Museums and Not-Museums

I really, really like museums. My favorite part of museums is the fact that they have like five hundred things, all going on at the same time. There are the exhibits, then there are the stories behind the exhibits, then there are the research methods and modalities that go into the exhibits, then there is the visitor experience of the exhibits, then there is the sociopolitical reasons why some things are on exhibits and some aren’t, and it just goes on and on from there. I’ve read some good things by Donna Haraway about museums, and then I haven’t-read some things by my Facebook friend Katie King not about museums exactly, but about other things “like” museums — I think she writes about re-enactments of historical things and television specials; the library doesn’t have her book exactly but I’m almost positive that re-enactments and television specials are a “thing.” (I don’t actually know how to analyze or critically think about ANYthing. But I can usually determine if certain things are “Things” or not. It does not an easy life make.) They don’t seem to take negative views of museums and re-enactments exactly, but there’s definitely an element of “the museums weren’t actually IT. The museums are a display, or re-enactment, of things that happened.” There’s a subtext of “it’s somehow NOT actually what happened. Of course this is true, it has to be true. Putting together a museum or a re-enactment, we’d decide what was important, what to emphasize. This was most clear in Donna Haraway’s article about the nuclear families of the apes and monkeys; we like to think of nuclear families and so that is what we represent.

“What if it WASN’T a museum,” I thought, “what if it wasn’t a historical re-enactment, a television special. What if there wasn’t a curator exactly. What if no one to narrate. No explanation? A pile of things tossed into a field. What would be the difference between that and, for example, an antique store. An estate sale. What if you came across an abandoned house or an abandoned factory or an abandoned anything and walked around inside of it. So is THAT a museum. Or if not, then what?” Obviously, I had no idea what any of that would look like. Even in an estate sale there’s usually someone to put prices and histories onto everything.

If there are other re-enactments available. Other displays. What if the viewer just got raw material of some sort, or is there any such thing. Then I was on vay-cay in Whistler, British Columbia. I love vay-cay, I work so much. And Whistler is a gorgeous, expensive, little resort town about two hours north of Vancouver, BC. Most of its main development came in the 1960’s when some businessmen got together and thought it would make a fantastic Olympic venue, and got right down to work. In 2010 they got their dream. Winter Olympics in Vancouver; the sliding events and some of the skiing events in Whistler.

After the 2010 Winter Olympics, they left the sliding center open. I Youtube’d it and they’d torn down all the bleachers in the center of everything, but the bobsleigh track was still there. You drove up to a desolate mountain area and parked in a huge empty parking lot and got out and walked around the track. For $89 Canadian you could sign up for an “Olympic bobsleigh experience,” where you got 58 minutes of orientation and safety and training, and then 2 minutes of riding an actual bobsleigh, down the actual track, and then helped out at the end.

They had the announcer voice going and everything. The announcer announced it as if your team was actually a real bobsleigh team, announcing “clear the track” and announcing your team. It was just this desolate field with this haunting announcer voice, and then every hour on the hour, a bobsleigh hurtling past. On the Youtube videos, there are fantastic blue drapes surrounding the track and now, four years later, those drapes are still there but tattered and faded; up close you can see how hastily the whole thing was put together; boards and cheap metal and cheap nails. Out in the middle of the field there’s one of those winner’s podiums, you know. Where the winners stand on the tall, medium and short boxes to indicate the first, second, and third-place winners. Big yellow grasses growing all around it.  The podiums were actually all plywood and cheap metal framework. Haunting and sad. I don’t know if that’s actually the answer.

I was traveling with my mom. I usually travel with my mom, because she tolerates the strange things I’m interested in. We’d considered booking the Olympic bobsleigh experience, but then all the tickets were sold out. We watched a bright-red bobsleigh hurtling out of the chute, around the bends, and then up onto the rises that stopped them. Then the creepy announcer’s voice. My mom looked around at the track, at the dried grass, at the plywood winner’s podium thrown out into the field (it wasn’t even chained down — who’d stop someone from just stealing it?), at some tourist bobsleighers walking triumphantly down the hill after their run. “It does look fun,” she said, “but I’m not sure if it’s worth $89. I guess for the thrill of it.”

