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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

9oct2020

cropOk, I guess this is the week I bugged out. So to speak.

Dunno whether it was allergies, low grade infection or just general malaise, but my efforts to post pen and ink drawings—and it's not like I haven't got plenty lying around, since those sorts of doodles are pretty much all I've done since COVID—mostly failed.

However, I was inspired by the now infamous fly to make today's offering.

I didn't actually watch very much of this debate, because the modern style of standard debating is for the moderator to ask a question and for the candidate to pivot to whatever talking point they feel is most important, or, if we're lucky, that actually has the closest relationship to to the question. I want them to actually answer the question they're asked.

I want these jokers’ feet held to the fire. That means if Kamela Harris is asked what her administration would do if elected to effectively control COVID, they need to admit that there is going to have to be a mask mandate. All the time, pretty much whenever people are outside their homes. Instead, she talked about the current administration's admittedly horrific failures.

Pence was worse: he pivoted to some sort of crap about how valiant the ‘American People’ were, instead of explaining why we have 200K plus dead and over six million infected, a situation as head of the coronavirus task force for which he is directly responsible. I tend to compare our case load to that of Japan, because f2tY is living there. f2 reports there have been no cases in Katsuyama where ze lives, but everyone wears a mask once they step out of their living quarters.

Which means, they have 1.26/100K death rate, as opposed to our nearly 64/100K, or put another way, people are dying here at a rate of *fifty times*** theirs. Way to go USA...but you can see why Harris focused on his failures, because Pence surely wasn't gonna. Anyway. Just in the last fortnight, it seems we've had RBG's passing, wildfire tornados (!) Trump's taxes, his deranged ‘debate’ that included a call-out to domestic terrorists, his COVID infection, then his steroid induced all-caps manic tweeting, domestic terrorists attempting to kidnap a state governor (!)

All of this chaos is my excuse for not posting, and I'm sticking to it. On the link-dump front we have...um, Michael Sandel, whom I've not heard of before, evidently has a new book about the Tyranny of Merit and I can't tell from the Guardian review how much there is to agree with, but I think it might be worth checking out. Circling back to Michigan, that hotbed of militias, a doctor in a rural area (probably the UP) that is now also a hotbed of COVID infections, the victims of whom, though they mostly voted for Trump, cannot take their president's advice to not let it dominate their lives. It is dominating their lives, to the point that they can't breathe, that they're dying.

So if the US is failing before multiple disasters, why then, (for example) is the stock market booming? This NYT link suggests the person to untangle that other mysteries is a dude named Mark Levine —I don't know that this is a topic I really need to bone up on, but on the other hand, that siren song of competence calls...

Or we have this, er, competent drawing of a fly. Enjoy. And have a great weekend!

2oct2020

cropHey, I did less doom-scrolling today yesterday than [the day before] yesterday. Of course, there weren't any supreme court justices’ deaths or appalling presidential debates, plus we got some lovely autumn sunshine, but still...a win is a win. I'm a day ahead of posting! Go, me!

Ahem.

This is not to say I still didn't read too much crap online, and one that I managed to resist for 2–3 days was a NYT Opinion piece about coronavirus divorces. As the virus, (& wildfires, floods, and unemployment) is stressing the country at large, so too is it stressing families in microcosm. This woman kicks her spouse to the curb because when, finally, he's at home with no excuses not to help with running the household in general & childcare in particular—he still fails to step up. That's not really surprising, and I wish her entirely the joy of a house empty and quiet the one-half of the time the kids are living with spouse (conveniently located across the street.)

What she really laments during her frustrating marriage is the lack of support amongst women friends—“a doting grandmother downstairs, an eccentric aunt down the street....” To the point of yearning for extended families, or even sister-wives in a polyamourous relationship. Oh. She wants childcare. (She was working and trying to get her PhD plus 2nd shift. And I thought my life was exhausting, just adding on a part time business....) Yeah, I remember yearning for a wife an extended household back when my kids were younger, especially grade-school aged. In my case, the kids’ father was willing to step up, it's just that he was working full-time (which paid for the education) and going to school full time (so as to keep the job), which meant he left at 8am and returned at 10pm.[1] Unlike her I saw no good reason for polyamoury being illegal, and the wizard didn't object to it outright; he just thought it would really difficult to do successfully (an assessment with which I agreed.)

