I think my predilection for orange food (see Cheez-Its; Cheetos [the caveman-club-shaped kind, not the poufy kind]; Annie’s Extra-Cheddary Bunnies; Goldfish; Clementines; carrots with their skin on) may have been encouraged by one Pat Crow, the first editor really to take me under his wing. He, too, had a weakness for nuclear-colored foodstuffs, and I met him at a most impressionable age.
I didn’t meet Pat until he was done with his New Yorker tenure. He used to take me to lunch, and our cubes at Audubon magazine were right across from each other. He used to buy me copies of books if he went to book signings, and notebooks from Kinokuniya when he went. He was, it’s safe to say, my very first mentor. He edited a short story I’d written, showed me where I went wrong; gave me advice on totally unrelated things: “Stop twirling your hair. You look like a twit.” (Which, by the way, is something my mother was trying to get me to stop doing for, like, ever, but I only stopped doing it when Pat told me to knock it off.)
I think, all in all, our lives only intersected for less than a year. We lost touch after that, and Pat passed away in 2011. (Read: I didn’t work hard enough to keep in touch, and he had enough young writers, I’m sure, vying for his attention beyond me.)
But in a copy of the only novel he ever wrote, Pat wrote this:
For Yi Shun —
My mentor at Audubon, my friend and colleague, who has more promise than springtime itself.
And when I read it, I knew I would carry that phrase around with me–“more promise than springtime itself”–in my mouth, saying it to myself sometimes; in my heart; in my deepest of hopes and sometimes, through the query rejections that followed. If I could have it tattooed on me, massage the copy into a phrase that made sense to everyone who saw it, I might just do it, maybe in Pat’s distinct handwriting, because even if the man who edited John McPhee; who probably shepherded more young writers than I ever will; who probably passed on the name of his favorite tailor to everyone he could; who probably even told many a young office worker to stop twirling her hair, lest she look like a twit, penned that sentiment in a temporary fit of, well, sentimentality, it meant the world to me and my young career.
I wish Pat were here to see May, 2016, which is when my novel, NOT A SELF-HELP BOOK: THE MISADVENTURES OF MARTY WU, comes out from Shade Mountain Press.
It’s a big promise to fulfill, that of springtime itself, and it sure is nice to know that someone thought I could.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point, I guess, is that we might all go around saying nice things to people we feel deserve it. Something you say might provide them a little talisman of sorts, to carry around, a star to orient oneself by.
“Joe, don’t call him that. It’s not like he’ll even know who Flipper is. That show was made, like, three generations ago.”
“Oh, whatever. If his parents are anything decent, they’ll have already told him about Flipper. Yo, Flipper!”
“Hiya, kid. Nice to meet you. This here’s Joe, and I’m Larry. That one over there is Neptuna. S/he calls herself that because s/he hasn’t figured out what s/he wants to be when s/he grows up.”
“Mmmmmkay. Hey! Hey! I have a question for you.”
“Good, good. Questions are good. Where are your parents, though?”
“Joe, shut up. You know how some parents are.”
“I saw a big shadow today.”
“Oh, shadows are good. Was it pointy at one end, flat at the other?”
“Big bubbles coming out of the flat end?”
“Yeah! I didn’t want to get too close.”
“No, no, not at the flat bubbly end. But you should get close!”
“I swear, where are this kid’s parents?”
“Joe, shut up. Kid, you want to get close to the sides of the thing. It’s called a ferry. It moves fast and low in the water and it makes New Waves for us to mess around in.”
“Mess around! Mess around!”
“Larry, we gotta do something about Neptuna. S/he keeps on making that same noise over and over.”
“Just smile big at her. She’ll calm down. Kid, don’t pay any attention to Neptuna yet. S/he has a thing for Messing Around, and not always in a nice way. Anyway, about the ferry. You want to get close to the sides and the front, but don’t get too close to the back end where the bubbles and the Angry Water are. You’ll get cut up.”
“Yeah. You ever hear about One-Finned Flapjack?”
“Joe, shut up, you’ll scare the kid. Anyway.”
“Tell him about the good stuff.”
“Oh. If you stick close enough to the sides and look up, you’ll see more shadows. The bi-peds. They like to stand on the sides and yell if they see you. Like this: EEE! EEEE! EEEEE! Don’t confuse that with our International Distress Signal. It’s the sound that the bi-peds with the mammary glands make when they see us. Now listen. The ones with the mammary glands are nice, but it’s not those shadows you’re looking for. You’re looking for the short ones, the tiny bi-ped shadows. Stay right beneath those.”
