slowly melting away and disintegrating. But what's happened is we lost two of these guys in the last two days or so."

Losing those figures in service of the sugar is the slave trade in a nutshell.

"Also in a nutshell," Walker says, "and maybe a little bit hammer-over-the-head, is that some of the pieces of the broken boys I threw into the baskets of the unbroken boys."

OK, that's not so subtle, but it's also not unusual for Kara Walker. She's dressed in a shiny, oversize baseball jacket emblazoned with the gold face of King Tut on it. I ask her if at a certain point she worries about doing work that is seen as being just about race.

"I don't really see it as just about race," she says. "I mean, I think that my work is about trying to get a grasp on history. I mean, I guess it's just kind of a trap, in a way, that I decided to set my foot into early on, which is the trap of race — to say that it's about race when it's kind of about this larger concern about being."

I tell her it's almost impossible to talk about our history without talking about race. She replies: "There [are] scholarly conversations about race and then there's the kind of meaty, unresolved, mucky blood lust of talking about race where I always feel like the conversation is inconclusive."

Inconclusive, but for artist Kara Walker, ongoing.

BLOGGER'S BLAH BLAH BLAH. When I first read about this today, I was astonished. It was the most innovative thing I'd seen in years, gorgeous in a scary, monumental way. It's Mammy as Ramses, as Isis, as Mount Rushmore carving, as the Venus of Willendorf with a scarf tied around her head. She's Goliath, she's Gulliver, she's everything God-sized and oversized and improbable. Everything about it, from the jutting fertility-symbol breasts to the enormous rounded butt thrust up either as an offering or a giant ass-up fuck you, to the face that is Sphynxlike and  impossible to read, is provocative and even thrilling.

But I always have a strange stab when I see art like this. I truly think, whether this is irrational or not, if I had been able to get a career like this going when I was that young, if I had had that much acclaim and affirmation, recognition of my talent, opportunities even, my life would have been totally different. Happier? Hell, it would've been ecstatic, and the problems I've had - oh God, let's not get into the problems I've had - never would have happened at all, because I would have been an Artist.

Logic tries to scream at me that women artists, in particular, can be self-destructive and even suicidal, that no amount of acclaim or even love is ever enough. And I don't believe it, because in the core of my doomed little brain I think success solves everything. I just feel that way, I am convinced.

But that's a mere sideline. This was a headspinning project that must have been built to scale by a huge team of people, and I am not sure how all that sparkling white sugar was layered on. I know there are other articles about this astonishing display, but right now I'm tired and I don't want to read any more. My own life is mystifying, not very productive it seems, and I'm not expressing anything of note. But maybe I should take heart in the fact that at least somebody is.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Don't give me none of that lip: the freaky demise of the Hapsburg Dynasty

If this guy looks freaky enough to scare the Elephant Man, that's because he is.

He represents one of the biggest genetic train wrecks in human history.

How do I get on to these things, for heaven's sake? I saw a photo of Queen Elizabeth II on the cover of Macleans, a national newsmagazine in Canada. She's on her semi-regular Royal Tour, causing very elderly ladies wearing hats with veils to totter out to the edge of the sidewalk while Liz does her indolent royal wave.

All these people, these royals, and I mean royals all over the damn world, are interrelated. It's scary, but they were bred like horses back then, bred for stamina and aggression and militancy and all those desirable traits.

What stunned me, in looking at the rather hideous cover pic of the Queen in her typical mauve polyester suit and gigantic frothy hat, was how much she is starting to look like her husband, Prince Phillip.

It's bad enough that Prince Charles now displays all the worst attributes of both his parents: long horsey face, thin sharp nose, bad teeth, and eyes set too close together. And worse somehow, that William and Harry, who used to have so much glamour and seemed to have broken the family curse for ugliness, are already starting to look too royal for comfort. Even Harry, long rumoured to be the offspring of Diana's illicit affair with her riding instructor, has the long razor nose, the close-set eyes and the vulpine Windsor smile.

