Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Present: 04.28.13

The Present: 04.28.13

It's been well over a month since I last wrote a blog post. These daily musings didn't have the same feeling in the absence of books to write about and I bored of writing them quickly. I thought I would write today in celebration of the fact that my books are finally coming out of boxes once again. This was exactly what occasioned the Aimless Reading projet in the first place. This is the second time since that they have been completely unpacked and re-shelved.

I have some built-ins just outside my office in the hallway of the new house. They were in pretty rough shape when we moved in. The drab, off-white paint was cracked and peeling, one of the shelves was missing, and another seemed to have been added at a later date without any concern for how well it fit into the book cases. It was not as deep as the unit itself and barely wide enough to catch the shelf-clip on either end.

Our initial plan was to have Lori faux-woodgrain the whole hallway, including the bookcases. The house was built in 1949 and all the walls were originally made of luan that had a warm, orange-y finish to it. We decided to try the book cases first. She painted an orange base over them, then started layering a dark brown wood grain over it. It quickly became apparent that this was not the way to go. It was just two dark and it made the house seem less modern.

In the meantime, I had two new plywood shelves cut at Home Depot. It was kind of a pain because they do not sell boards that are truly 12" deep. The boards they call 12" are actually 1/4" to a 1/2" inch less deep than that. I had to by a large sheet of plywood instead and have them cut two shelves out that. I think the sheet cost something like $35. Anyhow, I did that and also had to buy a few extra clips for the added shelf.

In the end, we decided that our current design approach of painting everything white should be followed with the bookcases.  Lori re-painted everything. Painting over the orange was bad enough, but she also encountered a problem painting over the wooden doors on the cabinets beside the bookcases.

There are eight of them and the finish leaked through the white on all of them. She ended up having to prime, then shellack, then paint two or three coats on each one to get rid of the wood underneath. However, we did want a little color, so we bought some playful floral fabric and pasted to the wall behind the shelves. You can see it in the photo behind all the books.

Last night I unpacked all the book boxes. I decided to categorize my books this time instead of just alphabetizing everything in one big clump. I spent most of the afternoon unpacking and separating out the poetry books. Once they were out I alphabetized and shelved them. They nearly filled the entire built-in. I filled in the lower shelves with a Spanish language/Latin American section, which took up almost two shelves. I filled the final shelf in with a few books on film and then a group of unclassifiable practical books on subjects ranging from dieting to wilderness trails to parenting.

My next project is to shelve fiction, philosophy, drama, history, sci-fi, etc. I am trying to decide If I want to keep the cheap shelving I moved from Buffalo with or buy something a little nicer that I can put in my office. I may think on this for a little while before taking action.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Present: 02.24.13

The Present: 02.24.13
The Present: 02.24.13

Yesterday, staring at a blank screen, I took to writing longhand. It seemed to work. That is, something came of it. A poem, perhaps. It allowed me turn away from the screen, away from what I was writing about, to move in a different direction, multiple directions, so that when I returned to the screen, it seemed as if I'd arrived at the place I'd been trying to get to all along. I incorporated what I'd been looking at before turning away directly into the poem. Perfect. That's the way it works when it works.

That and mucus are the stories of the weekend. A house full of hacking, coughing, sneezing, runny-nosed snifflers. This is round two. It starts with my daughter, who gives it to Lori, who in turn gives it to me. I am hopeful it will make a final exit this week, along with more of the snow.

I drove past the Basset Park dog run Friday afternoon. It's a little park about a mile south of us on the way into New Haven. They used the Dog Run parking lot to dump a lot of snow from elsewhere, creating some of the highest snow mounds I have ever seen, some of them thirty feet high. They probably won't melt until July.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Present: 02.20.13

The Present: 02.20.13

A pattern seems to have emerged.

Days I decide to write now seem to be determined by whether or not I take a photo between the time I wake and the time I sit down with my coffee, kefir, and laptop. If, for instance, I take a photo of a tree while walking the dog, I will post that photo to flickr, then write about it on the blog. On the other hand, if I do not take a photo, I don't seem to write.

I am not always inspired to pull out my phone to take a photograph. Thus, I am not always moved to write.

A lovely winter light the cuts sideways through the sliding glass doors in my office in the morning, throwing the silhouettes of the trees on the wall. This morning I was tempted to shoot video rather than a still photo to catch the movement. I shot a still instead. The motion created a kind of blurring effect that abstracted the image.

