Ktismatics

29 May 2011

Singin’ Again

Filed under: Movies, Reflections — ktismatics @ 5:30 pm

This afternoon as I was finishing up my run I saw that a canopy had been set up in the high school parking lot. Under the canopy were a large cooler, a folding table with a variety of snacks arrayed on it, and a guy sitting in a lawn chair. He greeted me as I approached, and I asked him what was up. A feature film is being shot in the school, he told me, and this is the refreshment area. You know Malcolm McDowell? He’s in it, the refreshment guy informed me. I nodded and told him that coincidentally I had just been humming “Singin’ in the Rain” to myself while running. He paused a second, then he smiled. That’s perverse, he said. I thanked him and walked the rest of the way home.

Apparently the distributor has disabled the embedding string for the relevant scene in Clockwork Orange, so here’s the link.  The new movie they’re shooting here is called Mind’s Eyehere’s the website.

UPDATE: After showering and dressing and writing this post I strolled back to the high school. The front door was unlocked so I went in. I watched a scene being filmed: a young woman, presumably playing a teacher, walks down the stairs carrying a cup of coffee, a boom mic following her progress down near her feet. I passed through one of the corridors, along which had been posted at fairly wide intervals sheets of paper announcing “Mind’s Eye Film Set.” I walk past the costume and make-up room, occupied by a couple of crew members. As I entered the orchestra room I passed a guy who said “Woo, that was refreshing. How ya doing?” Fine, I replied. I looked around a bit more, then left. No sign of Malcolm McDowell. Maybe I’ll stop by again tomorrow.

30 MAY UPDATE: Unfortunately the first person I encountered at the high school this morning was someone I know: the film teacher. In addition to wrangling extras and running errands for the pros, this teacher is apparently also in charge of keeping the set closed while Malcolm is in the building. Because he knew me, he knew I wasn’t someone on the crew he hadn’t met yet — which gave him the opportunity to wield his authoritah. Today is McDowell’s last day on the set, but the shoot continues all month, so maybe I’ll try again later in the week. In my admittedly limited experience, however, watching a film being shot is really boring. A star sighting might be more fun, even if that star has faded and the film is in all likelihood destined for direct-to-DVD.

LATER THAT DAY… Again I chatted with the snack wrangler, who informed me that Malcolm McDowell had wrapped his scenes. I was told that Mr. McD was very gracious and signed autographs before leaving town. Arriving later this week is Dean Cane, who apparently played Superman on a TV series late last century. I never saw that show and know nothing else of Mr. Cane.

28 May 2011

Singin’ in the Rain by Kelly & Donen, 1952

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 5:44 pm

23 May 2011

Gradhats

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:50 am

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!

– Othello, Act III, Scene III

See that kid, fifth row, fourth from the far end? That’s our daughter Kenzie! I don’t know how much pomp and circumstance surround high school graduation in other countries, but this is how it’s done in the US of A, dammit. Unfortunately, Elgar’s name is spelled “Elger” in the Commencement program. In fairness, however, it should also be noted that the name of the school newspaper is The Royal Banner.

Oh what the hell…

21 May 2011

The Stranger by Camus, 1942

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 5:51 pm

When we were nearly home I saw old Salamano on the doorstep; he seemed very excited. I noticed that his dog wasn’t with him. He was turning like a teetotum, looking in all directions, and sometimes peering into the darkness of the hall with his little bloodshot eyes. Then he’d mutter something to himself and start gazing up and down the street again. Raymond asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t answer at once. Then I heard him grunt, “The bastard! The filthy cur!” When I asked him where his dog was, he scowled at me and snapped out, “Gone!” A moment later, all of a sudden, he launched out into it. “I’d taken him to the Parade Ground as usual. There was a fair on, and you could hardly move for the crowd. I stopped at one of the booths to look at the Handcuff King. When I turned to go, the dog was gone. I’d been meaning to get a smaller collar, but I never thought the brute could slip it and get away like that.”