OK then, this is a very long way around my topic. In googling around to get more info on royal intermarriage, I struck pay dirt: an article in a New Zealand newspaper called "The inbreeding that ruined the Hapsburgs".

"The Hapsburg dynasty (more correctly spelled Habsburg, but that's too hard to pronounce) was one of the most important and influential royal families in Europe dating back more than 500 years and producing rulers in Austria, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands and the German Empire."

These people might as well have all lived in one country. They were their own brothers and sisters. Generation upon generation of harrowingly close genetic unions gradually produced a host of medical problems, but since nobody knew what the fuck was going on, the political alliances based on blood continued, until. . .

Until Charles II of Spain, a monstrous bundle of mistakes who limped through a short life, unable to reproduce because he didn't know one end from the other. Fortunately, he was the end of the line for the Hapsburgs in Spain.

This guy lived around 1700, when every malformation was seen as demonic. And boy, was this guy demonic. Even royal portaits like the one above (and remember that these portraits had to be flattering, or the artist would literally lose his head) revealed a freakish person with a huge head, jutting jaw, small insectoid eyes, and what became known in history as the "Hapsburg lip".

This has nothing to do with back-sass, or even lips, but the extreme forward set of the jaw, so extreme in poor Charlie's case that he could barely talk and couldn't chew his food. It went well beyond the typical Hapsburg "power pout" which until that point was seen as a mark of distinction (sort of). His development was so retarded that he couldn't speak until he was four, couldn't walk until age 8, and remained what was then called an imbecile, barely aware of his surroundings. He was kept in a sort of pupa for a few decades in the feverish hope that he would produce an heir. The relentless and horrific centuries-long mass of genetic deformities finally collapsed like a row of dominoes. Charles turned out to be the last of the Spanish line.

Scientists have tried to figure out his "inbreeding coefficient" and all that jazz, but suffice it to say it was ten times normal. Like the song says, he was his own grandpa:

"Charles' father, Philip IV, was the uncle of his mother, Mariana of Austria; his great-grandfather, Philip II, was also the uncle of his great-grandmother, Anna of Austria; and his grandmother, Maria Anna of Austria, was simultaneously his aunt."


It would have benefited the poisoned gene pool of this dynasty to introduce the blood of some commoners, but they wouldn't have it. Convinced that interbreeding was the road to greatness, they manipulated alliances between uncles and nieces and cousins and half-siblings  (who must've started reproducing at 12), ignoring the fact that all these folk were beginning to look mighty peculiar.Not to mention similar.

Jay Leno had nothing on them. One of Charles' ancestors, Leopold I,  was nicknamed Hogmouth. They were ugly. I mean uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-gly.

All this is odd, when you think about it. Through most of human history, people lived in little villages and never went anywhere. Inbreeding was a certainty, so why didn't the race die out like poor, impotent, imbecilic, drooling Charlie?

Is this the real reason why famous explorers struck out, going to ludicrous extremes and taking risks that only a madman would take?

I have often wondered if the explorers we know about, Cortez and Champlain and all dem guys, only represent the tip of the iceberg, the more-or-less successful ones who then established colonies in the New World. How many tried and failed, and never made it into the history books?

Lots, probably. But something in their genetic code was saying, "Get out, get out! Get OUT of here before you end up with a chin you can set your coffee cup on."

Genealogy and mitochondrial DNA testing is all the rage now, with people anxious to find out they're related to Ben Franklin and Joan of Arc and such. Nobody wants Joe Blow the average schlub as the patriarch of their lineage, but in most cases it's probably true.

We can rest easy, however, in that none of us is related to Charles II, whose DNA coils were as damaged as a Slinky that's been run over by a Mack truck.

