Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Fires of Bel

It's May Eve. This coming month is perhaps my favorite time of year. My two favorite flowers, violets and lilacs, are blooming. The weather is usually just about perfect for me; it's sunny and warm enough during the day to be out and about, but it cools off at night to make sleeping a pleasure. Only this year did I figure out that part of my enjoyment of the month in the city is due to the fact that I can actually get my bedroom cool enough to suit me. Despite the fact that I have the radiator turned off in there, it still manages to put out a lot of heat (this is an old building, and we're on the top floor). The closest window remains open all Winter long, and that helps a lot, but still, most of the time I don't get that brisk cool air that makes sleeping easy and pleasurable. Right now though I'm getting it, because I have both windows open, and the heat is off in the building. I was almost cold getting out of bed this morning. Heaven. I'm not sleeping a lot for other reasons (don't get excited, it's just because of work) but when I do, man is it good.

Tomorrow is May Day, or Beltáin. From Caitlín Matthews' book The Celtic Book of Days:

"Beltane (sic) celebrates the bright half of the year and was warmly welcomed for it was the official beginning of summer when the over-wintered animals could be driven out into wider pasturing, and when scattered households would meet together and travel forth....The festival of Beltane represented all things that were held in low esteem by the Church and which were notably absent from traditional ecclesiastical celebrations: sexuality, eros, dancing and singing. It was anciently customary for unmarried couples and sweethearts to pair off and go the woods on Beltane eve, so that the month of May has become proverbial for sexual initiation and loving activity. The festival of Imbolc, occurring nine months later, is perhaps not insignificantly associated with child-birth and midwifery." (p. 71)

This is one of those Pagan holidays I love in theory, but have never really committed to in as full a manner as I might. If I were more daring (or more reckless, my mother would say) I could easily go find someone to frolic with in one of the parks around here, but some magical blend of prudery, cowardice and good sense keeps me from doing that (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!). I have evolved my own rituals though, and it looks like I'll be able to observe at least a few of them tomorrow. I'll only be working in the morning, and though I ought to do laundry after that, I will probably go to Central Park to see if the violets are out yet. Then I'll check for the lilacs near Belvedere Castle. If time allows I'll go visit an Oak tree I've become very fond of. It gives off an amazingly vibrant energy. I will probably also buy some cut lilac, to bring the scent home. Tonight I lit candles, made tomato sauce for pasta, and opened a bottle of Shiraz. This wasn't just my normal Yellowtail Australian shiraz, no this was the Yellowtail Reserve shiraz. I could totally taste the extra five dollars. Given how wiped out and loopy I still am (though I think I'm over my flu), wine may have been a bad move. Well, wine, then writing on my blog may have been a bad move. We'll see how much sense this entry makes to me in the morning. Some of you may have registered opinions by then. I ask for your patience.

I still haven't told you about the work I've been doing with/for a friend of mine, nor have I shared my insights borne out of modeling for a sculpture classe. There are only a few of the fascinating subjects I will captivate you all with, when time, energy, and brain-power allows.

In the meantime, celebrate Spring tonight and tomorrow in whatever way seems best. I know you've probably seen my Green Man mask (above) before, but since this is the very holiday he is most associated with, I thought I'd post this image again.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Foggy Living

I feel like the last two weeks got away from me; I've not stayed on top of my life. My attention has been fragmented, and scattered, there are no groceries in the fridge, the place looks like a truck hit it, and I've been always one or two steps behind where I ought to be. I've barely been able to read emails and blogs, let alone write my own, and I think that has contributed to my sense of chaos as much as anything. Email is the main way I stay in contact with friends, virtual and not, and staying in touch with my blogging friends has become an important part of my day.

There several possible reasons why I'm so scattered. My dad was visiting for a few days, and naturally I tried to see him as much as I could. Pratt is in the final weeks of the semester which doesn't affect my work load too much yet, but all that spacey yet frantic finals energy can be contagious. I've also started helping my friend Dessida prepare her MFA thesis show, giving her any free moment I had. I'll write more on that later.

I think the biggest problem though has been this odd virus I've come down with. Two weeks ago, I worked for the all-night figure drawing extravaganza, so I expected to feel discombobulated for a few days. Then I wasn't getting enough sleep in the following week, so I thought I just hadn't caught up; now I wonder how much of my sleeplessness was effect rather than cause. A little from column A, a little from column B, no doubt.

Boy, this posting is some rivetting stuff so far, huh. Stick with me, I'm still a little loopy. Actually, that may be a good reason not to stick with me. Do as you see fit.

