Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Oh, the jubilation!

My younger brother, a genius photographer, has just secured a new job that looks as though it will be congenial in the extreme for his personality and professional goals. Some of you know my brother personally. Others have heard stories about why I like him as much as I do (because in my family, I'll tell you, we don't much believe in automatically liking the people to whom we're related). He is exceptional. I am so pleased.

And I am so proud. That bears repeating: I am so proud. And did I mention lucky? That too.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oh, the impatience.

I might be too impatient to wait here at home for the water to boil to make my lunch, and this is how I go hours and hours without eating and days and days without eating well because the impatience is too great for me to keep up with the traces my living in a house leaves and so it becomes easier to abandon the house day after day, only coming home to sleep and then to drink coffee in the flannelled bed before getting up exactly 32 minutes before I'm due to be in the next place because that's how long it takes to shower and do all those things that stabilize the day before I run off to be three minutes late to whatever I'm going to, only this wasn't the case with photography today because all I was doing was developing yesterday's film (much of which was overexposed) and so now I am home for lunch, which I didn't think I'd have time for before the post office closes and yet I find myself wanting to get up and leave for the post office and for the officehouse where my people are and how am I supposed to feel good about leaving them next year and how am I supposed to feel besides impatient and how am I supposed to get anything done while I feel this way and what does it mean that I seem to want only to read books about beauty and start to want to write one and is this a sign that I should be reading Ruskin and if so should I and if so and when will that water be done boiling and was I ever serene I don't think I was but thank goodness the kitchen is clean and well-lighted and the pasta will boil and I will get up from the tympanic shudder of the porch's screen and will eat in warmth and then move again with increased fortitude and (d.v.) a grace in not-knowing, in remembering (for example) the fine flock that bloomed on yesterday's cold window.

* * *
The new snow is part of what does it, and the incessance of plowing though the streets are nearly clear. And in the past twelve hours I have read two poems I love: Ali (Stine) Davis and Geri Doran, I've never met you, but I'm so grateful. I too know about starry skies and silent birds. I too know about halving.

* * *
Being separated from this space: the nightmare of artists: nothing holding still long enough to be seen. Or not being able to locate, use, train your medium to enter that space and fix on a thing.... One hopes not only for transportation but accompaniment. Sad moment, when my friend said, "I'm not painting now, but it's ok (he is brave: it wasn't), I'm painting in my head."
       In the head? No. That won't do. I mean to be literal here. I mean the actual space between mind and work and how that slows, how that constitutes when one is at work, is working in the space. And I mean, too, the space art clears for us all--that place of density, interiority. I do not intend to be cozy. I do not intend to be abstract. I mean the actual space. I like, as Emerson said, the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary.
-- Lia Purpura, "On Sugar Eggs: A Reverie," from On Looking (2006)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Oh, the coldness.

After a morning and early afternoon impulsively spent cleaning up my kitchen (who knew it could be this way?), I set out again to take pictures of my county.
I was chiefly heading to take a picture of this corpse--which I thought was a squirrel's but now recognize (with some help from my friends) as a groundhog's. But I grew too absorbed in trying to create sequences of going-by barns, and when I pushed the shutter release with the camera aimed at this skin, the whole world grew stubborn. (Meaning, of course, that my thirty-six exposures were gone.)

Fortunately, I had heeded my own advice and carried both cameras with me on this outing. And so--after yet another fellow motorist stopped to ask whether I needed assistance, and then, upon learning that I was taking pictures, engaging me in conversation about photography and dead animals, before saying, "Well, I suppose I'd better let you get to it"--I got to it, with the digital camera, which I'd have pulled out anyway, just to be able to show you what I saw. That picture speaks a lot of what things feel like in mid-Ohio right now. And these, of a farm I pass and a road I take on the way to the grocery store (say, on a night when it's starting to snow and I realize that it would be a good thing to have food in the house after all these weeks) speak of some of the rest.

The very blueness of cold, for instance, if not also the burn.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Don't leave home without your camera.

It may well be that I'm in the process of geeking out--with photography, I mean. (I geeked out in other ways decades ago.)

You may recall that, back when I started taking pictures while driving, my father ordered me a window mount for my camera, in the hopes that it would keep me from doing stupid things. Today, I finally hooked it up--to my Nikon. You can picture it: there I went, rolling through Gambier, with my 35mm camera pointing out the driver's side of the car. I suppose I could have waited until I was on Zion Road, making my way into the countryside, to attach the camera to the window. And yet it was so cold this afternoon that my brain was slower than usual.

My first project for the photography class involves experimenting with shutter speed. Our task is to capture some blurred motion and some frozen motion. After sleeping on this task for several days, I realized that I've actually been preparing for this assignment all year: I just needed to try out the drive-by shooting with the film camera. The problem, of course, is that the little point-and-shoot is much lighter, much easier to swing around without diverting too much attention from the road. In fact, the 35mm--with no monitor and with that pesky problem of film's expense--is not at all a suitable camera for taking pictures while driving.


Unless one has a window mount and can set up exposure and shutter speed ahead of time and then just push the shutter release over one's shoulder as one drives along backroads. And in fact that's what I did. I had a bit of a glitch early on when I realized that the camera wasn't sure what to focus on. Shutting off the autofocus (which I'm using because I don't trust my eyesight) solved that particular problem.
The real kicker came when, after having used the last of my exposures, I turned a corner and faced this vista--only with the sun shining and chips of blue sky glinting.

And I had no way to document it. I hadn't carried a digital camera--or more film--with me. A quick run home to grab the other camera allowed me to get some semblance of what I'd seen, but I'm disappointed not to have gotten any pictures of the sun glinting off the ice coatings on the snowy hills one passes between this corner and Gambier. Instead, I shot snowy fields, the same ones I shot in April, when the cows were nursing their young and the grasses were greened.

Unfortunately, going home for the other camera and making this backroad pass again made me miss the weekend omelet cutoff at the coffeeshop.

I have now developed three rolls of film, including the one I shot from the car this afternoon. This week, I learn to make contact prints. My fingers start to smell sour like chemicals, though I can't name which ones just yet. I start planning more elaborate things for my projects.

In a closet not far from here, my afternoon's drive hangs to dry.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Aftermath, or what I knew later.

I heard a tree creak like a loosening board. I saw the snow crack like a ground sea all roiling. A deer ate in the bed until nothing was left. The trees dropped brown stains to the late-month melt. I felt my life breaking like a cold grove on fire.

Friday, January 26, 2007

How much this bird in my hand is worth.

