Sunday, May 29, 2011

Norman Rockwell at Tacoma Art Museum thru Monday

Friday I took my #5 downtown to meet the 594 to Tacoma. It's the final week of the Rockwell show at Tacoma Art Museum and week one of Chihuly. Besides, I've always wanted to visit Tacoma.

Google transit wanted to send me via Amtrak, which would have been fun, but $13 each way. The bus was $3, all the way from home, and what a bus! I had an armrest, a footrest, and a personal reading light. The seat had a headrest and lumbar support, and it tilted. It was all so posh I checked the back of the bus for a restroom, but that would have been too much.

We shot down the freeway for an uninterrupted 30 minutes or so, then the bus made a couple stops before dropping me off at UW campus and a block from the museum. A block that includes the restored courthouse with its lovely dome and the glass bridge. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was in sight, and yachts at harbor.

I liked the Rockwell show. Possibly I just don't know enough to be bothered by the distinction between illustration and fine art. Wasn't Breughel, say, or Vermeer, a Rockwell of his day? Rockwell's paintings are beautifully done and full of illuminating detail. He started his career at 17 in -- mm, 1922? -- for the Boy Scouts, and then, of course, produced decades of covers for the Saturday Evening Post. So a Rockwell retrospective is a lesson in American social history.

Mostly, it's upbeat and optimistic, a picture of the Americans a lot of us wanted to be, want still to be. I'd love to see a Rockwell of some American family on their way in 2011, to vacation or church, with a pierced and tattooed teenager reading to a toddler in the back seat, Mom driving, Dad reading the map, some mini dog doing whatever they do in cars.

But civil rights issues are featured as well, despite editorial prohibitions that for awhile limited the number of blacks you could show and only if they were in menial jobs. I knew the iconic cover with the little black girl being escorted to school by the National Guard, but not the illustration about the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi.

Then, Chihuly. I tire fast of looking at art glass, so this show was perfect for me. It's one huge room filled with both Chihuly's work and the Native American trade blankets and baskets that inspire him, plus a whole wall of his own (I believe) framed Curtis prints of Native Americans. Seeing it all that way, I better understood the idea of Chihuly's "glass baskets" brightly "painted" with glass threads.

I made this excursion on my own. If I'd been with somebody else, we probably would have explored Tacoma more, while we were at it. I almost ate lunch there, but Indochine, which was recommended, was posh and pricey for lunch. Next time, I'll take a walker's map.

I adjusted my bus seat back to Seattle and settled in. I slept.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Read This: Born to Run

I borrowed my neighbor's copy of Christopher McDougall's non-fiction book, Born to Run, on ultrarunning -- whatever that is -- and, as the subtitle says, "a hidden tribe, superathletes, and the greatest race the world has never seen."

And then I let the book languish on my coffee table for a couple of months while I read everything else. Because what do I care about this stuff?

Then I started feeling guilty about keeping the book so long, and I picked it up, and I finished it, oh, 24 hours or so later.

Here's the thing about this book, clear from just two epigraphs. An early one, page 57:
Make friends with pain, and you will never be alone.  
Ken Chlouber, Colorado miner and the creator of the Leadville Trail 100 (a running race of a hundred miles up and down mountains).
You read this and think, What kind of people are they anyway, who run stuff like this? What can they possibly teach me about life?

But by page 250, we get Herb Elliott, Olympic champ runner of the mile who trained barefoot and wrote poetry and retired undefeated:
Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude -- they were what developed enormous spiritual strength. I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race.
The people in this book run for fun. Smiling. I guess they look while they run like I look while I dance (only hopefully, they're sweatier). They run for joy and they take care of each other.

When I finished reading, I wanted more, even though my eyes were full of tears.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Richard Ford at SAL

I was to see my new pal Margaret last night after hearing Richard Ford at Seattle Arts and Lectures. Margaret and I met at the bus stop across from the lecture hall at Benaroya, twice. We'd get on the same bus and talk books all the way home. Last time, we exchanged contact info, so I knew she'd be there for Ford.

I guess it's a good thing we don't sit together, because having no clue to her reaction as the lecture proceeds, her pronouncements are even more delightful: sometimes surprising, sometimes just so well-put. That Elisabeth Stroud was ditsy. That if you added up the total number of words spoken onstage by Joyce Carol Oates and her celebrity interviewer, far too many came out of the interviewer's mouth.

What would Margaret say about Ford? Because I myself was having a problem with him. I haven't read much of his stuff, and my recollection is that it's hard to read. I might not have come at all, except SAL emailed the title of his talk. Which lead me to believe he would deliver a talk, and we could skip the interviewer annoyance.

