Saturday, December 30, 2023

The return of the lonely New Year's Eve writer

This cover art from the New Yorker, from 1996, always spoke to me.

So I was excited to see that this year, twenty-eight years later, the New Yorker has another variation on the theme of lonely writer on New Year's Eve.

The first one is slightly less forlorn because the apparently hard-boiled dame in the foreground has a soulmate, a mug in an undershirt in the building across the street. Each taps away at their old-school typewriter.

Meanwhile the writer in 2024 has only a cat for a soulmate. And rather than a yellow incandescent light, she is lampless, seeing by the blue glow of her monitor. And rather than working on fiction, this year's writer appears to be toiling over a spreadsheet - something nobody outside of a certified accountant did back in 1996.

Both have those New York City apartment-style radiators though.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Murderbot's coming to a screen near you!

It’s a big day for a certain Murderbot who just wants to watch its soaps. Apple TV+ has announced that it’s adapting Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries series, with Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood, The Northman)  on board as executive producer and to star as the titular Murderbot.

 The scripts for the ten-episode season have already been written (before the writers’ strike, in fact), and production is set to start in just three months. Directors Chris and Paul Weitz (About a Boy, Mozart in the Jungle) are the creators of the show (as well as the writers, directors and producers via their banner Depth of Field) and also serve as executive producers. Other executive producers include David S. Goyer, the showrunner for Apple TV+’s Foundation series, Keith Levine from the company Phantom Four, and Andrew Miano for Depth of Field. Wells serves as a consulting producer.

Unfortunately they haven't announced when.

In other media-nerd news, I finally got my Monk movie. It was pretty good - the ending was heart-rending,  and I laughed aloud at "Neil Diamond" but some aspects were not-so-good. 

Oh well, that's show-biz.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

My art is in the Brooklyn Museum

I attended two art schools: the Philadelphia College of Art (now called the University of the Arts) for a year on a scholarship, and I went to random classes at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts off and on between 1981 and 1988. Back then, before I switched to being a writer, I dreamed of one day having my artwork exhibited in a museum.

I never dreamed that it would happen via my Factsheet Five cover art.

Yesterday the Instagram account of someone associated with the Brooklyn Museum posted a photo from the new show at the Museum, called Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines.

How weird is that? My cover art for Factsheet Five #34 can be seen in the first column on the left, the third one down.

Here's my copy. It depicts a high school student getting detention for reading a copy of Factsheet Five behind her math book. I was long out of high school when I drew this, but I guess I still had those fond memories.

I couldn't find my original art for this picture - it was drawn in black and white and then I cut out the spot color areas on a translucent sheet with an x-acto knife .

I do have the original artwork for Factsheet Five #26, sans spot color treatment.

I was pretty influenced by Jaime Hernandez of "Love and Rockets" fame.

The guy who runs the Factsheet Five archive occasionally uses the color version of the punk's shirt as a kind of logo.

And here is my first Factsheet Five cover, which has no spot color, from issue #23. This cover doesn't get the attention that the other two get, although really I'm kind of surprised any of them have found favor, the style is rather less rough-hewn than most Factsheet Five art, which is usually the preferred level of hewn.

But what was that weird obsession I had with drawing really long chins?

In any case, I guess I'm going to the Brooklyn Museum now. It's been over ten years since I was there, I guess it's about time anyway.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Weird Barbie for Halloween

My friend Renee doing a great job rocking the Weird Barbie vibe.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

I am a god unto the ants

I am a god unto the ants.
With a tiny effort I could
lift the bottle cap, that is now
blocking their procession and which
they must manuever around, thus
making all those lives easier.
Or I could crush them underfoot
even without knowing I have,
while wearing these heavy workboots.
Smiling on the oblivious
I hurry on my own business. 

~ N. G. McClernan 

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Here is my Valadon exhibition

When I was in France last March, I made a trip to the Georges Pompidou Center specifically to see work by Suzanne Valadon - and they had nothing!

I was like Où sont-ils, les tableaux ? All these paintings by Suzanne Valadon are supposed to be here!

Turns out they had removed all her paintings in preparation for a big exhibition of her work. But by the time the exhibition happened I was long out of Europe. 

Worst of all, I had already seen some of the paintings at the Barnes Foundation show - but they didn't have the portrait of Erik Satie. Which they had in this exhibition, based on its image that flashes by at minute 4:46.  That's what I wanted to see, most of all.