NOTE. This is a summer repeat, cuzzadafact I don't feel like writing today - hey, summer's half over and I want to go buy some watermelon. I've also added a lot more illustrations: my blog was limited when I began, or perhaps ***I*** was, and didn't know how to manage photos. But this is a topic worth revisiting for its extreme icky-squicky factor. What's so astonishing is the ignorance of the people involved, the way they kept on relentlessly boinking their ever-closer relatives and producing children ever-more-ugly-and-enfeebled. Finally the problem solved itself when the last of the male line collapsed in a heap of genetic mistakes.

Fun stuff for a summer's day. Eh?

And here's a bonus, gleaned from some-site-or-other, one of those Really Pompous Historical Ones:

"Charles II is known in Spanish history as El Hechizado ("The Bewitched") from the popular belief - to which Charles himself subscribed - that his physical and mental disabilities were caused by "sorcery" rather than the much more likely cause: centuries of inbreeding within the Habsburg dynasty (in which first cousin and uncle/niece matches were commonly used to preserve a prosperous family's hold on its multifarious territories). Charles' own immediate pedigree was exceptionally populated with nieces giving birth to children of their uncles: Charles' mother was niece of Charles' father, being daughter of Maria Anna of Spain (1606-46) and Emperor Ferdinand III. Thus, Empress Maria Anna was simultaneously his aunt and grandmother."

"Still, the king was exorcised, and the exorcists of the kingdom were called upon to put straight questions to the devils they cast out. His great-great-great grandmother, Joanna the Mad, mother of the Spanish King Charles I who was also Holy Roman Emperor Charles V - became completely insane early in life; the fear of a taint of insanity ran through the Habsburgs. Charles descended from Joanna a total of 14 times - twice as a great-great-great grandson, and 12 times further..."

"Towards the end of his life Charles became increasingly hypersensitive and strange, at one point demanding that the bodies of his family be exhumed so he could look upon the corpses. He reportedly wept upon viewing the body of his first wife, Marie Louise."

(I'd cry too.)

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Requiem for a little bird

I vaguely remembered this song from my childhood: though we weren't exactly the Von Trapps, we were given to singing in harmony, even in round, and I may  have taken the soprano part (though I doubt it). Then the whole thing was tossed to the back of my brain, to the point that I began to think I had imagined it. For decades, it just didn't come up.

What shook it loose? Uhhhh. . . my bird got sick. That's right. I was ridiculed on someone else's blog  just for having a bird, and a large picture of me was posted with Jasper on my shoulder: anyone who has birds must be nuts, some crackpot old lady half out of her mind.

I'm not. But to get back to the original point, we did some painting upstairs (in my office, in fact: it's now a lovely soft blue with a touch of dove-grey) and my bird got sick. We tried everything to keep him away from possible fumes. It may not have been the paint at all. He has something wrong with the toe on his left foot, and has partially lost his grip. Did he take a fall? For whatever reason, he was puffed up, ruffly and almost unresponsive, and we feared the worst.

When I picked him up (for he no longer had the energy to just hop into my hand as usual), he snuggled down in my palm as if in a nest and buried his head in my hand. Not normal behaviour, at all. It was then that the song began to play in my head. After more than 50 years, my sick birdie pushed "play".

Ah, poor bird. Take thy flight. For some reason I remembered my brother Arthur singing it. It was one of those songs that came from who-knows-where: nobody wrote it, apparently. It just "was". On doing a bit of digging, however, I discover that the roots of it may well be Elizabethan. No doubt it sounded different hundreds of years ago and there were/are many versions, but this is the one I kept finding on YouTube.

This was the only decent version I uncovered.  It's an amateur group, but they're definitely singers. It's touching, if not perfect: meaning, it's music. I like the way they sing it more than once, the way they work on it and discuss it and let it evolve. The process is everything (and I particularly like their obvious joy in singing).

Most of the videos I found were of Godawful children's choruses singing wildly off-key. It's a children's song, apparently, like Frere Jacques. . . buthey, do you hear a sort of similarity? Flip Frere Jacques into a minor key, and there you have it. With only a few changes, we have the original Ah Poor Bird, stolen by who-knows-who.

