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

vegetables and Gertrude Stein

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
anyone, anyone out there who is not familiar with gertrude stein will love her, i promise and guarantee. i haven't even read most of her work. this is another reason to stay alive: you have GOT to read this author, even if you don't have, as i have, the miraculously intelligent Matthew G. as your instructor for Systems of Writing.
just an eensy weensy plug there.
read Tender Buttons. read The Making of Americans. you could read Three Lives, nobody's stopping you, it'll be ok, there are people in it which there really aren't in Tender Buttons, but it's not necessary.
i am having my first vegetable juice on the first spring day. the first spring day in Chicago is a sight to behold. the sun is on us, the people are smiling, the people are walking and smiling in the sun. i always thought that if i lived someplace where it was always sunny, like in California for example, that i would have terrible trouble and be depressed all the time, because seeing the sun would be nothing special.
so why am i blogging? because i am needing to work out a few things. Namely: why i don't do representational art, or art which might be seen as mass marketable, or even readily openable into most people's understanding, although my hope is that it does bleed around the edges into accessibility at moments. the reason is that i am trying to inhabit a moment and express that moment both at the same time. IT CAN'T BE DONE! this is what i am figuring out, in graduate school. things can emerge from me inhabiting a moment in certain ways, such as a photograph or a drawing can be the residue of that presence (which was Stein's ""continuous present" which her writing finally did manage to convey, exquisitely) BUT --and i run right up against this in trying to communicate the experience of birding to non-birders-- the moment itself is lost forever, along with whatever i was doing in it.
is any of this making any sense?
to me it does, because up to now, in all of my efforts to communicate ANYTHING to anyone--from screaming at a cop to leave the strikers alone, to hammering metal cups out of flat disks, to writing in my own diary--i've felt stymied by this disconnect. the failure of representation. i turned to art because i thought that language was the source of this failure. but i'm beginning to suspect that any tools will work, including language; it's just that we have to hit upon the right systems , the right conceptual framework, the right practice, which will yield an adequately intimate meeting between the present moment and our memory of, or feelings about, that moment.
11:03 AM :: 2 comments ::

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Fingers and Finches

Saturday, March 26, 2005
today i was out walking The Leg, and was just passing by the great gaping hole in the ground plus trees where there used to be two houses across the street, when two HAIRY WOODPECKERS tried to divebomb my head! it was awesome! they flitted to the tree right in front of my house, where i stood watching them until my fingers turned to mittens of ice (approx. 5 min.)...
woodpeckers are a sure sign of spring. there was also a handsome AMERICAN ROBIN hopping lengthwise along the roof of a nearby dwelling, and i think i caught sight of--though this is unconfirmable--a HOUSE FINCH. spring, i tell you. thirty degrees notwithstanding.
and, thanks all for your words of support and concern during this past week of the Bladder Infection Accompanied By Gas. it is almost all the way over now and i would prefer to forget it. but thank you.
3:41 PM :: 3 comments ::

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Death Comes for the Gray Squirrel

Thursday, March 24, 2005
i couldn't even write about this yesterday, it opened up too many raw areas of my psyche. i was hobbling home from the bus stop at WEstern & Fullerton, heading south on Campbell. it was (and is) fairly painful to walk with this stomach ailment i've acquired, so that each step feels like i'm being socked in the gut. so i took a rest.
and noticed a sound. a high, scratchy, croakingly hoarse squeal of misery. Rhythmic. Like, "HLEEAAAAAAAAAAGHHHH, HLEEAAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHH". i looked up. Didn't see anything at first, just a tree, with, thankfully, tiny buds beginning to appear. Then I saw it: a dead branch. On that branch, tucked into crouch position like it was about to run, a squirrel. Dead as a doornail. Looked like it had been there for a couple days. As if it was struck down mid-scamper. The sound was coming from the next branch up, where a smaller squirrel was crouched in the same position, grieving unmistakably for all the world to hear.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2005
ugh. i was looking at the Harold Washington Library Rules for Use of the Library, and the final one says, If you have neglected your personal hygiene to the extent that you create an odor or appearance which is offensive to other users of the library, you may be asked to leave. I think that rule would now apply to MOI.
when i'm sick, all of my baser, more primitive primate habits get foregrounded. Like going for days without showering. Which is kind of funny since my only visual art practice at the moment consists of photographing the hair that's stuck to the tiles after i take a shower. Guess there'll be a little gap in the timeline there.
ok, enough about Miss Piggy. The spring migration has officially begun. Chicago birders are excited because an Audubon's Warbler has appeared at Jackson Park on the South side, which is not only a rarity but is, according to my favorite ornithologist, about to be declared a species.
This business of what gets to be called a species is kind of a cloudy issue for me. Darwin himself had a lot of trouble explaining what constitutes a species as opposed to a variant, and it seems that the line between variety and species within genera is rather...permeable. That is, when we look at birds, within the warblers group, they often move in and out of being species or not. Any ecologists or biologists out there have any thoughts on this one?
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god bless saturday

Saturday, March 19, 2005
in the neighbourhood of infinity
it was the time
of the giant
--The Fall, Palace of Swords Reversed (comp., 1980-83)

slept 10 hours last nite. i do not know what my problem is-this happens to me fairly often on fridays, where i fall into the bed, fully clothed, at 7:30pm and wake in the night, turn lights off, get water, and fall back to sleep until 5am. it gives me a really long Saturday. maybe that's why. and last night i even had the chance to go out, which i hardly ever do. sorry, Abbyg, i WILL get to one of your shows soon!
so , we took the 49 bus to breakfast this morning at 8:15, having worked and stretched since 5:30. I spotted 2 BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES on a tree on our block among the numerous EUROPEAN STARLINGS and HERRING GULLS. The gulls have been waking me up in the morning recently. The chickadees make spring seem more real--vernal equinox tomorrow, everyone!
I think i also spotted a hawk of some sort on Thursday, circling above the 112 S. Michigan building.
10:52 AM :: 3 comments ::

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trapped hermit thrush

Thursday, March 17, 2005
walking into the art institute building, there is a 2 story window made of reflective glass, which reflects the trees and sky of Grant Park. today as i was coming into the building, i walked past the window. no dead birds, a good thing. BUT. just past the window is a recessed concrete wall, with a low-overhanging (FUGLY) concrete ceiling, creating a sort of alcove with a gravel patio. God knows what the architects were thinking. in any case, in the alcove i spotted a tiny HERMIT THRUSH, hopping desperately along the full length of that recessed wall. At first i hopefully thought it might be collecting nesting material, but no. It was trying to solve the conundrum of the recessed area surrounded by what it thought were trees. i dont know if it had already collided with the window, but i watched it for a few minutes, and then flushed it back to a small group of trees, where it hopped almost right up to my feet. i called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors team, and left a message. Then i went into the building. An hour later, i came out to find the same bird hopping on an embankment near the reflective window. As i watched, it flew into the window and hit it. It hopped back up to the embankment, tilting its head quizzically and pitifully. I really wish i'd had a camera, so i could show the footage to the Vice President of Operations who assured me yesterday on the phone that she cared about this issue, but that "nothing was planned" for mitigating the bird collision problem at that window during this heavy migration season. I chased the bird off to a nearby grove of slightly taller trees, in hopes that it would see over the building and fly away. But I did not stick around to see the conclusion.
5:39 PM :: 2 comments ::

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words fail me

Wednesday, March 16, 2005
i left the house angry this morning. in tears, actually, from my own petty anxieties out into the relatively warm (okay, cold with warmish undertones) sunshine. i looked at the gigundous open wound that is the former site of two houses across the street from ours, which the January demolition crew re-sculpted into a remarkable replica of 1993-4 Sarajevo, complete with piles of twisted metal, 10-foot deep holes partially filled with watery muck, stacks of bricks that look like they've been shot at, and other occasionally identifiable gack.
anyway, they left the 4-foot high wrought-iron perimeter fence up, for some reason. Maybe they figured it would render the evidence of their scorched-earth redevelopment tactics invisible? I've been holding my breath waiting for the first report of a five-year-old drowning or getting tetanus or something awful at that site, but now it is apparently on someone's radar, since today there is orange plastic mesh covering each of the 40-foot holes in the wrought iron fence. Thank God.
what i meant to talk about though, was the workshop i attended today on Writing An Artist's Statement. I had high hopes. The impenetrable calculus of how to succinctly and with devastating skill transpose all of your best creative ideas into language was about to be cracked, or so i thought. Instead I sat down, somebody said "There's chocolate, you know," and passed me a broken-off half of what looked like one of those fund-raising candy bars (good stuff, i'm not complaining), and our dear, sweet, slightly nervous, fidgety hostess asked us to pair off and tell each other in 2 minutes what our artwork is all about, so that we could each introduce our partner and talk about her work to the whole group. AGH!
5:35 PM :: 1 comments ::

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late winter, late capitalism

Monday, March 14, 2005
i looked up today and noticed, not birds, but the fact that it's mid-march and the trees have yet to show any signs of "budding out," as Lisa and Carol the grounds management duo at my alma mater used to call the timid stirring to life of late winter trees. ugh. the days are lengthening however, the sun seems less of a fiction than it did a week ago.
i was brainstorming with S. about how we can make our hobbies into livelihoods. idle fantasies, perhaps, but why shouldn't we get paid for birding and theoretical physics? (him physics, me birding, OBVIOUSLY) I was thinking maybe i could lead trips into the forest, the prairie, etc to look for birds. With kids--teens,the tribe I most respect. Would they be into it? i think they would.
I found out the Trump International Hotel in Chicago will reach 1125 feet, with at least 80 storeys (less than the original 92, but the real estate is selling faster than bottled water on the surface of the sun, so it may go back up) and a long spire reaching toward the heavens. It will sit regally on the Chicago River, with a lovely surrounding river walk and a latticework of steel tubing on its silver reflecting glass surface. It will kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of migratory birds. You can view a photo of the plan here.
7:41 PM :: 0 comments ::

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i got scooped!

Sunday, March 13, 2005
I got scooped by the Chicago Tribune, this morning's paper has a story on the Birds and Buildings conference and the City of Chicago's role in sponsoring it. They quoted my fave local ornithologist, the ever humble and amazing Douglas Stotz, whose fan club i would like to start, as saying that the McCormick Place building killed seven songbirds last Monday. anyway i am totally happy that some non-birders are paying attention to the fact that glass on buildings is killing at least 900 MILLION birds every year, many of which are migrants and some of which are at-risk populations.
My favorite speaker at the conference was NOT Dr. Klem from Pennsylvania, the world's expert on this issue who used Calvin & Hobbes cartoons to punctuate his talk and who actually said the words, "I shagged my little buns over to the Science building on campus", but rather the Fish and Wildlife Service official, whose talk was eye-wateringly full of boring statistics of marginal relevance to his (mostly architects) audience. He rocked my world by saying, in a an affect-less, flat voice, that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act carries with it penalties for those who knowingly kill birds of at-risk species, followed by the mind-blowing statement, "The Fish and Wildlife Service does not want to be an enforcement agency. We would much rather partner with you than prosecute and fine you for designing structures that kill birds." AWESOME.
So, now that the Trib has done an adequate job of educating the general public on this issue, i can go a little more in depth with my article and talk about the architectural legacies that have brought us, as a continent, to this level of violence against birds.
10:46 AM :: 0 comments ::

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
give me a ring if you're in a band and you want this to be your next album cover. we'll talk.
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Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
the Field Museum's alcohol preparation area in the Collection Sciences Division; or, How I Spent Last Thursday Morning.
3:53 PM :: 0 comments ::

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leak body

i've been immersed in bodies for the past couple of weeks...almost as if the universe is continually pulling me back from my ethereal intellectual/sublime haze of text on the page, screen & mind to re-plant me in the messy, leaky, stinky, crowded, oozing bodily here and now. a few examples:
*multiple toilet overflows in the apartment, resulting in two visits from the plumber and a mortified mother of the Leg (see this post for details);
*visiting the taxidermy lab at the Field Museum last week, noting that we have managed to digitize, store and control all information EXCEPT that of the body, the animal body, the gelatinous mass alcoholized in jars and jars without labels stacking to the ceiling so that they have to build a new wing of the museum just to store all the collected corpses that have been pulled apart and remixed and catalogued and kept and kept JUST IN CASE a scientist somewhere someday needs them for a study of, say, the foreleg length of the gray squirrel from 1903 to 2003. Gotta have some squirrels in the cabinet in case that day ever comes.
*adventures with The Leg (see this post for details)
* watching taped, uncut video footage of a plastic surgery of the artist Orlan. i won't say who showed it to me, but it was GNARLY, man. i was one of 5 or 6 kids who couldn't tear their eyes from the skin on screen which was pornographically oozing blood and being peeled back from the skull in layers. man, the human body is still mysterious no matter how much you visibly reveal!
*re-reading Frankenstein.
1:14 PM :: 2 comments ::