“Oh, Poseidon’s rake, where ARE this fry’s parents? Kid, the tiny bi-peds are the ones that Drop Things. Crispy terrestrial things. Orange-colored curls of crunchy goodness. That mystical feed called Fruit. And the even more ambrosiac, perpetually elusive, FROOT LOOPS. (Those are homophones, Flipper. Don’t confuse the two.)”
“What? It’s true. All these are good eatins.”
“Do they taste like fluke? I love fluke.”
“Flipper, there’s a whole world of foodstuffs out there, and it ain’t all flappy sloppy scaly. I want you to be worldly, see things, taste things.”
“Oh, fine. Don’t eat the crispy orange things, kid. And stay away from the plastic bags.”
Mr. Gooddirt is incredibly good at nicknames. He comes up with them on the fly, and they’re always accurate and evocative and appropriate to the situation. There’s no profession for this, I don’t think, otherwise we’d be living large.
He comes up with the best ones when he’s half-awake.
A few examples:
The other night I went to the bathroom and bumped into the laundry rack on the way back. It made a metallic rattling noise, and I, an angry whimper. From the bed:
“What’s happening over there, Jinglebanger?”
When Sprocket is feeling happy, he trots just ahead of Jim and me and looks backwards, over his shoulder, at us, while he’s walking. The combination of movement and situation makes for a funny walk.
Mr. Gooddirt: “Well, hello there, Wobbles.”
Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night feeling very displaced. The automatic reaction is to reach for my phone or my ipad and find out what time it is. I duck over the side of the bed and turn it on so the LCD doesn’t disturb the light-sleeping Mr. Gooddirt. This is usually a totally failure, because he snorts awake and says something like:
“Whatcha doing, Glow worm?”
I cannot figure out how he does this. It seems to be some kind of formula:
Noise or action
Try as I might, I can’t reproduce his results. Gah.
NB: This is on my mind lately because my next work, I think, is a resurrection of the MG novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo a while back. There are talking animals. I would like some of them to be well named.
These are the things which addle my brain.
What is that? It’s my office wall, and it’s also something I’ve never tried before. It’s outlining. [Please ignore the fugly wood paneling. It is not my fault and soon I will be painting it something else, since my life has become a DIY show.]
Here’s a close-up:
On each of the yellow index cards is a full scene. On each of the white, is, dur, the MC’s location at that point in the book. My thesis adviser thinks this is going to be a one-month draft. I think, okay, I’m game for that.
And the other part of me thinks, oh, hell, it’d better be a one-month draft. Otherwise I’m might close to deadline.
So let’s just see how this goes, shall we? Two scenes a day. Let’s just see.
Thank you for sending your work to XXXXXXX. We are always grateful for the opportunity to review new material, and we have given “Inadvertently, Miss Manners Doesn’t Live Here” close reading and careful consideration. We found many strengths to recommend your work and, overall, much to admire. We regret, however, that “Inadvertently, Miss Manners Doesn’t Live Here” is not quite right for us. We encourage you try us again in the future, and we hope that you will.
1. OH, HELL.
2. Not AGAIN.
3. Which piece was this? I’ve forgotten.
4. Oh, right. That one.
5. Let’s see, how many times have I submitted that? It feels like five billion.
6. I’d better check my spreadsheet.
7. Oh. I don’t have a spreadsheet anymore for that type of thing
8. Mostly because I don’t submit anymore, really.
9. Why? Why not?
10. I think I have only submitted this thing twice.
11. I guess that’s not terrible, is it?
12. Do you think it’s the title? It does look affected, doesn’t it?
13. Get a grip. If you got rejected, it’s probably not the title that did it.
14. What is this saying, really?
15. I have now read this thing fifteen times. Navel-gaze much?
16. Some day I may actually get a rejection letter that says
17. YOU SUCK LADY. DROP THIS WRITING THING AND STUDY CEPHALOPODS FOR A LIVING. YOU’RE BOUND TO DO BETTER THAN YOU ARE DOING AT THIS WRITING THING
18. Oh, hell.
19. It says that they want me to submit again.
20. I think that’s what it says anyway–it says they “encourage” me to try again.
21. And that they “hope” I will.
22. Such lovely words, “encourage” and “hope”!
23. They are so full of promise! “Encourage!” “Hope!” What lovely subtleties in each of these words. What volumes can be spoken, just with a few smart choices and turns of phrase!