Way leads on to way. The next association was with Gustav Mahler and his - what, second symphony? We played Mahler recordings endlessly when I was a child (along with every other classical composer, up to and including Kurt Weill and Alban Berg). One day the slow movement of this symphony was playing, and my older brother Walt said, "Listen to this. It's Frere Jacques." "No it isn't." "Yes it is.  It's just in a minor key." "What's that?" "You know. The sad key." I was probably eight years old, but it somehow stuck. 

I found a recording of the Mahler piece and will post it next, along with some revelations about the composer and Leonard Bernstein, then deemed the go-to guy for interpreting Mahler symphonies.  It's funny how finding one video, or remembering one bit of tune due to a sick bird, can open out memory telescopically, or rather, kaleidoscopically. 

By the way, my bird suddenly recovered and is now hopping into my hand, devouring millet and humping his plastic toys with his usual elan.

POST-BLOG THOUGHTS. This is a repeat of a piece I wrote over two years ago.  Last night Jasper died. He was nine years old and had been doing poorly for a while, but we kept hoping he'd bounce back like he did last time, the only other time in his life he had been sick. I had been preparing for a while, though I know that sounds strange. Everyone copes in a different way. Bill cried and cried, but he's a cryer much more than I am, except for sudden torrential floods of sobbing that come upon me suddenly, triggered by the flat-out tragedy of a deteriorating, perhaps even plummeting world, and my uncertain, maybe even impossible place in it.

I had something ready for him, a little Twining's tea box that had held mint tea bags. It was quite pretty and mint-scented and the perfect size. We buried him with two of his favorite toys, and I made him a little stone with his initial on it. Found a small branch of heather in the front yard with little white flowers on it, an earthy, durable sprig that somehow seemed appropriate. 

I have this cage to scrub out now, and - .  But not today. I know it will get harder the longer I leave it. I slept lousy last night, just lousy, and have that raw bagged wired feeling that will last a couple of days. I tip easily. Oh so easily, which is why I stand my ground so fervently when I can. Where others have wooden beams or even stone, I have eggshell. If that.

Jasper came into my life when I badly needed something to take care of. He was so little that he'd do that baby bird thing, quiver his wings and look up at me, all but opening his beak to be fed. He bonded with me quickly, for he had to: I was survival for him. There were disadvantages to a bird, mostly the incredible mess he could spew. He didn't just go splat. His shit was shot out of a tiny cannon and could fly horizontally more than half a foot. Dried, it was like cement, but wet it was even worse,and it stained. The other disadvantage was the racket, sometimes so shrill I could hardly stand it. 

At the end he kind of lost his will. He wasn't climbing up on Bill's glasses any more (a behaviour he never practiced with me, though he often preened my hair at the back). I knew he was going. I began to wonder if there was music I could listen to, to help this along. I immediately thought of Ah Poor Bird, the lovely sad round that doesn't show up much on YouTube. Then I thought of the Mahler version, a sort of Frere Jacques in a minor key that is also meant to represent the funeral procession of a hunter, with all the animals walking in a single file behind the casket. Not bloody likely, but it makes a lovely mournful tune. Then I thought, to hell with that, I'll find something else. But today I find I want to hear the Mahler. 

Ah poor bird, take thy flight. In the end he was fragile, but then he always was, like a little bright brooch you'd wear over your heart. My dread of seeing him dead was unfounded. He lay relaxed on his back, his feet curled around an invisible perch, his yellow breast exposed like a drop of sun. He was okay, this Jasper. This Jasper helped me through a time in my life when it looked like I might commit suicide from despair, when everything I had depended on in myself, all my recovery so carefully nurtured and worked on for fifteen years, just fell out from under my feet. I wanted to say, to cry like a thwarted, lied-to child, "But you PROMISED!" You promised that if I stayed sober, did all the things I was supposed to do, worked really hard on myself and all my issues, that I would stay well, that I would never again be swallowed by a hospital and be poked at with sharp sticks.

