July 29, 2006

not for me

I've never been terribly good with the arts. When I was in grade school art class was always an unrewarding experience. While the other children made paper mache pigs or elaborate forts from popsicle sticks, I cut paper into random shapes with my plastic scissors and glued them together.

Nothing ever looked like anything. Representation art was all the rage with the 3rd grade crowd, and I was still doing Jackson Pollock type pieces with the watercolors and construction paper.

My teachers were gracious, ever mindful of harming my fragile spirit, but I could tell that something was amiss when they never knew what exactly it was I was trying to make.

They made ambiguous comments about my work. I suspected they were trying to divine some sort of information about the exact identity of the creature I was trying to replicate.

"Wow, Jon. That . . . object is certainly visually interesting."

"Hmmm. Good job, champ. I never would have thought of adding another appendage to that type of animal."

The artistic talent never really did develop. Later on I tried my hand at various visual arts. I tried designing ads and posters for a while, wielding my PhotoShop skills with a confidence that certainly did not betray my incompetence. But no marketing agencies ever snatched me up and I eventually had to give up the dream of wowing the world with my design wizardry.

I tried blazing new territory, utilizing more commonplace materials, hoping that a talent scout from some prestigious art school would run into me in McDonalds and offer me a full ride after beholding my skills in McDonalds napkin origami. It never happened. Sigh. Never happened.

And I once made a half-dozen paper-towel roses for someone. But there's a fine line between rustic charm and tackiness, and there was a fighting chance that roses made from domestic cleaning products would charge right across that line.

My last attempt was a mixed-media piece consisting of dried peanut oil, a swatch of poly/cotton cloth, and lipstick.

It did not wow anybody.

I forsook visual art.

Posted by jonsligh at 03:57 AM | Comments (17)

July 24, 2006

Recent life

Recent goings-on:
Went to Philadelphia to see old friends. I fraternized with my old pals, supervised a teen car wash, ate a strange and enchanting new recipe that involved chicken flesh and Saran Wrap, and had a great time.

Recent reads:

Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. I'm too early in it to comment in great detail, but it has been funny so far.

A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. Just started this one too.

Various poems by John Keats, Sylvia Plath, and W.B. Yeats. Keats is thought-provoking but for me, sleep-inducing. Go ahead, call me a redneck. And I find Plath to be intolerable. I hear from Sam that The Bell Jar is great, but Plath's poetry (at least the stuff I read) was downright misanthropic. I don't mind pessimism, cynicism, and dark themes per se, but Plath's seemed to be disengenous. Angst can make for some great art, but moderation and sincerity are necessary components. Go ahead, call me a hick again. I'll read some more to give her a fair shake, but I'm so far unimpressed. Yeats is lovely. Sincere, well-crafted, absolutely lush. Read him, read him, read him.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott. This is the third book I just started. So far, Lamott is the usual Lamott. Irreverent. Sometimes cheesy, sometimes profoundly insightful. Theologically amorphous. And of course, funny.

And more David Sedaris. He funny man.

Summer winds to a close. Chances to read non-academic books are fast fading. Any last-minute book recommendations?

Posted by jonsligh at 12:34 AM | Comments (14)

July 18, 2006


I'm going to punish the cat.

As I reach from my seat at the table to retrieve a rolled-up newspaper on a nearby shelf, I have to be careful not to let the newspaper rustle or the cat will bolt. Once she figures out that corporal discipline is on the way, there's no catching her.

I can tell from the way she's perched on the counter that she's about to jump onto the table and try to drink my coffee. She's not allowed to drink my coffee for several reasons. First, it's mine. I've forgotten all the lessons I got on sharing in pre-school. Second, it's gross to drink after an animal that can lick its entire body and does so a daily basis. Third, if she drinks the coffee she will be wired for hours.

She'll tear around the house, pouncing on passersby, singing her whiskers on the candles, knocking things off shelves, and nipping at the toes of any of our guests who happen to be wearing sandals. She will enter a state of euphoria and heightened alertness, after which she'll finally collapse into a furry heaving heap atop her scratching post. She's a recreational caffeine user, a feline version of those people who supplement their crystal meth with a couple cans of Red Bull, and it's my job as a responsible human being to help her break free of this vicious cycle of destructive hedonism.

She is long and sleek, a Siamese. She crouches low and creeps around when she wants to steal your food or beverages, as if a lower profile would somehow disguise her cream-colored body as she gingerly sneaks onto the dark hardwood dining room table. She resembles a seal-point weasel.

"Him want to drink your coffee," chuckles Mavis, one of our guests for the evening. Mavis is an old Jamaican lady who is a friend of the family. I know for a fact that she keeps a flask of Jack Daniels in her purse, but I think it best to refrain from announcing this at the table.

Her pronouns bother me. Now, I don't mind the incorrect use of the objective case pronoun, as in "him want to drink your coffee." I hear that lots of Jamaicans say things like that. I'm perfectly tolerant of that. I mean, any orthodox grammar textbook would condemn such usage, but who am I to judge? I don't mind a little dialectical variation here and there. Hang prescriptive grammar.

What bothers me is the fact that the masculine pronoun was used. "Him" is not a gender-neutral pronoun. The cat is a female. I have explained this to Mavis on numerous occasions.

"Ha ha, Mavis. Just so you know, the cat's a she."

"Um, I don't know if I mentioned this before, but the cat is not a he."

"Mavis. The cat is a girl. A she-cat. Woman. Wooh-mahn. Female. The kind that makes kittens. Sugar and spice. XX chromosomes. From Venus, not Mars."

The him/her dichotomy is not a terribly difficult concept. Mavis has been around for 67 years. She has given birth on seven separate occasions. One would hope that by now she would have at least a rudimentary grasp on the difference between male and female. There are boy cats, there are girl cats. This one is a girl cat.

I refuse to believe that I'm merely being petty about this issue. I'm just concerned with linguistic precision. Is it such a bad thing for me to desire clear communication?

While I was playing out this dialogue in my head the cat dipped her head into my coffee cup and lapped up the remaining half-inch of coffee in the cup. For the remainder of the evening she raced around the house, assaulting our houseguests and breaking anything fragile that came into her path. One vase was broken and she made my left pinky toe bleed.

Meanwhile, the feminine pronoun issue was left unresolved. Mavis had to leave early and I was busy chasing the cat with a blowgun and tranquilizer darts. Maybe another time. Maybe Mavis is a visual learner. I'll have diagrams and charts ready next time she visits.

Posted by jonsligh at 11:08 AM | Comments (7)

July 09, 2006

coffee within my reach

So I made myself a cup of coffee at midnight. Yes, midnight on a Saturday night. I'm still going to church tomorrow morning, so stop wondering.

My fingers type frenziedly, clicking away with sharp staccato jabs. Eventually as the buzz from the caffeine wears off, I'll move into a more legato typing style, but I'll still be jumpy. Sleep deprivation, caffeine OD, and psychological jitteriness tend to deprive one's writing of coherence.

I'm a late-nighter. I woke at 8 this morning to go running, so in theory I should be tired by now. But I can't sleep. So I'm going to drink coffee and maybe watch a movie or go running again.

I once had a fellow late-nighter friend who had a notecard on the wall above his bed, on which he had scribbled "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." He said he didn't like to go to bed because he finished each day without getting enough done. Whatever it was he was looking for in life, it was still out of reach. Another day had passed, and the carrot was still dangling.

I took a classical literature course in college. Unfortunately, I wasn't really "into" the whole homework thing that semester. One of the few things I do remember from the course was the Greeks' idea of eternal punishment. They seemed to imagine it to be, among other things, unrealized desire and endless repetition. Sisyphus ticked the other gods off and was doomed for eternity to push a boulder to the top of a hill, and as soon as he thinks he's got it up there, it rolls back down. And he does the same thing again and again, for all eternity. You'd think the guy would catch on and just leave the rock alone, but a lot of these mytholgical figures didn't seem to be too bright. Perhaps all the inbreeding amongst the gods screwed up the intelligence genes.

Another of the unlucky was Tantalus, who stood waist-deep in a river, with fruit dangling within his reach. The catch was, every time he reached for the fruit or tried to bend down and get a drink of water, the fruit shrunk back and the water drained away. I explained this to my friend and suggested that this was more descriptive of life than the afterlife. He agreed with me. Then the conversation entered a long lull as we couldn't think of anything else to say.

To break the silence I suggested that he lower his goals and find his fulfillment in the attainment of those drastically lowered goals. Instead of pining away for some unattainable girl or killing himself over his career, he should glory in the small accomplishments, like microwaving a Hot Pocket correctly or brewing a good cup of coffee. One could think of these actions as "successes," and could even take pride in them.

He gave me a look that bespoke a mixture of disappointment and disdain, the kind of look you give someone who just told you he plans to drop out of law school and be a trash collector.

Whatever. I'm a man who can make a mean Hot Pocket. The long-term goals are still dangling, but the cup of coffee on my desk was made very, very well.

Posted by jonsligh at 01:05 AM | Comments (9)