Jan. 4th, 2009 05:43 pm
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Someday, somebody is going to make a movie as moving and exciting as Milk about lesbians in the women's movement (one good bet would be on Alison Bechdel's work to spark something like that). And while I wish casual fat-bashing was no longer considered affectionate pillow talk, we're working on it, but that day has not yet come.

I cried so much as I watched Milk that it surprised me. When Harvey Milk was shot, I was still in high school in Littleton, Colorado, well known as bastion of enlightment. (I wouldn't want to dismiss or underappreciate the many kind, good, generous people who surrounded me there, but it was not a time or place in which coming out could be taken for granted, taken lightly.) I don't remember hearing of the shootings, but I remember, later, the Twinkie defense, and the very light sentence for Dan White. I was the age of the boy calling Harvey from Minnesota, and part of the story of that time in my own life involved treating myself less than tenderly. I've said it before, but it really was the gifts of activism, of trying to make changes in the way the world worked, of trying, at least, to let myself honestly see it, that opened me up to more sustainable levels of joy. That, and the relationships that came with it. And study. And reading. And starting to make art.

I just finished reading Toni Morrison's new novel, A Mercy, which is unbelievably beautiful. I'm going to write more about it in another post. Reading it reminded me of how I sat in the basement of the library at the University of Colorado at Bouder, in terrible fluorescent light, consuming Toni Morrison's novels voraciously -- Sula, Song of Solomon -- drunk on language and wrestling with meaning. Those books busted something open in me.

I thought Sean Penn was brilliant in Milk. I loved that there was an unmistakable sense of movement, that there was a sense of intimate, messy love within all the strategizing, stupid mistakes and playing with fire. In my experience, people with single-minded genius (it's a word I'll use, but it always involves an alchemy of the work and influences of many people, sometimes many communities) are often pretty difficult friends. (ETA: I just watched a video interview with Cleve Jones on his website, and he pointedly says that Harvey Milk was not a genius, not a saint, but "an ordinary faggot," so I'm adding this correction to go with that. The point being, of course, that ordinary people acting out of a larger sense of purpose can and do accomplish stunning things.) I'd guess that Harvey Milk was no different. Oh, but the willingness to fight, and the waves of people in the street -- it's a strong story, and the movie catches the opera in it.

"How do you like my new theater?" Harvey asks the young organizer Cleve Jones as they're climbing the showy steps under the dome of the state house, and Cleve, who I swear found his glasses on my nightstand in 1977, says something like, "A little over the top." Life can be like that; politics, too. I loved this movie, which finds meaning in loss without faking it (which is not to say that there 's not someone on the back of a motorbike speeding to calm the violent action he helped to start).
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Did everybody see this rave about Alison Bechdel's Essential Dykes to Watch Out For in today's New York Times? I mean, the last paragraph alone:

Ms. Bechdel began her strips all those years ago, she writes here, partly to provide “an antidote” to the culture’s image of gay women as “warped, sick, humorless and undesirable.” Boy, has she succeeded. Her crazy lesbians seem saner than the rest of us, and beyond beautiful.

As I just wrote in a comment in her blog, this kind of attentive, accurate praise for her work, hard earned for decades, so long in coming, makes my head explode.
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Last night I read a story, "The Boy Who Had Never Seen the Sea," which I loved in a salted, dazzled, aching way. The boy walks much too far out into the desert of a low tide and then runs into a cave, just before the waves, running the same speed as the sea! He gets backed to the wall of the cave by the water and stares at the sea to stop it. It's about passion, this story, imagined from the school dormitory by the children who didn't run away to sea, and it is beautiful in a way that wrenches me.

It's a translation from French in the October 27 issue of The New Yorker. The author, J.M.G. Le Clezio, won this year's Nobel Prize. I hadn't been paying enough attention to remember that, and I've never read his work before. This story is so good.
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When I was in Marfa, I also saw mesmerizing sculptures by Donald Judd at the Chinati Foundation. If you follow the link (and I hope you do -- it's is a write up with pictures from a tour guide of the whole morning tour I took), scroll down to get to some beautiful photos of the aluminum boxes in the airplane hangar (especially, I think, the two detail photos of boxes) -- they were unforgettable.

