Sticks and Stones: Metal is Stone-Adjacent

Migration

One of the few words I ban in my students’ writing is “amazing” because we often use it vaguely, to say not a lot. Unless, I tell them, you look it up and have been literally amazed, don’t go near it.

The online dictionary says it means “causing…wonder; astonishing”. It isn’t how they feel about most of the stuff I assign them to read, I promise you. But it IS how I feel about this video on the amazing creation of this mask by my friend kest schwartzman.

Sure, I want to promote artists in these precarious times. But I was riveted watching kest work. And not smash their fingers. And work some more. The beauty and Creative drama will carry you happily through, so please enjoy “Forged Copper Mask”.
Seriously, watch the video. So groovy.

Artist kest schwartzman is here!

Sticks and Stones: Stones

KC stone 1KC stone 2

When I took these photos, I was doing an exercise in Looking at the familiar objects in the historic site where I work. There was a quiet 30 minutes one day last winter, and I decided to pay closer attention to the sculptures and memorials on the walls. Not to the people they remembered, but to perfect stone ivy leaves or rich abstract designs. Each pointing to someone’s artistry, time, and focus.

That experience is a cliché you could read in a thousand blogs, right? So I’m not going to write about slowing down, being mindful, observing the present world, feeling appreciation, or any of that.

I’m also not going to offer this stone only as rarefied beauty in an historic church. I do find this work beautiful, and I miss being near it this spring.  My heart does find Creativity sacred.  But like much art, this art exists because of past financial privilege and white privilege, and sometimes that privilege existed because of the organized kidnapping and labor of enslaved people. It’s information the site shares with visitors as part of its History Program.

This is one of the longest periods the building has remained empty since 1754, and right now it might seem to have its own closed-off existence. But it doesn’t exist outside the world, and it holds a lot to Look At. Beautiful and otherwise, sometimes at the same time.

 

By the way, please visit King’s Chapel in Boston, with its fascinating, difficult history and remarkable building, at the History Program’s pandemic-expanded web site.  We’ve worked hard on it and hope you will explore. When the building is open again, please visit in person. We have a lot to share.

 

Sticks and Stones: Sticks, Part II

more sticks

Finished semester grading blahblahblah had about a week to get read for first fully remote class blahblahblah gig economy juggling blahblahblah

Hello. As much as I have things to say about Stones that have been wanting to burst out of me for weeks, I want to revisit Sticks. The stick building in the park, featured in the first part of Sticks and Stones, continues to grow longer and more complex. It has many more doors and skylights now. Of course, it, um, always had skylights, obviously, but these seem to be intentional. There are wonderful patterns and clever weaving from end to end. I’ve been in it, and it’s fun. Creative fun!

 

Stick it

I Get a Sidekick Out of You

Debate

I’m going to interrupt the Sticks and Stones posts for a friendly debate with writer Olivia Rutigliano, whose ranking of 45 detective sidekicks in CrimeReads has stirred some online response this week. I consider anyone who CAN rank 45 sidekicks to be a spirit- cousin of the highest order. I just want to reply to her, to try to respond Creatively to her Creative look at a lot of other people’s Creativity. Detective stories have been my jam for a long time. Also, I’ve been grading final papers all week in an apartment where I spend 22 hours a day, so here this is.

I agreed with, or was at least charmed by, some of her choices. Some provided recommendations for new characters to explore, so Huzzah. Some I was neutral about, or slightly above neutral: I don’t care about Batman’s Robin that much, but Burt Ward rescues Great Danes, so yeah, on the list is fine. And then some of her choices made me want to lean in and do that gesture Holmes is doing in Sidney Paget’s drawing up there.

So here are major points I feel like making, and it’s MY blog, in no particular order.

Yes, Dr. Watson should be #1. He defined the character of the sidekick. But Poe’s Dupin’s Nameless Narrator, who came first, was the creation of the detective sidekick. The Origin, the Source, the Big Bang. He should be #2. Don’t piss off Poe or Poe people. We have some odd ideas in our heads.

I’ve seen a lot of good-natured backlash over Rex Stout’s Archie Goodwin being #31, and rightly so. He is #3, for all time. Not my opinion, a Fact. There is no other narrator, no other voice, no other character but my #1 and #2 who should be above him, and there never will be. Don’t bother to argue because you are wrong.