Saturday, September 23, 2023

Autumn ~ the best season

In the autumn night,

 Breaking into

A pleasant chat.

Changed the red color,

Fallen on the tofu,

The leaf of the light crimson maple.

The upper reaches here

And the lower of the river.

The friend for the moon.

Drinking the morning green tea,

The monk is calm.

The flowers of chrysanthemum.

Haiku by Matsuo Bashō

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Remembering Earl Rich 26 years later

It's been 26 years since Earl Rich died. He was only 32, just a month shy of 33. 

He would be 58 now. I can't imagine it.

This is him in Valley Forge, 1995.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023


In France, all Barbies are Proust Barbie

Well it's been said that the French are pretentious while at the same time taking silly things - like Jerry Lewis - too seriously.

And no better example of this can be found than in the latest edition of the French magazine L'Obs

They ran an opinion piece on the movie "Barbie" that manages to mention the Bible, Shakespeare, the Rocky movies and Sigmund Freud.

My French comprehension level in reading is still only at the B2 level, so I relied on Google Translate to make sure I got all the nuances. Here is the last paragraph of the piece, translated into English. 

No, I did not make this up. SPOILER ALERT.

By not addressing the troubled relationship between power and desire, the film reproduces a Manichean and binary vision of society. How to speak, live, work together, with or without desire, but in equality? What if Barbie gave up the newfound power when Ken became independent again and freed himself from her gaze? Foreign (this is the etymology of the first name Barbara), she agrees to acquire a vagina to save the human race. From the "missing penis" theorized by Freud to the "erased vagina" imagined by Mattel, the female body gives rise to all fantasies, even when it is made of plastic!

"Barbie" was chosen because that was the name of the daughter of Ruth Handler, creator of Barbie. Trust the French to discover a deep etymological significance.

Earlier in the piece we learn the etymology of Ken, which is short for Kenneth which means handsome. 

And without any spoiler warning the article gives away the ending of the movie in the first paragraph.

The author Jennifer Tamas is French but teaching literature at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Obviously Tamas has successfully resisted all American influences.

The Barbie movie mentions a Proust Barbie:
Barbie and Ken’s arrival in the real world puts Mattel executives on high alert and they order their capture. Ken makes his way back to Barbieland by himself after exploring more of the real world and learning about patriarchy, while Barbie is found by Mattel’s agents and taken to the company’s headquarters. There she meets Mattel’s CEO (Will Ferrell), who’s waiting for her with a huge Barbie box. Barbie gets in the box and mentions that the smell is a Proustian memory, with the CEO mentioning how badly the Proust Barbie sold. 
While Barbie features discontinued, controversial, and obscure Barbies and Kens, Mattel never made a Proust Barbie.
I'll bet Tamas thought there was a real Proust Barbie.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

La chambre bleue - happy centennial

One of Suzanne Valadon's most celebrated paintings, The Blue Room (La chamber bleue) was painted in 1923, so it's one hundred years old now. 

Wikipedia has a very good entry about the piece:

In contrast to Valadon's depiction of the female form, artists such as Titian, Ingres, and Manet depicted female nudes with idealized womanly features. For example, the Grand Odalique, Olympia, and Venus of Urbino underscore a gendered role of women with full female exposures atop beds—as something separate from the model—creating an imbalanced power dynamic between the artists and subject.[5] The Blue Room is a response to these paintings as well as others, such as Matisse's Blue Nude and Félix Vallotton's The White and the Black.[citation needed] Substituting a cigarette for Ingres's hookah and taking Matisse's bold outlines, among other traits from the aforementioned works, Valadon creates a "startlingly contemporary" lounger, capturing a depiction of everyday life which is entirely her own.[1] Valadon's subversion and appropriation of her predecessor's techniques ultimately instigate a new trajectory for future depictions of the female form.

Fun fact - it was painted two years before The Great Gatsby was published, to give some context. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023


Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Murderbot speaks!

I'm a big fan of the sci-fi series Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and equally a fan of the voice actor who reads her books for audio, Kevin R. Free. 

So I was excited to find an interview, albeit brief, with Free on NPR.

Free talks about Murderbot here as well.

The cover for the next  book in the series is out - but the book won't come out until November. *sigh*

Monday, July 03, 2023

The Sophie Blackall saga continues

It's been a few years since I checked in with my arch-nemesis Sophie Blackall, the two-Caldecott award-winning, yet, nevertheless, terrible illustrator. And I was not happy to see that she is still, occasionally, hired to provide illustrations for adult media.