A bird in the hand is a full-bodied heartbeat. So much a thrumming that you might not know whether you or the bird is more startled that you've just gotten your first lesson in how to hold a captive cardinal. She will not be captive for much longer; you have carried her out into the flurries to photograph and then release her. It's not until later--not until you scroll through the pictures, start showing them to others--that your eye will meet hers and start you wondering: how much the terror of having the whole body enclosed? how much the disdain for the grounded big body? how much the dull blank of inability to comprehend the quiet ssh sshing the inexperienced make to soothe? Your left and right hands will learn what they did together: the left a cradle and a keeper, the right a shooter and a seizer. Looking back over the pictures, you will remember that this bird was in hand for a long time before the moment of this image: the capture, the measuring, the bagging and weighing, the impromptu hand-off when more birds arrived in the nets. You will be glad to remember that this one took wing mere seconds after your shutter flew back.

A bird in the hand will bite, if he can. And little wonder. But what amazes you, as you hover behind the student researcher who invited you to come along and photograph, is the gentle swiftness of her touch, her dexterity and unflappable calm. The way she does everything she can to ease the trauma of capture and carrying. The way she does not complain when the bird beaks her again and again, even though her work began before dawn, even though you follow her everywhere with your cameras. The way she embodies, without effort, the best of the people who surround you: she has chosen good work, and she is doing it well, and she is happy to share, though sharing will not disrupt the intensity of her focus.

When you look at these pictures later, you will realize how much her hands resemble your own. You will have this confirmed when your own mother thinks that the hand in the pictures she has seen was your hand. "You have the same fingernails," she will say. You will already have experienced some difficulty, remembering who was holding which bird. Only the second student's hands will be immediately discernible as hers.

A bird that is not the right bird will stay in the hand only as long as it takes to unnet her.

Unusual suspects will, having blundered in to the net's pockets, remain stiller than still, awaiting release.

This bird in the hand will be the one who fully reveals to you that birds, like the rest of us, have different characters, different distinguishers. A darker brow. A taller crest. A bigger head. A slightly less quiet manner. By the time you hold this one, you will have become eager to take on more birds if necessary. You will have offered to carry this one outside for release, while your student measures and weighs and samples blood from more birds indoors. (You will, even as you type these words, continue to marvel at the straightforwardness of her work. You will start to think about how one might capture poems, watch them forage on the ground and then fall up and into a fine net. Or words. Perhaps biting words. Perhaps a dictionary is a net that stays.)

A bird in the hand will remind you that some things that seem like affection in fact just cause pain. When you watch this biggest of the ladies (as you too are coming to call them) biting your student again and again, as your student tries vainly to coax her to flap her wings for the camera, you will know what each bite feels like. Later, you will not be able to remember which bird it was who bit your middle finger. You will not even be able to remember whether it was a male or a female, though you will start to think that it must have been a male, and that you volunteered for that particular holding, too.

What you will remember best is your student's patience with this bird, who seems to know what the camera is there for--or perhaps to respond to her own reflection in its lens. What you will take home with you is a bite mark, a brag, all these handed birds.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Birds that bite, images that stay.

Tomorrow, I'll wing you some words. For now, I offer just image, random shots from my day's adventures, which were considerable indeed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Another world's bright lights.

A comet swings over the southern hemisphere, blazes out where the eye can see it.

Tonight I'm quiet, with so many things on hold, so many things up in the air, some of them quite important, some of them my own sad secrets. Tomorrow morning, a student will take me to see the mistnetting of birds. I will take their pictures, finishing out my second roll of film. Film. Loading my camera last week, I thought of how long it's been since I handled a roll of film. Summer 2001, my research trip abroad. Six rolls: an extravagance. That summer, I priced digital cameras in London, wishing I'd thought to ask my father to loan me his so that I could shoot the ephemeral: hairstyles, funny gestures, the smell of the city from the top of a double-decker bus. Graffiti. Shadows. The strange fadedness of my dormitories. My libraries, so beloved. But instead, I bought ISO 400 film and shot with care, as always. Now I straddle a funny line between film and digital: eight shots (out of thirty-six) fluttered away on my iced trees' second night. An outlandishness born of knowing that sometimes it takes me eight tries to get one thing I like, what with adjustments here, adjustments there, experiments, failures, accidents. Tomorrow afternoon, I learn to develop. "Don't wear anything nice," cautions our lovely professor. I have two professional commitments that require wearing nice things, just before class, and so I will be scrambling to get everything done in its time and in clothes most befitting.

It is possible to become sensitized to darkroom chemicals, to the point where one can't be around them at all. Some people, so sensitized, cannot even walk past a darkroom without suffering respiratory distress.

In hoping not to become such a person, I find myself emulsifying, imagine myself a photographic plate, silver-coated glass, wanting the light, wanting to turn to. A star-catcher, on the long exposure, standing so still in wait for blazes, for comet's catch. Glass distorts less than film, is more stable, reveals what has not been known. Despite fragility. No slight shine, no easy mirror.

source for tonight's image: Robert H. McNaught, via Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


It's strange--mystifying, really--that within twelve hours of finding out that I've been given a new, vast tract of one kind of freedom, I found myself musing yet again (ad nauseum, I suppose) on the ways in which that freedom occasionally comes to feel excessive. I think back to my excellent novelist friend's response to that empty fortune cookie, back in March: an empty fortune cookie means freedom. Keep refining your plans, says the horoscope on the weekend. Now I have a free pass: go be as fine as you can be. It's not even slightly that I wish away what I have generously received. I know I've received it for a reason, though I don't know precisely what that reason is, just yet.

But this is not the direction I saw coming, a few months ago. I felt the possibility of new roots, a new rootedness, a different kind of settling that would, for once, be no settling at all. A feathering, a fledging. And now I'm being called once more, possibly away from home this time, just when I'm starting to have a home again: these are different wings than I expected. But when you say, "Give me directions. I'll follow them," you're handing things over to other hands. And if what gets handed back to you is not what you felt coming, well, then, you haven't been paying attention to your own maxim all these years. Be careful what you wish for. It may come true in ways you don't expect.

On the other hand, maybe this sign means that I've started getting too comfortable. Maybe it's come this early in my research leave semester so that I have a maximal amount of time and space within which to take the hint: revise your life: clear out the underbrush: go back up the mountain. My beloved Brooklynite once wrote to me, "You've gone up the mountain for both of us." I wrote back, "You're tending the home fire." Someday, I wonder, will I go up the mountain and find a home fire burning there, waiting for me? How many more times will I fall for the false gleam, the light shining in the window for some other person, some other belief?

Today was the day I gave my students the news, the silver cloud and the dark lining: I may not be here; I will not teach some of you again before you leave us. The outpouring of congratulations and of sadness, all mixed up together, is still flooding back; we are tidal, they and I. One side swings; the other side returns. One side calls; the other side responds.

