Monday, December 19, 2011

Another woman's work rescued from the trash

The December issue of Smithsonian Magazine includes a short article on Vivian Maier, whom it calls a "photographer of consequence." Never heard of her? That's because Maier, who worked as a nanny, didn't sell a print in her lifetime and rarely shared her photos with friends and neighbors. Her photos came out in the open only because she could no longer pay rent on the storage unit where they had been kept. A stranger, John Maloof, bought a box of 30,000 negatives for $400 in 2007.

By the time Maloof began sifting through the negatives, Maier was dead. Fortunately, Maloof liked what he saw and started posting her photos on a blog. He also has issued a book of her work (which, probably due to the magazine piece, is out of stock at Amazon right now).

You have to wonder how many other female artists haven't been so lucky—lacking any kind of postmortem discovery or champion.

How much work by women has simply been thrown away? Perhaps this is true also for good and even excellent work by male artists and writers who have had the misfortune to remain unknown. But from all of antiquity we have one complete poem from Sappho (and a few other line fragments), and a handful of lines from other female writers—compared to the multiple volumes by men that are arranged in the Loeb Classical Library.  There is little or no female perspective remaining from those centuries—the voice of all those women is eerily silent.

The above photo is from a direct link to a page on Maloof's blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Once upon a time—The End

I actually got excited when I first read about the new ABC show, "Once Upon a Time." Critics lauded it as a return to the family hour, comparing it to the old Sunday night standard, "The Wonderful World of Disney."

That's because there is nothing on TV currently that our family watches together. We usually don't even channel surf in front of our kid in the evenings, since we don't know when a simulated murder, rape, or assault might appear. Of course there is "children's TV," but it's a parallel world/ghetto of silly Disney Channel shows or oft-repeated Sponge Bob episodes—the type of shows that my tween-aged kid despises or is tired of (she outgrew PBS a few years ago). When we occasionally sit down in front of the TV together, it's mostly to old TV shows and movies.

"Once Upon a Time" promised to bring fairy tales to life, with storybook characters exiled to modern-day Maine. I imagined it was going to be a TV version of "Enchanted," which we all found charming and funny (though just a tad scary at the end).

But E-girl watched most of Sunday night's episode behind a blanket raised over her face. She couldn't stand seeing the hunter kill the deer, or the queen tear out his heart, or the mayor/queen crushing the heart of his modern-day sheriff counterpart.

And then there were the nightmares afterwards... I dreamed of deer being slaughtered, of hearts ripped out and dripping blood, of people chased by an evil presence—the type of dreams I rarely have and certainly never relish. E-girl is still upset about seeing the queen murder her own father a few weeks ago. It has affected her dreams, though not as a nightly occurrence.

Of course, we'll get over it. Neither of us will become serial killers as the result of watching this show—the argument that always seems to be trotted out whenever a parent or anyone else tries to explain why they are bothered by screen violence that (they or) their kids are exposed to: "TV violence doesn't correlate with real-life aggression..." And real-life is full of violence, blah, blah, blah.

But why should I want my tenderhearted child to become callous now (or ever)? Or why would I want her to watch something before bedtime that will give her insomnia?

With a title like "Once Upon a Time" you keep hoping for a happy ending at the end of each show [and not at the end of a five-season series—although, given that its producers also did "Lost," there may be no real resolution]. But each episode has seemed increasingly grim (pardon the pun).

So we'll go back to our DVD player and our Netflix Instant queue. As E-girl put it at the end of it, "I think I'd rather watch 'Rocky and Bullwinkle'."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A mission of salvation in a dark basement room

Yesterday I scavenged through a dead woman's bookshelves. Although I don't know her name, or anything about her except that she was a former school teacher and a survivor of the Holocaust, I came to admire and like her in the couple of hours that I was there in her dark, empty house.

The books we found there gave evidence of an intelligent person with eclectic tastes: hardcover, first-edition novels (from Lolita to Star Trek), a collection of Samuel Beckett's work (in English and French), travel books, cookbooks and issues of Bon Appetit, humor, biography, and trendy psychology—written in English, French, German, Spanish and even Russian. She had been a voracious reader—there were stacks of books in other rooms of the house,  and they obviously had been read because almost every one contained scribbled comments on the inside front page that summed up her reactions, e.g., "...highly amusing" and "...a suspenseful read."

My companion and I were there to take out what we could for the local high school's annual book sale because no one else wanted her books. She had been single, childless and elderly, and after she died in that house, no one came to claim her books. In fact, the realtor who bought it was just going to throw them away. We were there on a mission of salvation.

Looking through her collection, I was reminded of the autistic knitter. This woman's book collection also represented a kind of art form or life's work. And all of it, including her tiny commentaries, had been destined for a garbage can. Perhaps there was other evidence remaining of her life beyond that quiet house—art works or crafts or letters she had written, still preserved by companions or the sons and daughters of her companions—but I doubted it. With a sinking feeling, I felt like I was deciding what part of her would go on, even if only to strangers that won't know her name.

But what struck me more was the sudden realization that if everything she had read had been on an e-reader, my friend and I wouldn't have been there in her house in the first place, and I never would have spent those few moments in her lingering presence. All those titles, the odd juxtapositions of Art Buchwald and Ferlingetti and science fiction paperbacks, gone in a blip.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Create something in 30 days (more or less)

NaNoWriMo didn't work for me this year. But that doesn't mean you or I have to wait until next November to work under an artificial, Internet-based deadline to complete some type of creative work.  Below I've compiled a list of web sites that encourage "high-velocity prose" (as NaNoWriMo bloggers call it) of any type within certain time frames:

FebruaryPicture Book Marathon - Write a picture book every day of the month in February

March:  NaNoEdMo - 50 hours of editing one novel

April: Script Frenzy Write 100 pages of original scripted material in 30 days (includes TV scripts, screenplays, stage plays and graphic novels)

May (1-7):  NaPiBoWriWee - Write 7 picture books in a week

WNFIN (Write NonFiction in November) - Write 50,000 words of nonfiction
• NaPlWriMo (National Playwrighting Month)
PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) - Create 30 picture book ideas in 30 days
• and, of course, NaNoWriMo

For a list of additional contests [I didn't list them here because some seem less official] see:
  NaNoWriMo-Style Events