Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm back, and I have movie regrets.

Are you sitting in a big fat meeting? Where there are, I'm sure, massively important things being discussed, but still it kind of sounds like big fat meeting drone (BFMD, which is a catchy acronym for what is happening, which is, sorry to say, not catchy, not even a little.).


Well, not that anyone's counting, but it has been a long time since I wrote anything whatsoever in this space. Reasons? Oh, I've got reasons:

  • big fat family visit (BFFV)
  • attendant whirl of activities
  • attendant whirl of melancholy
  • etc.
Paradoxically, now that the visiting/summer are over, and the droning has commenced, I kind of feel optimistic. I have lots of reasons that this is so, but let's leave that for now. For now, what I want to talk about is this:

I have not seen as many movies as I think I should have. Not in order, and as near as I can figure out, here are the movies I've seen in 2014 thus far:

  • Wish I Was Here
  • The Lego Movie
  • The Monuments Men
  • Cesar Chavez
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Chef
  • Noah
  • Veronica Mars
  • Rio 2
  • Draft Day
  • Million Dollar Arm
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • How To Train Your Dragon 2
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • The Rover
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Maleficent
  • Ida
  • Locke
  • Obvious Child
  • Snowpiercer
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • Calvary
  • Belle
  • Gloria
  • The Lunchbox
  • What If
I have missed a bunch, and a bunch of good ones (The Immigrant, Night Moves, Only Lovers Left Alive, and also Step Up All In, which I can totally catch, and maybe later today, after the droning either ceases or I quit the droning, whichever happens first.). Also Boyhood, which I am determined not to miss.

Maybe I've seen more, and I just haven't kept track? Let me just say that I never intend not to catch the movies--I am a movie completist. But this year--this year kind of kicked my ass. Reasons? Oh, there are reasons. But I am going to do better. I am going to catch the movies this weekend hardcore. Boyhood at least and probably more. And Step Up All In. Because I am definitely all in for the dance movies, or I don't know what.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Perspectival magic.

Today, I read this in the New York Times and it resonated hardcore:
Failure is big right now — a subject of commencement speeches and business conferences like FailCon, at which triumphant entrepreneurs detail all their ideas that went bust. But businessmen are only amateurs at failure, just getting used to the notion. Writers are the real professionals.
Just last night over an enchilada I was telling the historian how tired reading my manuscript makes me.

"But the poems aren't worse than they were. They haven't changed," I said. (Insert adverb, like plaintively.)

No, I'm just sick of them. Or right now I am. So that must mean that it's the downhill slope of summer.

I have had time to become sick afresh of my poems because my Scottish visitors are away--indeed, none of my children are here at the moment. They have been attending a family reunion in Logan and having a good time. Meanwhile, I have been recovering from a sinus cold and feeling a tad bereft. That's how I roll. Good times, sinus colds, limeade, bereftitude. It's a big fat aria of doldrums.

Did you start blogging again just to whine? I hear the people saying. Yes! yes I did, thanks for asking.

Let me start again. 

Here's what's been happening for the past few weeks:
Chalk art and breakfast and cookouts on the patio. Swimming with the cousins. Planting little pot-gardens. Bead necklaces. Stories at bedtime. Malcolm in the Middle watch parties. Doughnut tastings. A visit to the Museum of Natural Curiosity. Gardening in the evening. Laughing, quarreling, tears, and more laughter. Snacks galore. A full glory of summer childhood. 
Their brief absence over the last few days has meant I could take a nap. We went to the farmer's market and bought cherries and peaches and tomatoes. Of course, in the time they've been gone, I've also found the time to become weary of my poems, and to let melancholy bloom into view (as opposed to playing its usual gloomy bass note in the background). It's not like letting melancholy bloom is a great idea, I get that. But I have never been particularly decisive at marshaling my inner resources. My strategy is more to let the clouds cloud the sky--no one controls the weather--and know that they'll pass.

Soon they'll be back. I plan to bake this with them, and, I hope, see more movies, have more cool mornings on the patio, water the plants and discuss the habitat with the girls, make more Lego creations. We may need to eat more doughnuts. We have a handful to people still to see, and we need to finish one storybook and start and finish another. (I also need to unweary myself enough to make decisions about my manuscript...fresh courage take! Fail better!) An ending looms, but we'll all be trying to do that perspectival magic that keeps it at a distant hover until it is actually at the doorstep, with a bouquet of melancholy, a bevy of plane tickets, and an echo.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Written upon stone.

From the Lonely Planet Guidebook for Shaanxi:

To see a library made of stone: yes.

We wandered through the galleries. Some of the tablets were under shelter but otherwise open to the air and elements. It was warm but not sweltering.

There was a time when people had touched the tablets so much that they were black. There was a time when there was a big earthquake, in the 1500s, and many of the largest and most important stones were broken into pieces. A scholar made smaller stones to fill in where the text was broken. In those galleries, it is as if the tablets are pages of a book. There were times when the center of power shifted, and the texts were lost to the "wild suburbs"; there were times when they were gathered together. The Nestorian stele was buried for centuries before it was found again.

It is a miracle, is it not, that any library survives, no matter what its texts are made of?