She gave Harvard Business Review two of the most anemic-looking rowers possible. 

I was amazed to find there is another Blackall critic out there. A blog called Booktoss has a post entitled Blackall's Bland as Blah... 

It really got my hopes up, that perhaps finally a true reconsideration of Blackall's dreck was underway, much like the work of Renoir is being reconsidered

Booktoss writes:
In the upper left corner there is an African American woman … she is pregnant and has 4 kids around here. Now, remember the page is about families, and in the US, that most often means a nuclear family.

What do you notice? She is Black, has lots of kids, she’s pregnant, and no partner is anywhere in sight.

What is the common and racist stereotype about Black women in America?


Absolutely right. But not a word about the wretchedness of the art? Not even about Blackall's habit of giving the face of every human - and occasionally even animals - round red cheek spots? 

Strangely, the rowers for Harvard Business Review do not have red cheek spots, and you'd think they would be more likely to have them, making a physical effort, rowing against each other. 

It occurred to me that perhaps she only does the red cheek spots for children's illustrations but you can see them in her subway art card, which is her absolute masterpiece in the ugly art competition, and meant not just for children but any hapless commuter. 

I would never have learned about the career of Sophie Blackall except that I was forced to stare at her subway art card for hours in over-crowded subway cars, and I finally had to learn the identity of the person responsible for my visual distress.

I happened to be thinking of Blackall recently because I made the acquaintance of the daughter of Lloyd Moss, who wrote an award-winning children's book called Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin

Thanks to its illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, it made "honor book" in the Caldecott awards for 1996, but was not the big winner.

Obviously Priceman's work is much better than the precious awkward pastel fussiness of Blackall. Blackall receiving the top award twice is a disgrace to the Caldecott award system. 

But just when I began to despair of the world of illustration, I read in Blackall's Wiki:
She seriously injured her hand in a fall while working at a children's camp.[2] Rehabilitative physical therapy has only been partially successful; she may have to give up precision drawing, and change her creative methods.
Now, although I despise her work, I wouldn't wish injury on Sophie Blackall. But if she had to be injured anyway, well... a change from her former "precision drawing" has the potential to make her a much better artist.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Juneteenth Pilgrimage

I went to the Lincoln Monument in observance of Juneteenth. 

I made it to the monument by 8AM so there was hardly anybody there and I got some pretty good pix of the statue.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Spring - the second best season

Roosevelt Island Henge

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Google has lost its mind

Well the people who run Google's Blogger have gone completely nuts and have decided to start randomly banning blog posts for this blog including inoffensive content like this:

TITLE: All the Presidents' Men


In this scene Woodward is typing to Bernstein that Deep Throat (now known as H. Mark Felt) said that their lives are in danger and they might be bugged.

Good timing. While news of the latest Bush shananigans are still in the air, , Channel 13, the New York PBS affiliate, is running both "All the President's Men" and Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History, originally produced in 2003.

The similarities between Bush's concept of the presidency and Nixon's couldn't be clearer. Nixon thought, and Bush thinks that the president is above the laws of the United States - a virtual dictator.

Their biggest difference? Nixon subverted the Constitution covertly. Bush does it proudly and publicly.

As Nixon aid and Watergate witness John Dean observed, Bush is "the first president to admit to an impeachable offense."

There IS a political will to impeach. Get off your asses Democratic representatives!!!

Aside: The story of Robert Redford's involvement in the Watergate movie is very interesting

That's the content. I guess because the idiots at Google have decided to use AI to flag posts and their AI thinks that "Deep Throat" refers to the pornographic movie (which is, to be sure, the origin of the term) instead of a legitimate historical fact that Woodward and Bernstein used the term to refer to H. Mark Felt.

Google has lost its mind.

Fun fact: I once worked as a contractor for Google and my impression of Google's full-time employees was that they were all on drugs.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

This guy loves "Life During Wartime"

Because he likes "older music."  😿 OLDER MUSIC!!!!

But you gotta love watching anybody seeing David Byrne doing his noodle dance for the first time.

I've mentioned before, watching these videos, where somebody just reacts to watching music for the first time is a lot more fun than you might expect.

But shit, I saw "Stop Making Sense" when it was first released in theaters. Which was only like a few years ago according to my internal clock!



