Monday, September 28, 2009

DAngerous Book - Episode 14

Thursday, April 19

Peter and I picnicked this afternoon on the Gorgas Library steps overlooking the Archeology department’s dig. We met there to watch Kate boss her undergraduate volunteers as they picked their way through ground on which had once stood Madison Hall, a dormitory burned to the ground by Union soldiers five days short of Lee’s surrender.

“Can you imagine burning down a dormitory?” she asked.

They both looked at me in the accusing way of native Southerners.

“Hey,” I said, “my people were at Andersonville, thank you.” This kind of remark always clears the room, but I’ve learned not to care. Kate actually laughed.

“Then we won’t have to worry about you!” she said and ran back to the dig leaving her notebook and Coke behind. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was chaperoning us. But why would she need to do that?

How close did we get today? Peter and I? Well. I am getting what I’ve asked for. Unhurried wooing. If, indeed, one is wooed by hot dog lunches on library steps. Not when you put it that way, Nora. Put it this way: wooed by knees that touch, by the careful shifting of bodies so that knees are only the first of parts to touch. Voices touch. Thighs touch. And rebound as Kate returns. A little like a dance. Enter self-consciousness. Enter blushes coupled with clean irritation. "I’m going now, " I said after her third interruption. "Got a meeting."

But later, as I was leaving Clark Hall at five, who was waiting for me? Drinks at the Lullwater?

“Will any of your friends be there?”


“Let’s go.”

My own digging for information about Peter’s current state was as delicate as Kate’s search for the remains of Madison Hall. And I know less about what I will find than she does. Here are three archaeological digs going on. My garden, I realize, was one. Unintentional. I chose a space to make a garden so that I could bury my sadness and plant new life. Raise some green girl-ness in myself. A Lazarus activity. And I do this, but in doing it I find a bracelet and a bead. I don’t know what to make of these objects. They have meaning to someone, but not to me. Maybe Ed Dowling buried them when he planted his azaleas. In addition to the bracelet and the blue bead, I also pulled up rotten bulbs. How many people have lived in these fifteen separate apartments over the last fifty years?

When Kate gets down to the particulars of her site, she will (she hopes) uncover objects and parts of objects. Artifacts. (noun: an object produced or shaped by human workmanship; especially, a simple tool, weapon, or ornament of archaeological or historical interest. 2. Biology. A structure or substance not normally present, but produced by some external agency or action.) Unlike the objects I’ve uncovered, she will unearth objects with the potential for historic meaning. She will not polish the blue bead and leave it on her desk. She will not wear the bracelet. She will photograph her finds and set them aside like the pieces of a puzzle. And then what? When do digs end? How do you know when you’ve uncovered everything there is to uncover?

The third dig of course is the one for the human heart. Peter's heart. Nora's heart. Is there a connection between the two? Will there be objects raised from our experiences that will bring us together or will we be two people who spent time digging and found nothing, but got some sun and some much needed exercise?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

DAngerous Book - Episode 13

Tuesday, April 16 early evening

One gin and tonic later.

So much around us is poison to some, delicacy to others. The gin I love I would not feed my child. The foxglove I order into bouquets I would not make into tea because it might kill me, yet digitalis, which is from foxglove, has been saving my father’s life every day for twenty years. The brownies we ate last night did not kill us, but they killed Astible. Dogs must not eat chocolate, especially in the amounts Astible ate. The vet figures she ingested about eight ounces. A half a pound. That’s got to be an entire pan of brownies! We can’t figure out how she found, much less ate, an entire pan of brownies when there was a whole plate full on the table that we shared.

Last night, after Dr. Van Fleet called him with the autopsy, Professor Sergeant and I walked around the building and the dumpster we share with the church looking for evidence that Astible had vomited anywhere, but we found nothing. How she came to be in my garden will remain a mystery until it is no longer a mystery. My neighbor says he will find out and perhaps he will. I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hey Noah, Count the Animals

So much for the famous Atlanta draught. The unrelieved rains of the last three days have surely put paid to the last of the draught.

I'm so happy to be up so high and not have to worry about flooding...oops, just ran downstairs to covered parking deck. Phew, no flooding there yet.

There remains a sea of red lights crawling north on Piedmont Ave like a giant moving wound. The connector, which consists of Interstates 75 and 85 conjoined for the duration, was completely stopped right around here just an hour ago. A short cessation of heavy rain gave the drains a chance to catch up with themselves...and gave the poor motorist in the northbound lane a chance to get his car towed. All lanes are reopen for the moment.

I'll be hosting at least one friend who doesn't want to spend the night making his way from Hartsfield to Marietta.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

At the Intersection, Set Your Intention

The banner photo above is from an artist book I just finished for the Biographic show at Abecedarian Gallery in Denver. In this proposal, issued by Denver artist, Katie Taft, artists were to interview someone and then create a response to the interview.

When I received the invite, I was still working on Cecelia Kane's Hand-to-Hand Project so decided to interview her in her home. She talked while I went through a pile of her mother's handkerchiefs that she'd printed with photos
from her ongoing "How I'm Feeling" facebook project. We talked a lot about being raised Catholic; the use of counting in her art and how it relates to rosary beads and saying the rosary; the pretty hankies we all wore in the breast pockets of our Catholic school uniforms; the existence of God, etc.

With such good images: hankies, rosaries, photos and the built-in metaphor of the rosary as a tool for accessing the imagination, my own project came together pretty easily.

Sort of.

In the middle of it, my own mother died. This affect
ed the time I had to work on the new book but actually deepened my interest and emotional participation. After the Knuckle's funeral, I began working with my own hankies (given to me by my mom) and the Knuckle's rosaries (I left Florida with at least a dozen sets, including mom's, my dad's, my grandfather's ---you can't exactly throw these away.) It seemed as if the piece was now something I could do in memory of the Knuckle, as much as Cecelia's printing on her mom's hankies had been for her.

The imagined piece was quite different and much nicer th
an the initial pages turned out to be. I used laser print transfers and was attempting to create yet another pain-in-the-ass folded book that would unfold into a kind of maze, mimicking a rosary and the unanswerable questions we ponder while meditating. I used a 22 x 30 inch Canson paper, folded and cut into 16 5x7 inch pages. Oye.

LESSON: All projects are determined in their beginnings.

Artist books are very process oriented. There's a place for spontaneity but they really really need to be carefully planned. If they're not, they're expensive and disappointing.

Of course, I wound up ruining my first attempt, salvaging the second but only after more trips to Kinko's for yet more laser prints at a dollar a pop, only to have, the day before I promised to mail the finished book, a great idea. Which I executed. I'll have to wait a month before posting photographs because I was out of batteries and time when the whole things was at last finished and packed up last Wednesday.

I wound up making books of the individual prints/transfers. This meant that instead of one book with 16 pages (or 32 if you count the reverse
sides), I made about a dozen small books each with one page folded into 16 and cut.

Like this:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life Off the Grid - Week 22

Jesus, that's almost six months. Sort of, all we're allowed, right? I'm afraid to find out how much longer the unemployment will last and the COBRA, not to mention the cash. So I've started the giving up process. The other day, while at Perimeter Mall taking an Apple One2One with my favorite geniuses (unlike my brain, I'd like to know more than 10% of my Mac's operating system), I strolled past J. Jill and saw a little card in the front window of the sort one just doesn't see anymore.

Now J.Jill is one of the catalogues I welcomed and when my ex-job was new I celebrated the need for new clothes with a pretty regular appearance at the store. Looking at little Jilly had been, during the financially strapped non-profit years, a closet goal. In the last three years I pretty much achieved that. Superficial? Yeah, but so what.

I don't miss most shopping but I do miss my soporific strolls through the linens and mixed silk (avoiding Tencil as the bad idea it is) and the pretty though not always becoming seasonal palettes, checking out the differences between the catalogue's romantic promise and the actual fit. So as I try to draw the line at becoming the personal servant to a friend's moneyed mother, I walked into that little shop and asked for an application. Actually, what I said was, "I'm usually wearing more Jill than this, but I saw the sign in the window."
"And you want to apply for the job?" asked the manager.
"I'd love to!"
What the hell am I thinking?
That putting in some hours where I know exactly what I have to do and can just do it without getting all brave and out there (freelance writing) for a little while will tide me over until a real job comes along.

That the online educator job I'm interviewing and training for is actually part-time also so I'd better start cobbling something together whether there's a public option on the docket or not.

No top 10 list this week. Is getting a retail job better or worse than using up the unemployment? I just don't know right now. Something got me into that store with a smile on my face, and it wasn't the trapeze T-shirts.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

DAngerous Book - Episode 12

Unless you have cable, your TV watching in this town was limited to two channels---the CBS affiliate and Turner Broadcasting. This was a good thing. It made for more reading, more writing and more neighborly nosiness.

Let me tell you that I was settled in my ample “lawn” chair, gazing at my own garden and at the professor’s. He was on his knees patting the earth of Astible’s grave with yet more little plants. We were no longer worried that our landlords would outlaw the new gardens. Something Phoebe said to Ed Dowling had made them back off. She wouldn't say what, but smiled in the way of parents with secrets they won’t share. Be wise, Nora. If she’s got power over the church board and the willingness to use it for you, just shut up and smile.