The symptoms of this bug were just vague enough for me to overlook or ignore them. I tend to do that whenever possible, as do most people, I think. There's still some part of me that thinks illness is a weakness of character, rather than the random reaction of my body to a pathogen. Those damn Puritans! They have so much to answer for. I felt run down, only slightly more achy than usual, prone to dizziness, and flushing that wasn't conclusive enough to indicate a fever, and I had trouble with basic motor skills. I dropped things a lot, inanimate objects kept jumping out to bonk into me, and while I managed not to bonk into people on the subway any more than usual, preventing it took WAY more concentration than I'm used to. That was true with a lot of things, actually; basic tasks, even typically unconscious actions required MUCH rumination, debate and analysis. We're talking things like deciding if I was going to put on my shoes then get my keys before leaving the house, or would it be a more efficient use of time to get the keys (at the back of the apartment) THEN put on my shoes (near the front door, and therefore on the way out of the apartment). In fact this woolly-headedness no doubt is partly why it took me so long to notice something was awry. I felt like I was observing life through the wrong end of a telescope; even if something seemed off, it seemed to be happening to someone else, it certainly wasn't anything to get worked up about, so I just kept plodding along, meeting my basic commitments, getting tasks done in a stupor.

Finally, last Saturday I recognized that things were much more off than some sleepless nights would cause. I canceled my commitments that day, which gave my body the go-ahead to collapse, and it did. I slept and lay around the entire day. Making oatmeal that evening took immense amounts of brain-power. I've made oatmeal a thousand times. I don't bother to memorize the proportions of water, oats and salt, but even so consulting the container's instructions is mostly just for verification. Usually. That evening I stared fixedly at the instructions, painstakingly figuring out that, oh, okay, the ingredients run down the left, the serving sizes run across the top so that means... hold on... right, I look at the oats, no, I, oh HERE we go, I choose a serving size... hmm, how hungry am I? Why is Coltrane staring at me? Did I remember to water the plants? It's Saturday... I've got to do laundry... I really love that vase, it was such a nice gift from Mom... what were we talking about? Right, oatmeal, that sounds good, oh look I've got the box here in my hands, what were the odds?... What is that sound? Right let's go with the heart-healthy serving, that means I look at...oh here we go, this column. Look at that, it's all highlighted too, because it's the heart-healthy portion, that should make it easy not to get lost, I just read dooooowwwn the column, the red one. Cool. We're cookin' now.

I managed to fix the oatmeal without setting the house on fire, or otherwise doing injury to myself. Anything that required cooking for longer than five minutes was probably too big a risk.

Here I am two weeks later, and I have to accept that things are still not quite back to normal. I'm not really sick enough to stay in bed, nor can I afford to give up the work, but I still need to concentrate very, VERY hard to do things like make coffee or toast my bagel. Some days the only reason I remembered to put on pants before leaving the apartment was because I needed someplace to put my keys and wallet. Fortunately remembering to check for my keys and wallet before leaving the house is completely automatic. The fact is I check for my keys and wallet when leaving almost ANY residence. If I come to visit you, I'll probably do it anytime I walk out your front door. This is a tic left over from the days I was a dog walker and had the keys to about a million apartments; accidentally locking them in one apartment would have meant a day of mayhem for me, at least one very disgruntled client, and several dogs. I was very thankful for that Pavlovian habit these last two weeks.

I offer this story as explanation and apology for the fact that I've been so out of touch, in every possible sense of the expression. I owe many of you emails, and when I don't post here, it feels like I've been out of touch with all of you for weeks. I've been enjoying your posts, but today is the first day that I've had time and brain-power to write comments. Believe me, if oatmeal was giving me trouble, you can imagine what putting together cogent thought was like, and don't get me started on the word verification process. It was far beyond my meager capacity. Might as well been asking me to write in Urdu.

I hope in the next few days to tell you about this archival mounting process I've been learning from Dessida, to help her with her show. Yes, in the midst of this fog I've been regularly taking exacting measurements of special acid-free cardboard, then cutting it with a dull exacto knife, using a jury-rigged straight edge constructed from a metal yardstick and old shelves, kneeling on a cement basement floor at City College, experiencing head-rushes of record breaking duration anytime I stood up. I mean, we're talking epic. Yet I still have all my digits, and only fucked up two pieces of cardboard! Score!

Okay, this post really doesn't have much point, except to say I've been out of it, REALLY out of it, and as a consequence I've lost touch with all of you, and I've missed you. My spaciness is still pretty evident (wouldn't you say?), made worse today no doubt due to the fact that in all my running around yesterday I ended up eating like an unsupervised ten year old boy, but I'm definitely the upswing. Seriously.