Tonight, at dinner, madcapitude: strange requests from students for whom days here are numbered, for whom fewer holds are being barred, for whom there's little to lose in asking the outrageous. "When's your birthday?" "Can we borrow your vest for a photo shoot?" The latter question, to my poet friend, so much more bold than the former, to me. And these, I thought as we watched one of the stranger performances I've seen in awhile, these are my familiarities. These are the dares at affection that tell me I'm home. Maybe the call to leave them behind for awhile is coming just in time. But why so counterintuitive?

And so, all day, I walk around with my eyes hollowed out, fatigue and worry lying low and liquid behind the bones of my face, those structures that tell who I am. Listen to your heart and your gut, says my flaming-sworded friend. Even if your heart leads you astray, your gut never will. When they speak together, listen. If you don't want to leave home, don't. But what will others think? I say. Who are these others? she responds. And all the while, my feelers are out anyway, and the plans that are in the making would be exceptional indeed. The foot-dragging: natural, surmountable. The worries are mostly just words, the worrisome things mostly the aftermaths of illusions anyway. And I am not ungrateful. I am a pillar of thankfulness today, just querulous despite myself.

I page around in Pascal--the Pensées apparently among the only books in the bookstore I don't yet own, and so my gift to myself last night--trying my fortunes again, too restless to make my own way, too suspended now in what this future should look like. And thence spring surprises:
It is not good to be too free.
It is not good to have all one needs.

When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which comes before and after--as the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day--the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this time and place allotted to me?

The heart has its ways of which reason knows nothing: we know this in countless ways.
         I say that it is natural for the heart to love the universal being or itself, according to its allegiance, and it hardens itself against either as it chooses. You have rejected one and kept the other. Is it reason that makes you love yourself?

I'm paying attention. I am. One of the people for whom I was named got wind, late in life, of what she would produce, and she laughed. The rebuke came, severally, and laughter I've always imagined as a little bit snide, in its disbelief, turned to joy. I've learned not to laugh. My eyes are open, and I'm trying to be patient, and I'm going to be brave about it. I am. But loving the universal being: sometimes harder than it sounds. Who put me here? What time and place are being allotted?

Monday, January 22, 2007

I thought I'd pull your gender leg.

Tonight's title is tangentially related to my day's biggest event; it's something funny my father said to me as a follow-up to his asking me whether it's proper for me (as a woman) to be called a Fellow, now that (drumroll) I've just found out that I won a fellowship about which I didn't expect to hear anything for a fairly good while. I love that my father knows that, as a literary critic, I have a gender leg. There's much more to say, and a big foundation that I will thank for the rest of my career, but the Cabinet isn't really the venue for it.

For now, look again at my trees' weirdness. These pictures are from last night's monster batch, and they are unretouched:

It's not often that I pose questions to you, but here's one: if you could go anywhere for a year's work, where would it be? I'm not pulling your leg (gender or otherwise) in asking. My life's not a democracy, but I'm gathering ideas.

And now, I tell you, the real maelstrom can start.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

When one least expects it.

Perhaps you might have planned to walk straight home from the office, do a quick writing, and then climb into bed with The Emperor's Children. But then.

Then there was all that ice coating the trees, and your shaky hands that wouldn't let you capture what you saw, and all the people you saw in the middle of town in the middle of the night, and then once you got to the house and tried again and again to shoot the weird quasitransparency of iced branch tracing lamplight, you remembered that the tripod was right there inside, and so you tried again while something else held the camera, and by the time you shot and shot and shot some more, your toes had gotten cold and wet because you hadn't planned to be standing in the snow at all this evening, and now that you've come in the house, you see that two hours have passed, while you took your hundred huge digital shots, plus the twelve mysteries in the 35mm.

But the picture-making computer now lives in the officehouse, in the interests of your no longer using it in bed, and so the picture you uploaded before leaving for home
(a non-snow interlude from the morning's snowshoot) will stand for now. And with only the briefest of greetings to those readers who found their way here this afternoon because of a particular Knox County landmark, you're off: back on the originally scheduled program of getting into bed with that book.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Just to break my own fall.

In July 2002, my South Carolinian friend broke up with Ben Affleck. As I listened to her narrate the reasons for her decision (suddenly, he'd become a marriage-breaker; that, she could not abide), I realized that I was being given a gift: mechanisms for both entering and exiting relationships that, for whatever reason, were taking place only in my own mind. Knowing these mechanisms doesn't make them any easier to deploy, of course, particularly if one possesses a delayed-reaction heart. (Perhaps we all have these? How could I ever know?) And so it was that I careened through the rest of that calendar year deeply engrossed in what could only be called an imaginary relationship, despite some trick appearances to the contrary.

But one day in February 2003, I woke up and realized: I needed to break up with him. He needed to be gone from my life. And so I did it. It was 63˚ that day, and so brilliantly sunny, and in the middle of the afternoon, I strode out to downtown Ithaca and bought myself some gerbera daisies. I felt physically light, actually buoyant. I have some pretty clear tendencies, see: I repeatedly fall, hard, for beautiful, brilliant people who can't or won't pay attention to me, and then I do everything I can to try to get them to pay attention to me. I think of it as a flair, a real gift, for the unrequited. Someone asked me, many months ago, about the last time I'd been romanced. And I couldn't come up with an answer. Even after I thought for days I couldn't come up with an answer. It's just not the way love--or anything like it--has ever worked in my life. Every time I do this number on myself, the effort to push through from going unseen to being seen weighs on me, at first little by little, and then lots by lots. And so getting to that breaking point, that moment when I realized that I had taken on something that I didn't deserve and couldn't want, and then shrugging off all that accumulated weight of slight--it all felt so lightening and lovely.

That night, at the venerable Glenwood Pines, a man waiting behind my friends and me said, "One of you smells wonderful." We looked at each other and cocked our eyebrows, trying to keep from laughing out loud at this hammy guy. But secretly, I was pretty sure it was me he smelled, and that what I was radiating was something like relief, and glory.

(Of course, it was later that night that the person I'd just dumped finally got around to asking me out (kind of), thereby reinforcing the wrong part of the lesson I'd just taught myself. Let's leave that aside for now.)

Over the intervening years, I've had a number of imaginary relationships--with a small college (not my current, I should add), with a famous novelist, with a sketch comedian. They've never been particularly serious or difficult to leave. When things are serious, possibly even life-changingly serious, it's harder to deploy the imaginary break-up. But it can be done.

