Above water. (On writing.)

Let me confide in you what it is to be a writer of a novel. You’re at the end of your book and terrified of what you wrote: a 350-page shit-storm. You laugh at yourself as you find a selfie that came out expressionless, crop your image into a head-shot, harden it with the angstiest filter you can find – the one that turns the dark bits darker and deepens the shadows in the corners – because suddenly, you need digital armor. It won’t help. You think, I had a moral obligation to write this, and it’s been 30-odd years in the writing that began, in earnest, 18 months ago.

 

Life in two minutes.

 

The drama, the irony, the cliché! You can look at this image once and never see it again, or you can look at it once and see it every day. It’s worse than a mirror, so you share it with the world… especially easy to do when the world makes no sense.

We all have a dark side. Most of us keep it hidden, because it’s our business and no one else’s. Artists tend to display theirs through their work, whether others can see it there or not. Art unravels from buried places, taking form in every medium and genre from comedy to Shakespearean tragedy, capturing curiosity and beauty in music, writing, visual arts, poetry, photography, dance, dramatic arts, and so on, and so forth. Products of our creation spawn out of our darkest secrets, reflecting them in worlds we create… and we do create them, because we can. We can create art that belies the angst from which it springs, art that makes people laugh, even. “Tortured artists” have the means to express what others need to express. Then a step further: everything is okay. But the world, we know, doesn’t need our reassurance. We’re talking to ourselves, but it’s not about us.

So if just one person can find something of value in our work… something that helps… it’s worth it, we feel. One person includes everyone. We believe.

Lingering: A Ghost Story. (Non-review movie review!)

A Ghost Story isn’t a horror film, but it’s haunting nonetheless. It’s haunted my thoughts since we first saw it last week.

 

 

Why do some spirits choose an afterlife of haunting?

A Ghost Story  raises a multitude of questions. I might as well start with that one.

As far as haunted house movies go, I’ve never been compelled to consider the fate of the ghost, or how lonely it must be for a ghost tethered to his place of haunting. But then, I’d never seen a haunted house movie from the perspective of the ghost.

It’s a despondent ghost who’s unable to leave his place until he gets his answer, or achieves his goal, whatever that may be. Time glides endlessly and the ghost goes along with it. It’s the only dimension he can traverse.

Watching this movie was a profound cinematic experience.

We begin with a married couple, but we never learn their names. I suppose this is because the humans in their physical bodies are more or less props, there to set in motion a possibly infinite journey. In the middle of the film, another nameless person passes through to hold forth at a social gathering. The scene ends and we never see him again, but we’re left thinking.

We fall deeper into introspection. What does it mean to be alive, to exist? What does it mean to be not-alive?

We witness the pain of grieving, but we feel the ghost’s pain more than the pain of the one still living. It’s the bereft ghost whose story we follow.

A Ghost Story is a ghost’s story, yet the ghost is not the protagonist. If the film has a protagonist, it’s the place to which the ghost is fixed. Or it’s the universe. Or it’s time.

If the ghost has a voice, it’s the sheet he wears, its movement, folds, and appearance; even the shape of its eye-holes as they seem to alter with his emotion. That’s the thing about this ghost: he’s emotional, even to the point of throwing the occasional tantrum. The ghost’s sheet is his voice, and Daniel Hart’s exquisite musical score – the most sorrowful voice in the film – makes it devastating.

Thus, the driving forces of A Ghost Story are inhuman. And yet, in this inhumanity, we perceive the timeless plight of humanity. This is brilliant writing. It’s poetry.

In my humble opinion, writer and director David Lowery succeeded with his experiment in mixing mediums to tell his story. Film as poem, or poem as film? When a work of art is effectively both, it doesn’t matter how you assign its primary medium.

Speaking of mediums, I’ll touch again on the expressiveness of the ghost’s sheet, because its authority is so striking in its simplicity. I was fascinated by the way the ghost stands or sits still and turns only his head to look to the side or back, so the folds of his sheet twist with the turn. The effect is dramatic, and that is the point. Facing forward, but looking elsewhere, the ghost’s sheet conveys that he inhabits temporal realms in a transcendence of future and past. We can perceive the enormity of this by merely looking at the drape of a sheet.

A Ghost Story is a highly visual film. It’s maybe 80% silent movie, if not more so. As the ghost lingers, there’s lingering in the silence; we linger on what there is to see. There’s lingering in the sustained notes of the musical score.

There’s more I could say about the significance of music in this film, on how it helps to speak for the ghost, and why, but I’ll hold back. In this aspect, though, A Ghost Story calls to mind The Piano. In The Piano, the instrument serves as voice for Ada, who can’t speak. Also silent, Ada expresses herself through her music.

Watching A Ghost Story, tears collected in my throat early on, and they stayed there until the end, the aforementioned musical score by Daniel Hart partially responsible, I’m sure.

Callaghan was mesmerized, too. When A Ghost Story was over, we looked at each other at the same time that we both said, “I want to see it again.” And we did see it again. I would see it yet again.

A Ghost Story is a beautiful film, a story to ponder and discuss. It’s an elegant study in the philosophical discipline of metaphysics, and it’s a poem. Maybe more than a moving picture, it’s a moving poem with pictures.

 

The writing.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a dear friend who asked me how the writing was going. From the start of this endeavor, my answer to that question would’ve been different with each passing day. Responding to the question yesterday, though, I realized how much the answer has evolved. I’ve arrived at a point of understanding some immutable realities of big-project writing, which include knowing that the learning process will continue, and I’ll continue to grow and adapt.

I said to my friend that the writing is hard. It’s harder than any work I’ve done in my career of sitting behind desks in the professional capacities I’ve filled, and it’s led me to learn a lot about myself that I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Not to my surprise, I’m also learning a lot about the writing process in the framework of a serious commitment, though I am surprised by the extent of this education. For instance, I didn’t suspect that writing would demand more thinking work than actual writing work. For me, the most significant work happens when my fingers are nowhere near a keyboard. In the last six months, I’ve spent endless hours thinking and strategizing, researching and making decisions, trashing those decisions and making new ones.

One stereotypical image of a writer’s life is a frustrated writer sitting at a desk, perhaps with a case of writer’s block or blank page syndrome, as you will, and a wastepaper basket across the room. The writer types, rips the page from the typewriter, crumples it up, and throws it in the direction of the basket. At the end of the day, the basket is full to overflowing with trashed balls of paper, and the writer is still sitting at the typewriter, surrounded by more balls of paper scattered on the desk amongst empty coffee mugs and tufts of yanked-out hair.

