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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.

BUCKSHOT

1. My internet has been quixotically fritzy for the past 3-4 days, and I can’t quite isolate the problem. At first I thought it was an Airport/Time Capsule problem, but then I moved directly to ethernet, and I’m still regularly disconnecting. So now I’m wondering if the cable connect is being disturbed while the side of the apartment is partially dismantled for the construction of a new balcony/porch. Or maybe it’s just my iMac being capricious? In the meantime, all is vaguely untrustworthy just from the fact that I find feral feline teethmarks all over every single power cord and ethernet patch and cable line. I’m currently blogging from the Netbook using 3G, but I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before this remaining frail umbilical is severed as well.

2. Speaking of apartment repair, it was unnerving to wake up to pounding and scaffolding, no balcony, and my landlord and his father stationed right outside my dining room windows, blaring KFUCK: The Universe’s Most Loathsomely Treacly Country Hits Ever or somesuch on their transistor radio. Today I heard that Exes in Texas song. Eesh. Although? I did also hear Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.” Which, okay, I kind of <3, to be perfectly honest. I used to love the Glenn Campbell show, and Rhinestone Cowboy? My favorite. Le sigh. When I was four, I told my parents I was going to marry Glen Campbell. Of course, I'd also earlier announced plans of pleading my troth to Gomer Pyle, so clearly I was a Very Disturbed Child. Or, maybe we just had shitty television reception then in Laramie, Wyoming. Only two stations came in reliably and the bunny ears, wrapped in podgy silver rolls of tinfoil (as if that was supposed to help!), had to be constantly tweaked and gyrated. We didn't even get PBS.

3. Have been gloriously holed up (That sounds suspiciously a lot like gloryholed, doesn't it? Which sounds, well . . . naughty, doesn't it?) Oh hell, now I have to start this sentence all over. Have been gloriously holed up readingreadingreading and writingwritingwriting and hanging out with the cats, and sweeping up the crockery after the cats break the crockery, thereby entailing the picking out of new crockery on eBay for the cats to break. It's pretty awesome! And such a shame that the summer is rapidly drawing to a close. How about let's add on another month please? Pretty please?

4. I recently realized that I've been procrastinating completion on a book project, because I'm very unsure of what sort of direction I might want to take next/after. I hate being in limbo between creative projects, and like to have at least a little bit of a start of something new before I finish a book. (You know, all that Hemingway-esque Always Leave Something to Work on the Next Day crap, right?) But deliberate procrastination seems equally crazy, and just another form of stuck-ness. I am all about the Anti-stuck-ness these days. Stasis (as in stuck-ness, and distinct from, say, stillness, which is completely different and not a problem) = suffocation, paralysis, and (not to put too fine a point on it) death. But worse, because you're not actually dead yet. So it's like being buried alive. Even worser? It's self-inflicted! So maybe what I'm saying is that Stasis = Self-Inflicted Zombification. Like you ate your own brains! (Confession? It's entirely possible that I had waaaaay too much caffeine today. Mea culpa.) So no more procrastination on this book project. I’m moving forward.

5. Enough buckshot to constitute a blog post yet? I say yes.

ESTRANGEMENT

Oh, this poor ghost town of a blog!

Inhospitable to the trolling of search-engine spiders who simply shriveled up and died clinging to a rusted meta-tag.

Even the virtual tumbleweeds stopped rolling through months and months ago.

Even outlaw spambots stopped hiding out here.

Mostly I’ve been traveling all over the place. Pinging and ricocheting here and there like a demented pinball. I love it . . . I love going places, and I love impersonating my Author Function. But I’ve been constantly either Frantically Preparing to Leave Town or Frantically Catching Up From Having Been Out of Town. It’s been hard to settle in and find a routine, a groove, and so I’m constantly mole-whacking instead.

You should probably know that I’m very fond of moles.

I’m recently back from a wonderful summer residency teaching at the University of Nebraska low-residency M.F.A. Earlier this summer I read and gave workshops at the WyoWriters’ Conference in Cody, Wyoming. I visited the Heart Mountain internment site which was powerfully humbling and moving, and I also then spent several beautiful and hallucinatory days in Yellowstone National Park. Later on in the month I took a trip up the inland passage of Alaska, and spent a few days in Seattle after. Part of The Next Thing I was nattering on about in blog posts from the start of this year had to do with Making Things Happen, and travel is definitely One of Those Things. So I went. And I saw some stuff.

I’m obsessed with taking pictures. And thinking about what it means to take pictures. So this summer has been filled with taking a shitfuckload of photographs. And reading Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Lia Purpura’s On Looking, and John Berger’s About Looking. For starters. I bought a refurbished Nikon D5000 from eBay at the start of the summer, and it’s — well — amazing.

Random Japanese Mother Tidbit: In response to my nose piercing, I caught my mother calling me a Hole Punch under her breath when I saw her in Cody.

Okay. I think that’s all for now.

1. Am simultaneously preparing to leave town for a conference (where I’ll present a paper and give a poetry reading), preparing for my classes tomorrow, setting up course assignments for the subsequent week, commenting on student work, finishing up paper referenced above, and pulling together a grant application. My head’s like a kaleidoscope on hyperdrive — miscellaneous tiles of cyborgs and project narratives and queer theory and fanboys and dada and fuku and zafa and transsexuals and Bhaba and monsters and fetish and word betrayals all clicking and spinning and exploding in manic blooms.

2. Until yesterday, I had forgotten about the deliciousness of dried apricots.

3. Why is it always such a fine fine line for me between being bored and being overstimmed?

4. I think somebody should design a flushable apartment. Where you hit a flush button, and a sonic swoosh comes along and automatically cleans/dusts/vacuums/scours everything clean and funnels it all into some sort of recyclable lint trap thingy. I’m also a big proponent — perhaps I’ve mentioned this before? — of travel via pneumatic tubes, like at the bank’s drive thru. At bare minimum, it would be amusing to send one’s cats back and forth via pneumatic tube delivery system.

5. Last night I dream I have a passel of little brothers. They are, oddly, all towheads. The entire lot of them’s identically garbed in maroon hoodies and blue jeans and tube socks. They’re like a series of towheaded fraternal Russian nesting dolls. I’m staying at a hotel and I want to take a shower, but I can’t because the room’s crammed to the gills with smelly boy stuff — the entire bathroom and bathtub overflowing with dirty wet towels. I pull out some of towels from the bathtub and find a boy’s foot in the bathtub. It’s pale white and squishy and waterlogged, and vaguely fungus-y. “Clean up those towels!” I scold one of my towheaded brothers. He takes out the towels, but leaves the foot in the bathtub. “Will you get that foot out of the bathtub?” I say. “Is that your foot?” He shakes his head no — it belongs to one of the other brothers — and tosses the foot in the bathroom wastebasket. “Hey, you can’t leave that foot there,” I tell him. “Don’t you know that’s medical waste?”

6. Sandias, Old Town adobe, and King Sushi on my event horizon.