This morning, I woke up to the sound of a car being pounded to death by fraternity brothers in a parking lot near my house; they worked on demolishing that car for the better part of the day. And then I looked up my horoscope. Now, I have a mostly joking relationship to horoscopes--far less serious a one than to bibliomancy, for instance, or to Signs in general--but I will still check them when they're around, and one shows up in my e-mail each morning. Today's (edited very slightly) reads:
It's frustrating to have a vision of what could be, only to have someone veto the whole enterprise. But what can you do? A lot more than you initially realized, it turns out. Keep refining your plans.
I thought I understood what this piece was saying, and it was perplexing to the point of real frustration. But suddenly, late in the day, I realized that I'd been reading it inside-out. When the right reading kicked in, I celebrated by putting on my Superhero necklace and going out for saag paneer with my excellent friends, at Mount Vernon's glorious new Indian restaurant. (I could just as easily have put on the silver Rebecca Haas necklace I usually wear. A few times since I bought it for myself as a birthday present last spring, my mother--knowing that my jewelry generally has some kind of significance--has asked me what that silver circle sitting over the pulse in my throat's hollow means. I haven't been able to respond adequately, much less eloquently, on any of these occasions. But here it is, as closely as I can get it: I'm wearing it for openness, generosity, wholeness, and clarity, without which four things I'm not anywhere.) (But tonight, I forewent serious meaning for the glitter of green facets. And while no one told me I smelled wonderful, my excellent friend did say, "You look so nice!" "Laundry night," I told her. I'm not one to tell an untruth.)

Lately, I've been listening to Regina Spektor. It's not often (or ever?) that I send you to YouTube from here, but tonight I will: try her out with "Samson" and "Fidelity," both of which have terrific videos (the latter, in particular, hearkens back to an earlier age of video narrative and joins my list of favorite happy-ending videos). It's "Fidelity" that I'm house-dancing to this evening. "Suppose I never ever saw you," Spektor sings in the second verse. "Suppose you never ever called. Suppose I kept on singing love songs, just to break my own fall." Well, suppose indeed. I'm keeping on with the singing. I've got this voice, see, and you'd better believe I'm refining my plans.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Work proceeds as a series of self-interruptions.
-- Elizabeth King, Attention's Loop (1999)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sear, sere seer.

The epitome of wintry mix, just the sort of day when it becomes difficult to remember that we are swinging sunward once more. What is this? we say after dinner, looking up, hands out. Look back, look toward the light: that's shimmer, fine glister, down-dusting: that's snow, even if it's only coming down to dampen the pavement. It's not that we're forgetting. It's that we're out of practice. Maybe snow will make it less grey outside, wishes a student. Brighten the place up a bit. Myself, I think we may be due for some severity.

Today's class revealed to me why I've been having such difficulty with focus: at speeds slower than 1/60 of a second, anyone alive is liable to suffer some degree of camera shake. Oh. So simple? So simple. Get a tripod. Props are allowed. In fact, props are going to be required. Can a window be a mask? Oh, yes, if I have anything to say about it. First up, dream images, and I wonder how creeped out can we get each other with these projects.

Walking from home to the officehouse, I notice branding where I've not seen it, naming this pole with its color but also marking it not-tree. And though I am so blasted short that I can't get it head-on, and though what light there was today is fading, I try this exposure mess again, and it's not as bad as it has been. Strange how much of my frustration has stemmed, yet again, from expectations that all would be smooth, simple, that I could make a seamless transition, graduate painlessly to the next happy thing. Strange how long it takes me to recognize this pattern, familiar though it is.

Days like today, knowledge tends toward the sere, the searing, the hard to get, the impossible to handle. I'm taking what I can get, where I can get it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Oh, Anne Carson, where have you been all my life?

Such things she knew how to say when I was still very small:
Literate training encourages a heightened awareness of personal physical boundaries and a sense of those boundaries as the vessel of one's self. To control the boundaries is to possess oneself. For individuals to whom self-possession has become important, the influx of a sudden, strong emotion from without cannot be an unalarming event, as it may be in an oral environment where such incursions are the normal conductors of most of the important information that a person receives. When an individual appreciates that he alone is responsible for the content and coherence of his person, an influx like eros becomes a concrete personal threat. So in the lyric poets, love is something that assaults or invades the body of the lover to wrest control of it from him, a personal struggle of will and physique between the god and his victim. The poets record this struggle from within a consciousness--perhaps new in the world--of the body as a unity of limbs, senses and self, amazed at its own vulnerability.
-- Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (1986)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Artists together in our enclave.

Today was the first meeting of my photography class, where my classmates include a former student and someone who once shopped my class but decided not to take it (though I barely remember this, and she showed no sign at all of recalling it). I have not yet decided what my name should be in that setting. Perhaps I should just switch to a pseudonym in my real life and get it over with.

At least for now, Kenyon's art buildings are clustered at the north end of campus, and photography takes place in what we knew as the Art Barn when I was a student. (It has some more proper name now.) When I walked into what is known as "the photography area," on the second floor, I looked up and saw an enormous framed portrait of my good friend Thomas (aka Four Inches of Ego), who looked down on me throughout the afternoon.

From where I sat, I also had a wonderful view of what the sun, coming through the Art Barn's enormous corner windows, was doing to one student's neck, backlighting wisps of hair, fairly gilding her. The longer I sat, the more it dawned on me that I will probably have to photograph people during this course. I started wondering whether my colleagues would sit for pictures. I started wondering who would let me photograph her face, who might let me take his hands. The one mention we had of our first project is that it may be a study of blurred motion. Motion? As alien to my pictures as people. I felt the worry mounting; I confessed freely to my nervousness at having enrolled in an actual art class. (You are no artist, whispers the same voice that hates everything I enjoy doing. Look at what happens when you shoot with your new camera.) (I can't face that point down yet; it is so frustrating: it seems that I may not be steady enough to get an image in focus. How is this possible?) I defy that fear again and again.

Seeing Thomas's picture on the wall made me think of the other people I knew who studied photography when we were all students here, especially my good friend who transferred away when she figured out that she wanted to do urban images. She had done a summer program out west, learning art photography techniques in Montana and New Mexico; there she learned how to superimpose her body over the landscape, how to match up the rise and fall of her hip to the rise and fall of a mountain range. Had her camera been a car, we'd have called it a beater. But her images were amazing, and she found them everywhere here. For my birthday our sophomore year, she gave me a tiny snapshot of the corner of a ruined house, weeds growing through what might once have been a bedroom window. She taped this scrap of photo to a scrap of paper with Scotch tape. I've never gotten a more beautiful birthday card.

Once, she did a series of topless shots of herself and of her roommate. She held a femur behind her, superimposed it over her spine. Her roommate held a hammer in front of her, its handle aligned with her sternum. At this point, she was shooting with a 4x5 camera, which meant she was taking Polaroids first, in order to determine whether she had her settings all right. (She did the single best portrait of me ever taken, during this phase; it took about 30 minutes to set up. I still have the Polaroid somewhere, but I think I gave the actual print away to someone, long ago, though he denied it when I asked him.) One night, in the study lounge where I worked, a group of fraternity brothers were snickering over something; it was their Hell Week, and they were basically living in the study lounge. They hadn't showered for days by this time, and they were nothing less than pungent. When they were herded out by their pledgemaster, I went over to see what had been making them so jolly. There were my friend's Polaroids, in a stack; either she or her roommate had left them behind. I conveyed them back to their owner, but the experience left me thinking that I'd been right in my decision not to pose as the figure drawing model that semester. In a place this small, that's just not necessary.

