I Can Hear Music

March 23, 2009

I have purchased a “Storage Upgrade” which means I can now post music and videos. This happened in a fit of homework procrastination. I’m not sure why. To inaugurate my purchase I’m putting up several MP3s from the Abbyg. musical recording archives. Just for fun. (I believe you are to click on the song title to open the song).

Whole Lotta Dick

This recording is from Autumn 2005 when I lived in the attic practice space at the Landmark House in Roscoe Village. I am not sure exactly who is playing here (I’m on Bass and shrieking) but I am pretty sure that Donna Moeller and Antonia Gustaitis are in the mix (we three went on to form, during this time, our riot-prog-grrrl band, Wizard Mountain).

I don’t mean to embarrass anyone (like my parents) but I will NOT say that I don’t mean to offend anyone. I do. Although it’s rather passe these days, I do still like to think of myself as a “deconstruction worker.” It makes no sense whatsoever taking umbrage to the word “dick” while whistling “Ramble On” as you pilot your kids into softball practice. All I’m guilty of is distilling the essence of Rock N’ Roll into two unlistenable minutes of aped masculinity.


(Photo by Cielle Taff)

This song was recorded in the Summer of 2007 in Oakland, CA. with the masterful help of my good friend and former collaborator, Gram Lebron . Sadly, this is the only song our partially-realized pop band, Frenching, ever recorded. A Shame since we had lots of fun playing one another’s songs together and covers as well. Gram and I are pictured here with our brother, Nat Russell , playing as “NAG”, a self-contained round-robin unit performing at a bonfire, hootenany camping trip on Mt. Diablo in Summer, 2007. Mark Deutsch (friend, former housemate, and member of Drop Earrings), lent his time and skills on this recording as well. It’s a love song I wrote (for no one in particular, of course).


The beginning of a sketch, as per an assigned exercise in ekphrasis for my Artful Fictions seminar:

"Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida" By Ivan Albright 1929-1930

“Into the World There Came a Soul Called Ida” By Ivan Albright 1929-1930

What Ida asked for, she got. What she didn’t ask for, she got more of. The fantastic thing about wants-the very big ones, not the little immediate ones like a beer, a bag of tobacco, a sprig of violets in a glass or an appointment at the hair-setter-is the way they can remain forever suspended in the gaping jaws of time. The always-now, then, keeping wants always at bay. Even the most supreme of these desires, a moment never cresting, rested securely like a rubber ball in the creased, sweaty palm of the present.

There had never been a time when she’d wanted a husband or children, but rather, instead, set her sights towards a contentment of wanting to want. “When the time is right…” And it never was. Right for that. But right enough for living nonetheless, for affairs that melted into years, a temporal soup whose narrative elements eventually abandoned the desperate will toward distinction, forming a composite taste of the liquid march of days. Those aims were points on an distant horizon that refused, elusively, to near. She approached it unceasingly, knowing that to reach it would be, in the same instant, to overtake it. All choice can be reduced to but two: keep walking or keep running. So Ida walked. First, in her sister’s slippers handed down, and then in patent leather heels, and now in faded pumps, into which she poured, forcefully, the flesh of her feet, all the unfortunate shape that had accumulated silently somewhere between youth and yesterday.

Three Swimmers

February 13, 2009

three swimmers

Knowland Gallery

February 9, 2009

Gallery of Art Images now up. Click the “Knowland” Tab to visit.


Below is a short essay on the weird after-image of the Polaroid:

Saving Polaroid and the Search for Lost Time: Notes on the Camera Nostalgia

An alley-way between a tacqueria and a hardware store in a Mexican neighborhood on Chicago’s shallow south side is caked with muddy snow. It is late in the evening, about 10 o’clock to be exact and a fresh dusting of about an inch has just finished settling on the churned mess of yesterday’s fall. If one were to gaze directly at a streetlamp, one might glimpse a few stray flakes in the light, but otherwise, the snow and the evening are still. A woman, who until very recently, never referred to herself as a woman, opting instead for girl, is walking her dog through the alley. The plow tracks in this passage have created imposing embankments on snow lining the sides. To the left, the embankments butt against a crooked row of black dumpsters at varying degrees of overflow. The dog struggles to urinate on their edges, ascending the embankments and then, hind-leg raised, sinking into their midst. To the right, the wall of snow climbs some 2 and a half feet up the battered brick of the hardware store. There is a family that lives atop the hardware store with three little dogs that run around the unfenced parapet in the back. Someone is doing laundry in this house because a plume of fragrant condensation is blasting out of a dripping pipe, into their path.