We have computers now, so if I had a wastepaper basket on the other side of my writing room, it would be filled to overflowing with discarded decisions and ideas and word choices. I would be buried up to my throat in heaps of writing debris left in the wake of my learn-as-I-go process, strategies trashed along with my premature glee at having surmounted some impasse.

Writing (as a primary occupation) is not a nine-to-five. It’s a 24/7 job, and one has to be self-motivated. I’m working in my head when I’m in the shower and in the car. I’m working while I’m pacing around the house, and when I’m talking “to my cat.” I know it sounds funny, but some of my conversations with Nenette and Cita have resulted in big progress gains. Fur-babies are excellent soundboards; talking through problems with them has produced many a solution. For me, at least 40% of the writing work is thinking work. (Okay, in all honesty, I do talk to myself more now than ever.)

Some days, I write for four to six hours. Some days, I write for 10, 20, 30 minutes. And a day with no writing at all isn’t a day off. A day with no writing is a day of thinking work, and it’s exhausting. The whole project is exhausting. I have sparks of inspiration at midnight and sparks of inspiration before the sun rises. I’m up at 5:30am every day, if not earlier. My posts in this blog have been more likely to be late since quitting my nine-to-five, and I’m still not sleeping enough.

But I’m not complaining. I love this work. It’s my passion, my art, my livelihood, and by that, I mean the thing that makes me feel alive. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m grateful that I’m able to do it full-time. I’m grateful for the support and encouragement lent by family and friends, especially by Callaghan.

I suppose all writers live this way… obsessed with their projects day and night, agonizing over the smallest details. All artists, may I add.

Here’s what an honest pie chart representing my writing “day” looks like:

 

kristis-typical-writing-day-pie-chart

 

A few points about the chart!

  • The chart represents my main-project writing day. It doesn’t include blogging and other writing.
  • “Thinking” includes NOT thinking. I find it necessary to not think about the writing for a period of time so that I can return to it with a clear head.
  • “Procrastinating” doesn’t feel so much like procrastinating, since my mind is working on my project while I’m doing things around the house that need to get done, anyway.
  • None of this is to say that there are never times that I’m not working. I do my share of errands, appointments, lunches out, social media, etc.

I can stop thinking about my project when I’m at the gym. I can stop thinking about it when I’m engrossed in a book or in a movie or an episode of some television series or another. I can stop thinking about it when I’m with Callaghan. I can leave the project behind to be in those moments.

The short answer to the question How is the writing going? is “The writing is hard. But it’s going well.”

“A night with Venus, and a lifetime with mercury” (Haiku 10: Syphilis)

One thing I’ve learned in the last few months is that the mind, left to its own devices, can wander and dwell on bizarre things.

 

Haiku 10: Syphilis

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Romantic aside:

Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci,”

blown-glass femme fatale.

 

Dead rose

Dead rose

 

2.

Hedonism spawns

creation: le maquillage,

acerbic beauty.

 

Beneath the skin

Beneath the skin

 

3.

Artists, dictators

(brilliant cast of “The Great Pox”),

poets, writers, kings.

 

Thomas Hardy's Ale

Thomas Hardy’s Ale

 

4.

Voltaire’s Candide smirked.

Syphilis an affliction?

Tout est pour le mieux.

 

Candide, Voltaire's famous satire

Candide, Voltaire’s famous satire

 

La Fin.

I’m still obsessed with the syllable, infatuated with the value of these units that make words. It’s strangely soothing.

Skeletons in the closet (Office revamp – the unabridged version)

At present, joyous times are being had with our houseguests (my in-laws) from France, who will stay with us a few more days yet. All manner of general housecleaning needed to be done before they arrived, but I spent the better part of last week taking apart my office, sorting through unwanted miscellany (“garbage,” “recycle,” “Goodwill”), and putting the room back together.

Most of the action took place beneath the surface in the closet and drawers, so the room itself doesn’t look much different now than it did last week. Even so, it’s different to my eyes, which had beheld the spectacle of the room’s innards strewn about on the floor and piled up on furniture over the few days it took me to analyze it all. I felt like a forensics investigator. What has been seen cannot be unseen, as they say. It was a lot of crap.

The terrain of my desk changed slightly when I added a lamp, which makes all the difference. This is now my full-time work environment, so my office needed a desk lamp more than the dining nook did. (Another lamp has taken its place in the dining nook, anyway.)

You knew where this was leading… I’ve got the photographic tour here for anyone who may be interested, such as you fine readers who’d asked about my Table of Death when I mentioned it a week ago. It started as a raucous, dark joke with a friend when I showed her the table and realized just then that a Dia de los Muertos bag hangs in that corner (pure happenstance, which prompted the hilarity – you had to be there). Laughing about it helped to mitigate the somberness of that part of the room, but it helped further when another friend asked to see the table and called it a “Table of Remembrance.” So, yeah. I like pairing that brighter perspective with the dark humor one.

Enough about that. 360 office tour ahoy!

As seen from the doorway:

 

inside left corner (desk)

inside left corner (desk)

 

Desk (top view)

Desk (top view)

 

Desk corner detail: Valentine's Roses 2014, original art by Callaghan "not cal" by Not Cal, California ex-pats in Arizona

Desk corner detail:
Valentine’s Roses 2014, original art by Callaghan
“not cal” by Not Cal, California ex-pats in Arizona

 

Long wall to the left (with tapestry and twinkle lights)

Long wall to the left (with tapestry and twinkle lights)

 

Window wall across from the doorway (with futon)

Window wall across from the doorway (with futon)

 

Far right corner (Table of Death/Remembrance)

Far right corner (Table of Death/Remembrance)

 

Wall to the right (closet)

Wall to the right (closet)

 

Behind the door (Lucha Libre poster, boxing gloves, bags, hats)

Behind the door (Lucha Libre poster, boxing gloves, bags, hats)

 

Door-frame (pull-up bar overhead)

Door-frame (pull-up bar overhead)

 

This concludes our tour. I won’t be needing to cover a door window in this office, but the door here stays open, anyway.

My week in Haiku (Haiku 5: Emancipation)

[** This personal haiku discipline I’ve started has become something of a pleasurable habit. Helpful hint, if you’re so inclined: I’ve grouped my growing collection of themed haiku sets here. You can also click the link in the “Poetry” category in the sidebar. **]

I’m coming off of a fantastic and unusually creatively charged week, probably the most so of 2016 thus far. I wrote this set of haiku to sum it up…

 

Haiku 5: Emancipation

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Disingenuous

snakes boiling over it all:

Laissez-moi tranquille.