I love that Dr. David Q. Dawson made her list. For the deprived, he is the sidekick to Basil of Baker Street in Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective, a film far superior to the exciting-as-a-saltine book it’s based on. One of the best ideas in children’s literature that falls flat the minute the plot begins. But the film is delightful, and Vincent Price plays the villain. O.R.’s words are one of my favorite descriptions of a sidekick ever: “clearly smart…but he mostly stands around scratching his head and looking cuddly.” Perfectly good job description for a human sidekick as well as a mouse in a waistcoat.

If Indiana Jones’s Sullah is on the list, then James West’s Artemus Gordon should be on the list. Their being partners may disqualify Arty as a sidekick, but I don’t care. If Dragnet’s Bill Gannon is on the list, then where is Steve Keller?? I mean,  are you kidding? (That I despise Jack Webb and everything he did has no bearing on this comment. None.) Streets of San Francisco simply wins.

O.R., I agree that DS Hathaway’s hair can leave something to be desired. But you are aware that Laurence Fox comes from an acting dynasty so large and powerful they may have their own country? If you get extradition papers…I’m just saying.

S.S. Van Dine??? How can you be an iconic sidekick when a) you never speak  b) your detective only speaks to you in his apartment c) no other character acknowledges your presence? The greatest non-entity in the genre. If he’s here representing that era and Inspector Queen is not, then there’s a problem. Ellery‘s father took on the role of supportive Watson AND annoyed cop dealing with private detective. He’s double to Van Dine’s zero.

Psst…#45, DS Bacchus, is what she says: immature, sexist, corruptible. But I want to stand up for the writers and actor, because O.R.’s take on him is a little shallow, in an Archie Goodwin at #31 kind of way. Bacchus can read the emotional atmosphere in a room in direct, intuitive ways that George Gently, who is rigidly principled and dogmatically focused, cannot. It makes them complementary, and it will make him a good cop when he grows the hell up. There’s a reason Gently doesn’t think he’s wasting his time. The bloke is often irritating, but I don’t want the Creativity here underrated.

I want, finally, to put in a vote for Margot Lane, the sidekick and romantic partner of The Shadow on the old radio series. She was the only one who knew her fellow Lamont Cranston’s secret identity. Thus Margot had to be the Full-Spectrum Sidekick. If some action needed narrating, she had to freak out in fear and shriek to him about what was happening. (It was radio.) If cops needed fetching, she had to go embarrassingly jelly- kneed at mysterious footsteps overhead and scram. But who got the injured Shadow to the poisoned water tower, driving at NASCAR speeds in the snowy darkness? Margot. And who infiltrated the cannibal cult, pretending to be their evil leader, with only a cloak over her own clothes to disguise her, just because The Shadow needed it done? Yup. Now THAT is a sidekick. You go, Girl.

Thanks for your work, O.R. I’ve really enjoyed reading and writing about the best characters in the Greatest Genre There Is. I welcome more conversation from anyone! And if you want to grade some papers…

 

 

Sticks and Stones, Part I: Sticks

Sticks 1For many years I thought I enjoyed and was thankful for Boston’s chain of green spaces, called the Emerald Necklace. I had no real idea what those emotions were. Now those spaces are where I spend the two hours out of 24 that I’m not in my studio apartment. And they have water and woods and birds and turtles and flowers and sky. Yeah.

The parks are Creative acts themselves, mostly by Frederick Law Olmsted, my personal superhero these days. They also contain other people’s Creativity. The Fens, for example, where I took these photos, have small stone buildings by the architect H.H. Richardson, a formal rose garden, a 17th-century Japanese temple bell found by WWII soldiers in a dump and later gifted by Japan to Boston, and the huge community gardens full of veggies, gnomes, goldfish, flowers, trees, pinwheels, etc.

Even in the awfulness of now, the parks folks are clearing brush and keeping things together, as they always do. The Fens has a comfortable, shabby quality: if it were an old stuffed animal, you would call it “well-loved”. It is that, and it is beautiful just as it is, and more so since some recent landscape renovations. It is also carefully tended and refreshed by people whose work I appreciate even more right now. Piles of sticks and branches, especially after storms, bear witness to their work.

