in which witness is borne: birds, politics, fiction and critical art theory

quest for fire

Monday, January 31, 2005
anyone seen the worst movie ever made? title: Quest for Fire? well, my significant other believes this film is a work of genius. we subscribe to Netflix, which for the uninitiated is actually a new form of couples extortion("Well if you expect me to sit through that subtitled Cro-Magnon shite for two hours, then you're going to have to watch my favorite 1970s Disney-flying-van-at-the-end movie and you're going to LIKE it!") In that heartwarmingly generous spirit i watched the crime against film that is Quest for Fire, about 6 months ago, and promptly purged it from my brain.

Anyway this posting is NOT about that movie. It is about this morning, 6:55 AM: I arose with the alarm, walked zombishly to the coffee maker, switched it on, walked to the thermostat, turned it back up from 62 to 68, and climbed back into bed, whereupon i turned to S. and said, "I..Make..Fire." To which I received the following response: "Oo...Ogh-Oogh (grunted loudly). This, friends, now makes that 2-hour filmic journey into our primate past seem ALMOST worthwhile.
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answers with no question: pigeons

Saturday, January 29, 2005
another bird story, this one from Amber. She told me she was standing on the el platform the other day and someone walked by, dropping a bit of pizza crust near her shoe. She looked down and thought, eew.
Within moments, a pigeon had arrived on the scene, neck pumping with greed, to pick apart the delicious morsel. Amber, equal parts horrified and fascinated, observed as it eyed her menacingly. Suddenly into her field of vision came a large flock of the birds, swiftly diving for her feet and instantly beginning to squabble over the tasty crust. Amber looked up from the melee to see the faces of the people on the platform wrinkling their noses in disgust. Perhaps they assumed Amber was feeding the birds, perhaps not.
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Thursday, January 27, 2005
at our meeting the other night, the subject of pigeons came up as a possible locus for our collaborative thesis project. i had done a project on them last winter/spring (see my website "Feed" project for images) which explored the parasitic existence of pigeons in comparison with the parasitic existence of babies. Anyway.
we had been talking about the perception among most people that we as human beings are at the top of a hierarchy of lifeforms, the lowly pigeon being one of many "lower" such forms, and that isn't it interesting that our urban built environment seems to support only a few bird species--the pigeon being one. And if pigeons and humans are about the only flourishing beings in the city--
And if pigeons are, due to their ubiquitousness, their filth, their willingness to exist on White Castle burger buns and discarded McNuggets, "flying rats;"
Then what does that make us?
just asking.

well. the last of the espresso having just passed my lips, it's time to throw on the trusty 15-winter Green Marshmallow coat and shovel the cloud excrement that is now coating the sidewalk. sigh.
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Dispatch from Ten Minutes From Now

Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Boy, do I feel refreshed! After a long day of sitting at the keyboard with occasional trips to the hallway to check for secret listeners, chat with the part time faculty, and go to the bathroom, I finally made it out here to the street, where giant flakes of snow are tantalizingly kissing my hair and skin. How good it feels to be out of fluorescent lighting! Why, just ten minutes ago I was hunched in my chair, cursing the slowness of the day and ritually pulling out single hairs from the top of my head.
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talking bad--writing ok

Tuesday, January 25, 2005
another bleary eyed weekday here in the flatlands. not much to see from my window, a few starlings, pigeons, your occasional crow. been waking a bit earlier this week, so, i've declared a moratorium on speech for the first hour or so that i'm awake. creeping around in silence like that lady from the Yellow Wallpaper feels juuust about right at this time of the morning.
having acupuncture yesterday reminded me that i still inhabit a bodily form, and that it might be cool to highlight, amplify, record or otherwise present to whatever public might be at all interested some internal or hidden process of that body. something as important as the breath, which i have already explored using my drawings. and then to somehow use that bodily process to de-hierarchify my place among the animals--maybe by juxtaposing it with animal bodily processes, perhaps.

i learned something yesterday: the Patriot Act (it's almost too early in the morning to say "patriot act", innit?) is set to EXPIRE at the end of this year. That is, unless congress decides to once again forget who writes their paychecks (you and me, friends) and vote the thing back to life. So let;s all add this little item to our New Year's Resolution lists for 2005, shall we: let's issue some gentle reminders to our representatives in Washington that just because the Emperor has no clothes, they are not obligated to pretend that he does, nor should they again try to clothe him in "special executive powers" that violate our Constitution. Let him freeze in the cold cold weather he himself created.
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hiccuping memory