After today's class, I suited up (it's gotten cold here, suddenly) and wandered down to the swollen river, flooding into the fields because of our week of rain. I was hoping to get some shots I could love. But the temptation to go back to the point-and-shoot is a mighty one; now I realize fully just how much that camera did for me, and just how little I ever needed to know about what was going on in that silver box between my hands. That's what the class is for, I keep reminding myself; that's what the class is for. Soon I will know things.

By the time I got back to the officehouse, my face had gotten so cold that I couldn't move my mouth well enough to feel good about my talking. And of course I ran into a student who wanted to talk to me, before I even got inside. "I can't feel my face," I said to her. We had the conference she needed to have anyway. A friend stuck his head out the door to say hello. "I can't feel my face," I said to him. "I'm not going to help with that," he said, going back inside. But warm time thaws cold faces; soon I was back to normal, of my own accord.

My lovely photography professor tells us that we will all be in the "art zone" during class. "Everything else disappears here," she says. "And we will just be artists together in our enclave."

I love that I am about to have another enclave.

Oh, yes: if you checked in here around 4:21 p.m., you were the 10,000th recorded visitor to this site. Welcome to the five digits, everyone.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Fortunes I have been told.

Startlingly good things happened with my writing out there today, and so I am low-balling tonight's writing here. I only have so many words to go around, apparently.

I carry my fortunes in the back pocket of my wallet. (I keep the ones others have given me hanging on my office door.) It seems as good a place as any for years of accumulated wisdom. Were I an historian, I would probably have put dates and places on all of these tiny slips of paper. As a literary archivist, I am left to wonder about the affective significance of my having neglected such details.
  1. Your talents will be recognized and suitably rewarded.
  2. Many a false step is made by standing still.
  3. You will help someone in need.
  4. Place special emphasis on old friendship.
  5. One who admires you greatly is hidden before your eyes.
  6. A new outlook brightens your image and brings new friends.
  7. Your determination will bring you much success.
  8. You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier and financially better.
  9. Your spirit of adventure leads you down an exciting new path.
  10. Trouble brings experience and experience brings wisdom.
  11. You find beauty in ordinary things. Do not lose this ability.
  12. You will soon take a very pleasant and successful trip.
  13. Happiness begins with facing life with a smile and a wink.
  14. The secret of staying young is good health, and lying about your age.
  15. There's a good chance of a romantic encounter soon.
  16. You will be called upon to fill a position of high honor and responsibility.
  17. You have a keen sense of humor and love a good time.
  18. You will learn quickly, never fear.
  19. You take a reverent attitude towards life and are most capable in the guidance of others.
  20. Nothing in the world is accomplished without passion.
  21. The old believe everything; The middle aged suspect everything; The young know everything.
  22. Your skill will accomplish what the force of many cannot.
  23. You deserve to have a good time after a hard day's work.
  24. You will conquer obstacles to achieve success.
  25. Your luck has been completely changed today.
  26. Soon you will be sitting on top of the world.
  27. You are almost there.
What I can't believe is that I've only accumulated twenty-seven after all these years. What I also can't believe is that I feel a bit crestfallen about that.

I love no. 27. I think it's true.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Art's spacious graces.

Miscellanie went to the Brooklyn Museum this weekend, and since she has asked me to fill in the blank in my comment that said museum owns one of my favorite paintings, I will oblige--with a tiny story, and an image.

Fall 2002 was a dark season. Taking the long view, I can see that I have a knack for turning my autumns into tests of will, spirit, body, heart, faith--pretty much anything that can be tested. But fall 2002 marked my first entry into the academic job market, as well as the ruthless flowering of a romantic interest that was a kind of self-cursing from the start. By the time I reached mid-November, I had spent a couple of months alternately hollowing out and refilling with anger and bewilderment, cut with a terrible self-doubt. And so it was with great gratitude that I boarded a plane to LaGuardia to spend a weekend with my beloved Brooklynite. That fall, the Brooklyn Museum featured an exhibit called "Exposed: The Victorian Nude" (it may even have been "Exposed!"), and so on Sunday afternoon we wandered down the block to look at roomsful of nineteenth-century flesh. (That morning, we had bagels from Le Bagel Delight, instead of going to Tom's.)

But before we looked at the Victorian nudes--which, to be honest, was going to be both play and work for me, given the parlous-feeling state of my academic career at that moment--we wandered around the rest of the museum. On the second floor, we turned a corner into a gallery, and a vision rose up before us:

It's Hans Hofmann's "Towering Spaciousness" (1966), and I turned to my friend and said, "That's my painting. That's the kind of painting I needed to see." I promptly misremembered the title of the painting as "Towering Magnificence" and was not able to find an image of it for years and years. I'm glad to have it back in my visual repertoire--for its energy, its movement, its gamut of blues, its having given my heart a powerful touchstone when I needed one.

But as for Miscellanie's comment that she stared at the Walton Ford paintings: well, I would have been staring at those today, too. I did not know about his work until this evening, and the Brooklyn Museum's "Tigers of Wrath" exhibit will be gone before I next make it to the borough. To see why I'm bummed, take a look at Ford and his work here and here.

source for tonight's image: the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Desire is no light thing.

Anne Carson's Geryon wings himself right into that truth. I've seen desire called a wonderful catastrophe. I'd name it, instead, a catastrophic wonder. Perhaps also a stupendous unfairness.

I don't know whether you'll hear me writing this, from my eyrie above a fog that should not be gathering in January. For all I know, you've been listening all along.

Some absences are easier to navigate than others; I am becoming a regular mariner of near missing, and what you imagine I'm writing about is only the thing I think I could explain, not the thing that might well come to matter more.

While I wander, I will collect these windings and weavings in log books bound in calf. I will gild their covers' script. I will sign my leaves in unimagined colors, gather them in the most complicated duodecimos. I will use only the finest nibs, and an ink the precise color of this moment of dusk.

I will etch the details again and again until someone figures out what I'm feathering, how great the humility of its wanting, how sweeping and soaring its coming spring.

source for tonight's image: e-flux, though Anselm Kiefer's "Buch mit Flügeln" lives in the Modern Art Museum in Houston and is currently sojourning in San Francisco.

Friday, January 12, 2007

What will I do with all those leaves?

Oh, is it grey and messy here today. Undecided weather: weather that can't make up its mind about whether to stay or to go, to increase velocity or ratchet back, to be something devastating or just continue as an annoyance. The weather has no mind. I know this. But days like today leave one wanting to find an intelligence behind meterology, just to see whether that will help make the joke of warmish, drizzling January weather make any kind of sense.

