Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Daria addresses the desert oasis

Finally, as I begin to seriously consider prospects that will take me out of Arizona, I have grown a tentative affinity for Phoenix.  Not for all of Phoenix, but for other-Phoenix - that is, Downtown.  The place where everyone assumes you're a Democrat, where drag queens operate frybread food trucks, and where completely different lives cross paths without much notice from anyone.  I really kind of love the weird juxtaposition of watching homeless people leaving shelters in the morning crossing the paths of shiny young college babes.  The sum of conflict is a wary sideways glance from each.

It's not perfect.  It's not even that great!  But I think I could actually be happy in Phoenix if I moved downtown and stayed there in my baby bubble of museums, galleries, farmer's markets, ancient delis, coffee shops, broken sidewalks and unexpected bits of interest.  It's gentrified, but, you guys - not that much.  I was walking down 5th Street today thinking, "Damn. This shit looks way better at night!"  Little bungalows lean with sagging porches and cracked bricks.  Spraypaint murals aren't exactly architectural improvements.  All the yards are dead, and Depression-era driveways open onto vast chain-linked dirt fields, the missing homes razed decades ago.  It is a kind of dry, blasted out charm. 

There's a lot of Phoenix that I do like, but each is a tiny pocket interspersed throughout hundreds of miles of irredeemable wasteland.  I love my grandma's house, and particular streets.  I love parts of north central, and certain buildings, and certain alleys or spots by the canal where old wind-breaking farm trees still live in the city.  I love sunny cold days when the entire fucking city is glinting in spite of its featureless gloom.  I like knowing where everything is, even if I don't care where it is. 

I've hated Phoenix since I was old enough to realize that other places aren't like this.  Like a reincarnated baby who remembers half of its old life, I felt distinctly screwed by living here.  No weather!  No seasons!  No architecture!  No history!  What are you supposed to do with this place?  It's so antiseptic, so staged, and the more other people love the strip malls stretching to the horizons, the more I hate the city.  And the people! I may have been treated to special breeds of desert rebels (guys in ZZ Top beards who call you madam without irony?  being taught to ride by a failed rodeo star? fine.) growing up, and they still weren't enough to stem the crush of human-shaped crap that populates every inch of this place.

I asked my grandmothers why they moved here.  My Grammy came here to follow my grandma.  They fetishized the warmth after years of Montana winters.  My other grandma came here for a man.  She had to leave Iowa or die, her doctor said, for the dampness that already lived in her lungs.  So she went to Santa Fe, where she went on a blind date which brought her here.  "Never thought of leaving after, eh?"  I jeered, resentfully.  No she never thought of leaving, she said.  One dull summer vacation day, when I was lying half on her coffee table and half on her couch, watching Bob Ross paint a winter scene on an antique circular saw blade, she said, "Change it!  I've seen enough snow drifts to last me a lifetime!"  I thought of the inches of frost that accumulated inside her freezer.  Like that?

I like enjoying the city for what it is, when I can.  Certain bits of research mean more to me because I'm from here, and I know that.  I love historic photos of the big empty valley, with only natural characteristics to identify it.  I visited the Luhrs room at ASU the other day to look for some things and came across a lot of early shots of Phoenix in the teens by Albert Ross, I think.  I took surreptitious, poor phone photos of the few that appealed to something deep and nativeish in me.

 Child swimming in the canal, 1924.  This one really gets me.

Praying Monk. 

Kids playing in the street at 7th st. & Van Buren.  Probably Monroe students.  The street looks so narrow. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Oh, Jean

I never understood the allure of Jean Harlow.  I couldn't quite make the connection between descriptions of her and the woman I saw onscreen.  Although she's commonly described as the most molten thing to come out of old Hollywood, all I saw was a sad-eyed girl with a sweet face and too-blonde hair.  She seemed out of place.  This was supposed to be the sex banshee who haunted the souls of a million Delano-era men? I had envisioned someone more like Raquel Welch instead of a small voiced and smaller-statured woman whose childlike features and pouting lips had earned her the lifelong nickname of "The Baby".

In movies, she's almost always the put-upon, resentful side dish who gets elbowed out of the way when the Loy type comes sweeping in to win the prize man.  She's the vampy secretary, the blowsy blonde, the tacky poor girl, the one who gets put down as soon as she's picked up.  She's vulnerable, yet resilient. 

I have a feeling that seeing her onscreen is to see her out of context.  I think that her real power, perhaps something akin to those breathless descriptions, was rooted entirely in her interpersonal behavior.  I assume this because I've read a number of items in which men and former lovers like James Stewart or Bill Powell share their recollections of her, which frankly are a bit breathless and awed.  James Stewart called her "all woman," which is something he would say, and then made coy references to her generally braless state and the way this went over in a silk sheath dress.  He later said that he realized that he had never been "really" kissed until they filmed the car scene in Wife vs. Secretary together. Well, it is a memorable scene. 