Raymond assured him the dog would find its way home, and told him stories of dogs that had traveled miles and miles to get back to their masters. But this seemed to make the old fellow even more worried than before. “Don’t you understand, they’ll do away with him; the police, I mean. It’s not likely anyone will take him in and look after him; with all those scabs he puts 
everybody off.” I told him that there was a pound at the police station, where stray dogs are taken. His dog was certain to be there and he could get it back on payment of a small charge. He asked me how much the charge was, but there I couldn’t help him. Then he flew into a rage again. “Is it likely I’d give money for a mutt like that? No damned fear! They can kill him, for all I care.” And he went on calling his dog the usual names. Raymond gave a laugh and turned into the hall. I followed him upstairs, and we parted on the landing. A minute or two later I heard Salamano’s footsteps and a knock on my door. When I opened it, he halted for a moment in the doorway. “Excuse me … I hope I’m not disturbing you.” I asked him in, but he shook his head. He was staring at his toe caps, and the gnarled old hands were trembling. Without meeting my eyes, he started talking. “They won’t really take him from me, will they, Monsieur Meursault? Surely they wouldn’t do a thing like that. If they do—I don’t know what will become of me.” I told him that, so far as I knew, they kept stray dogs in the pound for three days, waiting for their owners to call for them. After that they disposed of the dogs as they 
thought fit. He stared at me in silence for a moment, then said, “Good evening.” After that I heard him pacing up and down his room for quite a while. Then his bed creaked. Through the wall there came to me a little wheezing sound, and I guessed that he was weeping. For some reason, I don’t know what, I began thinking of Mother. But I had to get up early next day; so, as I wasn’t feeling hungry, I did without supper, and went straight to bed.

18 May 2011

The Haunting of Hill House by Jackson, 1959

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines — ktismatics @ 8:29 am

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

[. . .]

It was the custom, rigidly adhered to,” Luke said, turning the brandy in his glass, “for the public executioner, before a quartering, to outline his knife strokes in chalk upon the belly of his victim — for fear of a slip, you understand.”

I would like to hit her with a stick, Eleanor thought, looking down on Theodora’s head beside her chair; I would like to batter her with rocks.

“An exquisite refinement, exquisite. Because of course the chalk strokes would have been almost unbearable, excruciating, if the victim were ticklish.”

I hate her, Eleanor thought, she sickens me; she is all washed and clean and wearing my red sweater.

“When the death was by hanging in chains, however, the executioner…”

“Nell?” Theodora looked up at her and smiled. “I really am sorry, you know,” she said.

I would like to watch her dying, Eleanor thought, and smiled back and said, “Don’t be silly.”

16 May 2011

Revolutionary Road by Yates, 1961

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 9:39 pm

John watched his mother, head cocked to one side, and when he had swallowed his last mouthful he cut her off in mid-sentence.

“You a lawyer, Frank?”

“Me? A lawyer? No. Why?”

“Hoping you might be, is all. I could use a lawyer. Whaddya do, then? Advertising man, or what?”

“No. I work for Knox Business Machines.”

“Whaddya do there? You design the machines, or make them, or sell them, or repair them, or what?”

“Sort of help sell them, I guess. I don’t really have much to do with the machines themselves; I work in the office. Actually it’s sort of a stupid job. I mean there’s nothing — you know, interesting about it, or anything.”

“Interesting?” John Givings seemed offended by the word. “You worry about whether a job is ‘interesting’ or not? I thought only women did that. Women and boys. Didn’t have you figured that way.”

“Oh, look, the sun’s coming out!” Mrs. Givings cried. She jumped up, went to the picture window and peered through it, her back very rigid. “Maybe we’ll see a rainbow. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

The skin at the back of Frank’s neck was prickling with annoyance. “All I meant,” he explained, “is that I don’t like the job and never have.”

“Whaddya do it for, then. Oh, okay okay –” John Givings ducked his head and weakly raised one hand as if in a hopeless attempt to ward off the bludgeon of public chastisement. “Okay; I know; it’s none of my business. This is what old Helen calls Being Tactless, Dear. That’s my trouble, you see; always has been. Forget I said it. You want to play house, you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, then you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed. Are we all agreed there, Helen?”

“Oh look, there is a rainbow,” Mrs. Givings said, “– or no, wait, I guess it isn’t — oh, but it’s perfectly lovely in the sunshine. Why don’t we all take a walk?”

“As a matter of fact,” Frank said, “you’ve pretty well put your finger on it, John. I agree with everything you said just now. We both do. That’s why I’m quitting my job in the fall and that’s why we’re taking off.”

John Givings looked incredulously from Frank to April and back again. “Yeah? Taking off where? Oh, hey, yeah, wait a minute — she did say something about that. You’re going to Europe, right? Yeah, I remember. She didn’t say why, though; she just said it was ‘very strange.'” And all at once he split the air — very nearly split the house, it seemed — with a bray of laughter. “Hey, how about that, Ma? Still seem ‘very strange’ to you? Huh?”

