Monday, November 16, 2015

Black Mountain College at Institute for Contemporary Art

Beth and I took a rare jaunt into the city to see an exhibit about Black Mountain College. We haven't been to ICA. It sits on Boston's busy waterfront.

Beautiful late autumn day. Recent winds and rain have denuded the trees (oaks excluded), so the landscape is bright and open and electric. Chilly with the wind, down on the water.

We parked in a garage near the museum. No means of identifying where in the garage one left one's car, like numbered spaces. Could be challenges later.

Short walk to the place itself. A patch of grass that children can run upon sat near the building and decorative grasses waved lushly in the wind. Boston's waterfront is always windy.

The building is eye-catching modern, if there is such a thing (modern, I mean). Lots of straight lines and glass. A hallway oceanside allows you to sit on benches and watch the waterfront. Boston's most exclusive neighbourhood coming soon, said a sign.

First floor is dedicated to the gift shop and the restaurant. We investigated neither. The restaurant was in brunch mode. Only the fourth floor houses exhibits. I forget what's on the second floor, the third has a theatre. Up we went to the fourth floor in a large glass elevator.

I will write in more detail about the exhibit elsewhere/elsetime.  [Late edit: here is the review: Black Mountain at ICA]

The show featured work from the school community, that is to say teachers as well as student, famous and not sos. The school was never flush. Josef Albers had a couple of works featuring tree leaves, more expensive material being hard to come by.

Albers came to Black Mountain by way of the Bauhaus, when Nazi unrest produced an uncomfortable atmosphere. I wonder if William Morris' design work influenced Bauhaus? I saw no mention but it seems a commonality exists.

The poets of the school were under-represented. It doesn't seem like the artists of BMC were lumped together in a school, but the Black Mountain School remains a thing even now, however usefully. Why not include a reading?

While scribbling notes as I toured, I was interrupted by a guide. She asked if I had a pen. I offered it to her. Tho she was dressed in black like the rest of the guides I didn't recognize her as such. She handed me a pencil and said pens aren't allowed. I could keep my pen. Were I in desecrating mood, I could have got the job done with a pencil, or just my hands. And I still had the lethal pen in my pocket.

There was a dance performance of a Merce Cunningham piece. An archival b&w film of the same piece played on the wall. An ex-Cunningham dancer dressed in red danced to the concerted piano plinking of a John Cage score. The dancer was a real dancer, you could tell from his posture and movement. Visibility proved problematic with the crowd so we moved on.

The exhibit floor is a mazy hive but we made it thru all the exhibits. A small theatre offered computers where you could read brief bios and and hear interviews or readings from BMC people. Olson's reading from Maximus was animated and fulfilling, tho I have seen it elsewhere. We rather thought we would spend longer but 90 minutes seemed to be enough to see all the work. We went thru a second time, willing to follow a guided tour. Things had gotten loud however, and it proved difficult to hear the guide.

It was around three and a little early to eat, tho I was ready to. A nearby restaurant intrigued Beth so we went in. The restaurant would not open till five but a woman there chatted with us. Beth was eager to try the place because it featured Greek food. Could we but manage the wait.

We joined Satan in hating on Christmas by getting a cup of coffee at Starbuck's. Beth looked up reviews for the restaurant we just left. Loved it or hated it was the consensus. One reviewer said the bartender yelled at them. Another customer wrote that a dish arrived in error yet the restaurant required that the patrons pay for it. A few more poor service and left hungry convinced us to go elsewhere. In fact we decided to go somewhere closer to home.

Lack of signs in the parking garage left us wandering a bit till we found the car. We were om the Zakim Bridge just as golden sunset painted the hills of Charlestown. The sunset was gorgeous with high clouds and dazzling red and gold. We stopped at a Mexican restaurant at the mall for enchiladas. Disappointed with the museum but otherwise fun day with Beth.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Hunt Club by John Lescroart, and Possibly More

I don't know if I hadn't ought to teach novel writing because I discover so many critical issues in the novels that I read. I understand that we read for various reasons and different levels of attention. Still, I think I can make valid points.

I'm not even speaking of such ambitious projects as The Great American Novel (which I'm satisfied that Melville wrote more than a century and a half ago, tho the concept seems still to be alive), but just functional novels that you can wrap some brain cells around. And it's not like I'm such a perspicacious reader. Hand me an Agatha Christie story that I have already read, and I will still need to wait till the denouement for Poirot to meticulously explain who killed Lord Fluffernutter. That has more to do with my ability to work puzzles than my insight into novels. No, really!!! I'm quite the critical juggernaut regarding works of fiction. BTW, fiction is the same as poetry, only we call it fiction. Something about how language transfers to the brain...

