Inhuman Swill : September 2010

Picky, picky

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Even with her bath Tuesday evening, I'm still picking little specks of dried algae out of Ella's fur. It's like someone sprinkled her with diced parsley.

If I smell a backyard grill, I'm not letting her out of my sight.

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In the bloom

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Algae bloom

We like to take Ella to a dog beach on Lake Michigan, a couple of miles from our apartment. The temperature was in the high 80s yesterday, so I tossed Ella in the car late in the afternoon and we headed east to Lincoln Park. Unlike the past few summers, the water at the beach there has been crystal clear all season, so I didn't stop to look at it before letting Ella run around in it.

When she emerged, her legs were green.

The water at the people beach still looked pretty good, but at the dog beach the water, once you stopped to look at it, was opaque with algae. You couldn't take a step without the dark green soup billowing in a cloud around your feet. When we left, people were amazed to see the dog with the skinny green legs trotting along. Thank goodness she's only a wader and not a swimmer.

I didn't take a picture of her green legs, but here she is in the opaque water:

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A graphic novel performed live

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The Astronaut's Birthday

On Sunday night Laura and I, together with our friends Maribeth and Larry, saw an immense theatrical spectacle of narrative, music, puppeteering, and images projected on a huge subdivided vertical surface. And no, it wasn't Roger Waters performing The Wall (though I did see that last night with my brother-in-law at the United Center).

What we did see was experimental theater group Redmoon's latest production, The Astronaut's Birthday, which is being presented in conjunction with Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art.

In fact, the production is being presented on the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Astronaut's Birthday is a motion comic performed live, with all the art projected onto the windows of the museum's facade from inside. In fact, each of the eighteen windows has two puppeteers behind it, slapping hand-drawn, hand-colored gels onto an overhead projector and manipulating overlays to make some of the visual elements move. In fact, sometimes the images extend across multiple windows, and when you add in the music, sound effects, live narration and voice acting, not to mention the occasional human silhouettes that dance through the images, and you've got an immensely complicated operation going on behind the scenes.

With all the beautiful visuals and impressive technical craft going on, the story falls a bit on the thin and sappy side. But with a show like this, you're not really there for the story. You're there for the spectacle. I took over a hundred grainy pictures of that spectacle during the show, which Redmoon in fact encouraged. In a pre-show announcement, they told us to take all the non-flash pictures we liked, and to disseminate them far and wide. (Which only goes to show that Redmoon gets this internet thing.)

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'Bye, "Boys"

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It was Laura who discovered the show in late 2006 and convinced me to start watching it with her. A sitcom about a female sportswriter in Chicago and her circle of male poker buddies. We were both hooked, not just because the group of friends were so damn nice and charming and funny, but because the lead character, P.J., seemed so much more like a real woman than most women on television. I guess the show reminded us of our circle of friends.

The second season of "My Boys" (later canonically folded into season one) started the same month we moved to Chicago from New York City. It was like a group of old friends welcoming us to the city, right down to the shot of Wrigley Field in the opening credits (which is where we saw The Police in concert the very week we moved here). If it wasn't already our favorite show, it took that slot then.

That summer season of "My Boys" ran a scant nine episodes, as has every season since. Like a butterfly migration, it arrives unexpectedly in the spring or summer and is gone again too soon. The gang's hangout, Crowley's Tavern, became for us the adult analog of Sesame Street—the mythical happy place we wanted to find and inhabit.

No more. It turns out that the season just ended is the "My Boys" swan song. TBS has canceled the series. We watched the two final episodes back-to-back last night, eating ice cream, happy for the characters' happy endings but mourning their exit from our lives.

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Sentence sparring

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I knew when I wrote an entry for my formatting blog about sentence spacing that I would probably make some people upset. I just didn't expect to hear about it so soon.

Three or four hours after posting it, I was at Hopleaf to see an excellent reading series called This Much Is True. (This is part of my campaign to visit all the reading series I can, so I can meet new writers, promote Tuesday Funk, and get ideas for promoting it.) In the line at the bar I ran into one of the producers of yet another local reading series, a fine one that will remain nameless, who said to me right off the bat, "I saw your post about two spaces at the end of a sentence today. I HATE TWO SPACES AT THE END OF A SENTENCE. I edit lawyers all day and they all do it, and I have to fix it, and it drives me crazy."

Which only underscores my contention that sentence spacing is the most contentious aspect of the bizarrely contentious issue of manuscript formatting. Or should that be italicizes?

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Almost fall

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Squirrels chasing each
Other up and around trees
Like on Benny Hill

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Immortality

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I have no illusions of immortality

Or do I?