This whole place is in a moment of teeter: students return tomorrow, and there's a palpable mood of acceleration rushing into the corners of things. Someone asked me today whether I feel gleeful, watching others get ready for Monday. Gleeful is not the word, but I'm happy (for my research career's sake) to report that wistful is not the word, either. Alternately, parallelingly engaged: these are perhaps the words.

Papers and notebooks are starting to circle up. Stepping into the upstairs study today to check something in a mirror, I effortlessly discovered the notebook whose whereabouts I've been trying to remember for days. Buried things self-excavate. Old ideas and plans, things I haven't considered consciously for months, if not longer, meet me at the breakfast table, which is actually my bed, late in the mornings, which are sometimes the afternoon. I muster and meditate.

On days when the weather will not yield me a good view, I dig into my archives and pull you a better picture. You must know this by now. Tonight's is from the drive-by photoshoot my father and I did in the fields ten minutes from my parents' house on new year's eve. "The light! The light!" I said to my father, after my mother agreed to take care of the endgame of baking the cherry pie for dessert. "Come on!" He seemed reluctant. But he's the one who taught me that when the light comes, you must go. "I'm going to get in the car. Come on come on come on." As soon as I saw that he was indeed getting out of his chair, I dashed to the car. We dashed to the fields. We were gone for an hour. It was magnificent. With leaves on the trees and crops in the fields, nothing would have worked quite this well. The seasons all seem to turn up for their own kind of art. But I am coming to appreciate the cast of a wintering field: what lies fallow promises glory; what seems ruined shelters astonishment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Those surprisingly thin shells.

I waded knee-deep in that brown Indiana river, feeling with my feet for the knobbly spheres most likely to be geodes. I had not seen my feet in hours, but over the course of the morning I had grown to love their absence. With the fearlessness of young years, I almost immediately forgot everything I had ever known about things that live in rivers: leeches that suck, snakes of all sorts. The other children from the bus dangled their red mesh bags behind them in the current. I tried to hold mine aloft even when trying to reach into the water all the way to my shoulder--at which moments the bulk of my body seemed to have disappeared into the river's muddy pull, and what had not gone under had come close enough to kiss.

When the morning ended, we waited in line for our turns with the hammer, waited to see what those rock eggs would yield. The preliminary test was the gurgly rattle: if you palmed the rock, shook it beside your ear, heard the sound of music class percussion instruments, then that one you kept. But that didn't mean it would give up beauty, once cracked open. And when we grew tired of waiting, we simply started throwing our geodes at the ground, cracking them any which way. Most of them cracked into jigsaw pieces, muddy grey rock against sulfurous gold crystal. One of mine cracked almost neatly but was dark like blood inside. Its glitters were tiny and fierce. It swiftly became my favorite, in the ranking and sorting I could never bring myself to stop doing.

I have wondered about that river's whereabouts for more than twenty years. I wonder now about the red mesh bag's location. It haunted my time in my parents' house, because finding it would mean finding the year I was eight, finding it boxed and buried somewhere in the closet under the basement stairs. So I made only tentative forays, half-effortful finding missions, feeling around with my feet in the dark, bending over the old tent, the old punching bag, the old model railway table, legs and arms submerged in familial stuff, the rest of my body bent close enough to kiss and scrape and gather it all before backing out again.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Enough with the promising.

I'm dancing right around the edge of a piece I want to write--a critical piece, I mean; a piece for work--and that fact has me a little short on words here tonight. Which means that yet again I've told you I'll tell you a story, and yet again I'm not going to tell you one.

Tomorrow night, I will definitely not tell you stories.

I certainly won't tell you about bowling. Or about the big-bodied steam of a faceful of espresso in the morning. Or about writing. Or about the new lamp that has changed my living room. Nope. I won't even tell you about how, upon coming home from my excellent friends' house this evening, I saw the stars over my house, Orion a colossus astride my garage, and thought, as clearly as it was cold outside: I'd have thought you'd be here by now. I didn't think I'd still be seeing these stars by myself. Such a thing to find oneself thinking, in the driveway, in the starlit chill--that is, on a night that finally feels like winter, with the snow glittering on the paving stones.

Oh, may the words be where I am tomorrow, so many words that I almost have a hard time keeping up. They're all there, but they're all there, not here. And no matter how many circles I turn here, I don't get there unless I reach and pull in one direction for a sustained amount of time.

Which leaves me, for tonight, saying: I'd have thought you'd be here by now. You don't know how much you're being missed, how much you are wanted. You have no idea, just none at all.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Swirl crochet disaster.

[I take it as a sign of something or another when the girl who grew up (at least partly) in Buffalo gets out her camera to take pictures of this kind of dusting, simply because it's the first substantial snow of this academic year.]

Sometimes, I blatantly misread things. Today, at the post office, I received a six-inch stack of catalogs--I basically received only catalogs while I was away. On the back of the top one was an item I swore was billed as a "Swirl Crochet Disaster." It turned out, of course, to be a "Swirl Crochet Duster." But I think my misreading was better; that particular garment really is a disaster.

On my way home yesterday, I passed a church (the same church that refused to say Happy Holidays, in fact) that had a sign reading, "You can't catch bees with vinegar."

A candy wrapper today told me, "Decorate your life."

A friend's fortune, just before Christmas, told him (and then me, since I promptly photocopied it for my office door), "Plan your work and work your plan."

You see how I'm charging up with strange aphorisms. Tomorrow, perhaps I'll tell you a real story.

Monday, January 08, 2007

And the bliss of return.

I have things to tell, especially about wild animals--a heron, a deer--that turn up in surprising places, but I'm tired enough to drop, and so my flannel sheets are going to get my full attention before you do.

* * *

Yes, in fact, my resolution to sleep gratuitously and fabulously every night is going to work here in Gambier, as well. It was important that I find that out for sure.

Driving east on I-74 near Cincinnati, I saw something standing in the median and was stunned when, after a second or two of double-take, my mind resolved it into a heron. A heron, standing in the median? It was facing the eastbound lanes, and I was past it too quickly to catch it with the camera or even to think of a way to keep it from walking out of the median and into traffic. Just stay where you are, I said and said and said, pushing onward with everyone else. We were all going so, so fast.

Both the officehouse and my real house have certain smells that I stop smelling when I haven't been away for a long time, and it was good to smell those smells upon arrival. I had this experience every time I returned to my house in Ithaca, too: a rush of happiness that everything was right where I'd left it, in greater or lesser stages of disarray, and that the radiators still sang the same songs, and that I was in my own bed, and that when I woke up in that bed the next day, everything would smell like where I lived.

