Contrary to what I thought and hoped in the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve accomplished very little by staying home this year (perhaps unsurprisingly). All the motivational talks that made me initially think that I would do something special have done little to lift my spirit up to take actions or make positive changes in the end. Instead, I kept myself busy by working from home for the same multinational corporation (to what end, I don’t even know).
In “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”, Carson McCullers beautifully describes this feeling of powerlessness that I again had this year.
Later in the novel, the main character Mick goes to New York Cafe (set in Georgia of course) to have a combination of a sundae and a beer (why haven’t I thought of this combination before?) and picks herself up a little. I thought ‘Yeah, at least when all this is over, I can treat myself to the sundae and the beer and pick myself up a little.’
Somewhere along the line I learned that random finds can prove to be inspirational. As a young songwriter, I had a breakthrough with the word “Topeka”. It was written on the back of an old family photo. Though I had visited my Kansan relatives in that city a few times, the mystery of the word hadn’t taken hold of me until that moment. I wasn’t looking for it. It reached out to me and I realized I had stumbled upon a portal that needed to be explored. I started researching the lives of my great grandparents and uncovered all kinds of stories about Topeka in the ’20s and ’30s. My Mexican great grandmother ran a grocery store and eventually, a pool hall. My Scotch-Irish great grandmother had been adopted by two sisters, one of whom was a prominent dentist in town. I eventually wrote several songs inspired by my ruminations on Topeka.
Taking this kind of exercise a bit further, I frequently play the game of opening up a random book, plopping my finger down on the page and then attempt to create a song or drawing or poem based on the designated find. I find encyclopedias work very well for this exercise. Having just now reached for my copy of the Golden Book Encyclopedia, my finger landed on “comet”. So many possibilities!
One of the aspects of city life that’s now slightly more difficult to access is the plethora of words we would see every day as we moved about the city. My subway ride to work provided me with advertisements filled with copy. I started playing a game where I would write poems using only the words contained in a single ad. Then there were the covers of other passengers’ books or their newspapers. Is the city speaking to us as we move through it? Showing us little treasures if we take the time to look?
On Thursday, February 27th, I waited to board my plane to Minneapolis, at LaGuardia. To kill time, I went, as I often do, to look for books, to stack a poem with the titles sold there, gently rearranging the bookshelves. Browsing the shelves at CIBO Express, this poem emerged:
The Night Window
Since we fell we were the lucky ones, the perfect couple lost in the cabin at the end of the world, becoming the border, the brink
It had an ominous ring to it. It left me a bit uneasy. Having done this at all types of book venues, from libraries and private homes, to independent and chain bookstores, titles offered at airport bookstores often fall in one of four categories: hot business, hot politics, hot romance, and hot self-help. The poems I stack there often have a level of anxiety that aren’t necessarily mine. Once in Minnesota I stayed at the home of friends’ friends, a psychologist and her husband. I shared the poem with them and their friend, resulting in a delightful conversation. I implied I might rearrange some of their books. They laughed, and I gleaned from their response that they wouldn’t mind if I would. The guest room was next to her office. On the wall hung a framed photo of a group of campers, with a title: “I often think something marvelous is about to happen.” That text was an invitation for a book poem to be built on. Needing little impetus, I did. The office shelves were packed with psych books and children’s books, a potent combination.
I often think something marvelous is about to happen
I’m a frog singing the living tradition.
Where there is no doctor cure the little prince thinking in systems—
the whisper— the way things work stumbling on happiness where the sidewalk ends
To my surprise this poem echoed the sentiment of The Night Window, an answer perhaps, or at least a continuation, more upbeat, but also with an open-ended last line, that begs for a sequel yet again… What’s next? If the first poem alludes to a proverbial mythological dark forest, its sequel might hold a key to emerging from it, to reenter the secret mysteries of our universe, our lives in it. Be well.
New York has always had a special place in my heart for me. Even as a kid watching American movies in Korea, I loved the images of NYC: populous streets, people in sophisticated dark suits, and opulent classic American breakfast dishes with sweet and gooey pancakes (Do they really eat those as breakfast?! Phew…).