Some visitors, and I’ve said Hello to a couple of them at work along the way, are using those piles for this Creativity, a growing structure under one of Olmsted’s great trees. It began as a much smaller hut and has stretched since, with more doorways, longer halls, and extra skylights. I mean, obviously, a lot of skylights! It’s to smile at, crawl into, add to, play with. And the tree that shelters it will soon have its leaves, and those leaves will catch the pinks and yellows of the sunrise, as I feel sure Olmsted knew they eventually would. And we walk on.

Be safe and well. Be kind.

 

Sticks 2

It All Adds Up

Pot

 

Sunday Stay-at-Home mood + not liking basic orange-y plant pots so much + kind of done with that nail polish color + wishing I had a cat right now +  I could be grading paper instead =  Creativity!

Of a sort. Hang in there, be kind, be well!

 

Uplift of the Week II

BEK 1BEK 2

“From one extreme to another” defines my 2020 so far. As do the initials of my friend Wilhelmina Twinkletoes Forestbather.  (We’re at home all these hours, and we’re allowed to make people up. FYI.)

From early January to early March, all I did was…keep going. An elder relative’s long hospitalization in the state next door had me juggling two jobs, two households, and that crisis. Let’s just say time was spent on trains back and forth. That’s fortunately past, and in the current wider chaos, I can’t even cross the state line and come back. Understood.

That’s the background to this Uplift, an artist who added a lot of fun and eye-pleasure to many hours on many trains, BEK. Or BEK 86. I’ve tried to look up the right way to introduce BEK, and I’m going to go with Graffiti Letter Artist. No idea who BEK is, but their work on buildings, track walls, and freight train cars became the best part of many stressed, tired commutes. Looking for a new BEK. Spotting a new BEK!   BEK fan!!

BEK’s letters sometimes angle sharply, sometimes bubble. They always seem cheerful and eager to connect with eyes. I like the letters’ strong “feet” and the way they take up their space. And I love BEK’s colors. They get attention from BEK and deserve attention. Melon orange darkening upward to rich red. Lavender and purple.  A stunning sort of pearly blue-white.  Simple black and white with turquoise, but also some complex combos.

I took these two and other photos through the dirty windows of a moving MBTA commuter rail train and am irrationally proud of them. BEK’s Instagram gallery was clearly NOT taken through dirt while in motion and displays the real Beauty.

Like body art, graffiti art has a past and a mixed reputation. To some, it’s putting images where no images should be. I’m not a property owner, so I can’t comment on that. In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about graffiti and street art from student papers.

(The college where I teach dates from the era that loved concrete, and, apparently, felt  windowless, cinder-block classrooms in shades of white with fluorescent lights were a great idea for humans. I’ve always felt the best thing would be to give these artists one wall in every room, and then just walk away and leave them to it. I write about real estate, and I can tell you, accent walls are Out for 2020, but this is an emergency.)

I find Creativity in places not intended for it fascinating. I like these artists’ engagement with spaces and surfaces not really made to be looked at or enjoyed. This art stands up to weather, and even to rules, and I like that, too. My BEK search has made me see the talent, effort,  humor, and Creativity they’ve got going on.

The hope of getting back to seeing BEK out there uplifts me now as much as seeing BEK did then.

 

 

A Little Bliss

bliss

I had some old notes for this piece but hesitated to write it now.  Joseph Campbell, quoted in Austin Kleon‘s book (I think it was Keep Going), advises us about moving away from the everyday into a space and/or time to open and create. Campbell wrote:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day…a place where you can simply experience and bring forth…the place of creative incubation…if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

Well, there’s no more “everyday” now, and who knows what that will look like later, what each of us will in future label “everyday”. When people have been universally forced into “other” time and space, can I still write about its value? I can try.

Campbell called the place he described above one’s “bliss station”. I have one. There it is, one end of a futon couch, next to some shelves, where I keep writing materials, meditation objects, and about 1/3 of my plants. And may I introduce Claude, the little blue fellow on the upper shelf, a rounded fellow with a ball nose and a beret, whom I made in a school crafts class when I was about 7? He’s sort of my Buddha. We’ve always been tight.

My bliss station is also early, before coffee is finished for the morning and work begins for the day. If I’ve got myself together, it’s sometimes before sunrise.  Not always.

I hadn’t been there for a while, as this current wave of awfulness started to break. I was sick (not with That) and scattered from suddenly having three jobs to do online, the entire gig economy on my lap. The news. Nerves. I don’t have to tell you. But then I went back to the bliss station and drafted this and started showing up again.

