September

This is the exact day when I used to write, “Time to go wake up Green Day.”

As if “Green Day” was a person and as if “Wake Me Up When September Ends” isn’t about Billie Joe Armstrong’s dead father.

Ah, did you miss me? I’m a spark of sunshine in a dark world, huh?

 

Right now I’m in a library, a library that closes in an hour. I’ve been here for three hours and haven’t moved from this table in the center of everything. I’ve actually gotten a lot done. But not enough. Never enough.

 

Did I mention I’m a teacher, now? High school English, yeah. Starting off by covering a woman’s maternity leave. About fifty percent of the time I tell someone that they ask me when the baby’s due. I’m not the one with the baby. If I was, I wouldn’t be at work.

Sometimes people’s mouths move faster than their minds.

I’m starting Hamlet with my seniors tomorrow. I haven’t read Hamlet since I was a senior in high school. I was supposed to read it as a senior in college, but I figured I knew it well enough. I don’t think I know it well enough anymore.

I type fast and hard. The other library people keep glancing at me. Sorry. My fingers are silent to me. My thought-words drown them out.

I just uploaded all my Ireland pictures–pictures from a trip I took in July, almost three months ago. Yipes. Some things just get away from you. I wonder how many hours of YouTube bullshit I’ve watched since July. Probably a sickening amount.

On the plus side, my novel is truly, really, almost done. I mean DONE done, like ready to send to publishers done. I’ve “finished” 8 novels since I was 12, but this is the first novel I feel comfortable sending to a publisher. I’m terrified, lol.

“Terrified, lol” is how I’m explaining it to everybody.

Honestly, yeah. That sums it up. I’m terrified, lol. I’m scared I’m not good enough, lol. I’m hiding my fears in millennial internet slang, lol, to lighten the weight of my emotional load on the shoulders of my unsuspecting readers, lol.

I wonder if I’ll use the same pen name I use on this blog. Probably not, I’ll probably change it. Pen names are so hard. Do I go the gender-neutral initial route, or choose a good female name? Who knows.

The clock seems to go slower, here. There’s an art book for Solo: A Star Wars Story, and it’s still in plastic. No one is ever going to borrow that book. I wonder who ordered it.

Whenever I get back into blogging I realize how much I missed it. It’s so nice to journal out loud. And yes, lady by “New Non-Fiction,” I know my typing is loud. Sorry. It’s impossible to type quickly and quietly.

They probably think I’m playing a game or something. Heck, maybe I am.

 

How do people DO this art thing?! How am I supposed to deal? I never minded when college magazines would reject me because hey, they’re just as stupid about literature as I am, but a Big Boy Publisher? Damn, that will hurt. Of course I assume I’ll get rejected right out the gate.

I think it’s actually a good book, and that actually scares me more.

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Art, limitations, and Lotte Reiniger

I was thrilled to see the Google Doodle celebrating such a progressive woman in the field of animation!

When I got really into animation for awhile last year, I came across Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette animation Aschenputtel (Cinderella). Today is Reiniger’s birthday—the German genius would have been 117.

Aschenputtel came out when Walt Disney was twenty one, 28 years before his Cinderella and six years before Mickey Mouse was created. It is the epitome of early animation: delicate, short, and soundless.

I love how her animations work within her limitations. Made by moving paper dolls bit by bit (think claymation), the over 40 animations she made over her career took days upon days, and still look great. Stylized, sure, but great.

Artists work wonderfully in limitations. Since art is basically indefinable, there are rarely any limits except those an artist chooses, but when an artist makes their own boundaries the art flourishes like a well-kept garden. Think the strictness of form poetry or the layered meter of Mozart.

If an author were to write words as they flow to their head, the story would be ill-structured, random, poorly-worded.

It’s interesting how something so freeing works so well in boundaries. People like limitations, to an extent. Rules in art are special, as they work just as wonderfully when followed as when broken.

Nonetheless, Reinger worked in a time when animation was young and new, and her limitations were more technical than by choice. However, she managed to create a masterpiece within her limitations of soundlessness and time…but broke the limitation of technology by inventing silhouette animation.