 

"The Art of Strategy" (R.L. Wing, new translation of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War")

“The Art of Strategy” (R.L. Wing, new translation of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”)

 

2.

Serendipity.

No secret provocation,

no sly dorsal fin.

 

Newly created path.

Newly created path.

 

3.

Bear witness: Too much

blinding white noise, stochastic

resonance. Failure.

 

Live a great story (and learn).

Live a great story (and learn).

 

4.

Current volition:

auspices of Minerva,

prosaic temple.

 

My new office set-up – at home. Blessed.

My new office set-up – at home. Blessed.

 

There is not a paper on that desk.

Installation (Haiku 4: Car, pendulum, bougainvillea, interactive art)

Callaghan woke me up 25 minutes after the alarm should have gone off this morning. The alarm – my phone – failed to function one time before, and I couldn’t figure out why since I knew I’d set it. I didn’t understand why it happened this morning, either, and I was going to ask Callaghan if he’d heard the alarm and I somehow slept through it, except he was busy reading his email from Cècil the Goat in France (I asked him three times if the guy’s name was really La Chèvre because I was half-asleep and could have misheard him: Is his name really La Chèvre? Yes, it was), so I double-checked my phone and found that I’d accidentally set the alarm for tomorrow. Saturday. I SO wanted the week to be over that I subconsciously set the alarm for Saturday?

Anyway, I wrote another set of haiku last weekend in my mostly muted state (re-occurrence of laryngitis), and I was going to post it on Tuesday, but UFC 196 happened on Saturday night and I wanted to talk about that, instead. So here are the haiku.

This set of haiku was inspired by some pics I took on a stroll around my work campus.

 

Haiku 4: Car, pendulum, bougainvillea, art installation

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Curved mannequin, all

disintegration, gesture,

all black-framed, rasping.

 

"Society of Automobile Engineers Formula 1992 Restoration Project"

“Society of Automobile Engineers Formula 1992 Restoration Project”

 

2.

Brass validation:

rethinking embodiment,

limbic perversion.

 

Foucault Pendulum

Foucault Pendulum

 

3.

Equatorial

skeletal recognition

(kaleidoscopic).

 

Towering wall of bougainvillea.

Towering wall of bougainvillea.

 

4.

Critical dissent

momentarily vocal,

avoiding earshot.

 

Multimedia art installation (Todd Ingalls)

Multimedia art installation (Todd Ingalls)

 

I must say, I’m enjoying writing these haiku.

French art in Haiku (Haiku 3: Cromagnon, La Tour Eiffel, Les Fleurs, Absinthe)

Food poisoning this week. No details necessary… just to say that yesterday, I rose from the wish-I-was-dead and went around my house taking pictures and writing haiku.

These haiku were inspired by some of the art on our walls at home. The pieces are from France, except the one that was done by Callaghan, who is French. You get the common theme.

 

Haiku 3: Art

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

Déjà vu hunting

blind, agnostic galleries –

counting hours.

 

Cromagnon detail (original art by Callaghan)

Cromagnon detail (original art by Callaghan)

 

2.

Insurmountable:

vapor of millenniums,

vaporous château.

 

Eiffel tower pencil sketch

Eiffel tower pencil sketch

 

3.

Rapidly displaced

spectra: brook waters culling

hand-painted headstones.

 

Watercolor flowers

Watercolor flowers

 

4.

Slanderous tom-tom!

Axioms, acknowledgments

feigning percussion.

 

Tin painting

Tin painting

 

Here’s to a healthier week ahead for us all!

Sunny winter in Haiku (Haiku 2: Blue Sky)

It’s a new week, and other than some residual congestion, I’m flu-free. Seven days of viral craptastic downtime makes for a giddy return to work. I only went in on Tuesday last week. I went on Wednesday, too, but I was sent home almost immediately, so Wednesday doesn’t count.

(Aside: Remember when “viral” really was just a bad thing?)

Even on Sunday, I coughed so much, Callaghan said, “There’s no way you can go to work tomorrow.” But I felt much better when I woke up yesterday. The whole day felt glorious. It was warm and the sky was extra sunny, clear, and blue – even more blue than usual – so I went outside (glorious!) during my lunch hour and took some pics. I didn’t go far… just to the art museum near my building. The museum and the adjacent little theatre.

I’m sharing some of the pics with a few more haiku, because they go together. I’m feeling the haiku these days, and it feels good. It feels good to pick up poetry again!

 

Haiku 2: Blue Sky

(by Kristi Garboushian)

1.

To be undulant,

an unfinished votive dream

soothing chess-players.

 

Blue sky with theatre box office.

Blue sky with theatre box office.

 

2.

Elasticity:

five hundred sodden leaves around

the arctic building.

 

Blue sky with art museum.

Blue sky with art museum.

 

3.

Plumage battering

an alternative fossil –

carnage emerging.

 

Blue sky with fake lava.

Blue sky with fake lava.

 

4.

A feast of words held:

tense, shy, the gloved telegrams,

chronological.

 

Blue sky with art museum, 2.

Blue sky with art museum, 2.

 

I love how Haiku encourages pictures in 17 syllables.

Beasts of No Nation: A review, of sorts (No Spoilers)

I didn’t include Beasts of No Nation in my October “favorites” post because those posts are about Little Things, and this film is anything but that. Beasts of No Nation is an immersive experience, and it’s a heavy one. A powerful one. It didn’t feel right lumping it in with Scream Queens and salsa.

 

thatasianlookingchick.com-BeastsOfNoNation2015

 

The crafting of Beasts of No Nation demonstrates exquisite mastery; if you’re into movies to appreciate the fine art of film-making, I’d say it’s a must-see. However, be warned: Beasts of No Nation is difficult to watch… it’s a must-see for reasons beyond its artistic merits.

There came a point where Callaghan just stopped. As tension tightened our throats in the scene that ended it for him, he muttered, “I don’t want to watch this anymore.” I understood where he was coming from. I was on the verge of stopping, myself. He got up and said, “I’m sorry… you can watch the rest if you want, but I don’t need to see this!”

The challenge when watching a war drama so finely rendered is that you’re there. The film engulfs you, and you become a witness to gut-wrenching circumstances and atrocities appalling beyond belief. It’s harrowing, it’s heart-breaking, and it took me two more days to finish watching Beasts of No Nation after we stopped (and Callaghan had gone to France for his business trip). It took two days because I couldn’t watch more than a chunk at a time.

While all movies of this nature don’t trigger my PTSD, enough of them do that I generally avoid them. I couldn’t turn away from this one, though, and I don’t mean that in a train-wreck kind of way. It was more like, I have to keep watching because at some point something has to happen that will restore my faith in humanity.

While the story in Beasts of No Nation is a work of fiction, the tragedy of it is real. The film depicts a reality that’s largely overlooked in our ongoing lament over global atrocities and human rights violations. We commonly bespeak outrage over horrendous things that are done to little girls, practices we know to be inhumane and abominable. Comparatively, we give negligible thought to the horrendous things that are done to little boys. We forget to acknowledge the trials of male children in some war-torn countries… trials that, as this film so brutally illustrates, result in bodily harm, psychological damage, and an obliteration of childhood innocence too sad to contemplate.

I’d never seen Callaghan so upset by a movie that he had to quit watching it. As for me, I’m usually dry-eyed while most everyone grabs at tissues… but there was one scene in Beasts of No Nation that had me crying, and it wasn’t due to illusory maneuvers on the director’s part. The director avoided any semblance of heart-string-pulling and simply let the power of authenticity do its dirty work, a feat allowed by his elegantly nuanced talent. My sorrow felt heavy, like a sorrow for the entire planet.

The director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective), also wrote the film’s screenplay (based on the novel by Uzodinma Iweala). I’ve seen several movies this year that I thought deserved serious Academy attention; Beasts of No Nation joins them and rises – urgently – straight to the top. I’ll go so far as to say that I hope it captures awards not only for itself, but for humankind. Fukunaga’s adapted screenplay and directing ought to garner Oscar nominations, at least, and actors Idris Elba and Abraham Attah deserve the highest accolades for their searing performances. They were both brilliant. The cinematography and costume design were also stunning. All of the art that went into the making of this film took my breath away.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Beasts of No Nation will do more than tug at your heart-strings… it’ll just seize your whole heart and crush it. But this film needs to be seen. Child soldiers need a place in the discourse of the problem of world suffering, and if swallowing our horror through the viewing of films like this can help bring awareness to the plight of these children, then we need to do that.

Child soldiers are not out there bearing arms and killing people because they had aspirations to do so as healthy children with sound minds. They are victims.

Beasts of No Nation elucidates one of the ways in which art is important and even essential for the well-being of the human race. We can’t continue to keep our eyes closed while certain things are happening in the world, and this is why Oscar-generated hype over Beasts of No Nation could be seen not only as well-deserved, but necessary. Everyone’s attention should be brought to this film.

Beasts of No Nation is Netflix’ first original film, being to movies what House of Cards is to television series. The movie streamed on Netflix the same day it appeared in theatres. If you have Netflix and you want to see Beasts of No Nation, it’s there for the watching.

Kick ass in the kindest way possible, and other life advice (an A-Z guide)

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about “life-coaching.” I’m not exactly sure what that is, I’m no coach of any kind, and I certainly can’t claim to be an expert on life, but I thought I’d venture into related territory (meaning distant-cousin related). I thought, if I was to give just simple, pithy life advice, what would that look like? It seemed like a fun and worthwhile challenge. I searched my experience and came up with something for every letter of the alphabet, because my brain likes lists. Some of the “advice” is literal, some figurative; some are quotes, and some are definitions. It’s all helpful to me. So, for what it’s worth –

Life advice A-Z!

Age: Depends on the individual

Balance: “Pick your battles”

Caution: Conceal your true weaknesses

Design: Create your reality

Equilibrium: Drink lots of water

Fitness: Master a physical activity

Guidance: Have a goal

Health: Take the stairs

Intention: Kick ass in the kindest way possible

Juggernaut: Willpower on crack

Key: Unlock with fit, rather than force

Livelihood: Connect to artworks

 

Detail from "Dreams for the Earth, #6" (Beth Ames Swartz, 1989)

Detail from “Dreams for the Earth, #6” (Beth Ames Swartz, 1989)

 

Mental Health: Exercise hard

Nourishment: Cultivate relationships

Organizing: Turn procrastination into productivity

Provocation: Control your reactions

Quote: “Keep your hands up and your chin down”

Resonate: Remember interconnectedness

Strategy: Adjust your lifestyle

Thorn: Strengthen your mind

Urgent: Practice selective response

Vigilance: “Stay alert to stay alive”

Wealth: Clean sheets

Xerox: Never run out of ink

Yin and Yang: “Only when it’s dark can you see the stars”

Zenith: Construct your own ladder

 

[Full annotation on the image:

Dreams for the Earth, #6

“So the darkness shall be the light/and the stillness the dancing”

Beth Ames Swartz, 1989

(Donated by Louise G. Fink to honor the contributions of the Center for the Study of Law, Science, and Technology)

Arizona State University]

PHA!

When Callaghan decided to create an Etsy shop for his art, we got right down to brain-storming names. “First name, Last name Art” wasn’t doing it for us, and neither was “Callaghan Art.” He wanted the word “Art” in the shop’s name, but he didn’t want to use his legal name or his former professional nom de plume.

We mused on the possibilities for a few moments.

“How about,” I ventured slowly, “‘PHA!’?”

It seemed like a logical suggestion, as Callaghan’s been signing his drawings, paintings and illustrations with “PHA!” since he was six years old. He’s gone through phases of signing in other ways, but he always goes back to “PHA!” – in fact, in the four years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him sign any other way. “PHA!” is his original, default signature.

 

Callaghan's signature on one of his latest works.

Callaghan’s signature on one of his latest works.

 

“True! I’ve been signing as ‘PHA!’ my whole life,” he said enthusiastically. “I can call the shop ‘PHA! Art’.”

Silence as his words lingered in the air.

“Oh… no,” I said, the realization hitting suddenly. “You don’t want your shop to be pronounced…”

“PHAART.” He finished my sentence with a low, drawn-out utterance, then repeated it: “PHAART!”

We were in the truck, on the road, laughing wildly into the hot, dusty wind.

It reminded me of Samuel L. Jackson raising hell on Twitter while watching basketball, as he did last week during the Spurs vs. the Thunder playoffs game, and the Pacers vs. the Heat: “Muphuggaz,” “MUFUKKAS,” “Muthaphukkaz,” “MUTHAFUQQA” and “Muhfugga!!” are just a few examples of the creative spellings he comes up with (for his signature word).