Did I dream that? Because it was indeed an interview, thankfully by the SAL introducer lady with the glorious white hair, whoever she is, instead of a celeb. To be followed by Ford reading Chapter One of a work in progress. Then audience questions.

He's tall and bony. When he sat in the armchair, his knees rose and his arms hung straight from the shoulders. Praying mantis, I thought. And then he proceeded to be funny.

I hate that. I want my writers to remind me that literature is what distinguishes humanity from other life forms, that it's a matter of life and death. I actually wrote in my notes last night, "This is demeaning. He doesn't take us seriously."
Margaret, I later learned, loved him. She's southern, too, and she said he was a quintessential southern gentleman, including the humor.

Which was wry. For example, when an audience member asked that old chestnut, "Do your characters ever surprise you?" to which most authors say yes blah blah blah, Ford said, "Well, no. I'm running that show."

Is it true, he was asked, that he shot a hole in a book he was asked to review?

"My wife did that," he said. The book was written by someone who once gave Ford a critical review. So when it arrived, his wife took the book and a .38 outside and shot a hole in it. Mailed it back to the publisher.

"That's the kind of wife you want," he said.

In truth, by then he could have said anything, because when he read the chapter from the book he's calling Canada, he had me. If it had been available to purchase, I'd have done it. So few words, so much meaning. The mismatched, accidental parents -- tall handsome military dad, small immigrant Jewish mom -- the nomadic life where school was the narrator's one constant, the unlikely robbery his parents will commit, and foreshadowing of murder....


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The End

I finished my novel: 50,729 words. Well, maybe not a novel, exactly, but definitely a complete sh*tty first draft. Beginning, middle, end.
It's not due until Thursday, 4 pm, and the sun just came out. I'm going outside and water plants, then walk down to PCC for a few groceries, eat dinner, then go hear Richard Ford speak at SAL tonight, then go to Portland tomorrow to dance zydeco to Geno Delafose, then come back and dance more Geno on Thursday night at Highway 99.
And somewhere in there, I'm going to drink champagne.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

44, 410 Words!

Just a few days left to go in novel class. By Thursday, I need to complete my 50,000 word novel, and I'm going to do it.

I hope at our wrap-up class we have a time for "What I Wish I'd Known When I Started This." What I most wish is that I'd known about Scrivener, which is cheap software -- $45 -- for writers. Even a thrift fiend like me is forking over.

Then we could have a time for, "What I Knew I Should Do Before Class Began, but Didn't," and that is where I would put "Make an outline, you idiot."

And finally, "What I Learned." I'm learning that writing a novel can be kind of euphoric. I'm wondering how real writers sleep the night through. Aren't they waking up, like I do, with ideas?

And who knew I'd be so superb at banishing my Inner Critic? Next, maybe I'll work on my Outer Critic, and start giving everybody else a break too.

Friday, May 6, 2011

About that ponytail

Wait, he's a rock star, Steve Palumbi! Has a band! Sustainable Sole!

Steve Palumbi on Monterey Bay

Steve Palumbi spoke last night at Town Hall -- boo! you missed it! -- and speaks tonight at Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park -- yay! you can still hear him! His latest book is a collaboration, The Death and Life of Monterey Bay. A book about the environment that's upbeat: astonishing. Despite the increasingly "hot and sour soup" of the oceans, Monterey Bay is thriving. It's a story, Palumbi says, of "passion, stubborn effort, and patience," and he trots out the heroes to show us.

My favorite is Julia Platt, who had to go to Germany in the late 1800s to earn a PhD in oceanography, then came back to the USA, where no one would hire her. So she decided to make trouble in Pacific Grove, next to the town of Monterey on Monterey Bay. For example, there's a photo of her working with an ax to take down a fence that illegally blocked public access to the beach. She'd already tried breaking the locks off the gate, but those were replaced. The fence was not.

In the 1900s, somebody suggested that since she wanted to run things, she needed to be mayor. She ran on the slogan, "It will take a good man to beat me." And won.

And so did Monterey Bay, where she established the marine sanctuary adjacent to Monterey's polluted hell-hole of a Cannery Row, which had committed suicide by 1950. Today, an old cannery is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The bay is a poster child for diversity, not only of marine life, but of human economic activity. Tourism is number one, but fishing thrives as well.

I so wanted to ask him why he has that little ponytail that could be snipped off with no damage to his hairstyle or appearance, not that I'm suggesting it. Tell me about that, will you please?