Personally, I think multiple adult households (with or without the sex) would be marvelous while rearing children, but I think limiting them to extended family is too narrow. While my mom's and my child-rearing practises broadly align, she flatly informed us children when I was six not to expect her to play babysitter when we had children of our own, a half-century's heads-up she's maintained ever since.[2] My sister is nearly a decade younger and over 10 hours by car. That's not working. My brothers...are the biggest argument against this scheme: all of them are more conservative, all are religious,[3] some unto frankly reactionary positions. At least two of them have stated women should not have the right to vote, and another has a traditional, complementarian marriage with a woman nearly 15 years younger than he. They both seem to be pleased with this arrangement, which is fine, but they're also helicopter parents, which I'd like to stress does seem to work for all of them—but which clashes pretty strongly with the fact that I had one kid drop out of school and move out around 14 or 15. Our views, shall we say, don't align real well. It was bad enough with all my friends telling me to “make” this child “behave”;[4] I can't imagine having those arguments in-house. Daily. On top of the fights about voting and abortion rights, or whether I should go to church.

So, to put it bluntly, I think extended families as the only solution is a terrible idea.

This is because you can't choose your family, and it's no fun at all should they prove patriarchal, a lot of them still seem to be—let alone misogynistic, racist, homophobic and religously intolerant, never mind actively and hellishly abusive, all issues with which some people have to cope. I'd propose instead that if we just went to universal health care, child care—indeed UBI—instead of this patchwork of laws that favour nuclear families, people could associate in whatever patterns or households they liked. (Along with as much or little consensual sex as desired, and that, I'm guessing, is the sticking point.)

In the meantime, I have Japanese daughters, a glass daughter, assorted students, neighbors, friends and mentors as part of my extended circle.[5] I'm deeply thankful for all of them, and look forward to the day I will see more of them, because unlike the columnist I don't care to spend hours on the phone...but drawing with art buds? Now that I will do for hours on end.

[1]Yes, those were the good old days when employers not only contributed to your retirement, but also sometimes helped fund your schooling!

[2]Not to mention the fact that, when one sib invited her to move in with his family after my dad died her response was basically, thanks, but no thanks. Or, more honestly, oh hell no.

[3]Well, one might not be; it's hard to tell.

[4]Spoiler: ze turned out fine: nothing like living on your own a couple-three years to appreciate one's parents.

[5]Oh, and a wonderful spouse ofc, but he's the only one I do get to live with/see daily/etc.

1oct2020

cropIf you've ever wondered why artists and authors destroy their juvenilia, this NYT article about Edward Hopper might give you a clue. The teal deer, for those of you not wanting to waste your precious 4 free articles a month is that some PhD grad found documentation for pieces a young teenaged Hopper copied— from an art instruction magazine for amateurs printed specifically for this purpose; thereafter he did a correspondence course and thence hied himself off to what would become Parsons School of Design, where, evidently, he finally got some systematic training in technique, anatomy and the like.

It's nice to know how he started teaching himself to paint, and as the copies show, his early works were bad (those shapeless waves!) No-one learns in a vacuum, which should be obvious, but I sometimes think all art historians should be required to minor in actually making art, so they wouldn't spout BS like this:

For Kim Conaty, curator of drawings and prints at the Whitney Museum in New York, where she is at work on a big Hopper show, the copying that Mr. Shadwick revealed has more important repercussions: “It cuts straight through the widely held perception of Hopper as an American original,” she said — as an artist whose innate genius allowed him to emerge on the scene without a debt to others. “The only real influence I’ve ever had was myself,” he once claimed.

