Sunday, April 22, 2018

Des Moines Art Center... Thoughts

I went to the Des Moines Art Center on my vacation.  I had high hopes for it. I’d been once before and stumbled onto a traveling exhibition of a photographer whose work I was familiar with and that I liked quite a bit. This time I was not so lucky, however. I did take pictures of the classical stuff I liked, the two kids on the divan, I wish you could see the detail, that’s part of what I like on that one. The detail in the hands is so fine and well done and then the edges of the clothes, and the divan, they just all sort of get ragged and haphazard and unrealistic. The focus was on the people and they’re well painted and defined, but their clothes, the inanimate objects in the pictures are more ideas hinted at that truly well depicted. I like that. It’s cool. It wouldn't
have occurred to me to DO it, but on seeing it, I liked it. Also, the one on the left looks like a young Benedict Cumberbatch to me.

There’s a painting of a French girl in a blue dress at a table, drinking tea perhaps. Click it to enlarge so you can see her face. It’s beautiful to me. The artist and I don’t remember who it was, beautifully captured her face and I imagine anyone looking at it would bring their own interpretation of what that face is showing. Is she tired from a long night up with a kid? Was she just crying at the loss of a lover? Has she just gotten done working and is having a cuppa before she has to get back to it? What’s her face say? It says all those things and it’s where the interpretation of art being a personal matter is important. They’re all right answers because they’re all objectively possible answers. I love that. It’s a painting I suspect I would see differently every time I looked at it. Well done stranger.
I looked it up and it's called At the table (French girl) and is by Louis Ritman and is from 1918. Now you know.

I’ve also included the Picasso and the Matisse. The Matisse is the cartoon looking one in bold primary colors of a person facing right. It doesn’t look well painted and makes me feel nothing. It and the Picasso are included because they’re famous, not because I consider them good. Oh, I’m sure the art world is correct in that they ARE good, but I don’t like either of them. They leave me feeling as hollow inside when I look at them, as Chinese food leaves me hungry half an hour later. This is a common problem with me and "great" art. I don't understand it. A painting doesn't have to be super real for me, that's what photographs are for. But, for me to appreciate it as more than just "meh" it has to be something or look like something that took skill and not something that looks like something I could have done myself. "Oh, Rich, but you didn't and that's the difference!" Yes, well. The reason for that is if/when I have done I wouldn't show anyone. I certainly wouldn't try and sell anything I did that looked like the Matisse on the right. Seriously, look at the sausage fingers there. No. That's not something I understand. My short-coming I'm sure, but not for me.

Which brings me to Picasso. It's obviously a Picasso. I recognized it as soon as I entered the room. I'm sure you do too. For one thing I wasn't aware we had a Picasso in the permanent collection at the Des Moines Art Center and that's actually pretty cool. That being said...

Just because I recognized it, and recognize his work doesn't mean I'm able to appreciate it however. Yes, I know this is his. I know he did it on purpose. I don't know why though. I'll just leave it here rather than continue showing my ignorance. This isn't meant to be a screed against non-realism.

Sculpture is a cool one for me. The terminal one with the two white figures standing at what is made out to be an airport terminal reminds me of my travel when I used to work and fly a LOT. There were always people who looked like this. They hated the travel and were beaten up by it. I loved the travel. I loved airports and the bustle and the feeling of expectation. Traveling to me is like opening a Christmas present. The time it takes to get there is the time it takes to unwrap the package. It’s hours of as of yet unrealized expectation and anticipation. I love to travel. I like GOING to a place. I like the act of movement and the motion of it.

I’d considered a train vacation like a land cruise where I got on the train and went out three days, turned around and came back. It would have been all motion, all travel, all me moving through time and space and no being stationary or in one place and it would have been fantastic... except the train schedule was such that I’d mostly be doing it all at night. For most people travel is like it is for the two people in the art installation and it’s a drudgery, a terrible pause between being where you wanted to be but had to leave, and being where you want to go but aren’t there yet. It’s like a commercial break full of bad jingles. I don’t feel about travel that way, but lots of people do. So, for them, a train ride that was 27 hours of night out of the 36 hours of the trip would be fantastic, They could sleep it all away. For me? It was enough to cancel the trip. I don't want to miss the movement. That’s the whole point.

The picture of the man being thrown from the horse, the Pegasus, I took that picture because it reminds me of the myth/legend of Icarus. It’s one of my favorites. You know it. He and his father, Daedalus, were trapped by a king on an island in Greece and to escape Daedalus created them both wings made of feathers and wax but when they sprang from the window to fly away over the sea, Icarus, caught up in the excitement of the flight, of the movement, of the travelling, flew too high, too close to the sun, and his wings melted and he crashed into the Aegean Sea and drowned. I love that story. Sure, he died, but look at the fun he had before he did. I know the lesson isn’t James Dean’s famous quote, “live hard, die young, leave a beautiful corpse” but that was sort of the takeaway. Now, I’m far too cautious for that. I’m a planner and I play it safe a lot. I’m really one of the most boring people you’ll probably ever meet. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the daring in others. It’s something I wish I were better at doing but it’s not how I’m wired. (That might not actually be a James Dean quote by the way. I just feel like it is.)

I've saved it for last because it was the reason I was disappointed. The museum was having an exhibit called, I think Wanderlust. There's a theme going through the art world right now of garbage. Literal garbage. Trash. This exhibit was literally trash. Oh, here's a field? Let's gather up all the garbage in it, wrap it in a twine and set it in the middle of the floor. Oh. So powerful. So poignant. Such garbage. I'm sorry it's garbage. I don't need to know the artists story to know it's garbage. I don't need to know what the point is they're trying to make. It's garbage. You picked up trash and dropped it on the floor. A thousand prisoners do it every day alongside roads in every state in the country. They pick up trash and they move it somewhere else. You call it art. They call it community service. In both cases it's trash being moved around and calling it art is pretentious and annoying. You're not fooling anyone. This trash I DO understand. It's not a lack of understanding that is my problem. I understand perfectly well and I don't like it. I don't like what it is. I don't like that it's being foisted off on us as art. I don't like that museums are wasting my time and their space with it. It's garbage and if I'd had to pay to see it I would have left without seeing anything. I will never pay to see trash. I throw it out all the time and am well rid of it.

Trash as art was done in 2017 at Reiman Gardens. It was well presented and some work and creativity went into it. Did I like it? Not as art, no. But I respected the time and effort that went into doing it. I enjoyed looking at it. I enjoyed the discovery of seeing it and watching the swordfish resolve itself into the detritus of life as I got closer. That I liked. I DO think the whole "trash as art" thing is overdone though. It's just lazy at this point.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Writing again...

I’ve been writing lately. I took a break while I have something at the editor. That’s my excuse to play a ridiculous amount of Fallout 4. Don’t judge me! I’m about to settle in and write some more but I noticed something in a book I’d read recently and I tried it. I haven’t heard back from the editor yet if I overplayed my hand at it or not and maybe it’s subtle enough. It was subtle when I encountered it and I only noticed it because I was looking for it.

In a scene there are things that set the mood, the tone, that have nothing to do with the characters and this author I read used the sun and lighting to set the mood. The sun could be BEATING down on them, dancing on the waters, warming their shoulders, setting softly on the horizon. What the sun was doing, every time it was mentioned, was the tone of the scene. The sun set the stage and the mindset for what was going to happen next.

Now, for me to have noticed it I think it may have been used maybe one time too often, or too close to a previous time and I did something similar but used it sparingly.

It was a cool writing device I’d never considered before. Most scenes have lighting, and describing the lighting in a way that sets the mood seems like an obvious idea. It wasn’t one that had occurred to me before now though.

Yet another tool in the writer’s tool box.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

I joined the US Navy (well, thirty years ago)

January 4, 1988 I boarded a bus to the Naval Training Center in Orlando Florida. It's gone now, a park.
While there, towards the end of the first week I began to pray for someone in my company to die. He sounded like he was going to. He had a dry, hacking cough that was so loud and... abrupt, that the fire bell over the door would resonate and continue to ring after he had a coughing fit. It served to bridge the slight pauses between his coughing fits that lasted all night long. I'm sure he was miserable because I was. He didn't die. Finally I got to sleep. I'm not sure if his cough stopped or if I just finally collapsed after nights of not sleeping because of his noise. I know it happened multiple nights, many, many, many nights and I hated him for it well after it stopped because I didn't trust it to stay gone.

After completing basic training I stayed there in Orlando but moved over to the Naval Training Center, just across the base, where I attended Nuclear Field "A" School as a Machinist Mate. When I finished that I changed buildings to go to Nuclear Power School and did really well in that. That I loved.

FINALLY the reason I'd joined. Science. Nuke stuff. I loved it. I didn't ace it, but I was in the top of the class. As our class dwindled, the attrition rate was huge on the "dark side." It was called the "dark side" because the classes were hard enough that you never saw the light of day because you were studying so much you never got outside. Well, sort of.

Remember the cougher from the first paragraph? He was also in school, but he was still in "A" School for "Electronics Tech" which went longer, and then he was in Power School, but I was still ahead of him. He had plenty of free time and I was doing well enough, even on the dark side, that we hung out a lot. Went to a lot of movies.

I listened to Def Lepard's Hysteria and Guns 'n Roses' Appetite for Destruction on repeat just about non-stop for most of that time. Those are still two of my favorite albums ever. Not just because they're great albums, but because of where I was geographically, and in my life at the time. It was fun and warm, and we were in Orlando, Florida. You know what there is to do in Central Florida when you're young and have no bills? Everything. That's what there is to do.

I bought a car, a white Renault Encore that was, when I looked at the owner's manual, originally owned by a lady from a place called Ogden, Iowa. When I bought it I didn't know I'd soon be moving to a town about 45 miles from there.

So, long story short, too late. That guy with the cough? We wound up getting married last year so we don't introduce each other as "old Navy buddies" quite as often as we did for decades.

So, happy anniversary of joining the world's greatest navy, and I'm glad he didn't die from pneumonia... I guess.

Monday, January 01, 2018

For the sake of your readers get an editor

It's the time of year when book giveaways are at an all time high, and for that I'm very appreciative. I enjoy reading a lot. I've been reading for ages. It's probably my oldest hobby.

I wrote a book. It's not easy. I have read many books through the years and thought, "I could do better than that!" Having written one I know now that it's not as easy as it seems. It's just just hurling words at a page to see what sticks, and just because a person can TELL a story doesn't mean they can write one. There's a difference.

  • Get an editor.
  • Get yourself an editor.
  • Get an editor for your book.
  • Make sure your book has an editor.
  • Get your book edited by an editor.
  • Hire an editor and listen to their advice. Stephen King said the editor is God. 

I'm trying to think of how I can say this so it'll stick. It's hugely important. You know, I'd try two if I'm honest. If you only get one, make sure you've got male and female beta readers and listen especially close to the opposite gender and ask them, directly, for feedback on how that gender is handled.

The last three free books I started, yes, started, but didn't necessarily finish, could have ALL been better with editors, possibly even really really good. They had good ideas in them. What they didn't have, was an editor. I won't list the names of the books or the authors. I didn't review any of them because I know starting out is hard. They're new authors. They need feedback more than being publicly pilloried. So, I sent feedback. But, with an editor I doubt they'd have made the mistakes they made. I'm not quoting, I'm paraphrasing. I don't want to have to credit them. You'll think I'm exaggerating in my paraphrasing, but I'm absolutely not.

1) Be careful what you shine a light on. When you want to show what a modern, great, open-minded person your protagonist is be careful about it. "She was supremely confident, but she managed it without losing her femininity," sort of implies that mostly when a woman is competent she's not feminine. Not your goal I'm sure. Kinda makes you look like an ass. "I didn't love her. I RESPECTED HER!" Um, okay. Good for you. That pretty rare for you then? Even more rare than love? Damn. That sucks. Hopefully an editor, or maybe even a beta reader, would've noticed that. Oh, a note on beta readers. Friends and family are the easiest to get, but they're the kindest and you don't need kind. You need honest. Find a stranger who doesn't "know what you mean" or "know he doesn't it mean it like that." If it's not in the book it's not there. Your intentions, your attitudes, your lofty ideals, if they're not on the page I can't see them. I can't know you and I don't know them. Maybe you're a 21st century man with modern attitudes, but if you don't express them plainly in the book you can really screw this up. Get some people who don't know you to read your stuff because, hopefully, at some point, people who don't know you will read your stuff. That's the idea isn't it?