He doesn’t just use it for sports, though!

 

CaptureSamuelLJacksonStarWars

 

For Callaghan, “PHA! Art” would indeed be an unfortunate business name. Since you can’t use exclamation points in usernames, his URL would be “www.etsy.com/shop/phaart,” and his email address would be phaart@something.com.

“My address could be “PHAART@yourgeneraldirection.com,” he said, getting into it.

“Maybe you could just use ‘PHA!’ by itself,” I suggested.

He hasn’t decided yet for certain, but we know that “PHA!” will likely be a part of his shop’s name somehow. I’ll report back once his shop is up and running, lest your curiosity slay you.

Happy Friday, All!

Giving a whole new meaning to the term “hair plugs,” ASU-style.

My friend Katie and I were strolling along a walkway on campus (ASU) the other day when we found ourselves stopping at the edge of a small patch of lawn, staring down at it. Because this patch of lawn didn’t just stick out like a sore thumb. It stuck out like a severed head. Many severed heads, actually.

 

Heads on the lawn.

Heads on the lawn.

 

The tops of the heads were gouged out, and hair plugs of flowers and grass were stuffed inside.

 

Exhibit A: head as planter.

Exhibit A: head as planter.

 

“Well I guess I haven’t seen everything yet, after all,” Katie remarked as she gazed at the heads scattered on the grass. She hails from a university in Montreal, which boasts a whole different flavor of crazy, apparently.

“No, you haven’t. You’re at ASU now,” I said.

 

 

I decided that it would be entirely appropriate to rescue one...

I decided that it would be entirely appropriate to rescue one…

 

It happened to be Callaghan’s birthday. What more could he ask for? Besides, there was a sign that said “Please take one.” So I did.

 

This corner of Callaghan's studio had been missing a head with flowers growing out of it.

This corner of Callaghan’s studio had been missing a head with flowers growing out of it.

 

Katie said, “This is exactly why I moved to Arizona… the weird crap here is different than the weird crap in Montreal!”

Always glad to provide.

 

 

 

Assemblage Art Surprise for Valentine’s Day

For Valentine’s Day, Callaghan gave me a gift set of my current favorite fragrance (Guilty, in case you were wondering). As a life-long perfume addict, fragrance is still my favorite “romantic” sort of gift to receive. Though Callaghan’s a wonderful chef, the way to my heart is not through my stomach. It’s definitely through my nose!

I knew about that gift in advance, but yesterday, he surprised me with an early gift… one that he made. He came in and leaned it up against my bookshelves while my back was turned:

 

Happy hearts! What could it be?

Happy hearts! What could it be?

 

 

When I unwrapped it, I found a painting of red roses! It’s a framed assemblage of gorgeous, vibrant red roses.

 

Immortal red roses! "Valentine's Day Roses" original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

Immortal red roses! “Valentine’s Day Roses” original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

 

 

Over the summer, he started working with alcohol-based inks on thin plastic sheeting to make these assemblages. The finished works are hand-drawn, cut out, pieced together in careful composition and colored by hand, airbrush or a combination of both. He’s now created several pieces working in this technique, and I’m eager to see the completed collection. He’s aiming to make about 40 assemblages.

Here are a few more shots of my Valentine’s Day roses:

 

"Valentine's Day Roses" detail - here you can see the dimension given by his layering technique. My camera can't do the colors justice, but you get the idea.

“Valentine’s Day Roses” detail – here you can see the dimension given by his layering technique. My camera can’t do the colors justice, but you get the idea.

 

Roses, roses, roses!

Roses, roses, roses!

 

 

I took everything off the wall behind my desk and placed the roses there, low, as a kind of backdrop before my eyes that I can admire while I’m sitting here.

 

My little office area, now alive with roses that will never die!

My little office area, now alive with roses that will never die!

 

He added a heart and an exclamation point to his usual signature (along with a sweet note on the back).

He added a heart and an exclamation point to his usual signature (along with a sweet note on the back).

 

 

While I’m in bragging mode, I would like to show you another finished piece from the collection. This one is my favorite, after the roses:

 

"Homage St. Exupery" original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

“Homage St. Exupery” original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

 

Do you recognize some of the elements from Antoine de Saint Exupery’s “Le Petit Prince”?

Callaghan also made a colorful little bouquet for Mom, which we sent to her following her last chemo infusion:

 

"Tulips for Mom" original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

“Tulips for Mom” original by Philippe Augy (Callaghan)

 

Callaghan is currently accepting commissions for these custom floral assemblages. If you’re interested in ordering one, let me know via my Contact page, and I will connect you. =)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Holiday Spirit in the House

Okay, since my last post, we relented and turned on the heat! We set it to 68F, which is perfect… you would never know that it’s cold outside, especially with the bright sunshine coming in. Also…

 

Someone thoughtfully put Styrofoam cups on these babies in front of our apartment. Cactuses need cold snap care, too.

Someone thoughtfully put Styrofoam cups on these babies in front of our apartment. Cactuses need cold snap care, too.

 

(I never say “cacti,” by the way, even if it’s the more accepted plural form of “cactus.” Cactuses! Cactuses! Cactuses! I love that word. I find it more lyrical and adorable and appropriate for their personalities. “Cacti” sounds so coldly scientific to me.)

The weekend was full of things to see and art to admire. The main streets of our neighborhood were closed off for the Tempe Festival of the Arts, an event that happens every year in the fall and the spring. It’s fun, and it presents a great opportunity to purchase gifts from an enormous and diverse gathering of artists.

 

We weren't allowed to photograph the artists' work, so here's a pic of a fire truck from 1959, instead (in front of the Mission Palms hotel)

We weren’t allowed to photograph the artists’ work, so here’s a pic of a fire truck from 1959, instead (in front of the Mission Palms hotel)

 

May I just say that I loved that parking wasn’t in the equation this year, since the festival is now just a stroll down the street! We wandered through about half of it, speaking with some of the artists along the way.

 

Cards from some of the artists we visited at the festival.

Cards from some of the artists we visited at the festival.

 

Continuing the holiday spirit at home, last night we enjoyed a lovely and unexpected discovery at the bottom of a box that’d been in storage since I’d moved to France – the Christmas wreath Mom had given me! Which I’d thought was long gone. Which had me feeling kind of heartbroken all day the day I’d thought it was long gone. It’s here now, along with some other things I’d thought had gotten lost in the shipping!

 

Honey, I'm home!

Honey, I’m home!

