Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Reactive/Tiny, Unheroic Acts

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied;
real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring." [i]
--Simone Weil
My, I've been reactive lately. Even in my happiest of moods, I've been feeling thin-skinned, like people who can't stand a shirt label touching the back of their neck.

I think it's because of my workplace, mostly. Keeping a thriftstore diary for the past three months means I've been writing about it after every shift. Surprisingly (to me), that's making me feel worse, when otherwise I cope not-too-badly.

They (psychologists and folk) used to think people who went through horrible events should talk about it right away-- students in school shootings should talk to counselors, and so forth.
But after some time, they found that talking about horror sometimes cements all the nasty events in the brain, which otherwise might wash some away or put them in their proper boxes for proper handling when able. 

I'm paraphrasing, obviously. I'm not going to stop and google this, but I read it several places.
. . .
As if! Having written that, then I had to google it. Oh, the brain of a librarian: MUST FOOTNOTE EVERYTHING.

Here's an example, from an article in the Guardian, 2014: "When talking about your problems actually makes them worse":

"Dwelling on trauma may do more harm than good. But burying your head in the sand isn’t going to help you get over it either. It’s complicated.
"The effect of the trauma is diminished [my italics] if subjects take a fly-on-the-wall view and write an account of the bad experience, referring to themselves in the third person.
This distances them from the painful event, enabling them to be more thoughtful about what happened without being self-destructive."
Yes, it's complicated, and keeping a diary about the evil I see (often just everyday stupidity, but sometimes human cruelties, and definitely real social breakdown), I got sucked in rather than distanced.

The other day I wrote a long post about the latest round with the dealers outside the store, and how the City descended with fire trucks, cop cars, ambulances, even a caterpillar/earth mover machine to scoop up the barbecue grills they've been burning bonfires on...
I wrote about how I feel like I'm living in The Wire, 'cause same as on that show, after all the drama, the very next day we got different crew out there, same deal.

So, that amount, what I just wrote ^ above, is okay.
But I went into details, and recorded things people said (some of them quite funny, from my wry coworkers). At the end I felt like I was reporting on civilization sliding off the edge.
And maybe I am, but, I thought, I NEED TO STOP THIS. For now.
For my peace of mind, so I can keep doing what I'm doing, which is tiny but not nothing.

I have coping mechanisms for being at the store that are almost invisible to me. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see shadows of shadows of spinning gears... moved by gravity, or geothermal heat, who knows...
I imagine some interior, fantastically steampunky, brass navigational tool, an astrolabe of the psyche.
I've been seriously thwacking that navigational instrument, and it got out of whack.

One way that is evident is, I get extra impatient with people.
A long time ago, I met a woman at a party who worked in the prison system. "I hate normal people," she told me.

People say that sometimes––ha-ha––lightly. They put it on their fridge. And then they go on with their gardening, like normal people.
But I'm sure she really meant it.
I knew, even then:
It's a problem when you start to hate normal people, and gardening.
(Or any people, sure, of course, but this is a particular twist, hating normal people. And I've been feeling that. Warning: Not good.)


I ask myself this, every so often. 
I answer myself variously, but in similar ways.
In recent years: Dolls. (Toys. Play. Invention.)
Dolls help. For real.
They (toys, play) are Good.

Church (Catholic, in my case) sometimes helps, because it presents some home truths about human suffering--there it is, in a bleeding statue––but keeps it at a distance and provides physical practices to help handle it--kneel, stand, kneel.
Again, I'm only speaking for me---I know a lot of people for whom church was the evil!

There's another line to the quote from Weil, up top:

"Imaginary good is boring;
real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."

Living with evil––we all do, to some extent––I think it helps to cultivate the good. Not just in theory, but to DO it.
That's why I'm liking Toys Recreate Paintings:
it gets me to DO it, not just read and write and think about it, which I love but is not the same as physical ACTION.
And, it's shared, even if only with a handful of people, which is Good x nth.

"Only" a handful, I said? But that's a lot!
Sometimes I forget in this world of "a million followers" that I (we) can only take in the energies of a few people.
(This is the point of view of me, an introvert.)

Weil uses these grand words, marvelous, intoxicating, but the acts likely are not grand.
"Tiny, unheroic acts" Chris Hedges calls them, in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2006), which I finished reading in bed last night.

He writes about the danger of turning individuals into abstractions, into Ideas, instead of this or that messy human right here. Me and you and the other annoyingly imperfect people around.

I noticed long ago that wanting to "improve" or, worse, to purify people can be really bad. That's why I don't like it, it worries me, when I get preachy.

Trying to clean up imperfections and annoyances, we start scrubbing away with deadly bleach at the healthy bacteria of being human.

I trust myself more when I talk about what kind of doll costume I want to make.

We are a mess, yes.
But the drive to sanitize creates monsters.

Hedges is the son of a preacher and himself studied to be one, though he was never ordained and became a foreign/war correspondent instead.
He gets a little high-flown here––"only through kindness"––but I basically agree with what he says here, in his concluding chapter (p. 205):

"The worst suffering in human history has been carried out by those who preach grand, utopian visions....
Dreams of a universal good create hells of persecution, suffering and slaughter. No human being could ever be virtuous enough to attain such dreams....

"This is true for all doctrines of personal salvation, from Christianity to ethnic nationalism to communism to fascism.
[Members of the radical Christian right] commit evil to make a better world. To attain this better world, they believe, some must suffer and be silenced, and at the end of time all those who oppose them must be destroyed. 

"It is only by holding on to the sanctity of each individual, each human life, only by placing our faith in tiny, unheroic acts of compassion and kindness, that we survive as a community and as individual human beings." [my italix]

I am a little put off when people talk about kindness and compassion, because it sounds like you have to have a Heart of Gold that feels warmly.
You don't.
If you wait for a warm feeling for your fellow man, that's not a good policy because it might not come, given the reality of what one's fellow man (and one's own self) is really like.
So the tiny heroic act does not necessarily arise from emotion.
It can be a policy, a practice.

But I'm quoting Hedges out of context. Before what I quoted, he's just given Huck Finn as an example--the scene that is the crux of Twain's whole novel:
Huck deciding not to turn the slave Jim in as stolen property, even though Huck knows (as he'd been taught) that is the proper and Godly thing to do--to write a letter to Miss Watson telling her where her stolen property--the man Jim--is.
And it (his decision not to turn Jim in) goes exactly against what he thinks is good and makes him FEEL clean.

First he decides to do the "right" [lawful] thing:

"Why, it was astonishing," Huck says when he's decided to write the letter, "the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone."

And after he wrote it,

"I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and knowed I could pray now––.
. . thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.

. . .

But then Huck thinks about "our trip down the river, and I see Jim before me, all the time in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.

I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and him how glad he was when I came back out of the fog. . . and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me; and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper [the letter].

"It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
    'All right then, I'll go to hell'––and tore it up.

And as proof that it's not just the Christian right that is full of misguided fools looking for simple solutions, there are plenty on the Liberal left who think Huckleberry Finn shouldn't be taught because it is racist. [ii]

Quote from Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, (London: Routledge, 1963), 62.


"Friends’ Central School in [Philadelphia]... reported that the school’s administration decided to pull the novel from its 11th-grade American literature class, although it will remain in the library.

"The school’s principal told parents in a letter that 'we have all come to the conclusion that the community costs of reading this book in 11th grade outweigh the literary benefits', saying that some students had found the 'use of the N-word' to be 'challenging', and that the school 'was not being inclusive'.

"The school is guided by Quaker philosophy, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and 'peaceful resolution of conflicts, seeking truth, and collaboration are key aspects' of its operation."

I would say that in their faithfulness to the standards & norms of their times, they failed the Huck test. If they lived in his times, they'd have turned Jim in.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Five Paintings for Toys to Recreate

NOTE: I've turned off comments. Email me if you like--more suggestions for paintings to recreate?

I've gathered a few paintings and one photo/sculpture I'd like to recreate/interpret in toys.
I'll put them here in order by date.

1. BELOW: One of my favorite paintings: "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden, before 1438; at the National Gallery, London.
That green!

2. BELOW: It'd be fun to light this--so dramatic!
"Judith and Her Maidservant w the Head of Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentileschi. c. 1623 (at the Detroit Institute of Arts) .
"The scene captures the Biblical tale of Judith beheading her enemy the Assyrian general Holofernes, during a visit to his camp. She and her maidservant were under estimated because of their gender and also in that they are only two, against an entire enemy army." (via)

3. BELOW: My father gave me a small print of this when I was little, and it hung on my wall. (I think from a trip he took to NYC?)
"Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuñiga" also known as the "Red Boy", by Goya, 1787-88 (in NYC at the Met:
"In its beak the magpie holds Goya’s calling card and signature.")

The cats! The cats!

4. BELOW: My favorite of BP's books. Cover illustration for The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter, 1902

5. BELOW: Just for fun.
Louise Bourgeois with one of her spider sculptures:
"The artist characterised the spider as a maternal figure at once clever, protective and threatening. "
Bourgeois's own mother was a weaver and sewer in the family's tapestry business.

Monday, November 28, 2022

bink's Eyes-Closed cartoon "My Concussion"

Now in her eighth concussed month, bink has been drawing with eyes closed. Her eyes are still a hair off from being synchronized, so looking at things can make her sick and dizzy.
BUT... her eyes-closed drawings are cool.
Brain injuries are disgusting, frightening, . . . but so fascinating, showing how we live inside our skulls.

In bink's case--her being an artist with a brain injury extra-illuminates how vision happens inside the brain, and how that dark place receives and sends messages to coordinate with the outside world.

This is bink's first panels for The Story of My Concussion.
She says she did open her eyes in places, to see where she was placing the figures and text.
I hope she'll continue the story... 

Note: Tenebrae means "darkness". It is the Catholic Church's evening service on Good Friday, after Jesus has been laid in the tomb, dead, dead, dead. Every year, bink & Cathy climb up through the above-the-ceiling space in the Basilica here, carrying rose petals, and drop the dark red petals at the end of the service.


And here are my girlettes:

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Enough already!

The girlettes have HAD IT with posing for "this art nonsense". They say it's a Sunday afternoon and it's for PLAYING. They have refused to pose one more second and have gone to play in the sun.
Quite right too.

I am looking at airbnbs in Iceland and am ready to pack my bags NOW. It was Kirsten's suggestion. I've wanted to go since I had a one-hour layover there on the way to London, twenty years ago. The landscape was so strange and attractive, I've always wanted to go back.
Icelandair flies direct from here--RT fares are not out of the realm of the possible...

Tip o' the thumb to Barbara Kruger.

Let's Fly Away!

Chagall! The circus! It's time.
I've been wanting to do Chagall ever since I started #ToysRecreatePaintings. He's next up, at No. 5, for next weekend. Specifically, his circus art.
I don't know that I like actual circuses. I like circus art, and Chagall did a lot of it. Here's a sample. I like his circuses best of his paintings.
(I love Calder's moving circus too.)

ABOVE right: "The Circus Rider" by Marc Chagall, c. 1927.
I made the invitation in a fast 15-minutes this morning. (Join in! if you like. NO RULES.)
Sometimes I like these quickies better than my more labored recreations.

I do love the labor of making the creations though, in itself. Up to a point, anyway. After five hours of making Boschian hats yesterday, I was getting cranky--and so were the girlettes, who were fussing and NOT STANDING STILL.
They thought it was funny to push each other off the electricity boxes on the side of the house. (What do you call these?
Oh, right. "Electricity meter boxes.")

Oh, huh. I have 12 blog posts indexed "circus".
They include this
watercolor, below, from 2013. I copied the still of a home-movie showing my mother with my sister and me at a traveling circus that came to small-town Whitewater, Wisconsin in 1964.
My mother helps me, in blue sweater, feed peanuts to an elephant, while my sister looks on.  I remember being surprised at how soft the elephant's trunk was on my hand.

 I've recreated the work of five artists now: Wyeth, Vermeer, Kahlo, Manet, Bosch. Interpreted? Bounced off of? While I like some better than others, the main thing is that this project is working to get me working, which is terrific. I drift.

Yesterday I picked up in a Little Free Library a Bill Bryson book, Neither Here Nor There, about traveling in Europe. It reminded me that I've never liked Bryson--too glib, and cringey (ohgod, not funny)
sexist. BUT, reading about traveling made me think, hey, I should take a trip!

Sister and I take expeditions--I'll suggest we do another--but also, I haven't gone anywhere by myself in ages. (Moving to a new(ish) neighborhood was an adventure, but it wasn't purely for the sake of an adventure, for fun.)

My workplace is fun, but the setting is NOT fun. Everyday seeing desperation. It's wearing.
I want a break. Four days off has been great, but it makes me think I want a longer break.

Meanwhile, I got a Christmas tree!
bink, Maura, and I walked over to the little holiday fair a block away, where the indie florist was selling trees. Immediately the right tree presented itself.
(Forty-five dollars. They're a lot cheaper at places like Home Depot, but, gross.)

A 3-foot Fraser fir. Perfect!


“Damn everything but the circus!

"The average 'painter' 'sculptor' 'poet' 'composer' 'playwright' is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown’s mouth, orchestrate twenty lions."

--E. E. Cummings, (full quote via Quote Investigator)

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Dada Bosch: Toys Recreate Paintings, IV

My Hieronymus Bosch-inspired costumes for #ToysRecreatePaintings (here on Instagram) turned out more like Dada costumes.
Hm. That's fitting, come to think of it.

Can you name the objects in the girlettes' hats and clothes?
My thinking had been, Bosch looks like he does because he used the objects of his day; rather than copy his, I will use the objects of mine in a Boschian manner.

The girlettes aren't doing Boschian things, though--it's hard enough to get them all to stand still at once.
They kept tossing their heads and knocking their hats off!

Anyone can play--NO RULES--jump on in. And check out Linda Sue's Boschian egg orphan. Fan-freakin'-tastic!

Tip o' the hat to bink--Bosch was her choice for this week, TRP's fourth.
Any suggestions for next week?

Boschian Toy Weekend

 On Instagram, or here… 

Copy a detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings with your toys, or make your own Boschian delight, like this hat inspired by Bosch’s funnel hats. (Can you tell what it’s made of?)


Friday, November 25, 2022

Where Do You Write Your Blog?

Where do you write?
I'd love to see pictures of your blog spot, if anyone cares to post theirs.

Here I am––(awkward selfie)––toasting you with my coffee cup.
You can see the black top edge of my laptop on my desk.
I've been writing in my south-facing bedroom window, so I can see the morning light.

My apartment's building is right next to the sidewalk, so dog walkers and joggers pass close by. That's a nondenominational Christian church across the street.The street is pretty quiet.

 It's 7:45 a.m. as I sit down to write this. The sun rose 20 minutes ago (7:24) and will set at 4:35 p.m.
NINE hours of daylight???
Jay-sus. I think that explains anything and everything about people's moods.

Oh, nice: the sun just cleared the rooftops, now at 8:13 AM.
Here's the view from the kitchen of my desk, lit up. That's Auntie Vi's afghan over the back of the chair, which she knit from wool she spun.

(There's also the west-facing living room, and a bathroom. Abundant space.)

I'm in a good mood, actually, despite the darkness.
Maybe the Vitamin D pills help? Listening to Michael Bublé's Christmas album? And definitely that Maura made a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, including the BEST braised collard greens with mushrooms (recipe from the NYT). Afterwards we watched a British Bake Off Christmas special.
All is well, for the moment.

It's supposed to be unseasonably warm today--up around 50ºF. At noon, I'm walking over to a little holiday fair on the corner. The indie florist there will be selling Christmas trees. I've been going back and forth about getting one--I'll just go see.
The shops on the corner are a bit precious (a Montessori toy shop) and more than a bit expensive ($30 for a toy hedgehog).
I expect the trees will be around a hundred bucks, but maybe I'll buy a twig...
We'll see.

The girlettes have their doll-sized tree they want to decorate this weekend, and honestly, that alone would be a complete, full-sized happiness.

Tootle-oo to you all, I hope you have a good day!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

On Vacation! Left Behind (stuff at work)

It's Thanksgiving here--happy day to you all!
I'm sitting at my desk in my bedroom looking out at a chilly morning, and gray--but the snow on the ground brightens it up, and I'm in a happy mood.

I can hear the cranberries popping on the stovetop as they simmer for sauce (I decided not to make Ms Moon's wonderful sounding relish because pecans were $13/pound);
and the sweet potatoes and dried apricots are both tenderizing in boiling hot water for their casserole (NYT recipe--I am cutting the sugar WAY down and substituting cheaper walnuts for pecans).

I'm going over to the Mrs & Mrs binks' house this afternoon for a classic Thanksgiving turkey--their first as a married couple. ☺

Little Miss Marzipan is not coming this year--she is deeply involved with friends at her apartment building, which is like a dorm, or a mini-community. (Not to say, cult. [inside joke])
She is making green beans with garlic and butter.


The correct green bean dish for Thanksgiving is what my dentist told me she always makes:
canned green beans, French cut if you want to be fancy
can of Campbell's mushroom soup
topped with packaged crispy fried onions

Also, "salad" in Minnesota is canned fruit, including crushed pineapple, with Cool Whip and marshmallows.
You can use fruit pie filling for the fruit. Cherry is the best! It's mostly neon-red sugar glop.

Besides waking up again with that holiday feel, I'm also happy to be off work for four whole days: I don't go back to work until MONDAY.
I don't have a care in the world!

Uh, not strictly true (banking chores await me); but I wanted to post these Care Bears because a customer put them in my BOOK's. Isn't that great?
I love when people add fun stuff, which happens every once in a while.

(More frequently, people move books around, leaving them in the wrong section. Sometimes they hide them behind other books. Perhaps they intend to buy them later? But if that's the case, they're like squirrels, who frequently forget where they buried their nuts.)

I plowed through donations yesterday and got a TON of stuff priced and out on the shelves. I didn't research anything, I just stuck on printed price stickers (love them!)--whichever one was closer to hand:
I had a lot of 49-cent stickers, so many more-valuable toys got priced low. (Better than the other say round, right?)

 I left my work area about as cleared-out as it's been since I started doing Toys as well as Books.
Toy donations are usually overflowing those empty bins, lower left, and onto the floor.
That's my bike, upside down, to the right, above.
I got a flat, so I took the wheel home to change the tire. I used to know how to do that––I can learn to do it again. Cheaper, and nicer to be independent.

Book donations are still down, but I couldn't handle any more anyway.
I left the shelves pretty well-stocked.

Toy shelves are crammed full, and shoppers were already buying up the best ones yesterday afternoon.
Or playing with them.
I asked this little kid if I could take a photo of her playing with the Barbie bus on the floor, and she said yes.
(I've blurred her face for anonymity.)
I've totally changed my attitude toward kids messing up the TOYS--and without resorting to smoking pot. Several factors helped me change, most especially hearing a mother be particularly foul to her little girl.
Now I praise the kids:
"I'm glad you're having fun with the toys!"

Go ahead, grab a moment of happiness in a blighted world.

More Thrift Store Stuff

BELOW: Donated photo, kid with snow. Far from snowing here, we're supposed to get up to 50ºF (10ºC) this weekend, so our snow will melt. (It was 18ºF last weekend.)

BELOW: Another of Ass't Man's endcaps. Setting these up is one of his greatest strengths, imo. (Though I get credit (or blame) for the stuffed dinosaur.)

BELOW: Lid of vintage plastic box:
BETTER TOYS, by Deluxe Reading Corp.

Someone nabbed this pretty quickly. I'd thought about buying it, but I'm back to not wanting to own stuff. (I've even started returning some stuff to the store.) Having a photo is nicer.

All for now. Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Or, as a guy announced as he got off the city bus near my work yesterday:
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Be safe.
Be good.
Or be good at it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Work & Weed


"A very handsome American
dealing with Russia, need secre-
tary to take responsibility, organize
and look after trade delegations
and run his office. Knowledge of
Russian useful.

"We shall expect to hear from you

Found in a paperback of Russian short stories (in English) donated to the thrift store.

A Puzzling Volunteer

I think this came from my games-and-puzzles volunteer, Abby. In her early seventies now, she lived in London during the 1980s and worked for the Brits in Russian affairs in some way that included traveling to the Soviet Union.
She has donated USSR ephemera, such as anti-US pamphlets and Russian playing cards, as well as books. She's not a storyteller though, so I don't know much about what sounds like fascinating work. When she's volunteering, she mostly relates minutiae about her life at the moment.

She is an odd duck. How's that for a diagnosis? I suppose "on the spectrum" would fit. Very good with puzzles, not so good with people.
Nothing but well-intentioned, yet rubs people the wrong way. Including me.

I'm easily annoyed, I guess, but it is hard because she does not appear to listen. When I try to chat back, she simply doesn't respond to things I say.
And yet, she does pay attention. She's been cleaning out her house in preparation for selling it, and she brought me some old toys made out of pipe cleaners (I think she's saved every thing), saying, "I was going to throw these out, but I know you like this sort of thing."

If I remember that, I am less annoyed. And I'm grateful for her help with toys.

As I always say, this workplace is a Spiritual Psych Lab.

The JFK Display

I am a slow learner, I guess. How many times must I be reminded to stay in my lane? I'm there for BOOK's, and when I focus on books, the overall dysfunction of the place doesn't bother me so much.

My Kennedy's Assassination display fell flat.
Volunteer Art wasn't the only person my age who didn't get it: My own sister asked me why I'd chosen Kennedy.
"It's the month of the anniversary of his death," I said.

"Oh," she said. "But does anyone care?"

"Well, no," I said. "I'm finding that out."
I think one book sold out of the whole display.

That was true until yesterday, anyway, November 22, the actual date of JFK's murder. An older guy enthused about the books:
"I have to buy some of these! I was nine, in school, and the teacher told us the president had been shot..."

Hew bought two books, and he thanked me.
He literally said, "Thank you for this."

I'm taking the display down today and putting up Christmas books.

One thank you was worth the whole week of no interest.
It was also the antidote to my annoyance at some Very Annoying Things that management was getting up to yesterday, which I won't even go into.

Weed Works

Besides looking more closely at the Hidden Rules of Class, I also looked into the effects of the long term use of weed. I was wondering if and how much that might affect my interactions with a couple-few of my coworkers (and the customers) who've smoked every day for years.

According to a 2022 Harvard Health article
"Cognitive effects in midlife of long-term cannabis use", the answer is, quite likely, and, a whole lot.

"While public perception that cannabis is a harmless substance is growing, the long-term [effects] of cannabis use remain unclear. However, one consistent pattern of research has emerged:
heavy long-term cannabis use [more than once a week, for several years] can impact midlife cognition.

"Some people who consume cannabis long-term may develop brain fog, lowered motivation, difficulty with learning, or difficulty with attention.
Brains are so interesting, though:
"Symptoms are typically reversible [if you slowly taper off and give it time].   . . . Brain function is not static, like eye color or the number of toes on our feet. Aerobic exercise and engaging in mindfulness, meditation, and psychotherapy may improve long-term cognition."
Not that my smokin' coworkers are likely to taper off. It's their coping strategy! And it works. They don't do what they tell me they're going to do, but, unlike me, they don't get into a flap.
About anything.
If I take that into account, I'm not as annoyed when they don't even remember they'd assured me they'd help with something.

CONFESSION: My coping mechanisms are not so great sometimes.
The other day, I was so frustrated with the onslaught of crappy toy donations--and I mean literally crappy---brown smears on fuzzy toys--that I yelled at Manageress, who was delivering another bag of them to me,
"I am so tired of these fucking toys!"

I apologized immediately, and she was very kind: "I understand your frustration."

And then--this is bad, but---I threw the bag she'd brought in the Dumpster. (I looked inside first--more crap, but probably some saveable toys too.)
So, I'm no saint!

And... after today I have four days off!
Have a great day, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Holiday Week

I woke up feeling like it's The Holidays, in a nice way.
Sitting at my desk at 6:30 this morning, looking out my bedroom window, I see a pink dawn sky. There's snow on the ground, just enough to brighten the dark days.
I'll be going to the grocery store later, for sweet potatoes, dried apricots, pecans, lemons, and brown sugar, for the dish I'm making for Thanksgiving, in two days.

But first, the dentist, to replace a filling that fell out. I've neglected that side of life (dental & medical check ups, etc.) since Covid. Also, banking...

I. Slightly Boring, Slightly Scary Things to Attend To

The other day, my sister asked me if I get lonely.

Not emotionally lonely, so much, I said, as sometimes weary of having to make Every Single Decision alone.
(Which, I always say, is also the NICE thing about being alone:
you get to make every single decision.
It's not like everyone who has a partner has a partner who is helpful in the ways they need, either, I've noticed.  )

(I'm existentially lonely sometimes, but that comes with being human.)

The decisions I'd most like help with are the slightly boring, slightly scary ones––mostly financial and medical.
(I am lucky they've been only "slightly" troublesome, so far in my life. But when things are BIGly troublesome--"my laptop has died!"––I do kick into gear and take care of them. Usually. Eventually.)

I saw (on Instagram) a graphic showing signs of ADHD.
It included something like, "You ignore tasks to do creative work instead".
Is that a symptom of a disorder? I thought it was a good thing!
I am disordered, for sure:
I was going to take care of financial things on my day off yesterday, and instead spent all afternoon photographing a toy inside a persimmon...

Of course there are serious mental disorders out there, and of course it's good we should have information about them, and help for them.
I remember when it was otherwise, and I would not return!
But personally,
I've gotten into this habit of diagnosing everyone I know--and myself. It's the mood of the age.
I'm trying to STOP doing that.

I think of my Auntie Vi, who was never up on psychological terms.
She'd just describe her friends as individuals with unique qualities--sometimes annoying.
Of one friend, she'd say, "So-and-so never listens, so when we go out to lunch, I just listen to her."

What that friend did for Vi, in the end, was stay with Vi for her last few days on Earth, tending to all sorts of physical needs. At this point, conversation didn't matter.

Anyway, I have a backlog of relatively minor boring/frightening (to me) things to attend to. You know? Like, looking into paying my electric and gas bills online. Or, do I want to keep paying them on paper? I kind of like that--it makes me aware of what I'm spending. But, does that matter?
I don't know.
What do you think?

I'm taking a couple days off over Thanksgiving--the store is only closed Thursday. If I don't spend the days all PLAYING WITH TOYS, I may get to some of these things.

I was going to get a big Xmas tree this weekend, but now the time has arrived, I don't think I will. They're too expensive, and too big for my space, really, now I've got bookshelves and chairs... I think I'd find a tree more of an annoyance, and not worth the money.

I'm failing to live on $50/week. The dentist today will use up my entire monthly allowance.
Also, when the temps dropped below freezing last week, I gave in and bought a down coat that comes to my knees.
New! Wonderful! But at $140 (on sale, at REI), there's three week's allowance.
My bike has a flat, so there's that to pay for. (If I learn how to change it myself, it'll be cheaper.)
Etc., etc.

Life on the Cheap is on my list of Things to Make Decisions About.

Blah, blah, blah.

II. Life in Motion

I'd rather think more about the whats and hows of toy representation.
For Manet Week last week, an Instagrammer DM'd me that she was thinking to recreate Manet's Olympia (Wikipedia article)--his famous painting of a naked white woman being served by a Black woman.

My, oh my.
I DM'd her back, suggesting that painting is "racially problematic", did she really want to get into that? (There's more about that in the Wikipedia link above.)

She wrote back an art historical perspective, justifying Manet,
and I wrote back saying, "But the viewer won't know that. (
Of course, do what you want, I'm not policing you, just bringing it up.)"

She did picnic on the grass instead, and wrote an explanation about how Manet presented women as real people...

Okay, but who reads the text on Instagram?
And should they have to, to understand your picture?

I wrote a little text to go with the Persimmon pictures, but they should stand alone. I hope. Does the written explanation really explain them, anyway: "A toy inspired by Bosch hides inside a persimmon"?

My philosophy of toy photography was shaped by the couple seconds that conclude the movie Serenity  (2005, following up Joss Whedon's sci-fi series Firefly):
The spaceship, Serenity, has come through a storm, but as it sails safely away, a metal plate tears off and comes flying at us. The show is about navigating the chaos of life and politics, so that's a great way to show There Is No Safe Haven.

What influenced me, however, is that the plate is a tiny bit out of focus as it moves. It feels real, but of course it's not. It's computer generated: they had to CHOOSE to make it out of focus.

It's hard to get a sense of live action with toys, because they aren't moving on their own (not when we're looking!).
I've mentioned how kids playing in the Toy Section like to line toys up. I like to, too. When toys are lined up in photos, however, they look frozen, like family portraits taken in a studio.

I tried to make the persimmon photos look as if they were taken as the dolls moved, not as if they were posing for an instructional manual: a little bit off-center, a little bit out of focus in spots. Not so you'd notice, but enough, hopefully, so they feel less stiff.

I don't know if I succeeded, but that's what I'm going for in the future.
The other extreme in toy photography is professional photographers who make their action shots look as slick as movie CGI. Too slick, for my taste.

I like to sense the human hand behind it all.

OK, off to the dentist now...
Happy week, everybody!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Toy Story: A Boschian Birth

CONTENT NOTE: some goopy persimmon innards

All this art has gone to the toys' heads!
Inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's paintings of people inside fruits and eggs, my childhood toy Greeny Peany hid inside a persimmon today.

Six Photos: The Birth of Greeny

Two girlettes out scavenging heard the fruit peeping.

They took it home and cut it open.

They helped Greeny Peany out, and washed him.

The whole ordeal was a little scarier––and wetter and chillier!––than he'd expected.
is resting nicely now, wrapped in a handknit sock (from Sarah).

Next Up on TRP: Make Your Own Bosch!

I added the final Manet round-up from IG to yesterday's post.  Five recreations, down from eight for Girl with a Pearl.
Two people told me that weekly re-creations is too much. I'd also  guess that Manet was harder: more complicated and less well-known than Vermeer's Girl.
Maybe more people would join in recreating the "Mona Lisa" or Grant Wood's "American Gothic", but I don't much want to do those paintings.

I very much want to do next week's challenge, chosen by bink.
I was telling her that I'd bought a rambutan at the same time I bought a persimmon, and it looks like a fruit made up by a surrealist.
And bink said, "Let's do
Hieronymus Bosch!"

Bosch it is. Make your own, or copy one of his details (examples below).

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Toys Recreate Paintings, III: "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere"

Manet Week wraps up with my final recreation(s) of "A Bar the the Folies-Bergere" by Edouard Manet, 1881-82.

This is my favorite, simplest one. I made the customer into a friend reading aloud.

BELOW is the one I posted on Instagram (with a crop of the original painting, right) at #toysrecreatepaintings:

I like the simplicity of my first one, top, but I love the way I changed the story in the second one. The bartender's glazed look reminds me of how I feel when I cashier:
I wanted to rescue her.

As I wrote on IG:
The harassed and overheated bartender is now the (self-portrait?) painter. (Her paintbrush reads “Primary Artist”.)
her customer is a friend reading to her. What is Rat reading, do you think?

The oranges became a persimmon because I happened to see them at the co-op yesterday. They're ideally sized and colored, and they're somewhat exotic in Minnesota (where I am), as oranges were in Manet’s Paris.

I didn’t even attempt the mirror— I set this up at dawn in my bedroom window.

I'll post an IG round-up at the end of the  day. Jump in and make one too, if you like.
Here we go! Five Manets, including the complete Bar Linda Sue posted on her blog.
BELOW (top row): Sur L'herbe, literally! by Sarah W.--it rewards a closer look on her IG. 
Amy S's. Cabbie version.

ABOVE: My "Bar", left, and bink's, right. (She got the bottle in Santiago, Spain, and the customer in the mirror is Daryl from The Walking Dead.)

I'm so glad bink's been able to play every week, despite her ongoing concussion. She has to do her recreations fast, before her brain punishes her, but that works!

What painting shall we recreate next?
Suggestions welcome.

A couple people have told me that once a week is too much. That’s okay—jump in on any of the paintings, anytime…
No deadlines! NO RULES.


It surprises me how interesting it's been, making these recreations--it's really made me think...
What makes something interesting? Attractive?
How do stories come across in images, with no words?

I thought I'd be most interested in taking good photos and setting up re-creations. I shouldn't be surprised, really, but I'm more interested in the stories.

I made my first recreation--"Christina's World"--just because the neighbor's drought-dry hill across the street looked like the landscape of the painting. I tried to get my version close to the original.

Now if I were to recreate Wyeth's painting, I'd add some story element.  I don't know what--a croquet ball gone missing? (That just popped into my head.)

[I never cared for that painting, beyond admiring its technical aspects. Without knowing the backstory (the woman lost the use of her legs, and she locomotes by pulling herself with her arms), it's just... what?
I suppose that's why people like it--they can imagine their own story.
But I don't like any story I can think of to go with it...]

It was great to spend the week with Manet--I recreated four of his paintings, and the Bundle and Sprig of Asparagus pleases me as much as anything I've done.
The woman who suggested Manet, Amy S., is sick and doesn't think she'll be able to recreate her painting of choice, "Déjeuner sur L'Herbe", which is complicated.
She was thinking of doing the easier Olympia.

For her to set up a Black Cabbage Patch doll serving a naked white Cabbie...
That struck me as odd, and I commented that that's a little problematic re race... (Not that Déjeuner isn't problematic re gender.)
She wrote back explaining Manet in art historical terms.

the viewer doesn't know the art history--and shouldn't HAVE to know--or the character's backstory, or anything.

Similar to movie-making, the visual story shouldn't need outside explanations.
That's what I think.
How do you make a free-standing visual story?

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Manet Week: "A Bar..." in Process

This morning's earlier post is heavy, so here's a bit of lightness.

I need to photograph this in the evening light, actually, and do some more futzing, but this is the general set up for my third Toys Recreate Paintings (TRP) project, due tomorrow:
Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergere":

My intention is to use stuff I already have to interpret the works, not to get everything I need (I easily could, at the thrift store where I work) to make a more correct re-creation. Not because "that's the rules" (there are NO RULES) but because that's funnest for me--that stretches me the most.
I have to kind of unfocus my brain and not see the painting as a bunch of particular objects but as shapes and colors.
And Story too, but I don't always stay with the story.

The story of "A Bar" is kind of sad or scary (even if it's not prostitution, plain old waitressing/ bar tending can be humiliating and exhausting enough!).
My Barmaid is peddling art supplies, and the oranges in the glass bowl are my string of Baltic amber prayer beads from Turkey and the glass bowl they live in on my bedside table.
The little pottery cup was made by our own blogger GZ!

The Barmaid and her potential client reflected in the mirror,
negotiating (or whatever), are now someone who's being read to by someone else.
And I'm not even going to try to do the mirror!