And by the way, she didn’t just beat Disney to Cinderella. She beat him to the first feature length animated film. While Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is often given that credit, Reinger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed,  the oldest surviving feature length animated film, came out in 1926, over ten years before Disney’s attempt.

The Artist and the Understudy: Short Fic Friday

The table was splotched with eye shadow and cracked cakes of blush, used q-tips and dashes of glitter. From the speaker rang out the yeasty bellow of Amir Kalali, tangling with the high soprano of his leading lady. She was the understudy, her voice icy and crackling.

Her voice stopped with a smacking sound effect and a yelp, and suddenly said understudy appeared in the makeup room and leapt into one of the chairs. She locked eyes with the makeup artist, who was re-curling the hair of a wig and mouthing the resentful words Kalali was singing. The artist pulled the iron out of the wig and blinked his black-lined eyes. Ah, her skin was such a different shade.

“You have quite some time,” the artist told the understudy, nonetheless collecting his brushes and filling a tin the size of a Petri dish with warm sink water.

The understudy fumbled with a wrinkle in her tights, then scratched her back. “I just wanted to be sure to get it done.” Her spoken voice had a taste of Western Europe to it, a hint that disappeared when she sang. The artist approached her; he was dressed in shining black, she in an ill-fitting gown of glittering pink, the contrast making the beige walls surrounding them seem even dimmer.

The table was scattered with different shades of tan and brown, but none of them seemed to match the understudy’s olive tones. He held tube after compact after glass jar to the understudy’s chin as her knee bounced under the table. Her petite, shining shoe creaked with the movement.

Finally he decided on a color and swirled a brush, skimming off the excess against the lip of the vial. He began reaching for her right eye.

“Oh, right,” the understudy said, holding up a gloved hand. Her hair, curled and shiny as plastic, swung to drape over her shoulder. For the first time the artist looked in her eyes. “He swung twice for some reason tonight. I know it was only supposed to be one, but it was two. And I fell on the second one.”

“He hit you twice?” The artist repeated, vaguely aware of how troubling their conversation would sound to a passer-by. “That’s weird…Kalali doesn’t like to improvise much. During a song, too?”

The understudy shrugged, shook her head. Her leg paused for just a moment. “Maybe me being there threw him off. But he hit me once in the eye, like normal, then again in the chin.”

The artist brought the back end of his brush to his lips. “What, did they play the sound effect twice too?” He paused, lowered an open palm. “Whatever. Two hits, no problem. Good thing you came early.”

The artist painted two bruises on the understudy’s face, a light one on her brow, purple and brown, and a much larger one on her chin to show the one that sent the character to the ground. It was harder to paint the bruise at such an angle—the artist had drawn the eyebrow bruise every night for weeks—but it did look rather good by the end. It was a masterpiece of pain, an afterimage of abuse. Purple, yellow, brown, red, green, white, black, blue. He etched an enlarged vein into her cheek, he contoured her chin to appear swollen on one side.

As with the normal lead, he eased off the fake eyelash where the first punch hit and then, after a little consideration, redid her lipstick to make it seem faded on one end. She looked terrible, a woman trying to cover her pain and ask for help all at once.

“You look beat up,” the artist said, smiling. “And that’s a compliment.”

The understudy glanced in the mirror, giggled, twisted side to side in her squeaking shoes. “Amazing, thank you so much.”

“Sure. Knock ‘em dead.”

The artist went back to fooling with the wig. He had another few songs before end of show, but he had to stick around in case of emergency.

The final number wrapped up, and the bows began. The artist began packing up his things, washing skin tones out of his brushes.

Someone burst in the door. Who on Earth…all the actors are onstage! The artist whirled around to catch the gleaming glasses of the director. Her hair was up, for once, in an elaborated braided bun but across her shoulders was the same green shawl as she normally wore during rehearsals.

“I got to admit,” she said, her face firm and impossible to read. “I was worried at first. Pretty mad. But I really like what you did with the bruises tonight.”

The artist reached behind him to turn off the sink. “Oh. Thank you. I just did it because he hit her twice so…”

“What?”

“Continuity,” the artist finished.

“Kalali?”

