Sunday, March 16, 2014

Status Report: A to Z

Okay, so, once again, I know, it's been, like forever, right? All of January, all of February, half of March. So what's the deal? How come I haven't been posting to Throughlines? I'm besieged by legions of fans (as if) who want to know where I've been, or where I've gone. And so, here's the update. I've been otherwise engaged. I have not been living the sort of life that is conducive to daily reflection.

Why? Because, I have, in the last two and a half months, a) retired, b) moved from Honolulu to California, c) in the process of said move packed all my stuff at that end and d) unpacked it at this end and e) redistributed the stuff in my new home, f) signed up for Medicare and Medigap coverage, g) started working out at one of the local gyms, h) set up my new office/studio, i) retrieved my car from the dock it was shipped to, j) spent two days at the DMV getting the care registered, k) continued with my drawing explorations in something of a new vein, l) gotten hooked into the (excellent) local library collective and m) begun a kind of informal research project that began with Robert Motherwell and has now spilled over to Picasso via a book that Motherwell claims is the one book (see below) that anyone interested in modern art must read, n) started to explore the local environs, o) spent more time at Bed, Bath, and Beyond than at any point previously in my past and hopefully in my future, p) made my first foray by ferry into San Francisco, q) kept up my Tumblr blog, r) spent several days a week in the company of a Golden Retriever puppy named Cassie, s) come to appreciate the manifest virtues of The Container Store, t) become something of an expert on mail-order furniture assembly, u) developed a taste for home-made pizza, v) read half a dozen books, none of which lit me up in quite the way I long to be lit up by what I read, w) began to get a read on local artists and galleries, x) played Scrabble almost every night and Words With Friends every single day, y) fell off the wagon with Instantchess, and z) have finally arrived at the point where the new home feels like home.

So that's my story. And it's true, as far as it goes. Of course, what you have just read is, necessarily, an abstraction, and rife with omissions of every kind. 26 is a random number, and I am, as we all are, under the inevitable constraints of time and energy and focus. Here's Motherwell, writing with typical precision and perceptiveness:

The word "abstract" comes from two Latin words: it literally means "to take from" or "to select from." The only way one could represent completely without selecting would be to make a painted world identical with this world—which I think sometimes certain realist painters really want to do! Let's say your subject is the battle of Gettysburg; if you want to do it realistically, you have to put in every soldier, every cloud, every tree, every bullet, every drop of blood, smell, everything. Even artists who want to represent have to be highly selective in what they do. So, since the essential nature of abstraction is "to select from," obviously the purpose of selection—this I learned from Alfred North Whitehead—is emphasis. In this sense, there is no communication, no work of art, that's not essentially "abstract" by definition, abstracted for the purposes of emphasis.

Writing, in the case of this blog post, as in every other case, is the same. I was reading in the March 17 New Yorker that arrived yesterday a terrific article about Lydia Davis. Dana Goodyear, who wrote the article, at one point is talking with Davis about the dilemma of including too much detail on the one hand or telling it with broad strokes on the other.

Fictionalizing real events, Davis says, has to do with the selection of material, in the way of a teenager recounting to her mother how an evening was spent: "We went over to Joan's house and hung out and listened to music, and then we went to McDonald's." Not the part about the vodka in the orange juice, not the part about the making out. Not a lie, just a different story.

I remember that there used to be a TV show on in the late fifties called The Naked City. The tagline at the end of every show was "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."

Cute, but inaccurate. It was making the assumption that each soul in the city was the source of one story. But take all the individual stories that might be told about each soul, and multiply by the number of ways each of those stories might be told, and you come up with something like infinity squared.

Which leads me back around to the book Motherwell recommended: Life With Picasso by Francoise Gilot, who met Picasso when he was 61 and she was 21. She became his lover, lived with him for ten years, and bore him two children. The book is fascinating both for the story of their lives—they are both fascinating people—and for the many instances in which she is able to unpack Picasso's thinking and working methods. She often seems to be quoting long segments verbatim from a distance of some 35 years, so I don't know how much we can trust that what she says he said is in fact exactly, or even approximately, what he did in fact say. But it's interesting. She also dishes an impressive amount of dirt about the other people hanging around him. It's clear that she's telling a carefully constructed version of events from her own point of view, and you can't help but wonder what she is leaving out (intentionally or unintentionally), nor what stories Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Dora Maar, among many others she includes in her narrative, would have to tell about her. But it is indeed a very good book from any number of angles. I can see why Motherwell recommended it, and I'm glad I'm reading it now.

Okay, that's it for the update. With luck it won't be another three months before I am back in the saddle.

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