I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets!

I love the strange, weird, childlike world of Fletcher Hanks, even if he was an asshole drunk father who left his family in 1930 and ended up freezing to death on a park bench in Central Park at age 90. The similarities between all the strips show his obsession with a hero who saves New York City again and again from danger, loving to depict the bad guys (and sometimes the good guys or the neutral folks) as hanging in mid-air. He loves squeezing the bad guys and flinging them into a chilly ice jail in outer space (thus ironic that he freezes to death himself).

Jess – O! Tricky Cad and Other Jessoterica

I flipped through this and Jess: To and From the Printed Page in an attempt to fill the gaps in my knowledge about yet another major Bay Area artist of the mid-20th century. Some great paste-ups, collages, mixing up Dick Tracy columns, weaving in various erotic photos of men, always with the words words words (as influenced by his husband, Robert Duncan?). I’m also reading another book about the poetry scene in SF in the 50s (not the Beats) and Jess comes up (via the Duncan connection) as sneering at Jack Spicer and forbidding him from entering his house, which makes me like Jess more than anything else I’ve read about him. Another lucky lottery winner of WWII extraction, working as a chemist at Oak Ridge facilities then coasting into art school on the GI Bill.

Touching Time And Space: A Portrait Of David Ireland

Another entry in the list of terrible biographies. Mostly I read this because curious about David Ireland’s life before art (he started making art in his 40s), when he was an insurance salesman for 7 years in Bellingham and had a wife and kids. Every other work seemed to gloss over those years, but at least Klausner gets to the bottom of the gossipy stuff for me. I’m also bored bored bored of reading about men who all gather and do art and lift each other up and yak yak yak about their process. Perhaps I’m still in a crabby mood after viewing the 1973 film Painters Painting yesterday, wherein only Helen Frankenthaler was the only woman interviewed, albeit briefly, and one of the dumb questions was “Is it hard to be a woman artist?” which she deflected by saying basically it’s hard to be an artist, period. Some of my rage boiled over onto reading DI’s biography, I guess, but it was also extremely poorly written/researched. One thing I will agree with in DI’s point of view is that a life can be an artwork. But this book is neither life nor art.

Blue Iris: Poems and Essays

A great collection of poetry and brief essays by Mary Oliver that I found while in the “O”s of the poetry section recently. Two favorites:

Black Oaks

Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,

or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
and comfort.

Not one can manage a single sound though the blue jays
carp and whistle all day in the branches, without
the push of the wind.

But to tell the truth after a while I’m pale with longing
for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen

and you can’t keep me from the woods, from the tonnage

of their shoulders, and their shining green hair.

Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a
little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from
one boot to another — why don’t you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,

I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.


and Blue Iris

Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?

Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.

Well, I think, I can read books.

“What’s that you’re doing?”
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

“What’s that you’re doing?” whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden, you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

On Being 40(ish)

Disappointing collection of essays from women in their 40s but I suppose I should know better than to expect good stuff from Kate Bolick or Sloane Crosley anymore. The best essay was the one that convinced me to get the book in the first place, Meghan Daum’s essay Same Life, Higher Rent which you can read online. Several red flags in the introductory piece by Lindsey Mead who sprinkled me with tired and droopy adjectives: “rickety wooden steps” “riotous colors” of the sky, etc. And are women the only ones who turn 40? Not that I’m complaining about not having to suffer through another tale from a male’s perspective, but there’s no mention anywhere about this being so gender specific.

Lunch Poems

The beauty of shopping at the library is to stumble on old friends when picking up new ones. While I was in the 811.54’s fetching Sharon Olds, I spied Frank’s lunch poems and even though I’ve read them before (but somehow not catalogued here) they made me giddy as I walked out with them at lunchtime into the sunshine. Hayes Valley never saw me smile so much. Maybe it’s coming back to Frank after knowing about his closeness to Grace Hartigan, after learning more about his role in the art scene in the 50s/60s, knowing that it was to his desk at MOMA he was returning from all those lunch breaks he records. The poems swirl and dance and themes recur (Iroquois, construction hats, Lana Turner [“oh Lana Turner we love you get up”], Pierre Reverdy) “Everything suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of a Thursday.” “I had a teacher one whole summer who never told me anything and it was wonderful” and “I read what you read/ you do not read what I read/ which is right, I am the one with the curiosity/ you read for some mysterious reason/ I read simply because I am a writer” One of my favs is Personal Poem, “but now I’m happy for a time and interested”… leading me to scratch my head when trying to figure out what the poet’s walk in SF was (we don’t like Henry James so much we like Herman Melville we don’t want to be in the poets’ walk in San Francisco).

One Secret Thing

I had not read this collection of poems by Sharon Olds but my sister had just replaced a book at her library in the display I’d suggested books for, and so I trudged down to the library to discover what it was I’d supposedly recommended (I’d previously enjoyed her poems in The Father). I was a bit unimpressed until I got to the last section of the collection, the eponymous One Secret Thing, and staggered by her descriptions of her dying and then dead mother, her application of vaseline to dried lips.”The secret was how deeply I did not want to touch inside her, and how much the act was an act of escape, my last chance to free myself.” She crawls into the hospital bed sobbing, her mother tilted up “eyes closed, mouth open,” and then is there for her last hour, the death rattle described as a gasp forced in then quiet, then a sign of relief. “I felt as if she had always wanted to escape and now she had escaped.”…. “my mother’s dying was like an end of life on earth, some end of water and moisture salt and sweet, and vapor, till only that still, ocher moon shone, in the room, mouth open, no song.” …. “It was like walking away from someone who is drowning in inches of water—and I’d bent beside her, and called to the morphine to drown her, she had lain face up in the cloud of it lowered like a pool to her face. It was time. It was past midnight, the air of the quiet town was wild with fresh salt sea and pine. Never again. Always. Never again. Always.”

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do

Finally got through this classic Studs Terkel collection of interviews with working shlubs from the 1970s. Forty years on and things are wildly different… his book is bursting with conversations with blue collar workers flush with cash and excited to send their kids to college for a better life. I got a bit bored by all the focus on the automotive factory workers but enjoyed scraps of other conversations, like the airline stewardess who picked up a smoking habit after working on planes and who was required to wear false eyelashes and nails. Apparently first class was only $5 more expensive in the 70s. (“If I want to fly first class, I pay the five dollars difference. I like the idea of getting free drinks, free champagne, free wine. In a coach, you don’t.”) I think I stayed away from this book for so long because I read some knock-off book many years ago that was a remake of this idea, interviewing various people about their jobs, and felt that covered the matter.

500 Capp Street: David Ireland’s House

A few months ago I finally made it to 500 Capp Street to check out the David Ireland house and was stunned by the delicious curved walls on the second floor, the walls stripped down to their original plaster and coated with polyurethane to shine. Fantastic that artwork has been preserved as a museum piece (but I wish we’d been able to climb up the wooden ladder that was apparently in one of the bedrooms up to a loft that Ireland built?!). Ireland’s original intention was to renovate the broken down house but instead he stabilized it and preserved its elements, even marking with plaques on the wall the two spots where he damaged the stairway when removing a heavy safe from the previous owner. He created sculpture from bits of what the previous tenants left behind and made his home a living piece of art. Purchased for $50k in 1975, he lived in the house until he had to move into assisted living in the 2000’s, but he was alive to know that his home was purchased by an art lover who would keep it intact.

It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand

Grief is not a problem to be solved but something to be supported and worked through. Megan Devine helps navigate through the landmines that fresh grief deploy at one’s feet, beginning with exasperation at our society’s reaction to grief as something that should be fixed as soon as possible, calling this grief illiteracy.

She peppers the book with supporting quotes, like Walt Whitman’s “Reexamine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.” There is no right or wrong way to grieve, it is the most highly personal and unique feeling for an individual along with love (which is what’s ultimately causing grief). “When you are broken, the correct response is to be broken.” Embrace your pain but tamp down the suffering.

Also appreciated the section on how grief can end friendships due to people’s whack-a-doodle way of responding to someone’s pain. I’ve seen this first hand, bizarre comments or words that are just not helpful, and it’s good to see that it’s normal for people to be snipped from your life if you so desire when they’re cruel at a time you need them to be kind. And also helpful to see that she had trouble reading during her most intense grief period—attention span diminished, comprehension gone.

Joy Enough: A Memoir

I suppose we’re meant to think of Sarah McColl’s two losses as a diptych—her mother dies, her husband leaves—but the abandonment by spouse was more embarrassing, like we needed to forgive her the sin of getting hitched in the first place. It contains occasional sparks that touch on the real grief, the forever grief of losing a mother, such as that moment when she’s replacing a light bulb in her kitchen and thinking “I could get my sea legs on the ocean of aloneness. As a divorced person it was not terrible. As a daughter, it was.”

Perhaps the diptych serves to counterbalance; love of a spectacular mother weighted against the betrayal of a husband who preferred writing code on his laptop. It also gives us an area where she can rebound by dating, by filling her life with replacements in way that is not possible with the other loss.

Miss Mackenzie

My first dollop of Trollope, what took me so long? Delightful story of a woman whose life has been spent caring for aging father then dying brother, surprise discovery that said brother left her a significant fortune, foraying out into the world for the first time and as a wealthy single woman, suitors lining up for her money, a cousin who’s pressured to offer his hand as well in order to win back the cash that was rightfully his, then the wills disputed and discovery that the cash WAS his all along, but marriage prevails after a very long protracted legal case (her lawyer rightfully named Mr. Slow). All’s well that ends well in 1865 London.

Trollope’s writing is a dash of Dickens without the oomph; he winks and nods as his reader throughout, has high sympathy for his female characters.

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think

A lifesaver thrown to someone in the depths of depression/anxiety/anger/shame/guilt. Nothing earth shattering but I love the idea of a gratitude journal and writing a letter of forgiveness to people I’m mad at (not to send, including myself).

I also just listened to a quick interview where the author (Padesky) gave 5 strategies from the book:

Balance what you do during the day. We feel better when accomplishing things and experiencing pleasure, but important to get balance right. Could be 3 accomplishments for each pleasure or 1:1, figure out what works for you.

Approach instead of avoid. Don’t linger over your to do list. We don’t enjoy our time off because we’re avoiding tasks. Approach something you want to avoid even in just small steps. If big thing, make a list of what needs to be done and tackle each item.

Gratitude. Weekly gratitude journal boosts happiness. Quality of gratitude counts more than quantity. Go deep instead of long list.

Identify & test negative thoughts. We talk to ourselves all day long, automatic thoughts. Can change a more negative dialog once we realize what we’re saying to ourselves. Catch & correct negative distorted thinking. Reprogram brain.

Acceptance. Just get on with it. Maybe you have a tedious task to do, just accept it and move on.

Positive thoughts are not the solution. Instead you have to consider all the information and many angles of the problem. You can anticipate your reaction and plan for it. The way we think about or assess a situation matters deeply by impacting our mood and behavior. How we understand our problems affects how we cope.

Helpful hints for evaluating the seriousness of the action we just did:

  • Do others find it as serious as I do? Why or why not?
  • What if my best friend did it instead of me? Is it still as serious?
  • How important will this seem in 1 month? 1 year? 5 years?
  • What if someone did it to me?
  • Did I know the consequences ahead of time?
  • Did I do damage? is it correctable?

Questions to id automatic thoughts:

  • What was going through my mind right before it happened?
  • What images/memories do I have that are associated with it?
  • What does this mean about me, my life, my future?
  • What am I afraid might happen?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What does this mean about how the other person feels or thinks about me?
  • What does this mean about other people in general?
  • Did I break rules or hurt someone? What do I think about myself?

La Grande Therese : The Greatest Scandal of the Century

Hilary Spurling discovered Therese Humbert while researching her Matisse biography (he married the daughter of Therese’s housekeeper) and decided such a jaw-dropping story deserved a book of its own. Therese was a poor peasant girl from the southern countryside of France who dreamed up imaginary riches and somehow conned Paris into believing her (thus fronting her millions of francs). She infiltrated the highest levels of Parisian official society, pals with the head of police, various presidents and other officials. Eventually the scheme came crashing down and she and her family disappeared from history.

The Basketball Diaries

Jim Carroll’s classic book about growing up in Manhattan in the 1960s has been on my must-read list for too long. It was as dreamy as expected, all poetry and drugs and sex and chaos and hustling gay men for money and running away from cops and shoving onto crowded subway cars and the power blackout that darkened the east coast and lunar eclipses and jacking people for money near the Cloisters and shooting up heroin and getting thrown into Rikers for a month and smoking weed and throughout it all playing basketball.