Paying closer attention to her has caused me to shift my perceptions completely, and not only do I love her, but I think I understand the sex witch characterizations.  She played women honestly and never seemed like a caricature as so many other female characters were at this time.  She always seemed like a real person, and managed to place her sexuality at the forefront in a way that was unashamed, affecting, and yet subtle.  But most importantly, she was a great comedienne with excellent timing and perfect expression.

In her private life, she seems to have been an intelligent and genuine person who was not much impressed with fame or Hollywood, and who didn't much resemble her characters in behavior.  She spoke in a measured and thoughtful way and carried a book with her always.  Myrna Loy called her "a sensitive woman with a great deal of self-respect."  She had a tumultuous few years of stardom, which included multiple marriages including a farcical two month marriage to Paul Bern, who shot himself in their bedroom, leaving a bleak and mysterious suicide note.  His ex-girlfriend killed herself by jumping from a ship the following day.  Jean died five years later at 26 years old from kidney failure, apparently resultant of undiagnosed complications following a childhood bout of scarlet fever. Because she was so young, her illness was underestimated in its first stages so that it was too late when doctors finally figured out that her kidneys were failing.  Hollywood legend credits Clark Gable with leading doctors to the diagnosis after he reported to them a strange odor emanating from Jean's body as she lay in the hospital bed.  Harlow and Gable were self-professed BFFs who had worked together in a string of movies during her short career.  Gable had a lot of blonde trouble in his life, as I may have mentioned in one of my 17 Carole Lombard posts, and later with poor self-destructing MM, still unfairly blamed for his death. 

Here is an interesting article written by Hollywood reporter Adela Rogers St. Johns about the Bern suicide aftermath.  Her writing style is weird - schizophrenically baroque, well written, melodramatic, dark, and speculative.

Photo: Edwin Bower Hesser

Friday, November 16, 2012

Woops, nevermind / write time

Eh?  I'm going to keep writing some stuff here too.  Why, because I am an adult and I do what I want.

I'm very wrapped up in atmosphere and how it affects my mood.  Small things will agitate me and prevent me from doing the thing I have set out to do.  It's all very princess and the pea.  I am constantly having to maintain some kind of ambient environment for myself, otherwise I will just...leave.  So basically that means I dislike using Wordpress as well and don't like that blog.

Also, a very sweet 92 year old woman has contacted me based on a post I wrote there about a school that she attended in the 1920s, and now we are email pals.  She's so sincere and grandmotherly and charming and sweet and signs her emails with, "I hope you have a good day," and just emailed me to tell me to have a happy Thanksgiving.  How can I make my vulgar observations about life there now, when I know she might see it?  She's my new grandma!  That's not really why, I do really dislike using Wordpress too, and I feel like this fussiness is just going to end up with me writing to myself in Gmail drafts.

So now I have three blogs.  One is academic, for my internship and my mentor.  One is, I guess, going to become my "professional" blog in which I comment sans vulgarity about local historic architecture bizzle dizzle.  And this.

I have a hard time identifying the voice in which I am most comfortable writing.  I envy people who are able to dissect parts of their own lives into beautiful prose.  I'm much too private for that, and cryptic references to elements of personal experiences never come off well.  You either talk or you don't.

I haven't been writing much of anything, in spite of having all these blogs and all.  The less I write, the worse I get at it.  Writing frequently never feels like the success it kind of is, however, because for every thousand throwaway ugly lines, there are only a few to keep.  There are things I've been trying to write about for years, my relationship with my mother, my feelings about adulthood, the BBC "Victorian House" series...that I just can't elucidate. 

The only reason I came over to this thing was to document this: one of the greatest, most concise summaries of Truman Capote just came out of Caitlin Moran in a New Yorker interview.  Talking about other writers she admires, she says, "Truman Capote, for the ruthless way he hones and hones pages until there's no grit, no snags - the whole thing just floats off the page, like blossoms floating upwards."

Cait!  So poetic! Such a perfect and delightful way to talk about the constant revision that distills into a concise, refined and very short finished product. 

I had to turn a rough draft in recently for peer editing, and had spent all of my preparation time raking over and over the few paragraphs I had managed to bang out in one sitting.  I turned in seven pages of the expected twenty-five and called it a success when the professor (whom I love, like, love-love) told me it was "beautifully written," and then something about being very wanting in length, but I was still ruminating on the beautiful part.
Truman Capote, for the ruthless way he hones and hones pages until there’s no grit, no snags—the whole thing just floats off the page, like blossom falling upwards.

Read more:
Truman Capote, for the ruthless way he hones and hones pages until there’s no grit, no snags—the whole thing just floats off the page, like blossom falling upwards.

Read more:
Truman Capote, for the ruthless way he hones and hones pages until there’s no grit, no snags—the whole thing just floats off the page, like blossom falling upwards.

Read more:
Truman Capote, for the ruthless way he hones and hones pages until there’s no grit, no snags—the whole thing just floats off the page, like blossom falling upwards.

Read more: