Sunday, November 28, 2010

Are We There Yet?

What are those ants up there in the header doing?  I never get tired of looking at them.

When I was making art, I was fascinated by metonymy, a figure of speech that substitutes one word for another word that it's closely associated with.  Over time, the crown comes to stand for the king.

It is metonymy that gives documentary film and other forms of sympathetic magic their power over us.  And it is metonymy that connects the unseen and unseeable theoretical concepts of science to their manifestations in the realm of the senses.

In the physical world, films and photographs are instantly metonymic.  The weaver ants in the header stand for actual ants in a completely realistic and convincing way.  The ants in the header may be suspended in time and space, immutable, undying, but, to our minds, they are real.  And they are doing a real ant thing, a thing they were caught in the act of doing by the biologist who snapped their picture and generously gave us permission to use it here.  They will continue to do that one ant thing and nothing else as long as the photograph lasts.  They will not sting us to move us off their trail, they will not turn around and head in the opposite direction, and the major worker will not put the minor worker down.  They will move forward together, always tending toward some place outside the frame of the photograph, but never getting there. 

Now the scientist who took the picture of these weaver ants, Bert Hölldobler, knows as much about ants as anyone alive, and he tells us that what is literally going on in that picture is an example of the division of labor.  What Professor Hölldobler's photograph shows is a major worker carrying a minor worker "to a place where the minor worker is needed for special work, such as attending honeydew-secreting homoopterans or nursing small larvae."

That's the observable fact of the picture.  The denotative meaning of it.  But we do not live by metonymy alone.

Beyond metonymy, there is metaphor, a figure of speech in which a word that literally denotes one thing or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness.  As metaphor, the picture of our ants points to something beyond itself.  It refers to other things that it is like.  And, as a picture that is a metaphor for something else, the more things it refers to, the better it is.

As metaphor, Professor Hölldobler's weaver ants are amazingly polyreferential.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Picking Up The Pieces

The Hive is a mess.  Tunnels caved in, major flooding in the basement, manuscripts in the basement torn and water-logged.  Conversations lost.  We fell apart.

I kept thinking, if we stayed with it long enough, we could improvise our way to something important, some clear statement of what it is to be human. Some reader, years from now, might find that theme in our notes. People were here. They had jobs. They had lovers. Husbands and wives. Some of them had kids. Their world was changing fast. Sometimes, it seemed to be coming down around their ears. But they went to movies, danced, listened to music, watched TV, made it to the grocery store. They read books. They talked about the things they saw and heard. Like you, Reader. They tried to be direct, unmediated and genuinely human in what they thought and said, to keep things and people in perspective. They hung out. And they all had porn star names. But the women didn't like to give head.

Maybe that's why the Hive collapsed.  Or maybe it was politics.  It's easy to have an opinion about politics, but it's mainly a waste of time.  Or maybe there is something about creative people that makes collaboration difficult for them, even impossible.  Whatever the reason, the Hive collapsed, the victim of some kind of colony collapse disorder.  We hardly understood what was happening to us.

When I drained the basement, I found ideas flopping around like fish out of water, and not a single one of them was of any use in finding a way to live better or even to survive in this upside-down, inside-out world of America circa 2010.  Not one article or idea as useful as the articles in The Whole Earth Catalog of the Sixties. 

What we needed badly a couple of years ago were tools for survival. Do we need them still? I'm not sure we do.

Maybe what we need now are better ways to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we survived the social upheaval that destroyed millions of other lives. Maybe we need to turn our thoughts inward and celebrate the personal life in this time of collective discontent, to adopt the attitude that someone has to keep living, as though we have been selected for that task.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Annals Of The Waterboard (An Opera) February 13, 2010

2:00 AM. Bush meets Cheney in the hallway of a cell block. Bush is carrying a surfboard. Marine guards snap to attention as Bush approaches.

Cheney: What the hell is that?

Bush: My surfboard.

Cheney: What an asshole. I said we were waterboarding tonight.

Bush: Whoa! You can't call POTUS an asshole. (To the Marines in the hall.) Grab hold of him. (Bush throws the surfboard on the floor.) Hold him down on that!

Cheney: Goddam it, George, stop fucking around.

Bush: Somebody get me some water and a rag.

Tutti cantano insieme:

The Marines: Sir! Aye, Aye! Sir!

Cheney: Don't board me, George!

Bush: Tube City! Damn! Turn him over now!

Sacrifice I The Sugar


When I knew him, it was Michael Tracy's intention to make the vestiges of ancient signs visible in the modern world.



Sacrifice I Burning


Maundy Thursday Circa 1975


Good Friday Circa 1975


Easter Sunday Circa 1975


Le Monde Circa 1975


Michael (Crossed Out)


The Great Depression January 25, 2009

I was born in a Texas Gulf Coast town during the Depression, right before the war. My grandmother was Italian and my grandfather was an Irish cop. My father was a bohunk from Pennsylvania who was in the Army when he met my mother. He got out of the Army, cut grass and delivered ice until my grandfather got him a job on the force. He went back into the Army after Pearl Harbor and ended up occupying Japan. My mother had a half-brother, my uncle Bill, who was in the Army Air Corps when the war started. He was the toughest man I ever knew.

My mother and I lived with my grandparents in their house down by the docks. During the Depression, my mother says, my grandfather used to bring home groceries and meat he got from the grocers and butchers on his beat. We'd share the food with my grandmother's sisters and brothers and their families sometimes. My mother emptied bed pans at the hospital down the street until she got a job with the Corps of Engineers.

I don't remember any of that. I remember card games in the dining room, listening to people talking and laughing while I fell asleep, a paper jack-o-lantern that caught fire, and falling off the back porch. Later, I remember the lights were off at night along the beach because of the German submarines in the Gulf. When my dad came home from Japan, he brought me a sword.

Japan 1945

The Wolf Of Winter

A long time ago, I told my son, I think he was in the first grade at the time, that Kenneth Patchen's The Wolf Of Winter was about the winter cold killing poor people. I doubt we got into nice distinctions between body and spirit or into the idea that there is a pessimism born of winter that afflicts boys who grow up in the South. A winter depression that settles into your bones and makes it hard to move.

Economic hard times are bound to hit people in the North, in the big frozen cities, harder than they hit people in the South. Finding a way to stay warm, a place to sleep, has to be tough. In Seattle, they open up the public buildings at night and the homeless sleep in the halls. For the poor, winter is hard. During a depression, it's going to be deadly.

The first panhandler of the winter turned up on our street yesterday. It was recycling day, and, in retrospect, I imagine she was working the snow-covered sidewalk for bottles and saw me dragging my little green tub of bottles and cans to the curb.

Her story was one I'd heard before. Just moved into the neighborhood. Family in trouble somewhere. Gas money to get to them. Pay me back in a couple of days. God bless me. Can she give me a hug? We settle for shaking hands.

I've never turned a panhandler down. It's a deep superstition of some kind. The way I buy off the bad luck that stalks me, just out of sight. Like a wolf.

The Girl 2008

Sacrifice I June 21, 2008

Michael Out Of Egypt June 21, 2008

Zyema's Garden June 3, 2007

Memorial Day May 28, 2007

Vietnam Is Where I Found My Family
By Ann Bryan Mariano

"Sometimes an officer would say, 'What the hell is a woman doing here?' and I'd shrug nonchalantly. 'My editor sent me to cover the fighting.' There were struggles with the military over where I could and couldn't go, and what I could and couldn't do. I tried never to back down and usually my dogged persistence prevailed.

"Soldiers offered me pistols or knives, believing that I should have some kind of weapon. Even though I was from Texas, guns made me uncomfortable. I was given a snub-nosed .38 pistol as a farewell gift from an officer in the 1st Cavalry who was returning home to the States. He was sure I'd need to shoot my way out of a Vietcong ambush one day, but of course I never did. I was afraid if I had to shoot anything it would be my own foot.

"I was opposed to the war when I arrived in Vietnam and left as a true pacifist, more convinced than ever that humanity had to find peaceful ways of resolving conflict. Being in the field proved to me that while there are many cases of individual courage and heroism among soldiers, there is nothing about war itself that is heroic. The suffering and deaths of soldiers and casualties among the Vietnamese civilian population were staggering. I had no doubt that America's involvement was tragic and doomed to fail. There was nothing to prepare me for the death and devastation I saw."

Ann Bryan Mariano was in Vietnam from 1966 to 1971, reporting for The Overseas Weekly, a privately-owned newspaper for military stationed overseas. According to Women's eNews, she is currently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and wrote her essay with the help of friends and family. "Alzheimer’s disease blows through my memory like wind through a Buddhist sand painting. Vietnam is still the most beautiful country I have ever seen. But images once so fixed in my mind are now dancing ghosts."