The important thing about Edward Hopper to keep in mind is that while the rest of the art world was experimenting with Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism, Hopper was off in his own dour corner, painting recognizable landscapes that depicted an intimate melancholy. Yes, granted this habit of artists saying ‘I'm an original’ is aggravating. Mucha was even more guilty of this, claiming the entire Art Noveau movement as ‘my style’ but it's the sort of thing you do when you're trying not to starve (and Hopper was pretty desperately poor early on). Anyone with eyes can see artists’ “influences” and the flow between commercial and fine art runs from the former to the latter more than most artists art historians people would care to admit. (That other great US landscapist of the 20th century, Ansel Adams, also owed a significant debt to commercial art. All three of the just named were deeply influenced by commercial art of the period, and one only has to look at the stuff to see that. This, by the way, is why people study Art History. Or at least, why I liked to study art history.) The question is, does the artist bring something new to the table?

I was just saying to my biking companion last Sunday that however much the function-over-form, I-loathe-advertising spouse might despise it, he's nevertheless influenced by packaging: knowing I loved Hopper, especially his Early Sunday Morning, which has resonated as a representation of the city I live in for nearly four decades, years ago purchased as a gift a biography of Hopper, not least because he was intrigued by the translucent vellum dust jacket. That author, Gail Levine's thesis, (backed up by years of diaries) was that Hopper's biggest influence wasn't some things he copied while trying to learn how to handle oils or depict waves, but his wife, whose lesser works kicked him into gear.

But, of course who wants to hear that? Jo Hopper's paintings weren't as original, as good ...well, the author was only able to find one. As with Jackson Pollock, whose wife Lee Krasner provided influence and inspiration to the, ahem, greater male talent. But, you know. Women back then were...mayyyyyyybe 5% of artists. Anywhere. She didn't have much of a hope. Better to bask in his reflected glory, eh?[1]

Edward Hopper is a genuine American original, even if it took him decades to achieve that status. It's plain to see if one just looks at his art: his use of space and architecture, blocky, geometric, chunks of colour to show the interior loneliness of figures thrown together, combined with the americana—italinate storefronts, old gas station pumps, three D building signs of the sort that used to be outlined in light bulbs...I imagine that sense of isolation, the once-ordinary but-now-nostalgic resonates: this is the America that, in some sense, I think people (e.g. Trump supporters) are mourning.

But it is a limited, and very personal America. His work is much less optimistic, say, than Norman Rockwell's, the famous american illustrator whom I'd align most closely. (Quelle horreur! to compare a Fine Artist to a mere magazine illustrator!) If there are Blacks in Hopper paintings, I don't recall ever seeing any. Levin claims the Hoppers’ marriage was ’tempestuous’ —and one has, again, only to look at his paintings to see it was often troubled. I love his stuff; I'm not at all surprised he gave up whatever nascent moves towards the abstraction coming out of Europe to do more representational landscapes because one sold and the rest didn't; I do think he deserves a bunch of credit to sticking to that long enough to find a unique voice, which took him about...40 years. 30, if you want to start from his earliest documented works (as opposed to when he started making art, which was probably around 3–6 years of age), to the time when his paintings that started to bring him fame: Automat in ’27, Chop Suey in ’29. To phrase it as a terrible pun: everything in an artist's life goes into the hopper, and, depending on how good and true they are, those influences transmorgify into art.

Which is...about par for the course?

And speaking of, er, art, here's some.

[1]Yeah, that was a once and done read.

30sep2020

cropMan oh man, I gotta stop with the politics, I have beads to make.

Just not yet, evidently.

I know a lot of people thought the presidential debate was a disgrace, which actually kind of surprised me, because did they really expect our dear leader to behave any differently? I just wanted to see if Biden could keep from being completely steam rollered, and I'd say...he did.

For me, it was actually heartening to see some pushback. Hillary, being a woman, never could've managed the anger and insults that Biden mostly got a free pass on; in fact, my most vivid memory of the 2016 debates was not anything the candidates said, but Trump's creepy ass wandering around behind Hillary, which I didn't understand why the moderators didn't make him stay put. It was gross and unfair. (As is the current push to replace RGB, and blaming California for not putting out the fires on mostly federal lands, and failing somehow to indict any of those cops who shot Breonna Taylor dead...but I digress.)