When I'd seen images of Donald Judd's work before, or heard a little bit about it, it had seemed kind of cerebral and cold to me, but the aluminum boxes in the airplane hangar and barracks were unforgettable, and anything but cold. The site is an old military base, and the hangar had been, among other things, a workplace for German POWs during World World II: there were still warnings written in German on the wall. The walls are now windows, and the rows of glimmering, mediative, silvery boxes are in conversation with the grasses blowing outside, the mountains in the distances, concrete Judd sculptures out in the field, the other barracks, and, on the morning I was there, a small herd of pronghorn antelope that came up to graze right at the windows. The boxes stretch in long rows, and they make depths and shapes and angles with the intense west Texas sunlight. The play between light, surface and landscape feels something like a conversation (or maybe at places a dance), but also very much outside the realm of words. As the people in the tour began to move among the boxes, they made faint reflections on the surfaces, and so a subdued image of a pair of legs in jeans, or the full bodies people moving slowly down the rows, looking, became part of the piece, too. There was one short stretch in the second barracks, with a far, flat-topped, blue mountain framed between two boxes, and, then, from one of them, the light pouring through in a low, concentrated triangular shape that seemed like the stuff of haloes in old paintings, or just pure thought, or, more what it was, clear light that had been drawn in in a way that let me look right at it, and and I had been let in to do that. It was like that deep, beautiful, open concentration that sometimes comes in meditation or intense work or extreme feeling or prayer. I could have stood there all day.
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There was an article by Suzanne Wilson in Wednesday's Daily Hampshire Gazette.
about the panel I was on last Saturday. (Edited to delete dead link to the article.)

In the paper, there are many more photos, including a gorgeous head and boa portrait of Heather MacAllister, who is quoted calling San Francisco "the epicenter of fat liberation."

And how could I not love the following paragraph, which references my books AND my glasses?

She was wearing a soft and swirly dress that covered, but didn't try to hide her rounded belly. She has long, flowy hair, and she wears pointy-frame glasses. Stinson is the author of three novels -- "Venus of Chalk," "Martha Moody" and Fat Girl Dances With Rocks" -- and some of her characters are women who are fat and proud. "Never before," wrote one reviewer, "have I encountered the large body depicted with such beauty."

I owe [ profile] fatshionista credit for that dress, which I found on clearance at B& Lu.

It makes me happy to have a fine article full of images of Big Burlesque dancers going out into my town on this chilly Wednesday.
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One thing I'm going to read today at the panel about Leonard Nimoy's Full Body Project is this post I wrote about Heather MacAllister in February.

Many of you who knew her much better than I did might not want to go back to that time right now, but I want anyone who comes by here because of the media attention around the photographs and the release of the book to have a chance to learn a little more about Heather and some of the context in which she did her work.
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I went to see a strange, brilliant musical Saturday night, with drawings by Ben Katchor. It was a graphic novel of a historical musical, The Rosenbach Company, (scroll down that link to see images) about two brothers who had a business collecting and selling rare books at the turn of the 19th century and into the first half of the twentieth. This performance was sponsored by the Yiddish Book Center, and it was book obsessive, solemn, funny and amazingly evocative of its period while taking all sorts of liberties. So perfect to see for a person such as myself who is (at the moment and often) consumed with books. The first song explained in completely convincing, sensual detail what a book tasted like in the nineteenth century -- linseed oil was mentioned, licorice, and maybe beets -- while the baby Abe Rosenbach chewed on a book.
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"Healthy and diseased" are problematic and pervasive cultural metaphors, but, as long time readers know, I love Flannery O'Connor with a wacky, open love. She helps me do my work and to see what fiction can be. Also, I'm with her in believing that it's a damaging myth that art has to come from suffering. Artists don't suffer more than other people -- everybody knows pain, frustration and death -- and we don't need to in order to do our work.

