Monday, August 7, 2017

The Master






















I've known Antonio Adams for a long time, since 2000, when he was just out of high school. Back then he was a shy, skinny excavator of his own imagination, building robots, cats, humans, and other things out of whatever was around (wood, cereal boxes, construction-paper, sticks, glue). He had a huge kingdom of them in his bedroom back then, and Bill and I were able to help him show some of them in galleries around town. He also could draw and paint, and do so with great and effortless panache and sophistication. He maintained and still maintains a strict but breezy and voluminous output of art. He works constantly, but he never sweats it, always creating toward a kind of peaceful equanimity and aesthetic. A gut-level but brainy sense of absurdity and humor balances everything he does in his works, in his life and in his mind.

In short he's a working-class genius.

I don't toss around the word "genius" too much, so hang with me. Usually that kind of hyperbole creeps me out. But I really mean it with Antonio. He is a "genius," not in any "savant" or sentimentalized kind of way, but in a grass-roots, fantastically everyday manner. He's found a way to live that suits him and allows him to rise above a lot of crap that gets thrown at him, including a devastating house-fire in 2008 and the violent death of his brother in 2014. During those crises (and many others) he simply takes it all in, feels all the emotions he needs to feel very deeply, and then systematically turns his reactions into art. That's his practice and his salvation.

So now, in 2017, when not bussing tables at Frisch's, he's usually out and about on the city bus, showing up at art openings around town, hanging out at Thunder-Sky, Inc. (his headquarters) and making whatever he deems necessary in the basement there. He has figured it out in a way that's not heroic or showy -- just work-a-day, his brilliance often camouflaged in routine and straightforwardness. He does what he does without fuss. What he produces makes me smile and often feel awestruck because it all seems to come from a delicate and yet extremely powerful place. And it comes naturally from a reservoir of love, compassion, and intelligence.

Last night we installed a show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. that is dedicated to that place.  "The Master of Loyalty Is in the Gallery Tonight:  Art about Antonio Adams" is a show being curated by Lindsey Whittle, and exhibits works about Antonio by artists who know and love him like I do. It was a pleasure to see these folks' responses to Antonio's ability to pull people together, to feel that kind of love for him. In the photo above, he's standing in the middle of the gallery, surrounded by all that love, and it totally reminds me of those first few moments when I came to know him back in 2000: Antonio in his bedroom, surrounded by that army of cat sculptures, as though he was simultaneously in the real world and inside his own head. Now he is in an art gallery being celebrated.

It's been a beautiful journey with him, from those first art shows in the early 2000s to starting and helping to sustain Visionaries + Voices throughout the rest of that decade, to opening Thunder-Sky, Inc. in 2009, to now.

Without him, there would have been none of this I don't think.

Please join us on August 12, 2017, 6 to 10 pm, at Thunder-Sky, for the opening reception of the show.
Thanks.


 

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Fable



Remember "The Grasshopper and the Ants"?  It's an Aesop Fable that haunted my childhood at least. Its simple and demonstrative narrative crystallizes a point of view that many people still find enchanting; the theme reinforces a self-aggrandizing mindset that allows you to shut the door on people. It's the timeless go-to water-cooler moment confirming trickle-down chic.

Here it is directly from Mr. Aesop himself (copied from the Library of Congress website):

One bright day in late autumn a family of Ants were bustling about in the warm sunshine, drying out the grain they had stored up during the summer, when a starving Grasshopper, his fiddle under his arm, came up and humbly begged for a bite to eat.  "What!" cried the Ants in surprise, "haven't you stored anything away for the winter? What in the world were you doing all last summer?"  "I didn't have time to store up any food," whined the Grasshopper; "I was so busy making music that before I knew it the summer was gone."  The Ants shrugged their shoulders in disgust.  "Making music, were you?" they cried. "Very well; now dance!" And they turned their backs on the Grasshopper and went on with their work.  There's a time for work and a time for play.