David Byrne is still out there, still rocking.

Just like me.


Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Barnes Foundation strikes back

As discussed previously on this blog, there is a group, called "Renoir Sucks at Painting" which, quite justifiably in my opinion, dislikes the paintings of Renoir. I've detested his work since I was in art school.

I was at the Barnes Foundation museum a year and a half ago to see its Suzanne Valadon exhibition. Interestingly, Valadon modeled for Renoir, before she became a painter in her own right. I compared her work with Renoir's

I also noted that the Barnes Foundation is known for having a huge collection of Renoirs. I imagined they wouldn't be pleased with the RSAP movement and its threat to their business model.

Well the Barnes Foundation is fighting back. Their post on Linked In (why Linked In?) says:
💡Did you know?💡 A lot of people love to hate Pierre-Auguste #Renoir. There’s even an Instagram account dedicated to him called “Renoir Sucks at Painting.” While it is debatable if he truly sucks, he undoubtedly occupies the strange position of being one of the most beloved artists of all time yet also one of the most reviled.

Join us online on Wednesdays, 5/3 – 5/24, from 12-2 pm, *live from the Barnes galleries*—home to the largest Renoir collection in the world (181 paintings, to be exact!) for #BarnesClass: In Defense of Renoir, to survey the artist’s paintings and discuss some of the specific criticisms they have inspired across the decades. We’ll consider this question: what if his work is more interesting than we thought?

After discussing Renoir’s theories of art, we will use deep-zoom technology to look closely (more closely than you ever thought you could get to a priceless painting, tbh) at several canvases to develop a better appreciation for his craftsmanship and how it reflects the values of the early 20th century.

Renoir haters will be encouraged to rethink their opinions—but are also welcome to dig in their heels! Register for this course today

On Instagram, the Renoir Sucks at Painting response includes a video by Martha Lucy, Deputy Director for Research, Interpretation & Education Barnes Foundation along with this comment:
Hey Everybody! This is actually happening! The @barnesfoundation has an online class all about Renoir and they’ve invited us to participate! Congratulations to us all. We are a part of Art History, and our ghosts will haunt the vibes of Renoir lovers for generations to come.
Each class will be cool and informative. And also funny. You can buy tickets at the link in the bio, and if you’re willing to subject yourself to the indignity of typing RENOIR4EVER into the discount code box at checkout, you’ll save 10%. 
Also! very important! If the cost, discount notwithstanding is prohibitive, dm me! I’ll gladly walk you through getting a full ride. These Barnes curators, cheeky though they might be, are really good about making sure this thing is accessible to all!

In her 2019 lecture available on YouTube, "The Trouble with Renoir" Lucy seems defensive and even a little whiny, and the title refers to "the trouble" that not everybody loves Renoir like Martha Lucy does.

She argues that because many critics of Renoir use food terminology it means that they are equating Renoir's work with pleasure and since the critics are suspicious of pleasure, that is why they don't like his work. 

What bullshit.

The RSAP gang use a great food-related word that perfectly captures the painful diabetic ketoacidosisness of Renoir's work: "treacle."

Later in the lecture, Lucy admits part of the trouble with Renoir is the vapid male-gaze nudes he painted during his creepy-old-man-going-blind late period. But then she tries to excuse it by claiming Renoir was being "subversive."

And claiming Renoir was a big influence on the hideously misogynist Picasso is not the slam-dunk she apparently thinks it.

On the plus side, the lecture alerted me to this funny piece in The Onion: Art World Relieved As Thieves Steal Pretty Terrible Late Period Renoir Work

Monday, April 17, 2023


I saw some amazing mountain views while traveling by train through Germany and Austria.

On the other hand, I think I have a pretty great view out my own window.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Scenes from my recent European trip

On the train through Germany - contrary to stereotype, it was late.

View from my hotel room in Paris

The less-classy side of Paris

View from an Austrian castle with my friends

Also from the Austrian castle - these Fräuleins appeared to be participating in some kind of traditional Austrian bachelorette party. I admit I was afraid they would burst into "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."

Naomi & Patty at the Louvre

They love English language graffiti in Slovenia

Back in Paris - the hills of Montmartre were brutal - my calves were aching - but beautiful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

I got my Monk movie!

I've been having a Monk marathon and I have been thinking about how the Monk character would react to the pandemic.

Someone in the comments on YouTube suggested a Monk movie.


And today I found out it's happening. I am ECSTATIC!