Consumed with my job lately, I haven't had much time for self-reflection. I've been writing steadily, though, working on poems for my collaboration with Isabelle. I've already written ten of them. I even like a few. I will post some here, as I said before, but not until the project develops a bit.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Present: 02.15.13

The Present: 02.15.13

We've more or less dug ourselves out here in North Haven. The mail comes, the back door opens, we have diapers. New Haven proper is a parking disaster, so I have been hitching a ride with a co-worker each morning and afternoon.

My skin is dry. A crack just opened on the skin between my forefinger and thumb. No blood, but it stings a bit. I still haven't found a suitable replacement for my books as subject matter for the blog, but I am enjoying writing these little diary entries.

I brought home two books by Lisa Robertson last night, R's Boat and Nilling. She's coming to the Poetry Working Group at Yale in a couple of weeks. The way the PWG works is as follows: curators Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl order books by the visiting poet, which they leave on a shelf in the back of a room at the Whitney Humanities Center.  The group members pick up the books, read them, then get together to talk about the work.

A week or so later the poet shows up, having been prepped on the content of the previous discussion. The group talks with them about their work for a couple of hours. Most of the time the poets do not perform a full-scale reading, but often someone asks them to read a poem or two out loud during the discussion.

Thankfully, Lisa, has been enlisted to read in Nancy's series at the Beinecke, so we'll get the full treatment. I think Alice Notley is on deck after Lisa, which bodes well for spring.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Present: 02.12.13

The Present: 02.12.13

A day of rain and some warmer temperatures have brought on a bit of a thaw. Still a ways to go, however, before things return to normal. Plows (I always want to spell this word like the Brits, "plough," for some reason I prefer the pillowy openness of -ough to the to disappointing finality of -ow) came through and created a lane on the opposite side of the street, leaving our mailbox inaccessible. Don't mail anything for at least a few more days.

Between last week's sick days and this week's snow days, I haven't worked much in the past few weeks, except some emailing from home. Not that I mind. I've gotten plenty of writing done, read a bit, played with my daughter, got to know a few of my neighbors via a blizzard pot luck yesterday afternoon.  We finally made it out of the driveway yesterday to pick up some diapers and chocolate.

Lindt brought out two new flavors of dark chocolate we've yet to try: Strawberry and Wasabi. We've tried all of their flavors, but generally stick to the few we like: Sea Salt, Chili, Orange, and, more recently, Coconut. We do not like Passion Fruit, Caramel-Sea Salt, Black Currant, Cranberry, Cocoa Nut Crunch, or Cocoa Almond Brittle. We used to like the 70% dark chocolate, but after getting into the flavored chocolates they just don't seem sweet enough anymore.

I'll let you know about the new ones once we've tried them.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Present: 02.10.13

The Present: 02.10.13

The photo above depicts the remains of my breakfast. For the past several years, Lori and I have been making kefir smoothies each morning. This began in 2008. We'd sold our first house and were living in an apartment on Auburn Ave. in Buffalo. The apartment was lovely, but the bedroom, formerly a back porch, was without heat and very cold.

We only lived there for about nine months. We'd sold our house thinking we were going to move another city, but then the financial crisis hit and we thought it best to stay where we actually had jobs until we found a place to land. Four more years (and two more houses in Buffalo) passed before we finally made the leap.

Lori at the time began to experiment with fermentation. She started by making sourdough bread in our kitchen. She made one or two small loaves per day. I ate them about as quickly as she could make them. I had a check-up at the time and was told that my triglycerides were through the roof. We determined that my breadmania was the root cause of the sugar surge.

Lori also began reading about Kefir, a fermented dairy product originally from Caucasus region. She ordered some grains online and then began placing them in milk and waiting for the milk to thicken and turn slightly fizzy. During this period our entire refrigerator became a fermentation lab, filled with overflowing jars of sourdough starter and kefir. Kefir on its own tastes pretty nasty, so she started adding fruit and a little bit of sugar.

I took a liking to the smoothies and we eventually started working together on the smoothies, mixing and matching ingredients to produce what has become our healthy morning shake. Each ingredient has some reason for being there.

The kefir is good for the intestines and aids in digestion. We add two tablespoons of crushed flax seed to boost my HDL levels which are always too low. To increase protein in the shake, we add one scoop of vanilla why protein powder. This also sweetens the confection. For a time, we used stevia for sweetening, but I never liked the taste and it's pretty expensive, so we gave that up.  We also add one banana for bulk, flavor and sweetness.

The final ingredient is the one that varies on a day to day basis: frozen fruit. We usually by frozen fruit mixes at the grocery story. Our current favorite is a berry mix that includes frozen cherries from Trader Joe's. We also use blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, mango, et al. About once a week we ditch frozen fruit in favor of peanut butter. When we do we add ice in order to increase the volume.