Anyway, my current test case is The Hunt Club by John Lescroart (never heard of him before picking up this book). By page 121 (out of 405), we've got a murder, and a protagonist. More like two protagonists, but maybe plot turns and red herrings will settle things more clearly.

The book, and presumably the story, begins in 1992. Wyatt Hunt works for Child Protection Service. That's an unusual occupation for someone we expect to solve a murder mystery. Sensitively written, too. I thought this was quite intriguing. It's a bit of a red herring, as it happens.

Jump four years forward, Hunt manages to remove some children from a bad home scene. In the course of which, he meets up with a long lost old friend, who seems to be the second protagonist, Devin Juhle. Juhle is a cop.

Hunt loses his job by not playing along with his corrupt boss. He and Juhle and Hunt's platonic lawyer girlfriend contrive to bring the boss down. The boss was collecting worker's comp for a fake injury. This caper—they catch the supposed invalid at physical labour—was fun so Hunt decides to become a private eye. Not my first self-query here as to where this all heads.

This brings us to chapter five and the present day. That's a lengthy set up. Hunt has a successful agency with several employees including the now adult children he saved early on. A cluttered scene introduces the “Hunt Club”, friends and associates of the agency. Note how “Hunt Club” has two meanings. It would make a great title for a book.

Most of the main characters sit in on this scene, set at a restaurant, where the repartee flies. Actors, with facial nuances, vocal intonation, and such, could probably say these lines with some liveliness and conviction, but this jazzy dialogue just seems forced to me as I read it, and not as funny as somebody thinks it is. Maybe S. J. Perelman could come in for a rewrite.

I have here identified one problem pertaining to novelists, the belief that what they heard in their head transferred to the page. Okay, all writers, including the one at the keyboard now, wrestle with that one. This scene proposes, I gather, to introduce many of the players in the story. As I discover, these characters appear in most of Lescroart's books, with varying levels of importance. The low-grade snarkiness of everyone's dialogue in this scene does little to help bring these characters to life. Furthermore, Lescroart confusingly unleashes quite a few characters here. I'm having trouble keeping track of them. In this crowd, they don't distinguish themselves. Lescroartt assumes that you've already met these characters in other of his books.

New scene. A young waitress meets a federal judge at her restaurant and eventually they have an affair. They further eventually are found by the judge's wife at the judge's home, shot to death. Saying the wife found them should not suggest that she didn't shoot them herself. That's still to be determined.

A guest at the frothy restaurant scene is a lawyer who appears on a Court TV-like show. She gets sick drunk at the restaurant, ending with her slapping the show's producer who accompanied her to this gathering. Hunt gentlemanly brings her home.

Next day, when she's sober, she makes the world's best spaghetti carbonara (before or after, I forget which, the de rigueur rumpty bumpty). This is a chance for the author to show off, and it gets a bit weird. Lescroart describes her process in detail, as if it were some culinary miracle. You must know the miracle as well as I do: fry bacon, boil spaghetti, smush some eggs, grate cheese, mix together. There's room for genius there, I suppose, but I am sure that I had basic ability in those skills by age eleven. Andrea, the character, calls it her patented recipe. The author's just showing off.

There, I have identified a second problem with novelists: they can find themselves showing off. Scheming to make an impression, that is. Lescroart does some name-checking, for instance. I think Ian Fleming may have invented this sort of thing, to illustrate James Bond's hipness. At any rate, there's some product placement here: Jordan cabernet, Hendricks gin. Doing so seems more about the author than the character.

Presumably, Lescroart knows his San Francisco. I don't have a San Francisco, but I can see enjoying the references if I did. Local settings have a tingle, no doubt.

Juhle, until further notice, seems to have a happy marriage. Hunt lost his wife and child in childbirth. One of those looming pasts to bring up at odd moments in the storytelling. This sort of thing savours of two-bit pop psychology. That's right, not just plain pop psychology, I wrote two-bit. Too neat, and really just superfluous.

I really liked the essentially unneeded beginning of the book with Hunt as child protection agent. The story has devolved to police and lawyer procedural. Early on, I thought maybe there might be a dark side to Hunt and/or Juhle but now I realize that they are two poles in the investigation, assuming investigations have poles, and basically two pals of the author, both of which points I here do assert. Juhle takes the by-the-book route while Hunt can be loose with the rules.