I walked out at 10 p.m. to the post office and the bookstore. My tiny post office box can hold so much more than it ought to be able to hold, I discovered; I now have to go back for the tub of mail that I can only pick up during business hours. As I approached my yard, I was turning something difficult over and over and over in my mind, something about love and seeing and silence, and the deer in front of me was moving before I realized that there was a deer in front of me. We were both startled enough to jump. The deer reminded me of my tiny bear of a dog, who at that point in the night was undoubtedly sleeping deafly somewhere in my parents' house. I spoke quietly to the deer, and she lingered, warily. We contemplated one another for a few minutes. She had been eating out of the bed that surrounds my house and, once I startled her, had moved toward the front of the yard. As I eased myself into the front porch and then into the house, she made a slow return to her eating from my yard. I know it's no good thing for the deer to feel comfortable around humans. And yet, she was such a welcome home.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The bliss of postponement.

Some mornings, you wake up and you just don't want to travel. It's raining; the dog is snoring; the bed is too warm to leave behind. And so you decide to stay where you are for one more day. Because you can. And everyone approves, especially the sleeping dog.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Where I will be for only a short time more.

Soon I will leave these fields for my own fields, going back to my own barns, my own furrows and floods, my landscape, my hills and woods. This afternoon birds dropped from a wire like leaves, to dip and turn in a diving cloud, as I searched for broken-backed barns. Rivers wound out from under the fields and rippled the skies back to themselves. And the word comes from home that the rain there continues.

Friday, January 05, 2007


A tiny child loves a small square of paper grown winged, folded in secret and left as a surprise.

A tiny child in an airport marvels at flight fitted to the palm, lofted by a swooping twirl. A tiny child will, if coaxed by her father, offer in shyness an abstract image of gratitude, markered in pink and aqua and gold and brown, and will retreat to her side of the waiting area where you are both stranded.

Two tiny children on a night train to Scotland will fret their mother, will bring down on their bored selves a torrent of blame, will go wide-eyed when your fingers make the last tug and produce two cranes as your bright-lit car hurtles past Durham near midnight. Two tiny children will make four in the night glass, four children, four birds, migrating north up the dark coast in a hush of paper.

Two tiny children will be so taken with the magic of fast folds that they will lose the capacity for speech, will pocket their birds and finger them secretly, will wave goodbye to the winking lady who drives away into the sticky summer heat, leaving their aunt's house after proffering little gifts.

And you will wonder why you do this each time, what makes the signal that this particular tiny child needs a bird. You will hear a father teaching his daughter how not to crumple the bird, and you will know again how ephemeral these things are. You will hope that something survives those moments' swift flights.

source for today's image: a site for Understanding the Work of Nurse Theorists.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

This slippery sleeper.

During my last two trips to my parents' house, I've been startled by how dry our deaf dog is becoming. She's always had her itch spots--those spots that can make a dog kick her legs involuntarily, or lick a human hand as though she herself is licking whatever part of the body that hand is scratching--but now her entire body would seem to be an itch. She's barely resting when she's up again to scratch her jaw, or her neck, or her sides. This morning, I put my increasingly well-rested mind to work on this problem, after the dog and I woke up for her first trip outside at about 7 a.m. Surely, I thought, there must be something we can apply to the dog's skin to keep her from needing or wanting to scratch all the time. When I'm itchy, I use lotions. But lotions aren't made to be licked, and that could be a problem for our dog. Nothing petroleum-based, for instance. And the dog is untutored genius, head to toe; there's no stopping her when she wants to be somewhere or to do something, and so any application that would require her to be still is pretty much out.

Somehow, by the time my mother had returned from a morning beautification, I had thought of olive oil. If she licked olive oil off of her toes after we rubbed it in, that extra oil in her system might also work its way through her digestive system and improve the condition of all her skin. I said to my mother, of course she keeps licking her feet--she's trying to keep them from drying out, but it's just like licking chapped lips over and over. Let's heat up the oil a little bit first, my mother said.

We double-teamed the dog on the kitchen floor and rubbed warmed olive oil into her paws, getting it in between the cracked tips of her toes and her claws. She was, as one might imagine, confused by the proceedings, and she was even less skillful on my parents' kitchen floor than usual. But she found her footing soon enough, and three hours later, she'd barely touched tongue to paws at all. We decided the treatment seemed a success so far and proceeded to dose her digits again this evening.

One disadvantage of the dog's deafness is that it's difficult to talk her through things, though that didn't stop me from crooning to her while I massaged her paws before bed. On the other hand, one advantage of the dog's deafness is that it's easier to sneak up on her now--say, with a camera. And if I shoot without flash, she even lets me stay around and practice on her for awhile. And her deafness hasn't changed a thing about her favorite activity to undertake with me around, which is sleeping while I read. (I used to joke that the dog liked Anthony Trollope's novels best. I don't think that was true; I think she would have liked Tolstoy best, had she not just had all the innards of her left ear removed when I was reading Anna Karenina, and she's never seemed to have many complaints about Eliot. Anything that keeps me sitting still and warm in bed. Anything that might prompt me to eat Swedish Fish, or anything else, really, in bed. Thus, she has no problem whatsoever with my reading Nadeem Aslam. She is an equal opportunity sleeper.)

She believes that this bed is her bed, though now she sometimes loses her nerve and needs to be lifted onto it. She tears it up every night, gets it ready for both of us, curls up right where I'm going to sleep, near the very edge of the left side, though she could lie down anywhere on its double-bed width. Once I'm settled, she moves further away. She runs in her sleep, snores and barks and croons, has gotten even louder than before now that she can't hear herself and can't hear us quieting her. We joke that she is learning to read lips, but I believe she's just enjoying her new liberation from our commands. She is a dog who knows her own stubborn mind. She gets jealous and loud when my father kisses my mother goodbye.

First thing tomorrow, she will try to cadge shredded wheat, or bagels from Shapiro's, or yogurt--or whatever else I rustle up for breakfast. At some point during the day, she will get frisky and want to play. But mostly, she'll curl up beside my right hip while I keep reading Maps for Lost Lovers, or she'll curl with me in front of a fire if I make one, and if I leave the house, she'll get into the front window and watch me drive away. She is, as we have always said, such a dog. I continue singing this identity to her, even though she has not been able to hear me for months. She is such a dog.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Brother, you're never fully dressed without a smile.

The day after I returned home from the Mayhem, my father said to me, when I'd first gotten out of bed, "There's a surprise for you and your Mama downstairs." "What is it?" I asked him. "Just go and see," he replied. Though I asked "What is it?" a few more times, in my morning bleariness, he wouldn't tell me, and so I stumbled down to see what was waiting for me. I've let you know, over the past year, that my family and I enjoy pulling good surprises on one another. This week, my father had decided that my mother and I should follow up on the vestigial six-year-old's squeals I let out during a television commercial for the Indianapolis performances of Annie, the musical that's celebrating its thirtieth anniversary by touring the country. We'd seen this commercial a couple of days before I left for Philadelphia. While I was away, my parents saw the commercial again, and my father said, "You should go to see that next week." He managed to get my mother to offer Tuesday's opening night show as the best date, and then he managed to get us front-row seats.