2) The protagonist, a man ,is broken and becomes a homeless drunk, when his girlfriend dies. In the same book his female partner dies and it motivates him to do stuff. There were two women in the book, two... there's not even a waitress in it to bring him coffee, and both died to move the man along a story line. That's not what femme fatale means. In fact, that's more like fatale femme. Women and kids don't exist just to kill them to move the plot. If that's all your using them for... get a dog. It worked for John Wick.

3) An editor will help you not use the wrong words, a man on a buoy in the ocean doesn't scan the parameter. He looks around. There's not even a perimeter there unless there's some defined border, and that'd be the horizon in this case. I know, you want to sound militaristic and give it a military vibe, and you want to sound more clever than saying "he looked around" but you know what? Sometimes simple is best. Especially when it's right. Especially when the word you used instead is wrong in meaning and spelling.

All three of these books had good ideas in them. All three had characters in them I either liked or wanted to like. Those are two of the three boxes I need ticked to keep reading an author. The third though, is "well written." I don't mean Great Gatsby level well. I'm pretty forgiving, especially of new authors, like I said, I am one. But I'm not forgiving of people being lazy. And, not hiring an editor is lazy. Editors don't have to be ridiculously expensive. Some are, and some are better than others, but if you can afford a professionally done book cover you can afford an editor. You really can't afford not to have one. Those three books by three different authors? I read some of their free book. I won't read more. I certainly won't pay for their books until I see an editor credited.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I said yes

I've been roommates, best friends, Navy buddies, and long-distance besties with someone for almost thirty years now. On April 2, 1988 I knew it was a thing when he agreed to go see Beetlejuice with me a second time even though my loud laugh embarrassed him.

We talked about it, I nagged him into talking about it about ten years ago and he wasn't up for it then. There were familial concerns on both our parts. His family is important to me and I wouldn't want to alienate them and the whole idea was still sort of new at the time so we waited.

I'd left it at that. Unbeknownst to me, he hadn't. He'd talked to several of them without me knowing about it both then, in the intervening years, and again recently.

I was completely surprised when he asked me if I still wanted to marry him and I found myself holding an already mostly filled out marriage application. I grinned like an idiot and said "yes." It turns out there's a three-day wait between getting the license and being able to get married in Iowa. I wasn't willing to risk him changing his mind so I found a district judge willing to waive the waiting period and thirty hours after he asked me if I still wanted to we were standing in front of the magistrate. His Mom who wasn't a fan of it for religious reasons and who I did NOT think would show up, did. I was glad she did. Otherwise, it was just two friends of ours to serve as witnesses.

Through the legal hoops and getting signatures, I was constantly surprised at how happy for us the people seemed. There wasn't any shocked recoiling or clutching at pearls and swooning at the idea of two guys getting married. Nobody was anything but excited in any of the various offices I visited. Even the judge who had hurt his hand when the guard fell off a leaf blower he was using was in the spirit of it all.

What I found most surprising though was how, in spite of us being so close for so long, and not believing this would change much, we both got nervous trembling excited voice and big stupid grins when saying the vows to each other. I hadn't expected that from me, and certainly not from super-stoic him. It made me smile.

Shortly after the ceremony in front of the judge I ran to the coffee shop, because I do that whenever there is any sort of opening in my schedule and I said to the barista, a long time friend, that since I was hitched now I could finally let myself go. He laughed. Half an hour later my phone rang, "You know what I just realized? I can let myself go now!" I laughed and told him what I'd said to Kaleb and he laughed too. "I guess we do think alike."

So, yeah. We're married now, and I'm pretty happy about it.