My Blue Heaven

Two mid-century Blue Heaven serving dishes were donated to the thrift store yesterday. I snatched them up.
Seeing them at home, I'm not sure I entirely like them. They're more like the idea of what I'd like than what I actually like.
I don't know... I can always take them back.

A Weird Thing Comes into Your Living

Last night I started reading The End of October (2020), by Lawrence Wright, usually a nonfiction writer (of books and for the New Yorker)--about a new virus that unleashes a global public health crisis and societal breakdown.
He wrote it between 2017 and 2019.

Talking to NPR in April 2020, Wright said,

"The timing of publication — in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — is a coincidence.

"But the parallels with what's actually happening in real life, that's not coincidental," he says. "I researched it very carefully and I talked to people who knew what was going to happen.
They all knew it. They just didn't know when.

They laid it out for me. ... So the fact that it's unfolding as they suggested it would and as I reflected in the novel is no surprise at all."

Arranging books on my shelves, I was a little surprised to see that I own more books in the sci-fi category than any other. (I shouldn't be surprised---they're some of my favorite books.)
The Martian is the only one that's classic sci-fi though--being about an astronaut, and full of science––and even that is really a Robinson Crusoe story: What if you were marooned?

The others are mostly speculative "what if?" stories––mostly about living after some kind of apocalypse, social or biological, whether that's from zombies (World War Z), a virus, or extreme social control (Fahrenheit 451 and All Systems Red).

Troll: A Love Story; Fludd; and LOTR aren't sci fi... What genre are they? The 'A weird thing comes into your living-room' genre? (Troll is the weirdest good book I've ever read. I did not see it coming.)

LOTR is Fantasy, but I don't care about its fantastic world-building aspects, I only care about poor schmuck Frodo discovering a weird, dangerous thing has come into his living room (and he has to get rid of it).

"A weird thing comes into your living.
What do you do?"
That's the category I like.

Whether it's a plague, or new tech, a dangerous leader, or, say, even a baby––strange things do drop into our familiar places.

Or we become the stranger in an unfamiliar place. Even without the radical displacement of being a refugee, it can be unsettling just to move across town, such as when I moved in with HouseMate three years ago, and then again into Apartment 320 this summer. (I've figured out where to catch the bus, vote, and buy milk at 6 a.m.––the gas station four blocks away––but I'm still getting my bearings.)

Confused, Overwhelmed, and Sad

Sometimes I determine I will only write cheerful stuff, because in this grim world, cheerful stuff helps.
That's what the Toys do for me! They don't care about human woes.

But... Cheerful is often how I feel, having that sort of temperament, but it's just not where I live or exactly how I think.

I think almost daily, for instance, of the murder of George Floyd by an
agent of the State, one mile from where I work in one direction and––taking an L-shaped turn––where I live (both homes) in the other. 

I bike past George Floyd Square on the way to work.
Protestors have held the square for two and a half years, though now in tiny numbers. The outline of Floyd's body is still on the pavement, where hand-painted signs read, among other things, THIS IS SACRED SPACE, and protected by concrete barricades.

Now that it's cold and snowy, I take the bus, which remains rerouted to bypass the intersection. (Traffic can go through, but it's slowed by the statue of a fist in the center of the intersection.)

I exchange paper letters with my friend I know from the art collge, who lives on the other side of town.
Recently she wrote to me:

"I want to touch on something you mentioned in both your letters––I certainly noticed––and that's the lingering trauma and sadness from George Floyd's killing.

I know I can't shake it––it all still hangs over me––but it's not on the forefront of our national conversation (not the way it was, anyway) so I feel like it's something I'm kind of carrying on my own, or an still struggling with, alone.
So I'm glad you said it, too.

I still just feel so confused and overwhelmed and sad about that time, the way a child feels, I think.
Just, so sad."
Yes. Confused, Overwhelmed, and Sad. There's that rip in the fabric of how we see the world, our society, our city.

But besides that, for me working
at the thrift store right near the killing, there's a distinct before-and-after. There were always people hanging out on the streets, doing illegal business, or just trying to live.
But it's almost lawless now.

The police ... well, it's hard to say exactly how it went down, but people at the store definitely perceive and say out loud that the police chose to let the situation break down, like a wound left to gangrene.

And, yeah, it does seem that way, and listening to tapes of what police said at the time of the first protests, that's not just conspiracy theories driven by
paranoia and powerlessness.

At any rate, whether the police, the City, acted and are acting (or, not acting) out of ineptitude, or lack of will, or active retribution, the result is bad.
It used to be that the cold weather cleared out the corner, but now the hardcore business-people there have set up a couple barbecue grills and burn fires all day to keep warm. A neighborhood resident told me that at night, the fires are raging bonfires.

Many of the people doing street business don't want to change, but there's a much larger category of people who are caught in addiction and––almost more hopeless?––untreated, severe mental illness.

In the stories I like, some poor protagonist finds themself thrust into some awful situation, and through pluck manages to carry on. Sometimes they triumph, in some way––always at high personal cost (Frodo can't go home again)––sometimes they just carry on.

At any rate, the stories I like frame our story as ADVENTURE, and it helps me to see myself in an adventure, and not just a shit show.

Hello, Star Trek!