“Yeah, for the thrill,” I said.

“And for the respect,” she said. “You know. The respect. This is the actual Olympic course. Maybe people SHOULD pay a little more.”

“Yeah,” I said. Maybe…was that the thing missing? The respect? Literally they were giving tourists rides down the bobsleigh track. Even with the orientation and safety training, the tourist’s times were at least double that of the Olympians. There was something totally wrong about this whole thing, and no way to figure it out.

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More books read this weekend:

1) _Sea of Hooks_ by Lindsay Hill

It was lovely — a book told in, what. What would you call them. Little bits and pieces, sometimes just a sentence, sometimes a fragment of a letter, sometimes a few paragraphs. What would you call that. Granules? Like, of salt or something? No, not granules. Messengers. The boy Christopher, as a young child, was obsessed with picking up little scraps of things off the streets. He called them “messengers.” Most of the messengers were paper scraps but sometimes there would be bits of foil and once even a metal key. Some of the messengers were thrown away by his mother, who seemed to have a borderline personality disorder. Christopher spent most of his time collecting messengers and trying to figure out how to avoid setting off his mother. Like I said, it was lovely; the messengers fragmented but the spaces in between them ringing. Basically the opposite of stitching. Now I don’t know which is more appealing.

2) _The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease_ by Daniel Lieberman

Daniel Lieberman is the guy (Harvard? I think Harvard) who is the “barefoot professor.” During the time and immediately after that book came out about the barefoot runners, and the ultramarathoners, Leiberman was researching feet, foot structure, the evolution of the foot, the evolutionarily significant ways the foot is meant to be used. The evolutionary significant way the foot is meant to be used, he ultimately decided, is that it is to be run on, barefoot, for a long, long time. He DID put some foot stuff into this book, but it was long and tangy with the pep of popular science and in the end did not reach many more conclusions other than we should exercise more and eat more vegetables and natural foods. Why does anything having to do with the evolution of the human body spook me, make me think of racism and sexism. I did not try to pick any bits of that out of the book. We are all mature adults and we can deal with it if Pacific Islanders tend to be shorter with more adipose tissue, because of the climate. Can’t we? Of course that’s not all there is to bodies. What would people like Leiberman think of things like The Queer Body. I’m suspicious already. I don’t think he’d even consider it. Maybe he would. I don’t know him. From his book I don’t think that he would.

3) _More Than This_ by Patrick Ness

I read this book all the way through, fascinated, in a couple of hours, even though it was like 400 pages long. Alllllll the way through, and it wasn’t until I’d read the very last page and closed the book and noticed the back cover, that this was totally YA literature. Really? It didn’t seem that YA to me. It was about a teenager, but it just seemed like regular science fiction to me. The world had basically devolved into a bunch of people lying in coffins and living virtually. Like what is that. Like Second Life? I think that this is unlikely to be the first such science fiction book about this ever written, people choosing to live virtually instead of in the real world. Wasn’t that what that movie Avatar was about, the one with the blue people? This book also had one of the sweetest love scenes ever, these two gay teens.

Lots of books were read this weekend.

Stephen Hawking’s tiny, tiny autobiography. What a disappointment. It was a fact-by-fact, step-by-step, dry accounting of his life. More than half the book was the same information that you could get in his other books.

A book about Alaska. I have a “thing” for books about Alaska. It was from a time when I had a Sweetheart, who moved to Alaska. I was in despair, but there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was read books about Alaska. This particular book, and I’ve already forgotten the title, was your basic, average, everyday book about Alaska. The young woman moves to Alaska, sees some moose and fish, deals with a dark winter, and meets some salty characters. Alaska Literature is totally more than that. That’s just the basics of a book about Alaska.

I finished _Stitches_ by Anne Lamott. Part of me is embarrassed now, for having tried to link _Stitches_ with the Triggers and the Neoliberal politics of triggering and harm and trauma and whatever. Because right in the middle of that book, I’d gone to Amazon.com to read some reviews and a lot of them were complaining. “This is like the kind of book you’d pick up in an airport,” Anne Lamott’s readers griped, “this isn’t REALLY Anne Lamott.” How dumb of me, I’d thought, to think of stitching in relation to the harm and trauma. But really it was just an airport book.