Now I need to go lie down. Or maybe shower. If I showered first, then lay down, my hair would look ridiculous. Do I care? Then again, if I shower first, maybe that will wake me up (this coffee don't seem to be doing SQUAT), and I wouldn't need to nap... but boy does a nap sound good right now and we don't start work for another hour...

This decision is too hard for me. I need to give this some thought.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Workin' the Day Job

So in the past week I've had a lot of modeling work. I modeled for the third year in a row for the big, twelve hour, all night drawing extravaganza. Sad to say there was nothing this year to rival last year's event, at least not for me. I also seemed to be knocked out by the 'all nightness' of it more this year. I think the excitement has worn off.

Wednesday night though, I worked at a new-to-me place called the Salmagundi Club. It is one of those old beautiful buildings on 5th avenue, a former stately home (I assume) that now houses a society of watercolorists, drawing classes, a member dining room, a library, and probably a whole lot else I didn't take note of. It's not often I get inside one of these places; funnily enough when I do, I'm usually naked. That sounds so much more exciting than it is. One serious danger to art modeling, I'm starting to realize, is it risks associating nudity with work. It's been so long since I was naked for someone who didn't have a drawing pad in his hand.

Moving on. I think it's cool when organizations like this get into these beautiful old places; they're probably better equipped to maintain the structure, and they make it more likely that a greater part of the general population gets to enjoy it. Most of my indoor life in NYC is spent in cramped, dimly lit living spaces, run-down, poorly lit rehearsal studios, or run-down, poorly lit classrooms. Oh, and sometimes black box theatres. With bad lighting. So being in an elegant, spacious, airy place is quite lovely and startling. It's odd to remember that for some New Yorkers, this is what the city is like. When I was a dog-walker, I saw the way some people live here. Believe me, it's a whole other place.

(As a side note, this is the neighborhood Henry James usually wrote about, when he set things in NYC. I read Agnes De Mille's biography of Martha Graham a few years ago, and it was funny to realize that when Graham and her contemporaries were starving artists, this area, around Washington Square Park, was where they found cheap apartments and rehearsal spaces. If you're not familiar with NYC, this area is now very pricey. Most of Manhattan is, but this is particularly so. There are no modern dance studios in the area that I'm aware of. Melissa, am I wrong? This process of gentrification is just part of the city experience, but it still amuses me to picture what this neighborhood must have looked like when it was 'the frontier.')

So that was one of the nice things about this Wednesday night class. The other was the fact that the students were all grown-ups, and serious artists. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy modeling for undergraduates. It's fun watching their progress from self-absorbed, insecure, criticism-shy waifs and grumps, to self-confident, analytical students with actual opinions. Not all of them make this transition, of course, but most do. Even at the start, some of them are very sweet. Most of the first-years (who I spend most of my time with) don't notice my existence at all, which is understandable, since they're 18, and if they're thinking about schoolwork at all (rather than just about getting laid), they're thinking about how much of it they have, and how little of it they want to do (since it interferes with the getting laid). Still, they're fun, and funny, and occasionally even develop an appreciation for what I do.

It's not until I'm in a room full of grown-ups though, that I remember what a luxury that is. And this was an especially nice bunch. There were more men than I usually see in settings like this; as I've mentioned before, the adult groups tend to be mostly very hip grandmothers, but this was an even mix of men and women, and a pretty wide range of ages. Seemed like a consistently high level of skill and talent too, from the glances I stole at their artwork.

Several of them were also unafraid to talk to the naked guy, which is always a nice surprise. One artist that I got to chat with, Ben Conrad, has a website and blog. I really like his work. The fact that I'm posting a link to his blog when there is a drawing of me on it is pure coincidence. He explores a variety of styles, subjects, and materials, which I find inspiring.

He was very gallant when informing me about the posting, reassuring me that it was an image I could safely send my family and friends. Ya'll can stop snorting now. He doesn't know me very well yet, and I thought it was very thoughtful. And no Mom, I'm not naked in EVERY play I do. There have been three. Okay, four. Four plays in twenty years though, okay?