I guess people are surprised that Trump couldn't denounce white supremacists, or promise a peaceful transfer of power, or that the GOP actively deterred Black voters from voting in 2016, and are employing even cruder tactics this time around. Of course he was going to flout the agreed-upon rules for the debate and interrupt, heckle and bully, because he's got no policy positions. He got rid of the mandate for Obamacare....hokay; he wants beautiful crystal clear water in California—well, so do I, to keep them from draining the Great Lakes, but dude, you gotta actually propose how this is to be achieved (rolling back the EPA regs and leaving the state out to burn from fires that are so bad they coloured the sun rosy-pink here, over 2000 miles away, are anti solutions.) I think John Scalzi is absolutely correct in his theory as to why Trump ran for president in the first place and why he's calling upon white supremacists to undermine the current election; and I'm so deeply grateful that we received our ballots, finally, and have the option to drop them off at City Hall.

So many people are bemoaning the fact that neither candidate has much in the way of substantive policy discussions (though to be fair Biden tried) but, hello, that's why you read the party platform; what I saw, clearly delineated, was the character of the two candidates. One was a rude, bullying racist blowhard; the other a decent old guy making typical vague campaign promises (which you know are gonna be far more messy in reality but, hey, that's how this stuff works)—but one of which seems to be that he's willing to actually gather experts and listen to them. (Wish I could find the Cory Booker interview where he talks about how impressed he was that Biden, whom he ran against in the primary, seemed to listen and learn.)

Vote, people. Yes, even you the lesbian going for Trump because your 401K is doing well and you're tired of homeless people defecating in front of your home—granted, Trump's policies are not gonna increase the health care/housing/training to help them, nor is his short term economic policies gonna prop that 401K up much longer, but hey: that's your duty and your right. I personally would rather have health care for everyone than a skyrocketing 401K (let alone live with the guilt of electing a racist attempting to recreate Kristallnicht—I'm mostly German ancestry, after all) but you don't get to slide out of this most important of civic duties. (Unlike, thank goodness, watching the debates. That's strictly optional.)

29sep2020

cropOkay, I guess maybe this is the week I will take off. —I could’ve been making new fresh pages all day yesterday, since it rained...but I didn't. So here's one from the archives, from about three years ago, when I made a series of overdyed and henna-inspo'ed clothing to sell in collaboration with our local thrift shop as part of a First Friday Art Walk our town was doing.

Now, of course, the shop is (mostly) closed, and because our household (or more correctly our ‘pod’ —f2tE doesn't technically live with us, and what appalling connotations that word has for elderly sf fen...except the infection is without, and we are the pod...) I'm doing no shopping, let alone for used clothes I can upcycle.

I did try writing something for Monday, a review of James and Deborah Fallows’ Our Towns: A 100,000 mile journey in to America's Heartland. Or something like that. They discovered, in their feel-good volume about the resilience of America's rust belt and the like—and as a native born Detroiter, I grew up squarely within that milieu—that a lot of towns in the midwest are a good deal more vital than is the perception amongst the “coastal elites”. They identified resilient towns as, first and foremost, having an identity; other things to look for were research unis, community colleges, a happening arts scene, bike paths, greenspace, downtowns, especially heritage ones, vibrant libraries...every town that was thriving, they said, had its own local artisanal beer. (My parents also noted this when they visited Germany—every town had a brewery, and the beer was always good.) As it happens, the place I live ticks many of these boxes; and why yes, those checkmarks played an important part in luring us to live here.

They also usually had ‘public-private’ business innovation (i.e. tax breaks, sweetheart deals—one of their interviewees was indicted for steering contracts to his brother-in-law, as I recall), unemployment, drug abuse, and racism, all of which plague the city I live in; the latter precipitated a major scandal just recently, in fact... The Fallows mostly skim over the racism; when it comes up, the often republican businessmen are actively supportive of immigrants locally because ‘our town is a beef town, and no native will work in the slaughterhouse, not for any amount of money.’ Undocumented immigrants, otoh, will take the work at $15/hr and consider it an improvement. (Ditto caring for dairy herds, never mind picking produce. What do all these anti-illegal alien yahoos think we're gonna eat, if all the Latninex folk hightail it out of here?) Over and over and over again, hey, we need these folks here (even if their presumed political affiliation meant those same folks would be pariahs of the worst kind everywhere else.)