The way I shovel known poisons into my mouth
Shout motherfucker at drivers who cut me off
The way I still haven't put up the smoke alarms, two years later

The way I keep putting off Moby-Dick
Let a day or more sometimes go by without writing a word
The way I, on rare occasions, neglect to say I love you

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The view from Buddha
I never enjoy writing a blog post for September 11th, but also don't like letting the day pass with saying anything. Happily, our social calendar last night handed me the perfect topic to share today.

Last night Laura and I attended one of the Art Institute of Chicago's occasional "After Dark" nights. This one turned the Modern Wing into an Indian-themed night club of sorts. We arrived early and slipped away from the festivities just in time to catch a preview of a new art installation, Jitish Kallat's "Public Notice 3," about which we knew nothing. We were fortunate enough to be part, I believe, of the first public group to see it, and had unobstructed access that not many viewers will get when it opens today.

"Public Notice 3" is the first work to be installed directly on the Art Institute's Grand Staircase. You get there from the Modern Wing, as we did, by passing through the Alsdorf Galleries. This space used to be crowded with armor and armaments but is now devoted to religious art from India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas. Buddhas from different ends of those regions welcome visitors at each end of the gallery. It's hard not to dawdle with all the gods and demiurges on display. But there, through a portal at the opposite end, you can already see the field of varicolored lights framing one last Buddha.

Past that sculpture, you begin to take in "Public Notice 3." Kallat has gained a reputation for recontextualizing historical texts. In this case, the text is the remarks delivered on September 11, 1893, by Swami Vivekananda to open the first World's Parliament of Religions, which took place in this very building in association with the Columbian Expo. Vivekananda offered a stirring plea for tolerance, which Kallat has set flowing up the staircase in 15,000 tiny electric bulbs reminiscent of a Lite-Brite set. The words are rendered in the five colors of the Homeland Security Threat Advisory System.

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Moonflowers, fact and fiction

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Moonflower with human hand for scale
Our downstairs neighbor is an extraordinary gardener, and we never know what plants or flowers are going to show up in the back yard next. Yesterday morning as we were heading to the garage, Laura said, "Hey, look! Moonflowers!"

The moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a pretty cool plant. It grows fairly tall and the blossoms are huge, at least by back yard garden standards. It blooms at night, but only in late summer and autumn this far north because the days are otherwise too long. Instead of folding outward when it opens, like a lot of blossoms, the flower untwists, which is really something to see. If the morning is cool and overcast, the flower will stay open into the day, which is why a couple of the ones in the garden yesterday were out on full display.

   

After I dropped Laura off at the train and returned home, I spent a lot of time studying the plants, and also blowing the ants off the petals so I could get some decent pictures of them. I'd never spent any time looking at an actual moonflower before—the petals are surprisingly delicate, and feel almost like satin—which is perhaps strange because moonflowers figure prominently in my story "Observations from the City of Angels." (It was published in Salon under the title "Love in the Age of Spyware," and is still available there. It can also be heard in podcast form as episode 63 of Escape Pod.)

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My funky Tuesdays

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One of the most exciting and unpredictable reading series in Chicago is Tuesday Funk, which takes place the first Tuesday of every month upstairs at Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville. Tuesday Funk has hosted wild-eyed poets, doe-eyed troubadours, and more excellent fiction, verse, and essays read live than you could shake a blue pencil at. I've been fortunate enough to have been asked to read there four times in the past couple of years myself, and I'm proud to have been considered an adjunct member of the Tuesday Funk family.

Reinhardt Suarez and Hallie Palladino of the Gothic Funk Nation have run the eclectic series with scary efficiency for nearly three years, but they're both moving on to greener pastures. I'm very pleased and more than a little humbled to announce that I will now be co-producing Tuesday Funk together with Sara Ross. We hope to keep the same great mix of genres and disciplines that has made the series so much fun in the past, while throwing in some curve balls to keep things fresh and interesting. We have some big shoes to fill.

While I never want the series to get away from its roots as a showcase for Chicago writers, I'd love to bring more out-of-towners into the mix too. So if you're a writer (or something similar) and plan to be in Chicago the first week of any given month, please drop me a line and I'll see if we have room for you. We'd love to have you.

Oh, another thing. Chicagoans, please mark your calendars for our next reading on Tuesday, October 5, 7:30 pm, at Hopleaf. I'll be reading again that night, together with a full slate of compadres, but most importantly we need to keep our attendance high so we can continue using Hopleaf's upstairs bar month after month. More reminders will follow, but I hope to see you there.

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