I knew Ann in Frankfurt at the time she left for Vietnam. I remember she took along a little red cocktail dress and a pair of red heels as a matter of principle, and it pissed off the male reporters at the Overseas Weekly that she was the first Overseas Weekly reporter into Vietnam. Even so, the reports she filed from Vietnam were read with grudging respect. I don't know why I thought of the Overseas Weekly today, and, finding a slim archive on line, noticed Ann's name in the masthead and googled my way to her story. I can't really imagine what Alzheimer's disease is like, but I hope Ann still catches glimpses of herself in Frankfurt the way I remember her. She was a good friend who put up with my arrogance and refused to believe I wasn't a serious newsman long after that was clear to everyone else. She taught me the phrase: "I can't even stand the way he ties his shoes," nursed me through pneumonia and sold me her Borgward when she left for Vietnam. I had a letter and a scarab she sent from India, and another letter from Vietnam, but I lost them, and I never heard from her again.

Any And Some May 8, 2007

I began reading Whitehead's An Introduction To Mathematics to K tonight, and was struck by Whitehead's description of personal sensations. "Our knowledge of the particular facts of the world around us is gained from our sensations. We see, and hear, and taste, and smell, and feel hot and cold, and push, and rub, and ache, and tingle. These are just our own personal sensations: my toothache cannot be your toothache, and my sight cannot be your sight." I was trying to remember who said we're condemned to a life of solitary confinement inside our own skin. And I was wishing you could feel what I feel when you touch me; that I could feel what you feel when I touch you. That you could hear your voice the way I hear it; feel my longing when you're gone. And then I read: "Mathematics as a science commenced when first someone, probably a Greek, proved propositions about any things or about some things, without specification of definite particular things," and K, almost asleep by then, mumbled: "That's very interesting."

Red Devil In A White City April 25, 2007

D and P came by last night to record Kate, singing Everything's Different. They're going to do an arrangement, then record her again. I made chicken soup and some guacamole. Tequilla, beer, wine. D, P and S finished a project yesterday, and the mood was gay. Kate has added a bridge to the lyrics: "I don't care if you're a red devil in a white city or a blue angel in a white cloud ..." For the first time I see where one of her images comes from. We were reading Devil In The White City last year, and she probably heard us talking about it. What a concrete image.

Remembering Capa April 18, 2007

I've been thinking about Capa today. Reaction across the web to the cell phone video of police outside the building where the Viginia Tech massacre took place made me think about Capa. Then about Germany in 1965, and the way I decided to lay around Frankfurt, getting high and making love, instead of going to Vietnam as a stringer for the Houston Post, even after A went there. And about how R tried to talk me into going to Nicaragua with him when his marriage was on the rocks. But I had just met S, so I stayed in Austin.

5 Movies

I think it's more about me than about the films. The same films get to me in the same way year after year.


Whatever "moral ascendency" the West may have held over the East was lost at the Dharasana Salt Works in India. It's the image of the two men, holding hands as they walk into the clubs, that makes me cry.

England wasn't as tough as America was in the Sixties. Dr. King had to put women and children in front of the dogs and clubs of the Southern cops before we decided we'd had enough.


In the name of your sacred dead. Strike.

Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines is the climactic scene of the MacArthur bio-pic. I don't know if I find the moment when he rallies the Philippine resistance so moving because my own dead are sacred to me, or because I wish they were. My father was among the American troops who liberated the Philippines. He went on to occupy Japan. MacArthur would have known better than to try to move Vietnamese villagers away from the graves of their sacred dead.

The Miracle Worker

She knows!

All of us have been liberated, more or less, from the darkness of mute ignorance by someone. Without communication, we're not human. Life is not worth living.

Tunes of Glory

We do terrible things that can't be undone. Without comrades, we'd be lost.

The Big Chill

I saw The Big Chill when I started dating after the break-up of my first marriage. I was middle-aged and stoned a lot of the time. This scene didn't hit me until I was in the car, getting ready to pull out of the parking lot. I cried for about 10 minutes while my future wife watched me and didn't say anything. We've been together for almost 30 years, and she still hasn't asked me what I was crying about.

Excellence April 17, 2007

Why is it that anything excellent can bring tears to my eyes? I believe I am becoming more nostalgic every day. Everything reminds me of something or someone I miss.

My Last Hope April 9, 2007

My daughter may restore my faith in women.

Everything's Different March 21, 2007

Everything's different,
Not the same.
Can't find me in the hall of fame.
Look into the face of fame.
Look into the face of God.
But most importantly, most importantly,
Look into the face of you.
'Cause, honey, you're the most
Important thing to me.
Everything's different,
Not the same.
Can't find me in the hall of fame.

Kate Glad 2006

Friends March 20, 2007

Dropped my cell phone in the snow at A's as I was getting in or out of my truck in his driveway. I didn't realize I'd lost the phone for a couple of days, and it took me a couple of days more to figure out where I'd lost it. By the time I got over there to poke around in the snow for it, A had cleared his driveway with a snow blower. After the snow melted, he found my mangled phone up on the lawn where the snow blower had thrown it.