What the story has come down to, then, is a lot of scene changes that instigate a lot of questions. Not very lifelike, if that's a goal, and quite stodgy in its narrative movement. We're just rooting for the good guys, at this point. Come on, denouement!

Which bring the question: What does Dear Reader want from a novel? Is it just catching the perp, in this case, and in general, the feelgood plot? I think everyone responds positively to the notion of good or at least okay endings for the protagonists. Frodo destroyed the Ring, tho with a grey tinge to the happily ever after. Etc. Justice served.

I like that shit as much as anyone, but I also like the journey . Or I should say, I want to. (Tolkien managed his journey with intricate depth: it can happen!) I don't want to notice the writer's art so much. I don't want to realize that characters are machines, automatons acting out the writer's schemes. I do notice that stuff. The stuff between the periods interests me. I regard the scheming overlay as distraction.

Keats noted it two centuries ago, the Egotistical Sublime. The author gets in the way of the words. Blake noted it, the Authors are in Heaven (and the corollary implication that the author is on earth, mere earth). Author as essential hero. I say no. The author is a sieve, here to collect some interesting bits.

The lift of novels, according to me, is not from plot development and character realization but in the telling language. Yes, novels that go the way they should offer a pleasing sensation. I read (am reading) that way now. The real scene of interest, however, occurs in the sentences beckoning meaning. Language is poetry when we get to that point, even in novels. Otherwise, a novel becomes just more messages from Our Sponsor.

I'm still reading The Hunt Club so I can give nothing away. It wouldn't matter if I could. It represents a gesture towards completion that doesn't really apply to anyone. It is the sort of book, finally, that you'd like, if you like that sort of stuff. That's not a condemnation, but it does suggest the insular park we are content to stroll in.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Bad Lit

I am reading a book called Dean Koontz' Frankenstein. I thunk it would be a retelling in modern day, that sort of thing. It is set modern day (the modern day of 2005, remember then?), but it is more complicated. It's a marketing job, for one thing.

A closer look at the book cover reveals that Koontz teamed with Ed Gorman on this epic. Further closer looking finds that this is Book Two, “City of Night”. Argh, trilogy! The word trilogy has become code for Commercial Horseshit. Trilogies are now the effort of an author to extend pitilessly the primordial awesomesauce to the thinnest of reward. I HATE IT! Douglas Adams was honest enough, and clever enough, to produce Books Four and Five of his Hitchhiker Trilogy, but for the most part, trilogy means diminishing returns. Okay, that editorial is over.

The Koontz Machine teaming with Ed Gorman is another marketing knee jerk. Book One, you see, joins Koontz with Kevin J. Anderson. Who knows who guest stars in Book Three? I believe I have read Gorman, gritty thriller. I think I have read Anderson as well, Star Trek universe hack. So, okay, we're just gonna potter about with this epic.

I'm catching this in media res, but it seems some characters might already have a history with Gorman. It reads that way. Invite the author and his characters into your lucrative literary world. I think I have set the scene. I would likely not bother, but it is Frankenstein.

A friend in eighth grade urged me to read Frankenstein, which I did. The soliloquizing monster hardly matched the iconic omg of the Karloff expression. Past that, and read again with more adult eyes, it's a goodly chunk of story, and worth siphoning off of, for sure.

The Koontz cartel headed pragmatically towards the bottom line with this thing. I have read Koontz previously. I retain only a sense that of moderate competence trying to excite some interest in me, and not quite hitting the marker.


If you string sentences in a somewhat logical manner, and produce a plot that heads towards something, you've got readership's attention. I don't read a lot of this sort of entertainment, and tend to do so merely as a look-see, but I am willing to enjoy myself if given a chance. Tho this book paces well I'm really just reading to see how it manages because it is not held together well. Especially so because I know a Book Three lurks out there to further attenuate the story.

What we learn from the start: the book does concern Doktor Frankenstein and his creation. Victor has survived to modern day thru his scientific know how. He's Victor Helios now. I see a red flag…

The monster, now called Deucalion—Dave or Benny wouldn't do—also lives to this day. Further red flag.

So Victor has been busy. Fabulously wealthy, he's busy making a new race of humans. Replicants, they are all genetically modified to be more physically powerful, as well as fully adapted to accepting his orders. A genetic hierarchy exists amongst the replicants, Alpha, Beta, Gamma. Victor has been dispatching key people in New Orleans and replacing them with replicants. Reboot of humanity, with Victor Helios in charge. Sounds fun!

