Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Art Of Obsession

I've been silent for a long time now. Not because I have nothing to say. Well, maybe because I have nothing to say. I don't know. I just know that my stressful life continues to be stressful, but probably no worse than the next guy's. And stress generally makes me quiet.

When I get too stressed I retreat. I retreat into my books, my music, myself. During these times I tend to become intensely interested in something that has never really interested me before. Intensity bordering on obsession. I can't count all of the subjects that have caught my attention, occupied my every waking thought, every moment of my day not absolutely required to sustain my family and me. And I approach each obsession identically. I read. I read everything I can get my hands on about the subject. Most people who develop an interest in gardening tend to go to the local nursery, pick out a few plants, buy a trowel, a box of fertilizer and go dig a hole. They may watch a few episodes of Victory Garden or pick up a gardening magazine. I did all that. But not before I bought out my local Barnes & Noble bookstore gardening section. Last count, I had 40+ gardening books.

These go with my 60+ cookbooks, my 20+ books on sewing and tailoring, etc., a bigger selection of poetry books than my Barnes & Noble, and god knows how many books about specific periods of time in British or American history.

I have a new obsession. Something I never really thought much about before. Art History. I don't know what triggered this fascination. All I know is thanks to my "square-headed boyfriend" (my spouse's pet name for my MacBook) the history of art is at my feet, or at least my fingertips. I've found some of the most amazing resources, galleries, museums, etc. on line. So much information in fact, that I've only bought a handful of books. (Well only a handful if we don't count the ebooks and audiobooks. But those don't count. At least to me.)

This is still a fairly new obsession. I am a novice. But I am fascinated and it seems like I fall in love with a new artist daily. I would like to share some of my findings and tie them to my other obsessions in the Liar. But I promise nothing.

I will at least share a couple of observations I have made so far - predominately about my own personal taste.

1. I thought I liked Impressionist art. I don't think I do though. Too blurry. (I have learned quite a bit of real art-related terminology - contrapposto, staffage, tenebrism - but I still find that words like "blurry", "bright" or "fuzzy" work for me.)

2. Like a magpie, I am drawn to bright colors and shiny things. So specific artistic periods or movements - Rococo, Orientalism, Pre-Raphaelite - have caught my attention and my imagination so far.

3. Throughout history it was OK to paint naked women and children (and naked men to a lessor degree) and not be accused of pornography, as long as you gave the naked people common mythological names. An artist fond of painting nudes could paint to their heart's content as long as the pictures bore the name of Leda, Callisto or Diana. Name them Nessie, Mabel or Betty and the same painting was deemed unsuitable for polite society.

4. Religious-themed art seems to be the most violent. And often the darkest. Especially Christian art. Like actual religion, I've yet to see much in this artistic genre that appeals to me.

5. To appreciate art, just like appreciating life, go with what catches your attention. What makes you stop, pause and rethink everything you've thought up to that point. Then take the time to take a closer look. Try and determine exactly what it is about a particular piece that appeals to you. What speaks to you. Read what the experts say about the particular artist or the particular piece of work. But don't let their words color your opinion. Art truly is in the eye of the beholder. It speaks to you or it doesn't. An "expert's" opinion can't change that.

Here is a small sampling of what speaks to me. I will try and explain why next time.

A Woman in a Turban - Anne-Louis Girodet Trioson

Self Portrait (1835) - Emile-Jean-Horace Vernet


Temptation (1880), William Adolphe Bouguereau


The Painter's Honeymoon (1864) - Frederic Leighton


The Rape of Europa (1734) - Fran├žois Boucher

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dear Rat



You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old,
Or your head will be sunk by your heels;

And summer gales and Killer Whales
Are bad for baby seals.
Are bad for baby seals, dear rat,
As bad as bad can be.
But splash and grow strong,

And you can't be wrong,
Child of the Open Sea!

Rudyard Kipling

Some day I will understand the deep meaning of these words of wisdom. In the meantime, I just enjoy them.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hello again, perhaps


I'm not certain why I'm posting tonight. I have been thinking of doing so for several days. The lure has been strong, there are ideas enough to go around several times. But it has not been ... right. Tonight it is. Perhaps tomorrow it won't be.

But I do not feel compelled to post something witty, entertaining, thought provokingly original. I just want to post a perfect Sonnet. The one that has captured my attention since I first read it many, many years ago. From the poet who's voice often resides inside my head.

Sonnet VI

This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing

You are betrayed. . . . Here is no treasure hid,

No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain

For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,

But only what you see. . . . Look yet again --

An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.

Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;

And you did so profane me when you crept

Unto the threshold of this room to-night

That I must never more behold your face.

This now is yours. I seek another place.

... Edna St. Vincent Millay

I hope someone reads this someday, here or someplace else and it means as much to them as it means to me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Exhausted Longing

It's late. I'm tired. Hate one day flight trips - in and out. Traveling for work used to be fun. Now just tedious.

It's late. I'm tired. He's not home. His regular Wednesday night commitment. I usually enjoy my Wednesday nights alone. But not tonight. Didn't get home from airport until after 8:00. It's late. I'm tired.

When he comes home I will want. And hope he wants too. Eyes drooping, bed beckoning, pillows calling. Can I stay awake long enough to enjoy what I want if I get it? Will he want nothing, or want more than I can give in my current state? Who knows? I don't.

It's late. I'm tired.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Sound of Hell Breaking Loose


Here is the deal. At a youngish age you marry a man-boy you love. At least you think you love him. You know you feel different emotions towards him than you’ve ever felt for another boy. There was never the overwhelming sensation of an initial crush. In fact what grew between you grew slowly, methodically, at least on your side. But once it reached that point of recognition you knew this was unique. And to your young mind, unique feelings about a boy must equal love.

You feel terribly lucky because he also proves to be a good friend. You feel even luckier because he seems totally enthralled by you; even by the parts of you other boys quickly became disillusioned of. And there were lots of those parts, although most of them centered on your sharp tongue, your impatience over the general immaturity of boys and your quick disdain of any weakness you perceive in others. But he doesn’t see the negative parts, or if he does, they don’t bother him.

You continue to grow up alongside this man-boy. You start careers, buy a house, raise a family. Through the years the romance fades but never completely deserts you. Magazines tell you that you have sex far more frequently than most couples your age and married as long as you have been married. You consider this a good sign, but you absently wonder how long you have to be married before the nomenclature changes from ‘making love’ to ‘having sex’. Since you appear to be ahead in the game, you don’t worry too much. And the sex, well, if it isn’t heart-stopping and thrilling, it isn’t unpleasant either and you still enjoy the closeness and the intimacy the act requires.

There are times when you feel a frisson of desire for another man. Sometimes that frisson is quite strong. So strong you at least unconsciously consider whether you should sidestep your partner, whether temporarily or permanently and explore your options. But you are not that kind of person. To protect yourself you take steps to assure that you probably could not act on those feelings even if you wanted to, because they would not be reciprocated. You let yourself go. Just a little. Enough to declare to the world that you are not in play, but not enough to cause concern in the man-boy. You suspect he suffers similar experiences, but instinctively trust he is no more likely to act on those desires than you are.

You and your man-boy, now far more man than boy, become comfortable, complacent, and totally absorbed in the daily rigmarole of life. None of which are bad things to be are they? You don’t talk a great deal, but on occasion you and he find yourselves engrossed in an extensive and wide ranging conversation about issues that are important to you both. And those occasions feed your soul. Remind you that you made the right choice. Remind you why you married this man.

One subject you rarely discuss is sex. You have it. Exactly as you have been having it for the last several years. But you don’t talk about it. You don’t discuss your evolving fantasy lives. You don’t discuss what type of pornography or erotica the other finds interesting. You don’t discuss burgeoning desires, risks you are willing to take or activities currently outside your comfort zone that you think you would like to move inside.

Then something quite strange and wonderful occurs. You get old. Well, not old exactly, but definitely middle aged (as long as we are not talking about precisely the middle of your ultimate age - you don’t plan on living to be 102.) Weird things start happening to your body. As weird as what happened to your body at the beginning of your sexual journey. And those weird things affect your mind. How you think and how you feel about sex.

Your kids are grown. Your body is back under your control. At least it stops going wacky every few months as it decides whether to go through the process one more time and push an egg out the door, even though it has been years since those eggs had an open path to their ultimate destination. Your body settles into a new phase that doesn’t require near as much thinking, planning or scheduling. Now your mind has time to ponder. And time to listen to your body. It does.

You determine that the status quo can not continue. You give this a great deal of thought. Should you change partners for the rest of the dance? Should you give up entirely on your unrequited passions? Should you be demanding, take control, insist that what happens beneath the sheets must change? This last option is easy to dismiss since it is the opposite of what you are seeking beneath those sheets.

While you are busy trying to figure this out you are also sending out signals. The signals aren’t explicit but they are picked up by the man’s radar. Then you realize that your radar is picking up new signals from his direction as well.

Suddenly you both realize your signals are on the same bandwidth. After many, many years of meandering down paths that sometimes run parallel and sometimes are wildly divergent, your paths suddenly collide. The desires roiling suddenly bubble to the top then spill over. And you and this man you married such a very long time ago suddenly realize that your most intimate thoughts and dreams mirror and compliment his. It dawns on both of you that something, some infinitesimal and unconscious yin spoke to the other’s yang all those years ago, then lay buried right under the surface until the time was right to reveal yourself to each other.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

When the *Surreal* JUST ((Keeps)) Getting "Realer" ??!!!

(Note-title edited by Sarah Palin)

I feel like I should have something insightful and witty to say about the train wreck that is Governor Sanford and the latest, bizarrely disastrous adventure in the life of Sarah Palin. There are no words to adequately express what fruitcakes both of them are.

Infidelity among male politicians is becoming so commonplace it is farcical. It no longer elicits a reaction from me. But, how the governor of a state thinks he can leave his post for 5 days without anyone knowing where he is defies reality. And then believe that after being so blindingly irresponsible, he should keep his job. Even though it sounds like the man is truly in love and his heart is breaking I can rustle up no sympathy. All I can think to say are words Denis Leary sates so eloquently - "Shut the fuck up!" Get that man off of my TV.

And then there is Sarah Palin. She opens her mouth and idiocy tumbles out. If it wasn't so painful to watch her try and form a cohesive thought it would be funny.

When I am a governor and decide I am bored with the job after two years I might decide to quit so I can make a bunch of money and to stave off the scandal that keeps encroaching on my dysfunctional life. I might decide not to worry about how much money other people and the state spent to get me elected governor, not to mention the thousands of hours willing volunteers spent knocking on doors and calling people encouraging them to vote for me. I might not care that I am leaving a government in the lurch while deeply involved in a disastrous financial crisis and I might not worry that I am leaving my mess for others to clean up. I might not stop to think about the fact that a large majority of US voters felt I lacked sufficient experience to be elected Vice President, and that another 7 months as an absentee governor probably didn't garner me much more experience. I might not even worry about that I will forever be labeled as a quitter, or as my husband would describe me, as a chicken-shit.

But, I would never, ever, ever in my wildest dreams think to begin what could be considered the most important speech in my political life to date, a turning point in my career, with this ringing introduction:
"Hi Alaska"

If you haven't read the text of her announcement, you must. It defies explanation or logic. Then, just for kicks go to Facebook and read her July 4th message. However, unless you want to loose your dinner, be plagued with nightmares or start babbling incoherently, I urge you not to read the replies to her Facebook post. They made my eyes bleed.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Illusion of Control


have spent most of my life clinging rabidly to my supposed self-control. I've lived the ebb and flow of needing to feel in charge of every aspect of every event, person or location that invades my personal space to facing an overwhelming desire to give all control away. It is the conundrum I face a thousand times a day.