 

 

We hung it on the inside of our front door so we can admire it (and not worry about it walking away).

We hung it on the inside of our front door so we can admire it (and not worry about it walking away).

 

Happy Monday!

“A Room of One’s Own”

I return with pictures! As I’d gleefully noted before, my books are up, which means I once again have, as Virginia Woolf would say, “a room of my own.” It’s such a simple thing, but it makes all the difference. After being away for over two years, I’m feeling truly at home again, and I’m grateful for it; my office is our living room, and it’s like a big cozy library. All the relics are here… the Chagall prints I’d scrounged from a dusty pile in that thrift store in West Germany almost twenty-five years ago, just before The Wall came down, and also from West Germany, the iron dragon candlestick found on a stroll through a street fair on a cold wintry night. My brother’s old Six Million Dollar Man thermos (c. 1974) and the white porcelain cat a friend gave me when I was sixteen. The fresh flowers, childrens’ books and pocketbook-size literature and pulp fiction in the dark bookcase by my desk, and, on the other side of the room, the bulk of my book collection awaiting detailed organization in the larger bookcases. The butsudan my Grandfather refurbished for me before he died. The candlestick a beloved friend sent from France. And so on.

 

My desk...

My desk…

 

 

...with the old Chagall prints

…with the old Chagall prints

 

 

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

 

 

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

 

Corner detail by the butsudan.... I positioned the clock so we'd have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

Corner detail by the butsudan…. I positioned the clock so we’d have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

 

 

So this is our living room. We’ve clustered our loveseat, ottoman and my beat-up old German trunk (serving as a coffee table, as usual) under the window on the wall between the two sides of the room.  Callaghan’s all set up, too… he’s got the larger of our two bedrooms for his art studio, and it’s perfect for him.

In other news, I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving week already!

Of Fire-Hardened Crafts and That Band with the Videos

We’re still in major stuff-organizing mode up in here. In the last few days, I’ve unearthed a couple of things.

Thing One: the miniature clay hand-painted mask a friend brought me from Venice many years ago, which has somehow survived my life so far (I hope I didn’t jinx it by writing that. Watch it break the second I post this):

 

Ronnie James with the Venetian mask

Ronnie James with the Venetian mask

 

It fits! READY FOR HALLOWEEN.

It fits! READY FOR HALLOWEEN.

 

Thing Two: the Navajo horsehair pot I’d given to Callaghan, as referenced in this post:

 

Navajo horsehair pottery, hand-made, hand-painted and adorned with turquoise.

Navajo horsehair pottery, hand-made, hand-painted and adorned with turquoise.

 

And tonight, for something different, we’re heading over to Emo’s  to see The Neighbourhood. I often refer to them as “that band with the videos,” because, yeah, their videos.

 

 

Have a great weekend, Guys!

 

 

 

 

“Her Perfume Smells Like Burning Leaves” (but she probably doesn’t wear a cartoon owl every day)

Fall is here, Halloween is coming up, and while we have no idea what we’ll be doing costume-wise, I can at least enjoy feeling seasonable now when I put on my Halloween t-shirt, which I got from Target several years ago and actually wear throughout the year.

I wore it yesterday:

 

The Halloween t-shirt too adorable to ignore three-quarters of the year.

The Halloween t-shirt too adorable to ignore three-quarters of the year.

 

Creepy/scary Halloween imagery usually appeals to me more than the cutesy variety, but this t-shirt was an exception. I couldn’t resist it!

I’m generally enthusiastic about wearing Halloween stuff year-round, but I know that when the late Peter Steele of Type-O Negative described the mysterious gothic vixen in his song “Black No. 1” and concluded with “every day is Halloween,” he probably wasn’t thinking of her wearing a t-shirt that says “I (heart) the night life” under an orange heart-feathered cartoon owl perched on a sparkly gold crescent moon. I’m just too lazy to be a gothic vixen every day, so I go with the owl.

Moving the same note along to our apartment, we’ve got our Fall/Halloween mantel décor up! PICS – because it happened.

 

Our Fall (Halloween!) mantel. Not a leaf in sight, but we've got candles; original traditional and bizarre art; an assortment of tools; an old brass key; a petrol lamp; a bronze clock; an antique candelabra and a silly stuffed owl.

Our Fall (Halloween!) mantel. Not a leaf in sight, but we’ve got candles; original traditional and bizarre art; an assortment of tools; an old brass key; a petrol lamp; a bronze clock; an antique candelabra and a silly stuffed owl.

 

Close-up of Callaghan's bizarre 3-D piece ("Antix"), the antique ice-pick and the owl.

Close-up of Callaghan’s bizarre 3-D piece (“Antix”), the antique ice-pick and the owl.

 

Close-up of the left side. The still life on the end is an original painting by Alerini, a French artist.

Close-up of the left side. The still life on the end is an original painting by Alerini, a French artist.

 

Close-up of the right side. The gorgeous candelabra is a gift from Dude in France. The antique brass key on it is a gift from Catherine, also in France. The art on the end is a framed set of rubber stamps designed and carved by Callaghan.

Close-up of the right side. The gorgeous candelabra is a gift from Dude in France. The antique brass key on it is a gift from Catherine, also in France. The art on the end is a framed set of rubber stamps designed and carved by Callaghan.

 

ETA: No leaves, branches, pumpkins or gourds were abused in the making of this display.

Mr. W – My Favorite Commercial

A few years ago, I came across a certain commercial. I passed it along to a few people who I thought might enjoy it. The other night, as we were walking out the door, I thought of it again (for a reason… you’ll see why in a minute). Commercials usually annoy me to distraction; they’re designed to get into your brain and make enough of an impression to stick there, and “annoying” often accomplishes this… but this one’s unforgettable to me in a good way.

Now that it’s on my mind again, I’m going to go ahead and share it with all of you:

 

 

Happy Friday!

Objets d’Art and the Value of Memories

Prior to Friday night, I’d considered myself to be an art afficionado in a broad sense of the term. I’ve always loved art museums and galleries, and I go through periods of making visual art of various sorts. At one time, interior design school attracted me. At another point, I thought about art school for painting. I decided on a BA in English and ultimately earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, focus on poetry, but I enjoyed art history as elective study. I deeply admire artists of various genres – visual artists of all persuasions, dancers, musicians, actors, film-makers, poets and writers. Over the years, I’ve supported my talented artist friends by purchasing their work, attending their events and making personal donations from time to time. And, of course, I happen to be married to a professional visual artist.