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chick a d d d

Sunday, March 06, 2005
today in the yard i noticed three BLACK CAPPED CHICKADEES along with the HOUSE SPARROWS. Have they been there all along and had I mistaken them for house sparrows? I don't know.
i'm working on a couple (like four) different writing projects just now, including one about the whole hospital experience, a sort of memoir of S's stay in the hospital organized by elevator floor buttons, and one which is like a remix or collage of the writings by birders on the Illinois birders' list serve.
This feels especially important to me because, now that I'm on full-time nursing duty for like the past 2 weeks, I haven't gotten to get out there and watch the earliest of the spring migrants. And so these texts from people observing out in the field are my main connection to that world. Phenomenologically they are interesting texts as well--in their attempts to capture and re-present the unrepresentable experience of seeing with one's own eyes something real and ephemeral. that's the attraction, after all.
So my question for folks reading is, would it be ethically and legally all right for me to use these texts? i'm thinking of writing to the list serve manager for permission--but i don't know if it's really her copyright. hm.
6:08 PM :: 2 comments ::

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duck duck GULL

Thursday, March 03, 2005
my head is still whirling with the sickmaking smell of decaying beetles. my classmates & i in the applied aesthetics class had a chance to visit the Field Museum's taxidermy laboratory this morning, and it turns out the best way to strip a corpse down to its skeleton without damaging it isn't acid...it's beetles! so we entered a small room of aquariums teeming with hide beetles and their meals, accompanied by a radio blasting NPR. (this we're told is needed to cover the subtle yet grating sound of chewing. EEEEEEWWWWWW)
thank you Danyel for the tour!! it made my day. i got some pretty gnarly photographs which i'll be posting as soon as i can catch my breath.
in any case i am posting to report my sightings today in Burnham Harbor of 2 LESSER BLACK BACKED GULLS, 3 AMERICAN CROWS and 4 COMMON GOLDENEYES, a species i've heard lots about but haven't actually seen up till now. Yay!
3:27 PM :: 0 comments ::

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poetry & icebergs

Wednesday, March 02, 2005
ok, a little mini promo--
1. this weekend is the chicago youth poetry slam. Go to www.youngchicagoauthors.org for details. (thanks to Amanda for this information.)
2. i have a review in this month's F newsmagazine! Click on this posting's title to see. (You have to click on the "reviews" section and follow the link to get there.)

it's about a new installation piece at the Art Institute of Chicago by Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, an artist of incredible range whose depth i've wondered about--until now. it's about an iceberg...it's about many things. take a look. i'm a bit irritated that they couldn't get a photo of the actual work to go with my piece, but the picture they got is ok. enjoy.
10:47 AM :: 0 comments ::

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they're coming

Tuesday, March 01, 2005
today someone saw a MUTE SWAN and 22 COMMON GOLDENEYES on the Chicago River. these migratory waterfowl will likely be leaving us soon for the frostier northern climes...but in their place will be all sorts of songbirds! i don't know, there was a severe rawness to the wind today, as if it could pare off my facial skin, and a few superfluous snowflakes that whipped themselves at my head as i got off the train. but the planet is angling itself sunward again, the light is getting stronger, and somehow i didn't feel as desperate for better gloves as i normally do in such weather.
last night's class was all about Kafka, that writing that constantly puts a trapdoor under you, only to make you fall dizzyingly into a room exactly like the one you were just in. so perfect for the day i'd had! i'd gotten up, helped S. with the leg, gotten breakfast, gotten a tad bit of work done, watered the plants, helped S. with the visit from the physical therapist, gotten him back into bed after she left, gotten lunch, and THEN...as i was preparing to go to class, S. announced that he was ready to use the bedpan.
and...how shall i put this delicately? he used it.
and it was...a LOT.

so, kind of without looking, as much as that was possible, i dumped its contents into the loo.

and flushed.

the mass clogged the pipe. i held my breath. the water rose. i waited. so far so good.

i flushed again.

and the entire thing exploded. holding a bucket, desperately bailing from the bowl, screaming and cursing, i watched as the spill spread. S. shouted to me from his bed to get the mop: thanks, dude. THANKS. I got the mop and started mopping, realized the futility of this, grabbed three rolls of paper towels and started soaking it directly off the floor. my shoes were drenched. S. called the landlady , who said her husband was in the house, and i could ask him to borrow the plunger, which i did, and then i just finished sopping everything up, sprayed Lysol all over EVERYTHING, rinsed it once with the mop, and went off to class. Someone said I looked like a ghost as she plopped down into her chair next to me. i shook my head and listened as Kafka talked about the herculean fatigue of the man who has just cleaned the corner of his office.

p.s.--when i first arrived for class, i went into the bathroom to collect my thoughts. as i stood in the stall and leaned my head against the cold metal door, the automatic toilet flushed once...twice...thrice. in my ears it sounded like a gong.

p.p.s.--on the train ride back home, a man across from me was reading. the book was Kafka's The Metamorphosis. True story.
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