(Although, one of Stephen Hawking’s main things in his autobiography was that he had WANTED to write a book that would be sold at airports. He WANTED to take something big and complex and unwieldy and get it to where someone at the airport could read it.)

I read a good book called _Jarhead_, about a Marine Corps in the Gulf War. He was large and filthy and sexualized and very American. They did all this training and then he only got a few minutes of actual combat and then they sent him home to rot. He very vaguely compared the Gulf War to Vietnam. I could probably compare them more.

I read Neil Gaiman’s _The Ocean at the End of the Lane_. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to really get into Neil Gaiman this year, to read all he’d had to write. But this is only the second book I’ve read of his all year, and it’s already July. _The Ocean at the End of the Lane_ had a good lot in common with _Coraline_. Coraline had all the imagery around the button eyes, and The Ocean had a lot going on with the rags and scraps of cloth. So again this is fibers, sewing, materials. I have no idea how that compares to _Stitches_ or to the Bully Bloggers or to anything at all. But at least I read some Neil Gaiman. He’s married to the musician Amanda Palmer, and what kind of effect do you think they have on each other’s work?

I don’t normally get to do things like read five books in three days, but I’m doggie-sitting for this little dog who’s recently had a leg surgery. So now the dog basically can’t do anything but sit in a room. He can’t play with other dogs, he can’t walk on linoleum or tile, he can’t jump or run. He basically can just sit in a room. In solidarity, I’ve been camping out with him this whole time. Me reading, him moping and sleeping or chewing determinedly on a rubber toy that I’ve stuffed with some small treats and his medications.

Trigger Trigger Trigger Trigger

Last night I was so tired that I couldn’t do any writing at all, but Halberstam did have a new blog post up, about his old blog post:

GOOD: He linked to several other blog posts that other people had written in response, so that means that at least it actually WAS worth writing about

BAD: All the other blog posts were just…well, they were light-years ahead of mine. They were so much better. Everything about them was better. They were written better. They were more succinct. They actually seemed a little bolder. They were more detailed. More critical. Just so much better.

GOOD: But several of them at least highlighted the same little bits and quotes that I did, so at least I was “finding” the important parts. Like, everybody felt that the dead parrot was really important. So did I!

BAD: Even though I did not then actually do anything good with those important parts.

BAD: I was way too tired to give any of the related blogs a good detailed reading. I mean I was so, so, so tired.

BAD: “I give up,” I thought, falling heavily asleep, “this is stupid. Blogging is stupid. I should just write fiction.”

GOOD: But when I woke up, I was like “Well…of course I wouldn’t be good at this kind of blogging right away. I’m good at the type of blogging I do, which is that narrative-style blogging. But I’ve never even written a regular blog before. I should just read all the other blogs, and get better at it.”

BAD: After the whole day though, work 6 a.m.-8 p.m., I was once again unable to read all the blogs carefully and thoroughly. I was actually unable to even click on them.

