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

you can only laugh

Thursday, February 24, 2005
ok, now we know why i did not get on that plane. had i gone, i would have returned to find my partner in the hospital with a shattered leg. as it was, i happened to be home when he called to say he was on the bus home from the ski place with his knee in a splint, and could i please meet him back in the city.
we endured the usual unbearable ER experiences, and 8 hours later we were snug in our hospital room.
from the window on that 7th floor one could see Wrigley Field, a few high-rise apartment buildings of the shabbier-than-Lakeshore-Drive-but-not-as-bad-as-South-Side variety, and the tree-lined streets of Lincoln Park. If you squinted through the interminable fog you could see people working out at the gym three blocks away. S, btw, is now home in bed, shoring up his energy to get back up on the shiny new walker they sold him.
i did not have any interesting birds during that entire 4 day stay in the hospital. even on my journeys back and forth from there, i only had 4 AMERICAN CROWS, many HOUSE SPARROWS and ROCK PIGEONS, and one thing i couldn't ID whose coloring matched either a MOURNING DOVE or a KESTREL, seated on top of a four-story parking garage column. It was probably a mourning dove, but i don't know for sure.
More exciting things are being spotted around the state, however. People have reported a GREAT GRAY OWL (strix nebulosa) outside of Madison, Wisconsin. I even saw the photo! that was awesome. Also, someone yesterday heard a PILEATED WOODPECKER in the woods along the Des Plaines river.
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non refundable

Saturday, February 19, 2005
so, for what i think was the first time in my life, i decided not to get on a plane at the last minute. allow me to explain.
the College Art Association is having its annual conference this week, and as this is sold to us MFA students as the ONE, the ONLY opportunity to Network and be interviewed for the holy grail of university teaching jobs, i too signed up to go.
but [and here i just took a 10 minute intermission to phone the airline and get 1/3 of my return ticket money back as a credit-the glass is truly 1/2 full, or more like 1/8 full to be exact] in the several months since signing up for this thing, i've been learning more about this mysterious calculus of what goes into Getting the Job. and what i've learned is that it's based on Relationships and Experience, not attending a silly conference where the participants scan, evaluate, compete and bicker with each other in as Hobbesian an environment as the first season of Survivor, or maybe a party at Condoleezza Rice's house. (this of course being my worst stereotype and fear about such trade conferences. not having been to any, the reality could be that everyone sits on La-Z-Boys cracking each other up with sock puppets and Charades. Who knows.)
All this, combined with the fact that i had unsuccessfully exhausted no less than six (6) leads on finding a place to stay for one lousy night in Atlanta, gave me additional wrinkles on my face from all the brow-furrowing i was doing in making a decision to stay or go.
And what would i have been leaving behind in Chi-town for those 24 hours? a mountain of work, including finishing writing this article which i now kind of actually care about, doing taxes, and visiting with Dad, who is in town only for a couple of days.
So i woke up at 6am to pack and catch my flight, looked up at the grid of ceiling tiles and the dull purplish bruise of light in the window, and decided not to go.
the illuminati of the university art world can judge each other and sip their Old Fashioneds without me. Harrumph.
of course, amidst my feelings of triumph, superiority and relief was regret. Regret at the $285 price tag of the plane ticket and conference registration. i cursed my indecision for costing me so much, not even f^#&%$ing realizing that you can, in fact, get store credit for a cancelled flight UNLESS you no-show. WHich i of course did. No-show, that is.
in the end i have a $40 credit for the return flight minus their stupid fees, and nothing else to show for my "trip" to Atlanta except a reinforced suspicion that my brain is hard-wired to avoid competing with others at any cost.
some Apprentice i'd make, huh?
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Friday, February 18, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
seen on the wall of my living room.
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the unbroken circle(see footnote)

Thursday, February 17, 2005
on presenting my work today, the hair-in-the-shower pictures got the biggest response. it seems there are a lot of anti-aesthetic bodily-function artists at this school...
however that may be, i'm glad for the dialogue. and good to share my history of setting myself at odds with the "system" as a young person, and having moved from that negatively defined self into a more positively-defined self who is made up of stories and habits, all of which can pass unfiltered into the public realm to define me as an artist, as an individual, as a member of society. the stories and habits--which i suppose make a "practice", though that word is tossed around too cheaply sometimes--make me whole and empty at the same time. does anyone else feel this way--that NOT having an idea can yield better actual results than trying to execute a preconceived plan or idea?

footnote: the circle i refer to in the title goes with the circle from my old burnout agitator self into my "new", less oppositional self, and back to a more engaged, socially active but ME version of the old self.
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system for birding?

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
does anyone out there know of a published "how-to" guide for birders? i'm interested in finding some texts that instruct the reader on how to observe. it's a multisensory activity--one which requires hearing, acuity of vision, and some other, more primitive sense i believe--whatever it is in our reptilian brain which notices movement in the trees even without visual recognition.
identifying the bird is the next step after that. maybe i will write something on that.
my fat cat Harriet is licking my left palm. she is the only cat i've ever met who slobbers when she licks you. blecch.
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i woke up again!

Monday, February 14, 2005
its a little early for the exclamation point, i know. i just needed to say congratulations to me for getting out of bed. and before 7am at that. but never fear, no more inappropriate punctuation today.
i plan to write and edit today. maybe take a photograph.
i forgot to mention, nothing unusual in the backyard yesterday. 2 MOURNING DOVES and a WHITE THROATED SPARROW were at the feeder, along with the usual suspects.
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gloomy sunday

Sunday, February 13, 2005
dark, dank, rainy day. one of those days that feels like late afternoon even at 10am.
had my annual visit to the mall, this one more surreal and upsetting than most. Left with only a new band on my calculator watch, which pleases me, and a sense of dread and loathing for the human race, which doesn't. will spare all of you the details.
there's a lovely new piece in the Art institute by Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, a large sculptural installation that the wall text tells us was inspired by an iceberg off the coast of Nova Scotia. Manglano seems to be interested in an area that also interests me: namely, how digital space can serve, or fail to serve, as a successful medium for the creation and mediation of visual language about nature. For example, by digitally rendering and then realizing a sculpture of an iceberg, does Manglano preserve or lose the power and presence of the iceberg itself? is that process of translation worth the effort? Do the ones and zeroes of digital space significantly alter the content of the visual experience?
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2 northern shrikes

Friday, February 11, 2005
i did a lot of searching and not a lot of finding unusual birds today. but...
at the feeder, among the House Sparrows, were
and since i had to go to the Field Museum today, i walked to Burnham Harbor and NOrtherly Island (site of the old Meigs Field airstrip).
at Burnham Harbor i saw about 27 CANADA GEESE, over 100 HERRING GULLS, including one immature herring gull which i thought was something weird and therefore watched for over 10 minutes before realizing what it was; and at Northerly Island, 2 NORTHERN SHRIKES. I was extremely gratified to see them peacefully sitting watch on a branch overlooking the harbor, as this was a life list bird for me and i had never been to this location.
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paranoia will destroy ya

so, i understand the Beastie Boys are doing a benefit (album? concert?) for PETA. also there is an ongoing poster design contest for anti-fur campaign. at the same time, the City of Chicago, along with Illinois Institute of Tech. and the Chicago Ornithological Society are sponsoring a conference for architects on how to build buildings that birds won't crash into. all of these are probably good developments in terms of raising the peoples consciousness to how we are involved with our ecosystem. but that's not what i want to talk about.
i'm writing an article on the birds and buildings issue. things with this article are getting weirder and weirder the more i learn. i'm a birder. i care about whether bird populations are being negatively impacted by glass-fronted buildings.
but questions are coming up.
i'll come to the point: why is the Mayor of our fair city so concerned about saving avian lives, a concern which, while benevolent and laudable, has little or nothing to do with human health?

btw, i successfully awakened this a.m. at 6:35, feet on the floor by 6:44. (hey, that rhymed! yeah!)
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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
...and today at 6:45am.
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Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
yesterday at 6:40am...
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digression II

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.

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Tuesday, February 08, 2005
arose at 6:35 and took some dawn photos of the backyard...to be uploaded soon... maybe i will start a photolog separate from this one, which for ye new readers, is for my writing in orbit of multiple concepts: birding, critical art theory, and my family's story, each of which will come to the foreground more or less frequently based on my mood and preference.
meanwhile i have a new author to recommend: Harryette Mullen. Poet of California, of abecedaria, of National Book Award nomination.
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more cheers

Monday, February 07, 2005
i've made a couple of wee mini-books--my drawings, poetry & such-- & am already sending them to folks. if you want one, just email me with yer street address & i'll keep sending till i got no more stamps.
ok, now i'll go back to picking at my lower lip and thinking about a sandwich.
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cheerleading my own team

gotta start getting up early enough to bird...today, 7:10, not quite there yet, but better than yesterday.
the migrants are coming, they're coming...
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last one...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
so you can see the extent of this mini-project thus far.
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indoor weekend

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
i got the weeeeeeeek, the weekend winter bah-loooooooooozz...
i confess i did NOT arise at 5:30, or even within 3 hours of that time, this morning, to watch birds or to do anything else for that matter...
however we DID book our airline tickets for a warm-climate weekend, courtesy of hostess Libby, for the end of the month. Will DEFINITELY bring binoculars out to the desert...
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i digress

Originally uploaded by unionmaidn.
i seem to be accumulating semi-regular practices...here's one i've had for years. during shower, absentmindedly make abstract painting using my own hair.
suddenly it occurred to me to document these.
comments welcome.
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ambitious 1

Saturday, February 05, 2005
my new year's resolution: to get up every day at 5:30 during the spring migration and ride down to the lakeshore to bird.

5:30 might not even be early enough. but i get a little twinge of nausea when i think about getting up any earlier.

anyway, back to Baudrillard...
i think that part of what he is saying is that the masses resist successfully every attempt to co-opt or represent their interests, that no political group, authoritarian figure, or corporate oligarchy can ever truly say, "i represent the silent majority." because there is no real majority! the masses of people do not exist as a positive presence--they can only be described, by critically insufficient means such as opinion polls and surveys, all of which are instantly re-absorbed into the neutrality of spectacle once they are made public.
this resistance to representation is our greatest power, says Baudrillard. it means that we force the media, the government, the advertisers to endlessly guess at our true desires, our true motives, without ever receiving positive proof.
and it means that we care about, and respond to, only the events, words, signifiers and people who directly impact our daily existence. on a localized level, the level of the family or church group or small town, our sense of responsibility is continuously engaged. But never on a scale any grander than that. Baudrillard isn't judging us for preferring a football game over voting in the national election; he is simply acknowledging that such preferences are natural responses to being presented with the mirage of democracy.
so, although i don't know why the man on the train didn't feel the need to say "excuse me" as he forced me to move out of his way, i can surmise that he placed me in the same anonymous category as the masses of people one encounters in the city. i did not register on his list of those in his personal sphere; in a sense, he never saw me. so for him, although a human body was in his path, there was no one there of whom to beg pardon.
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no more juncos

the juncos appear to have left our feeder in the backyard. i'm still hearing the same cardinal pair, though. i think our landlady is overstocking the feeders, so it's kind of an obscene free-for-all. in some ways i can understand why the neighbors threatened to start shooting the birds if she fed them all year.
also, this morning there are 2 pigeons up there, vocalizing and being really snotty toward the other birds, and they don't appear to be regular feral city pigeons. they're a little hoity-toity if you know what i mean. i wonder if they are escaped/lost racing pigeons. as i watched, they flew up and did some sort of mid-air tumbling stunt above the feeder.
there are still 2 or 3 white-throateds out there, as well.
and, it's an incredible 50 degrees out there today! we revel in it. Stella the cat enjoyed sniffing the soaked earth and nosing through the dead plants.
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view from the 14th floor

Thursday, February 03, 2005
yesterday as i looked out on the vast patchwork of tumbled ice chunks on the lake, each with its own angle of repose, i noticed a large boat out on the water, just beyond where the ice gave way to sheets of blackish still water.
sucks to be those guys, thought i. some chilly seafaring dudes out there.
Re-reading Baudrillard on the train. Not ready to talk about that yet.
a couple of days ago, riding the train, i noticed the wiry, quiet older gentleman in the window seat next to me was reading a book. In Latin. Not the Bible. A different book. A non-Bible book in Latin.
Impressed, I searched the man's face for clues as to his possible identity, and settled on Former Monk Or Priest. Who else knows enough Latin to READ A BOOK? A book that is NOT THE BIBLE? no one, i thought. Only Catholic former clergy would read Latin that well. Or so I thought.
Until the train arrived at this man's stop. He put the book away, straightened his jacket, and with no change in his facial expression, stood up beside me, a move which required me to either a)swing my legs to the aisle to allow him to pass or b)get up and let him out. Do you see where i'm going with this? HE DID NOT SAY "EXCUSE ME"!! Not even a grunt. No sense of responsibility in this man was engaged by my presence in the seat beside him. Bah. Are jerks even allowed to become priests? I have no idea. I privately excommunicated him myself.
Which brings me back to Baudrillard, and looking at the question of why NO ONE'S sense of personal responsibility is engaged by the messages bombarding us from the mass media: images of torture, bombings, rampant hunger, civil war, genocide. Occasionally something briefly does make it through to prompt individuals to act, but it takes a fucking TSUNAMI that kills off entire gene pools. more on this later.
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rabbit rabbit

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
some guy put a video clip of pigeons swooping in formation on his blog. will link to it shortly, soon as i can find it again.
synaesthesia: expressing what is sensed via another one of the senses. like how to hear a color, or smell a sound.
also, words might not be the best way to do it. my studio is empty almost all of the time now. it is language, not the visual, that is coursing through me despite all of my "best" efforts. language having been my default modality since about age 4... i guess i don't mind it quite so much as i ought to, given the amount of $ i will shortly be paying for the experience of a <> art graduate degree.
too much world pressing in this morning, sorry folks.
in any case, there is only one awkward, blue-grey, sheepish-looking pigeon at the feeder this morning amidst the sparrows, gorging himself like it's Wonkaland and he's the fat kid in the chocolate garden.
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