Monday, January 24, 2005
ever have one of those moments where you feel like you remember things a certain way--something about your childhood home, the way your family was together, a specific incident on the playground at school--and someone else who was involved tells you they remember it completely differently?
does somebody have to be right?
the great secret in my life right now is that i'm reading Herodotus. Only one other person knows i am doing this, as i seem to have regressed back to 6th grade when i hid from everyone the fact that i had finished reading David Copperfield, a fact which would have branded me even more deeply with the mark of being such a freak of nature that i would in all likelihood have been reclassified as an alien life form and thus have been given my own set of "germs," which could then be spread around with malicious glee by the school's vanguard of mediocrity, as they had been doing to Connor Meltzer ("You've got Connor germs!") since the 4th grade.
In any case, Herodotus is a tricky guy. He lived about four hundred years after Homer, and he is the writer of the "Histories," including a famous history of the Persian-Greek wars, and his books were popularized in Europe during the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century (he's quoted in the English Patient by Ondaatje). I guess people sort of stopped reading him, though, when they realized that there was no WAY most of the stuff Herodotus claimed could possibly be true, and that he had to have been repeating what would now be considered urban myths. A wild boar larger than fifty men rampaging in the fields, &c.
WEll, says I , SFW?
Who gets to say what happened and what didn't? From someone's perspective, that boar probably WAS as big as fifty men, bigger even! Maybe what Herodotus was doing was poking at our flimsy construction of reality, pointing to our misperception that objective truth of ANY sort is to be found in the collective memory. i'm not sure.
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juncos, white throats and northern cardinal

Saturday, January 22, 2005
today at the feeder:
and the usual many, many house sparrows and pigeons.
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I Am Andrew Phillips' New Next of Kin!

Now, I should mention to the more greedy of you that you might feel yourself becoming a little bit jealous of me as you read this post. If this should happen, I completely understand and promise not to hold it against you. Because who WOULDN'T be jealous of someone, like myself, who just inherited 12 MILLION DOLLARS?? And from the completely unexpected source of poor 1998 airplane crash victim Andrew Phillips. Thank God for the generosity of people like Mr. Cheng who recognize that in cases such as this, of unclaimed fortunes sitting idly in foreign bank accounts with no apparent next of kin of the deceased account holder, it is always better to find a needy individual such as myself to tie up the loose ends, rather than to needlessly sacrifice a large percentage of the money to taxes.
To Wit: I received this amazing luck in my email inbox this morning. May all your problems be solved in similar fashion one day. I love you all, i really do.
--mar mar

Mr. Jun Cheng,
Bank Of Korea,
16-1, Yoido-dong,
Seoul 150-873.

Dear Friend
I am Jun Cheng a manager of bills/exchange at the foreign remittance department of Hanivitbank. In my department, we discovered an abandoned sum of $44,700,000.00 (Forty Four Million, Seven Hundred Thousand United State Dollars only) in an account that belonged to one Late Mr Andrew Phillips an American, who died along with his entire family, on November 1998, in a ghastly plane crash. Since we got the information about his death, we have been expecting his next-of-kin to come over and file a claim as next of kin over his money because we can not release it unless somebody applied for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines.
Unfortunately, nobody has come forward to claim this money. It is based on this that some officials in my department and I have decided to establish a cordial business relationship with you, hence by contacting you. We want you to present yourself as the next of kin to Late Mr Andrew Phillips, so that the funds can be remitted into your account. Moreover, we do not want the money to go into the government account as unclaimed bills. The banking law and guidelines here stipulates that any account abandoned or is dormant for a period of years, is deemed closed and all money contained therein forfeited to the government treasury account.
Now, it is being speculated that the above sum will be transferred into the government account as an unclaimed fund on or before the end of this financial quarter of 2005, when nobody come forward to lay claims. The reason for requesting your assistance, is occasioned by, the fact that the deceased (Late Mr Andrew Phillips) was a foreigner, and we have access to his detailed bio data which you will hold as a weapon to present yourself as the next of kin to Late Mr Andrew Phillips.
The mode of sharing after a successful transfer of the money into your account, shall be 70% to my colleagues and I, for the role you will be expected to play in this deal, we have agreed to give you 25% of the total sum and 5% for the expenses we are going to encounter by the two parties in the course of this transaction. Therefore,you are expected to reply this letter indicating your readiness and interest to participate in this business. After receiving your reply, you will be communicated to with the exact steps to take. I expect your urgent response and I shall contact you for further discussion on this matter,to enable us conclude this transaction urgently without any delay or hitch. Please treat this business proposal as strictly confidential for security reasons considering my official position in Bank of Korea.
Personal Regards,
Mr. Jun Cheng

