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SALVO

Well, so there have been rumblings and grumblings and artillery fire in the distance, and I have insisted on being very ostrich-head-in-the-sand-y about things here at Heartichoke Headquarters, but the first department meeting of the fall semester always, to my mind, constitutes the official opening salvo of the academic calendar.

I feel like I’m still, in many respects, processing what feels like a gloriously whirlwindish summer — much in the same way I’m still organizing and editing photographs from my travels. I’m at an interesting place where the images and physical memories of being in the places where the pictures were taken still seems quite fresh and clear, but the photographs themselves — particularly the ones I like the most — seem like a shocking surprise. They are rapidly becoming their own discrete objects. This process seems more fluid to me — more like a Polaroid developing — than the instantaneous not-the-thing-itselfness — that constant separation/mediation between thought/image/speech/memory — that happens with poetry and prose. During my travels, I consciously made an effort to spend time with the camera down, simply looking/being without the mediation of the lens, without documenting, and these are the moments I can call up very clearly within my mind. The pictures, though? Constant surprises after-the-fact. I love this process of re-vision.

But the fall semester. It loometh.

I think what I appreciate the most about summer is the opportunity to become more of a student myself again. To learn/try/see new things, to read off-topically and on-topically, to establish better (ha!) study habits, to just sometimes be very still/quiet, and — most importantly — to reestablish connections with my own writing that inevitably deteriorate during the height of end-of-the-semester craziness (if not earlier). So I’m concerned about losing sight of some of these things once I layer some of the other components back in. Mostly it’s not wanting to turn into Grading Borg. Or, worse yet, Crabby Procrastinating Grading Borg.

I adore fall, though, and the clean slate-ishness of the new school year. I’m happy about the classes I’m teaching, and really looking forward to seeing my students again. This always seems like a time of excitement and energy for me: shiny protractors, new rulers, crayons with wax-perfect tips, the smell of fresh pencil shavings, and pinkpink erasers!

In the meantime? There’s a Lemon Refrigerator Cheesecake (with homemade lemon curd) chillaxing in the fridge for tonight’s back-to-school departmental potluck.

Balsam, Wella and Alberto. Breck.
Body on Tap (but don’t drink it). Breck.
Silkience. Agree?
Twice as Nice. Agree?
Tame Dorothy Hamill’s Short & Sassy wedge.
Victoria Principal for Jhirmack.
LemonUp. Juicy Green Apple. Breck.
Breck Girl, Twice as Nice.
Breck Girl, Body onTap.
Silkience Milk Plus 6 with Wheat Germ
Oil and Honey Twice as Nice.
Helps stop the greasies.
LemonUp!
Gee.
Body on Tap.
Body on Tap.
Body on Tap.
Tame Breck Girl, Agree?

AH: I got a new kitten.

JM: You got a what?

AH: A kitten.

JM: A chicken?

AH: A kitten.

JM: Oh . . . a chicken.

AH: Okay. Sure. A chicken.

JM: How many chicken you have now?

AH: Four.

JM: What? You got four chicken? You must be crazy!

AH: I got a new chicken. The other three chickens were here before.

JM: Four chicken!

AH: Four chickens, yes.

JM: I bet they all climb up on table and do whatever they please. Try climb up on your leg. Complete out of control. So how many chicken you have total? Four chicken?

AH: Four chickens, yes.

JM: So you going to be that person.

AH: I guess so.

JM: Such no-good useless chicken. You can’t even eat it. Maybe you stuff with catnip and roast in oven? Chicken is good to eat!

* * *

JM: Did you hear about Jet Blue flight attendant? He can’t stand anymore and go slide down slide!

AH: Yeah, I heard about that.

JM: You must be spend money all the time flying here and there. And they charge you for everything. You want take bag. They charge it! You want snack. They charge it! You want pillow. They charge it! No wonder you don’t own your own house.

AH: OMFG.