A pair of cops are on to this exploit and mean to put an end to Victor. It sounds hopeless but what do I know? These two characters seem like they might have existed prior to emigrating to the Koontz world. Just a guess. 

They are a wise-cracking couple, man and woman. Their snappy dialogue seems forced. The man is a softie while the woman is hardboiled. Her father, deceased, was wrongly accused of being a dirty cop. Oh, and they are sweet on each other, tho the woman is too hardboiled to let that get too icky.

Deucalion we aint seen much of. He's angry and revenge-minded but mostly been brooding offscreen. There's a lovely couple, super attractive, who are modified to be assassins. They're looking for the cute cop couple. Uh oh. Replicants can't give birth but the lady assassin has been showing signs of wanting children.

The lady cop has an autistic brother. An older woman that she befriended takes cares of him while she's off settling the score with Helios. The assassins are heading towards the lady cop's home.
Victor's wife Erika, several versions after the first, has been modified to Stepford Wife. She's been acting too curious however. Other replicants are also proving problematic, like they are coming to realize their enslavement by time, or perhaps just not as well devised genetically as Victor might have wanted.

At the dump where Victor stashes all the dead bodies, seemingly millions of them, some sort of evil life force apparently seeks to become a plot point.

A replicant that Victor modified to be autistic—I didn't quite catch why Victor did that—has escaped home base and seeks the cop's autistic brother. And that's where I am at with this book, about halfway thru Book Two.

The scale of Victor's venture is typically vast. I have no idea how two wisecracking coppers will settle the score. I do not look forward to any attacks on the autistic boy or the woman caring for him. Victor's friendship with and assistance to Joseph Stalin is just another stain on plausible. There's at least one more volume to this thing. I think I have done all the thinking I need to do on this book.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Lowell and the Way

No one is asking me, but I feel urged to write on the towns hereabout—Know Your Towns!!!—what with Beth zipping hither and yon appraising, and me sometimes along for the ride. We betook ourselves to Dracut, Mass, today. Dracut borders Lowell, as well as the conservative mysteries of New Hampshire.

From my lean experience, I thought of Dracut as the boil on Lowell's ass. Then, too, Lowell has seemed like a decrepit remake of colonized Boston. Both viewpoints are right enough, and wrong. People + Socio-economics = People. No left, right, or u-turns around that proposition. Memo to the collective running for office.

To reach Lowell by car—trains and buses also work—you can take Rt. 3 and then the quaintly-named Lowell Connector. The Lowell Connector is a spur directly into the cauldron of Lowell. Where we turn off onto Dutton, there's an embankment with a large Welcome to Lowell message in white pebbles. There's also a sign mentioning Lowell Pride. We'll just assume that both statements are sincere.

Thru out the city are banners sponsored by and for UMass Lowell. These banners indicate how ready you shall be for work and life with a UMass Lowell education. Pictures on these banners showing good, normal kids, no evident piercings or tats, fosters the dream.

Our route needn't've wended thru Lowell's central clutter but we had a minor emergency meet up with Erin at the school. Thence we rode along the busy thoroughfare parallel to the Merrimack River. It's really a lovely setting, with an esplanade, and perhaps a junkie or two. I don't know about the junkies, but as lovely and fascinating as Lowell is, seedy if not decayed never seems far away. Still, there's a grand house on this busy roadway with a wrought iron fence painted a beaming gold, or gilded for all I know. Like architecture? Come to Lowell.

Beth's first stop was at a condo complex, a small enclave of townhouses on a busy road. Thick vegetation surrounded the complex on three sides, with a marshy pond visible thru the trees on one side. So close to the urban miasma!

Further down the road we saw homes of better upkeep than the Lowell standard. The land itself started to sing with rolling hills. The second condo complex was nestled into the slope of what I am pretty sure is a dell. There's a working farm next door. The third comp felt warm and inviting. I mean the land still remembered that life grew from the earth, back in the day.

Heading back towards Lowell we saw a church with large and ornate stained glass windows. Alas the dirt. I think one showed some chick holding a baby. The largest one featured this guy and a large boat with animals. I wonder if it was a scene from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Just to keep things in perspective, across the street from the church was a corner packie. And next to it: a graveyard the size of a vacant lot. Old one too, but the chain link fence was probably newer.