GOOD: But I did re-read the “Triggering Me, Triggering You” article again, and there were a lot of interesting bits that I’d missed the first time around, so hopefully maybe over the weekend I get some time to really sit through them. “Unpacking” is a creative writing term where you take a phrase, word, paragraph or passage, and really examine each individual bit. Halberstam’s Point #3: “Generational conflict is an important topic” is something that I’ve always wanted to look into. Halberstam says what if these conflicts are organized along Oedipal structures. Hopefully they can be more queery and entertwiney, that might be a better model, he said. That’s interesting especially because “generational conflict” in the queer world can be, seriously, like four or five years. (“You have a gay-straight alliance at Amador High School?” I’d jokingly said to the younger sister of one of my high school peers, just a couple of years after I’d graduated, “Are there even any gay students there? ha, ha!” “EXCUSE ME?” she’d said, bristling. She was really pissed, but what on earth had I said wrong? She was MAYBE seven years younger than me.) The generation gaps are tiny and fast-and-faster. This maybe is a situation that Halberstam should actually look into. With all the, you know. The Gaga Feminism and The Wild. I could probably look into it as well, with my experiences living at that house in Northeast Portland that was collaboratively owned by some of the wimmin from We’Moon, and even some of the old blogs that I had from way back then, like especially the one where one of them had the ankle injury, and how distressed I became about how she chose to treat it. All the old blog entries where I was dramatically showing off all my Advanced Knowledge of Foucault, and then making fun of their responses to it. Where I named my horse “Kosofsky Jasmine” after Eve Sedgewick and then basically used that as a pickup line; if you were not immediately impressed by K-Jas’ name, then I would not sleep with you. “KOSOFSKY,” I’d say, bitchily, to my roommates, “ummmmm the queer theorist? ummmmmm she’s only like the QUEEN OF QUEER THEORY. Oh. You don’t know? Well, you should read her some time.” I was in my early 20’s at that time, and my former teacher Liz was probably in her early 30’s, and my wimmin roommates were in their early 40’s. And I remember writing Liz a thousand letters about them, and her responses — even at that time, I remember reading them and thinking how conflicted and careful they seemed. Yes, she sees my point. And she sees their point. Understanding on both ends. “Poor Liz,” I remember thinking, and this was like 2002 or something, “she’s just plain stuck in the middle. Too old for the post-everything, exhilarating free-fall that I get to do. Too young for the intense old politics and bonding that THEY got to do. All she can do is sit around at a minor college in southern Oregon and try to connect the two and hope that her students don’t turn out too crazy.” But, none of us were actually in different generations. We were all adult women. We were all actually the SAME generation. The time when they had all their friends over, sitting around a bonfire and doing important, feministy things? I totally remember that. “This is stupid,” I’d thought, “they don’t really need to burn up all those things written on pieces of paper. They could just move on.” But when I went to bed, there were totally dancing lights against the walls in my bedroom and I totally watched them until I fell asleep.

 

Haze/Lamott

This morning, at like 6:30 a.m., one of my colleagues appeared in my office. “Hello,” she announced.

“Hello,” I said.

“I am retiring,” she said.

“I know,” I said, “I read the email. Congratulations! Retirement…is FUN.”

“I think it will be,” she said. “In October I’m going on a trip to England with my Embroidery Class. We will be there for three weeks. We’ll see all the best embroideries. Museums…workshops…studios…”

“Embroideries?” I said, and then remembered that she’s one of those embroidering artists. I’ve actually seen some of her pieces, before. Very small pieces, maybe 6″ x 6″. She’d brought them to the clinic one day and we’d all stood around examining. You could totally see the clinic influence in them. It’s a very raw, emotional sort of clinic. It makes raw, emotional sorts of embroideries.

“The Bayeux tapestry,” she said, “we get to see the Bayeux tapestry. I can’t wait to see it.”

“The Bayeux tapestry…” I said, googling it quickly.

“It’s not actually a tapestry,” she said, “it’s an embroidery. And it’s long. It’s very thin, and it’s very long. It goes all the way around the room, a couple of times.”

“That’s beautiful,” I said, looking at a Google image. It was. It was really, really beautiful. It’s totally the sort of thing that I’d totally like. My work schedule for the day was absurd and also really sad. The clinic from five a.m. to 11 a.m. My other job from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Then the clinic again from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. And then my other job from 3:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Even the breaks, I’d have to spend driving from job to job. No time to eat anything. And the next two days will be even worse. It will be 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. But lo and behold, the mid-day other job was cancelled, so I had a burrito from the Korean Fusion food cart (I live in Portland, so obviously I eat delicious food cart food all the time) and trotted myself to the library. There, on the Lucky Day shelf, was a new Anne Lamott book “Stitches.”

Stitches! Embroideries. Sewing, embroidering, threads, fibers. That’s totally a thing. And of course I like Anne Lamott, because of Bird By Bird. In honor of the Bayeux Tapestry, in honor of the retirement, I will totally use my Lucky Day quota (you’re only allowed to check out two Lucky Day books at a time) on “Stitches” by Anne Lamott.

I read it in the Bank Tower while I ate my burrito (it was from the Korean Fusion cart, so it was mostly rice and spiciness, but there was also Kim Chee inside! I’m hungry ALL OF THE TIME. It used to be that I didn’t have enough money, but now it’s that I don’t have enough time.)

First: I don’t care that Anne Lamott is so Christian-y. Most of my peers in Portland are so anti-Christian and reactive, they’d never even pick up the book. Or they’d pick up the book and then the first time Anne Lamott said “God,” they’d curl their lip and drop the book. (They would. They literally, literally would.) I went to a Christian School all the way through eighth grade, and it was the best thing for me. I excelled and then when I entered high school I had to face it that I’d been wrong the entire, entire time. Now the possibility of being entirely wrong is always sitting by my side. This is actually really good. I could be wrong at anything, including this. I LIKED my Christian School. After what happened with my wild, brilliant older sister, my mom did not allow me to “skip” any grades in the Christian School, but I was allowed to sit in on any class I liked, and to come and go as I pleased, and that was really good, for an elementary school. So I liked it. And also, now I can handle Christian writers with ease.

Second. Yesterday, I was at the computer yet again, listening to Angel Haze yet AGAIN, reading the Jack Alberstam Bully Blog yet again, and still, still, still trying to puzzle out the triggers, the closets, the neopolitical rhetoric of danger and harm or whatever. I wasn’t very happy with my conclusion from the day before, but I was still pretty sure that it had something to do with the very end of the Angel Haze text. (Remember? “Thanks for joining me here,” she’d rapped, “As I cleaned out my closet.”

“It’s ‘joining’,” I’d finally thought, “it has something to do with joining. We ‘join’ with Angel Haze and hear her story.” That was as far as I could get. There was probably something about loudly protesting things that weren’t joined. Or something. I couldn’t take it any more. I had a beer instead and wrote that dumb little article about the two contrasting music videos about the poor boys who liked the rich girls. There was no, no way I could continue with that harm danger and trauma thing. Not that day, anyway. “It’s probably a good idea to take a break from that anyway,” I thought, literally drooling as the Korean Fusion guy put my burrito together, “I don’t want to be a one-trick pony. And besides, what if a blog isn’t just a collection of individual, well-thought-out, polished entries. What if a blog is a whole big smear of unfinished but somehow connected posts that blend together over time. Maybe I don’t even WANT to have a nice, single, tidy blog post. I want to have big, stupid, tacky blog posts that are wrong most of the time.”

The Korean Fusion guy leaned out over his cart and tossed me my burrito. He tossed it like the guys at the fish market in Seattle’s Pike’s Place throw the packaged fish to the customers, so famous now that you can Youtube it and see them throwing fish to the customers. “YEAH,” I thought, and tore into it. And started the Anne Lamott and not even 20 pages in, there she was talking about harm danger and trauma. You stitch it back together, Anne Lamott said, one tiny stitch at a time. The world falls apart. The stitching is collective. You join and then the ongoing fibers, the ongoing stitches, you create up together. Something like that. There are like a million stitches between anything and ANYTHING. It was 1 p.m. I ran back to the clinic. I love the clinic. I love, love, love, love the clinic. Sometimes I actually wish I just plain lived there, like the book about the doctor who made the low-income clinic in Washington DC and moved himself in to the upstairs apartment. I lend that book to any of the doctors who seem upset about anything and it makes them feel better, it’s so validating. All the doctors are big readers.

There’s a story behind every single scar that I show, Angel Haze says, and I wonder how it would look if she were a tapestry and at some point we joined up and wove it with her. I’d be damn careful with the colors, the arm movements, the way the people looked, that’s for sure. (“It’s long,” my colleague had said, “it goes around the room, several times.” The last time that particular colleague had appeared in my office was many, many months ago. It was the same “Hello,” as an announcement, and then another announcement: “I will be out for a few months.” “Why?” I’d said. “I found the lump a few weeks ago. I wanted to go to the San Juans with my Embroidery Class first, before I went in for it. It is cancer, and I will be going in for treatment.” By now, that was a long time ago. At the time it had terrified me. I’d sent desperate, terrified 3 a.m. text messages to my other co-workers, “Oh I am crying without ceasing. Oh this is terrible.” If it were the Bayeux Tapestry there would be lit candles in the team room and the two of us in my office at 6:30 a.m. and then a year or two later there would be a loving farewell, a cake, an airplane, an ocean, a representation of the Bayeux Tapestry. Many many yards later there would be something else. There’s a tangible element to the fiber arts that is missing from regular writing, there’s hands there.