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sharp-shinned and Downy

Thursday, January 20, 2005
went out to Grant park this afternoon and saw...nothing. NOt for a long time, at least. I continued bravely on to the frozen-solid lake, where i observed several gulls who looked as miserable as i was, and then began the hike back up to Michigan avenue, when i saw what appeared to be a downy woodpecker alight on some tiny branches and start picking away. He was alone, joyfully so it seemed.
Nothing more as i slogged through the park, nothing more as the snow drove into my nostrils and the sky darkened, nothing nothing nothing.
As i turned back on to Mich. Ave., heading into the School building, i turned one last time to face the museum.
Perched atop the center spire of the rooftop over the entrance to the Art Institute was an adult Sharp Shinned Hawk.
Good Birding,
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making book

Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Many thanks to dear Abbyg. (of Drop Earrings fame) for showing me (and a roomful of wannabe temp tutors--long story) how to make a book from a single piece of paper. i made one today from some sketches and typewritten mumblings and it don't look half bad. i'll have to get more of these made & get 'em up on the website so people can order 'em (for free of course--though stamps would help a bunch.).
of course as the fever subsided once & for all yesterday the self-doubt monster crept into its place.
so lets unpack a bit, shall we, what it is that is on the mind of Mar-Mar:
under the influence of stan allen, jacques derrida and anne carson and, vaguely, jean baudrillard, bertrand russell, and hermann hesse, we come to the insight that all has not yet been revealed. That what's known only represents a farcically small fragment of the whole of things, that subtle internal meltings and condensations help to shape the iceberg as substantially as dramatic breakaways and avalanches. Fine.
But what about our responsibility to what IS known? WHich is more important to my world: what is being withheld from me that i never knew i could have known, or what i did know that has now been taken away? Let's look at the issue of extinction among birds.
Another species, the Hawaiian po'ouli, became extinct in November 2004 when the last known specimen died in captivity. This bird is one of several varieties of the "honeycreeper" which is apparently like a very small sparrow, or maybe a large hummingbird. Scientists tell us that this extinction is probably a direct result of increased development of resorts and such human habitations on Maui, the only known habitat for the bird. Yet we also know, thanks to Darwin, that extinctions are part of the process of natural selection and happen both because of, and despite, human interventions.
Now,back to the po'ouli: Hawaiians who knew the bird existed will no doubt be outraged and sad to see it go. Visitors and natives alike will probably mourn its loss as a sacrifice to progress and economic needs of islanders. But there are vast unknown territories inside of this extinction: we have no idea what impact this will have on the forests of Maui; what plants might die off because of increased insect populations; what lifeforms might be adversely affected by the lack of the po'ouli's curved bill pollinating their flowers; what the new, po'ouli-less Maui will look like in 100 or 1000 years.
So what should we be doing? Must humans, in building their habitat, destroy the habitat of birds? Is there another way that is just beyond our minds right now, a way of building that is being withheld, that would in subtle or dramatic ways do more to avoid the extinctions we now know are coming?
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Monday, January 17, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.

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Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.

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third day in a row waking up with a fever. i just want to be well in time for the anti-inaugural festivities down at the Acme Artworks. subzero temps all weekend plus the extended standard-issue influenza bug in my bloodstream means i took lots of photos around the house and didn't do much else.

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cabin fever.ugh.