At my right Phoebe sat on her little porch. She had been making fun of our crowded plots. "There won't be room for weeds,” she said. Some kind soul had left foxgloves–one for each garden. After some discussion we agreed to plant them together on my side, which has far fewer plants, and give him more of the bricks I’d “collected” from odd spots around the block and cemetery. The effort is beginning to show some belated signs of organization, if not actual planning.

“You’re not a real gardener unless you’ve moved a thing three times,” said Phoebe. But I don’t think either Prof. S. or I will do any more digging this year.

“So, Ed Dowling's father used to live in my apartment,” I said. Phoebe nodded.

“Thirty years ago,” she said. “I lived there.” She pointed to Billie and Allen’s. "I’d gone to Atlanta for a while and when I came back, I took the apartment I have now and have been here ever since.”

“And Veronica ?” asked Professor Sergeant, whose first name, by the way, is John. He is nothing like the painter, but very like the camellia. Not red-faced, but the type that blossoms in winter. (Prof. S. has been here five years, moving in after his “amicable” divorce. His wife and son remain in their large house on Queen City Ave. Because the divorce was amicable, he gets to do yard work and retain a key.)

“While I was away,” said Phoebe. “Then she took a job in Huntsville for a year. When she moved back she was able to get the same apartment. She was lucky. There weren’t a lot of places available back then and these have always been among the nicest. She moved in shortly after Peter was born and used to bring him here in the afternoons after classes. She just loved taking care of that baby.”

“Where were Peter’s parents?” I asked

“His mother was a teacher at Lullwater (Elementary School.) His father had a farm in Huntsville and worked at the space center. When the school year finished, Cecile and Peter moved up there. We didn’t see much of him after that, though Veronica did go up to visit, of course.”

“How long did Ed Dowling’s father live here?”

“Oh, he died here,” she said. A flat silence followed this statement. Professor Sergeant wiped the blade of his shovel with a handkerchief. A blue handkerchief. He wiped the blade and shook the cloth, then wiped his face with it. Both Phoebe and I smiled at him. It seemed to break the tension her words had created.

“Were you friends?” I asked.

“We were all friends then.” She grinned wickedly at both of us. “He planted those azaleas ya’ll ripped out.”

"Well," I whispered to the professor, brushing past him.

"Well, indeed," he said.

And now we are all in our separate worlds, like characters in a painting by Edward Hopper. There is even a hard yellow light filling Veronica’s window. Perhaps she's been up there listening to us, adding her own details, conjuring up memories or being haunted by them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DAngerous Book - Episode 11

Monday, April 15 afternoon

I have no idea what comes next. I’m talking about me and about Peter. We met today for lunch at Quik Snak where one eats either hamburgers with tater tots or egg sandwiches with tater tots. They have other food, but for some reason, that’s all one eats. I got there early, by about 15 minutes. For some reason I still think it takes fifteen minutes to get anywhere in Tuscaloosa when it only takes five. Got a side booth and sat facing the window for about five minutes. Then went to the ladies room and came back. Peter still hadn’t arrived so I changed seats thinking I’d read a section of the newspaper and look preoccupied when he arrived. I was just switching back again when the waitress poured more coffee and somehow it was my fault that she spilled it. Naturally, Peter walked in just as I was settling myself and wound up sitting in a puddle of coffee that had dripped from the table. Throughout the meal, I giggled ferociously, dripping egg yolk on my white blouse. Returned to the office with a raging headache. For a first date, it went quite well.

I hate being nervous but I am nervous. It’s the excitement and my unwillingness to ride it through. Yet, I long to be willing. I long to be green again because green things have no memory and no regret. I long to be excited because that’s where the life is. I long to be alive again and out from under this year-long and brittle punishment. There! I’ve said it--- let this penance end.

Wouldn’t you love to know how many people get married just to stop dating? Yes, because it feels like they can stop doing a job they’re not enjoying. Then they get married and find themselves in another job. Life is one long job.

What a fool I am for a brown-eyed man. Peter’s eyes are friendly daylight brown. Comforting rather than dangerous. I think there’s more depth in a brown eye, certainly more warmth, than in blue. My own are such a cool blue, I don’t know how anyone finds them attractive. Maybe someone who likes far away places or oceans that end in a thin line.

Peter just seems like such a find. Are eyes always the first thing we notice about someone or the first thing we set out to describe. What I noticed first about Peter was his maleness, the fact that he was not oppressively so. The medium height and build of him. His cultured Alabama voice that makes fun of itself. The way he relaxes into a chair, any chair, as if he’s owned it all his life and knows it well. He treats what he owns well. He does not break his toys, I’m sure of that.