They were wrong.

But I had this bird, this tiny fragile thing that was somehow feisty. I had him a long time. Did things get better? Better, worse, up, down, sideways. Many losses, many disappointments, some agonizing near-accomplishments that as usual were jerked away just as they brushed my fingertips.

But my mood grows dark. Can't tell you why, maybe it's because my bird died and I seem to be doomed to carry on.

Don't ask why.

I guess I will always be this sixties brat. Except that now I AM sixty, a fact which makes my head spin around. And it's strange that I wasn't a Doors fan then - not much, except that you'd have to be dead not to respond to Light My Fire and the even more hypnotic/seductive Hello I Love You. Morrison just seemed too pretty somehow, and besides, I had my Dylan, whose poetry blew Morrison out of the water. Well, maybe.

Dylan at least had the divine or mortal gift of longevity, didn't fall prey to that awful "27 curse" that even reached into the '90s and beyond with Winehouse and Cobain. I think anyone trying to be a poet while Dylan was on the same earth must have been intimidated and automatically suffered by comparison. So I didn't do the Doors particularly. But when I saw a recent PBS documentary called When You'rs Strange (narrated, wonderfully, by Johnny Depp, a Doors sort of person), I began to dig it, man. Really dig it.

I dug, most of all, or was impressed by, their prodigious outpouring, flood really, of hits, most of real quality and substance. I mean, Riders on the Storm! Touch Me Baby! I was astonished and impressed a few years ago to find out they'd covered Kurt Weill's Alabama Song, an unheard-of choice for a '60s rock group. I knew the song better than most, for it was blasted at me - embarrassingly - on the stereo after school, while I tried to sneak my bewildered friends past all that racket and upstairs to my bedroom so we could listen to Freddie and the Dreamers.

I had a weird upbringing. I am grateful for some of it. I was much, much younger than the eldest child. My sister, it now seems to me, got out of that house like a bat out of hell at the first opportunity and lived in Europe for several years. Munich. She spoke fluent German, did her Masters thesis in German, for reasons that are still not clear to anyone. For you see, nobody is remotely German in our family. You'd have to go back to the Vikings or something, or old pre-Chaucer English with all its guttural sounds.

Anyway, our den, where the TV was so we spent a lot of time there, was lined with books. Books books books books books. My books weren't anywhere to be seen, as they were safely stashed upstairs in my bedroom. But the books, well, I don't know how some of them got there. It was a junkyard, a repository of high culture and slightly tawdry randomness.

I just remember covers. There was a novel called I Should have Kissed her More with a picture of a smarmy-looking older gentleman. There was A Rage to Live by John O'Hara (with passages in it that fascinated me, though I can't say I understood what a "climax" was). There was Don't Get Perconal with a Chicken, a collection of cutely-misspelled writings by children, and Ted Malone's Scrapbook, a book of lamely sentimental poetry designed to be read on the radio. 

Though I thought I imagined it, I just proved to myself that there really was an outright-racy book by Mordecai Richler called, wait for it, Cocksure. Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Laurence, looked promising, though I'll be damned if I could find the dirty parts. A red-leather-bound, fat, falling-apart old book of local history called Romantic Kent had a few flaky old wax-covered pressed leaves stashed in it.

And there were innumerable books in German: Goethes Werke, Schiller Werke, and the complete works of Sigmund Freud. IN GERMAN. 

I just made a connection this second, something that seemed puzzling before, how I always "diss" Germans in a way that is supposed to be humorous, but is in fact kind of mean. My sister posed as a German, wrote her Master's thesis IN German, and as a matter of fact, it was all about The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. 

With its famous song. Not hummable, but famous: the Alabama Song.

Show me the way to the next whisky bar
Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
Show me the way to the next whisky bar
Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
For if we don't find the next whisky bar
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die
I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must die

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say say good-bye
We've lost our good old mamma
And must have whisky
Oh, you know why.