Friday, January 14, 2005
been shut in, away from the extreme cold and staying close to the bathroom so as to allow the toxic residues of yesterday's nasty food poisoning to exit my system.
speaking of venom, i've also been reading Baudrillard's In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. the meanings in his words are so slippery and velvety, like grasping an otter by the tail...part of his whole agenda is to get you to reject the meanings that are constructed for you by the mass media, by the institutions of power, to strip back the thick excrement (excrement=his word, thick=mine) of readymade meaning and begin to create your own by thinking critically. also that there is no such thing as "the masses" even though many are persuaded of its existence, we cannot ever identify ourselves as being part of such an undifferentiated whole as "the masses."
(S. is now watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, on my computer. enough hours cooped up with the cats and i might be transformed into a Leonard Nimoy fan. GHU.)
More on Baudrillard later. I dig his analysis of our semiotic culture, don't know if i agree that the historical model for what we are experiencing culturally is one of implosion rather than explosion, but i do like the word COLLAPSE as the name for the transformation American dominant culture is currently undergoing.

[addendum: to the man who called just to anonymously, obscenely and viciously proposition me yesterday as i sat on the sofa miserably fighting back nausea and watching a B-grade 1984 childrens movie, and who then called back the instant i hung up the phone: thanks for adding to my already lousy day a good dose of fear, useless rage and life-force-sucking exhaustion. I hope you get laid off from every job you ever have from now on.]
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Are we the Great Leap Backward?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Quote of the week:

"Everybody should care whether birds survive, because birds are part of the ecology of this planet--and we won't like it when they're gone."

Randi Doeker, President of the Chicago Ornithological Society, speaking about why architects and building owners ought to be taking steps to prevent the billion-plus annual bird deaths from colliding into glass windows. To learn about what we can do to prevent these window collisions, see my post on Windowkills Conference.
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Monday, January 10, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.

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the plant i kept alive

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.

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sledkids and ducks

Saturday, January 08, 2005
Went looking for owls in the Caldwell Woods forest preserve this morning. No such luck--saw only a dozen mallards on the river and a half dozen plump mourning doves, roosting lazily on a branch.
the sky was overcast and children were screeching on their sleds in the distance.
shout outs to Ira Glass and the crew of This American Life for their amazing documentary work on this week's show--they set out to record for those of us back home what life is like for American soldiers in Iraq. things are horrible, in the words of one soldier. May they all return soon safely from this collective nightmare.
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Windowkills Conference

Friday, January 07, 2005
WIndowkills is a term birders use to refer to the phenomenon of birds ramming themselves mid-flight into glass, and thus either a)killing themselves instantly or b) stunning themselves and remaining motionless on the ground long enough for predators to take advantage of the situation.
In this way we humans, in building our environments, have passively killed hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, so that the experts are saying that within 100 years we will lose over half of these species in North America.
A bright spot: In recent years the Toronto-based Fatal Light Awareness Project (FLAP) has made some progress by getting building owners downtown to agree to turn out their lights during the migration season. Yay!
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given/not given

Tuesday, January 04, 2005
so, i did not give Christmas gifts this year. maybe it was selfishness, a refusal to participate in a tradition that contributes to the exploitation of people who work in the factories that make most "gift" items. Maybe it was laziness. Mostly it was laziness: i could have planned ahead and made things at home for people, like my sister did.
In fact I did make something: cards. This was my equal opportunity gift: a handmade rubber stamp which i designed and carved and inked and printed on some lovely rough-textured card stock painstakingly selected at the craft shop. They were humble yet carefully made, something you could either treasure or toss, depending on your preferences and sensibilities. I'm sure that most people will discard them eventually.
But that's sort of the point! Even though i didn't make the paper or inks, the point was to add a tiny decorative message to the festivities, not to give people a precious gift to keep forever. All of this is not to defend my choice to opt out of Christmas: I disappointed my family by not traveling home to see them, and I feel terrible that i did so. But the ephemera i did contribute are not to be overlooked! Maybe next year i will sell the cards. Maybe next year i will make the paper at home, maybe i will grind my own inks. Dig in my heels and insist that EVERYTHING worth celebrating is ephemeral: birds in the air, anniversaries, newborns, new jobs, happiness. It all changes. Tracking these changes is part of gift giving for me, leaving a trace or residue of what came before in the most humble and cared-for way possible.
i don't know if this is making any sense. but every day is a holiday for me--and the gifts are plentiful. i see no need to pile objects on top of the heap.
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