To understand why it was such an excitement for me first to see the television commercial and then actually to go see the musical live, you have to know that Annie occupied a substantial part of my waking life a quarter-century ago. My parents took me to Shea's Buffalo Theatre to see the show live in 1981, and my mother remembers my having sat perched on my father's lap, rapt from the first note. "You were so excited when there was more after intermission," she said to me last night, as we left the theater in Indianapolis.

But my love affair with Annie really got underway, as it did (I suspect) for many girls of my generation, with the release of the 1982 movie starring Aileen Quinn and Albert Finny (and Carol Burnett and Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters and Anne Reinking--it really was a great cast). Knickerbocker Toys released several levels of licensed Annie dolls in conjunction with the film's release. One could get the six-inch dress-up model or the sixteen-inch rag doll (with Annie's dog Sandy in the pocket). I had both. One could also get Annie wigs, Annie dresses, the soundtrack for the film (on vinyl, baby), and books about the history of the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie." I had all of these things except for the wig, which my mother refused me (for good reason). Also, my mother refused to buy me a cheap polyester Annie dress. Instead, she hunted out some wonderful finewale corduroy and made me an Annie dress with a gored skirt that flared when I spun. I loved that dress so much that on school picture day in 1982, I went to school even though I was nauseous, just to be sure that I'd have my picture taken in my favorite dress. Looking at my smiley, curly-haired self in that picture--my starting-to-fall-out teeth on their way to becoming the mess an orthodontist would labor to straighten out six years later, my hair in one of its periodic long phases--you'd have no idea that I was sent home, viciously ill, later in the day.

And I can't even talk about the bubble gum cards. The coveted one, of course, was the one of the scene interpolated for the movie: Aileen Quinn's Annie crying for her life, hanging from a drawbridge--such a fine contrast of greeny oxidized metal and of Annie's iconic party dress and curly red hair. I was fascinated by the fact that the figure climbing the railroad ties on that bridge (by the searchlight of a circling helicopter) was not just a stunt double but also a man.

My friends and I knew all there was to know about Annie, from differences between musical and film to subtleties of lyrics.

I realized just how little has changed when my mother and I walked into Clowes Hall at Butler University last night, and the sight of a merchandise table had me squealing. "I had that shirt!" I said to my mother, looking at a baseball jersey. The clothing! In addition to the dress my mother made, I had shirts and overalls and a nightgown, all featuring Annie. And a baseball jersey just like this one.

My love of Annie was a full-blown obsession. And the year I spent in love with the show and all its accoutrements left its marks: play me a couple bars of music from any of the numbers, and I could probably sing you all the lyrics--a fact that made seeing it at 30 peculiar, to say the least. Part of me was hoping that my mouth wasn't twitching too much, since I wanted to sing along (as we did, loudly, when Grease was rereleased for its twentieth anniversary in 1998). But part of me was thinking about this show as a work of art for the first time.

In the show, Annie's optimism and defiance play out against a backdrop of adults misusing or being abused by Depression-era power structures. "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover" is a particularly interesting song to listen to at this historical moment (as at least one other blogger has suggested); Annie turns up under the Brooklyn Bridge with her new stray dog in tow, and a crowd of Hooverville dwellers apostrophize Hoover to sketch their downfalls swiftly. "I used to winter in the tropics," the men sing; "I used to summer by the shore," reply the women. "I used to throw away the paper," sings a lone man; "He don't anymore!" everyone chimes in, as he puts the newspaper under his vest. Annie gets arrested by the cops who bust up the Hooverville at the end of this number (which concludes with the Hooverville residents' inviting Hoover and his wife down for stew). Her fate seems to parallel that of the people who have grown desperate by December 1933.

But the musical braids together Annie's adoption by the billionaire Warbucks and FDR's adoption of the New Deal (which becomes the product of an impromptu, and initially coercive, singalong in the Oval Office, when Warbucks and Annie pay a visit and Annie starts to sing the reprise of "Tomorrow"). It's a tempting narrative line: "When I'm stuck with a day / that's grey and lonely, / I just stick out my chin, and grin, and say..." You know where the song goes next, I expect. "The sun'll come out tomorrow, / so you gotta hang on till tomorrow / come what may..." The show goes back and forth between tomorrow's being "always a day away" or "only a day away." Both the president and Warbucks have their charitable, paternal impulses catalyzed by the presence of this scrappy red-headed girl. At the end of the show, Warbucks and Annie sing that they're "tying the knot / they never can sever." The movie goes further to neutralize this pairing, by bringing out the romance budding between Warbucks and his private secretary Grace, but by the musical's end, that relationship is just barely resolving out of Grace's obvious affection for this man. The predominant narrative is one of a kind of parthenogenetic child--an Athena to Warbucks's reluctant Zeus--who almost singlehandedly (or single-voicedly) kicks off the New Deal.

And yet the whole time my intellect was fighting the show, my six-year-old heart was delighted, and delighted, and delighted still more. What strange dissonance. And what tenacity of memory: my brain has held so many more of those words and notes than I'd have had any idea.

A quick explanation for the top image of tonight's post: on our way to Clowes, my mother and I stopped at my favorite Indianapolis eatery, Shapiro's Delicatessen. Shapiro's is on the way to the airport from my parents' house, which meant that on a few occasions, when I was either coming or going from grad school, we headed there for dinner. (We ate there lots of other times, as well, but it was particularly nice to get on a plane to Ithaca with a belly full of pastrami and fruit flan.) I haven't been there in an age--long enough to have forgotten that it's hot pastrami I always get, not hot corned beef. I caught this error in time to have beautiful, truly beautiful hot pastrami on fresh rye bread. With a pickle. And macaroni and cheese (of which my mother received a comically large helping--a helping that might have violated the cardinal rule of eating, "Never eat anything bigger than your head," which means that it's a good thing she didn't eat the whole dinner). If you are ever in Indianapolis or even just passing through (especially if you're on I-70) and looking for a place to eat, let me recommend Shapiro's to you. Leave room for dessert. If you're not a vegetarian, try a meaty sandwich.

While we ate, a large family sat down to my right, on the other side of a support pillar, and set up its dinner. I paid them no mind until the wife and mother of the group said, to the man across the table from her (who was hidden from my view by the support pillar), "Now, wait a minute, Mr. Half-a-chicken!" It wasn't the best line I heard all night, but it was close. I still don't know what she was going to tell him.

sources for tonight's images: 1) me; 2) and 3) eBay.