The book obviously documents the people who came from this or that Big-Name City, loved the lesser known place, and settled right down, in addition, of course, to those who never left: over and over and over again, the answer was, why do you work so hard (and it often took a dedicated mayor, city planner, businessman, celebrity, or, in one case especially inspiring to me, an artist a couple of decades to make a real, lasting change)? Wouldn't it be easier to move?

But this is my home, they'd answer.

I couldn't help noticing no LGTBQIA folks figured in these little, tightly knit communities. The Fallows weren't interested in tracking down the people who left these places, but I've read so many stories of people forced out, by their gayness or atheism. (Not all; a beloved lesbian couple of our neighborhood moved back to one of these little, GOP towns to retire; the elder half of the couple had grown up and lived there.) Now, perhaps this is simply for the same reason that it would never occur to me to consider a minor league baseball stadium a sign of local health: I haven't the slightest interest in following the sport (though I'll note our local neighborhood park has a little league diamond.) And church, another way the Fallows could experience community, is right out. So perhaps it simply didn't occur to the authors to think about how atheists or gays would fit into these narratives.

But one of the cities they cite early in the book is one in which I too visited a couple of times, over a similar kind of time period, and what I experienced and what they encountered were...quite different. To them this town was a struggling up and comer, fairly average. To me, it was a suburban enclave where a lot of rich, religious (i.e. anti-abortion) white racists had fled to enjoy its admittedly wonderful natural beauty (we were vacationing ourselves, in fact.) I did actually look it up aaaaand...that city's financial demographics are about average, nationally. Certainly the city I live in is far Blacker and has more poverty (but I think more culturally rich —well, diverse, anyhoo...) though both towns have similar populations and housing values only 1K apart (and are substantially below the national median). IOW, the two are somewhat similar: that town is famous for a cultural festival that I, personally, would like to check out; ours has a number of much smaller ones. Both are adjacent to bigger cities with nationally known art festivals. That town has been rated as one of the ‘safest’ places to live, which I'm sure is true—if one's het, cis and white.

So the comparisons I couldn't help making coloured my perception of their story telling. Of course a US president's ex speech writer, wealthy enough to own and fly a half-million dollar plane, is gonna have a different experience from a semi? mostly? -failed (but still financially secure) artist. I couldn't help thinking how these stories would've gone if the Fallows had been unknown, poor, fat Blacks driving in an old clunker, instead of trim, blonde, wealthy White university professors flying in on a cute plane.

This is not to say they weren't aware of, or concerned with, the difficulties those hypothetical alternates would've experienced. In one chapter they explore the difficulty the ever-lasting question, in some form of, ‘Who are you, and how do you fit in?’ —What church? What neighborhood/district? What job? Where from? Who were your parents/people? Every single one, fraught on some level. (I'm happy to report that while not perfect, there is space for gay people of all (non) faiths, where I live.) Even they, who as they stated never enquired into national politics, were, I think, mildly frustrated with the movers and shakers who were willing to go to bat for their own immigrants/PoC, but not support those Others on a national level. The connection of the two was so close...but the locals couldn't close it.

I read the book last Saturday, down for the day with a mild headache and the overall feeling of malaise that meant I was either fighting off a mild infection (or possibly suffering coffee withdrawal). I hadn't the mental energy for the (IMNSHO) better written Pollan, and wanted something comforting. The teal deer message of this book is that there's a lot more human creativity, kindness and grit in the average american town than you might guess just reading about in the latest coal mining disaster (or poisoned water crisis). And I get why those Appalachian (ex) miners might be frustrated with the national news swooping in and out of there only when there's a big, juicy disaster. How do you think the BLM protestors feel when those appalling brownshirts Proud Boys types get all the press with their guns and torches, instead of the peaceful protests featuring singing and free haircuts and GOTV efforts? Frustrating!

So in a sense, the Fallows are addressing their fellow “coastal elites” —of both parties, I'm guessing. (I've never understood why being in ‘flyover country’ is such an insult: I loved visiting NYC and Tokyo, but I'd never want to live in either. I don't think I'd wanna live in ‘Big Sky’ country either...but I certainly understand why it attracts its lovers, as forests call to me.) I don't pretend to have the Fallows’ empathy. I can't understand why, for example, people cannot come to terms with funding health care, day care, support for moms—if they really wanted to reduce the abortion rate. Why, if they're christians, they aren't supporting the shipping of all our extra grain (I did read some of the Pollan...) to hungry people in the rest of the world, gratis. (Instead of making war on them!) I haven't the empathy, though I appreciate the authors’ sincere effort to connect with that other constituency, the people struggling in small-town, heartland America.

So. Despite the fact that the news seems to be ratcheting up the tumult ever higher, I can reflect upon two pieces of good news: one, today is sunny, and I need to remember, always, that while rain is beautiful, sun lifts my mood. And two, my ballot arrived yesterday. There will be plenty of time to fill it out and trot it back (safely) to City Hall, where they have a drop box. Bonus, Inktober starts this Friday Thursday (30 days hath September....) I don't know that I'll be participating every day and I know I will mostly be ignoring the prompts. But I have something lined up for Oct 1, and will be back no later than then.

In the meantime, I give thanks for the memories this old art evokes, and the hope it engenders for the future.

25sep2020

cropWhen I was little, once we got past Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot, and yes, I'm old enough to have read about how Dick needed to have his corn-on-the-cob scraped off because his upper central incisors two front teeth had dropped out, two—and only two stories remain in my memory from in-class reading. One is about a black pony of the night who brings dreams (hmmmmm, an antidote to the term ‘nightmare’? Cuz I've always had a sense this particular pony was female, despite the default of most animal protags—indeed most protags of any kind back then—being male: ahhh, the realizations one finally has, writing about them, half a century later...) This story was my first real encounter, amongst my school texts’ mundane happenings, of fantasy, and it ignited a life-long love. I don't actually remember the story per se, only the image of the black pony, a ‘realistic’ painting of a fantastic beast.

The other, that I surely read later, was about a man who immigrated to the US, and worked in a horrible factory, with vile chemicals, who recuperated, on his one day off a week, by going to Central Park. The nature soothed him, but one day, some other immigrants started breaking off a shrub's flowering branches, which the man described as ‘tearing off his arms and legs’ —a personification that really resonated, perhaps because the intro asked us to wonder why the author had reproduced her husband's imperfect English.

What a patently stupid question! It gave the story flavor, a greater insight into the man's thoughts, not to mention setting up the tale's climax. But I've always been pedantic, the rushing realizations flooding through me imprinted that silly prefix even more strongly than the text itself. (Such is the curse of being fascinated by critique.)

So the ‘broken English’ was the point of the whole story: he's apprehended with the vandals, despite being innocent and is hauled up in court to make his case. Not only is his English imperfect, he cannot recall, in his new language, the proper honorific for the judge, and frantic, comes up with ‘Your Honesty’.

The others laugh and mock the man, but the Judge ignores the gaffe to focus upon his defense, which is successful. —It's one of those heartwarming stories, because even the guilty parties only pay a small fine.[1]

How things have changed...!

Today's collection is my offering in lieu of the camping pix of mushrooms, flowers and the like I've posted in the past, because I didn't go this year over covid concerns. But camping has always been fraught for Blacks and of PoC, and like that rare childhood story that stuck in my imagination, this particular injustice just bugs me. (Ahem.) Perhaps because I am atheist, and do not otherwise experience the the numinous, I want everyone (to have the opportunity should they so desire, mosquitoes and all) to experience the beauty of nature.

These pictures are, for the moment, the closest I can come to offering that.

[1]Yeah, or more likely it was a suitably sanitized example of poor immigrant experience: the man's choking sensation in his throat hints at the heavy toll to which he and his fellow immigrants were subject.