Although I’ve failed to make New York my home, it will always be a special place for me. Where else would I be able to meet Barbara Hammer in person and see an awesome production of King Lear at BAM on the same day? On the subway coming back from the theater, I remember thinking about the last lines of King Lear spoken by Edgar. I would be lying if I said I completely understood them, but since then I’ve thought about them often. How fitting they are in so many circumstances…
By choosing the word bibliomancy, I have forced myself to think long and hard about the investment we as humans have in the written word. Twenty years ago, I made a filmed entitled “Following the Object to Its Logical Beginning”, so I guess I’ve been fascinated with the power of the thing for a long time. With bibliomancy, the thing is the book and the book, in most cases, is holy. But, for those of us secular folks, committed to the magic and the mystery of telecommunications, the holy book has become the telephone book. It offers us access to the identities and locations of millions of other people â€“ people we might marry, people we might meet on a bus, people who are rich, people who are brilliant, people who are almost destitute, people who are no longer people but whose names still remain in the book. Faith in the book implies a belief in its ability to lead us to divine awareness, maybe even to see into the future. The shooting of a film for this word takes us to a basement where we I photograph the flipping of a Manhattan telephone book while my daughters fan a feint breath across the pages. Later through Flash animation, a hundred names will tumble from the page. (Lynne Sachs)
Words and messages (or attempts at them) are impossible to avoid on the streets of the city. Whether or not we can read them, understand them, or interpret them, they are powerful images that attack the senses. These are snapshots from my trips to and from school and extra-curriculars. These are the images that assault my consciousness.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOC3WXAuAw4
The passion of sex has become intertwined within our modern notions of love. Sharing loving moments with another person is the most primal human desire. And SEX is the most intrinsic physical expression of that love.
BUT if you’re home alone on Saturday night, without the tender touch of another, how could you possibly fulfill your desire? Read a book of course!
Each turning page contains a poem of loving tenderness. Skim the pages one at a time OR watch as passion explodes!
As infamous New Yorker Woody Allen says,
“Don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”
“A Thousand Eyes” was created in conjunction with the Abecedarium: NYC project through the New York Public Library.
Of the 26 words I chose BIBLIOMANCY. My initial attraction to the word bibliomancy derives from my fascination with the absurd. I sometimes find that the most complex implications can be gleaned from absurdist expression in any form. Be it through performance, human interaction, film, literature, art, etc… Bibliomancy is the art or practice that seeks to foresee or foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge usually by the interpretation of omens or by the aid of supernatural powers using a book, sometimes a bible or other sacred text is used. The book will be opened at a random page and while keeping your eyes closed you will point at a line or passage in the book. My passage was selected from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Siddhartha is one of my favorite books sitting on the shelf and also one that has had a significant impact on my attitude towards existence. Thus, I deemed it significant enough in my life to warrant such a divination. The inspiration for the film was the following passage:
“Tenderly, he looked into the rushing water, into the transparent green, into the crystal lines of its drawing, so rich in secrets. Bright pearls he saw rising from the deep, quiet bubbles of air floating on the reflecting surface, the blue of the sky being depicted in it. With a thousand eyes, the river looked at him, with green ones, with white ones, with crystal ones, with sky-blue ones. How did he love this water, how did it delight him, how grateful was he to it! In his heart he heard the voice talking, which was newly awaking, and it told him: Love this water! Stay near it! Learn from it! Oh yes, he wanted to learn from it, he wanted to listen to it. He who would understand this water and its secrets, so it seemed to him, would also understand many other things, many secrets, all secrets.”
I really wanted to represent my own view of New York through a lens. So I went out to the Brooklyn Bridge with my camera and shot this footage. “A Thousand Eyes” is essentially my own exploration of the possibilities of the apparatus of the cinema. I really wanted to exploit the camera and force it to do the opposite of what is expected. The result: Beauty.
It was edited to my own mix of hauntingly beautiful and reminiscent sounds from the Epson Stylus 600 printer, as recorded originally by melack from The Free Sound Project Organization.
Monday, I was part of a group museum educators that visited a public school in Hempstead. We were invited to be audience to short performances inspired by books, first through fifth graders had read and studied in the school year that’s drawing to an end. Against sets and backdrops created by the students and their parents, the students, often in costume, presented fragments from works by authors such as Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss, and from books like Charlotte’s Web and The Magic Schoolbus. One fifth grade class had chosen poetry—the poetry of Langston Hughes. I enjoyed being reconnected to his poetry, to hear I, too again. Being an immigrant, I wasn’t introduced to his work or that of other American poets, until my thirties. This morning I was stirring, woke up at 5, got up, went to my desk, and took The Collected poems of Langston Hughes off the shelf. I sat down, opened it, and did so, on page 390 and 391—a spread of children’s rhymes.
By what sends the white kids I ain’t sent: I know I can’t be President
… was the rhyme my eyes landed on, a rhyme written, at least half a century ago. A rhyme that is being rewritten this year, being transformed by Senator Obama and the America of today, the America of June 4th 2008, the America of the morning after the day Senator Obama clinched the Democratic nomination.