‘Monk’ Returns As Peacock Orders Reunion Movie Starring Tony Shalhoub & Original Series Cast
In the follow-up movie, Monk, a brilliant San Francisco-based detective with obsessive-compulsive disorder, returns to solve one last, very personal case involving his beloved stepdaughter Molly, a journalist preparing for her wedding.

“When creator Andy Breckman came to us with a new Monk case set in present day, we immediately fell in love with this story all over again,” said Michael Sluchan, EVP, Movies, Kids, Daytime, NBCUniversal Television and Streaming. “The movie has the heart and humor of the original series with a contemporary relevance, and we’re overjoyed to work with the original creative team, including Andy, David Hoberman, Randy Zisk, the unparalleled Tony Shalhoub, and our partners at UCP, for what is sure to be a must-see movie event for Peacock audiences.”

I hope they bring some of the guest stars from the show into the movie - like Sarah Silverman. 

He may not be F. Murray Abraham...

Monday, March 13, 2023

The fully homogenized Greenwich Village

Every now and then I'll see an old movie that makes a reference to those wacky bohemian artist-types who live in Greenwich Village, and it's always a shock from an early 21st-century perspective. 

Greenwich Village has been on the road to rich person domination for several decades now, but a recent article in the New Yorker makes it clear that it has just about completed its transformation, much like Disney completely transformed Times Square:

Perhaps it is also why so many have schemed to take over a money-losing local newspaper, and why so many followed its coverage and, later, its apparent theft. For Villagers, WestView provided a bit of friction in a neighborhood whose bustling tenements have been replaced by single-family mansions, and where life has become largely frictionless. One day, Capsis noted to me that the block has become eerily quiet. Some weekends, it seems that all the residents have left town for their vacation homes. The WestView saga, at least, gave its participants something to talk about. The squabbles, rumors, and side-taking enacted something like a community.

As the article mentions elsewhere, the only people who remember the bohemian days of Greenwich Village are very old.

And when, every so often, some friction is introduced, it outrages the wealthy of Greenwich Village.

Now that the wealthy have homogenized and deadened Greenwich Village, as they inevitably do to any place they gather in large numbers, perhaps it will lose its cachet and its properties will lose value and the cycle will begin again.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Hudes or Change: purple prose and nostalgia

This is how Jenn/Kathy's death is described in Hudes' "Daphne's Dive":
DAPHNE: Do you know what self-immolation means? (Silence) Do you know what self-immolation means?
(Daphne pulls a newspaper clipping from her purse)
UPenn did a little write-up.

RUBY: Get that paper out of my face. Speak.

DAPHNE: Tuesday, at the LOVE statue. Jenn poured gasoline over her head, lit a match, and started dancing. A few people tried to douse the flames but she went quickly.
I found the NYTimes review of Daphne's Dive, and it is wild that the accurate description of Jenn/Kathy's death is described as "a little contrived."
Not all that takes place in “Daphne’s Dive” strikes me as entirely credible — or free of a sprinkling of sentimentality. The fate of Jenn, for example, who dies in spectacular circumstances midway through the play, seems a little contrived. Acosta’s rise from businessman to powerful local politician, on the other hand, is more persuasive.
I appreciated that Hudes didn't simply portray Chang as a hero, and the most decent characters in the play argue against it:
PABLO: Jenn was not a hero. 
RUBY: Yes she was. 
PABLO: No, Ruby 
DAPHNE: She was sick/She needed treatment. 
RUBY: Unrelated/Unrelated.

I wanted to see what else Quiara Alegría Hudes had to say about Kathy Chang so I listened to all ten hours of her memoir "My Broken Language." Hudes does the reading herself and I really wished she didn't because she reads in a relentlessly chirpy manner, like her audience is in kindergarten. 

Also that woman loves a metaphor. I would estimate that she averages at least one metaphor per page. 

She also loves lyrical bordering on cringe like "the wind caressed my shoulder blade." Her lyricism for anything to do with learning or playing music is so extreme that I set the audio playback rate to 2.0 times normal speed once she got to Yale to study music. 

Hudes turned the memoir into a play and in the New Yorker review Vinson Cunningham said:

...there are places where the Author’s voice goes mawkish and her prose crosses that often untraceable line between lyricism and purpleness. 

Yes, exactly. Thank you.