Where the artist is trusted, he will not be looked to for assurance. Those who believe that art proceeds from a healthy, and not from a diseased faculty of the mind will take what he shows them as revelation, not of what we ought to be but of what we are at a given time and under given circumstances; that is, as a limited revelation but revelation nevertheless.

Art requires a delicate adjustment of outer and inner worlds in such a way that, without changing their nature, they can be seen through each other.

In addition to being good to think about on my birthday, this post is also in conversation with this.
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So, I'm going to be speaking (probably reading, I think) with a bunch of other great folks on November 3, at an event to mark a show and book publication of Leonard Nimoy's Full Body Project. It's at the R. Michelson Gallery in Northampton. As many of you know, his photographs of fat nudes feature Heather MacAllister and other members of the Big Burlesque troupe she founded.

Below is the info about the event and who all is going to be there. It's got red x's for pictures, because I can't figure out how to include them, too, so if you'd like to see the beautiful lay out and everybody's photos, please go here. And please come! Read more... )
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I just read in the New York Times that architechture critic Herbert Muschamp has died. He was fifty-nine.

Read more... )
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I'm going to be one of the speakers at a conference in October on Jonathan Edwards and the environment. In thinking about my proposal for that event -- I'll mostly be reading work from the new novel -- I've been looking again at landscape historian JB Jackson.

Jonathan Edwards wrote: I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy, but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and the divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words...

In the final essay of Discovering the Vernacular Landscape, JB Jackson wrote:

Like a language, a landscape will have obscure and undecipherable origins, like a language it is the slow creation of all elements in society. Read more... )
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[ profile] slantedtruth has provided a link to the work of her aunt, photographer Ruth Kaplan: mysterious, elegant images of bathers, including one from Budapest. [ profile] slantedtruth said she thought that I'd love them, and it's true. I do.
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Here's a link to an article about Leonard Nimoy and the photographs of his "Full Body Project" in the Style section of this Sunday's New York Times.

There are quotes from Heather MacAllister, who, along with other members of her Big Big Burlesque troupe, were subjects of many of the photos. It's great to be seeing her words and her work still moving so strongly out into the world this way.

I was contacted about commenting for the article, but was immersed in a sunlit geyser and pondering the nature of God in Budapest, so missed the deadline for response. I'm sad about that, but was happy to be asked, and a person can't sit by her computer waiting to hear from The New York Times!

The article is excellent overall -- and that, I think, is very important and powerful and part of a process of cultural change that can't come too soon for me. In the spirit of urging that change along, I want to mention that it looked to me, both in the article and the headline, as if the word "girth" (and, once "obese") was being used in place of "fat" or "fatness." I bet that's a matter of editorial policy in the interest of being polite, but it has the opposite effect.* I also feel that, as a reader, I didn't need to know whether the artist has a sexual response to the fat women he photographed -- it was a prurient question out of keeping with the both the attitude of respect at the heart of the photographs and the spirit of the article as a whole.

I love that Nimoy has been willing to look somewhere he never expected to look and, through concerns about how to respectfully photograph a fat nude, was drawn into a serious visual exploration of fat women's bodies. That takes courage and it's a source of enormous pleasure to me to watch it happen through art. And I do, I love the photographs. It's great to see that the work is getting so much attention: it can be viewed in New York, LA, Houston, and there is a book, The Full Body Project, on the way in the fall. In Northampton, the R. Michelson gallery, which is run by Richard Michelson (who writes tough and haunting poetry), has a show up now in tribute to Heather, and will be putting on a major exhibition in conjunction with the publication of the book in November. When I hear more about that, I'll let you know!

*Part of the history of how some change in how the media referred to lbgt people happened was that a media education pamphlet was produced offering guidelines about language for journalists and newspapers; pointing out, for instance, that calling someone "an avowed homosexual" had a very different tone from referring to a person as "openly gay." So, on the long fat liberation to do list, I would like to add that it would be great if someone put together similar guidelines for writing about fat people, fatness and fat liberation.
susanstinson: (trike)
I went with my friend Martha to see Laurie Anderson give a lecture at UMass last night, on her recent and early work. It was an event in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UMass student gallery, where Laurie Anderson had performed in 1972 or so.

I didn't know much about her beyond "O Superman," but it was wonderful to listen to her and see images of some of her work. Here are things I loved: Read more... )
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I am thinking about Heather, who I knew through the unforgettable impact of her public self. Read more... )

Beth Ditto

Oct. 30th, 2006 06:20 pm
susanstinson: (Fat Girl Dances With Rocks)
All of that talent and power (with extra oomph for all the fat girls who need some inspiration today):

The Gossip doing Standing in the Way of Control on YouTube

They're on tour in the UK, and they've just released this song as a single.  )


Sep. 25th, 2006 09:21 am
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In short, the light alone creates a unity not only in the recedings of distance, where differences become invisible, but also in the contacts of closer sight.

Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel: essays on reality and the imagination
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I love my brother's painting, for its scope and its subtlety, for how the senses just give way to its intensity, and how it's haunted by ideas and always in conversation with the larger culture. I love the sureness of his work. I just looked at an image of one of his paintings, Changes come from all directions (if you want to look, too, you have to pick it out of the group on the left after you hit this link), and then clicked on the details. Wow. There is so much happening in his work that I miss, that reveals itself to me with attention over time. That is such a gift of art, I think, that it keeps opening and opening and opening and trains my attention, lets me see more. Everywhere. I so love that.
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In the evening, I had the pleasure of going to a $3 outdoor concert at Prospect Park in Brooklyn with my friends Sarah Van Arsdale (that's a great picture of her at the link, with info about her most recent book, Blue. She also wrote the wonderful Toward Amnesia) and Alison Smith (the link has info about her beautiful memoir, Name All the Animals, plus a picture of Alison, too). I wore my cherry sundress, and we had a picnic on a blanket on the grassy hill (Alison pointed out that the trembling of the ground was the subway passing underneath!) and ate chicken and salads and heard great, invigorating, moving music from Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely with Bernice Johnson Reagon and the band Juca, too. I was kind of swooning from contentment, except when rocking out. I ran into [ profile] stillwell and her partner on the sidewalk afterwards! And Sarah and I had lovely talks on the subway, and at her apartment with her partner over breakfast.

Before I had to catch the train home on Sunday morning, I went to the New York Historical Society and saw a great show, Legacies, in which contemporary artists reflect on slavery. This helps me in thinking about slavery in the novel I'm working on now. It was all powerful work, but the most intense, for me, was Ellen Driscoll's complex piece. It was a camera obscura inspired by the story of Harriet Jacobs, who, in escaping from her slave owner, lived for seven years in the eaves of her grandmother's shed, with only a small peephole through which to look out at the world. When the guard told me that I could open the door to the small space and go into the camera, I was disoriented by the total darkness, and then rivetted by the floating images from the peephole camera of the objects circling outside. I stayed so long that it was hard to find the door when I was ready to leave.

I also went upstairs to see paintings from the Hudson River School, including the series "Course of Empire" by Thomas Cole -- seeing those paintings help me thinking about my brother's work and the possibility of collaboration with him.


Jun. 26th, 2006 08:09 pm
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I've seen others on my friendslist writing about how to develop fat culture -- and some of you, such as current and past members of the board of Nolose and fat girl flea organizers, work at it with amazing intensity and persistence, yeah, and of course, there are plenty of writers, artists, activists and thinkers here who are creating culture and challenging existing paradigms in tons of strange, thrilling and persistent ways -- so I thought you might be interested in this exchange. Part of my interest is in how to jump categories and engage with people doing gorgeous, risky work in many forms from all kinds of angles without getting too scattered or neglecting existing relationships or slighting the most intimate and fertile conversations and exchanges.*

In an email, [ profile] hhholiday asked me a very beautiful and moving question, a question out of my dreams:

How do we, as a community, get to support you as an artist?

Here's a modified version of what I said. )


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May 2009



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