MT had a friend like that. John lived across the hall from MT on the Strand in Galveston before it was gentrified. MT brought a couple of guys back to his loft one night and they tried to kill him. They had MT up on the top of his refrigerator, trying to hold them off with a paring knife, when John busted down MT's door and beat the shit out of them with a baseball bat. Thing is, the door wasn't locked.

Sometimes relationships are like that. Wires get crossed somehow. Takes a while to figure that out. You have to watch your ass.

Climbing Down June 7, 2006

I had the strangest dream about me and S last night. We were in Washington, D.C., walking down a dark alley, and we came to a place in the alley where the pavement fell off into a deep ravine. There was a tree in the ravine, and its top was level with the alley. S and I stepped into the treetop and climbed down the tree. At first I thought she wouldn't be able to make the climb down. It was too steep and slippery. But every time I thought we were stuck, we found another foothold, another branch or another knot on the wet trunk.

Breathing Under Water May 22, 2006

I dreamed I could breathe water. I dreamed I was in a pool, swimming with K and S, and I could breathe the water into my lungs and stay under water as long as I wanted to. I could feel the water going into my lungs. I had to breathe in very hard to get it to go down. It caught at first, as though something were covering my airway and keeping the water out. But when I breathed in as hard as I could, the water went down and I was all right. It was a powerful feeling.

She Got One! May 25, 2005

Princess Zyema got her first mouse last night. I found it on the porch. She had chewed it until it looked like a black turd, lying next to a small pile of purple and black guts.

Hello Kitty Admires The Baby Jesus March 8, 2005

My daughter hasn't quite got the hang of religion yet.  She wanted a nativity scene, and we got her one from Saint Vincent DePaul. She called it her Jesus set, and mixed in Hello Kitty and farm and jungle animals. I figure the Mary I grew up with wouldn't mind that much.

Jasmine March 14, 2005

My Night Blooming Jasmine has started to bloom already. I have two big plants in pots in my sun room. I bring them inside in the Fall and put them back out on the porch in the Summer. They've never bloomed this early before. It's amazing to sit in my sun room in the evening, look out at the moonlit snow and smell Jasmine. I just have one little cluster of about 10 flowers on one plant, which is lucky, since my wife hates the smell. But I grew up with it. One whiff transports me back to hot summer nights in Galveston, Texas, reminds me of the warm waters of the Gulf Of Mexico, brings back the heavy scent of the perfume on the necks of the Mexican girls I held in the back seat of my old man's Pontiac. I worry about what kinds of smells my young daughter is going to remember from her childhood, growing up in Wisconsin. Wood fires maybe. Other Winter smells. But Jasmine, too, come to think of it. She loves it. She tears off one flower every night and takes it to her room.

Deformed Monarch Butterfly March 9, 2005

Past Tense March 5, 2005

That afternoon, he was looking at a Polaroid picture of his wife and him that he took twenty years before, and he found himself trying to remember who the people in the picture were. They had been standing in front of a bathroom mirror. He had been behind her, with the camera in his right hand. In the mirror, it appeared to be in his left hand. He had reached around her with his other hand to touch her stomach, just below her breast. She had tilted her head back a little and smiled. He missed that woman. He wondered if she missed him.

Resignation February 23, 2005

He was sixty-five when he realized he would never be happy again.

Princess Zyema January 3, 2005

Princes Zyema Velvet Kitten sits on my lap, purring, and kneads my stomach, while I consider this post. She slips behind me on the chair, rubbing her face against my back. This is my daughter's cat, rescued from the Humane Society. She's too young to hunt anything except her little, rabbit-fur mice. She leaps into the air, back arched, tail curved, and comes down on them with all four feet. For some reason, she likes to drop them in her water bowl. There are no mice in the garden now. Everything is under 6 inches of snow. Do mice hibernate? I picture them in their little burrows, sitting in rocking chairs, knitting, sipping tea or smoking pipes. They have no idea what awful deaths await them in the Spring.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

That Place Between A Woman's Legs

What do you call that arch between a woman's legs? Why do some women have it and others don't?

Mary J. Blige has it.

Lingerie mannequins have it.

Megan Fox has it.

Megan Fox for Emporio Armani by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott

But not Norma Jean.

Is it called the pubic arch, or does it have another name, something more poetic? And what about adjectives? Wide? Flat? I like the way it looks, but I don't know what it's called.

I tried to write about filming a singer with the light shining through that space between her thighs, and I couldn't think of the name of that arch.