“Yes, the understudy—”

“Well, that’s what’s brilliant about it,” the director said, and the artist held his tongue. “What’s brilliant about you. He didn’t hit her twice, and you made it clear—subtle, but clear—that he hit her again offstage. At home. Again. It’s brilliant, it’s subtle, I want it every night, from now on, you hear me?”

The artist scratched behind his ear with the end of his brush. “Uh. Okay.”

She snapped and pointed at him as she slipped out the door. “I love it. Keep up the good work. You should have told me that idea earlier.”

The artist cleaned his space quickly, shoving half-cleaned brushes into their places and pulling on his jacket as he left. He had to catch the understudy before she disappeared.

He caught her as she headed to the costume area, her face still covered in his masterful bruises.

“Hey,” the artist called to her, still unsure as to how he felt. “Kalali only hit you once.”

The understudy smiled. She was in her street clothes now, an oversized sweatshirt and jeans paired poorly with an overly-made up face and perfect hair.

“No one ever hits you once,” she said, and left the artist struggling for words in her wake.

4’33”

A performance of 4’33”. If you haven’t heard it, give it a listen!:

4’33” by John Cage always brings up the question, “Is this music?” By definition, music means sound, right? How could four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence possibly count as music?

Let’s back up for a second. Before John Cage (1912-1992) was Charles Ives (1874-1954), an experimental musician who was one of the first American composers to achieve serious international renown—for a long time, American composers were not thought of as real musicians at all. Ives wrote pieces that pushed the boundaries of music, such as “The Concord Sonata” that requires tapping keys with a 14 ¾ inch block of wood to create tone clusters, and “The Unanswered Question” which features extremely long single notes. His pieces often sound like a bit of an unorganized mess, but as time went on he came to be recognized as a legitimate musician perhaps a bit ahead of his time.

If Charles Ives pushed the boundaries of music, John Cage smashed them with an iron rod, recorded said smashing, and sold it as a record. He composed by using charts, tossing coins, and using random geometric patterns. He would litter the strings of a piano with objects to change the sound. He would swish water around in a seashell. He wrote pieces called “A Collection of Rocks,” “Paragraphs of Fresh Air,” and “Water Music,” which was performed with a radio, bird whistles, and a deck of cards which the player would shuffle and then deal over the piano strings. His most famous piece, of course, is 4’33”, which is performed by a person sitting at a piano and making as little sound as possible for exactly 4’33”.

I’ve heard multiple interpretations of 4’33”. Some say that the music is the accidental sounds a room full of people make, such as coughing or dropping keys. Some say that it’s arguing that silence is music, just like scheduled rests and pregnant pauses in (to avoid the phrase “normal music”) musical pieces including sound. Some say John Cage was plain crazy, like all the other Andy Warhol’s and Yoko Ono’s that dare defy convention.

Is John Cage the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of music–something people pour meaning and relevance into when really there’s nothing there? Or is it taking the easy way out to wave experimental art off with a dismissive hand and call it pretentious?

My favorite theory—plausible, since John Cage was interested in Buddhism—is that 4’33” was a sort of surprise meditation. In concert, the audience is captivated by the performer. In an anticipation-riddled song like 4’33”, they are focused intently, waiting for something to “happen.” This singular focus, all in silence, makes the audience unknowingly meditate, in a way. Their mind is clear, they are focused, and they are silent. Perhaps John Cage felt we all needed a meditation break now and then, and what better way to ensure people were getting one than putting one right in the middle of his concert? Then again, this doesn’t explain his other experimental music, so who knows?

Of course, we’ll never know, and that’s a good thing. What’s the point of art if there’s nothing to interpret? Then again, with 4’33”, there is literally nothing to interpret except the concept itself: silence as music. Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not it “counts” as music, but the message of the song. The method in the madness. The sound of silence.

Fingernails versus Music

Good morning! Did yesterday’s Pulp Fiction and Kurt Vonnegut fangirl come as out-of-nowhere as it felt like it did to me? Movie/book/television program fangirling will likely appear from time to time. Can’t help it, I go to art school and spend a lot of time reading and watching things. Artsy introvert, what can I say?

