Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Savannah does Pete Townsend pinwheels....

So, kids, it's been a busy week. You see, it's just before July 4th and there's much to do for the big bash on Monday. Most of the Guz clan is at the Outer Banks this week, which leaves the Bunster and me to get things ready for the holiday. This evening, I may get a crash course in the Kubota, so I can mow tomorrow. Okay, yeah, maybe 'crash course' was not the best word to use. I hope to crash into nothing. Michael is confident in letting me handle the fields, but not around the houses. Yeah, not so much. I make him nervous when I drive, so with a mower attached to the bottom, I represent an even greater danger. And I probably shouldn't admit that, yes, I can see that. 
Meet my supervisors: Jasper, on the sofa;
Fred, on the floor. This was their most
recent office visit. Apparently, my effort is
"ruff". Is this good or bad...anyone know?

Last night, we went up to visit the bees. I was wearing a tank top. This was a mistake. One especially zealous guard bee, who perhaps forgot that we're the ones who bring her hive sugar syrup, chased me all the way down the hill (all the way), while both my arms apparently did Pete Townsend-style windmills. According to Michael and Cousin Linda, who could see us from her backyard, I was quite the humorous sight. I did get stung--in the middle of my upper back, where I couldn't reach it to get the venom pumper out. So, my yelling was warranted. Michael said, when he got down to me to flick the stinger out (and after he stopped laughing), "Damn. You can really run fast in those flip-flops." There will be no more visiting the hill without my bee suit. Period. No, on second thought, make that an exclamation point.

So, I'm working on Charlotte, as mentioned in my previous post. I'm lengthening and adding scenes, correcting factual inaccuracies, and doing research. As I find scenes in the historical literature, I work on chapters. Yesterday, I found a fascinating article, written for the Block Museum of Art at Northerwestern, titled "Last Expression: Art from Auschwitz" by Guido Fackler. It details the use of music for purposes of psychological degradation in the camps. However, some of the women, in apparently rare cases, would actually use music as a form of resistance. There is documentation of the women singing La Marseillaise on returning from work details, when they were undoubtedly exhausted and sometimes (or perhaps often) forced to carry their dead comrades back to barracks with them. It's this spirit of resistance in the face of apathy and terror that I am most interested in.

Meanwhile, I'm also working on other speculative fiction. I've got a story going this morning about Thomas Bruce, 7th Lord Elgin. You know him. He's the man who has been blamed for theiving away much of the Parthenon freize and pediment sculptures when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1799 and 1803 and when the Turks had little appreciation (and probably a whole lot of disdain) for the work of Phidias. Elgin, who hoped to save these treaures--which eventually inspired sculptors like Canova--suffered a great deal of life misfortune and has been pretty harshly judged by history. So, he's inspired a's part of it.

That night, while composing letters at his writing table, he fell asleep. He dreamed he was back in the darkened sanctuary near the Amazon whose skin had the pale faultlessness of unglazed porcelain. Her gold gown radiated its own warmth, which made him drowsy. He was a youth again, no older than fourteen or fifteen, and lay on his hip beside the reflecting pool, the cool marble against his cheek. In his right hand was a tiny wooden boat, a toy he recognized from his childhood. Languidly, without significantly shifting his position, he set the boat on the surface of the water. When it merely floated calmly on the surface, he pushed it gently with his finger towards the dais opposite him. He vaguely registered that the giantess above him was alive. Her eyes followed him even as her towering body remained entirely still, her face motionless. The boy looked away from boat, which moved steadily towards her. He cast his gaze up to her face, and when his brown eyes met the lapis colored stones representing hers, she leaned forward from her exalted position and whispered to him, “Save me.”

Now, back to work....but before I go, have a video moment. I know, pardon me. I'm again late coming to this party, since, apparently, this has been everywhere. But I have a tendency to get stuck on weird stuff and then put them on repeat play for months on end. Anyway, I just discovered Brandi Carlisle, and HOLY CRAP, the girl has some freaking powerful voice.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Charlotte's Nexus

It's been quiet, I know. So what am I working on, you ask? I'll tell you. (she lays her cards out on the table in a perfect fan shape...look, a full house)

Let's go back in time. It's the late summer of 2007. I'm waiting for the now apparently defunct So New to publish my book, which will eventually become American Soma. It is a long wait, and the book's publication is still two years away, although I don't know this yet. But, darling, that's another story.

Picture me holding a plastic shopping bag, kneeling in a large patch of Blue Lake Bush Beans. I'm picking pods to preserve while Michael replaces pads on my truck in a garage several meters away. That year, we can 75 Ball Jars of Blue Lake Beans, an amazing amount. Picking beans is a Zen activity, requiring little mental effort because the plants are yellow and the beans are thick and green, easy to spot. In this bean patch, I get an idea, which grows from an idea I carried with me on a disc from idea that eventually grows into this.

This new idea hits me in that bean patch so hard it makes me cry. I wonder, for a few moments, about my sanity.

By then, I have started teaching, and during my long drives down Route 7 to Wheeling, I put together the images that comprise the following six flash works, some of which I read at the 5:10 Reading Series in Baltimore a year later:
"Charlotte, Ionized"
"Charlotte, the Apparition"
"Charlotte's Nexus"
"Arrival at the Camp"
"The Doctor Dreams"
"Fugitive Doctor"

After American Soma is finally released (and I beat my head against the wall with the publisher for months afterwards), I stop working on Charlotte's story. Other things eclipse her. I fail to hear her whispering in my ear for a long while.

Charlotte is back. And this time, I will finish her story.

"He himself was smooth-shaven, close-pored, every nail crescent scrubbed white. He brought the smell of clean laundry with him, too. And there was music, beautiful trills and noise her mind tried to record so she could hear it later, at night, when the lights over the wooden bunks were out. She would catch a remembered resonance and hang on to it. Where could it take her? Back into the office, back over the bones and teeth that scattered over the man’s desk? Back to the wash line where her mother stood pinning clothes and dish rags to the white cord that ran between houses? To the man at the dinner table, an uncle, who speared meat with a three-pronged fork and winked at her as he did it?

Did he, this doctor, look very much like my father? She couldn’t remember. She just couldn’t remember. No image came, only a swelling in her throat."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who is Alan F. Reiland?

Recently, I went in to Shaw Galleries, downtown, to see the photography exhibition "Forgotten Witness: The Long Lost Photographs of Pittsburgh Press Photographer Alan F. Rieland". If the arts & entertainment editor at CP can work it out, my article on the show will appear next week. Still waiting for confirmation. In truth, it's not really a review, although I do offer a little qualitative discussion on the power of the photos. Nevertheless, the article talks more about the mystery behind the photographs.

"Complaint Department (Self-Portrait)"
by Alan F. Reiland

image courtesy Kurt Shaw, Shaw Galleries
Who, exactly, is the Pittsburgh Press photographer Alan F. Reiland? He seems to have come from nowhere, left few historical traces, and died in obscurity.

But, wait. Let's back up and talk about how he was 're-discovered' at all. Reiland's 24 or so gelatin silver prints were first found on the floor of the Pittsburgh Press Building, where they had been for decades. They were almost thrown away during the merge with the Post-Gazette in 1992. But some astute soul rescued them, kept them for a decade and then sold them to someone else. This unknown someone-else had an estate sale in 2006. At this very estate sale, Shaw Gallery Owner Kurt Shaw saw them for the first time and purchased them (Please go see the show! It's up until June 30th!).

What appears in the exhibition are the prints (certainly, there are no negatives known to exist) still in their original cream-colored mats. These mats bear shoe prints and broad smudges of dirt. Remember, they were lying on the floor of the press building since the 1960s, so essentially, part of their physical history is also on display.

Shaw told me that in anticipation of the exhition, he'd done some research, attempting to track down Reiland over the previous five years. Based on Shaw's (and now my own) search of Social Security records, we know he was born in 1927 and died in Munhall, a borough adjacent to Homestead, on August 30, 1996. But when Shaw contacted neighbors in Munhall and a local upholstery company that goes by the name of Reiland, no one knew the man or even remembered him. Apparently, he had no surviving relatives.

I like a good mystery. And I'll admit that I've developed a fascination with Reiland over the past days, since I spoke with Kurt Shaw and saw the photographs. How can a man appear and disappear, just like that? Certainly there have to be census records, payroll records. Did the man bud, fully formed, from someone's head or perhaps land from the sky? Well, I finally signed up for, and I got more information: his social security number, his old phone number, and two separate residence addresses. But that's about it. There's no evidence of co-habitation with anyone, no evidence of children, no evidence that he ever had a father or mother. In fact, before 1983, there seems to be no mention of him at all, unless he changed his name from Alaric, which I suppose is entirely possible. Yet Alan's birth date is firm, while Alaric's carries the dubious 'about' designation and is a year later than Alan's. So, the mystery continues.

Next week, I plan to do some more investigating at the Carnegie Library's Pennsylvania Room, where I'll scan a specific part of the microfilm collection. In the meantime, I've included a picture above, a staged picture that he took. It is intended as a self-portrait and suggests his sense of humor. Its title, of course, is "Complaints Department".

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Me, milking a cow....

First, wanna see something funny? Here it is....

Yep, that's me milking a fake cow. Details below.
  That's me, milking a fake cow. Believe it or not, there was actually liquid of some sort in that... well, is udder actually the appropriate word when something is made of rubber? (Note the Purell hand sanitizer dispenser to my right, like they're real...well, udders. I did, however, dutifully use it). So, where exactly am I performing this (possibly inappropriate) act? Well, the York Agricultural and Industrial Museum.

Michael and I visited my folks this past weekend back in York, which is in south-central Pennsylvania, close to the Maryland line (I grew up 40 minutes from Gettysburg, and less than an hour from Baltimore...I say less than an hour because I used to speed down to Towson in record time for about two months in the summer of 2005, for reasons I now happily consider 'water under the bridge'). We had a wonderful time with my folks this weekend, visiting the Historical Society Museum, the Bonham House, and the Ag & Industry Museum, which--even though I was a high school docent at the Gates House and Plough Tavern back in the early 1990s--has changed so much I barely recogize it. I can still recite the beginning of my own tour spiel, though: "In 1741, when Thomas Cookson founded the town of York, Martin Eichelberger bought the plot of land on which he built the Plough Tavern...."

I could go on. I won't.

However, I do want to give a shout out to the ever awesome Left Bank Restaurant, where Mom and Dad treated us to dinner. Their food is amazing. The restaurant has been around for years now, and it never disappoints. I actually got there before my folks did back in my 'dating days' in the three years following my move back from D.C. in 2002. Still, the food and atmosphere has gotten even better than I ever remember it being.

Monday, June 6, 2011

So you're thinking...

What the heck have you been doing, girl? No posts for days and then these little piddling things...

Well, I've been spending some additional time over here. I've also been working around our homestead a whole lot. There's gardening work to do every evening. You can also see the bee-related work we've been doing at the blog connected to the words 'over here' in the first sentence of this paragraph. And of course, I've been cooking. I cook a lot, and that also means I do a lot of dishes. Time at the sink is time away from the 'puter, you know?

Anyway, I do have some very good news on the writing front. My story, "The Balance of Power" has just been accepted into a Silverthought anthology, edited by Becci Noblit Goodall. Silverthought is an independent press specializing in speculative fiction, of which I seem to be writing more and more. But then again, doesn't the world seem to be getting increasingly surreal? What seems sci-fi-worthy is, lately, becoming increasingly believable.

There are other things in the works, and I'll keep you updated as things develop!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Haunting Picture

Michael and I went to auction on Friday night, and we won a small book of post cards, many of them from the turn of the last century and the early 1900s.

There are approximately five photograph post cards in the larger collection. Included among these are several humorous images of children and one of a doughboy in front of a painted screen intended to simulate a garden setting.

However, it was this one, the one above that leaves me a little speechless when I look at it. I'll be using a scanned enlargement of the couple in an assemblage like this one.

This one breathes history and has this amazing atompshere about it that I can't yet put into words. There are stories in those faces, in the ticking of the man's military coat, in the stiffness of the fabric in the woman's dress, in the wedding ring on the man's thin finger, in the glasses the woman holds nearly out of sight. Her eyes are so dark they seem to hold off questions. There's a whole world of clues, including who he is. See, it's all on the back.

But I this woman his mother or his wife? It's hard for me to tell. The letter is addressed to his mother....he uses 'I', not 'we' to indicate a wife. Still, there's a proprietary nature about the way he sits, hugging the woman on the chair arm, his chin down, his head tipped towards her. And yet, there's a kind of maternal pride in the woman's posture, a "this is my son" gravity. Funny, too, is that it's addressed hastily, but not stamped. Perhaps it was in an envelope with another letter? Or maybe it was never sent at all. What is the real story? Would I be disappointed if I found out?