Rude Vs. The Boondocks Part I

This is fun. Blogging is FUN. I’m having this situation where I have to leave my beloved, beloved job at the medical clinic. It kills me. It makes me want to die. But I’m like, too old to work at the clinic. I’m just plain too old to bring home those paltry little paychecks and start to get the Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from too much typing into an office computer. I can’t even fathom leaving the clinic. But I can’t even afford to live without having a part-time, second job. But the part-time, second job takes up all of my non-clinic time. I can’t ever go on a date with anybody. I can’t ever go running or go kayaking or even ride my bike. I can barely read books. I gave up all my friends; I told them that to their faces — “I’m sorry, I have to give up all my friends. Including you. So no, we can’t hang out.” I go in to the clinic at 5 or 6 a.m. and then go to my part-time job until 7 or 8 p.m. It’s just so unsustainable. One has to go, and the part-time job pays much better, so it’s the clinic. The dear, dear, beloved clinic. I’ll cry a thousand, million tears to walk away from there for the last time. The only thing that’s the silver lining is that now I’ll have more time to write.

But writing…is FUN. All those old novels I’ve written and then tucked away into random bins and drawers. I normally write a novel every year, but 2013 I didn’t, because I was too busy with my two jobs. 2014, I can totally write another one. And this, the Literary Critique Blog I’ve always meant to start up. And by “Literary Critique” I don’t mean very much of anything at all. It’s not really literary, and it’s not really a critique. All it is is a blog. Like tonight is going to be a Compare/Contrast between two music videos, which you can go ahead and Youtube right now. The first one is called “Rude” and it’s by a group called Magic and the second is the good old Billy Joe Royal with his “Down in the Boondocks.”

“Rude” makes me laugh and laugh, because the boy in the song has his sights set on a rich girl with a capitalist-type dad. He begs the dad to let him marry his daughter, and the dad says no (multiple times.) The boy’s entire, and only, response to this is that the dad is being “rude.” RUDE! As in, that’s his entire critique of the entire situation. There’s no mention of any sociopolitical/economic ANYthing in play. He very briefly notices (“I know that you’re an old-fashioned man”) that there’s some kind of difference between the two of them, but that’s about it. It’s just that, well, that guy’s rude. The social difference, the economic difference, he either doesn’t see at all, or he just doesn’t care.

A long time ago there was Billy Joe Royal and “Down in the Boondocks.” What was that. The 60’s? Something like that. “I love her. She loves me. But I don’t fit her society.” And “One fine day, I’ll find a way to move from this shack…until that morning I’ll work and slave, and I’ll save every dime.” Not only acknowledging the problem but trying to modify himself into something that he feels will be acceptable.

Rude, on the other hand, just cracks me up.

Halberstam/Haze Part II

I “slept on” it last night, but not very well. It was about a million degrees outside and my pit bull had killed a big rat in the yard and tossed the body up onto the porch and now he was lying beside me and I started wondering if he had blood crusting on his lips or his paws or rabies. And I didn’t have any sheets on my mattress because I don’t have any more sheets, and I was sweating and that was just disgusting, sweaty girl dirty pit bull and rat blood on just an old bare mattress and moonlight, now maybe rabies. Is the dog current on his rabies shots? I think he’s current. I don’t remember if he’s current. I felt like the kid in Old Yeller after he and the dog get torn up by wild pigs. I think I messed up on my article about the trigger blog. I have this writing problem where I go into this huge long weavy introduction but then at the end I just sort of stop, as if I just completely run out of steam and stamina, so End of Story. I do it for fiction and non-fiction both. Either I just absolutely stop and randomly write “The end” or I tie it up too easily and in an almost pat way. In yesterday’s article it was definitely b) tied up too easily and in an almost pat way. My idea that harm, danger and trauma can be negated by the individual cleaning of closets is very pat. It really only worked in this one very specific case. It probably wouldn’t work in any other case. Back to the drawing board. There’s lots of other clues.