I have browsed through most of Ben's galleries, and so far my favorites are the bird on wires, and the past-futurist series. The Birds on Wires series makes me think of Indiana, funnily enough. There's nothing about the images that says they couldn't be from New York City (indeed the plethora of wires would suggest someplace reasonably urban), but they make me think of wide open spaces, big sky, quiet surroundings, and the dry, dusty light of August. I also like how they suggest sheet music in some cases. Browsing through the blog, I've gotten the impression that Ben stays up on what is going on in the museums and galleries, something I'm very bad about. I'm bad at staying up on what is happening in the theatres, sad to say. It will be fun having an inside eye on the New York art scene.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Fun Little Tests

Here are the results of two online tests I took. One I found on Facebook, the other I stole from Java. I rather like the juxtaposition. Apparently I'm a nice, wifty guy with a mouth like a truck-driver. I can see that.

You can slide the mouse over each color, and find out what this test thinks of me for specific categories. Apparently I have extremely high masculinity (the big light blue square) and somewhat high feminity (the yellow square, I think). Not a clue what that means, but it sounds cool, doesn't it? I'm NOT pleased at the 'average spontaneity' or the 'somewhat high openness', so I'll ignore those findings. Stupid test.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website? I guess this doesn't really surprise me. The form also told me that my blog's profanity was 111% higher than other websites taking this test. So a mere 16.9% of pages with profanity puts me 111% ahead of the pack? That seems like it ought to reassure somebody about the state of things on the internet, right? Assuming profanity still gets some people's panties in a bunch? (Is 'panties' cursing, sorry, cussing? What about 'panties in a bunch'? Seems crass at least, but I bet the meter didn't count things like that.)

Thing is, I think I swear more in person than I do in my writing. Friends who have met me in person, do you concur?

Not sure what I think of that, if it's true. I behave myself around children, and elderly Quakers, at least. The latter does NOT include my parents, by the way. First off, I don't really think of them as elderly, and second, who do you think taught me all those swear words? Dad said he didn't want us to learn any words from the kids on the street corner that we hadn't heard at home first.

For now I have no plans to change any behavior.

Created by OnePlusYou

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Regaining Perspective.

Friday evening was one of those occasions when I felt like Manhattan was telling me, in no uncertain terms, that there was. no. room. for. me.

I was expecting the commute home to be tricky. The school I work at most often, the Pratt Institute, is deep in Brooklyn. I live at the north end of Manhattan, in Harlem. What this means is a) the commute can take anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes on average, one way and b) I will be going with rush hour traffic for most of the ride. These are the constant irritations to the trip, and I think I handle them pretty well.

But then Friday, you see, there was some moisture in the air. I don't mean there was actual RAIN, mind you, though it had been predicted. Okay, to be fair I think there had been some in the early afternoon. At 5pm, when I was getting on the train in Brooklyn, however, it had been dry for a while. As I think I've written before, any kind of precipitation, indeed even the suggestion of precipitation makes the trains and a substantial portion of the population go spare. Fridays often have their own special craziness, for reasons I've not quite figured out. There just always seem to be more people on the trains on Fridays. This one was no exception.

So we all see where I'm going with this, right? I managed to make it to 59th ST (just past the mid-point of my journey) in reasonably good time, and what's more, I had been able to sit most of the way. Score! For those of you who don't know, 59th St Station is a major transfer point. When I went to the platform for my train home, it was packed to the rafters with people, to a degree that told me a train had not been along in some time. This actually happens a lot during rush hours, particularly the evening rush, in my experience. Something goes wrong with the train, that delays it even a few minutes, which means that the crowds on the the subsequent stations have time to get bigger than normal. When the train shows up, the vast majority of people will force their ways onto the already packed train, and in doing so delay it even more. Often the conductor will tell us that another train is RIGHT BEHIND THIS ONE, but for some reason only a few people believe this, or think it's worth waiting for. As you may have guessed from my snide tone and sarcastic caps, I am one of those few people. If I'm not in any hurry to get where I am going (and usually at the end of the day, I'm not), I routinely let as many as three trains pass me by before getting on. Usually the first one will be, as I said, jam-packed and lethargic, crawling from station to station, collecting more and more surly people, so even once you've made it on, you know that the trip is only going to get slower and more uncomfortable. The next train (and often it is right behind the first one, though sometimes the conductors lie, which is probably why most riders don't believe them) will still be pretty packed, the riders still pretty surly, and the ride still slow because it, of course, has to wait for the first one to clear the station. Usually by the third train, there will be seats. It will still be a slow ride, since now you're behind two slow trains, but sitting down changes everything. You can get off your feet, read, write, basically treat the time as your own in at least a few small ways.

I was fully prepared to adopt the 'minimum three train' policy on Friday. I left for work Friday morning knowing that I would probably have to adopt this policy. When I got to 59th St that night, however, I knew immediately that this was not going to be a three-train wait. Nope, I was prepared to wait for at least five, and the gaps between them would be extra long because there were that many more people getting on.