And then there is Hudes' religiosity. In her 2018 musings on the theater Hudes says:
I struggle increasingly with the atheist white male aesthetics I inherit. These include:
  1. That love is dead, romance is transactional, and sex is not a source of pleasure but a race to the bottom.
  2. That children hate their parents and vice versa. The suggestion of familial love implies idiocy on the part of the playwright.
  3. That wealth is either neutral or a hardship to the wealthy.
  4. Regarding God: You’re kidding, right?
  5. Joy is sentimental, harmony a falsehood. Harming others is the single human truth.
  6. Genius is a male attribute. Intuition is a female attribute.
I was in agreement with five out of six items on her struggle list. But I take exception to "Regarding God: You're kidding, right?"

I'm not sure what she wants. There is a currently-playing musical, HADESTOWN, full of Ancient Greek gods. And ANGELS IN AMERICA not only contains plenty of discussions about faith and religion, especially Mormonism and Judaism, but there's even a big scene where Louis, with the help of the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, says Kaddish for Roy Cohn.

But her view of religion is strongly informed by the fact that when she was a teenager her mother held spirit-possession rituals in their West Philadelphia twin row home that included animal sacrifice. She mentions a chicken, a frog and a goat. And I thought my mother was a religious fanatic. At least she never sacrificed a goat. As far as I know.

Hudes seems to think her mother is a goddess of wisdom, so she's hardly going to accuse her of being a fanatic. She at least acknowledges that it's a strange dichotomy, that her very literate, social-welfare agency employed mother spent her free time performing rituals involving animal sacrifice.

I hated Hudes portraying Gloria Steinem as an elitist racist, because in the 1980s she had a meeting with bigwigs at the social services agency her mother worked for, and her mother wasn't invited to the meeting. If you know anything about Steinem's life you know that not only has she always been very conscious of making connections with non-white feminists, she is every bit as respectful of Native American traditions as Hudes' mother with her love of the bloody Sundance ceremony

One thing I absolutely do love about the book is her trashing The Bell Curve. But on the other hand, Hudes seems to indulge in her own ethnic essentialism, similar to that in The Bell Curve, throughout the book, using "white" and "whiteness" as insults. Her father is Jewish, but she's more likely to describe him as "white" than as Jewish, I assume because insulting someone by calling them a Jew is considered far more bigoted than insulting someone by calling them white. 

Hudes spends Chapter 22 mocking her father and his wife Sharon as right-wing reactionary libertarians who hate each other and consider city people "rats." Now I'm sympathetic, I despise right-wing reactionary libertarians. But elsewhere in the narrative, Hudes acknowledges how deeply homophobic her Puerto Rican relatives are, so much so that one of her relatives ran away to New York City to die alone on a mattress rather than tell any family members he had AIDS. Surely Hudes must consider homophobia as bad as being a right-wing reactionary libertarian, but she never mocks her homophobic Puerto Rican relatives. 

And because Hudes hates Sharon so much, and because Sharon is white, Hudes decides that you can't be both white and Puerto Rican, you have to pick a side. This might not seem so remarkable coming from the teenager she was when she chose this simple-minded way to be in the world, but then she writes:
They left me two options that night in the living room. Be white or be Puerto Rican. Their rules, they forced my hand. Fine. My heels dug further into North Philly. My soul took a side that lasts to this day.
Really? You're not seventeen anymore. Sharon no longer has power over you. Hell, you're being paid to talk shit about Sharon now. You went to Yale, you're in your forties, white people come to see your plays produced in the Anglophone theater tradition. 

Hudes is no blood relation to Sharon, so her whiteness comes from her Jewish father. But Hudes doesn't express it as Puerto Rican versus Jewish.

Maybe Hudes publicizes this attitude as a way to shore up her career brand as a specifically Latina playwright. I hope so, because the alternative, that she sincerely believes in such an extreme dichotomy, is depressing. In the 2020 census more than half of all Puerto Ricans living outside Puerto Rico identified as white. Even more living in Puerto Rico identify as white.

But while her lyricism and essentialism alienated me, Hudes' litany of place names made me nostalgic for Philadelphia and its suburbs. She mentions the Philadelphia Art Museum, Giovanni's Room, the Schuykill Expressway, the Italian Market, Six Flags Great Adventure and the Cherry Hill Mall. And the rail line between 30th Street and Malvern, which coincidentally I had taken my one and only time this past October to go to a funeral for an artist friend who had lived out there. Hudes took the same line to see her father after her parents split up.

