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My Shady Bent

I have always been attracted to stories about the Mob. We have a farm in Southern Illinois and, down there for summers as a kid,  I heard first hand accounts about men like “Black Charley,” the Birger and Shelton gangs, and Old Shawneetown’s Helen Holbrook. Friends pointed out the roadhouses used for bootlegging, prostitution, and notoriously poor behaviors. These tales were the stuff of local fascination. Even respectable townspeople discussed them, awe mixed with a hint of local pride.

I live near Chicago Heights, a south suburb of Chicago with extensive Mob connections. Big Al’s aunt lived in “Da Heights,”(as it is known here) and Al Capone was no stranger to the town in the 20’s and 30’s. The head of the local Teamsters told me about the soup kitchen Mr. Capone set up during the Depression and he showed me the house where Big Al would throw nickels from the balcony to the kids gathered below. He was one of those kids catching coin. Regardless of murders and mayhem, illegal activities, and wicked deeds, Big Al holds a fond place in my heart. Like New Yorkers’ soft spot for Gotti, many Chicagoans enjoy the notoriety Big Al brought, and brings, to our town.

In my high school, a Catholic school in Da Heights, many of my peers were Mob kids. The President of our Senior Class was a kid who wore starched shirts, black trousers, and a silk tie to school, in an age of madras and Beatle haircuts. He even wore a diamond pinkie ring. In high school. He  is now living out west, and doing well I hear, under the auspices of the Witness Protection Program. Another kid’s dad was a local lawyer for the Mob, found shot execution style in the trunk of his Lincoln.

Lately my allure for the Mob has surfaced because I am binge watching Lilyhammer, a Netflix series about an American mobster in Norway, played brilliantly by Steven Van Zandt.  My husband does not hold with my attraction at all. He grimaces slightly when I show him my extensive brick collection from dismantled locales in Illinois where legendary Mob misdeeds occurred.

Easily influenced, I think I need to temper my enthusiasm, somewhat.  Last night in bed, after I had watched a couple of episodes of Lilyhammer on my iPad, my husband came in to update me on the current winter storm warnings.

Hub: Hon, Skilling just said we may get up to 12 inches of the white stuff tomorrow.

Me: Fuck me. (Accent is on “me.” Mob version of “Dang.”)

 

 

 

 

 

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1, blog

shame on me

I really enjoy playing games on my computer, sometimes.  Gin rummy, Solitaire, Canasta, and Dominoes are my favorites. On the website where I play, one wins badges and gets tokens for accomplishing challenges. There are sound effects that accompany the games, like the shuffling of cards, and bugles blaring to celebrate a win. The graphics are very well done, colorful, cartoony but not overdone. One can choose an avatar to represent oneself that is humanlike, selecting facial expressions, skin color, eyes, hair (color, style, and length), weight, etc. There are avatars with disabilities and avatars in uniform. One can buy clothes and pets and different destinations for it to go with the tokens you win. I make mine look like a younger, slimmer me with cute dogs.

According to the site, there are over a million and a half subscribed players from around the world. It costs roughly 35.00 dollars a year and I have been a subscribed player since 1999. It is rather horrific to think of the number of hours I have spent playing games throughout the years.

As I said, I enjoy playing games on my computer, but only sometimes. During the years I have played, I have learned a bit about myself, not all pleasant. It takes me back to the times, I must have been about 10, when I dumped all the pieces on the RISK board, letting them fly hither and yon, when my brother was about to take over the world. Now I can only play with robots. I used to play with people, strangers, also members of the site, but that was awful. The competition was fierce and oftentimes people would berate and insult me if I won. It was too upsetting to interact with real humans.

So my time with robots has taught me how competitive and petty I can be. I have had to face that I do not like to lose, even to a robot, if indeed it is a robot and not some very underpaid illegal. My computer screen gets full of spittle from the spray of razzing when I win. If I lose, the robot is lucky; if I win, I claim skill.

It is dreadful to face one’s shortcomings, especially when one has no intention or desire to change. I am a bad loser and a bad winner. And, I am glad I stay away from other competitive ventures where I would only disgrace myself.

 

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May 9, 2015

The month of April flitted away with my illness; enfeebled I was by a ridiculously resilient bug.  It edged in, nefariously, simulating minor sniffles, proceeded hastily into infection, and triumphed at end with a pounding round of super tree pollen allergies. I am not whining, just stating the unembellished truth. I accomplished almost nothing, taking an unusual aversion to books and movies. Computer games, on the other hand, filled my days and weeks, a mind weakened me.

Gin Rummy online became the sole vehicle to combat inertia. I sat before my large computer screen and played, sometimes ten hours a day. Food and potty breaks were mandatory, but an inconvenience. Soon the robots I played revealed their subtle personality traits. I perceived slight differences in the styles of play between one robot and another. One was more aggressive, one a bit stupid, another shrewd.  Even the animated cards themselves amused me. The 6 and 7 of clubs, when paired, looked remarkably like a pair of flirtatious Argentinean tango dancers. Cute minis and tokens kept things pleasant but there was a strange dark undercurrent.

The robots, I believe, were not robots at all. Looking to outsource jobs, the Game Center had deployed a good number of the political prisoners in Guantanamo to play with their paying members. Our government was glad that terrorists could be kept occupied and that a US company could prosper at their cost. The prisoners themselves hated us, infidel gamers, but they HAD to play, and were punished if they did not lose. Sometimes when I won I felt I was being patronized. If a prisoner rebelled and won the game, there was hell to pay with the guards. Despite that they figured it was worth it to prove their superiority.  And, in the end, as I despise losing, I knew they despised losing, and I began to despise winning.

I am up and better. May is here.

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blog

eye strain, lately

I was embarrassed in Grad School to admit that I didn’t really like looking at much photography, the area of concentration for my MFA.  Many of my peers and professors, though, had to know about everybody, see as much as they could, like in the early 70’s when one had to know the names and albums of even the most obscure bands to keep up, to be hip. I kept up with some photographers whose work I liked but I really just wanted to concentrate on making my own work.

When I started teaching photo, I did have to study trends, examine historical and contemporary work, and be able to speak cogently about it to students. The last few years were exhausting, because of the massive quantity of digital work online. There were times I found something I really liked, smart work or work with heart and genuine conviction. But most of the time I was indifferent to what I saw.

I feel the same now, of photography, fiction, and music. There are occasional pieces that stir me but not many. I am even more selective in what I care to look at, now that I have left teaching. The volume of mediocre images is mind boggling. Most of it is blah: emotionless, diffident, nonpartisan. Does it matter to me that some win critical acclaim despite their shallowness? No. Almost every day I receive emails from galleries and online magazines showing work that has no meaning for me at all. I look away, like I do from anything on television (besides the Weather Channel), because it bores me to death.

Am I a cultural snob? Maybe. If I read the first paragraph of a book and the words do not hit me like hail, I drop it on the hard wood floor, thumping it, allowing the pages to fold over awkwardly, punishing it for wasting my time. Music doesn’t get much better treatment, a few bars and off it goes. Photographic works gets less than one second. Say something or don’t bother me.

I am about to start a new project tomorrow and I am very nervous, feeling I need to screw up the courage to start. I have not shot in the US in a long time. How will I relate to my fellow Americans, when I am so isolated here, so unconnected to my own culture? We shall see. I cannot put it off any longer. I must get to work. It would be unhealthy to do otherwise.

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Art stuff, blog

Into the void

Making art, whatever the medium, if done from deep need, reminds me of a young bird taking wing for the first time. The difference is that the bird gains confidence and surety with each flight, until it is as much part of its routine as eating bugs, seeds, or worms. For artists, that surety never really arrives. It is a blind leap each time. Equanimity and composure are illusive; self doubt more often dogs the maker. Satisfaction comes in the doing, with success or failure a mere epilogue, as fickle as wind. 

I have been thinking about Edward Curtis these days, having just finished a very good biography about the resolute pursuit of his dream. His intensity and drive were undiminished by financial or familial pressures. He had a vision and worked to exhaustion to achieve what he could before the inevitable eradication of the cultures he admired, respected, and sought to preserve on glass. Time was his greatest enemy. He could see from year to year the choking and dying of an era, a people, sacred traditions. 

Are artists hardwired to pursue their work, despite the consequences? From what I see and know, I would say yes. It is not a vocation one can walk away from without a great sense of loss. People sometimes ask me, “Are you still taking photographs?” not understanding that making my images is as elemental to my life as breathing. I have tried to imagine how I could continue to make photographs if I were blinded or bed-ridden, though I am not someone who makes pictures every day. Far from it. But, I think about it every day and wait for the spirit to move me to act. When I was younger I had to shoot constantly. Now I need to bide my time and sprint to the finish, like a runner of short races. 

There is rarely glory, often disappointment and frustration, hardly the reward for such self sacrifice. Such it is, though. We do what we do because we cannot do otherwise. 

Gratefully I say thank you, Edward Curtis, for leaving us the stories and images of what is long gone. 

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The shameful hiatus

This respite has been unmerited and irresponsible. If one has the occasional reader, then respect is due and I have been remiss. I apologize.

I am no longer employed. Since I last wrote, I do not think I had committed to retiring. But, the deed is done and I am no longer a teacher. I am happy, fearful of my financial future, but I do not live in Syria and I should count my lucky stars each and every day.

Because I am no longer employed, it is important to do something worthy every day. It would be easy to stay in my pajamas and watch movies on my iPad all day, with a nap in between films, but I have restrained from doing that. I have begun writing a fictionalized memoir which I began in 1984 but left off when I let someone read it and they were frighteningly enthusiastic. This time is different. I write a couple of pages a day. I write with a pen. When the ink from a good pen flows properly, the story is just as fluid. I use a lined black and white composition book which says Composition Book on the outside.

A couple of pages feels right. Nothing too obsessive, nothing that feels compulsory. I have no idea what I will write, as pen moves to paper. That is a wonderful feeling, like the open road, like a photo of Robert Frank that I have in my head. I tell stories that are made up but based on an element of truth, something I have heard. Sometimes the strange events that occur there make me laugh.

frank_med

And, now, it is time to visit with my husband as he is employed and he deserves my attention.

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beginnings and ends, ends and beginnings

2/15/2014

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Bittersweet feelings about the turn of events in the last couple of days. I had a large exhibition scheduled for June in Perú and I have had to cancel because of the baggage limitations of the airlines. The airline, Spirit, the worst and cheapest, told me first that it was a restriction on the Peruvian end, an airport restriction. Now I find it is an airline limit. So, to ship the work would cost me $2000.00 each way, for the large crated images and boxed frames.

It doesn’t matter. I really don’t want to fight on every end, overcome so many obstacles in one hemisphere or another, just to exhibit my work. It is not the way things should be, if there is a real appreciation of the work itself. Why should the photographer have to jump through so many hoops to put images up on a bare wall? As one friend put it, “It’s like throwing a party for oneself.”

I am sick of the whole thing. I just like making photographs and creating images. I want to step back from the pressure to exhibit, whether self-imposed or otherwise. No one is knocking down my door to view my work, much less collect it. I don’t want to look for sellers or buyers.

I felt this way 25 years ago when I left graduate school in 1988. I saw the art world as a bullshit game, with success as arbitrary as tiddlywinks. I continued to make my work but began sticking my head out since the advent of things like websites, online galleries, and greater direct communication among photographers online. Then things started sucking me in. I began to show work, look for opportunities, and submit to publications. I have had some very nice invitations from cultural centers, museums, and magazines. I have had moderate success, good success in the view of some.

The nagging dissatisfaction with the process has not changed. My gut tells me that what I need to do is get back to the place where it began.

I want to take pictures.

I want to shoot film.

I want to develop film.

I don’t want to seek out venues.

I don’t want to think about an audience.

And, I certainly do not want to bend over backwards for anything or anybody.

In a way, I feel relief, somewhat liberated and, in another way, sad. It is mixed bag.

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