40 minutes later, after train number seven came and left bursting at the seams, Mr. Crankypants was firmly in charge, and now I would not be riding the train UNTIL I could sit down. By train number nine, I was able to, in part because I didn't mind sitting near the only slightly whiffy homeless guy who had built himself an enormous nest at one end of the train with trash bags.

Door to door, my commute took two hours, twenty minutes.

Any thought I had of going out again that evening was snorted at derisively. I also realized there was an insistent little voice in my head saying I now deserved a treat, perhaps several treats, as consolation for my miserable ride home. Said little voice seemed of the opinion that such treats should include a large order of General Tso's chicken from the local Chinese take-out (if you're not familiar with this dish, it is basically a whole lot of deep-fat fried chicken nuggets swimming in a rich, sweet, oily sauce; I'll usually get it with brown rice. You know, to make it healthy), a truck load of cookies, and I'm talking 18 wheeler, AND a vat of a nice Shiraz. Not a truck of wine, that would be tacky.

When did I become the person who cheers himself up by hardening his arteries and destroying his liver? I swear to god I never thought that way before living in NYC. I've always loved food, mind you, in all its varied and glorious forms, but I don't think I went about medicating myself with it. Maybe my memory is faulty, but I really don't think I did.

Having identified this course of action as perhaps not in my best interests, I decided I would buy a box of Entemann's chocolate-chip cookies and some chicken quarters which I would cook (gasp!) WITH THE SKINS ON. I decided against the wine; I really don't think using alcohol as a means of breaking me out of a cranky mood is a habit I want to get into. I want to enjoy my booze when I have it. Besides the liquor store was too far away.

This compromise with my little voice then led me to think "when did I become the guy who obsesses about chicken skin?" Sure, one reaches a certain age and has to recognize that cholesterol is a concern, that excess pounds gained are harder to lose, that heart attacks do run in the family, that being a grown-up means recognizing consequences... but I mean come on.

Well, navel-gazing aside, I followed through on this plan, and had a great time. I had hoped to have my roommate's assistance with at least the cookies, but he was out, thus leaving me to do some serious damage to them on my own.

And it did help. I was much more cheerful an hour later, as I shoveled cookies into my mouth and contemplated having the whole apartment to myself for another week. What also cheered me up was looking at photos I took last Sunday, during a walk with my sweet Melissa. Her new place is right across the street from Inwood Park, which is all that remains of the old growth forest that once covered this whole island. Just the idea of that thrills me. Then when one walks in it, it's very easy to forget the city is all around.

This is my sweet girl just after we've entered the forest. Already all buildings are out of sight, and most street noise is gone.
(Don't you just want to squeeze her? She gets that a lot.)

This was a carving in the rock we both liked. Despite the sharpness of the edges and the uniformity of the shape, we're both certain this was formed naturally. There is no sign of tools, and besides, why would anyone bother?

Here's a closer look. In Ireland this would be some sort of sacred well, with an ancient name and a thousand year history of magical healing.

I don't know what these flowers in the foreground are, but I can't wait to find out. That's the Hudson in the background. I'm also rather fond of that larger tree. I seem to be turning into my mother. Like her, I now feel compelled to hug trees on a fairly regular basis. One of the odd benefits of living in a big city is, when I was doing this in Central Park a few weeks ago, I knew I didn't have to worry about ever seeing again any of the people who looked at me oddly as they went by. Lately I'm particularly fond of oak trees for some reason. Mom's morning walk includes visiting, and hugging, a catalpa and an ancient pin oak.

At one point, Melissa and I found a clearing in the trees where we got incredible views of the river. The picture on the left is looking north, the one on the right looks south.

These two shots are taken in almost the same location; I've just stepped forward about two paces. Suddenly you can see the city. Again, the left one is north, the right one is south. In the latter, you're looking at George Washington Bridge. My place is just about twenty blocks further south.
This is a picture Melissa took of me, while I was taking one of the pictures above. She took this with her camera phone. That's a damn good phone. Or Melissa really knows how to work it. I'm getting a better average number of focused images with my digital baby, I just don't know how I'm doing it. Generally taking two or three shots seems to be useful; the latter ones are almost always better. My camera's ways remain a mystery to me, and contrary to his original assertion, Tommy is no help. Still, I'm having fun. You just may not want to enlarge any of my photos, if blurry images make your eyes go all wonky, like they do mine.

So once again, it's trees to the rescue in my world. I could ask myself if this is something that needs closer examination, but for now I'm just grateful to have so many places nearby that help me regain my sanity, and such good company to do it with.