That damn grasshopper and his music.  What  an idiot.  Look at him:  dancing.  Lord have mercy. Now those ants -- they know what they are doing.  

There you have it, every social ill configured for the masses in much the same way the debate is happening around the American Healthcare Act now being secretly drafted and insouciantly marketed by the Congress and the Senate and the President.  The powers-that-be have cast the whole narrative as a referendum on who deserves help, and who doesn't, and in the structure of the legislation their answer on who actually deserves what is pretty clear:  cutting taxes for the wealthy (the ants), getting rid of Medicaid by limiting its use and efficacy, therefore shutting the door on the grasshoppers of the world.  It's not let them eat cake anymore; it's let them dance.  Go on with your bad selves.

It's disheartening to say the least, but also somehow incredibly predictable, and as small-minded and solipsistic as just about any governmental move and mood has been in the history of this country. And the media respond in kind:  they cast artificial light on the "two sides" of the issue, and there it is again, that fable.  The grasshopper dancing (or marching or resisting or protesting) and the ants going about their business, closing down hallways with the help of police:


In the above picture is Stephanie Woodward of Rochester, New York; Stephanie, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, was outside Ant-in-Chief Mitch McConnell's office yesterday when police were called to haul her and other protesters away.  Fables aren't really that instructive a lot of the time; they just recycle old and worn-out truisms that are only true in a vacuum. They are often also a way to pat yourself on the back, concretizing the good and the bad into sweet figurines that fit into a little curio cabinet in a fuggy parlor in people's minds.  Here's the thing: Stephanie and many other folks involved in the actual repercussions of the policy McConnell and his army of ants are creating and trying to implement actually are not "grasshoppers" and can't be assigned an actual role in the American Healthcare Act's ongoing fable.  People who have disabilities need Medicaid not just for medical insurance, but to live their lives; it pays for all kinds of support that allow people with disabilities to contribute to their communities, to participate as citizens, to be in the world.  I know this because I help as best I can many people with disabilities of all sorts access those services, and I've seen the greatness that comes from that support.  And it can't be accessed in any other way, at least right now.  Charitable organizations and churches don't have the capacity; neighbors, friends and family try as best they can, but they get overwhelmed, and some people don't have that many neighbors, friends and family willing to help.  

It's complicated.  It ain't no fable.

I've seen people with disabilities use the community-based services provided by Medicaid go to college, get full-time jobs, get married.  I've witnessed people who were once isolated and ostracized given opportunities to blossom.  I really don't like to call anything a "miracle," especially 52-year-old government programs, but the funding that program provided and provides really did/does contribute to an actual and beneficial change in people's lives, and not just the people who are labeled, but everyone in their paths.  That support made the world a little better; it allowed people with disabilities to be seen and heard and to be able to take part in all kinds of activities/events/moments that were once unavailable, even unthinkable.  And this is help they could not conjure by themselves, no matter how hard they worked, no matter how much sun-warmed grain they stored.  

We all know "entitlement" is a dirty word now, but I feel like we might want to take that word back and re-imagine it as a concept totally worth fighting for.  Not because we're all a bunch of grasshoppers playing fiddles, but because we understand that people like Stephanie and a whole lot of other folks actually are entitled to have access to a world we all share.  And Medicaid is the connection, whether you like it or not.  If we want to have a conversation about how to make it better without decimating it, let's do it.  Otherwise what is the point?  

Yesterday I did something I don't like to do.  At all.  On Facebook I commented on a thread started by a local news station about whether "we should repeal or reform Obamacare."  What a delight.  I simply copied and pasted a short article from The New York Times about how Medicaid not only affects poor people, but how many middle-class families depend on it for their older family-members who are in nursing homes, an astonishing number actually.  

Many people liked my little comment, but one of those pesky ants chimed in:   My parents and my failure to plan for the future should not be put upon the shoulders of others.

I responded:   "Plan" and "afford" just aren't synonymous terms in the real world, at least in my experience. You may have had no failures in your life, and you may not need anyone's shoulders. Good for you. But many people do need help and I guess whether you like it or not we have to figure it out as a country. "Failure" and "disposable" aren't synonymous as well.

At the core of the morality in that Aesop fable is a sense of what is disposable and what isn't; there's a strong whiff of utilitarianism coming off it, as in if you can't fend for yourself, why are you even alive? Why are you here on Earth?  That's also a central underlying message in the American Healthcare Act as it is now:  legislatively it chooses who should have access to health and life, and who shouldn't.  It closes the door succinctly on so many lives it puts those ants to shame.           

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mystery Machine

The crowd on opening night of "Otherwise." 

Mr. Ben Clark in front of his work.

Keith Benjamin's tabletop genius, with Richard Emery Nickolson's and Ben Clark's
drawings on the wall behind and adjacent.

Keith Benjamin, Richard Emery Nickolson,and Ben Clark's brother.

Basement fundraiser for human rights happening at the same time.  Thanks to Holly Prochaska.

Keith Benjamin's work, with Ben Clark's on the wall.

"Otherwise."

A mirror piece by Keith Benjamin greets everyone.  Below are other shots and angles of the show:





We just opened a show called "Otherwise" last night, and it was a blast.  Down in the basement was a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Southern Poverty Law Center.  The joint was packed.  What I want to concentrate on though is the "Otherwise" show, which presented works by Keith Benjamin, Ben Clark, and Richard Emery Nicksolson.  It was so much fun installing and organizing their works together that it felt as through all 3 gentlemen had worked on being in an exhibit together without actually know it, like they'd combined their visions into a perfect puzzle we could solve.  

We stumbled across Ben Clark's work at InsideOut Studio in Hamilton, Ohio, last year; it's a storefront space downtown that houses both a gallery and a studio for artists with developmental disabilities.  As soon as we saw Ben's work we knew we'd need to figure out a show.  I'd seen Keith's work in shows at PAC Gallery and the Carnegie, and Bill had reached out to Richard, who was his drawing professor back in the 80s at John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis.  

Richard's stark, perfect renderings of smokestacks, cranes and sky-wires have such an intense precision they read like imaginary movie stills, cinematic moments frozen into pen-and-ink telepathy. Keith's gorgeously and deceptively simple sculptures pull together tossed-aside materials like torn t-shirts and commercial packaging and rearrange and repurpose those things into objects that feel almost on the edge of utility but somehow find a poetic escape from it. Ben's paintings combine both Richard's intense connection to atmosphere and scenery with Keith's nervy, heightened appropriation of everyday objects; he creates totems from road signs, myth from strip malls and maps.  

Inside "Otherwise," you go from a minimalist, frenetic drawing of the Scooby-Doo gang's "Mystery Machine" to an almost sinister smokestack vibrating against a stark white sky, to a fresh, smooth wooden table covered in what appear to be delicate nostalgic maquettes of dream buildings constructed from stuff you find in your basement on a rainy day.  

All of the art in the show has a classy handmade/homemade aesthetic to it; all three artists have accomplished their missions by paying close attention to what's already there and transforming it all into a beautiful kind of strangeness.     

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Celebrate!








The Backstreet Cultural Museum is nestled inside a house in the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans.  Bill and I finally were able to make a visit last month when we there, and it's one of those experiences that's hard to convey, outside of just showing pictures and describing the feeling.  Here goes. 

The door wasn't locked, the open sign was out, so we just walked into the place.  The front-rooms are the actual museum (with a claustrophobic hallway lined with black-framed newspaper articles leading into a little kitchenette).  Two front-rooms are stocked with enough Mardi Gras Indian costumes as to make your head spin in a gleeful, dreamy manner.   On the right is a folding chair next to a little fan with a sign that says "10.00 per person." 

On that morning we went no one was around.  A sense of vacancy, all these costumes and history left unattended, gave the whole visit a ghostly sweetness.  (We met up with Sylvester Francis, the owner and proprietor, on our way out; he had gone to the store.  So we were able to pay him in person for the visit, as well as get a selfie with him, see above.)  I felt cushioned inside all the feather and beads there, those outfits giving off more than vibes, a sort of radiation you can't Geiger-count, or even understand.  All that work, all that thinking and sewing and doing.  

Up close the Mardi Gras Indian costumes read both show-bizzy and heart-breakingly homemade, astutely constructed and yet firmly dedicated to "prettiness."  In fact, "pretty" is what the makers of these works are going for -- it's the highest form of compliment in Mardi Gras Indian culture.  (If you don't know the history of all this, check it out here: Mardi Gras Indians.)  Basically, Mardi Gras Indian culture is an African-American self-made New Orleans tradition in which "tribes" of artists and performers construct voluptuous costumes from feathers, beads, and whatever else is needed; subject matter for each outfit is based on regional histories and other ideas.  Once the costumes are complete (it takes months), the makers and others parade around on certain days, seeking out optimum moments of grandeur and exposure.  The whole thing started in the 1880s, but also has some historical connections to slavery and Congo Square in the 1700s New Orleans, a site where African-Americans folks were "allowed" to party and play music for a certain period of time, flaunting their culture and humanities even while they were enslaved.  

So all that gorgeousness, like a lot of beauty, is anchored in horror and survival, and yet when you witness the costumes up close you only are in awe of the work, by the sheer funky fluorescent profundity of each effort, each stitch.  I could go on.  The Backstreet Cultural Museum allows  "art" to get real, without getting self-righteous.  

Bill was on a panel last week at the Cincinnati Art Museum concerning "artists and social justice," and while it seemed like a valiant effort on the parts of everyone who participated, I kept feeling antsy listening to the talk.  Bill was antsy too up there on the stage, trying his best:  how does art really contribute to cultural and social salvation?  I mean, for real?  How do artists matter in a world going to, well, kind of going to hell?  Bill mentioned "humor," and his personal history, his connection to people with developmental disabilities, how we are all equal, how that has to matter. That seemed pretty sane.  But a lot of the other panelists went a little loftier, tried to draw some conclusions, some abstractions, and I think that's why I'm writing this right now, why I wanted to revisit Mr. Francis's joint.  

The Backstreet Cultural Museum is a funhouse of sacredness, a tribute to surviving, but also a celebration of the intricate and somehow heady process of "prettiness."  Each bead and feather is a way to understand "social justice" in that little house on Henriette Delille Street.  The Mardi Gras Indian pretentiousness devours pretentiousness.  It's a working-class code of departure, of dedicating time and effort toward style, glitz, and escape, and yet also a return to personhood, to identity, like drag, only the end result here is spectacle beyond spectacle, turning the streets into theater, but a kind of theater that transcends theatricality.  It's homespun, visceral gaudiness.  It's screaming and laughing and carrying on, faced with unfairness and bull-shit politics and history and poverty and so on and so forth.  But it's not by any means fussy or self-involved or pedantic or even literal.  Those costumes reverberate with a strange magic you can't qualify.  That strangeness allows all of us to feel how odd it is to love without knowing what's being loved.  To be alive and full of love and energy and spite and power and creativity:  to be heroic just walking down the goddamned street.  

That's about all I have to say.  

Except, thank you very much Sylvester, and God bless you.
          

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Get the Hell Out


Get Out is a movie built from other parts of movies, a pastiche/celebration of horror and other genre tropes.  Yet it doesn't feel at all derivative or superficial.  The writer-director Jordon Peele (of Key and Peele fame) has the goods.  He's a stylist with something very important to say, and that blending of subject matter with technical prowess is exhilarating to witness; in fact it's the overarching reason why movies themselves are so important, so influential.  Peele cannibalizes Rosemary's Baby, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs (just to name a few) with abandon and glee, skillfully slicing and dicing moments and dialog into a meta meditation on horror movies and race and otherness and whiteness and privilege, until by the end of Get Out you are hooked and sunk into a world totally manifested by Peele's intelligence, wit, and anger.

But he doesn't just riff on horror movies.  That would be too easy.  Interspersed within the glittery, gory, Grand-Guignol fetishes are bits and pieces of Woody Allen movies and even a sort of Merchant-Ivory attachment to comedies of manner.  He's out to skewer, but also to humanize what it means to be shut out of the ruling class in a way that's not so much about hate as it is adoration, a belittlement based on fear and envy.

The story is pretty simple, like all great horror movies.  Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, even better than he was in Black Mirror) has a white girlfriend (Alison Williams, just plain perfect), Rose Armitage.  Chris and Rose are going to visit Rose's family for the first time, and guess what?  She hasn't told them he's black.  Once they arrive (after a run-in with a deer and a policeman), the gaze of the movie sets its sights on the opulence and appurtenances of Rose's mother and father (both doctors) and her douche-bag of a brother.  Here we have the reversal of tropes: freakishness in the guise of white-people in posh circumstances, with Chris the horror-movie innocent negotiating the strangeness and ickiness.  The "ickiness" is most on display when other Armitage family and friends visit for a dinner party wherein they put on the happy-happy smiles of white people welcoming a black person into their midst.  The arrogance of the scenes here topple into the grotesque; each of the rich white folks at the party finds ways to compliment Chris on his athletic prowess, his muscular beauty, his genetic strengths.  It's not about pushing him away; it's about somehow owning his identity without wanting to know him.

That's the crux of the horror here, that dinner party by the lake.  It has the fever and fright of everyday embarrassment and condescension merged with the promise that the paranoiac atmosphere will soon boil over into sordid hypnotic realities:  abduction, enslavement, basement brain surgery.

Get Out's plot is funky enough to be both genre frenetic and yet perfectly, coolly satirical.  Peele never loses sight of genre-movie pleasures, while also  using them to help us feel and understand what it means to be shut out of the world, completely ostracized, while also being smiled at and cajoled and patted on the back.  Rose's dad, after all, would have voted for Obama's third term if he could have.

Within this maelstrom of manners and terrors, our avatar is beautifully performed by Kaluuya.  He's the center-point here, and as we follow him through his paces we start to understand the totality of all the little humiliations he has to go through.  The smiles that kind of make you feel sick.  The ongoing onslaught of conversation that has nothing to do with who you are and yet everything about who they think you are, or at least they think you should be.  Kaluuya's brilliant, intelligent eyes shine out of all that bullshit, as he tries to remain rational, as he tries to remain alive.

I never really liked Key and Peele's sketch-show on Comedy Central too much.  It always seemed to be trying way too hard to make points that have already been made, and the more they went at it, the more tiresome it got.  But Get Out is the complete opposite of that kind of exhaustion; it has a freshness to it, a sense of righteousness devoid of self-righteousness, exercising a brand of humor that's both ghastly and completely optimistic, unique.  After you see this movie, you feel smarter somehow, edified.  Most movies don't have the guts or brains to edify anyone.  Get Out has guts and brains galore.  It skewers (literally at times) a brand of poshness and stupidity heretofore often left out of horror-movie villainy:  pleasant, professional white people in palatial lake-houses, stirring their cups of tea, smiling like they have everything and know everything, and are just waiting to let you have it.
 