The woman stops to smell the laundry and then notices a peculiar sight: a coniferous pine growing out the snow embankment on her right. This evening is the evening of January 12th, 2009. It is the time when people begin to get rid of their Christmas trees. Someone has taken a discarded Christmas tree and planted it in the snow just so. The tree looks delightful here, but the delight, of course, is uncanny. There is a tree where there wasn’t a tree before. There is a tree where a tree cannot remain for long. There is a tree where, plainly, a tree cannot grow. A tree cannot grow here because beneath the snow is concrete that’s been patched with generations of asphalt that still crumbles in the spring, revealing divots, pocks and an undercoat of pallid bricks. You cannot plant a tree in any of these things. Furthermore, this alley has been cleared of trees for the express purpose of making room for cars and delivery trucks and special restaurant dumpsters meant only for used grease, and women walking dogs. Not only is a tree not permitted to grow here, this tree cannot grow. It cannot grow because it is not exactly alive anymore. Once, it was. One cannot say it grew, for rather, it was grown- on a lot in Illinois, a lot cordoned off with bits of red tape tied to blanched, jagged sticks. Sometime in December of the previous year, the tree was cut and it was sold. Either it was sold to a company like Lowes who loaded it up, with a hundred others, at bulk discount, and took it to a temporary tent erected in the parking lot of its store, or it was bought by a family in a truck on a Sunday expedition who tied it to their roof of their Jeep with twine. Either way, it was severed and it was sold. So this tree cannot grow because it has no roots. If one were to dig through the embankment of snow, one would find, of course, a clean round stump from which nothing could sprout without the tender affections of a dedicated and highly knowledgeable horticulturist and even then possibly not since this is only the guess of the woman walking her dog, someone who knows nothing about plants.

The tree planted in the snow speaks in more ways than just this. It is a joke that mocks the very mechanics of growth, because as we know from watching the nature show, and living in Chicago, the frozen wasteland of winter is the opposite of growing and what’s grown. Snow is composed of: water, cold, particles of smog, petroleum, nitrate and other noxious pollutants. Of these ingredients, only water really is the one that makes things grow. But trees need more than water. They need earth and they need soil. In this neighborhood there is virtually no soil, save for the measured squares interrupting the sidewalk to house a skinny tree encircled by wrought iron. Wrought iron does not need soil to grow. So a severed tree planted in snow, is, for many reasons what someone might consider ironic, but also poetic. It is sad because it’s funny and it is funny because it’s sad. It is also funny and sad because it out of place. It is also poetic because it is out of place. The Christmas tree is also stripped of its ornaments. No one buys Christmas tree and puts it in the house without dressing it. If you wanted a naked plant, you would buy a living one in a pot. The ornaments have either been removed and packed away for next year, or they have been removed and thrown away. Most likely they were packed away because some might have been made by the children at school and some might have been christening presents, or heirlooms from parents. Ornaments stay, the tree goes away. It is natural, this time of year, to see discarded Christmas trees on the curbs and in the alleys. Often, they are tossed summarily, stray strands of glittering silver still whipping in the wind, tickling the bulging black bags of trash the tree reclines upon. That is a usual, normal poetic/funny/sad. But a severed tree planted in the snow in the alley on its way to the trash is a re-routing of procedure, a re-invention of feelings. It stands in the snow, in the laundry steam and asks either to be or to be photographed. The woman will not photograph this tree because in all likelihood, it will be gone come morning. Monday, the garbage comes.

( Essay Forthcoming! I promise! check back soon)

UPDATE: Actually, not coming too soon. More like May. When I graduate. It’s my thesis.

Self-Portrait of the Author in Video Phone (Digital camera, video phone, San Francisco, 2005)

Self-Portrait of the Author in Video Phone (Digital camera, video phone, San Francisco, 2005)

Always, forever, everywhere I go, I will eye each playground I pass. I am scanning it in order to know, in an instant, if it is a very important place that lives in me in as an image wedged between memory and destiny, experience and imagination. This playground is either a place I have been or a place I have dreamed or a place I have summoned out of that which I’ve seen and dreamed and not yet seen. It has been with me since time immemorial. This playground sits in a raw, grey mist. There is a rocket ship whose paint is chipped and it totters atop a cold, stolid coil. In here, a child can sit. The ground is not grass but wood chips. The smell here is the smell of that shade of yellow of the buttons on a blue sweater I do not remember but remember seeing myself wear in a photograph. The smell is the smell of silent early morning, it is the smell of an empty playground in the mist, but the smell of an abandoned place before one has aged sufficiently to understand an empty place as poetic space. There are no sounds. Not even the plodding of feet or the creaking of the spring beneath the sitting-in-ship. It is a vacuum of sound. So it must be a photograph. And yet it can’t be because I have surveyed the scenery with my skin. Many playgrounds have almost been this playground. The hope that I will find it is so great that my throat closes when I think for an instant I’ve arrived at this place that I miss so desperately because I have such a perfect and imperfect knowledge of being there. And I seek it so obsessively, in fact, that at times, I’ve thought it best that I never come across it because to do so would certainly signal death; an utter collapse of past into potential, indexical into oneiric, self into oblivion. In this place I will cease to be a cipher, and hence, cease to be. So significant is this place, I cannot even know if I will be able to know it when I see it. It is what makes myth and materiality indistinguishable. It is my absolute spectre of self and space and time. To know that it exists would entail, necessarily, learning how it exists- a parsing who’s process evades any sense of sense. I can only conclude that each ‘almost’ adds to an aggregate epic which only grows more so the farther away it falls.

(title quote from Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida)


It is looking more and more likely that I will have to scrap the spacialized framework I had initially conceived for my thesis: exploring the blogging subject through sites of decaying distinction, the interior, the agora and the arcade. Quite simply, I got in over my head ( a habit that will clearly take no less than a lifetime to break). Feeling prematurely burnt out at the end of the semester, I have been stubborn about deeming the last week a sacred space for leisure reading. My friend Radhika once sagely noted (while counseling me on my thesis) that “interiority is the enabling myth of the bourgeois.” And for some reason my leisure reads this week propel me into a mini-pocket of (decidedly feminine) bourgeois interiority.

Separated by three quarters of a century, Sister Carrie and The Women’s Room, I’ve found, make a fun stormy weather double feature, not least of all for the way both treat the individual as labor commodity, and the agonizing banality of bourgeois temporality. The painful preponderance of finances, particularly in Sister Carrie, creates a pornography out of the domestic ledger, revealing the obscene extent to which the interior of the home, and the of the desiring subject, are saturated with labor, capital and commodity. Waiting, working, looking for work, and killing time. The conversion of waiting, working, looking for work and time killing into cans of tomatoes, cuts of meat, cab rides, diapers and rye. The final frontier of critique however, is realizing that Marilyn French’s assertion” The future is simply more of the present” cannot help but ring with but a hint of comfort.

once again. The swaddling of history–the weird wimple always ’round my sides.

(Post Script: Sister Carrie serves as a certain salve against my most hated book of all time: Madame Bovary. It takes on many of the same horrifying themes but on terms just a tad more sympathetic towards women. I am of the belief that Madame Bovary should be stricken from Lit curricula, unless presented as part of a program to engage students with the subtler forms of hate literature.)

Poeple Violet

December 19, 2008

For Jessica

(Click for larger view)

Poeple Violet