For years, my ego convinced me that my struggle was unique. Surely no other woman felt the constant conflict between mastering her own destiny and resigning herself to fate. Even with my closest friends, control isn't a topic that comes up in our conversations. We talk about important issues and trivial issues. We don’t talk about how much or how little control we exert over ourselves, our bodies, our domains. Regardless of how infrequently it is discussed, it is ever present.

Exercising self control is a universal struggle for women. It is not limited to women in developed countries where women have at least on paper, if not in fact, equal rights with men. While what I feel the desperate need to control in my own small plot of life is dramatically different than what a woman in Somalia fights to control, the fight is still there. It is the stakes that differ.

Interestingly, the realization that I am not struggling alone came through reading erotica. Primarily women-written erotica. Control is such a common theme in erotica it often becomes trivialized. The plots evolve around the continual barter for control of the central character’s emotions, her body, her life. Once I became attuned to the theme, I began to see it in everything I read -- contemporary fiction, historical mysteries, epic novels. If it was written by a woman with a woman protagonist, regardless of the plot or the genre, the issue of control is always there, right under the surface.

I don't believe this is such a defining issue for men. Perhaps they struggle more consistently with the issue of power. Closely related to control, but distinctly different in so many ways.

Some men probably struggle with self-control issues all the time and all men probably struggle with the issue at some point in their life. For men though, I don't believe self-control is a constant irritant, the splinter embedded in the palm of your hand you feel compelled to continually dig, never removing and always pushing deeper.

My one year of high school sociology obviously makes me totally qualified to spout out sociological theory so here goes: I assume that this distinction stems from the fact that since the dawn of humankind, men have had almost all of the control and women very little of it. While some women are fortunate to live in societies that grant them some level of control over themselves, most of the women on earth still exist in world where any control they have is limited, transitory, hard won and quickly lost.

And for the women who now hold some control over their own destiny, there is always that nagging thought in the back of our heads warning us that our hard won control can always be snatched back from us, with very little effort.

Back from the universal to the personal - my need for control is often the overwhelming fuel that feeds my fire. It can be exhausting. There are so many times I long to hand it over to someone else. Long to ask someone else to just take care of things (me) for awhile, so I can catch my breath.

That person in my life has always been a man. My father, my boyfriend, my spouse, a coworker. And there's the rub. That nagging fear that if I give in, give over control to the man in my life, the world could shift backwards and I would never regain what I have loaned. I realize the injustice in this thought. The men I speak of are enlightened and fair. They would never intentionally take permanent control over me, would be insulted if I even suggested this was a concern.

This brings me back to women’s erotica. A genre with an historically limited audience. While men could pick up Playboy, Hustler, et al at the nearest convenience store and gain fairly easy access to pornographic films, a woman did not have easy access to erotica.

As in so many other situations, the internet is the great equalizer. Erotica written for the female audience flourishes online. I know this because I find myself continually ferreting it out.

So much of that erotica focuses on dominant/submissive relationships with women generally, but not always, in the submissive role. Often times she struggles against this role and only reluctantly gives in. And I wonder how close to the bone these stories cut. Wonder if a self confident, successful in their own right woman, can truly give up the control she fought so hard to obtain. Cede it over to a man who will likely never be willing to give it back. If she understands that by this single act she may be considered less than she was by everyone, except perhaps, the person who accepted her gift. Is that enough? I don’t believe it ever could be for me. But maybe ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Compulsive Reading Materials


I haven't changed my reading list on the side panel in quite awhile. Partly because I seem to be either( a) too lazy to keep it up to date or( c) too busy to do so. I am constantly striving for the middle ground, but fear (b) will always allude me.

However, the main reason I haven't updated it regularly is I am indulging in one of my periodic reading ruts. One of the banes of my existence is the series author. The authors that write two, thirty seven or sixty eight books all featuring the same cast of characters. If I come across them when only one or two books have been published, then I can usually control my addiction. By the time the next book in the series comes out I have moved on to other reading interests. But if I wait until five or six or even more books in the series are published, then I am lost. I become obsessed with reading each book in the series, reading them in the correct order and not stopping until I have read every frigging one of the damn things.

Occasionally this turns out OK. If the fifth book or the twelfth book in the series is as well written and entertaining as the first, I consider my obsession time well spent. Most of the Anne Rice Vampire Series were entertaining to read and at one time I eagerly awaited the publishing of the next book. I can't say the last book was as good as the first, but I read them all. Strangely, none of her other series ever captured my attention.

Most of the time, the series loses its creative energy after the first couple of books. But once I get started, if the next book is available, I am on a mission. I'm determined to get through them all. Regardless of how unreadable the sixth or twenty seventh book might be.

I'm sure this goes back to my early reading habits. I used to keep written lists of books in a series and cross each one off as I turned the last page. I worked my way through Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, Donna Parker, Cherry Ames, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott and the Anne of Green Gable series. I even read all of the Walt Disney- Annette series and the Lennon Sisters mysteries. (This last statement is one of the most humiliating confessions I have ever made.)

I also believe I inherited this quirk from my mom. When she died, in the back of her closet were three grocery bags full of Agatha Christi paperback mysteries. I am certain she read them all. Perhaps in one setting. Or at least on one year.

Now I am engrossed in the Anne Perry mysteries featuring Charlotte & Thomas Pitt. I should say I was engrossed when I was reading the third and fourth books in the series. The first couple were not particularly well written. They were her first published books and there was absolutely no development of the main characters. The next few improved steadily. I am now on book 12. I think there are 25 in the series. The improvement stalled around book 8. They are still readable, but not compelling. Regardless, whether I want to or not, I will probably get through them all. Fortunately, they are fast reads and several are audio-books, so my ipod can speed the process along.

A part of me realizes that reading a book because it is number 16 in a series rather than reading it for the pleasure of reading is not particularly noble. I assume authors that find commercial success with a particular set of characters or a particular narrative stick with their story not because they can't write about other subjects, but rather - why spoil a good thing? Or as my father-in-law used to say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

And yet I persist. Even though I have a backlog of books I really want to read, they will wait until I have pushed my way through the Victorian world of Charlotte & Thomas Pitt. I still see little character development, but each book does touch on issues of the day - suffrage, class struggle, child labor, the impact of the industrial age on society. If it was an issue at the time the characters played their roles, Anne Perry weaves it into the story. That keeps them engaging. Plus, I have to admit Ms. Perry's own weird history also helps keeps me interested in the series.

I am actually a person of few compulsions. And this one seems fairly benign. I just hope Ms. Perry is done writing Pitt books. I can't take much more.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Writer's Life - But Not Mine


This post has floundered as a draft for several days. Every time I start to work on it something changes in my online universe. The topic remains relevant, but new facts must be inserted. Which means already penned sections must go, or else it will be epic in its final proportion. Perhaps the exorcised sections will show up in another post.

What prompted my musings in the first place was this post by Susannah Breslin on her blog The Reverse Cowgirl. I read her work regularly and am fascinated by her ability to take a world most people find ugly, dirty and disconcerting and point out the beauty, even if it is a heartbreakingly sad beauty, that lurks beneath.

She later advised on Twitter that the young man whose inquiry she responded to was not pleased with her response. I can understand that. However, I found it ... clarifying. And refreshing. The honesty in her words is a slap in the face to many people who believe they are the next Bronte sister or even the next Carl Bernstein and all they have to do is form a complete sentence, then readers will flock to their words. It propelled me towards proactively stating what has gradually been dawning on me for several months.

I remember clearly the day I decided to be a writer. I was in the 5th grade. Our assignment was to cut a picture out of a magazine and write a story about the picture. My selection was a picture of a girl about my age, looking out a window at gray, drizzly skies. I named her Anastasia. I have no idea why. I decided she was sad. About as complex an emotion as I was up to in 5th grade.

The real reason she was sad will be saved for a future post. Suffice it to say that the reason I used in my story was that her dog had just died.

My teacher loved it. On this assignment she did something she had never done before. Right next to the bright red 100% scratched boldly across the paper she wrote: "You should be a writer when you grow up." That sealed the deal. From that day forward, while I mentioned other ambitions, finished school, began a career in financial services, got married and had kids, I knew in my heart that I was born to write.

In a single act, 125 words written on a Big Chief tablet with a picture from a magazine pasted across the top, the driving ambition of my life crystallized.

Flash forward many, many years. I write a killer business letter. I can reduce an underling to tears reading the eloquently scathing first sentence in an email missive from me. I write contracts, I write policy language and I write magazine articles regarding my industry that everyone agrees are informative, educational and never dry. I proofed, edited and occasionally rewrote both of my kids through high school and college. I've written short stories and essays - even the beginnings of what I dreamed would be a novel. I've kept a journal and have been writing in this space since January.

But am I a writer? God no. I have a way with words, especially in formal, business documents. I am witty and articulate. I have an extensive vocabulary and love to show it off. However, I am not and could never be confused with a serious "writer" aka "author" of great works. I am a journeyman - not an artist.

And that is becoming OK with me. It was a painful revelation at first. But, I've discovered several other things in life I am really, really good at, so there is compensation.

I am occasionally envious of people who do have real talent. But mainly I just enjoy reading what their talent reaps. I am amazed that some of my favorites, who are so incredibly and obviously gifted, are either still struggling for recognition or don't realize themselves that their gift goes way beyond simple skill.

And that leads me to the next post that prompted this confession. One of my very favorite writers is Remittance Girl. Her fiction is adult in nature. But to say she is a gifted writer is an understatement. I read what she writes and am awed. Even if the particular story doesn't appeal to me, her imagination, her storytelling skills and her ability to draw the reader in, until they become the character and see the world through the eyes of the character is beyond the ability of many successful and published authors. Her reverence of the written word is always obvious. Why she is not consistently on top of the NY Times bestseller list is a mystery to me.

I read this recent post on her blog, which was her reasoned response to a totally irrelevant remark posted as a comment to one of her current stories in progress. The remark had absolutely nothing to do with what she had written and was only made to be hurtful to RG. Instead, it made the poster seem small in stature and spirit as well as just plain ignorant.

I cannot read what RG writes compare it to what I write and say with a straight face that we are both similarly gifted and talented writers. But I can be pissed when someone belittles her talent so stupidly, almost to the point I take it personally.

And finally, a third event that just occurred and insisted I make room for it in this post. If no one else sees the connection between what Susannah Breslin said, the post on Remittance Girl's blog, the post I mention below and my willingness to finally admit I am not a writer - sorry. It makes sense to me.

There is a gentleman named Deity. He has a blog I've read regularly for a couple of years. He recently admitted to being burned out and stopped posting a couple of months ago. His decision was a loss felt by many. Just this afternoon he offered this small gift. A short piece infused with the joy of the everyday, the comfort of routine and a love of one's place in life. It moved me to tears.

He is a writer. I am not.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crashing


Flipping through channels, I happened on Dave Matthews Band video for "Crash Into Me". The song has been a favorite since the first time I heard it. An alluring siren call. There are songs you hear that make you feel happy, make you feel sorrowful, fill you with joy. This song elicits nothing but a burning need to shag.

The video is perhaps a little too surreal. It is beautiful, a visual masterpiece, but the meaning of some of the imagery goes right over my head.

That hardly matters though. Everything about the song, the arrangement, the lyrics, the mix, everything appeals to me. Every aspect of the song begs you to sink, to join, to crash. I love it.