“Steady down, now,” Howard Givings said gently from his corner. “Steady down, son.”

But John ignored him.

“Boy!” he shouted. “Boy, I bet this whole conversation seems very, very strange to you, huh, Ma?”

They had grown so used to the bright, chirping sound of Mrs. Givings’ voice that day that her next words came as a shock, addressed to the picture window and spoken in a wretchedly tight, moist whimper: “Oh John, please stop.”

Howard Givings got up and shuffled across the room to her. One of his white, liver-spotted hands made a motion as if to touch her, but he seemed to think better of it and the hand dropped again. They stood close together, looking out the window; it was hard to tell whether they were whispering or not. Watching them, John’s face was still ebullient with the remnants of his laughter.

“Look,” Frank said uneasily, “maybe we ought to take a walk or something.” And April said, “Yes, let’s.”

“Tell you what,” John Givings said. “Why don’t the three of us take a walk, and the folks can stay here and wait for their rainbow. Ease the old tension all around.”

He loped across the carpet to retrieve his cap, and on the way back he veered sharply with an almost spastic movement to the place where his parents stood, his right fist describing a wide, rapid arc toward his mother’s shoulder. Howard Givings saw it coming and his glasses flashed in fright for an instant, but there was no time to interfere before the fist landed — not in a blow but in a pulled-back, soft, affectionate cuffing against the cloth of her dress.

“See you later, then, Ma,” he said. “Stay as sweet as you are.”

Up in the woods behind the house, steaming in the sun, the newly rainwashed earth gave off an invigorating fragrance. The Wheelers and their guest, relaxing in an unexpected sense of camaraderie, had to walk single file on the hill and pick their way carefully among the trees; the slightest nudge of an overhanging branch brought down a shower of raindrops, and the glistening bark of passing twigs was apt to leave grainy black smears on their clothing. After a while they quit the woods and walked slowly around the back yard. The men did most of the talking; April listened, staying close to Frank’s arm, and more than once he noticed, glancing down at her, that her eyes were bright with what looked like admiration for the things he was saying.

The practical side of the Europe plan didn’t seem to interest John Givings, but he was full of persistent questions about their reasons for going; and once, when Frank said something about “the hopeless emptiness of everything in this country,” he came to a stop on the grass and looked thunderstruck.

“Wow,” he said. “Now you’ve said it. The hopeless emptiness. Hell, plenty of people are on to the emptiness part; out where I used to work, on the Coast, that’s all we ever talked about. We’d sit around talking about emptiness all night. Nobody ever said ‘hopeless,’ though; that’s where we’d chicken out. Because maybe it does take a certain amount of guts to see the hopelessness. And I guess when you do see the hopelessness, that’s when there’s nothing to do but take off. If you can.”

“Maybe so,” Frank said. But he was beginning to feel uncomfortable again; it was time to change the subject. “I hear you’re a mathematician.”

“You hear wrong. Taught it for a while, that’s all. Anyway, it’s all gone now. You know what electrical shock treatments are? Because, you see, the past couple months I’ve had thirty-five — or no, wait — thirty-seven –” He squinted at the sky with a vacant look, trying to remember the number. In the sunlight, Frank noticed for the first time that the creases in his cheeks were really the scars of a surgeon’s lancet, and that other areas of his face were blotched and tough with scar tissue. At one time in his life his face had probably been a mass of boils and cists. “– thirty-seven electrical shock treatments. The idea is to jolt all the emotional problems out of your mind, you see, but in my case they had a different effect. Jolted out all the God-damned mathematics. Whole subject’s a total blank.”

“How awful,” April said.

“‘How awful.‘” John Givings mimicked her in a mincing, effeminate voice and then turned on her with a challenging smirk. “Why?” he demanded. “Because mathematics is so ‘interesting’?”

“No,” she said. “Because the shocks must be awful and because it’s awful for anybody to forget something they want to remember. As a matter of fact, I think mathematics must be very dull.”

He stared at her for a long time, and nodded with approval. “I like your girl, Wheeler,” he announced at last. “I get the feeling she’s female. You know what the difference between female and feminine is? Huh? Well here’s a hint: a feminine woman never laughs out loud and always shaves her armpits. Old Helen in there is feminine as hell. I’ve only met about half a dozen females in my life, and I think you got one of them here. Course, come to think of it, that figures. I get the feeling you’re male. There aren’t too many males around, either.”