She even describes participating in a Quaker meeting at the Quaker headquarters on 15th Street and Cherry Street, or as my ex-husband called it, when he was working in their cafeteria, "The Quaker Kremlin." I never participated in a Quaker meeting myself but the building was familiar to me since my daughter was eligible for Quaker daycare at a steep discount while my ex was working there. Our paths criss-crossed, Hudes and mine, all over the Delaware Valley, and not just because of Kathy Chang.

And by the way, unless I missed it, and I don't think I did, even at 2.0 speed, the memoir does not include a discussion of Kathy Chang. This is strange because Hudes says she knew her:
 Some of those initial molecules, for me, in this play was someone I knew growing up named Kathy Change—I knew her as Kathy Chang, she changed her name later—who was a kind of activist and performance artist and I admired her. Many people didn’t like her and thought she was a nuisance. There was something about her that fascinated me—how did she do what she did? She went out to these Philadelphia street corners and danced and waved these flags with her ideals, and I thought that was fascinating. 
I mean, Hudes goes into fine detail about the lives, body types, drug problems and eating habits of dozens of relatives, so you'd think she could spare a few paragraphs in her memoir for someone she admired. 

But her inclusion in the play is certainly a coup for Chang, on top of decades of inspiring less-established artists. Her Wiki page notes:
  • A memorial is held in her honor every year on October 22 at the peace sign sculpture on the University of Pennsylvania campus where Kathy died. The memorial attracts artists, activists and performers, among others.[10]
  • Percussionist/composer Kevin Norton wrote a suite for Kathy Change entitled Change Dance (Troubled Energy) in 2001 and was released late in 2001/early 2002 on the Barking Hoop label.[11][12]
  • Industrial metal band Fear Factory wrote the song "Slave Labor" referring to her suicide; it was included in the 2004 album Archetype.
  • Drummer Tyshawn Sorey composed and performed "For Kathy Change," a quintet in her honor, in March 2011.[13]
  • Soomi Kim wrote and performed in the biographical play "Chang(e)", directed by Suzi Takahashi, which premiered in 2013 and has had multiple performances since then,[14][15] including New York City[16] and Portland, Oregon.[17]
  • Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes's 2016 play "Daphne's Dive," based in Philadelphia, features a character closely resembling Kathy Change.[18][19] The play is dedicated "in memory: Kathy Chang(e)."[20]
  • Actor (and writer) Shin-Fei Chen portrays "Peace Activist Kathy Change" in Andrew Repasky McElhinney’s 2019 film Casual Encounters: Philadelphia True Crime Confessions. Her scenes were shot on 35mm Kodak film, September 2018 in West Philadelphia.
She's mentioned in a poem published in The New Yorker, in 2008; the subject of an article in The Drama Review in 2011; and the subject of a collage from 2004 at my alma mater (did not graduate) the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The very biographical song about Chang recorded by Todd Young and His Rock Band, is called "Kathy Change."

I especially understand why Asian women artists are inspired by Chang and want to perform her as a character. The Western theater tradition has not been exactly over-stuffed by highly individualized Asian woman characters. Whatever else you can say about Chang, she was highly individualized.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Hudes, or Change: deadbeat dads and allegory

I think people in the arts are fascinated by Kathy Chang because she was a big talker. That's the reason why people in the arts and on the Left are fans of Bernie Sanders. He talks big, like the time, during his 2016 presidential campaign, when he told the New York Daily News he wanted to "break up the banks" but when pressed for details on how to do that, he had nothing. Which doesn't seem to bother Sanders fans, which includes Chang's friend Anita King, who never shut up about how corrupt Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were during the 2016 presidential campaign until I unfriended her on Facebook.

While we were still speaking, King attested to the political affinity.

Bernie Sanders has something in common with my ex - they were both, at least for periods of time in their lives, deadbeat dads. Sanders' ex-girlfriend and child ended up receiving welfare, although Sanders, a white man with a college degree could certainly have found a job that paid well enough to support his kid. But, like my ex, Sanders preferred to devote himself to politics

Unlike my ex, Sanders eventually found himself a living-wage career through politics. Although I will say, there are few people who live to see their fondest dream come true, like my ex did when marijuana began to be legalized all around the United States.