The school is in growth spurt all over the place. The school is a pretense of fulfilling success given the closeby destitution of actual people in a rainbow of languages. And I think again of William Blake and songs specifically of Innocence:

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love

Those are not easy beams to bear, in the rising intolerance of sanctified greed. Pope Francis recently said to the churches, Feed the poor or pay taxes. Good start.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Out and About, Part 73.715

Fun is fun, once again joining Beth on an appraisal ramble. She needs pictures of recently-sold comparatives of subject appraisals. Destination: Natick, Mass. Have heard on radio ads: na-TICK. Pronounce it NAY-tick, like the locals do. Locals are always right.

Back in the good old days, Natick was, according to peerless Wikipedia, an early praying Indian settlement. As in, Our munificent God says Stay here, don't make waves. Colonialism = bulldozer, but gee, opiates are great!

We engaged Rt 3 to I-95 South, thence to Rt 20, aka Boston Post Rd. In elder days, the artery to the city, now the busy pass thru to all the yonders we learn to imagine. We slid thru Weston first. It is the moneyest town in the state and Boston bedroom community supreme. It is green and populated by houses of this and that extent. We were just passing thru.

Wayland next. More of the same, perhaps with rolling-er landscape. I mean the crust is lovely almost as the dirt. You can see the bones of farms, but farming is such an antique idea. Lawns = imagination, since I am so math-oriented. No McMansions, tho.

Thence to Natick. My aunt and uncle lived there, until they winterized and expanded the Cape Cod cottage and shifted there. Lake Cochituate was within walking distance of their Natick house, and Carling had a brewery nearby (assuming memory works). File under auld lang syne.
So much of New England is green, a fact I often forget. Big deciduous trees are our neighbours and friends. Beth grew up in the desert spareness of Nevada.

Natick centre is a fine bustle this side of gentrification. It has some lovely brick factories now housing emporia for the rising crest. I saw what must have been a retired brick school or municipal building now yceplt Cochituate Village. An apartment building. O marketing, you make the people weep. Village is now an embracing term for all that we no longer have. Developers of condos and developments love such comforting words as village or farm. “Come out from the grove my love & care,” wrote Childe William.

But anyway. At one house, the owner noted the suspicious car. Beth explained the wherefore and whereof of her enterprise. He was not nonplussed, and Beth says she has yet to encounter anyone fussed by her picture taking.

The final comp was on Pumpkin Pine Rd. Let that sink in: it makes no sense. Perhaps as a new craft beer. We live in dreams.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Saugus Massachuswtts for Some Reason

I accompanied Beth again as she went to take pictures of houses for a real estate appraisal. We went to Saugus, which is not far away. I hardly know the place. I am moved to write of Saugus.

It is an old town. In Cub Scouts, we went to the Saugus Iron Works on the goddamn hottest day of the year. Didn't get a great impression of the place.

We passed thru Wakefield on the way. Wakefield centre boasts a sparkly New England green and an amazing amount of landscaped flowers and shrubs. Just outside the centre is a lake full of sailboats and surrounded by people briskly afoot. Nice!

Saugus, on the other hand, is the Corner Liquor Store Capitol of the World. Saugus also ties for second in the Neighbourhood Pizza Joint competition. I saw quite a few grandly invasive churches, including some that probably have bomb shelters for riding out the Apocalypse. That's just a guess. I'm talking the Bible as read thru crazy, which is a pretty normal state of affairs, sadly.

On the plus side of Saugus, they don't chop down trees unnecessarily. On one side of the road you see houses cramped together. On tother, a hillside of vegetation, permanently empowered.

Speaking of which, Saugus has more than its share of hillside. I swan to John, West Virginia would be envious of the ups and downs of Saugus. Furthermore, roads in Saugus shimmy side to side by a good sum. Really, you don't see more the 20' ahead on the road, and these roads are often thin.

We went off a main road onto your best guess of a back road, which wriggled here and there then gave way to a coven of normalesque suburban homes. I added the -esque because several of these houses had pedestaled lions at the driveway's mouth. Whoa, grandeur! One grand house had a wrought iron fence surrounding the property. Chez Citadel for the Coming Economic Downfall.

Beth and I both shifted between thinking Not Bad and Armpit. It is a weird half rapture. I mean, the aforementioned Saugus Iron Works, a 17th century work of plucky colonists and a national historic site, sits amidst an ordinary clutch of suburban normal. I thought you would like to know about Saugus. It resides in all of us.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Against Misanthropy by Eileen Tabios

I have started a new blog, Mandala Web. a patch of thought about mindfulness and creativity. I hope this one will be a more grown up one than my various Blogger accounts, i.e.: neatness counts! With the link that follows, I give more attention to Against Misanthropy by Eileen Tabios than I gave in my last post here. Still some sloppiness apparent, but please go here.