So it was an odd sensation when, at a gallery opening on Friday night, I found myself questioning my perception of myself as a “true” art lover. It happened when my eyes fell upon a porcelain dinner plate. It was white or cream-colored with a pale bluish-green design around the border, if I’m remembering correctly. It was cracked, and the artist had affixed to it a few strands of human hair. It wasn’t the piece itself that really caught my eye, though. It was the price sticker next to it, which read $4,000.00. I looked twice to verify the number of zeros.

Obviously, I’m missing something here, I thought to myself in disbelief. For the first time in my life, I’d encountered a piece of art that whizzed so high over my head that I could barely recognize it. I know… art is subjective. I know. But I was mystified by the idea that there were people who could make sense of the $4,000.00 price tag. What are they seeing that I’m not? It was a peculiar take on the feeling of being left out of a joke. I was more perplexed than anything. Do you have to be a special kind of visionary or hold a certain minimum IQ to recognize an aesthetic appeal worth $4,000.00 in such an object?

Believe me, I tried. I closed my eyes and tried to envision where in my house I would want to put a cracked plate with a few strands of hair on it.  I couldn’t.

Probably the person who buys the plate will set it inside a cabinet with glass doors, where it will sit under display lighting in the company of other unusual objets d’art. It’s a “conversation piece,” they’ll say. Okay… I get that. I get the coolness factor of having a conversation piece. But who has $4,000.00 lying around to spend for the purpose of starting conversations? The hipsters who comprised 90% of the opening’s attendance? (Well, maybe the answer is in the question.)

Callaghan, my professional visual artist husband, wasn’t grasping it, either. Neither was the friend who accompanied us, himself an art-loving designer. And we weren’t the only ones… we overheard others musing about the prices out loud to each other. One thing is for sure – the plate does function well as a conversation piece! It provoked discussion as the three of us tried to fathom how the artist could justify charging $4,000.00 for it, as it provoked this post that I’m writing.

That I wasn’t alone in my confusion reassured me, but I still felt somewhat dismayed when we left the gallery. Art that makes me feel like an idiot! That must mean it’s really good art, and I’m not cool enough, worldly enough, educated enough or perceptive enough to “get” it.

The next day, I went online to investigate. According to the gallery’s website, the current exhibit showcases “complex sculptural work that uses hair and hair products as their medium” by three artists. I went on to read the artists’ statements about their exhibit pieces. While this helped me to understand and appreciate the intent of the plate artist (who is neither local nor an established artist), I still couldn’t reconcile the piece with the monetary value attached to it. The plate piece is described by the gallery as a “memory assemblage,” meaning, it’s exactly what it appears to be: strands of hair affixed to a broken plate (not sculpted by the artist) to create the “complex sculptural work.”

Apparently, what we’re talking about here is putting a price on memories. The work is deeply personal to the artist – the plate is a “family heirloom,” and the hairs on it are from her own head – so understandably, the artist sees beauty in it. But how can she expect strangers to connect to those personal memories of hers to the tune of $4,000.00? If the justification is that the dinner plate is a family heirloom, what does that mean… that the name of the family in question is “Kennedy” and the artist procured it from the White House?  Or that the porcelain plate is an ancient Chinese hand-painted piece from the Ming Dynasty? Is the plate gilt in 14K gold, or otherwise valuable in some material way?

Along with the price, its designation as a “complex sculptural work” confounds me.

I can think of another example of real hair being used in art: horsehair pottery. Native American artists overlay pieces such as vases with horse hair during the firing process. The works are often then hand-etched and decorated with materials such as turquoise nuggets, leather and feathers to exquisite effect. The making of these pieces involves extensive talent, skill, intuitive craftsmanship, precise training, precious materials and hours of work. Since they are handmade every step of the way, the pieces are unique – no two are alike. I bought one for Callaghan when we were dating. Lovely and vibrant with the tradition of its cultural heritage, the item cost less than $50.00. Granted, I found it at an outdoor arts fair when I lived in Arizona; shopping in my own backyard maybe made it easier to get it for a good price, but you can go online and find similar pieces for comparable prices.

 

Handmade horsehair pot by Navajo artist Geraldine Vail, available for purchase for $69.00 on aztradingpost.com

Handmade horsehair pot by Navajo artist Geraldine Vail, available for purchase for $69.00 on aztradingpost.com

 

I’m cognizant of the distinction between art created for the masses as a trade versus art made for a gallery exhibit with a specific intellectual psychological/philosophical theme as its impetus. My point is that creating a piece such as the horsehair vase involves much more of a “complex” creative process than sticking some hair to a pre-existing plate.

Let’s be clear: I am not questioning whether the plate we saw in this gallery qualifies as art. That old debate is not what this is about. Glue your own hair to Grandma’s plate and call it art all day long (but please don’t go so far as to call the “memory assemblage” a “complex sculptural work,” because it is not. As Callaghan pointed out, to call it that is an insult to artists who actually do create complex sculptural works. I personally can’t imagine gluing my hair to a plate and telling a Navajo artist that it’s a “complex sculptural work” worth thousands of dollars). I’m not going to argue the matter, regardless of my opinion.

What I can’t comprehend is the price. I understand that the piece carries great sentimental value for the artist, but why would anyone want to pay $4,000.00 for someone else’s memories?

Of Course – Learn Something New Every Day!

We now have a shipping date. We’re packing and trashing and selling all kinds of stuff, and Callaghan’s starting to eat some of the preserved food we’d stockpiled for emergencies, because why not? It’s there, and we’re not taking it with us. Last night, he opened a can of cannelloni to eat with the salad and fresh asparagus we were also having.

I studied the contents of his plate. The cannelloni looked like reddish-beige rubber tubes with glossy pink sausagey-looking things inside.

“So what exactly is that ‘mystery meat’,” I wondered out loud, fully aware that if there was an answer, then it wouldn’t be a mystery.

“A course,” said Callaghan.

I thought I heard “of course.” I waited for him to continue.

“A what?”

“Course!” he repeated.

I’m so confused! My head’s going to explode!

My mind whipped through all the French words I know, searching for one that would sound like “course” that might bear resemblance to a meat-related word in English.

“Course.” I tried out the word myself. Still didn’t make sense. What the hell is he talking about?

“If you don’t know whether it’s a cow or a horse, it’s a cowrse,” Callaghan explained.

Oh. Duh!

 

Survival food - little pieces of COWRSEmeat wrapped in pieces of pasty white industrial dough, smothered in some kind of red sauce

Survival food – little pieces of COWRSEmeat wrapped in pieces of pasty white industrial dough, smothered in some kind of red sauce

 

Cowrses have chicken heads, didn’t you know?

 

14 Heures sur la Route – des photos

I can be a vainglorious beast when I have a camera in my hand. I mean, I can get overly serious about taking pictures. At least I recognize this distinction: You have your real photographers, both amateur and professional, people equip with raw talent, people who are visionary and intuitive with their cameras, hard-working and trained artists. Then you have people like me, the pointers-and-clickers. But I am quite the pointer-and-clicker, if I do say so!

All of this to say that yesterday we returned from a road trip (14 hours, total) through 7-8 départements to the center of France (to visit a friend), and here are pictures – a little bit of atmosphere from the passenger-in-the-moving-vehicle perspective.

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Visit to Catherine, February 2013

 

Coffee at McDonald’s. Camenbert burger, anyone?

You’re American. You Must Be Obese.

We got back from our latest trip to Nice last night. While we were there, we took the time to visit the maison de carnaval (“house of carnival”), the place where the majestic floats for Nice’s annual February carnival are made. We wanted to get a sneak peek at the construction progress because, like last year, several of Callaghan’s drawings were selected to appear as floats.

I have something to get off my chest, so I’m going to go ahead and dump it here.

(By the way: This is not about Callaghan!)

Let’s say you’re an artist. You decide to participate in a contest to come up with a series of original drawings on the theme of “The Five Continents,” depicting your visual interpretation of the corners of the world. (This refers to the non-American version of the world’s continents, hence five rather than seven.)

The competition is intimidating. You know that your drawings have to be absolutely inventive in order for the committee to select one or more of them; a prestigious carnival’s enormous, sophisticated floats will be based on the winning drawings.

So here you are, ready to go! The continent of North America lies before you, challenging you. There are many options, many things about this continent you can take and develop into creative ideas. You sit and think and soon find yourself rolling along an exhilarating wave of inspiration, creative idea after creative idea blooming up from the depths of your imagination. Your mind hums with anticipation; you can already feel the satisfaction of releasing the creative mojo from your brain, taking the images from your mind’s eye and transferring them to paper.

You unsheathe your drawing pencils. You’re inspired. You’re proud of yourself. For North America, you’ve decided, you’re going to focus on the United States. You’ll incorporate various elements into your drawing – elements that will represent America. One of these will be an American woman: She’ll be obese. She’ll be blond. She’ll be naked except for blue star pasties on her nipples and a tiny red and white striped bikini bottom. She’ll wear a gold crown. You’ll put her up on the back of a pink Cadillac. In her upraised hand, you’ll draw in a diet soda. She is a parody of the Statue of Liberty.

At the carnival’s home offices, the selection committee reviews the hundreds of entries submitted by talented artists. Next thing you know, you receive a letter of congratulations. Your drawing was selected! Your idea was so original, it beat out all the others. At the end of February, a pink Cadillac float representing America, complete with the ridiculous half-naked obese woman brandishing her diet soda, will drift along in the parade for all to admire. You’ll receive an award for your clever design at the end of the carnival’s run. Congratulations.

Here are the rhetorical questions this scenario begs in my mind: Is the world really so conditioned to viewing America this way that it can’t see the juvenile cruelty of ridiculing obese Americans? Can there be an acknowledgement of the difference between a successful satire and outright hostile social criticism hiding behind the guise of satire?

Dear Selection Committee: I don’t get it. I don’t get why you would taint the illustrious tradition of your annual carnival by selecting a drawing such as this. Shouldn’t you be setting high standards for carnival parades, rather than lowering them by perpetuating mean stereotypes through the pedantic representation of them in your floats?

Why reduce a country’s identity to a stereotype, anyway? America. Geographical wonders such as redwood forests, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, the Great Lakes and Niagara falls. Specific, world-wide-recognized characters such as Elvis, Mickey Mouse, the Statue of Liberty and Uncle Sam. Places such as Hollywood and New York City. All of these emblems could be used as the basis of satire. Also worth considering is the tremendous cultural diversity among the American population.

America is nothing if not multi-cultural. The country grew up as a coming-together of people from all over the world, and those people brought their traditions that have both held pure and mixed together with others. It can be said that to be American is to be of mixed ethnicity; most Americans are “mutts.” I’ve known very few Americans who are 100% anything. It’s not like Europe, where it’s more predictable that people in Germany are of German ethnicity, people in France are of French ethnicity, people in Italy are of Italian ethnicity, etc. There is no such thing as an “American” ethnicity. America is unique in that it’s a country in which almost all of its citizens (the exception being Native Americans) can trace their ethnic roots back to their places of origin. “American” is a nationality, not an ethnicity. America is a collection of the world’s people.

How can anyone miss the greatness of this? When you really think about it, isn’t it a stunning concept? Isn’t it great, I mean truly great that a country such as America even exists?

What I’m trying to point out is that it’s kind of gratuitous to draw an obese white person and stick it on a float called “America” to represent its people. Clearly, the intent here is not to satirize. The intent is only to turn the subject into a laughing-stock for the amusement of the parade audience, most of which is not American.

Stereotypes can be negative or positive. Obesity is a negative American stereotype that suggests disapproval of not just a body condition, but a psychological one as well. Often, obesity is perceived as an attitude-oriented issue – one that can easily be changed if the person “really wants to.” It’s a complex stereotype, and it’s hostile: the obese are viewed negatively on different levels. This is why I’m feeling this drawing stretch beyond satire, and I have to wonder what the artist was thinking. Did he choose to portray obesity because it would be the easiest of the negative American stereotypes to draw? Or because it’s perceived to be the funniest? Or because it was just the first thing that occurred to him when he thought about America, so he went with it without bothering to search his mind for alternatives?

I saw this drawing, obviously. In my opinion, it’s not even that good. (I think I’m at least slightly qualified to make this judgment, since I live with Callaghan and I see the results of his considerable talent every day.) Regardless, if the decision to draw an obese person was made in bad taste, the decision to select the drawing out of hundreds was even worse.

I believe it would be possible to come up with ways to visually satirize America with the finesse required to also celebrate it – not just mock it. Intelligent, creative satire. I’m all for it.

We’re aware that obesity is an accelerating medical problem in America. But who is anyone to indict us, as a nation, for being “greedy” or “lazy” or “self-indulgent” (or whatever the perception may be) because of it?

Who is uglier – the obese American, or the person ridiculing him or her?