Chang may be considered a performance artist, but her art was almost always in the language of politics. For example:

I am running on a platform of complete social transformation.
The problems we are faced with today: crime, unemployment,
poverty, battered women, abused children, pollution,
environmental degradation, national insolvency, and budget
deficits, and so on, cannot be solved within the present
economic and political framework, because that framework
is in itself the fundamental problem and the cause of all the other
problems. The present government is so corrupt and tied
up with anti-democratic procedures that it cannot reform
itself. The only way to reform the system is to simply
dissolve the system and start all over with a great national
conference to create a new society...

"...simply dissolve the system and start all over with a great national conference to create a new society."

It's perfect that sentence contains "simply." 

Hudes' play includes Kathy/Jenn's death, which is not shown on stage, and then later one of the characters has a magic realism moment with an apparition of Jenn, during which Jenn says some Kathy Chang style things. Huldes also directly quotes Chang:

RUBY: Jenn should have held up. Occupy would've been her moment. I dug up one of her old banners: "In case of financial collapse, party in the streets!" 

It's true that Occupy was a lot like Chang: a big-talking public nuisance that did nothing to actually improve the lives of others. But got a lot of attention.

But indirectly thanks to Chang, I came to rely on the very real social safety net that had existed for fifty years, because the Democratic Party made it happen, through boring old non-revolutionary politics. The same Democratic Party that many Bernie Sanders supporters disparage as identical to Republicans.

That is why I dislike the use of Chang and her death as a symbol for hope and for positive social change. I believe Chang killed herself, at age 46, because the rewards for her performances were fading and she did not want to, or could not do anything else. And because no goddam person in her life would help her with her dental problems. 

Fun fact: dental care is part of Obamacare, which exists thanks to the Democratic Party. But the far Left hates Obama for not achieving the completely socialized healthcare of their dreams, so they don't care how many lives were saved by Obamacare

So really you could say Occupy was Kathy Chang's moment, since Obamacare first appeared in 2010, just ahead of Occupy in 2011. She could have partied at Occupy without tooth decay.

Chang did not only do protests, she was involved in theater, at least to the extent that she had performed in a production of "The Year of the Dragon" written by her then-husband Frank Chin, a fairly well-known playwright. Her response to the end of their 5-year marriage was to try to kill herself.

Chin and Chang in performance 1978

And Chang wrote a play which was performed and videotaped in 1991. It's called The Transformation and it's as allegorical as a medieval morality play. There's Uncle Sam, there's a character representing third-world poverty, there's Mother Nature, the Military-Industrial Complex, etc. It has all the coherence and self-discipline of her speeches, that is, very little. 

But it's interesting that she wrote it and I'm impressed she got anybody to perform it. I've watched it and the basic plot starts from the clash of these various Humors but then evolves into sex bringing characters together and by the end of the play the cast is semi-naked and chanting and dancing in a circle.

At the end of the play, Chang displays her extremely romanticized view of pre-Industrial Native American society.

Think back. Think back. Before the Europeans landed. There are no skyscrapers and streets. No highways and electric wires. No, just trees and forests everywhere. Forest full of wild animals. Coyotes. Dear. Bear. Bobcats. Wolves. Natives. Lenni Lenape. Algonquin.  Hopi. Cherokee. Chippewa. The streams are jumping with fish. You hunt with bow and arrows. No guns. You live off fruits and berries and herbs. You grow corn and squash and peas. You worship the earth and are careful not to bite the hand that feeds you. You don't squander my resources.

I don't know if Chang was completely ignorant of the fact that pre-European contact North America was not a peaceable vegetarian kingdom, and that indigenous people ate meat, sometimes human meat and warred against each other plenty without the aid of guns, or if she just doesn't care. But what she is advocating is "going back in time" to this Garden of Eden fantasy.

If Chang had not killed herself, she would be 72 years old now. If she hadn't killed herself when she did, the way she did, I doubt people in the arts would care about her. 

My ex wrote on his blog:
Kathy killed herself on the University of Pennsylvania campus in 1996. Visually and physically like the Buddhist monks of Vietnam, she poured gasoline over herself and her robes and set herself on fire. The political effect was unlike that of the monks. The world did not sit up and take notice. The country did not erupt into revolution.
My ex seems to believe Chang's rhetoric, that she killed herself in that way to bring on the Revolution, and he mourns that she did not achieve her goal.  

I think she killed herself that way so that people would remember her, and in that she has been wildly successful. Being included in a play by a Pulitzer-prize winner is probably her greatest success yet.

More about that in the next post.