JM: And oh! I such worry because everywhere they have bed bug! And you all the time go stay in expensive hotel. So then you going to bring home bed bug! You better check your sheet before you sleep in it! I tell you. Everywhere you like to go, you end up with bed bug. And can’t get rid of!

AH: WTF?

JM: When I fly from Japan time, everybody dress up so elegant for go flying. Wear nice suit. And hat. And high heel. Now everybody wear broken blue jean and tee shirt! Or sweat pants! And then I heard about worm come down from ceiling!

AH: What?

JM: Worm! Fall out of ceiling! So-call maggots! Everyone scream to death!

AH: Maggots?

JM: And rat crawling around on floor! I so worry! You promise me you check your seat first before you sit down on plane.

There was a gift of an entire idyllic day at the Chicago Art Institute earlier this summer, many hours of which were spent circling around and around the William Eggleston: Democratic Camera exhibit.

I couldn’t stop looking.

The dye-transfer coloring is visually beautiful, of course — something about the heated intensity of the color giving the gritty quotidian realities within the photographs an almost surreal patina — a lacquered, Cutex-nail-polished weird glamour.

Visual pleasure was only part of it, though. The tension between the visual beauty of the images, and the uneasy grotesqueries of their content, was heart-rending for me. The attentiveness — the mindfulness, if you will — of the aesthetic resonated very strongly with and for me, but it was ultimately a sense of the tenderness of the gaze that completely unraveled me. An acceptance of the shabby, the crazy, the not-beautiful, the banal, and the mundane. Everything seemingly as it is, and therefore completely unshelled. Completely vulnerable. An aperture open to aperture. And because of that tenderness of looking unspeakably beautiful.

That these pictures — particularly the ones from Los Alamos — seemed full of kitschy cultural tropes from my own 1970′s childhood in Wyoming (where everything was always a little bit behind–flower power and disco a thin varnish over sedimental layers of 1950′s and rugged frontier sensibilities) is undoubtedly also part of their appeal for me: a Jarrellian Lost World of sorts, maybe. And it’s not an easy nostalgia, or a Lost World that I would ever care to return to, but rather a place of terrible vulnerability, helplessness, and suffering.

Eggleston’s photographs capture this sense of a Lost World in the fleeting instant at which it’s lost in each passing moment, and it’s a Lost World that’s revealed as uncertain, vulnerable, and in pain; chock-a-block with fraying banalities of kitsch and schlock — banalities that are recognizable from my own cultural vocabulary and which ultimately end up, perhaps, underscoring my own poignant sense of the Japanese aesthetic of utsuroi, or evanescence.

This image, an untitled photograph of simple plastic animals on a worn table, made me weep the first time I saw it. A completely personal response in many respects, I’m sure, but still . . . why? How? Maybe something about the aleatoric/chance randomness of the animals almost like a John Cage composition. (In fact, for some reason it made me think of the colored vocal lines in “Aria (1958)”.) Maybe it’s the questions that get raised — and every Eggleston photograph raises unanswered questions. Maybe it’s the attentiveness of the eye that notices. Or maybe the tenderness of the framing and the recording. Democratic is the word that is used for Eggleston’s approach/aesthetic, and yes, this seems true to me, but what I feel so powerfully moved by is, I think, the large compassion of his vision.

JM: Oh, you call! I surprise you call. We don’t hear from you for such long time, I don’t know what happen to you! We worry to death! And so I checking, checking all the time weather report where you are, and they say it raining there, and I think uh oh! Maybe you such stupid driving when rain time and have car accident!

AH: If you were worried, you should have called me.

JM: I don’t know if you home or not. Always you go here or there. Who know?

AH: Yeah, but I always have my cell phone with me, so you should just call.

JM: But I don’t want you try talk on phone while driving.

AH: Well then I’ll see that you called and when I’m not driving, I’ll call you back.

JM: But what if you somewhere and other people around? I don’t want everyone can overhear our private conversation.

AH: Um . . . ?