When I go out these days, it’s more likely than not that I am going with a purpose in mind: Meeting a friend, seeing a specific art exhibit, going to a reading. But it’s hard not to see things while you’re en route.
The Sartorialist sees fashion wherever he goes, and that usually involves taking pictures of people. Me, I like items.
Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t one of my greatest failings as a writer: I anthropomorphize everything from construction lights to goldfish. But when it comes to people, I’m less about imagining what might be going on in their heads and more about observation. I wonder which is more important. Anyway, here are some things I’ve seen recently. And some potential dialogue scraps. 🙂 The last two are from the Norwalk Aquarium. No captions needed.
I took half of Friday to recharge my batteries and see The Met’s annual collaboration with The Costume Institute, called “Impossible Conversations: Schiaparelli and Prada.”
A little background: Elsa Schiaparelli was a designer whose heyday was during the 1930s-60s. She had a playful sensitivity about her that belied fashion’s then-more utilitarian purpose; rather than using fashion as a reflection of the times, she used it to drive aesthetic sensitivity. It all makes sense when you consider that she collaborated multiple times with Salvador Dali, a visual artist who put his views to work for clients as varied as Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney.
Here’s Salvador Dali’s “Eye” painting, 1945
And here’s one of Schiaparelli’s hats, called the “Eyelash,” which is meant to evoke the idea of the whole head as an eye.
Miuccia Prada is one of our contemporary designers, of course. You’ve all seen her logo:
And some of her work:
Here’s where it gets tricky. The exhibit is called “Impossible Conversations” because clearly it’s impossible for the living, breathing Prada to have a conversation with the long-gone Schiaparelli. But it’s also modeled after a Vanity Fair column that used to run in the 1930s called “Impossible Interviews,” which featured caricatures of unlikely conversationalists (John D. Rockfeller and Joseph Stalin, for instance). The caricatures, painted by Miguel Covarrubias, were accompanied by text by Corey Ford, a regular contributor to the magazine. (For more on the “Impossible Interviews” and a snippet of text, go to the Norman Rockwell Center’s great page on it.)
Okay, that was a lot of background.
It’s an interesting premise, even if the title of the thing–and its invited comparison to the Vanity Fair feature–encourages the underlying belief that Schiaparelli and Prada have deeply conflicting ideas on fashion. (They do, but they’re not as wide in scope as, say, communism and capitalism.) Also, the Vanity Fair column seemed to be entirely tongue-in-cheek, and totally absurdist, whereas this exhibit is entirely earnest.
But it was a disappointment. It starts off with a video of Prada and Schiaparelli sitting at a huge Italianate table having drinks. I thought we’d have recordings of Schiaparelli’s voice with maybe some still photographs at her end of the table (why else is that table so damned long?), but no, it’s Australian actress Judy Davis, giving it her all in an updo and a severe black dress.
Prada, for her part, is just Prada. And it was interesting to hear her talk about what it was like to labeled “minimalist,” and how, as a child, she hid behind things and eventually used fashion as a way to “out” herself. (She doesn’t mean outing as from the closet; she means she found a way to express herself.)
But here’s the thing: it IS possible for even a fine art exhibit to think too much of itself, and I think that’s what happened here. The whole thing is way too meta: Here’s an art exhibit riffing off a magazine column that riffed off of real life. And snippets of the film play all the way through the exhibit, creating a fugue-like atmosphere that distracted entirely from the beauty of the work. All I could hear was Davis’ Italian-ate accent grinding its way through my brain.
So there you are, trying to see why it is these two designers have been paired together, but the clips play throughout, making it really hard to concentrate on some of the statements that Schiaparelli actually made about her work, which are printed at the foot of some of the items. (The script of the film varies just slightly from the actual text of Schiaparelli’s own commentary, whereas Prada’s commentary seems to be taken verbatim from the script, or vice-versa. The whole thing is just too much.)
So what was missing for me? Schiaparelli did some amazing work. She has her relatively tame lobster dress, which was a gorgeous piece of white organza that had a huge lobster printed on it; and her work was incredibly playful–check out these acrobat buttons:
But the exhibit didn’t have what I think is one of her most interesting works, the skeleton dress:
And I’m pretty sure it didn’t even include the lobster dress, but instead included an image of it.
I think the most glaring omission of the exhibit was the express exclusion of any mention of the gorgeous masks, all created in the spirit of surrealism by British hairstylist Guido Palau. Here are a few snaps from StyleRumor.com
I would have loved to have seen an artist’s statement from Palau, at least, on these masks. (I think it’s a testimony to their awesomeness that, by the time I got to the Met mini-shop at the end of the exhibit, they’d sold out of the postcards that featured the masks. And it’s worth mentioning, too, that Palau did the masks for the Met’s exhibit on Alexander McQueen last year.)
In the end, I’m glad I went. But I was left with the impression that, rather than wanting to highlight the importance of these two designers to fashion, The Met went the route of highlighting its own importance to the world of fashion exhibits.
The whole exhibit ends with a snippet of film in which Schiaparelli/Davis questions whether she and Prada would have been friends or foes if they had lived during the same era. Prada laughs and says, “No, Schiap, no!”
In the end, I think it’s perhaps this false familiarity, the use of the diminutive where permission to use it most certainly hasn’t been granted, that signifies everything that grates about this exhibit. Schiaparelli’s work perhaps deserves an exhibit of its own. She doesn’t need a backdrop for us to appreciate her designs and artistry. She certainly doesn’t need Baz Luhrman (I KNOW!!), Judy Davis, scriptwriters, and trick photos* to enthrall us.
It’s questionable that she even needs Miuccia Prada.
*If you go, take a close look at the black-and-white photos of Schiaparelli’s work. Just stand there awhile. Trust me.
Awhile ago, my Whidbey colleague Charlotte Morganti nominated me for a 7×7 link award! I wish I knew what the origins of this award was, but more important, I’m just happy that I’m getting an award! It’s my first!
Also, one thing about Charlotte, before I go on to the requirements of the award–she’s by far the most diligent blogger I’ve ever come across. She decided she was going to start a blog, and then, bang! She’s been keeping it up, regularly, with great writing tips and interviews with luminaries like Alan Rinzler. She also does great book reviews, and is the author of an as-yet-to-be-published hardboiled detective novel in the vein of Dashiell Hammett. So yes, you must follow her blog doings.
Now. On to this award. I must do several things in order to account for this award. I must list seven items in each of three category.
First, seven things about me you probably don’t know:
I don’t like very spicy food. That is to say, I don’t like things that flame your nasal hairs out and make you sweat. I’m much more apt to buy a mild tomatillo salsa than I am an “extra hot” salsa, for instance.
I am a sucker for the American Standards songbook.
I can’t dance.
I struggle with my weight. Part of this is my inherent laziness. The other part of it is my love/hate relationship with exercise. The final part of it is genetics.
I think everyone should have their own personal style. This is not to be confused with trendiness.
I adore button-down shirts and in general prefer neat dressing to slovenliness.
I love to cook. And I prefer to do it with friends in the kitchen or nearby.
Now, 7 posts from my own blog that I like:
Chris Hondros, in Memoriam: Chris was the photographer for one of my first-ever feature articles. He died in Libya almost a year ago.
Book Review: Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane: I write book reviews at my site every once in awhile, but I like this one because it deals with something I think is super important in books–characters one can identify with. Also, it gave me a chance to write a bit of a love letter to Dennis Lehane’s characters. And okay, maybe Lehane himself. 🙂
Speaking the Gospel: This is a brief roundup on why everyone should try public speaking. I almost never write posts about business, but this is one of those things that I’m both good at and that I feel strongly about, so I did this one. It’s just a list of reasons everyone should love to speak publicly. And yes, you read that right.
Iron Girl, Iron Guy, and the Iron Maiden, Part I and II: This is the story of our Ironman competition. We trained for six months and had a blast, and I’d readily do it again. I loved this race. It was awesome. (Yes, yes, okay, in retrospect.)
A Phone Conversation: This is exactly what it is, a phone conversation between me and Mr. Gooddirt. I think it’s hilarious. It pretty much pegs Mr. Gooddirt.
Track Rats: This is part of a series I’m writing called “The People in My Neighborhood.” It’s about the folks who populate my life. This one is about the people who first really made me feel like I was a part of my physical neighborhood.
An Open Letter to Do-Gooders: I’ve deployed to Haiti twice as part of the ShelterBox Response Team. While I was there I noticed a few things. This letter is obviously not from ShelterBox itself, but it’s my perspective of what people who really want to help in a disaster situation should and shouldn’t do.
Phew. That was hard. This next one will be easier. 7 blogs I like, and, in turn, pass the 7×7 award on to:
GrassDirtCorn. My friend Hollie Butler is very special to me. I’ve known her since I was 18. We were camp counselors together. And we used to write letters. Now Hollie tackles some good things–and not-so-good things–in her blog on food, health, and general life. I love it.
DaphneUnfeasible. My friend Kate Schafer is a great literary agent. And she has good, important things to tell writers, on her blog.
ChelsKnorr. My friend Chels Knorr just started her blog. She’s off to a bang-up start. I think what she has to say is intriguing. I think the way she says it is beguiling. G’wan, take a gander.
Manhattan Nest. I’ve just started reading this one. I almost never have patience with blog posts that are this long, but I love Dan’s sensitivities and his design sense. So he’s hooked me. If you like mid-century design–or design at all–you need to take a look at this.
The Sherman Foundation. Thomas Sherman makes great, pithy remarks about things that matter to me–art and design and marketing. I appreciate his respect of my time and attention span, but more important, I respect his wide-ranging definition of design.
Harvey Briggs. Harvey’s been involved in advertising everything from cars to pantyhose. I can’t remember how I found him, but I’m thrilled I did. Another master of pithy copy, Harvey often points me to really interesting advertisements, but more important, he has interesting, commentary-provoking things to say. Every. Single. Day.
Kate Gale. Is a librettist, an editor, a smart, smart woman, and a wicked conversationalist. Again, short, loads-of-fun commentary. Well worth a peek.
Nancy Norton. I’ve written about Nancy before, but I think you should go over and take a peek at her blog. She spends part of the year near Toulouse, France, and aside from the part of me that’s an inveterate francophile, I’m always amazed at the things Nancy ends up doing and seeing–and sharing with us.
Okay. That’s it from me. Thanks to the blogosphere in general for this, and, more specifically, thanks to Miss Morganti.
So you know when your brain goes on overload, and you realize that you’d better download the stuff before your hard drive breaks and you lose all the stuff? That’s where I am now. I’ve been out in the big city twice in as many days, and although I’m most certainly not always at my best in the city, I am almost always awake and alert (“What’s a lert?”) and, perhaps worst of all, wide open to all the sights and sounds and input, and that’s, I think, why I’m overloaded.
Then, too, it’s a quarter to five in the morning, it’s raining, the porch door is open, the temperature is in the sixties…these are all things that make me percolate, which is good, because I have an essay due every fricken week for non-fiction class, and I’d better have stuff percolating.
Okay. First of all, here are some photos from my time in Seattle and Whidbey.
I got to see Hollie Butler for the first time in almost 15 years. Who is she? She is my friend from the one summer I spent as a camp counselor in Oregon. It was the first time I was ever able to say I had an amazing summer, and mean it. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but I learned so much that summer and experienced so many different things…some day I will write about that.
Hollie and I wrote letters back and forth for a little while. I think I may have gone to see her in Seattle when I went skiing at Whistler the following year, but I haven’t seen her since then, and that would have been 1994. Wow. (Some days, I really love Facebook for reconnecting me with people like Hollie.)
On the way there I saw these buildings, which I loved for their color and their lines. I guess they go into the “I took pictures of this cos I want to draw it later” category.
I also got to see another old friend, from my advertising days. I think she might be one of my favorite people, in part because she and her husband are wise without being old. I love this about them. When Ina and I worked together, I learned so much from her. Ina has this view from her home office window. It also goes into the aforementioned category.
Here are some snaps from Whidbey Island itself.
These are my friends Robert and Cynthia. Cyn has been my roommate from the first semester on. We were all housemates this semester. Good fun!
Here’s another snap I’d like to try my hand at, except the colors are kind of intimidating.
Here’s one I did try my hand at, and that’s both material for another post and probably an essay on how taking drawing classes has made me a better writer.
Here’s Cyn, reading her work. We do student readings at Whidbey. That absolutely makes us better writers.
Here’s Grier’s dog, Popeye. People, do you understand how much of a difference having a dog around makes? A lot. (Also material for another essay.)
I’ll close with this freakishly Monet-like scene, which was what we saw ever day during our afternoon classes. This one I won’t be trying to draw. Frankly, Monet already did it.
Next post, a breakdown of the drawing lessons. Or maybe a rundown of these two days in the city, which have given me a lot to think about, all by themselves.
And oh, here’s a gratuitous Sprocket photo.
Do you think I can squeeze in a nap before the day begins? Or should I watch some more BBC mysteries on Netflix?