Monday, September 29, 2008

Enter at your own risk...

Caveat: A grad school musing of what may be boring (but could possibly be interesting) content. This post is actually an essay analysis I have just written for LS 500, so some of you will read this and wish you had 1) poked both your eyes out, 2) drank a bucket of snot, or 3) drank a bucket of snot after having poked both your eyes out.

I hadn’t a clue as to what on earth Nancy Babb’s essay Cataloging Spirits and the Spirit of Cataloging would be about when I first saw the title. My initial thoughts were that perhaps this essay was about the ghosts of those individuals who had suffered early cataloguing woes, those thoughtful pioneers of cataloguing-past who, like the settlers of the early American frontier, had traveled down the bumpy and rutted bibliographic roads before us, blazing a more standardized trail, leaving us with the rules and regulations of information organization neatly marking the path. But no, Ms. Babb’s essay Cataloging Spirits and the Spirit of Cataloging was about the problem of spirits…the spectral kind…and how, when an information package (politically correct term for book) is found to be authored by a spirit, cataloguers should enter that information in a way that is easy to understand and be retrieved by users. Who would’ve thought such a thing could be an issue, authors who had authored from the after-life? Evidently it was a legitimate issue in the cataloguing of the past, and still is an issue in cataloguing today.

What exactly is the confounded issue, you ask? Well, according to Babb, the issue is this: spirits have been communicating with humans for ages. While these spirits communicated with humans (via ouija board, séances, mediums), humans recorded in some form or fashion these “conversations.” Once these conversations were recorded (be it in book, audio, video, photo, etc.), cataloguers faced the conundrum of determining who the author was, spirit or medium, and giving proper credit to that author.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, necrobibliography (yes, that is a real word, and no, it is not a dirty term) has been around for a long time. Spectral authors began to gain popularity during the early 19th Century religious movement known as Spiritualsim (“communion between departed human spirits and mortals’”). These authors would communicate from the grave by rapping out their communication (tapping or bumping), spelling things out via a ouija board, automatic writing, or speaking through a medium. Numerous volumes of works were credited to spirit authors. Not surprisingly, one text entitled Jap Herron, was authored by none other than the very deceased-at-the-time-of-publication Samuel Clemens himself.

So, how do cataloguers deal with the issue authorship when the information contained within a book was created by a spirit, but was written down by a human? In the past, authorship was defined as the person who was the maker of the information (book), the person responsible for the existence of the information (book). Also in the past, the human medium was given credit over the spirit for the responsibility of the existence of the information, with the spirit given secondary credit in some form or fashion. But thankfully, through the years, and through many different cataloguing codes (the Paris Principles of 1961 to the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules), we saw a simpler and more standard way of cataloguing a text when the author is a spirit, and we saw the cataloguer not being subjected to making a call that may or may not be of personal debate. Ultimately, the spirit won top billing over the medium (the spirit, after all, is the true author). Go spirits!

I don’t have a problem with spiritual writings in the least, for if I did NOT believe in spiritual writings, then I wouldn’t have any truck whatsoever with books like the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, and any other text that was written by some type of divine inspiration. What I do have trouble with, and actually take offense to is someone writing a text (while under the influence of something, spirits, alcohol, or drugs) and then trying to pass it off as the words of Mark Twain from the grave (I believe that Ol’ Sam would not only turn over in his grave at such a ridiculous notion, but would also dig his way out of his grave to slap upside the head the fool who would try to hustle such a scam). I ask of you, what is stopping me from getting out my ouija board this very weekend, and for the next year, devote every weekend to the writing of a sequel to my all-time favorite book Absalom, Absalom, and then claiming that Mr. Faulkner himself gave me the words from the grave to pen this tome? Bloody ridiculous! Or bloody brilliant? Hmmm....this makes me think of a story that was told to me recently, a truly frightening story of a head librarian in small Alabama town. Small-Alabama-town-librarian made the following statement: “I sure wish Charles Dickens comes out with a new book soon.” Well, small-Alabama-town-librarian, evidently there’s hope yet.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Come to farm a crazy land..."

Just recently finished this here book called Hunting Mister HeartBreak by Jonathan Raban. It is the story of a Brit who, in the 1980’s, came to America following the footsteps of a 1780’s immigrant and author who wrote on how to reinvent oneself as an American. Raban himself tries this reinventation (I made that word up) in the same way, from blending into the crowds on the streets of New York, to not blending in at all in the rural South of Guntersville, Alabama. I laughed so hard at the familiar hilarity of situations in this book (having lived in both the state of NY and in AL, I recognize and sympathize with his tribulations), that I almost cried. Raban was quite adept at catching on to what’s what. He is one sharp student of human nature, and is quite poetic in his descriptions of what he observes.

Pg. 163 “People in Alabama knew the stigma that was attached to the name of their state. It was like saying you came from Gomorrah or Sing Sing. Strangers instantly got the picture. They saw flatlands, cotton fields, Klansmen, blacks in tarpaper hovels, rednecked white supremacits talking loose and dirty over quarts of Jim Beam, George Wallace, Bull Connor…the body of a man swinging by his broken neck from the top branch of a tree. For the Alabamian, the worst of it was that there were still things in this picture that were true-or at least not so untrue as all that.

Although I am disheartened by the truth of Raban’s statement in the above paragraph, I have to applaud the image he invokes of quarts of Jim Beam, George Wallace and Bull Connor. All three are potent, and taken in the right amounts, could cause nightmarish behavior.

I knew I was going to like this book when I saw that Raban quoted John Berryman’s Dream Songs in the beginning (Berryman, the very dead-from-suicide poet who is still somewhat confusing to me, regardless of how often I revisit Dream Songs). The fact that Berryman is referenced right off the bat indicated to me that what lay beyond that quote was going to be a fantastic and possibly confusing journey. I was right. What lies between the pages of Hunting Mister Heartbreak is a journey that we can all understand, the journey of becoming someone else.

Listening to: Jack Johnson
Reading: Terribly confusing essays on the organization of information (for class).
Enjoying Most: This wonderful Autumn-like weather...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Prom Night 2008: Hotter than hell, and twice the fun!

The stunningly awkward photo you see here was taken by Amanda, and was given the special "Prom Treatment" by Dame Catoe.

So, it’s been exactly one week and two days since the Prom @ the Pitman fundraiser, and I find that I still haven’t the right words to describe what went down that night. Tami aptly likened it to being at your own wedding…you work so hard on the details, you’re so sick with worry before it starts, then everything moves too fast once it gets going, and then it’s over. Yep, that’s pretty much how this was. *Sigh* After all of the planning, decorating, sweat & blood that went into the prom, when it came right down to it, I was terribly nervous for the evening to get started. First, when it came time for me to get dressed, I was at a loss. I had the dress, the combat boots, the jewelry…but hadn’t a clue about makeup or hair. I was going goth, but I didn’t want to be uncomfortably freaky. Luckily, Dame Catoe had kindly agreed to give me fashion advice for the evening, so I headed over to the Catoe’s in minimalist makeup, and even more minimalist hair. I had a horrible case of the nerves and was beginning to wonder what it would look like if I didn’t even show up…one gorgeous corsage (courtesy of E) and one dose of vodka tonic (courtesy of K) later, I found myself crouched in the kitchen, sewing the Dame into her mother’s vintage party dress (didn’t want any wardrobe malfunctions to scandalize their family name) and thinking of nothing other than how great the evening was going to be. When finished with the stitching, the Dame looked like a beautiful confection, a confection that would probably not be able to remove her garment later unless she found a seam ripper, but a confection nonetheless. Once the Dame accessorized herself with jewelry, and expertly applied jewels to her face, she then applied some jewels to my face. After a brief eye-exam-like viewing of me with a) hair down, hat on, b) hair up, hat on, we decided it best to leave the hair down, hat on. I was comfortable, looked like myself, and was done. From that point on, everything was a blur of retro fashion, flashing cameras and mini bottles of wine…

Memorable moments from the prom (at least the ones I know about, and can remember in my excitement):
1) Jacob making his entrance into the Prom with his lovely wife Hilary, and his larger than life hairpiece. Evidently, his father (who is a hair dresser) added an entire hairpiece to Jacob’s full head of hair, the results being a value-added crowning glory of such a magnitude, that I was again glad to have forgone the open-flame candles on the tables (he was highly flammable). To match the hair, Jacob was his own sweet, dead-pan, inappropriate, dry self. Within ten minutes of arriving, he was on the dance floor with not only his wife, but with a number of other beauties, and announced to me later that he had already “made it with five girls that night” (no one ever told him that dancing with a girl doesn’t count as making it…someone really ought to help him out by explaining all the bases to him…his wife may appreciate it). The next day, when Kris mentioned to me the that he was impressed with Jacob not “breaking from character” all night, I snorted and replied, “Well, he couldn’t break from character really, he’s always like that.” Hey Jacob, Tim Burton called, and he wants his hair back!
2) The further scarring of Tami’s children…early in the evening, Tami’s 14-year old daughter, who was helping us out by selling soda and water, and who is quite athletic, but was looking quite cute an empire wasted shirt, was horrified when someone asked her when her baby was due (although she is from the small Alabama town whose name rhymes with Lardis, she is not fourteen and pregnant, which seems to be contrary to some other fourteen-year-old girls in Lardis). You could hear her muttering something about, “I better not be grounded anymore after this, not after what I’m putting up with…” When Tami’s fifteen-year-old son showed up, he was mortified when his mom’s boss tried to get him to dance with her, and when he refused, she furthered the embarrassment by saying, “No problem, I’ll wait. Just remember, I’ll be available for your senior prom…” Last I saw of him, he was using his sister as a human shield…
3) The back-door arrival of Cyndi and Kenny Nelson…Cyndi was stunning in the most shiny, light-catching turquoise dress that I’ve ever seen (the very one that she somehow managed to rescue from the washer just days earlier, and the very one that would later act as a light reflector in all of the photos), and she wore a very tongue-in-cheek beauty queen sash that read “Third Alternate Miss Faded Youth.” Her partner in crime was wearing a most fabulous burnt sienna, striped gangsta suit that, upon second glance, looked more like a pimp’s suit (perhaps a leftover from his days as a pimp?).
4) With the arrival of Eric, fresh from his Friday-night-high-school-football photo assignment, the polyester axis of evil was complete. Kris, in his awe-mazing Ron Burgundy sports jacket of ivory texturificness (with burnt sienna tie), Eric in his sleek and slim, forest-green fitted suit (also texturific), and Kenny in his sienna pimp skin…it was as if they were dangerous prom animals, having coordinated their polyester pelts, and were roaming free in their Pitman habitat, prowling for photo ops (of which, there were many).

Cutest couples (and their various manifestations throughout the evening, based upon my sketchy memory and from photos):

Jacob & Hilary, Jacob & Tami, Jacob & Jimmy, Jacob & Amanda, Jacob & Ashley, Jacob & Leslie…
Leslie & Scottie, Leslie & Nicole, Leslie & Nicole & Laura & Carol, Leslie & Jacob.
Kris & Laura, Kris & Eric & the Fan, Kris & Eric & their Flasks.
Eric & the Green Suit, Eric and that girl he was with (*snicker), Eric & the wall, Eric & His Bicycle Chain…
Liz & Chris, Liz & Laura, Liz & Chris & their tiny glasses of wine.
Tami & Jimmy, Tami & Jacob, Tami and Some Lady in Black, Tami & Sprout, Tami & Tami Sparks, Tami & Hilary, Tami & her hair.
Nicole & Stephen, Nicole & well, anyone she stood next to.
Nathan & Terica & their t-shirts.
Matt & his white patent leather shoes.
Cyndi & Kenny, Cyndi & Kenny & their champagne flutes.

The Monday after the prom, Jolly Green came into my office with a perplexed look on her face. In her hand was a ribbon of white lace and a baby blue rose, the very same ribbon of white lace and the very same baby blue rose that Jacob had been wearing the night of the prom.
“Jacob left this in my car.”
“What were you doing with Jacob in your car that would result in Jacob’s lace and rose being left behind?”
“I wasn’t the one in the car with him.”
“Who was then?”
“Jimmy…Jimmy and Jacob disappeared together for awhile…”
Oh, the joy of lost lace and roses! Hah! Just kidding! Evidently, the two of them went on a beer run, and when they returned, they sat in the car and promptly drank all of the beer without sharing with Tami. I believe she had thoughts of blackmail…

I want to give a big thank you to the spectacular crew of ladies (who worked in person and behind-the-scenes) who went out of their way to see prom beautification happen. Terica, Nicole, Leslie, Cookie and Ashley, if it had not been for all of your banner-making, balloon hanging, streamer streaming, King & Queen ballot-box painting, or crown bedazzling, we couldn’t have made it happen in such a pretty, pretty way! You are all so gooorgeous!

I want to also thank Mike Hilton of the City Parks and Rec Dept. for bringing almost his entire crew of workers over to the Pitman on Wednesday just to remove a few things for us, and then ending up leaving a small group of very tough-as-nails men to do anything we needed them to do. These rather manly individuals pitched in to do some very un-tough, but very necessary jobs for us. They moved our extremely sparkly pink-and-purple castle from the library to the Pit, and hung every stinking thing that we needed hung…Christmas lights, stars, clouds banners, and a shaggy red heart. I couldn’t believe my eyes, nor my ears when I looked up to see Lee hanging our glittery stars and heard Frankie and Bill telling him to stagger them more, cause they wanted the stars to look more realistic when they blew in the breeze…I also couldn’t believe when Bill, having watched me and Tami struggle with securing the quilt-batting-covered clouds to the wall, took my girly hammer (which looked like it came from Fisher Price in his big hands) and nailed the clouds up for us. But what really touched me most was when Frankie came over and began helping Tami and me glue red foil “hair” to the big red heart that we wanted to hang in between the two banners that were hanging from the balcony. When Tami and I had to go fold t-shirts, Frankie continued to work on the heart, and essentially finished it on his own. Then, while everyone else was taking a water break, he took the heart up to the balcony and hung it exactly where we wanted it. It was perfect.

I want to thank my co-worker and funny man Tami for making such a crazy suggestion of having a prom in the first place, my boss Amanda for not thinking the idea of a library prom a bad idea and Kay & Rachael at DGI for wanting to collaborate on such a crazy, potentially volatile program. It could’ve all gone wrong at any moment, but it didn’t. And it was magic.

Thanks go out to all of our volunteers for that evening: The Blinders (for playing such a rocking show), Logan (for DJing), and everyone who worked the front of the building.

Also, thank you to everyone who took photos, and who posted those photos to the Prom @ the Pitman Flickr pool, which may be viewed at this address:

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Day the Glitter Ran Out...

Final countdown to Prom at the Pitman: The Second Time Around. Just a few prom quotes before I go and throw glitter all over the floor of the Pitman…

Yesterday, when Tami and I asked if the large banner we were hanging across the front of the stage was centered, Amanda looks up and says, “Yeah, we need to get it centered, cause we wouldn’t want it to look tacky.” Right, no tacky. Something you could’ve told us last week.

“He’s going to die in his polyester nightmare.” –Tami, commenting on what would be happening to Eric the night of the prom when he wore his new-to-you forest-green, textured polyester suit (Kris will be in the same polyester boat).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Breaking the rules...

Talking with E about photojournalism a couple of days ago. He loaned me a book entitled Witness in Our Time (Ken Light). As I was leafing through, I came across the entry on Eugene Richards. I almost met Mr. Richards when he had a show at Hal Gould’s gallery Camera Obscura in Denver. At the time of the show, my friend Janis had her rare books bookstore Book Buffs located in the same building as Hal’s place, with spaces adjoined, but separated by an iron gate-like door. I was working for Janis at the time, learning the book trade from her, learning about photography from Hal. Hal had been around for a long time, was in his nineties, still photographed, still jogged everyday and was a gourmet cook. He would come to the gate door every morning to say hi to me, and would often tell me about the exhibits that he was preparing to put up. It seemed that he knew everyone who was someone in the world of photography, and if I listened carefully, I would get snippets of REAL information about these someones. Sometimes, Hal would have a show where the actual photographer would be there for the opening. This was the case with photojournalist Eugene Richards’ show.

I had never heard of Richards until Hal and his assistant Loretta were putting up his photographs. I watched the progress of the hanging through the bars of the door. The images I saw were so matter of fact and quiet, they screamed at me…drug addicts shooting up, shooting victims being treated in the ER…Richards had books of his work, well-known books with titles such as Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue, The Knife and Gun Club (which was photographed in the ER of Denver General, just down the street from where I lived). Hal and Loretta were buzzing with excitement about the show, and I couldn’t help but absorb some of the excitement from them. I was looking forward meeting Richards, and I decide to stop looking through the bars so that I would be able to view the exhibit as it should be viewed, with newness and continuity, the night of the opening.

I can’t remember what the weather was like the night of the opening, nor can I remember any of the photographs from the show other than the ones that I had seen days before…all of the rest of the images were erased from my mind by the one image that stands out to me from that evening, an image that I believe I have now somehow altered in my memory to show something that it may or may not have shown.

The night of the show, I locked up the bookshop, walked down the stairs of Book Buffs’ stoop, and made my way up the stairs of Camera Obscura. The narrow gallery was modestly filled with lookers, it was early in the evening. Mr. Richards was talking with his admirers towards the front, his wife was beside him, seeming to be occupied with observing the reactions of the viewers; Hal and Loretta were helping individuals navigate the narrow stairwell that led upstairs to the wine, and to what may be the biggest & best collection of photography books in the region. I began at what was traditionally the starting point for a show at Hal’s, and very slowly made my way around the gallery. I remember thinking that all of the photos were vessels of words, spilling out things that you didn’t want to hear, making you wonder how Eugene was able to see what he captured with his camera, and then be able to walk away with his sanity intact, and his responsibility for humanity light enough to not drag him down so low that he couldn’t sleep at night from the thoughts of what man can do to himself and to others. How does one keep from becoming too burdened by those images?

As I got to the back wall, far right corner of the gallery, out of the corner of my eye I saw an image that made my breath catch in my throat. I muttered to myself, “No, that can’t be what I’m seeing,” and skipped over the image, thinking it best to save it for last. I continued to move forward, and eventually found myself at the end of the photos. Only the one photo that I had skipped remained. I walked back over and planted myself in front of the photo. The image was from the ‘70s and was a portrait of Eugene’s first wife Dorothea. Dorothea was a writer, and had been diagnosed with breast cancer in a time when breast cancer was a death sentence. She and Eugene had agreed on a collaboration of writings and photos to tell her story, knowing that there could be only one inevitable ending. That day in the Spring of 2004, in a small photo gallery in Denver on the corner of 13th and Bannock, I found myself standing in front of what very well may have been the last photo that Eugene had taken of his wife before she succumbed to the disease. Dorothea’s white skin was glowing with an unnatural luster. Her lips were dry and cracked. Her hair was making a valiant effort to return to her beautifully round head. Her eyes were overflowing with tenderness. One tear hung in threat of spilling from her right eye, a tear that was reflecting an unrecognizable image (Eugene and camera?) But what was so terribly unique about the photo, and what caused me to start my very hasty exit from the gallery was the sight of Eugene’s hand in the photo. A moment before Eugene snapped the picture, he had reached out to touch his wife’s cheek. His hand remained in the photo, forever in that matrimonial caress. He did what a photojournalist should not, he became part of the story.

I couldn’t leave that gallery quickly enough with my emotion about to erupt out of me, and as I literally bolted for the door, I saw Eugene’s current wife, with her eyes watching my breakdown, trying to pull away from the well-wishers who were speaking to her and Eugene. I think she was trying to get to me, possibly to speak to me about what I was feeling, to see if I was okay, but I couldn’t stop. The five-block walk home must have served to calm my nerves, I honestly don’t remember.

Good photojournalists present to us images that should make us feel something, good or bad, and possibly move us to try to right some wrong, or to at least keep moving in an ethical and moral direction. And I think that there are times when good photojournalists present to us images so traumatic that we cannot be protected from the trauma depicted in them. It is possible that we, the viewer, mythologize the images that we find traumatic or overly moving (as we would in a traumatic situation). I was overwhelmed by Eugene’s photo of Dorothea that day, and I believe that I may have altered the photo in my mind. I really don’t know for sure if there was a tear in Dorothea’s eye; I really don’t know for sure if Eugene’s hand was in that photo. I suppose that I could order the book that contains the photo (with many others) as well as the story that they recorded together of her cancer struggle (Exploding Into Life), but I don’t think I want to know for sure. The image exists in my memory as it is. No one else saw the photo the way that I did on that day. Not even I could see it that way again. But I do know for certain that Eugene did his job as a photojournalist with that photo.