JM: Anyway, I so worry! What going to happen if you slip outside your apartment, and bung! You hit your head! Some professor here last winter go outside to smoke cigarette and she fall down and hit her head! And nobody find her. So she freeze to death! Isn’t that crazy?

AH: Yeah. Kind of.

JM: Anyway, I thought you go teach in Nebraska and afterward maybe just poop out. Your father and I, we went to Cheyenne and all walking walking all day long and complete poop out. We come home and sleep like dead people! So I thought maybe you go teach for ten days and after you been home you complete poop out and sleeping like dead person all this time!

AH: Yeah, I’ve been tired. But I’ve been trying to get a lot of writing done before school starts.

JM: You better! Is doggy-dog world! You have to publish! Or perish! You go here or there all somewhere, wherever you please, so I don’t know when you have time to writing! So you don’t watch out, you end up perish!

AH: Um, I’m a Full Professor? I think that if I haven’t perished yet, I’m probably going to be okay?

JM: Full Professor, but still tonkachi head. Hey!

AH: Yeah?

JM: When you go back teach Nebraska again? Christmas time?

AH: Yeah.

JM: Oh, goody goody! You get to go to marvelous New Year party, don’t you?

AH: Yeah.

JM: But I have to tell you something. Don’t eat Oyster Rockefeller when you go! Don’t eat it! You don’t watch television, so only get so-called internet or whatever. I don’t know if you know about oil spill or not. So I going to tell you. Don’t eat it!

AH: I know about the oil spill. And I’ll tell you what. I won’t eat the oysters if you’ll stop buying meat with hinky expiration dates.

JM: You mean Dead Meat? From the Dead Meat Section?

AH: Exactly.

JM: You don’t buy from Dead Meat Section?

AH: I don’t buy a lot of meat, but when I do, I don’t buy the Dead Meat. No.

JM: Wow! You must be rich! We on social security now. And you know, you such blood sucker. Sucking, sucking all your parents’ money. Have to send you to music school. But hey, guess what?

AH: What?

JM: Your father brought Alaska King Crab and we going to eat today!

AH: That sounds great! Are you going to put a newspaper down on the table and hammer it?

JM: Well, I been thinking very carefully about it, and I don’t want to hammer. I have nutcracker. So going to crack open that way. And guess what else?

AH: What?

JM: I going to use scissors and very neatly cut open and take out whole big piece at once and dunk in butter. No smash. That’s what I been thinking about.

AH: Okay, then.

JM: Yeah. So that’s what I been thinking.

MILK / WHISKERS

Nanami the Kitten: [nuzzling Nobu the cat's belly] Got milk?

Nobu the Cat: Dude! WTF?!

Nanami the Kitten: [persistently] Got milk???

Nobu the Cat: [resignedly flopping on his side ] Whatever.

* * *

Heartichoke to Nanami the Kitten: Hey, where did all your whiskers go? Why don’t you have any whiskers? Nobu! Did you chew off all the kitten’s whiskers?

Nobu the Cat: [crickets]

Heartichoke to Nobu the Cat: Don’t you make the ajapa face at me, mister.

Nobu the Cat: [ crickets]

In the sixth night of Natsume Soseki’s Ten Nights’ Dreams, Unkei the Sculptor is carving a Nio, a temple guardian, in front of spectators. Unkei’s sculpting technique is diffident, offhand, unconcerned, yet exquisitely confident. The dreamer wonders how Unkei does this, and is told that Unkei merely digs out the Nio that’s been buried all along in the wood. It’s like digging stones out of the ground, another onlooker says. He cannot make a mistake.

And so what, I wonder, might be hidden inside a page? Or inside this screen? Inside your screen?

What does my Nio look like? What does yours?

What if my Nio is simply the stones themselves? Virtual stones, at that. Virtual stones, for the metaphorical stones, for the metaphysical Nio.

But I like the stones.

I’ll make a small pile of them here. Like gold new potatoes.

And then later I’ll cook them with rasins and cumin and ginger and snap peas and cinnamon.

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