Apr 11, 2004

Architecture of the Memory-Filled Mind

I went to see Chris Ware and Ira Glass at UCLA last night for this strange and wonderful thing they did. The telling of a story with their two media: comics and radio. Chris Ware is brilliant and shy and unassuming and apologetic. And funny. Ira Glass strokes and releases the controls of his sound devices like a concert pianist. But with more grandeur. He then self-consciously finishes each fluorish by touching his nose or running a hand through his hair. As if to disguise the fluorish as the mere beginning of the scratching of an itch.

The story they told was based on an interview with Tim Samuelson wherein he talked about the buildings of Louis Sullivan and how he (Samuelson), as a boy, had strived to know them and how he watched as they were torn down, one by one, struggling to save them with the might and impotence of a child. It was a poignant story. Full of the ornate language of design and architecture and the appreciation of a bygone era.

Ira Glass made some assertion that perhaps both Ware and Samuelson maintain this love of the look of the past because they were both raised by grandparents. I was not raised by grandparents, but my father is older than the fathers of many people my age. And I suppose that may explain why I cotton to things with dust on them. Why I enjoyed watching the old black and white comedies of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers. Why I like the sound of scratched records. Why I like to collect things that were old before I was new. Maybe. Chris Ware didn't think there was any correlation. And I suppose there are plenty of people who appreciate fragments of history and feel the destruction of those fragments tearing at their very souls, regardless of the ages of their peers or upbringers.

There was a point where Chris Ware made a comment about the sadness of the passing of those old, wonderful structures as they were replaced by modernity that provided such a cheap backdrop for the living out of our many American existences. And I felt a little quietly embarrassed, thinking that I sometimes find that cheaper backdrop to be charming, as well. That there is a certain naivete about the advertising language of the 50s and 60s, a certain innocence projected in the message of image there. But then I fully agree with him when he draws the conclusion that people today don't care so much whether they live in a room that is wonderfully designed, because they come in and sit down and watch the television, and their surroundings cease to matter. And, perhaps, by and large, that is true. Perhaps that explains the glut of boxy apartments and Navajo White walls and beige carpets and vertical blinds and halogen torchieres. I guess even the ambition of the mid-century moderns is charming to me, because it precedes me. Because it is something I can only know through the lens of history. Through Viewmaster reels and old encyclopedias. Through postcards with scalloped edges and staple-bound magazines. And this world I'm living in is challenged to impress me, if only because I am in it and able to see it in all its dimensions without the aid of history. Without the special complimentary glasses.

I am fond of experiences that provoke thought and discussion. And I am so grateful for the company of those who do not yawn when I start a sentence. I love to talk it over. All of it.

Earlier in the day, after post office errands and before little-sister-birthday-shopping errands, I went to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and liked it. The handheld camera technique made me a little queasy in places but not so much that I had to close my eyes. It made me wonder about the snow and want to eat Chinese food out of boxes and make a painting and take a nap all at once. I have had a crush on Kate Winslet for many years now. That has been perpetuated. I really had a lot of ideas in that cinema. I may have waited too long to write them down. They draw away from me, and I can't make them out.

But the verse whence the title comes was repeated in the film. It goes:

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.

               -- Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard"

It made me want to write verse. I remember when I used to replace vowels with apostrophes and wondered if it made my poems seem dumb or full of themselves. I was concerned about the meter. That's all.

In the end, impassioned conversation long into the night and plans for upending things and finding ways to be pleased with how everything has gone made up for the bandage on my knee and the twitching of my eye and the strange void of sleepless caffeination. The night before last, I took sleeping pills to assure my descent into the gloom. And I awoke about an hour after taking them, finding my arms were strange and heavy. Paralyzed in a way. But with some sort of associated pain. I couldn't stretch or clench them enough. I could not get comfortable. I stumbled around in a fog. Looking for Pop Tarts I thought might still be in my bedroom from that time when my stomach was upset. But I couldn't find them. And I gave up sugar a few weeks ago, so it's for the best that I didn't. The memory of that strange sensation is still in my mind. I keep having fussy flashbacks of that stiffness in my arms. And then I realize that my arms are stiff again. Particularly the right one. I gave up sugar, so it can't be the onset of some sort of diabetic neural damage. And yet it could be many things. Being without health insurance, I often laugh to myself that one of these headaches or stomach aches or muscle pains or tumors is going to turn out to be something serious. On account of the irony, you see.

I often admire people for the wrong reasons. And as experience both emboldens and restrains me, I recognize the futility of the early admiration. I see the pitfalls in wait. I know where the path goes and how the story turns out. And I can't help but wonder if I will ever get smarter about anything. These days, I'm fine. Bogged down in certain ways but diaphanous in others. Glad it's not summer yet. I do things inexplicably. And it is the very absence of the possibility of explanation that frees me from regret. And that might be a method worth exploring. Trusting instincts that don't deserve your trust. Acting on impulses that are ill-advised. I am frustrated when I am careful, and I am frustrated when I am not. Too smart for my own good. Too dumb for the horse races. And always curious as to how I manage to make it to the next morning when I'm certain every night that this will be the last thing I ever think.

These are the words I like in the song. This is not the order in which they are sung.

This is the room one afternoon I knew I could love you
And from above you how I sank into your soul
Into that secret place where no one dares to go

As we would lay and learn what each other's bodies were for


When I think of the words to songs, I hear them sung to me in my head. I am a mass of blood and inspiration. Every touch sets something off. Like turning on a light in a room filled with light-activated toys. They all start running at once. Cymbal-clapping monkeys. Dancing Santas. Singing sunflowers with sunglasses on. What a noise it all makes.

posted by Mary Forrest at 7:21 AM | Back to Monoblog


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