But instead I said, Isn't climate change lurking, ready to undo all this good? Palumbi said strong ecosystems better withstand climate change pressures, as in American Samoa where a protected ecosystem allows coral to thrive in a warming ocean.

A thrilling presentation. Do try to hear him, and read the book.

More Fear-Juiced Thrills

In furtherance of my quest for excitement, I rode my bike yesterday to my Hugo House novel class in Capitol Hill, another first. And then I would ride to a lecture at Town Hall, and then, in the dark, back home to Fremont.

I met a classmate for coffee and literary craft chat (!) at Elliott Bay Books Cafe, then went to class where, a week from the end, we're all working desperately on outlines, and yes, you're right, we have put our carts before our horses. I "shared" this short bit:

The worst part of the day was when we signed up at the start. You put your signature, printed name, phone number, and an emergency number on the clipboard. I left the emergency number blank. Because who you gonna call? Mom? In Michigan?
(“Hello, ma’am, do you know a Julia Thorn? Because I’m afraid there’s been a bike accident.”)
Before we left, the ride leader checked the clipboard. “Who’s Julia?” he said. “There’s no emergency contact here.”
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“Well, Mom, in Michigan.”
“Put it down,” he said, and handed me the clipboard. I wrote her number, and, in little letters, “Mom,” so they’d be gentle if they had to call her.
On the bright side, if there were any single men on the ride, they know I’m available.
Class ends at 6, so my plan was to get a bite of supper before I biked over to hear Steve Palumbi speak at Town Hall. I should have done a Google search before I left home to find a happy hour that lasts past six. But I had in mind a spot or two with small plates. I went to Oddfellows Cafe and got cassoulet with a whole duck leg/thigh for $12. That's the good news.

The bad news is that even the house wine was $7 a glass, so I figured I might as well have the $9 stuff. Total with tip: $27! Oh well, I performed some mental shenanigans along the line of, "I won't pay for it; I'll just charge it." So that felt good, plus I'd saved myself $4.50 in bus fares by biking.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Still Chicken after all these Years

(True, I should be writing my novel instead of this blog post, but I've written 39,467 words, and I have eight days to go to 50,000. Not worried. Besides, it's a novel about a chicken.)

 People are always telling me I'm brave (brag, brag). A woman I know from dance said I'm her hero! What prompted that was my excursion from Port Townsend, back when I lived there, to the ferry at Bainbridge where I left my car, then boated over to Seattle to a downtown B&B and a night out dancing via the city buses.

Heroic? No. But adventuresome, if I do say so myself.

I was thinking recently though, as I walked around Green Lake on that lovely spring day we had, cherry trees in bloom and the spread of daffodils under the trees, the rowers on the lake, walkers runners skaters dogs and baby carriages everywhere, I was lost in my mind somewhere and suddenly I returned and remembered how daunted I was when I first moved to Seattle by walking around Green Lake!

Does that sound stupid to you too? It's just that only half the people walk with you; the other half are coming at you, and they don't smile or acknowledge you in any way. By now, I suppose that's because they're off in their own minds, but it made me self-conscious back then.

You couldn't do a regular walk like that in the places I'd lived before, Kah Tai Lagoon in Port Townsend, the Bear Valley Trail at Point Reyes, without getting to know the other walkers. In two years, that's never happened here. Except for the occasional dancer, never a familiar face.

I think of how scary it was for me, even though I had moved here in part to ride with Cascade Bike Club, to make that first fast descent down Fremont Av towards a club ride gathering at Gasworks Park. Essentially, I come out of my place, ride a few flat blocks in the neighborhood, and then: a main traffic artery where you have to brake to keep it below 25.

These days, Fremont Av looks like bike heaven: bike route signs! bike lanes! other riders! But I white-knuckled it early on.

Are you like this? Is everybody so chicken faced with new things? I was a Kelly Girl while my husband was in law school, and I never started a new job without feeling sick. Except "never" isn't right. After a year of assignments, I couldn't help noticing nothing was ever as bad as I'd feared. I usually got the jobs done faster than expected.

Maybe that Kelly job should go down as a turning point in my life, my opportunity to learn that feeling scared is no reason to hold back, my chance to get practice in what happens really at the distant end of Timidity Road.

Fear doesn't constrain me, but I'm surprised it's still hanging around. I still start out at fear.

And you know what? I think it gives me a buzz. When I'm feeling my wussiest, I do something I'm scared of. Trying to write a novel, maybe.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies