Art for everyone!

My uber-hip coworker turned me onto the new Jen Bekman project of 20×200 and I immediately ordered a print when I found one that I connected with. Each week they release a photo and another work into the wild that sell like hotcakes. You can order the smallest size for $20 (there’s 200 of these available), or medium for $200 (20 available), or large for $2000 (2 available).
Jen’s formula is: large editions + low prices × the internet = art for everyone
I ordered my print on Wednesday, delivered from NYC to SF by Friday morning, and by Sunday night I was framing it up and admiring my impeccable taste.
Below is Jennifer Sanchez’s ny.07.#20 print in mi casa.

The Year of Yes

Sadly, this was one of the better books I picked up at the book swap a few months ago. The swap was chaotic– people lingering over category tables (fiction, history, philosophy, etc.) and pouncing on the new additions as soon as the staff dropped them off. I swapped a bag of old books for a new bag of old books, and this was the first I tackled.
Basic premise is that 21 year old girl is in NYC and having boy problems (in love with a married man), so she decides to say yes to everyone who asks her out for a year. This leads to some amusing dates with 70 year old men (the married Senor Chupa whose wife teaches the author to salsa), homeless guys she trips over in the street, a mime, a few lesbians, and on and on.
I’d classify this as a few rungs beneath beach reading, and yet I read the whole thing. Writing was on the edge of tolerable, but the theme of searching for love will get me every time.

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Fasting: Thirsty, but Surviving

I was invited to fast for Karva Chauth with a coworker whose mother-in-law adheres to the tradition. Last night, I geared up for the main event by having a light supper of vegetable soup, and since then, not a drop of liquid or food has passed my lips.
Karva Chauth is a tradition of North India, where married Hindu women fast in order to seek the well-being and prosperity of their husbands. It generally occurs nine days prior to Diwali, sometime in October or November. The fast lasts all day, from dawn until sundown; the kicker is that you can’t break the fast until you’ve seen the moon in a reflection of water. And guess what, it’s cloudy tonight.
Naturally, since I’m neither Hindi nor married, I’m focusing this Karva Chauth on myself. Supposedly unmarried women are barred from observing this fast; this only encourages me.
For me, fasting is a means to mental clarity. In a life devoid of spiritual traditions, I like to piggyback onto others’ fasting schedules. I frequently partake of the Yom Kippur tradition of fasting and atonement, and have occasionally mirrored the Ramadan schedule of sun-up/sun-down fasting my workmates labored under.
Karwa means a clay pot with spout, used in prayers. Chauth means the fourth day.

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Down and Out in Paris and London

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Orwell leads us deep into the cellars, basements, homeless shelters (“spikes”) of his Paris and London, shoving us down into his misery of hunger, near slavery as a plongeur (dishwasher and more, working 18 hour days of backbreaking work in a dim-lit dirty kitchen), rushing to catch the last Metro of the night, sleeping a few hours and getting up before dawn to do it all over again. Along the way, he gathers the stories of his fellow wanderers and tramps.

It’s great biographical writing, sparing no detail of squalid life. I suppose it’s an example of the worst possible scenario one could encounter after losing a job. Once you know the worst, it’s not so bad– it’s survivable.

The Continental Op

On a recent Dashiell Hammett tour of San Francisco, the Continental Op came up as a serious recommendation, and we enjoyed the added bonus of a Whosis Kid segment to the tour. The Whosis Kid segment revolved around McAllister/Van Ness, where the Op lurked in wait to see the Whosis Kid emerge from the front door and exchange gunfire with a black sedan. A lot of the storyline in Whosis Kid got recycled and improved in the Maltese Falcon. I hadn’t read these stories, so devoured them on a recent trip to Canada.
So what do I think? The stories are pure gold. Some of them are downright funny, and I finished up the series in a hammock out at The Max’s. The Continental Op is a detective employed by the Continental Detective Agency, who remains nameless throughout the series, but is self-described as short, fat, and able to skirt death by using common sense.
Stories I enjoyed immensely in the collection:
* The Golden Horseshoe (triple murder in SF, the villains hunker down in Tijuana)
* The House in Turk Street (the old couple, the Chinaman, the thug & the redhead who escapes, $100k in bonds)
* The Girl with the Silver Eyes (the redhead appears again, a poet in SF is the mark with a $20k forged check from his brother-in-law, death down at the Half Moon Bay roadhouse)
* The Whosis Kid (the girl triple crosses her gang, tries to woo the Op, shootout in her apartment with the darkened room and the watch dial waiting for someone to cross)

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The Courage to Write

Another kick-in-the-pants-type book (I’m reading a lot of those lately…), this all about overcoming the fear of writing by embracing rituals, speaking with your own voice despite whom it might hurt or embarrass, using fear to your advantage by letting it fuel you,
Helpful courage boosters include:
* read about successful writers and how they overcame their fears
* take a writing course or tw
* occasional writer’s conference
* join a serious writers’ group
* develop rituals that ease the anxiety & work habits that tame your fear
* write at a time of day when you’re most productive and least anxious
* identify your ‘censor in chief’ and figure out how to address that person
* know yourself well enough not to be scared of what might come out
* convert fear into excitement
And so I’m off to do a little writing.
Recommended by Papa Rose, a professional writer tired of hearing my lame excuses

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In the Heart of the Sea

It’s strange how tales that once were part of the common fabric of historical record have disappeared from today’s world; namely, the story of the Essex, stove by a whale, sunk, its men scattered in whaleboats in the middle of an unfrequented patch of the Pacific, trapped for 93(ish) days with little food/water, gradually making their way back to the coast of Chile. Philbrick makes it all relevant again, bringing facts and stories from Owen Chase and Thomas Nickerson’s accounts, interspersed with quips from other whaling accounts.
I’m suffering a little personal embarrassment from not having read this before, given my obsession with Moby Dick. The story of the Essex, of course, was the underlying story Melville took and elevated to art form. This shipwreck story gripped an entire nation in the 19th century, how could Melville fail to use it as inspiration. Interestingly, Moby Dick leads us only up until the ship sinking, where the true story of the Essex only begins there. The story of starvation, cannibalism, discovery of an island then abandonment of island, the wandering of the whaleboats across the large expanse of the Pacific (2500 miles).
Melville received a copy of Owen Chase’s account of the Essex from his son, William Henry Chase, in a gam in the Pacific (a meeting between ships). Melville read the account in the midst of the Pacific and remembered: “The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea and so close to the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect on me.”
Philbrick’s account has Captain Pollard, on his first captain assignment, bowing to the wishes of his first mate Chase too often (post-knockout Pollard wanted to go back to Nantucket for repairs, post-sinking Pollard wanted to sail for the Society Islands where the wind would be at their backs helping them along– his mates convinced him to head back for South America instead). Chase was painted as a tyrant while still on the ship, but his leadership in the whaleboat was what saved the three men in his boat, while only two men survived the other two boats (along with the three that were rescued from Henderson Island). Chase was particularly credited with the discipline to instill severe rationing of their hardtack and water, which allowed them to get so far without cannibalism. Ultimately, they did eat the last person to die in the whaleboat, but they never resorted to drawing lots and killing each other as in Pollard’s boat, where Pollard ended up eating his own young cousin.
Beyond the horror of the men’s experience, this story is also littered with horror of a different sort– explicit details on killing huge whales and Galapagos tortoises, nearly to extinction.

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