I will say four things are true about my Bliss Station. It was right there when I looked for it. It changes absolutely nothing about the current situation, except that I’m doing what I can to make the most Positive possible. Since I live in an attractive but very small apartment, it has helped these weeks to have designated spaces of all kinds: a work area, a reading corner, the bliss station, and random places to stand to listen to the news or think. That’s 3. The 4th one is that going to back to regular time in the bliss station has felt like Something. There’s things you can do if you put whatever is your own Ground under your own feet.

Against the enormity of what is happening, what are a few words here wishing you some Ground, Something to Lean On, a little Bliss? They are some words I wrote in my Creative Space, wishing you these things. Be well.

 

 

Oh My Days!

King F

Oh, the Creative things I’m going to get to during this weird spring break once I take a nap. And process the global pandemic. And learn that I still exist even without a work schedule in the foreseeable future. And nap. I refuse, however, to time excerpts of things for use in hand washing. The Jeopardy Think Music will do for me.

As things grow stranger and more distressing, I’d like to give the last few days their Creative Context.

Friday the 13th is forever tied to a series of films. I’m not a suspense and gore person, but I appreciate the art of scaring people with things they actually know are aren’t real. Let’s also remember that it’s the hallowed moniker of the monarch of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, King Friday XIII. The man rules one of the creative capitals of my childhood, a place named, by the hallowed Mr. Rogers, for the imaginative impulse.

Saturday, 3/14, was PI day. Shout out to Archimedes of Syracuse. Wicked awesome thing to figure out, my friend. Math is an elegant creativity with deep tap roots into the universe, although that does not mean I have to enjoy trig. The discovery of mathematical and number-related stuff has inspired some fine plays, including Breaking the Code, Arcadia, and The Women Who Mapped the Stars.

I once asked my friend the Math Professor how his department celebrates. We all have a slice of pie, he told me. Here’s to the dough-crimpers and everyone who makes creative crusts and fascinating fillings. Here’s to our own Omni Parker House Hotel, birthplace of the Boston Cream Pie, which isn’t really a pie, but which is very good. And to all the comedy creatives who knew what else a pie could do, and took one in the face to make us laugh.

Back to plays. Sunday was the Ides of March, about which Shakespeare had some words to say through the mouths of emperors and conspirators. The “line” on social media for 2020 is that if your whole group stabs Julius Caesar together, you’re not social distancing.

If your only experience of this play is reading it in high school and having to “translate” it into “our English”, then I’m just bloody sorry for you. You should see it set in a dystopian shadow-city in mob costumes or something. Speaking of bloody, I worked as crew once on a production of this play that included most of the cast dipping their hands into Caesar’s blood and then dashing about. So here’s the creative secret to removing dried, syrupy fake blood spatter off an entire multi-level stage while setting up for the next act. Puddles. Squeeze some water onto those red puppies and walk away. By the time you get back, they’ll have dissolved, and you can wipe up easily.

Everyone be well. There are lots of creative folks, whether they make stage entrances, make music, or mix your cocktails, who are exiled from their work and incomes right now. Let’s all do our best to care for and support one another.

 

 

Uplift of the Week

Alice

So many ways to experience Creativity. Including when it sneaks up on you and throws a little surprise party just when you really needed one.

Some days just, as we used to say in Rhode Island in the 70s, rot. I recently had such a day, a bit of an inner Nor’easter.  Well, an inner “car swerves to slam a wall of puddle water onto you” anyway. Somehow, two of my favorite creative people suddenly appeared to offer some serious uplift.

One was “writer who draws” Austin Kleon, who books are delightful, advice-filled kicks in the pants for creative people. His recent newsletter called my attention to the soul-swirling fact that artist, writer, and goddess Maira Kalman has illustrated…are you ready?…wait for it… Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.   I know!

And not only that. Kalman has done a short film, performing excerpts from the book as Alice B. Toklas, presumably in her, or someone’s, apartment in New York. It is outrageous and splendid and sort of nail-biting. I will watch it many, many times.

There was no choice but to be lifted. I love to explore and consider Creativity in many forms in our brimming-over world, but sometimes You and Someone’s Art is just a joyful encounter. Someone’s Creativity helps you find the spring breeze on a bad day, and up you go.