      
      

Monday, January 2, 2017

Blizzard Stew


We're doing a show at Thunder-Sky, Inc. that commemorates the blizzard that swept through this region in 1978.  Opening January 7, 2017, it's titled "Thunder-Snow," and about 30 artists from across the area have contributed works of all kinds (poems, paintings, sculptures, drawings, you name it), delving into their memories and dreams about what it felt like confronted with all that colossal snow-fall and fury.  Evidenced by the blue-and-white-tinged nostalgia and comfort depicted in many of the works, the '78 blizzard, nicknamed "The Great White Hurricane," somehow yielded its own form of community:  neighbors who barely spoke to one another in the sunlight helped dig each other out and families got reintroduced to one another, surviving together as opposed to "living together."  The whole world seemed altered, at least for the time it took for the snow to fall, the wind to turn the snow into castle-sized drifts, and eventually for the air to warm and melt it all away.  The stories behind most of the works are next to each piece on the wall in "Thunder-Snow."  Those narratives really are what the whole exhibit is about.  The stories we tell ourselves before, during and after crises, those images and smells and tastes we commit to memory and then somehow lose, flood back when given an opportunity, a reason to reinvent and retrieve them.    

Blizzards isolate, turn people inward, and yet due to their catastrophic nature they cause people to reach out for help.  That contradiction is what gives, I think, the Blizzard of 1978 its force of inspiration:  there was no running away from it, only trying to figure out how to live through it.  One of the pieces in the show is more of a "happening," in that Sharon Butler is asking folks to write down what they ate during the storm and then she will be making versions of those recipes for a closing-event dinner.  Food, of course, is central to a blizzard story.  What's the first instinct when people hear on the news that snow's coming?  Rush to the grocery store, stock up for "the white death."  In the '78 storm, though, many people didn't have the chance to make a run for food, so they had to figure out how to make what they had on-hand into something that would get them through. That's what happened with my family.  I always remember my dad making this really salty but somehow totally delicious stew the third or fourth day we were cooped up.  I was 13 at the time. I think all we had left was some bacon, old shriveled potatoes, pinto beans, garlic salt, maybe an onion. So he made this soup for us.  He didn't really cook when there wasn't a blizzard; my mom was the cook. But he got bored and hungry and just decided to do it.  We were all like that, cabin-fevered and hungry.  He fried the bacon, cooked the potatoes, soaked and cooked the beans.  It was just this taste of salty warm water, the potatoes going creamy, that bacon/garlic residual lining the inside of your mouth.  And out the window all that white.  We weren't a real close-knit clan, and I don't have a lot of sentimental-happy memories stocked up, but that one comes at me with a warm and elemental authenticity.  Remembering that stew he made helps me understand that you often have to focus on something peripheral and real to get at the bigger truth, whatever that "bigger truth" might be.      

E. E. Cummings once wrote in one of his poems that the "snow doesn't give a soft, white damn whom it touches," and I think that's what makes a blizzard of the magnitude of the '78 one such an epic moment.  That snow is a reminder of how much nature really could not care less about your problems, or even your existence.  That essential epiphany of how small you are allows you to reconnect with what makes you human.  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

False Teeth


An original drawing by Antonio Adams.

Election Night 2016 I got sick of the whole damn thing and made a carrot cake.  It was soothing, to tune out all of it and crack some eggs and make something sweet.  It was a box cake, with a little container of icing, so it wasn't like I was the Barefoot Contessa or anything, but still doing one stupid thing like that made a lot of crap go away at least momentarily.  I wasn't scared of what was going down.  It was more like I was apocalyptically disappointed.  I haven't really bumped into that kind of instant depression in a long time, but there it was:  the monster winning, everything I thought decent and kind just poof, gone.  And then the monster's idiot parade continues on, all the way into history and power and the Whitehouse.  And so on so forth.

It is what it is.  You can't predict what he's going to do because he lies all the time anyway, and he'd probably tell you that just to get your vote.  But one thing is for sure:  it's pretty set in stone that he will keep on kissing the asses of the people who shout how great he is and desperately need someone to help them blame somebody else for how rotten their situation is. Monday morning quarterbacks are talking about how that's the real tragedy here:  no one was listening to the Rural Working Class and boy oh boy now they are getting their revenge.  Well I got news for you:  I am from that stock, and still circulate within its circles at times, and the RWC does need help but it's the kind of help that's truthful and sober and quiet, as in TPP or no you're still shit out of luck if you think "your way of life" will return just like it was before. Monumental cultural/economic shifts have happened that have disconnected the RWC manufacturing base from the global market, and no amount of screaming at the top of your lungs to lock somebody up will alter that.  No amount of shifty dealings and heavyhanded negotiations can change that situation.  China does not care about you, nor does it give a shit about you-know-who and all his wonderful businessman skills.  The RWC is going to have to change how it sees the world, how it deals with what the world taketh away, and then move forward accordingly, as in:  there are no saviors.  Just strategies.  Plans.  Hope comes out of that kind of pushing forward.  It does not come from standing around with signs that say somebody is a "cunt" and by the way all lives matter.

Poverty and lack of opportunity is the one universal for a lot of people, of all races, nationalities, religions, sexualities. And uniting to combat those circumstances might be a wonderful start to a Utopia, but somehow uniting around changing the system to redistribute the wealth and chances always gets enmeshed in identity politics so sordid and flat-out wrong it makes you want to make another carrot cake.  All sides on that one too:  from thousands of whiny-assed RWCs jumping up and down wanting to make America great again to posh universities filled with safe-spaces just in case of micro-aggressions.  No priorities just pontifications and victimizations and posing and bitching so on so forth.

I really never loved Hillary, to be honest.  I understand the distaste for her shrillness, for her need to seek power and then turn it into a public display of phony tenderness.  I get it.  But you know what?  I voted for her because I knew all of the things I don't like about her are the things that make shit work in government, as in steely reserve, automaton-hippie smile, and above all else a greedy need to be seen as a problem-solver so craven and self-serving that it makes you actually get things done.  Of course I voted for her also because I don't think she will unleash a new phase of orgiastic fascism.

Anyway, after making the cake, after realizing for sure it was all the way over, after witnessing the pundits on every network looking shocked and pale and disappointed at their own impotence and stupidity, I went to bed and it just so happened that I was on the last few pages of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.  I reread this book every few years.  I've probably read it 15 or 16 times now.  It has velocity, sorrow, grotesque humor, soul-stirring poetry, floods and fires and broken legs.  It is about a family of rural working class nobodies whose mother Addie is dying and her oldest son builds her a casket while she watches.  All her other children are in their own little moments of lunacy, despair and tragedy.  They end up taking her corpse across the country in a vain attempt at burying her where she wanted to be buried, but by the time they get there, well, she sort of smells bad and there are buzzards following their every move.  Not funny-weird, not-funny-haha, just goddamned funny the way life is.

But it's her husband, Anse, who closes out the book in the most hilarious and human manner. Basically his quest to bury his wife reveals parallel, multi-tasking motives:  he also wants to get false-teeth so he can eat victuals the way God intended him to.  And then also,  just through serendipity, while borrowing a shovel with which to dig his wife's grave from a lady he's never met he falls in love and asks her to marry him right there on the spot.  Right after he puts his dead wife's stinky remains in the ground.  Tah-dah.

Happy ending for sure.  When I finished the book I just thought to myself:  thank God for books like this that take you away from grand concerns and worries and terrors and allow you to relax into situations so complicated and stupid and vexing as to make you feel alive and somehow sympathetic beyond words and beyond even maybe consciousness.  The people Faulkner writes about in As I Lay Dying are pure white-trash, poor, crazy, stupid, pissed off, petty, and lost.  Yet they all feel so alive and beautifully rendered you want them never to leave you, even while buzzards flutter above them, even while they are setting fire to your barn.

That's the spirit I am going to live in and on.  Not love or hate or whatever, but I think a version of good old-fashioned wonder.  Not the joyful kind, but the kind that allows you a poetic and distant understanding of how the world actually works, and maybe even how it will fix itself by getting new false teeth when all is said and done.