12 May 2011

Homeless City

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:09 pm

Another “invisible city”: the homeless. They don’t live anywhere in particular, and so it seems as though they live nowhere at all. But they live here, as much a part of our town as I am. Some of them stay for a few weeks before moving on; others have lived here for twenty years. They might sleep in the shelter or under a highway overpass or in the park; they might have a P.O. box and a cell phone and a notebook computer; they might even have a job. They are subject to, and protected by, the same laws as I am. They just don’t have a permanent residence.

But you already know this in a general sense. Here are some particulars about this invisible city in my town.

Boulder Colorado has a population of about 100 thousand. There is a homeless shelter on the north edge of town that can accommodate 120 people overnight. The shelter is open from October through April, an interval during which overnight temperatures typically fall below freezing. The shelter is closed during the daytime. No individual can stay more than 90 nights at the shelter during any one season. The shelter is closed during the daytime; everyone must leave for the day and return at night. (Wouldn’t want the homeless people to feel like the shelter is home, would we?) No one with substance problems can stay at the shelter. From May through September the shelter is closed.

The real estate crash and the jump in unemployment have resulted in an increase in homelessness. Consequently, the homeless shelter is no longer big enough to meet the need for shelter during the cold season. In response, some homeless people and some religious people have put together a network of churches/synagogues to serve as warming centers. A nonprofit organization called BOHO coordinates this network and its services. (My wife Anne is a board member, which is how I know about BOHO.) Each night one of the participating organizations opens its doors for overnight accommodation, providing floor space, blankets, heat, and sometimes food. A few homeless guys do the setup and take-down, clean up afterward, and provide low-level security overnight. The next night the warming center relocates to one of the other churches/synagogues — a homeless shelter that is itself homeless. Substance abusers are not prohibited. During the season that just ended this temporary shelter network was open for 150 nights and housed an average of more than 70 people per night, for a total of  11,000 total guest-nights. There was a handful of police interventions and one death (accidental overdose).

Now it’s May: the season is over; the shelter is closed. Presumably for the next few months the homeless can sleep outdoors without freezing to death. Problem is, there’s a law in Boulder that prohibits camping on public property. And of course unauthorized camping on someone else’s property is also illegal. That means that the homeless people of Boulder have nowhere to sleep legally. Violators of the no-camping law are given a ticket and a $100 fine. If the ticketed person fails to pay the fine he or she is jailed. Ordinarily the judge hands down a sentence of community service, but since the homeless person had no money to pay the fine he also can’t pay bail. That means staying in jail until the court date, which also means racking up costs for jail and court time amounting to at least $2,000 per case. It’s the criminalization of homelessness, at public expense. The ACLU has taken on the issue, and there has been some public outcry.

So here’s the proposal that BOHO is exploring: During the warm season, participating churches/synagogues make their parking lots or grounds available as campgrounds for the homeless people. Again, the campgrounds will rotate from site to site each night. Again, the work crew of homeless guys will do setup, take-down, and security. The city attorney is on board with this plan. However, the city managers don’t want to pay BOHO to run this program, which mostly means refusing to pay the work crew of homeless guys. So if this camping scheme is going to happen this year, either the crew will have to volunteer or private contributions will have to cover the costs.

In planning meetings the city bureaucrats seem more concerned about the neighbors’ reactions than about providing a place for the homeless people to sleep legally and safely. No one from the city seems to be exploring the possibility of keeping the homeless shelter open during the warm season, which would certainly help. The shelter is staffed by full-timers who get paid far more than do the cobbled-together BOHO crew. Interestingly, the shelter staff gets paid during the summer even when the shelter itself is closed. Makes you wonder whether the city is paying the shelter to limit access by its designated clientele…

Anne is busily writing BOHO’s proposal to the city, due midnight Sunday, to cover next year’s indoor cold season and outdoor warm season. The city also wants projections for the subsequent two years. I’d say Anne should budget with the assumption that homelessness will continue to be a growth industry for at least that long. In all likelihood the city will agree to pay only a fraction of BOHO’s costs, even though those costs are a fraction of the homeless shelter’s costs.

10 May 2011

With Cities as with Dreams

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 4:52 pm

“…from the number of imaginary cities we must exclude those whose elements are assembled without a connecting thread, an inner rule, a discourse. With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, its fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

“I have neither desires nor fears,” the Khan declared, “and my dreams are composed either by my mind or by chance.”

“Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

“Or the question it asks you, forcing you to answer, like Thebes through the mouth of the Sphinx.”

– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, 1972

9 May 2011

The Dream Made Exterior

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:48 am

So that you won’t believe I write in order to publish, or even to make art. I write because writing is the end, the supreme refinement, the temporally illogical refinement, of my cultivation of moods. If I take up one of my sensations and pull it apart until with its threads I can weave it into the interior reality I call the Forest of Alienation or the Voyage Never Taken, believe me, I do it not so that my prose sounds lucid and tremulous, or even so that I enjoy myself with the prose — although I do want that too, I add that final refinement too, like a beautiful curtain closing on my dreamed stage sets — but in order to give complete exteriority to what is internal, so that I can in that way realize what cannot be realized, conjoin the contradictory, and with the dream made exterior, give it its maximum power of pure dream, stagnator of life that I am, engraver of inexactitudes, sick page of my Queen soul, reading to it at dusk not the poems that in the book open on my knees, on my Life, but the poems I make up as I go along, pretending that I read them, and she pretending to hear, while the Afternoon out there, I don’t know how or where, sweetens above this metaphor erected within me in Absolute Reality the tenuous and final light of a mysterious spiritual day.

– Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet

6 May 2011

Tips on Becoming a Triumphant Hero of Art

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:07 pm

For someone who makes dreams into life and turns the hothouse nurturing of his sensations into a religion and a politics, for such a one the first step is to feel minimal things extraordinarily and out of proportion…

Creating something witty and adding an immediate complexity to the simplest, fatal sensations leads, I said, if it augments the pleasure that feeling gives immoderately, to increase the suffering that comes from feeling out of proportion. For that reason the second step of the dreamer would be to avoid suffering. He shouldn’t avoid it as a stoic or an epicurean of the first type would, that is, by abandoning his childhood nest, because he will harden with regard to pleasure as to pain. On the contrary, he should seek out pain and pleasure and instantly go on to educate himself to feel pain falsely, that is, have, when feeling pain, some sort of pleasure. Various paths lead to this mode of being. One is to apply oneself exaggeratedly to the analysis of pain, having beforehand prepared his spirit in the face of pleasure not to analyze but merely to feel; it’s an easier mode than the superior ones, of course, easier than it seems in saying it. Analyzing pain and, whenever it appears, habituating oneself to turning it over (until this takes place instinctively) to analysis adds to pain the pleasure of analysis. Once the power and the instinct of analysis is exaggerated, its exercise soon absorbs everything, and only an indefinite material remains of pain for analysis.

Another method, this one more subtle and more difficult, is to accustom oneself to personify the pain in a certain ideal figure. Create another Ego inside us that will be in charge of suffering, to suffer whatever we suffer. Then create an internal sadism, completely masochistic, to enjoy its own suffering as if it were someone else’s. This method — whose first aspect, on being read, is impossible — is not easy, but it is far from containing difficulties for those trained in internal lying. But it is eminently realizable. And once all this has been achieved, what a taste of blood and sickness, what a strange bitterness of distant, decadent pleasure cover the pain and suffering: pain becomes linked with the disquiet and the angry climax of our spasms. Suffering, long and slow suffering, has the intimate yellow of the vague happiness in deeply felt convalescence. And a refinement consumed with disquiet and sickness makes that complex sensation resemble the anxiety caused by pleasure and the idea that pleasure will flee and resemble the illness that pleasures draw from the prefatigue that is born from thinking about the fatigue they will provoke.

There is a third method for subtilizing pain into pleasure and making anxieties into a soft bed. It consists in giving to anxieties and suffering, by means of an irritated application of attention, an intensity so great that because of its very excess it brings the pleasure of excess (just as it arises during violence) to someone who, because of his soul’s habit and education, vows and dedicates himself to pleasure, the pleasure that pains because it is so much pain, the pleasure that tastes of blood because it inflicts wounds. And when, as in me — refiner that I am of false refinements, architect who constructs himself out of sensations subtilized through intelligence, through abdicating from life, through analysis and his own pain — all three methods are used at the same time, when one pain, felt immediately, and without hesitation for intimate strategy, is analyzed to the point of absolute dryness, placed in an Ego exterior to the point of tyranny, and buried in me to the maximum point of being pain, I truly feel myself to be a triumphant hero. At that point, life for me is over, and art throws itself at my feet.

– Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet

3 May 2011

Frozen River by Hunt, 2008

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 8:41 am

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