Saturday, July 28, 2012

Letters by Fitzgerald and Cheryl "Dear Sugar" Strayed point in the same direction

Cheryl Strayed @Centrum
Some time ago, I came across an intriguing piece of advice Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild offered writers on Jeffrey Yamaguchi's 52 Projects site: Always aspire to greatness, but surrender to mediocrity. 

Surrender to mediocrity? That doesn't appeal to me at all.

Curious nevertheless, I watched the clip and I did get Strayed's point. Being a perfectionist may not get you very far. You may wind up with lots and lots of writing done, but nothing good enough to ever pass your own scrutiny. Ergo, you'll never get your book published. Needless to say, the author had triggered my curiosity, and so I drove to Port Townsend to attend one of the free lectures and readings offered by Centrum during the Writers Conference. 

Thanks to an article in the local paper about Strayed's book  Wild  having been chosen as the first title for Oprah's Book Club 2.0 nearly all seats in the Wheeler Theater were taken. A writer friend I spoke to later said none of the other faculty members had drawn such a crowd.

Strayed started off reading a letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in response to a short story Frances Turnbull, daughter of his friends, sent him.
In his P.S. Fitzgerald states:  
I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

Fitzgerald's harsh words made me think of Letters to a Young Poet, published by Franz Kappus, the recipient of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters. How gentle Rilke had been compared to Fitzgerald. But that was really beside the point, what to make of a lecturer who read the letter verbatum instead of quoting part of it, or just the Post Scriptum?

Strayed talked some about her hike from California to Washington State along the Pacific Crest, and the reason for this walkabout, the death of her mother. She may have shared a section of Wild, but I'm not sure. What sticks to my mind is her reading one of the Dear Sugar columns that's published by online magazine The Rumpus.

Riding on the wave of the Wild success Vintage Books saw fit to publish a compilation as Tiny Beautiful Things:Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar.

In her review of the book founder Anna Holmes, states she knows and likes the author, but wonders: 
How, exactly, do I review a book of advice columns? Does the concept of reviewing a book require that I criticize it? What if I like the author but not the book itself? How can I be fair and publicly honor a writer’s hard work while also taking her to task for her book’s shortcomings? What if I botch it? How, exactly, do I do this?
Holmes titled her review, Dear Sugar I Could Really Use Your Help Here. It's funny, and sweet with that bitter undertone of slightly burned caramel.

Strayed at Seattle University book store
Only after reading the tongue in cheek review I understood my confusion a week earlier. Expecting a lecture with original thoughts, I was put off by Strayed reading Fitzgerald's missive to a fan, followed by her own response to a Dear Sugar letter directed at her address. 

What I felt, but not quite got, was that we were attending the presentation of the author's latest book. What I did get, was that I had no business staying at the conference, I had hundreds of  thousands of words waiting to be edited, and I told myself I'd better get with it, keeping Strayed's advice in mind, with a slight adjustment.

Aim, if not for greatness, for perfection. 
Success after all is doing the best you can. 

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

COCA's Heaven and Earth: From Art Installation to Found Art and Essays

Artist Suze Woolf reports from Carkeek Park, where "Tree Futures", her contribution to COCA's Heaven and Earth IV:Rootbound installation underwent a to her most unwelcome change. Read more about it in her post Art Installation or Litter? Her writing, and the comments triggered some thoughts.

Recycling and re-purposing materials is an art form honored by  Matter! Gallery owner Jo Gallagher in Olympia. In the Netherlands I belonged to Taller Amsterdam (as in Tallèr Montevideo, founded in 1963 by a.o. Hector Vilche), an artists collective. We re-cycled our materials for theater performances, production after production, giving new life to matter, and presenting new insights to new and familiar audiences.

Performance art often presents viewers and creators with an opportunity to perceive the change(s) that occur(s) over time. Documenting the change of meaning, as change occurs is an art form in itself.

What's happening with Suze Woolf's installation is interesting. For a viewer/ witness not invested in the initial production, not stuck on/with a certain perception, but rather one welcoming the drama and psychology of change, the body and soul of this installation is not violated, but merely developing into something else, new matter.

In my imagination I see the sequence of work gloves tied around a tree trunk, alien objects for sure, next, piled on the forest floor, next hung high in the tree, next, perhaps pinned on a line strung from tree to tree ...  Who knows, this may become an interesting photo essay, another matter all together. 

As for the person who first made Woolf's installation disappear, and the one (or same) who is responsible for the artist seeing her work "reduced"' to litter, knowing that Suze Woolf's "deep anxiety with climate change on wilderness" triggers a large part of her portfolio, might have made a difference. Or would [wood] it?

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Judy Shintani Chimes in at COCA's Heaven and Earth

Judy Shintani at Kubota Gardens
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in June artist Judy Shintani from Half Moon Bay, California, arrived in Seattle. 
Beside hostess gifts, and the usual, her luggage contained a drill, gold markers, twine, bells, clean oyster shells.

The next day she discovered all other artists participating in COCA Seattle's landscape exhibition Heaven and Earth at Carkeek Park had taken their pick. The best spots in this most northern Seattle city park were taken, or so it seemed. The only place left for Judy's installation was an isolated spot on the eastern side of a barbed wire fence separating the park's grassy mole and woods from railroad tracks and beach.

That evening Shintani, two relatives, and five friends joined forces around a tall table at Chinook's Pub at the Fishermen's Terminal to slurp dressed oysters on the half shell. The cheerful bunch stayed past closing time, yet did not outlast their welcome. And Judy left with a to-go-box filled with her party's share of half shells. The only way she could come by shells for her artwork, was to "empty them" herself; to invite others, share food, drink, stories and laughter was part of her project.

On Thursday Shintani scrubbed the rough shells and drilled holes in mother of pearl at the COCA gallery in Georgetown. Dressed in borrowed rain gear she installed her Ancestor Chimes at the designated spot in Carkeek Park. Treated for once to the —most times mythical— Seattle rain, she held her stand on uneven ground, possibly feeling closer to her family's past than ever.

Ancestor Chimes
As it turned out, that last remaining spot on the COCA Heaven and Earth list of locations —the leftover area, separated from railroad track and Puget Sound by barbed wire— couldn't have been chosen better if it had been on purpose. Isolated outpost, separated from the shore by barbed wire, all elements that enhance Shintani's intention.

Bainbridge Island and the Olympics form the perfect backdrop to Shintani's artwork. The Sound and peninsula coast a poignant reminder of oyster farms abandoned during WWII when Japanese Americans were forced to leave for internment camps, and their Olympics but a memory of home.

Through 10/31 Judy Shintani's Ancestor Chimes will resonate across Puget Sound, reaching, if only in our minds, the Japanese American Memorial site on Bainbridge Island.

This work by Judith van Praag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License