Show me the way to the next pretty girl
Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
Show me the way to the next pretty girl
Oh don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
For if we don't find the next pretty girl
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die
I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must die

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say good-bye
We've lost our good old mamma
And must have a girl
Oh, you know why.

Show me the way to the next little dollar
Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
Show me the way to the next little dollar
Oh, don't ask why, oh, don't ask why
For if we don't find the next little dollar
I tell you we must die
I tell you we must die
I tell you
I tell you
I tell you we must die

Oh, moon of Alabama
We now must say good-bye
We've lost our good old mamma
And must have dollars
Oh, you know why.

Bertolt Brecht

And it was the soundtrack to this, with Lotte Lenya endlessly wailing in her testosteronic baritone voice, that I tried to hustle my friends past, the endless dark sinister and really life-hating, dystopic, anhedonic sounds of Alabama Song: please show us the way to the next whiskey bar. Oh don't ask why. Oh don't ask why.

I could get into how it was with my sister, that is, when she was actually around. She was a thwarted singer who, when she sang at all, sang very morbid folk songs about rotting horses and death. Her exposure of me to her "friends" was such a disaster that I honestly wonder if I will ever be able to deal with it. But nothing was done because there was "nothing wrong" with what was happening, nothing wrong with an older sister inviting her pudgy, lonely, misfit 15-year-old sister to her parties. Oh don't ask why. 

And don't ask why the whiskey flowed so darkly, and why the men groped and shoved, and why I dared not speak. Why I threw up the next day with my mother pretending not to notice. And don't ask why I was the mascot, cutely topped up and topped up and encouraged and softened up and, I now see, groomed. Even my brother's best friend had a go at it while his wife slept in a room upstairs. But then, we were both so drunk it didn't count anyway.

So when I hear Moon of Alabama in Morrison's smoky, seductive, doomed voice, I see that he is singing the hell out of it as Lotte Lenye with all her strident Nazi bleating never could. Morrison is actually going to die. He was a Rider on the Storm, way out on the farthest edges of acceptability and even sanity. He is gone now, long gone, his molecules have come apart to the point that he no longer exists, not even in the farthest reaches of space. He's an idea now, a sound wave, a song interpretation. I continue, feeling forever strange, and yes, no one remembers my name. 

A few post- thoughts. As usual, it's far too late to be up, but here I am, up. It's been a hard day emotionally. I lost a long-term beloved pet,and now all I can hear is his sweet peeps when I pass his door. That room will always be "the bird room" to us, but with his huge cage moved out, it looks cavernous.

I edited this post because it got a little too honest about my sister, an emotional vacuum on legs who inflicts her bile on everyone by insisting it all originated with you. Bait and switch, or something. She's gone out of my life now, and the little I know about her suggests life in a sort of cave of isolation that she would vigorously justify and defend, unless she's gone completely off her nut. Which would be justice, since she expressed such contempt for mental illness in any form.

I still don't know why she pretended to be German - the connotations really are sort of creepy, now that I look at it, which maybe I haven't up to now. Why she travelled to the other side of the world like that, immersed herself in a language and culture she had no real affinity for. I don't remember any enthusiasm from her at all about Europe, she didn't even talk about it, except to say the men fucked better and had fewer hangups.

Oh, and her sex life. Yes, and. The descriptions were endless, the lovers all married, except for the 20-year-old guy, and then the descriptions were endlessly anatomical. Until she turned her back on the whole thing, and now anyone who even thinks of having sex is beneath contempt. It's damaging to be treated like that for so long, then to have it dumped back in your lap. My sister, if she's alive, has a very deep case of narcissistic personality disorder that has basically poisoned her life and done tremendous damage to anyone who ever cared about her. Her one big genius in life is twisting other people's emotions so bizarrely that they no longer know who or even where they are. Is this evil? I wonder about that. She eats her young without even thinking about it, casually, even with no need for it, just on a whim. If the absence of love isn't hate, then what is it? I think of those shadows on the cement in Hiroshima. A person who isn't there.

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press


When you're strange

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Oh no it couldn't be

(Two middle-aged women, overheard talking at Tim Hortons yesterday).

Oh well you know I can’t stay in the sun longer than

Well, aren’t you using sunscreen?

Isn’t it a little late for that, I mean

Oh my God, I’ll bet you were one of those people who baked in the sun.

I don’t bake in the sun any

Use sunscreen

By the way I got some news about, you know, all that trouble he's been having

Oh, tell me, what did they find?

Oh well, they didn’t exactly find anything

Whadda you mean? He went through every test that existed, didn’t he?

Yeah, and they kept not finding anything, and he was, you know, wanting to give up. And I said, I've been with you twenty years and I'm not about to give up yet.

Well, why don't you just have the tests done again? These machines, you know

Yeah, and that’s about all there is now. Machines. No real doctors.

Tell me about it. Doctors don’t do anything at all now except sit there and delegate.

Then you get to the hospital and your body is stuck in a big tube, or you have to get your insides reamed out


So they still don't have a clue what it is?

No, I told you! I got the news on (muffled)

News. What do you mean by news?

They think they do know what’s wrong with him.

So, what, tell me!




Yeah, see it’s

Oh NO. No, no, no, no, no. That’s what they all say now. It's the disease of the week.

Yeah, but he -

It’s just a way of pushing those pills. Maybe it’s his adrenal glands.

But he’s been so –

Everybody gets that way. Listen, I know what will help. Turmeric.

Turmeric? Isn’t that something that goes in a pie or something?

No, no. It’s a miracle substance. I’ve seen it happen again and again.

But I’ve tried everything like that. I mean, alternative stuff. He just sits there

Get him out! Just get him out more. Talk to him. Get him to be more positive.

This isn’t a matter of will. That’s what the doctor said.




They’re not witch doctors, you know.

They’re not? They’re funded by the pharmaceutical companies! You should know that. They’re nothing but pill-pushers.

But I don’t know what to do. He’s talking about killing (muffled)



(unintelligible; sounds of weeping)


But it’s true that (muffled)

No. Just get him out more. I mean, spiritually this might mean he’s trying to break out into the light.

LIGHT! He wants to jump off a bridge!

Keep your voice down! Everyone can hear you.

Yes. Everyone is uncomfortable about this.

Well, no wonder!

When he took a six-month leave at work, no one phoned.

(low voice, almost unintelligible) It's because people don’t know what to say. And when you're away that long, after a while they start to talk.

It’s like they just expect him to pull himself together.

Well, what else can he do? Just lie there? Take pills and turn into a zombie?

They don’t “turn you into a zombie”.

How do you know?

Well, I –

OH GOD! Don’t tell me YOU’VE been conned into this!

I couldn’t stand it any longer, he couldn’t work, he felt useless, he was around the house all the time talking about suicide and how much he hated himself. I couldn't sleep either and I

Listen, everybody’s depressed now. Next year it’ll be something else. And every time, there’s a drug for it.

What else can we do?

Well, maybe there’s a higher purpose in all this. You know, as if you’re about to break through to joy.

Is that what they told you at that retreat?

Don’t get sarcastic with me.

I wasn’t! Don’t you hear me?

Not if you take that line with me. Listen, if you expect any support at all, from anyone, you’re both going to have to stop the pity party.

But this isn’t self-pity.

Who told you that, the “doctor”?

I read it in a book called

Oh, for God’s sake, a BOOK?

Yes, a book. I wanted to find out if

That’s worse than pills!

But better than turmeric.

Oh, now you’re being sarcastic! Hey, don't forget I'm your best friend! Who else is ever going to listen to all this? 


Right, so don't talk to anyone else. And don't tell me anything more. It's better that way.

(One of the women gets up and storms out. After a while, the other woman leaves. It is obvious she has been crying.)