In other news, we're still buried here in North Haven. We spent about 2 hours trying to shovel the driveway yesterday. We cleared about half of it before we nearly collapsed with exhaustion. When the sun gets  little higher this afternoon, we'll try to finish the rest. Not that it matters. We live on a cul de sac and are unlikely to see a plow until tomorrow at the earliest. Here's hoping the diapers hold out.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Present: 02.09.13

The Present: 02.09.13

Quite a snowstorm last night. I'd say we got at least two feet, if not more. The photo above is the view from my office. The snow drift rises nearly to the doorknob. The door enters on the garage, on the other side of which, in the driveway, my car is completely buried. Not one part is visible. You could ski down the driveway and mistake for a mogul.

All the streets in Connecticut have been closed. Wind gusts blow dry tiny flakes of snow this way and that. I'd like to go out to shovel, but it's just too damn cold. I'll wait, at the very least, until the plow hits our little cul de sac. Or not. If the wind dies down perhaps I'll head out earlier. Of course, where do you displace two feet of snow? We'll have four feet on either side of the driveway when I am done. I wish I had a snow blower. Alas. A little exercise won't hurt.

I just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing Mars trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars. It's a spectacularly detailed imagining not only of the technological side of terraforming Mars, but of the difficulties of founding a colony, creating a system of government, negotiating with the the mother country, dealing with tensions between immigrants and native born, not to mention the effects of slowing down aging on memory, consciousness, et al. Great stuff.

Immediately after putting that down I picked up Roadside Picnic, the Soviet era sci-fi novel that Tarkovsky used as the basis for Stalker. I'll let you know how it goes. It's great so far.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Present: 02.04.13

The Present: 02.04.13

Very cold out this morning. Zelda seemed to have trouble going to the bathroom on our walk this morning She kept darting from one spot to another on the perimeter of the yard, never really stopping to do her business. I think she needs her anal glands emptied. Poor Zelda.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Present: 02.03.13

The Present: 02.03.13

A dusting of snow last night, just enough to let us know that it was there. Everyone here is coughing and sniffling except me. I am still recovering from gum surgery two weeks back. It's just soreness at this point, but I can't really chew on the right side of my mouth.

Last night we watched Mughal-e-Azam, the famous Bollywood epic about Akbar the Great and his romantic-poet-warrior-rebel son, Salim. I'd been wanting to see this for years, but it hasn't been available on Netflix. It made an appearance in a documentary about the history or world film we watched last week. Turns out they do have it on Netflix now, so I put it in my queue.

For better or worse, it had been colorized. At times the colors dazzled, but the colorization was kind of haphazard. Rather than color everything, they chose to leave white and gray materials desaturated, so that, for instance, in a palace scene all the curtains and costumes and props would be colored in the most garish golds and purples and greens, but the marble walls and columns and floors would be left alone, creating an almost cartoonish disjunct between the two. Comme ça:

Nonetheless, once we'd accustomed ourselves to the colors, we were (or at least I was) able to enjoy it. I am not sure it stands up as a narrative or even as a whole film. Like most Bollywood films, it's about an hour longer than it should be. The advantage of long form films like this, though, is that it allows the filmmaker space for all kinds of poetic innovations, of which this film is chock full. 

The greatest scene takes place about halfway into the film. In the story, Salim, heir to Mughal Empire of his father, Akbar the great, has fall in in love with a maid.  He wants to marry her, but tradition forbids him to marry such a lowly woman. Another maid who imagines herself a rival, plots, Iago-like, to make sure the emperor discovers the relationship, knowing he will put a stop to it. He confronts the maid, Anarkali (which means "pomegranate" in Urdu, in case you were wondering) and asks her, in exchange for her freedom and her life, to tell his son she doesn't love him and never did.

She does what she is commanded, but that night, when she performs her new year's dance, she finds she cannot betray her feelings or those of her lover. What follows is a stunning dance sequence in which her image splits off into a thousand mirrored reflections, hallucinatory expressions of her love that, rather than representing a fragmentation of her feelings, represent their multiplication. It's almost like the mystical evocation of a the godhead so filled with love it must reproduce itself infinitely.

The effect is overwhelming, first to the son, who realizes she truly does love him, and second to the king, who is brought nearly to tears by the dance and by the words of the song that follows. It's the dramatic climax to the film, which doesn't bode well for the next 90 minutes, most of which seem like afterthoughts. I am not sure Lori's enjoyed it as much as I did. She would have preferred that we continue watching the excellent House of Cards on Netflix. We'll return to that tonight.