Nonetheless, artsy introvert I am, I sometimes take a break from consuming and change gears into creative mode. Writing is my most common endeavor, but I sometimes like to draw, and sometimes (less commonly recently, sadly) I play music.

I play cello and ukulele, but since a cello is too bulky to bring to college I mostly just play my little uke, nicknamed Luna. I’m not great, but I can mess around and play chords I look up online. It’s a lot of fun, and relaxing as well.

I don’t often have the time to play music, and often go weeks without. That means when I do pick up Luna, my fingernails have grown out.

I like long fingernails, I think they’re quite pretty and, frankly, useful. Try peeling an orange without fingernails, I dare you. Or washing your hair–gosh, fingernails help so much with shampoo.

Anyway, my nails grow out, and when I try to play ukulele, my fingernails are too long and get in the way of playing. This is when I have to choose between my fingernails or playing music: or, more broadly, between beauty or creativity.

The Greeks prized beauty, and you can see it in their sculptures. The Romans favored realism. The most prominent example I have seen is the difference between how they sculpted their wine god, Dionysus/Bacchus. The Greeks made him look beautiful, high and mighty, staring at grapes intensely. The Romans made him look drunk, a far more accurate (probably) representation.

Neither is better or worse, in my opinion. I like art, and they’re both well-sculpted works. One prized beauty, and one prized realism, and here we are. My question is, did beauty limit the Greek artists? If you are expected to make something beautiful, and limited by that, it hinders creativity.

Let’s look at more examples. Picasso’s a good place to start. If he painted “beautifully” he’d be a footnote rather than a household name.

When Disney animators were drawing sketches of Elsa and Anna, the two sisters in Frozen, they commented on how hard it is to make two pretty women look different. Why couldn’t one be a smidge average? Why are we limited to pretty things?

Creativity is wild, untamed, ugly and raw. And I rip my fingernails off every time I play, because I’ll be damned if Somewhere Over the Rainbow is ruined by pretty nails.

My Philosophical Musings over Egyptian Jewelry

Today I went to an art museum! It was free with my college ID so I went with a couple of friends. I have only gone to a few art museums in my life, but not out of my own disinterest–rather out of others’ disinterest. I was very excited, especially because of the size of the museum we were going to.

I felt entirely humbled by the age of some of the pieces there, specifically the jewelry. I don’t know much about fashion or jewelry, but some of the pieces, specifically from the ancient Egypt section (some as old as 3000 BCE), were both stunning and ordinary at the same time. Meaning, while beautiful, they seemed just like a necklace a person of today would wear. The stones were bright colors, smoothly sanded and strung on thin string. The beads were intricately carved and the rings had designs I’ve seen at Claire’s–like a snake that wraps around the finger. The necklaces and other bits of jewelry were ancient, but seemed no different from the jewelry of today.

It made me think about how similar and yet how different humans are from one another. While we have enjoyed putting strings of pretty beads around our necks for millennia, and while similar practices have been found in most if not all cultures worldwide, if an ancient Egyptian met a person of today it would be as if they were meeting an alien.

Likewise, if we were to encounter a person from fifty years ago it would be incredibly difficult to communicate. Cultures change so quickly. I am not who I was ten years ago, and in ten years I will be different still, but I will wear necklaces. And I will still like to write, and like music. Some fundamentals won’t change. But maybe I won’t like bananas anymore, and start liking tomatoes.

I think it’s both important to find out what these core values are in ourselves. If we can figure out what about us will (likely) never change, we can get closer to who we really are, beneath all the fluff and stuff. That is, if there is something deeper beneath the fluff and stuff. That is, assuming the core doesn’t change as well.

As I was looking at the beautiful necklaces and trying to imagine how the weight would feel on my shoulders, I found I spent a lot of time wondering about the necklace’s history, specifically it’s past owners. Who were they? Were they women or men? Were they rulers or peasants? And the necklace itself, did it spend years in a box, in an attic? Did it spend some years worn lovingly every day, only to be lost between couch cushions and found years later?

The only permanent things about the necklace are also the only things we know about it: its age, its origin, and the color of its beads. I wonder if the same is true for me.