I suppose that a scholar would be able to look at the tablets and know things like the era, and the calligrapher, and the carver, and the nature of the text. The interpretive material was intermittent, so we could discern some of this. Not all. We could see, by the sweep of a cursive calligraphy for instance, that here we had entered a different period; by the minuscule, exacting characters, that perhaps this was a legal text. Each of the galleries presented its interests and its longeurs. We moved quickly sometimes, and lingered at others.

At the end, my son and I talked about faith on the steps of a gallery while we waited for the historian to finish his more deliberate examination. There were birds, and their song. A thicket of pillars with carved finials stood in orderly rows to our left. Stone is not eternal--it is susceptible to human touch and the earth shifting and burial and weather--but it feels eternal. Its breath is cool and unhurried. It speaks and it keeps its counsel.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On museums.

I picture the end of the Roman occupation of Britain like this: somewhere around the late fourth century A.D., people looked around themselves, said, Hey, when was the last time you saw a Roman tax collector? and proceeded to take stones and bricks from Hadrian's Wall to use in their houses, barns, and stiles. They didn't even bother to raise a glass. They just raided, and why not?

Much, much later on the timeline, we went to visit. What is the Roman Wall? we asked ourselves. We bought maps and studied websites and visited sites and discussed things amongst ourselves. There are ruined garrison towns and forts and all sorts. People are digging them up, and providing explanatory placards, and suggesting pathways through the dig. In a word, out of the ruins of history they are making museums: exhibits that narrate a lost past, a past that would be all but invisible but for these efforts.


When we got to Sichuan, we had toured the following:
  1. The Forbidden City (aka The Palace Museum)
  2. The Lama Temple
  3. The Summer Palace
  4. The Mutianyu section of The Great Wall
  5. The City Wall in Xi'An
  6. The Terra Cotta Warriors
  7. The Forest of Stelae (more about this in a subsequent post)
In other words, eastern China's Greatest Hits. 

[Digression: on a first visit to China, would it really be possible not to have gone to see these monuments? Would it really? If I were going back to China, I would still want to see the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace again, because I know that I did not exhaust the interest nor the elements of either place. In fact, when I looked at a map of the Forbidden City, I realized that we had only seen maybe a third of what there was to see. And we spent hours there. Hours.]

[Digression 2: periodically, when we ventured down some dark alleyway or gritty, unpicturesque location, my son would turn back to us and say, This is real China, as if to say: what you've been seeing heretofore has been prepared for your consumption as a tourist. Not this. This is unprocessed, unfiltered, this is not arranged for your comfort or your pleasure, this is how they do it here. Examples: shopping not in the fancy Euro-style mall but down the narrow halls with a thousand booths selling a mad efflorescence of goods. Taking the sleeper train from Beijing to Xi'An. Eating porridge for breakfast on some completely un-touristy street in Beijing. Real China. Whatever that may be. You can feel it when you're in it. Not fancy, not Western-fetish-style clean.]

Resuming the narrative: when we got to Sichuan, we had done a lot of the Major Attractions. (They were awesome.) We had arrived very very late the night before, so we slept in while my son went to class. For lunch, we ate Yan Jian Rou and had some green tea with his friends. We walked around the campus, just to see it, had a smoothie where he often has a smoothie, went to the People's Park. 

What do you guys want to do in Sichuan? This was the big question. We had four days left before we would get on a plane and fly back to our lives.

There are temples to see in Chengdu. Museums. One thing I had imagined doing when we first started planning the trip was visiting an ancient irrigation system near Chengdu. It was right beside a sacred mountain. Also, it happened to be not too far from a panda conservation center. Sights to see: restored and preserved ancient technologies. Shrines. 

We mulled our options over, and my son said, with deliberation: The more I think about it...I think we should go to Four Girls Mountain. 

I was surprised. He'd been somewhat resistant to this idea when I mentioned it--I've already been there, Mom. Let's find a place I haven't gone yet. Which made sense, and was a point of view to which I had come around, if a little reluctantly. He was there with his friend. They posted pictures. I wanted to go there too, to take my own pictures.

[Digression 3: Is picture-taking a motive in itself? Or just another way of seeing?]

He continued: If we go to Four Girls Mountain, we could stay two nights or three nights. You'll see these beautiful valleys. 

I was in. We talked over the details, and the historian decided, yes, he too was in. It would be a completely different experience than anything else we had done. We wanted to see a different part of China, and here was our chance.

My son: To be honest, I'm just so tired of museums.

I think it might have been the Forest of Stelae that did him in. He said, I liked it for about forty minutes. And it's true: it was practically an infinity of stone tablets, engraved with all manner of ancient and historical texts. It was mesmerizing, it was overwhelming. It was, in a word, a museum. A shrine, a temple. Exhibit. Monument.

[Digression 4: I love museums. If there had been, in easy proximity, a straight up art museum anywhere we had been staying, it would have been hard for me to stay away. I love the way an exhibit is a narrative and an argument. I love the way an exhibit, its specific articulation of a collection, its specific gesture of preservation, is a form of cultural love and attention. I love parsing exhibits, and I love falling in love with the museum space. I just love them.] 

As we walked through the first valley at Siguniangshan National Park, my son said, Now what is your favorite thing you've done on this trip? And what he was implying--that this, this setting, the high, high mountains, the shifting mist and the snow, the Tibetan stupas everywhere, was surely the best--seemed inarguable.

Better than any museum, he said. Arguing, but only lightly.


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