I am working on a project with my friend Isabelle Pelissier involving poetry, translation and visual collage. We will probably start posting our results here soon, but we need a little more time before we do. 

Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Present: 01.31.13

The Present: 01.31.13

We had a windstorm last night. Two healthy limbs snapped off one of those pine trees I was talking about yesterday. Both fell away from the house, fortunately. I took a photo, which I was going to post until I noticed out of the corner of my eye a rather striking gray and white long-haired cat perched on a large limb that had fallen in a previous storm.

It just stared at me. I decided to take a photo. The iPhone zoom function is pretty weak, so I never use it. You could barely see the cat in the first shot I took, so I stepped forward another five or six feet, worried I might scare it off before I took it. That was as close as I could get without climbing over the pile of holly branches from a tree I'd cut down with Lori's father back in November.

The cat was un-frightened and unmoved by my presence, a little furry god of the suburban woods. I took the shot and the cat just stared. I stared back. It kept staring. I blinked and walked away.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Present: 01.30.13

The Present: 01.30.13

Awoke this morning to find the whole yard covered in a thick fog. I recall seeing fog like this a handful of times in all the years I lived in Buffalo, yet this is the second time in a few weeks I've seen it here in North Haven. Zelda, the dog doesn't notice, as she pokes her nose in the underbrush beneath the trees surrounding our property.

They're mostly pine trees, but we also have a couple of cherry trees and a big sycamore about ten feet from the house with a wide, bulbous trunk. One of the limbs snapped off in the storm last fall, just before we moved in. The tree people didn't get around to lopping off the rest, so it still has a sharp,  ragged end. A couple of the longer branches extend over the roof, enough to do a little damage in a storm.

It's the pines on the other side of the house that are most worrisome though. There are five or six of them, each about a seventy-five to a hundred feet tall, within ten feet of our living room. If any one of them came down in it could do some serious damage. We think about these things.

The pines leave millions of rust-colored needles around the yard. Our dog has a fenced in area that extends from the living room to the back of the house. The needles for a blanket over all of the growth back there: a little grass, some ivy up near the house, all of it covered in needles. Zelda sometimes sticks her nose beneath the cover to sniff out the earth.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Present: 01.27.13

The Present: 01.27.13

My books still rest in their temporary homes, either in boxes unopened since last year or laying flat on shelves, unorganized in any way. A few – large art books, reference books, lit magazines (in other words, all the books I did not write about in the Aimless Reading Project) – have been removed from boxes and placed in the built-ins next to the fireplace in the living room. The Yale Shakespeare, as well as all of Lori's antique books are also out there.

The only other books not in boxes are those I took out to write about in W-Z and those I've been reading (or intending to read) for the past couple of months. There's a healthy stack on both nightstands in our bedroom, as ever. Emily's books have grown numerous enough that we commandeered a bookcase for her room. I cleared out everything from the built-ins in the hallway so Lori could paint them.

Once they're painted, we can take everything out of boxes. We may get rid of the rickety shelves – purchased a few years ago from Matt Chambers before he moved to Poland – in the photo and replace them with something that looks a little nicer, perhaps a set for my office and one for out bedroom. I am still contemplating a new organizational scheme for the books once they do come out. Alphabetical order is so yesterday. Categories are kind of dull, too.

Maybe size or color is the way to go.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Present: 01.26.13

The Present: 01.26.13

It's quite cold this morning, but the sky is a clear blue and the sun is shining. I have been pondering new blog projects, but haven't stumbled upon anything I am ready to commit to yet.

One idea as to create an imaginary archive or library. This could be an interesting idea, but I am not sure what it means. Would it be a list of books I'd like to own? Would it be a list of books that I think others should own? Would the archive have some specific or esoteric purpose? Could it be completely random? And what would I write about each day? New acquisitions? Highlights of the collection? Definitely some potential there, but it needs some more cooking.

Another idea I have had for a long time would be called something like "My Anthology." Each day I would select a poem that I would include in an anthology that best represented my ideas and feelings about poetry. I could select anything I wanted, the only qualification being that the poem be significant to me. I worry that the writing would end up being a kind of argument for inclusion in someone else's anthology. So that would have to be the first rule. No argumentation. So what would I write about each poem? Something about its significance to me -- perhaps another form of autobiography? Would this veer too closely to Aimless Reading? Or could it be a kind of extension? Hmmm...

I also thought about taking photos of the same tree in the back yard every morning. I take the dog out each day and stand around beside a lovely old cherry tree in our back yard while I wait for her to take care of business. I have taken a few photos of the tree, which have been relatively well "liked" on FB. But that seems more like a photo project, and I am not a photographer. What would I write about the same tree every day? Well, it would certainly be a challenge.

Maybe I could have multiple projects going at once. I could have My Anthology as one and The Imaginary Archive as another. I've always wanted to do something about entropy. Harder to do here than it would have been in Buffalo. Again, what would I write about? Maybe it's time to write a novel. I doubt I have the patience and persistence for that, though I have discovered a love for fiction in the past few years.

It will come to me. I am sure of it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Present: 1.25.13

The Present: 1.25.13

I've been experiencing Aimless Reading withdrawal for the past few days. One of the reasons I kept at the project from start to finish was because I enjoyed the easy routine of it. I had tried to blog before, but blogging can be a lonely pastime, especially if you aren't blogging about "something."

At various points I tried to write about film, the literary scene in Buffalo, my cross-country reading trek in 2007, but it never materialized into a regular practice. Like many part-time bloggers, my entries often began with phrases like, "I haven't blogged in a while" or "I need to get caught up on my blog."

This almost never happened during the Aimless Reading project. Each day, I pulled a book from the shelf. I did not have to choose the book. I simply pulled the next book in line. All had been previously arranged in alphabetical order. I photographed myself holding the book, then spent several minutes setting up the post.

This involved giving the photo a title and a few tags before uploading the photo to Flickr. After it had loaded, I would grab the photo's HTML code and carry it over to Blogger, where I would create a new post, click the HTML view, and drop the code into the page before clicking COMPOSE, which revealed the image laid out in the page. I titled each post, making sure I'd used the correct letters and numbers.

My index code was simple:

Project name (colon)
Letter of the alphabet (comma)
Sequence number, with added decimal point signifying additional titles by an author (comma)
Author's first and last name (in parentheses)

Labeling followed. Labels affixed to almost every post included: "Aimless Reading," "Books," "Library," "Michael Kelleher," and "Pearlblossom Highway." I realized later that some of these were redundant, but kept adding them for the sake of continuity. I would also add the name of that day's author. After writing the post, I would add further labels for proper names I'd mentioned in that post. Sometimes I could not add them all due to the character limit in the label box.

After the set-up, I would write.

After writing, I would reread the post once for egregious errors and strange wording, then hit PUBLISH at the top of the page. I'd read it over once more in published form, mostly for layout errors, then post the link beneath the original photo on the Flickr page. Networked Blogs sent it immediately out to Facebook, which was the main outlet for the posts. I would also post it manually to Google+, where nobody I am aware of read it. (The series had approximately 56 subscribers on Blogger and another 562 on Networked Blogs. It averaged about 50 visitors and 100 page views per day. Modest, but steady.)

Longing for the familiar, I followed more or less the same strategy this morning before I began writing this post. I think I will use this blog to write what I feel like writing about each morning. At least, that is, until I come up with a new project. I'll post a photo along with the posts because photos attract attention in a way that letters unadorned do not.

Postscript: since the final post, I have been approached about two separate writing projects, both of which could lead to something interesting. I will keep you posted when and if they develop. In the meantime, my random musing will have to suffice.

Postpostscript: The photo above shows the built-ins in the (38-foot!) hallway outside my office in the new house. They desperately need paint, which means that my books are likely to stay in boxes for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Aimless Reading: Crunching the Numbers

Full Boxes

Crunching the Numbers

Number of days between the first entry and the last: 1,499
Number of entries using the phrase "Aimless Reading": 1,308
Number of volumes examined: 1,272
Number of titles examined: 1,252
Number of authors mentioned in blog headings: 634
Number of photographs taken of books and library: 1,308
First author in series: Peter Abelard
Last author in series: Louis Zukofsky
Most cited author: Robert Creeley (62 times)
Number of letters in the alphabet not cited in the project: 3 (Q, U, X)
Number of mentions of Antinomianism: 1
Number of mentions of Zelda, our Catahoula Leopard Dog: 11
Number of times the whole library was moved in 1,499 days: 3
Number of houses lived in during the same period: 4
Number of cities or towns lived in: 3
Number of bookcases destroyed by movers: 2
Number of times I changed jobs during the process: 1
Number of animals that died during the process: 1 cat (RIP)
Number of pets acquired: 3 (1 dog, 2 cats)
Number of children born: 1 (girl)
Number of marriages: 1 (Three Sisters Island, Niagara Falls, NY)
Number of broken bones: 1 (left radial head)
Number of medical and dental surgeries: 3 (2 gums, one elbow)
Number of break-ins during which no books were stolen: 4 (3 car, 1 house)
Number of boxes of books given away or sold before moves: 11
Age at the beginning of the project: 40
Age at its completion: 44 (sigh)